Our Family’s Lead Story

By Amanda R. Howland

I submitted this account to C.L.A.S.H. (Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing) in the summer of 2019. I was hoping our story would help in some small way break the stigma around lead exposure and other housing problems that lower-income families face. As long as people are ashamed to talk about struggles with housing, wages, discrimination and health care these problems will remain invisible and too many middle-income people will be conned into siding with the rich. The time has come to side with the poor.

At some point in my life, I heard that there was no need to worry about lead poisoning because it only happens when children “eat paint chips”. Thus, it only happens to the other, because, what kind of parent would let their child eat paint chips, right? 

I want to tell our family’s story about lead exposure and also how hard it was to ultimately find a safe home to raise our child. I want to tell this story in detail not to generate pity, but to show the many obstacles lower-income families have in finding safe housing. My hope is that people who have not experienced this firsthand will come to understand that the problem does not stem from the choices of lower-income families but rather from decisions made by exploitive, uneducated and underprepared landlords and governments at all levels ignoring this most important aspect of infrastructure and health.

When my husband and I moved in together, we knew we wanted to have a child within the next few years. We rented the first floor of a Lakewood double that was freshly painted white and had old windows. Our landlord gave us the same printout I’d received from previous landlords explaining that because the house was built before 1978, there was lead paint underneath newer paint. Again, I didn’t worry because of the decades of new paint, and because we would never let our baby “eat paint chips.” 

We loved the place. It was spacious and affordable and the landlord seemed to care for the house and had maintained it well in many ways. He had not painted over the natural woodwork. He’d built a new bathroom. Later, he even replaced the old basement windows with glass block. There was a tiny yard with a big pine tree. We were newly in love, and we loved our first home together.

We had our daughter in 2013, and while I’d felt peaceful and prepared during the third trimester, the sleep deprivation after her birth flipped a switch in me, and I experienced post-partum anxiety that was unlike any anxiety I had never known. 

I was terrified of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and Google searches revealed that everything caused SIDS. My daughter cried all the time. She cried unless I held her, but it was my understanding that it was not safe to sleep with her. So I didn’t sleep. 

During my anxiety-fueled “research” binges, I came across the issue of lead exposure, and I decided to add it to the long list of things to ask about at our next pediatrician visit. While the home had been recently painted when we first moved in, it was now starting to chip. The doctor said it could be a concern since we lived in a 1920’s house. There are so many old rental doubles in Lakewood, no doubt she’d seen exposure before. It was standard to test by finger prick at age one, but I wanted to prevent exposure. 

She put me in touch with an agency (I’m pretty sure it was the Cuyahoga County Board of Health) and provided her recommendation for them that we have our home inspected for lead. I made a series of phone calls to the agency connecting them to the pediatrician’s office that I don’t totally recall. I do know that at that time, they only inspected on doctor’s recommendations, usually after a child has tested with elevated levels. (We also were in touch with Lakewood Alive at this time, and they were really helpful, supportive and resourceful throughout this entire process.)

The agency came and did an inspection and found lead dust in several places, including the windowsill in our daughter’s bedroom (fortunately she was still sleeping in a pack-n-play in our room at the time) and in the shared hallway outside our back door that led to the basement and outside. This was the area with the most lead because of a back second-floor balcony that was falling down covered in chipping paint that contaminated the yard, the driveway and this common rear entryway/stairwell.

In love and deeply anxious.

The agency gave us instructions on how to keep surfaces free from lead dust. They taught us that exposure to lead dust leads to elevated levels of lead in children, and so my bigoted but comforting idea about paint chips was shattered. They said we could rent a HEPA vacuum from a place in Parma that would help in the rear entryway/stairwell. They also told us about a program that we could apply for that would give our landlord thousands of dollars toward lead abatement. (I just threw out all the records of this last year, so unfortunately I don’t have the exact value of the grant or its name—I believe it was for $10,000, and it was likely the Lead Safe Program.) 

We were struggling. My husband was working long hours, often six days a week, doing the shopping by himself and cooking dinner, all to keep us going. I was still awake nearly around the clock with our daughter. Once, my knees buckled and I almost dropped her. I was so sleep deprived and anxious that I suffered from invasive thoughts and my emotional range was trapped between fear and sadness with only rare but bright bursts of intense joy. Love was the deeper feeling that held me together.

I mopped daily. I wiped down the windowsills with paper towels and took them directly out to the trash. We always removed our shoes upon entering and asked guests to do likewise. 

We jumped through many hoops getting the paperwork together. (I’ve always been grateful for government programs, and I understand that it is those who would like to defund them who set them up in such a way as to discourage people from applying.) The application process required many personal documents and forms, and then asking our landlord to also produce documents and fill out forms. Approaching him was a little intimidating because I wanted to have a good relationship with him and hated to ask him for anything. 

