Slaying the Dream

My daughter, the Warrior Princess, played her first game of volleyball when she was ten years old. Several of her friends also played, and so the long Saturday mornings in cold gymnasiums across the city playing friendly games of pick up volleyball were like parties for her. Every weekend she’d get to see her friends and have fun doing a little light exercising. They were never bothered by their parents-most of us knew next to nothing about volleyball and found more pleasure catching up on recent gossip and complaining about our children than in watching the games.

But as the kids grew older, my daughter, already the tallest in her class since kindergarten, shot up two feet in about a year. And it was about then when the first club volleyball coach approached her at one of the community games. I never knew there were volleyball coaches at those community games. I couldn’t imagine why anybody who wasn’t forced to be at those games would be there–far too often plays stopped because one girl was picking at her fingernails or because a ball, the only ball anybody had remembered to bring, was kicked under the stands or up into the netting for basketball hoops and nobody could figure out how to get it out.

But the coaches were there and and they saw the thick powerful legs of this Warrior Princess and the towering height and they salivated. They talked to us about how she’d never be able to keep up with other girls if she didn’t get into club volleyball right now, and even worse, they threw out their very first hint of a promise–with hard work and dedication, she could be good enough…their voices trailed off, leaving us to imagine the ending of their sentences.

We hardly dared to dream it. Both my partner and I were high school athletes and we’d both carried on playing our respective sports as adults. But neither of us were good enough to play in college. Not even at smaller colleges.

And we had always ridden the line between working class and poverty.  I couldn’t remember the last time we weren’t worried about when the car would break down or if we could make rent that month. Sending our kids to college was a dream. A distant dream that we didn’t dare even speak out loud.


The Larry Nassar sentencing consumes me.

Each new athlete that walked up to the microphone in the teeny grey courtroom twisted my stomach and tore at my throat. How could this have happened? How could any man have gotten away with hurting so many women and girls for so long? By the end of the sentencing, over 150 women and girls testified, and there were even more than didn’t get to testify because of time constraints. The sentencing couldn’t go on forever, after all.

But that’s the way things go with sexual abuse. There’s always more people.

The stories that the young women shared all felt familiar, like an old pair of pants–stiff and scratchy until they settle into your body and you forget you’re wearing them. One young person spoke of breaking her neck in four spots and a coach bullying her into continuing to practice. Another young person told of continuing to practice on a painful leg because of bullying by coaches, only to find out later her leg was broken. Several people shared stories of bulging discs and torn ligaments and pain so excruciating they could barely walk. One girl wound up in a wheelchair. Another with a hip injury that left her unable to lift her leg from the floor. She competed anyway. That same girl testified about deliberately hurting herself so she could escape the Karolyi camp (a nationally renowned Olympic level gymnastics training center run by Bela and Marta Karolyi). Marta Karolyi responded to the girl’s injuries by telling her that a different girl had fallen off a bunk bed and didn’t miss a day of practice.

Coach after coach sent these hurting bodies to Larry Nassar. The miracle doctor that could fix anything. Multiple survivors testified that he was the ‘good guy’ to the bullying bad guy coaches. Nasser snuck the girls forbidden candy and promised to get coaches to back off. He scheduled appointments after hours and very quickly–a blessing for hurting athletes that often had to wait months to get into even poorly rated therapists. He charged nothing when girls couldn’t afford it. He commented on their Facebook posts and liked their instagram pictures. He was nice. Parents trusted him, even ones trained not to trust. Multiple parents of survivors are police officers, and they trusted him. And so their girls did too.

Individual stories. Hurt bodies. A familiar ending.


Volleyball is not a high impact sport like football or basketball. Occasionally, one girl will crash into chairs or even another girl while trying to get a wayward ball, but that’s rare. Other times, girls get concussions from being hit by a spiked ball. As girls get older and more competent, the good ones can spike balls up to 100 miles an hour, and if you’re not paying attention, very often even if you are, you’re going to get hurt. But even concussions are rare in volleyball. As girls get better at spiking, girls also get better at bumping and ‘receiving’ the ball.

