Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blood Sport for the All American Girl

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Mr. Bennet, upon reading Lizzy the letter from Mr. Collins, which hints that she may be engaged to Mr. Darcy and warns them that Lady Catherine will never approve
Pride & Prejudice, Volume 3, Chapter 15
So I read a book for my much loved book club. The book was simultaneously the easiest and hardest read. On reflection, I have to give it a very solid, porch swing worthy recommendation. The book is "Big Little Lies", by Liane Moriarty.
More about the book in a moment - I will tie all of this together, wrapped up in the threads of life.
"Now I know I'm just here to amuse you
And I don't mean to abuse you
But if I could just use you one time 
Tell me what it's like
To be the queen of it all
The Neiman Marcus of the Mall
And tell me what it's like to be the one and only
All American Girl"
Train, "All American Girl"
I find myself reflecting on the passage of time. Our oldest son will finish high school in May. We're wrapped up in college decisions, and majors, and the younger son is only one year behind, plus my goddaughter has decided to go to college at my own alma mater. At times I feel like my head peeked out from a cocoon and the time/space continuum warped me - or something like that. So I was thinking last week that I should focus on what I WON'T miss when the boys have gone off to college. You know, the dishes, the tracked in dirt, the car lines, the Queen Bees, and along came this book. 
"At the gas station, I think she pretended not to see me." 
"It felt like every parent was secretly observing their conversation. This must be what it felt like to be famous."
"Not here, you idiot. Let's not talk about family business with sharp-eared mothers all around us."
"The Blond Bobs hurrying about looking very involved and important as they did each Friday morning."
"It would already be on Facebook."
"Give me a vicious corporate takeover any day."
Yes - along came this book. I'm betting that I don't have to go into much more detail then the quotes...because I'm betting you now know what sport I reference. It's the blood sport of motherhood. It's mildly amusing that once I got a grip on how little the Queen Bees opinion of me should count, I have very little sighting of them anymore. But this book brought back many delightful memories woven with a thread of humor, and a reminder - don't trust what YOU DON'T KNOW to be true.
So to the moms out there still in the running of the moms which bears an eerie resemblance to the running of the bulls in Pamplona - You are a champion. Read the book - You are not alone. Good luck - but you don't need it. Their opinions don't matter, trust me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Momma!!

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" - Rodgers and Hammerstein, "My Favorite Things'

One of my favorite things is the unexpected. The person who has been dismissed, a judgment made, and then all expectations are shattered. Lady GaGa did that with the Oscars the other night. Some already knew that her voice is an incredibly well trained instrument, but many looked at those silly red rubber dishwashing gloves, and that was that.  Man, she showed up in the best way.

My mother's birthday is today. She's a small woman, and she always has been. If ever there was an illustration of the quote, "Though she be but little, she be fierce" (William Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Momma is it. She has no problem at all with telling you exactly what she thinks, and good luck.

But wrapped in that small package is also a depth of compassion that took her through years of being a nurse at the Women's Prison, through the years of AIDS at a prison, and her husband's dementia. 

She has a story about hugging a prisoner who was dying of AIDS:

“You know back then, AIDS had just started out. It was just getting to be well known, and we had a lot of prisoners to come in there that had a positive AIDS test. And we had to put them in isolation. And we had three inmates that died at Women’s Prison from AIDS. We had to go in there and wait on them. And I think the hardest thing that I've ever done was I went in the room one day to check on one of them, that was dying and she wanted me to hug her neck and I didn't want her tears on me, because we still weren't sure about how you caught it. But I sat down and I let her hug my neck because she just wanted to touch somebody. Her family couldn't come see her. Those were some tough times. But you do what you have to do.”

Momma has a tolerance and an acceptance. Her last sentence actually illustrates beautifully her life philosophy, “But you do what you have to do.” She doesn't look at taking care of the ill or dying as something horrible to flee from. She simply does it.

She's one of the quiet many who have helped the world. You may look at her and see a small older woman. I look at her, and I see my hero. Happy Birthday, Momma. We love you very much. Thank you for the lessons in how best to live a life.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Son Climbed a Tree of Tests

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking its stupid." Albert Einstein

I walked into a conference room, and thought, "Are these rooms called conference rooms when they are in an elementary school?" The room was already crowded. I silently counted the people. There were three teachers, two administrators, and one person I didn't know. So a total of six people to my one. A few years prior I had helped with the accounting consolidation of some recently purchased manufacturing plants. That conference room only had four people in it. Four people to work on a purchase involving millions of dollars, and hundreds of jobs. Seven people to discuss a seven year old's education. Six of them sure that I was wrong.