He was a little skeptical. He said that years before he’d HEPA-vacuumed the back entryway/stairwell, and the kids who lived here at that time tested with elevated levels anyway. (This was scary, but I still had the arrogant idea that they must not have been keeping the place as clean as we were.) The landlord seemed to think lead exposure was inevitable, and that lead abatement was a waste of time and money, even with the subsidy. But he went along with the application process anyway. 

We did everything we could. We continued to mop daily, leave our shoes in the back hallway and wipe down the windowsills. We didn’t open the windows the rest of the time we lived there, even though there was no air conditioning beyond window units in our bedrooms, so the kitchen, dining and living rooms were stiflingly hot and muggy during summer months. We never played in the back or front yard because the grass was contaminated with paint chips and dust.

About six months later in spring we were approved. I was so happy and excited about what this would mean for the safety of our little family’s home. New windows and siding on the house? In the meantime, the landlord painted the front porch, which at least helped seal someof the pealing paint. 

We had a beautiful porch, but we never took her out there before he painted it, and now we could. Things were looking up. 

Lead dust.

Then, at her one-year check-up that August, our daughter tested 9 mcg/dL on her finger-prick lead test, indicating problematic lead exposure. (Results of 10 mcg/dL or higher are considered dangerous, and there could be some problems from levels higher than 5 mcg/dL.)

I was just beginning to get some sleep and feel some measure of safety and security for our family. 

I called the landlord, angry because he had access to the grant, and yet he hadn’t started any abatement. We’d done all we could do on our end, and our child tested high anyway. 

He got testy with me for the first time, basically repeating his earlier opinion that some lead exposure was inevitable and not a big deal, and that even with the subsidy, it would cost him too much money. He said that he would take some measures to reduce the lead, including removing the back balcony and painting the house.

Three months later, he still hadn’t done anything. Our daughter started to walk. Her intravenous blood test was slightly lower than the finger prick test, and we were told an iron-rich diet would help pull the lead from her body, so we continued keeping the apartment as clean as possible and feeding her an iron supplement and plenty of iron-rich beans. 

While we were on our way to our daughter’s fifteen-month checkup, my husband texted our landlord that he wanted in writing that abatement would begin. Our landlord texted him back that we had thirty days to leave. 

It was the first snowfall. My husband usually had to work during office visits, and we had been excited to be together with the pediatrician and show her that our daughter was walking, but now we were shaking with fear and anger.

We knew our rights. We were on a month-to-month lease, but it said clearly in the paperwork that the landlord could not evict us because for applying for the abatement grant or during a certain period of time after. 

When we got home I took some deep breaths and called him. I tried to approach him as a gentle concerned mother, hoping that empathy for me would help smooth things over. He immediately started screaming at me that we were playing a dirty trick trying to get things in writing, and that we were setting him up, and that the abatement would cost tens of thousands more than the grant and that he wouldn’t do it. 

Our landlord then said that if we really wanted to keep our child safe from being poisoned by lead, we should move to a farther out suburb like North Olmsted.

I was shaken. I hadn’t been yelled at like that in many years. I was used to dealing with people on friendly professional terms. The content as well as the tone was humiliating. 

My husband took the phone and told our landlord firmly that we were excellent tenants, that we had always paid rent early, that we were quiet, that we’d tended a garden and made the place better than we’d found it. 

My husband’s conviction calmed down the landlord, and he apologized for threatening eviction. Maybe it was easier to yell at a crying mother than an angry father. He said he would HEPA vacuum the rear entryway/stairwell, paint the house and tear down the outside back stairs and balcony, which, again, was the largest source of the pealing paint and was falling apart anyway.

It took me a while to shake the trauma of being yelled at, of being threatened with the loss of our home on the first snowfall with my newly walking daughter tumbling about with wispy hair and a hopeful smile. 

Our daughter’s lead levels eventually went down as she grew. We loved our home and were pacified by the hope of new paint and the removal of the back balcony.

Lakewood Alive was helpful throughout this experience. I talked several times with a woman who was a passionate advocate for renters. She never wavered in her conviction that we had a right to a safe home for our child. She gave us advice about how to stay safe when our landlord eventually had the house painted. 

He hired a neighbor who was a professional painter. The woman from Lakewood Alive had said they needed to use a tarp to keep the grass and soil safe from the lead chips. The man didn’t use a tarp and paint chips were everywhere. I don’t want to insult my neighbor, but I carefully approached him and mentioned the tarp and suggested he wear a mask to keep himself safe from lead. He told me that there was no lead paint because it had been banned in 1978. I have to admit, I was a little shocked that this professional didn’t know that lead paint remained underneath the newer paint and was presently exposed. I told him that our daughter had tested for elevated lead levels. 