What makes girls better able to spike and receive balls is repetition. They repeat their drills so often, spiking the ball, bumping the ball, setting the ball, the skill weaves in the muscles, becoming a part of their DNA–the musculature learning to move before the brain can think.

For every game the Warrior Princess played, she spent hours and hours on the court, doing thousands of repetitions of various drills. Arm swings. Blocking. Passing. As a middle blocker, she spent most of the game at the net, either spiking balls for a point or blocking balls that other players spiked at her. One of the drills she did would start her at one end of the net, and then she’d jump up as high as she could, legs and arms fully extended, as if blocking a ball, all the way to the other side of the net. She’d do this back and forth across the net 5-10 times. And this was just a warm up drill.

Drills they did during practice would be more intense, sometimes spiking a ball (and almost all the girls spike with one arm), hundreds of times in one practice alone. And then there was the blocking drills. For that a coach stands on a big block and hit balls over the net, like an opponent might during a game. The Warrior Princess would block until she couldn’t breath, her face red and dripping sweat, her stomach heaving from the tension and stress of repetition. I’ve seen more than one girl throw up–the jokes about puke buckets were dark and borderline angry. The same girls getting lectured about not throwing up to be skinny were being encouraged and told working out so hard they threw up was ‘good for them.’

The Warrior Princess was usually hurt by mid season. There was almost never a single moment that caused her injury–no, for her the pattern was that one day after good and bad days, her body would decide to torque up just a little too tight for her to rotate or stretch out of and she’d be in physical therapy for a month. Repetition injuries. Sometimes she’d be able to recover quickly enough to make it back to the team before the end of the season, sometimes the pain was season ending.

But the pain never went away.


I picked my first bucket of blueberries at age ten. I don’t remember what made my parents pack all the kids in the car and drive us over to a local field. But it made sense to me then. We were a poor Mexican family, and working in the fields is what most of my Mexican friends did.

I learned quickly how physically demanding picking berries can be. After a few hours of work, I could hardly move my arms because of the intense pain radiating from the center of my neck out to my shoulders and down to my elbows. The bucket that I dropped my berries into yanked on my hips, twisting my back muscles into painful knots.  I drank enough soda or Koolaid to keep ‘sunstroke’ away–but often felt ready to vomit. I understand now that was due to dehydration. Back then, I made myself get used to the feeling, assuming that I was being ‘childish’ or ‘not tough enough.’ But I never got used to not eating for 12 or 13 hours a day. I would try to sneak a few berries when I thought nobody was looking, but after being reprimanded for ‘eating your paycheck’ I stopped doing even that.

Repetition injuries. The first time I went to a physical therapist, it was for a pinch in my neck that finally became too much to ignore or grit my teeth through until the advil kicked in. When they asked me what I thought caused it, I couldn’t answer them. This pain had torn at the back of my neck for so long it seemed normal, like it was a part of me. I was laying in bed that night, drifting in and out of sleep, my mind working underneath the waves of sleep, when the answer finally seeped into my consciousness. The hot days, the rope with a towel around it, the bucket of blueberries hanging off it, the sharp stab in my neck. The searing heat across my neck and shoulders as I reached out for blueberries. And the firm ‘suck it up’ from whatever adult I told. The deep breath, the focus, the singing under the breath. So that eventually I learned how to ignore it.

Even now, I always know when I’m stressed out–my neck muscles seize up and the muscles and their memories squeeze a few involuntary  wheezes of pain out of me.

I know hard physical work. And I know pain.

And I knew I would do whatever it took to protect my daughter from what I knew.


As athletes move up in the volleyball ranks, they get closer and closer to The Dream.