Our younger son was inducted into the National Honor Society this week. He's also been inducted into the Beta Club, and received an Academic Achievement Award. He has college credit waiting. I could go on, but already I sound like one of those moms you avoid like the plague on the playground so you don't have to spend the next hour hearing how their child cured cancer in their sandbox yesterday while changing his own diaper and pressure washing the siding. But here's the rest of the story:

Once upon a time he was a special education student. He was placed in Special Education at seven years old. He was taken back out of Special Education in a matter of months. Still, I remember it with the sting of a parent who was ignored. They said he couldn't read at grade level, that he didn't identify letters correctly, he had an "issue" with words. I said, he has a confidence issue. He DOES understand, and he does know. He's an intuitive kid who looks for your cues as to what answer you are looking for, and then provides it even if it's not the one HE thinks is correct. He has an older brother who has severe ADHD. I spend too much time working with the older brother on homework and not enough time working with our younger son. I need to improve. He needs me to pay more attention to his needs. He needs to know that it's OK to give his answer and not the one he thinks others want to hear. I believe Special Education is wonderful, and vital. But it was not the proper placement for this child. If I thought it was I would have embraced it, volunteered, done everything I needed to do for him. But it wasn't the right placement, and we have TESTS to thank for those few months.

It was hard not to flash back to that meeting during each awards ceremony. It was hard not to remember my entreaties that his needs were not being correctly addressed. The "tests" - so many letters, and names I had never heard of - all the "tests" said he wasn't capable. It was hard to ignore the creeping smugness I felt regarding all who tried to convince me that he would never read well at his level.

Once he entered the Special Education program, the wonderful teacher there worked one on one with him. She was open to listening to my assessments, and never gave me that all too common condescension that I had encountered in some in the education field. The attitude that said that since I was NOT an education professional I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about did not exist with this teacher. She recognized that parents spend more time with their children then teachers so we might have an inkling of an idea regarding the child's strengths and weaknesses.

Before long, the talented Mrs. R was discussing with me his confidence issues. We were discussing how to make him comfortable with answering with what HE thought was correct, and not just what he THOUGHT someone wanted to hear. Shortly after that, he scored so ridiculously high on an assessment test that a small "graduation" party was held for him, and he was back in his original classroom. Oh, the irony - tests placed him in, tests placed him out. 

By the fourth grade, he had the fabulous Mrs. H. She loved, loved, loved on this child just as she had his older brother, encouraging his love of History, his love of reading, and giving him the experience he needed to flourish. His teacher, Mrs. C helped convince him - he is a bright kid. I've silently thanked those teachers during every awards ceremony - and I've written my thanks to them also.

It may sound like I'm blasting my local school system. I'm not. We have a fantastic music program that both our sons have thrived in, the high school offers several foreign languages, and AP classes, and every negative encounter with an educator has been offset by hundreds of positive ones. 

But year after year...tests...and tests....and tests. Tests tell us where he is flourishing. Tests tell us where he needs improvement. The tests say which teachers are doing well. SERIOUSLY? Do the tests tell whether a teacher has a classroom with six kids who have horrific home lives, three more who have siblings getting all the attention at home (as mine was - I readily admit that), and four who came to school hungry?? Do the tests recognize that some kids DON'T test well in a timed environment or that some kids mature at a different rate, and will test astoundingly well next year?? 

Now, I must acknowledge, I circle around very distantly the issue of Common Core. My kids aren't affected so I've viewed some articles but it's not a heartfelt exploration. But I have an issue with the word COMMON. To me, it implies that all is the same. ALL IS NOT THE SAME. Tests look for a commonality. Do you know the word - infatuation? It's an SAT word. I'll use it in a sentence. Our nation is infatuated with testing. But infatuation implies a passing fancy, not a deep seated love. It strikes me that a nation that was founded based on individuality is now striving for likeness in all. Tests and their ability to rule our lives is a national problem in our education system.

There is no one learning style. There is no one maturation rate.  Our education system and our politicians need to recognize the uniqueness.  There is no one correct answer that makes everyone else an ignoramous. A little civility among the adults might be nice. One group advocates testing. Another group throws money around. Programs are eliminated, programs are added, and at the end of the day we still suck at teaching our youth. Identification of learning disabilities is vital, and identification and intervention at a young age are key. BUT, we need some programs which allow children to play, and learn, to develop, and not be put under pressure to meet a norm which is unreasonable. 