The landlord never did tear down or paint the back stairs and balcony that were collapsing and covered in chipping paint.

The double had an unusually nice dry basement, and when our daughter was two-and-a-half, we were planning on hosting a play group, so I wanted to set up a play area down there. I noticed the basement stairs had chipping paint, so I painted them, but I was frustrated and concerned because I knew I wasn’t totally doing it right. I hated the thought of any of the little children being exposed to lead paint dust. For some reason, that was the day we finally got fed up and decided to move.

We hated to leave the home we’d loved for five years.

This was in 2016. Our rent was $575 a month, and when we’d moved there in 2011, most doubles were going for $650. By 2016, the rents had gone up hundreds of dollars. The lowest we could find was $850, and these doubles also had old windows and paint rather than siding. To get siding and/or new windows, you had to pay $950 or more. (Plus electricity and heat that could add hundreds more in the winter.)

Eventually we found a place in downtown Lakewood for $750 a month. The location was wonderful as the library and grocery stores were a short walk away. The building was old and not in great shape, but it had siding and a new window in the child’s room and a nice yard.

Ultimately, we only stayed there 18 months because despite the lower lead risk, the building was maintained much more poorly than our first place. There were rodents in the basement, old dangerous electrical wiring and most repairs we had to pay for ourselves with a credit card. (I called various Lakewood government agencies to figure out when the electricity had last been inspected and was told that there was no record of this house being inspected—that inspections were done randomly, and the rental had probably not been inspected since the landlord purchased the building in the 1980’s.) 

The spaces underneath both sinks were damaged and unusable. The home was not secure; for example, a basement door to the outside was held shut with an old broom. We saw a rat in the basement and hired an exterminator company that said there wasn’t much they could do if the landlord was unwilling to seal the multiple entry points. He was not, nor was he interested in reimbursing us for the exterminator fees. He just said, “thanks!” We were glad our two cats seemed to keep any mice and rats from entering our unit. The landlord took responsibility for nothing. 

Once I called because the lights in the bathroom were flickering. The landlord sent over his regular maintenance man who just stared at the lights for an hour and left. Our landlord liked him because he would always underplay the situation and repair things as cheaply as possible. For example, the toilet repeatedly broke, and he would just fix it by bending the metal in the tank. 

Our new place was lead-safe, but had other, potentially worse safety and health issues.

The final straw came when we discovered a heating duct was torn right below the main vent and loose asbestos was likely coming into our home.

(The house had an ancient gravity furnace and this vent was actually the only one that seemed to work, so gas was costing hundreds of dollars each month and on very cold nights we still had to all sleep together under piles of blankets and still we shivered so much we barely slept.) 

We called a repair company who sent a man to inspect who told us this was dangerous and needed immediate repair. We told the landlord and told him we would pay for the repair. We were willing to max out our credit card.

The landlord came over enraged, ostensibly because the repair company was trying to “con” us. He said the duct had been torn for years. He “repaired” the duct himself by applying knockoff duct tape while asbestos fell on his head. The tape fell off within 24 hours. 

The repairman had sealed the metal heating vent with (real) duct tape, and we left it on all weekend. It was so cold that we were actually concerned about hypothermia. We didn’t know what to do.

On Monday we called the local EPA who said the duct should be replaced, but that since the actual tear had happened a long time ago, we were probably safe for the time being. The landlord not only completely refused to pay for the necessary repair, which would have cost less than $1,000, but refused to allow us to pay for the repair. 

We began looking for another place to live.

By the end of winter, we found a beautiful, well-maintained 1920’s apartment with new windows. We are so grateful to the friendly and competent maintenance crew whenever they come to fix a leaky faucet.

Happy in our new, safe apartment!

We are happy and plan on staying here. But there is a cost, and not everyone in our situation would have been able to make this move. Residents must have good credit scores, and the rent is nearly $900 a month: three hundred dollars more than we were paying three years ago. And other similar units are going for more like $1100 and $1200 a month. We moved at just the right time before rents really started to go up. 

We love this apartment, but we miss having a yard and a porch and a basement like we did in our doubles. Those are nice to have when you have a child. But, we had to prioritize her safety. Our housing cost has gone up much more than our income, so we are living paycheck to paycheck, and often have to use our credit card between paycheck to pick up groceries. 

We lived five years in the double where my daughter was exposed to lead, and the rent wasn’t raised once. The policy of this apartment is to raise the rent a minimum of three percent each year. We hope there will not be a large rent increase because we’d hate to have to leave this home, too. (Update: fortunately, they only raised the rent 3% this year, even though other similar apartments’ rents keep rising.) People shouldn’t have to choose between safety and affordability. Some people don’t even have the choice. 