Back in the olden days, when I played pickup baseball games with neighbor kids, we had The Dream too, but it wasn’t like it is now. Back in those days, we’d pretend that we were a player from our favorite team. We’d listen to games while wearing our gloves and cheer whenever the announcer mentioned our player. Maybe if we were lucky, our parents would put us in local rec leagues to learn how to be just like Alan Trammel or Jack Morris. But that only happened if it didn’t interfere with vacation, and only if you agreed to ride your bike or take the bus to practice. More often, if we were good enough, during our gym class, our gym teacher might mention to us that tryouts were starting soon. And then sometime in late high school, we might get the actual visit–the college recruiter. But until then, it was all a fuzzy blurry Dream, one that only the best players ever were able to tune into a sharp focus. For the rest of us, being able to say ‘played in high school’ was an honor.

The Dream these days is a recruitment tool, and they start shaping it for you before you’ve even handed over the first check. Club/travel teams post their recruited athletes on websites and gym walls. They tout their ongoing one-on-one relationships with colleges teams and recruiters. They hold clinics for the general public explaining what it would take to get your kid recruited. They talk about how their sport is the most likely to get athletes full ride scholarships. Eventually they even offer ‘rate your daughter’ experiences where your daughter can go do drills and play a game in front of college coaches, who then ‘rate’ where your daughter would stand in comparison to other girls and what she can do to improve her chances at getting recruited.

Clubs never promise scholarships or that your daughter will be recruited. But they do swear that this is the only path they can travel if they do want to get recruited some day. And they’re right. Back in the olden days, the best athletes played throughout the year, but they did it by shifting between sports. Bo Jackson was a three sport athlete in high school. Lou Gehrig played football and baseball (and was actually recruited for football). Jackie Robinson was a four sport athlete in college. They were superior athletes, but didn’t become masters of their particular sport until they were adults–in Bo Jackson’s case until he was already playing in the MLB. And it wasn’t uncommon for the Old Dream folks to take some time to develop. Star athletes like Tom Brady, who is considered the greatest quarterback of all time, often talks about how he took two years as a professional to learn plays and get his feet under him.

These days, kids play one sport year round, thanks to club and travel teams and that Dream they sell. Kids specialize and become masters of their particular sports at high school and even middle school level.  And clubs are careful to point out that unless you’re playing year round, you’ll be so far behind by the time college recruiters come knocking, even good athletes will be passed by mediocre kids that have had the time to perfect their skills.

But even with all the passive threats and aggressive carrot dangling, clubs don’t promise you anything except that the Dream is one you can buy access to. The rest is up to your athlete.


Club/travel sports are an investment. Like a good money fund or a house. And so just as adults go to work to pay for the house, girls go to work to get the big payoff, The Dream.

And they start protecting their investment. Girls play thru all but the most immobilizing pain. Many times, they even play through that. One time at a club game, I asked a small group of parents if any of them had some aspirin for my throbbing headache, and after digging, no less than ten bottles of painkillers were offered to me, some over the counter, others prescription, all meant for the aches and pains their daughters dealt with from playing. After I expressed shock, purses were overturned and backpacks were emptied and a big pile of herbal salves, ice packs, knee wraps and braces, and KT tape mixed together on the floor. Nobody on the team played pain free. Most of them were using multiple methods to manage their pain. I wondered how these painkillers interacted with normal teen activity like sneaking alcohol from parents or smoking pot.

Girls played through back pain, knee pain, ankle twists and muscle tears. Parents pushed their girls when they knew their daughter’s tears were from exhaustion rather than manageable pain. We all sat judgement on parents that couldn’t tell the difference. We also sat judgement on parents that seemed to only care about being ‘the best.’ We didn’t care if our daughters were the best, we cared if they worked hard and were persistent. We believed that a ‘good balance’ of being tough and working hard would lead to The Dream. That felt right to us, like a good compromise.