I never bothered to teach my children the alphabet before kindergarten. Silly me, I thought that was what kindergarten was supposed to help with. I DID teach them how to build a fort out of sticks, and to pretend the play set was a ship on the shining seas. I was mightily criticized for a five year old (our older son) not knowing the alphabet completely. The same five year old is now 18. He knows the alphabet now - English, and Mandarin. He'll be attending college in the Fall. And he STILL knows how to lash together sticks for a fort - might be helpful during a zombie apocalypse or when he has his own children.

Are there complexities that I don't begin to discuss and address - how wealthy is the school district, how involved are the parents, are there language issues, and I could go on - absolutely there are issues. Do I have answers? Absolutely not. But I wonder what happens to the child who doesn't have a parent able to sit on the phone, attend meetings, and email concerns. The parent who will lose a job for missed work can't attend meetings during the school day. The parent who doesn't speak the language can't discuss their point with reasoned passion. The parent or guardian who doesn't have internet access can't email, or check the parents portal for grades/assignments or help prepare for an almighty test which sets a path at seven years old. Where would the seven year old in that first paragraph now be at in 11th grade? Would he be throwing his mail from colleges into a basket to look at later? Shouldn't that be a concern? Should money be spent on more tests? Is that REALLY helping the child? Instead of more money on tests, how about more money on instructors, and counselors, and psychologists so the child can be seen as the individual and not as test results?

Children are these wonderful, amazing creatures - resilient, imaginative, unprejudiced. Are we allowing them to finish their education that way?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

And to All, a Good Night

"Is it finally over?"
"It's over, Momma. Now it's straight."
"Well, thank goodness!"

So let me back up. If you read my last blog, then you saw that we were having a bit of a problem with the gub'ment. Seems they accidentally showed Momma's Medicare as being terminated effective 01/01/2014. Seems like a fairly easy problem to fix. Just confirm that the cancellation form is not on file, that her premiums have been paid on time, and correct it.

Yeah - cause Santa Claus is bringing me that Mercedes with the gull-wing doors I always wanted....stuff always works out the way you want it...uh-huh.

But I am thrilled to follow up, and say, IT IS FIXED. It only took from November 6th until yesterday, December 17th, and contacting the following agencies:
Medicare Advanced Resolution
Social Security Administration
Railroad Retirement Bureau
Social Security Administration - two different local offices
Her former employer she retired from
Her former employer's benefits administration group
The insurance carrier
The state insurance commissioner's office
Her congressman
Her senator
Her senator-elect

And don't think each of these was limited to only one phone call apiece. Formal complaints were filed through four different agencies (I think - may be more.)

In fact when the congressman's office got involved, I faxed them TWENTY-SIX pages of documentation I had already accumulated.

But yesterday, Momma got the call we had been working towards. She has been retroactively reinstated. She will be reimbursed for the out of pocket expenses incurred while this went on. And the following part of the call cracked us up - "We are so sorry you went through this. Would you mind calling your daughter, and tell her that it is fixed, and that we apologized?"

Or as my hubby interpreted it - 'Hey, call that bulldog you gave birth to, and tell her to back off of us, please.' (On a side note - he appreciates that I do not use that character trait on him - normally.)

Shakespeare had it wrong. The line should read - Hell hath no fury like a woman whose loved one has done been wronged.

Because I believe in giving credit - huge kudos to her local office of Social Security Administration, to my contact in her benefits administration group, to United Health Care Social Media who took the ball, to the person in Medicare's Advanced Resolution area, and to her congressman. 

To anyone going through this, my best advice is this:
1) Don't believe anyone until you get the same answer multiple times
2) Feel free to go on a multi-pronged attack
3) Document, document, document - date, time, length of call, a name if possible
4) Pray

Now, I'm off to research the cost of a Mercedes with gull-wing doors. After all, we weren't sure I could ever get this fixed, much less an apology so obviously I'm on a roll.

Good night!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Nightmare of the Government Before Christmas

I invite you to take a trip into a parallel dimension. One of neither common sense nor competency. Welcome to the world of the government. Where HAL, the computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey" seems benevolent, and kind. Certainly HAL has a point about human error.