Sometimes friends say, “My mortgage is less than your rent! Why don’t you just buy a house?” But when you add insurance, water and taxes, the monthly payment is still more, and we can’t afford to pay any more, and then there is the down payment, which we can’t even imagine having on hand. 

We like having a simple life. We would rather have time to be together and do work that is meaningful to us than have extra money to go to restaurants or travel. But safe housing, like health care, is not a luxury. It is a right. 

After we left our first double, a family who’d lived there before us moved back in, the same family whose children our landlord had mentioned had tested with high lead levels years before. They had a new baby. Like our landlord, they must have accepted that elevated lead is part of urban life. There was also a new baby in the other unit of the second double we’d left. The unit was shared by a sweet, large family who worked together to keep things going despite many struggles. We told them about the asbestos, which at that time was not affecting their unit, but there were still rodents in the basement and unsafe electrical wiring.   

 It’s my understanding that doubles were built at the turn of the last century as part of a social movement motivated to create better living conditions for factory workers. Activists and reformers wanted to get families out of the tenements and into places where people had some access to a garden, that were better maintained, more like shared houses rather than containment units.

 Imagine all the acres of land in Cuyahoga County dedicated to safe affordable housing at that time! The only new housing I see now is being built for the wealthy. 

 When children do eat lead paint chips, and I now know that little children will put anything in their mouths, they die. 

Parents can do everything in their power to prevent exposure, and it happens anyway. Our daughter is fine. What if we hadn’t known to mop every day and keep the windows closed? Would she have tested over 10 mcg/dL? Would she have been able to clear the lead from her body? I’m grateful that she did and she is healthy. But I think about the people of Flint. And I think about the people of Cleveland and Lakewood and East Cleveland. 

While our family has a lower income, we also have a fair amount of privilege. We are white. I have a graduate degree and grew up in a middle class family. My husband served in the military. He has a stable job. These experiences of benefiting from the system and being treated with respect by authority figures gave us the naive confidence and feeling of justification to do research, ask for help and even demand justice. 

Even still, while we secured the lead abatement grant and Lakewood Alive was a helpful advocate, we ultimately had to move two times in eighteen months, leave two homes we’d invested our hearts in, just in order to find a safe home for our daughter. And we were fortunate enough to have the credit score and income (just barely) to do so. Both of our former homes still house young children. 

How much does lead stigma and racist, classist bigotry perpetuate the valuing of profit over life that results in housing injustice? I don’t accept my former landlord’s implication that if you really loved your child, you would move far away from here. Lakewood and Cleveland are wonderful cities. Safe housing should be a right for all people. 

I’m writing in part to give voice to the mothers who can’t because they are working two or three jobs to provide for their families, and to the fathers who have accepted that babies with high lead levels are just part of life in America. 

Every child has the right to a safe, healthy place to grow up.

The Baby and the Moon

by Amanda R. Howland

Originally published as “Forty-Fifth Week of Motherhood” as part of the 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project by Nova Doula Services December 2015

Before my daughter was conceived, I knew myself. This knowing was part of the nest I built for her: I would not drag her down with my lack of identity or center. I was a writer and noise musician, a witch, a punk, a yogi who drank in the dark. Pregnant, I sang to her day and night. I meditated. I read. My third trimester was basically a hermitage. I was ready for her. My husband, too, had been making himself ready for her. We were not young parents. We had wanted this for years, and we were fortified. 

My husband and I left our home on August 7, 2013, the day of our daughter’s planned C-section birth (she was breach, sitting upright inside me like a little Buddha), with lists and supplies and mantras. The birth was easy and happy. I felt deeper peace and joy with my almond-eyed baby on my breast than I’d ever known.

After that afternoon, we knew no peace for months.

Could it really be that I was getting no more than twenty minutes sleep at a time for that first week? My daughter had a hard time latching; she dropped a pound and turned yellow. I never knew such horror. 

My husband had to return to work two days after we returned from the hospital. He works first shift in a factory and needs some minimum amount of sleep to stay safe. And so at three, four in the morning, I paced the living room alone with my daughter, who would not stop crying and could not drink. I held her tight because I didn’t trust my arms to hold her, and I kept my eyes open because I didn’t trust my legs to hold us up. Feeding and sleep issues, by necessity, improved to the level of survival: a breastfeeding support group and the visiting nurse set us up with plastic nipples and syringes and formula, and my daughter’s pediatrician said I had to sleep, and that my husband could take her for four hours in the afternoon and give her a feeding of formula two hours in with a syringe and his finger.