When my Warrior Princess refused to play through pain, she and I fought. She wasn’t sweating under the 100 degree sun for 12 hours a day, she was doing something she loved. Something that could get her college scholarship! What kind of pampered child was I raising? If she warmed up properly, the pain should go away. Right?
She and I fought hard. I wondered how bad the pain could really be. She wondered how I could call her a liar. I am not calling you a liar, I’d retort, I’m just wondering how bad that pain really is, I saw you running just now and you didn’t even wince. She’d respond with one of those teenage eye rolls and maybe a door slam. We’d fight like this on and on for days. The more I’d push, the more she’d dig in. When I changed tactics and tried to sweet talk (I know you can do it, my sweet Warrior Princess!) or guilt trip (you’re letting your team down!), she’d respond with a sarcastic, ‘Like I can’t figure out what you’re doing, mother.”

I could never bring myself to force her to play anyway, like I’d seen other parents do, or even tell her to toughen up. But boy did we fight. Driving to games, my partner, her father, would burrow into a seat, headphones firmly stuffed into his ears, so he didn’t have to listen or take part of our battles. Her brother stopped coming to games unless I forced him to.

If my kid was a different kid, one who wanted to be a good girl maybe, she would’ve caved under the intensity of my blazing pressure. If I didn’t have the teeny veneer of conscience hold me back, I would’ve blazed until she broke.

But I call her Warrior Princess for a reason, it is a title she has truly earned. And she never lost a battle against her dragon mother, even if there were plenty of draws.


One of the stories that came out during the Nassar hearings was of the young woman who tried to tell her father that Nassar was hurting her. Her father not only didn’t believe her, but demanded she apologize to Nassar for accusing him of something so awful. She refused to.

And then the blazing whirlwind of fire began. Every time father and daughter got into fights, father would pressure the daughter. You need to apologize to Larry. You need to admit you’re lying. I’ll make your life a living hell if you don’t. Kyle Stephens stopped talking about it to her parents. But she replayed the molestation she survived in her head, over and over again on repeat. So that she could remind herself that she was telling the truth. She wasn’t a liar.

Eventually there was the show down–the daughter tried one more time to tell the father, the father became so enraged he put his hands on his daughter’s throat. And then something clicked, and he knew the truth. He knew. The daughter told the court about how his guilt eventually led to his suicide.

Father and daughter. Blazing pain. The Dream deferred.


The question never goes away. How could this happen? Pulled out every single time yet another ‘shocking’ case of sexual violence happens. How could this happen? It’s like the comfort blankie from our childhood, we cling to it, smelling it’s warm familiarity, sucking on it’s frayed corners. The answer to ‘how could this happen’ offers it’s own Dream. If we can figure out the right answer, the pain, the violence–it might not happen to our Warrior Princesses. Our babies.

As more testimony came out during the Nassar sentencing, the question became like a drumbeat for the heads of parents. How could they have let this happen? What kind of parent doesn’t know?

Abuse is rampant in all sports, but it was never called abuse, not when I was growing up. We called it, ‘being tough.’ Suck it up, stop being a pussy, toughen up. You see examples of this olden days abusive behavior in the classic movie, Bad News Bears. A drunken coach regularly yells at and belittles his players, who are all just barely on the cusp of puberty. A different win-at-all-costs coach slaps his son after the son makes a mistake. The movie sits judgement on both of these coaches, but doesn’t really reflect on what is going on around the coaches and players to make coaches so abusive. And the movie never called what the adults did, abuse. The kids eventually seem to even sorta be glad that their coach was a little ‘hard on them.’ It showed he cared.

These days, even the slim condemnation Bad News Bears sat parents that were ‘too hard’ on their kids seems quaint. Today, parents, coaches, even sports radio, bemoan a world where kids get ‘participation’ medals or ‘everybody is a winner’ certificates. They can’t stand how kids today are treated with kid gloves, never exposed to the hard facts of life that sometimes there are winners and sometimes there are losers. They all agree: kids need to toughen up and stop being pussies.

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes was released back in 1995. It spoke of the many ways that coaches were ‘toughening up’ their athletes, but this book called ‘toughening up’ abuse. And it questioned where the line was between ‘toughening up’ and ‘abuse.’ It wondered how good it could be for girls to be ‘toughened up.’ It wondered if the price for winning was just too high and too extreme, especially for children that hadn’t even reached puberty yet.