I feel compelled to say the following - this is purely an expression of my own frustration. Also I feel compelled to say that this is a purely bipartisan gripe. I have no idea which administration was in charge of which rules being put in place. Personally, I'm not sure there is a politician with common sense anymore. Both parties seem to spend too much time catering, and not enough time leading.

Let me tell you what happened here. It all started when my Daddy dared to die. He passed away on May 28th. On June 11th, as required to, I notified the Railroad Retirement Bureau. At that time, the very nice, very sympathetic woman informed me that no other actions were necessary other then returning his direct deposit payment within the week. One and 1/2 days later when I went to the bank to instruct them to return it, I found out that the government had already taken it. If only all their actions had been as efficient as they were with taking back money from a recent widow.

Months went by. We grieved, and we moved forward. I executed his wishes as he had communicated to me while he was still of sound mind. At times, Momma almost felt I was too efficient. But I'm a to-do list kinda gal. I have a list. I work my list. I find comfort in my list. Some shop, I make a list.

Then the world flipped, and we DID NOT MAKE IT FLIP. I have spent days of my life trying to correct an error WE DID NOT CAUSE. The Railroad Retirement Board moved Momma's Medicare from being under them, and under Daddy's claim ID to the administration of the Social Security Administration and under Momma's own ID number. Reminds me of when our sons have projects in school, and suddenly need the purple markers with green board - SORTA NICE TO KNOW IN ADVANCE!

We received no notice of this change. She received no new Medicare card. Nope. What we got was a nice letter from her group plan she has as a retiree from a very large employer. It seems they heard from our government that SHE TERMINATED her Medicare. WHAT??? Also that it was "terminated" on 01-01-2014. HUH??? So why has the government been deducting her Medicare premium from her monthly check - WITHOUT FAIL?? Which I verified by looking at every dang month of her banking. Why has her every claim to this point been processed WITHOUT A PROBLEM? YES - I'M SHOUTING!! Though I didn't at first. I sighed. I thought a couple of calls would clear this up. I told her not to worry. Silly, silly me.

Let me just say, that I was closer to reality when I believed in Santa Claus. At least Daddy had a beard, was round, and had his jolly moments, and Momma, and I have the height of a couple of elves.

Since November 6th, I have been in an endless loop of one entity blaming the next entity for the "mistake". Naturally the first entity blamed was me. Once again, HUH? All I did was give timely notice of my father's death. I might add that it's never easy to call anyone and say that someone you love has died - never. I initiated NO OTHER ACTION. Indeed, my research indicated that it is difficult to terminate your Medicare. As I graciously pointed out to one ignor...I mean clueless, person. (Clueless - still harsh, but my kindness is strained right now.)

Medicare would blame Social Security Administration who would blame Medicare and each one would tell me to call the other one to fix it. This was AFTER I spoke several times to her insurance carrier who at first said they just needed her new claim id. Which I gave them. Then they tell me, no, we can't reinstate her - she had no coverage from 01/01/2014 until 10/01/2014. So I also involved that large employer. They've tried to help. Really, they have. One of the only entities which was willing to give me a real person's name, and phone number to help. But help can only go so far when no one truly understands how the systems work, and therefore how to fix them.

Now look at those dates, again. Anything jump out at you? Like, perhaps, how easy it is to transpose 10/01 and make it 01/01. I began (after numerous phone calls) to figure it out FOR THEM, what THEY had done wrong. Mainly because I was tired of being told that WE had terminated her. Someone hit "termination" instead of transfer/change (which would not have been us), and then instead of the effective date for the CHANGE being 10/01, keyed in 01/01. Voila - my mother appears to have been terminated effective 01/01/2014. Or as I dryly said to a few of the many government employees I've spoken to - wasn't that jumping the gun a bit since Daddy didn't even die until 05/28???

Finally after many (numerous, excessive) calls to the various agencies attempting to find someone to help/take responsibility (one starts to wonder - are they paid by the calls answered, not the calls resolved??), a helpful soul named Leah appeared. She works for Medicare, and after several times of putting me on hold to verify the details, and to discuss with a supervisor, she informed me that yes, it really is Social Security who tells Medicare who can have Medicare, and so Social Security are the ones who will need to fix it. She also tells me to ask to speak to a supervisor so it can be escalated, and that it is best to call our local office.