And so for months our days went like this: when my husband got home from work, often after stopping at the store for diapers and wipes and chocolate and vegetables, he would take our daughter for four hours. I would try to sleep, but the exhaustion and anxiety often kept me up for a while. Maybe I’d get two or three hours. When I was finally out cold, he would bring her back in to me. I’d feel so depressed upon waking around nine or ten at night because I knew I’d be up for the next twenty hours.  

Our room was lit twenty-four hours a day with pink Christmas lights so I could change her through the night, twelve diapers a day. It was like a different room than the one we’d lived in before. I’d sit up and nurse, which did hurt for a long time because of latch issues, but at least was working. I sat with an aching back and situated the rubber nipple over my nipple and positioned my daughter on the nursing pillow in the football hold, which was the only one that worked until months later when deliberate positions gave way to natural ones. I wish I’d known more about safe co-sleeping. I was afraid to risk it, but now I can see how it can be done, and it might have made all the difference in my experience of post-partum anxiety. 

Then my husband would make dinner, really great dinners: vegan chili or curry and salad. We’d eat together and this was the best part of the day. But then he’d have to go to bed, and the night fear would start.

I wanted sleep, and all other things of the water element: fruit, sex, liquor. I did have showers and fruit and constant drinking water. I wanted touch. I never got ‘touched out’ with my daughter: skin-to-skin was the saving grace. My husband, for a while, wasn’t available emotionally or for physical affection. Though I was lonely, I know now he was showing his love through his dedication. He was sleep-deprived and scared himself, and basically working from seven am until midnight, between working at the factory, shopping, cooking and sitting with our colicky baby, who cried the entire four hours he watched her. 

Again, if I knew then what I know now, I would realize she didn’t really need to nurse an hour on each side, thus constantly, around the clock, since babies need to nurse every two hours, starting from when the last session began. She must have just been suckling for comfort? But she was so small. I was afraid she would dry up in the night, and wither away. 

And for long stretches of the day and night she would only stop crying when she was nursing.

After one fourteen-hour stretch of nonstop crying, as I sang broken Motown songs to her, thinking the loneliness would get the best of us, I took her to the doctor who diagnosed her with reflux. Treating that helped.

Her head and fine hair were so soft, we called her the peach baby. Things got better very slightly and slowly. At two weeks, three weeks, I thought, how has this not been six months? People always say this goes so fast.It was summer when we went into the hospital, but my upside down days made me feel we’d been thrust into winter.

But there was love and beauty. She smiled. She said ‘gah’. Sometimes when she nursed, and her eyes would close, she looked like a very tiny beautiful woman. I realized I’d objectified babies, in a way, and now I saw her as a compressed human being, all potential, like the miniature maple leaf coming out of its bud.

Fresh local peaches arrived. Just what I wanted. But as I slid the knife into the flesh of the fruit, I imagined a knife going into my baby’s soft, peachy scalp, and I couldn’t eat them. 

Walking down the street with her for the first time, holding her, I imagined people pulling over and getting out of their cars and shooting her. I knew this was not going to happen, but I also knew that children around the world werebeing killed, and holding a baby in such a world became unbearable. 

The news became grotesque. Stories of violence against women and girls suddenly sprung up everywhere. I won’t add to your suffering with the details, but the details stabbed at me then. 

There were more moments of peace. And sometimes, when she was asleep in her bassinet, and my husband was asleep, I felt such joy. But then I’d leap up and stare hard at her with dry eyes, was she still breathing?

I thought I would never be happy again, but if she survived, then at least I could live. I thought I’d never write again, or let loose and laugh with my friends, or experience any kind of pleasure, but it was strangely liberating because I thought, I don’t care, as long as she’s ok.

But survive what? The first year? To adulthood? Mortality was a tenderness I could not bear.

There were endless bad things that could happen to her now and in the future, and I felt I had to run through each one in my mind and mentally solve and prevent it and try not to think about it, otherwise, the void was bound to take her back.

The gift of all that at least was I became forced to live in the present moment. Survival could only mean now

I am here with my baby now. And now. And now.

I knew I was trapped in a paradox: all the activities in my life that had soothed my existential fear were unavailable to me, now that I needed them the most. It was just me and this small being, whom I loved so much I could barely look at without feeling staggering grief.

It was during the forty-fifth week of pregnancy, that is, when our daughter was five-and-a-half-weeks-old (she was born at thirty-nine weeks), that our friends had a party at a cottage on the beach in Geneva. It was the Saturday before the full moon, near the equinox, and I couldn’t believe it was still summer.