But athletes, even many gymnasts, who the book focused on, weren’t interested in answering the questions the book raised back then. I saw an interview with several gymnasts defending the brutal training practices–they knew what they signed up for. It’s what they wanted. They wanted to train hard and be the best. That’s how they got to do it.

But even if they defended their sport, they didn’t deny that they were treated like shit. It was just a question of whether or not The Dream was worth it. Most argued yes.

Next to nobody asked if it was appropriate for little girls to be achieving their dreams–most seemed to have forgotten that achieving dreams is for adults.


The US Gymnastics team dominated the 2016 Olympics. The US won the team competition by an unprecedented 10 points over their nearest team. Simone Biles destroyed the competition in all that she did except the balance beam. The entire team exuded power, effervescence, brilliance. Their interviews about their training regimen inspired admiring coos from broadcasters, the internet ran listicles telling us how to ‘work out’ just like Simone Biles or Aly Raismen.

And at the time, the list seemed admirable. 32 hours or more of workouts a week. Hours and hours of ab drills. No parents allowed in the gym or at the camp. No phone access at camps. No candy allowed. No water until the skill is perfect. All distractions gone, eliminated, so girls could train to be the best, so they could focus. Everybody admired the work ethic–that is how you win! adults said as they introduced their daughters to the sport.

I asked during the 2016 Olympics if any -body- should be as well trained as Simone Biles or Aly Raismen. Especially when so many of those bodies were so young. I worried about what that sort of training would do to girls who would never and could never be Simone Biles. I worried about what it would mean for gymnastics. It’s a sport where 20-year-old Gabby Douglas was considered down right grandmotherly. Many questioned if Douglas had any right being on the team in 2016 when she was so clearly ‘distracted’ by adult problems like university and (Possibly? Could it be?) dating. Is there anybody left, I wondered, who remembered what grown women’s bodies doing gymnastics looked like?

The very few people that responded to my questions, responded negatively. Why would you shit on the excellence of these girls? asked on commenter. I think they’re gorgeous, said a more gracious commenter. They know what they signed up for, said another.

They know what they signed up for.


I worked in the fields as a ten year old because workers regulations prevented McDonalds or General Motors from hiring me. And even when I finally was old enough to work at McDonalds, I was only allowed to work until a certain time of the day and a certain number of hours a week, especially when school was still in session. Farm workers are exempted from these worker protections so that kids working on their family farms don’t get penalized. It just so happens that the lack of worker protections mean that a significant number of kids as young as five and six are out in the fields picking before most people are out of bed in the morning.

My family knew what they were doing when they dragged us all out to the fields to work. Us kids even wound up feeling a sense of pride and self-respect when we were able to contribute to the family through our paychecks.

I knew what I was doing. I knew what I signed up for.

I was a woman before I questioned if it was ok for 10-year-olds to work 12 hour days for any reason.


The Warrior Princess never backed down in her refusal to play when she was hurt. And I just kept getting angrier and angrier with her. It was ok to push her. It was ok to bully her. It was ok to ‘expect more’ of her. Because I was giving my daughter a gift. A gift that I never got. The economic support to dream big. The support and love of her family. We knew she could do it.  We all believed in her. I believed in her.

I loved my daughter. My most precious thing.

Why couldn’t she see that?

Our battles increased in intensity and swamped our time away from the volleyball court. Now we weren’t just fighting on the way to the court, we fought over dinner and in between homework and on instant message during school. She spent more and more time in her bedroom with the door closed and the time we used to spend cooking together or talking about books we read together was non-existent.

One day after dropping her off at a practice, I pulled into a local park and broke down completely. Sobs ripped open my mouth, tears flooded my nose and mouth, making me choke. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. We couldn’t stop fighting. And I missed my girl. My daughter.

Luckily, my partner was with me then, holding me through the ugly sobs, helping me to breath through the choking tears. As I calmed down, he finally said–you can’t fill her up when it’s you that needs the filling.