Fine. I call the local office. What happens? By now it shouldn't be hard to guess. I explain what happened (by now, I can do it in my sleep. I've repeated this story more then the telling of our children's births.) So what do I hear - 'you need to contact Medicare, they would be the ones to fix that.' SERIOUSLY? I just got off the phone with them. THEY SAID TO CALL YOU. May I speak to a supervisor? And this woman actually asked me why, when a supervisor was 'just going to tell you what I JUST told you.' Personally, a badge of honor here. I'm not always the best with holding my temper. Just ask my kids. But I very calmly said, that I was fine with that, I would still like to speak to one. In fact I've stayed calmer then expected through most of this. I am however getting better workouts on the elliptical. There's a certain umph to them....imagine that.

Guess what? Best move I made through the whole ordeal, ignoring her, and speaking to a supervisor. Beverly - lovely woman. Extraordinarily helpful. Even called Momma directly to say how sorry she was that this had happened, and she would get it fixed. AND SHE DID - at least the Social Security Administration part. Which then allowed Medicare to issue a new and correct card. Of course how many calls did I make to get through to the one person who could and would help - unknown, but I have a lot of notes, and I could probably figure it out. I've hugged her in person. Lovely lady.

So we should be at the end of the journey now...right...right...rig....wrong. (And if you're sticking with me through this tale - congrats, and many thanks!)

No, now I get a call from her former employer. That big insurance company, United Health Care, won't add her back with a correct effective date of - ALL DANG YEAR LONG - unless they hear from Medicare to do it.

So I call Medicare - again. I sit on hold - again. I explain - again. I get told I'm wrong - again. Finally, I was told that it would be forwarded to their Advanced Resolution Center. Two business days - they must reply. On the second day they called. The wrong number. Poor Momma - she was not expecting the call, BECAUSE I TOLD THEM TO CALL ME. I gave them my number. They have the proper authorizations on file (that could be another way too long blog about authorizations). Instead they call her, and ask for me. That's so indicative of how this entire experience has gone. Never quite right. It's like the blind date that looks good, but can't carry a conversation to save his life. The insurance company isn't fixing this. Medicare isn't fixing this. And I wonder - WHY IN THE HELL DO I HAVE TO FIX SOMETHING I DIDN'T BREAK??????????

So we're waiting. Still waiting for Prince Charming. He needs to make it right. He needs to give her back the health coverage she NEVER TERMINATED. It needs to be effective as of 01/01/2014. It needs to cover her AS IT SHOULD HAVE. I say, HE, because at this point, I've started emailing her congressman, and her US Senators. Do you blame me??

By now, Momma is beyond frustrated. She's been made to feel that she no longer has health insurance, embarrassed at trying to fill a prescription, and sure that this will never get fixed. She's been talked down to, and spoken to as if she is "stupid" to use one of the many words she's used, a more family friendly word. She's a sharp cookie, but no, she never handled the paperwork of life. Daddy did, and now I do. I can't help but wonder about the elderly person out there who doesn't have a bulldog named Evelyn for a daughter? How messed up is their stuff? How many times are they being told it's their fault, and they assume the government is right, and they aren't? Truly it's not just the government either. Big corporations mess up. They bill you wrong, and it's your problem, not theirs.

I, am equally upset. I have tried to fix this, and instead I have been insulted, turned away if the proper permissions were not in place, and spoken to as if I'm trying to cheat the system. I've been spoken down to, talked over top of, and treated as an imbecile. I've spent hours of my life in the special circle of hell called, On HOLD, listening to the most awful, repetitive music broken up by their even worse, repetitive announcements, and been frustrated by automated operators who don't have the option I need - dial x if WE SCREWED UP YOUR STUFF. Indeed, the Medicare complaints site doesn't list a way to COMPLAIN ABOUT THEM - only others.

So, really, how about treating our senior citizens as the golden members who have helped build this great country and not as a burden? My mother has helped so many. Where the hell is her help...which she paid for?

Well, here's what's happening next. I continue to contact anyone who wants to listen to what has happened to my mother. No one should have to go through this. So guess what - the Insurance Commissioner of the great state of North Carolina, her congressman, her U.S. Senators, Medicare, United Health Care..I'm not done yet. My Momma doesn't deserve to be sleepless over this. They say that the first set of holidays spent without someone you love are particularly hard. A big {sarcastic} thanks to all the above for keeping my focus off of my loss and on to your inability to make a simple correction. Yeah, thanks for that.