Of course we couldn’t go, and it hurt. I imagined them frolicking, drinking, laughing on the beach, the waves crashing on the rocks. The moon smiling over the water. We’d been there, before. I held my daughter and felt scared like I did when I longed for some old freedom, that if I allowed myself to long too much, she would be taken away. 

And yes, things were getting a little better. Slightly longer stretches of sleep at night, maybe two hours at a time here and there. 

But that day I read a fact that hit me like a bolt between the eyes: today’s temperature highs will be the temperature lows of 2050. 

What have we done.

My husband took our daughter for my rest. I could sharply hear her crying, as we’d just put the air conditioners away. I couldn’t sleep. Images of a world with wars over water, the rape and murder and torture that comes with desperate pillaging, animals drying up, their sad soft bodies. I knew all this when I decided to have a child. I looked the other way and hoped things would end up ok. 

I panicked because, if I couldn’t get the two or three hours sleep, how would I be able to stay up for twenty more hours and take care of her? 

The minutes flew past as I tried to will myself to sleep. Finally, I just got up, feeling all dried out and exhausted by the work of despair.

I nursed my daughter, sitting up on the couch with the nursing pillow in place and her small growing body cupped in my left arm. She gnawed and I blinked dry eyes. She put her hands on my skin. At some point recently, we didn’t need the rubber nipple anymore, which was great, but without seeing the milk on the nipple, I doubted my supply. Did she nurse all day and all night because she wasn’t getting enough? But her cheeks and thighs were getting fuller. I stroked her small back and she looked up at me.

I told my husband, very carefully, about 2050, and not sleeping, about our friends at the cottage. And I could hear how slow and strange my voice was. I wanted him to tell me that the future would be just fine, and I knew he could not tell me this.

It was ten at night and the sun was down, but he said, “Let’s go to the park. Let’s go look at the moon.”

We drove in the dark to the closest park on the shore, not far, and on the way I felt panic. I felt eager to get it over with, but then, there was no rest to come home to. The air was newly crisp, and the moon was waxing fat.

We were desperate, our little family, desperate to find the night, the end of summer, the moon. 

I smiled for my husband, but any drunk driver heading back to the suburbs from a bar crawl could end our happy little life in any number of gruesome ways I couldn’t get out of my head. 

We parked. I cracked the window. The air held the last thickness of summer, the first cold of fall. 

Then I saw a light in the sky. And another light. My heart went to my throat. I stared in disbelief as I saw what looked like blazing jellyfish rise in the sky – I couldn’t tell if they were big and far or close and small. I asked my husband if he saw them, too. He said yes, and we sat in the car. I could tell he was scared, too. What was it? Some kind of bomb or UFO? Was it real? But what else could it be? The fire blossoms lifted unnaturally into the sky. Should we leave? Go back home? Strange orbs of light – it was hard to believe, but there it was. We were all quiet.

We decided to carefully get out of the car.My husband smiled and said, No, look, and touched my arm. As I stepped out of the car, my perspective tilted, and I saw the balls of fire were close, coming from just farther north in the parking lot. What parked cars before had hidden was revealed to be a family. Older and younger people, and children, tossing something flaming into the air that dissolved before it reached the height of the tops of the trees.The family was releasing beautiful burning balloons into the sky.

The relief was staggering. 

I exhaled. We laughed. My husband said he’d seen something like this before in Malaysia as a boy. Playful orbs. I looked at my daughter, small in her giant car seat, watching us with big lashy eyes. I carefully took her out of her seat and wrapped her in the black sling against my chest, and I put the little black robbers’ cap, which had come with the sling, on her head.

We walked into the park. 

We saw black slashes of trees against blackest blue sky, and living black water. It was a tonic. And the moon! The moon lit up the park. The sound of the water and the shivering trees and the light of the moon all told us we were in a sacred place. I held our daughter close as we walked and grew calm. We introduced them all to our new daughter: the lake, vast and breathing as a sea, and the grass and trees and sky and moon. I hadn’t walked freely anywhere larger than a room in our apartment or a hospital room since before she was born. Another life. Then we looked closely and saw our daughter was looking up at that pearly bright moon against the black sky, and the moon shone on her face! The night was a mother.

I will always remember our daughter’s face bathed in moonlight, looking up with conscious presence from under her little black cap, returning the gaze of the moon. 

Back at home, my husband played guitar to us as I nursed our daughter in my arms. 

And now, nearly two years later, everything is fine. We are who we were, but stronger. We’re still nursing, and it’s easy and sweet, and we sleep, and our strong little daughter pulls back the bedroom curtains and calls the moon by name.

Please check out the entire 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project here: https://novadoulaservices.org/52weeksofmotherhoodwk45/


Climate Crisis

by Amanda R. Howland

What to do in the face of the climate crisis?

When I was young, I had a friend who regularly protested the Iraq War. Once, he saw police aiming guns with rubber bullets at a woman in the middle of the street. He made the courageous choice to jump between her and the police, and he took the bullets to the back. He showed me the scars. 

It wasn’t covered in the news, and the war raged on for years. My future husband would serve two tours.

I first heard about global warming when I was in third grade. It was called “the greenhouse effect.” This was in 1986.

Twenty years later, I went to see Al Gore’s movie, and I left the theater shivering with fear, but also remembering how protesting the Iraq war worked out for my friend. 

I believed we were powerless. I had not yet had children. 

For a time I learned from people who were were working to relocalize the economy in order to shorten feedback loops and become less dependent on oil. They were relearning skills our culture had forgotten that allowed them to “power down” by using less energy and resources for everything from water use, food production, heating, etc. There was a belief at the time that peak oil was near, and the decline of oil stores would cause societal breakdown before climate change. The hope was that if we could develop skills at the local level that would allow  communities to become carbon neutral, than hopefully the ideas would spread, but at least our communities would be resilient.

But then fracking technology caught me by surprise and kept the machine running deep, cheap and hard enough to bring climate change to a crisis. 

Not that I’d done much in the way of relocalizing and powering down, not much more than talking. It was something I put off. There is so much urgent business in front of us each moment of our brief time on earth: family, work, the urge to create, the urge to feel good. Endless housework and nagging maintenance of both our obnoxious stuff and our precious relationships.

When I had my daughter, Obama was president. He wasn’t perfect, but still… After Occupy, there seemed to be a progressive culture taking root. It seemed like LGBTQ rights were surging and white people were becoming more aware about police violence against black people. Despite my minimal involvement, local agriculture was on the rise. People were talking about slut-shaming and uncovering the buried history of indigenous people. Social scientists claimed that despite our heightened awareness of violence, there was a global downtrend in violence and in the treatment of children.

Things were hard and things were real, but as a species, it seemed like the interconnectedness of the internet was helping us grow. Personally, we didn’t have a lot of money, but our rent was cheap. It seemed like a good time to have a baby. 

As my baby grew into a child, I would occasionally look at articles describing the climate horrors we could face by 2050, and I would look at my beautiful child and wonder what we had done, and I raged against the powerlessness I felt. Then I would google up some good news about climate technology or policy so I could get through my day. Or get to sleep at night. 

Then Bernie ran for president and brought progressive ideas back to the Democratic party. Hillary was not ideal, but still…I was thinking we were about to elect our first woman president running on the most progressive democratic platform in a long time, thanks to the people-powered ideas Bernie and his supporters had brought to light. 

Then Trump won. We who had been cozied up in liberal bubbles learned that the internet had not only been brewing intersectional feminism but also a vicious alt-right unashamed of ideas that seemed shockingly retrograde, bigoted and cruel. 

My world, our world, suddenly tilted toward the worst climate projections and fears of fascism on top of that. As we shook ourselves awake from our stupor, grief and shock, we read that maybe calling our congresspeople is actually effective. I’m still not so sure about that. I have made many calls these last three years. It worked for the Tea Party, but, after all, the Tea Party asking for things that didn’t buck corporate agenda.  

The Trump administration continues to ravage environmental protections, promote the industries that are causing global heating and burn down democratic institutions. Through bold lies, the Trump administration spreads fascism: in a world with no truth, people are smart to stand behind the strongman. They spread cynicism. The world is burning, so we might as well make money off of it.

Meanwhile, our rent has almost doubled, while our income has not. Each year our family has less and less. There is no money for extras, and we have to dip into our credit card in between paychecks. Everything feels insecure: health care, housing, even the food and water supply under climate change and deregulation.

The UN said that by 2030, the climate change may create a global “climate apartheid” with the rich hoarding resources and the rest of us, all of us, nonrich Americans as well as the rest of the world, suffering and dying from lack of basic neccesities. 

In 2030, my daughter will turn seventeen. 

Our family isn’t perfect. We use computers and drink coffee and use plastic. But, due to a lower income, we don’t consume as much as many Americans. We wear clothes until they get holes, and then sometime a bit longer. We very rarely dine out or buy food with a lot of packaging. We are vegan because it feels right to us. We use the right lightbulbs. 

Research shows the four most powerful consumer decisions a personal person can make are to have one fewer child, take one less airplane trip, stop driving altogether and go vegan. These choices, or working toward these choices have a much greater impact than buying low energy lightbulbs and such that have been promoted over the last few decades.

We can spread the word and chip away toward these goals as best we can as individuals. I am poor, so I never fly, but I do drive a car. People can at least eat less meat.

These actions are individual ethical decisions. The only way to solve the climate crisis is to view it as the collective tragedy of the commons that it is. People cannot be expected to put huge amount of efforts into personal changes that statistically amount to nothing.

Here is an example. My community used to offer near-universal curbside recycling. Now, because China doesn’t want any more our plastic crap, the whole economics of recycling has changed, and our city no longer offers curbside pickup for apartment buildings. I’d have to drive my recycling across town before 3:30 P.M. on weekdays only, knowing that much of it would be either tossed out or transported large difference using up fossil fuels. Also knowing that only a small percentage of apartment dwellers in my city are trucking their stuff down to the center. It’s futile. Green options need to be built so that they become societal default. People want to do the right thing, but we need a critical mass in order for it to work.

We need a massive, comprehensive infrastructure overhaul. The science and technology is there. But our government has been coaxed, coerced and gerrymandered into a corporate state, with corporations even writing the laws.

American identity has been manipulated. We have been turned into “consumers”, when first we are citizens. Actors in a democracy. 

The summer of 2018, I longed for the change we need and I called to mind the idea of a Green New Deal. I wrote the words GREEN NEW DEAL and put them above my desk. I googled the term and saw that it had been used by the Green Party and several others before as a way to describe proposals that could work together to slow, stop and begin to repair the damage done to the planet as well as create quality jobs. I thought it could also be a way to heal our country and win over some people who voted for Trump primarily because they had been betrayed by neoliberalism from both parties. 

I called Sherrod Brown’s office and suggested as much to a bored sounding man, who told me that nothing would change with the current administration and state of congress. It was an election year and progressive Brown was up—I thought maybe democrats could align behind the message. The volunteers at Marcy Kaptur’s office were a little more receptive. I told them everyone I know is underemployed. Wages have been stagnant since the 1980’s. Low unemployment rates hide the economic reality.

Within the next few months, several changes brought climate and economic justice to the top of the news. Democrats took back the house with new progressive members. The devastating U.N. report on the urgency of the climate crisis was released saying we had just twelve years (eleven as of this writing) to drastically cut emissions in order to maybe avoid environmental devastation by as early as 2040. (My daughter will turn twenty-seven in 2040.) Newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined youth activists in the Sunrise Movement in occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office. Their demand was immediate and far-reaching legislation to address environmental problems and justice issues at once.

The Green New Deal.

We need to unite behind this idea. We need to unite behind candidates who support this idea. This is our hope. The Green New Deal was ridiculed from the start by Fox News, who covered it more than any other channel. Nancy Pelosi also made fun of what she called “the green dream”, but that didn’t kill the dream as most top democratic candidates for president support the Green New Deal. 

In February of this year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. introduced the Green New Deal non-binding resolution. It’s a fourteen-page document that outlines goals that are intended to be filled in with legislation.

You can read the full text for yourself here.

This video best expresses the vision of the Green New Deal: 

Here’s one way to pay for it:

What to do? Communicate. Communicate at all levels.

Tell your friends and family. Call your representatives. Here in Cleveland, Marcy Kaptur has not yet endoursed it, but Marcia Fudge has. Activists spent a great deal of time communicating with her, and though reluctant at first, she ultimately gave her endorsement. 

Keep in mind that while the Green New Deal is the large-scale Federally-funded program we need, much of the decision-making embedded in the resolution will take place at the local level.

Let the idea spread. Our only hope is to aim for the most progressive vision possible because it will be fought at all levels. But it could be beautiful.

Educate your family and friends. Call your members of congress. Join Sunrise, Global Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion, green labor group BlueGreen Alliance or other organizations and participate in climate strikes and actions. Check out Greenpeace’s social media hive or resistbot.  Get behind the Green New Deal and communicate. Vote for the candidate that most strongly supports the Green New Deal. Work to support that candidate. Here is a link to Greenpeace’s ratings of presidential candidates: 

After the election, there will be much work to do locally and personally for many years to come to secure resiliance. Right now support the Green New Deal and the candidates who will support with greatest force and commitment. As of this time of writing, that candidate is Bernie Sanders. 

If we all schedule an hour a week to communicate in various intelligent, efficient ways about the Green New Deal, the idea will spread. My local community even passed a resolution supporting the Green New Deal along with another environmental house bill. Communication can include letters and phone calls to members of congress, face-to-face conversations with people in your community, strikes and demonstrations, or using whatever platform and voice you have available to you.

Also consider the top 100 producers of greenhouse gas emissions. There are people behind the decisions that are causing environmental devastation, and you can communicate with and about them and hold them accountable. Here is a list:  

There is much work to do, but our best hope is for us to unite behind The Green New Deal and progressive candidates.