I let his words come into me. They were gentle, spoken from love. He trusted me to hear him, and I trusted him enough to listen.

What was the hole I was trying to fill?


When I heard Kyle Stephens testify about her father, I didn’t feel angry or disgusted or even sick to my stomach as I had over so many other stories. I felt compassion for her father, and fear.

What hole was her father trying to fill? What was so empty in him, so hurt, he was willing to take down his daughter, hurt his best thing, to stop anybody from seeing? What was the Dream he was trying to buy?

What was the Dream I thought I was buying?


I apologized to my daughter. Not because I was a good person that finally figured it all out. But because there was just enough of the rational logical part of me that hadn’t been consumed by the emotional Dream beast that I was able to find first one then another then another brick down the road to doing something different.

I explained to my daughter that I wanted more for her than to be a former migrant worker with a bad neck. And so I had pushed her too hard and cared too much about the wrong things. She nodded and said she understood, but that this was her life. I nodded back at here and vowed to myself to respect her declaration.

I backed off, but our fights didn’t immediately stop. Instead of yelling or screaming, I many times contented myself with gritted teeth and adult version of eye rolls. If I couldn’t verbally say to her what I wanted to say, maybe my grinding teeth would. This, of course, set her off. I thought you were going to back off and leave me alone, she’d scream. And I would have to fight to choke back my own angry words so that I could at least angrily scream back at her at some point from a moral high ground.

But even as things weren’t always perfect, I didn’t stop trying. And neither did she. And so we started to find our way back to each other.

At dinner one night, we did appreciations. This is where we go around the table and share with the family what we appreciate about other family members. We’ve done it since the kids were teeny, and often the appreciations are silly or repeats of what they said for the last appreciations. But that night, I told the family I appreciated what the Warrior Princess of mine taught me about boundaries. That her refusal to back down against the massive dragon of her mother was inspiring. And taught me a life lesson I didn’t get from my parents or any adult growing up.

This kid of mine looked at me and smiled and said thank you. Not a grateful thank you–a  confident strong thank you. She knew she did good. And she would’ve known it whether I told her or not.

I see that same confidence blazing out of Kyle Stephens when she confronts Larry Nassar in court. And I am so glad to read that she and her father found their way back to each other before he died.


The Warrior Princess played one more season of volleyball and then got a catastrophic knee injury. She had to go through surgery and then months and months of physical therapy. If she played her cards the right way, she could’ve gone back for her senior year of volleyball. But where our lives used to be swamped by practices and games, there was now only endless physical therapy appointments. So we had a lot of time to talk. And she told me that as much as she didn’t want to be hurt, she was thankful her volleyball career was over. She actually hated volleyball. But she didn’t know it until doctors told her she might not play again in high school. And felt the relief flooding through her.

Her words reminded me of the Russian gymnast back in the 80s that was bullied into performing skills she wasn’t ready for and wound up paralyzed. She gave an interview saying that when she was laying on the floor, hurt, unable to move, the only thing she could feel was relief. Now she wouldn’t have to go to the Olympics.

Thankful for pain. Thank god. Now it’s over.

Individual stories. Hurt bodies. A familiar ending.


I can’t stop thinking about what the Nassar sex abuse case means for sports. I know what I hope it means. I hope it means that we give up on little girls working like grown adults in unsupervised spaces where they’re taught obedience and submission. I hope it means that we let kids be kids. And club sports are banned forever. I hope we go back to kids exploring sports they like in gym class and recruiting only happening during senior year of high school. I hope we willingly embrace grown women doing less fantastic but more sophisticated skills. I hope to see what grown women’s bodies look like doing gymnastics and figure skating and baseball and hockey. I want money in sports to be regulated so that training schedules are looked at as the labor they are rather than the ‘dedication’ they are forced to be.

And it has to be ok to ask: when is too young to ‘achieve your dream’? It has to be ok, because this is what club sports are selling. A dream possibly realized, by the kid, and maybe even by the parent too. Because what parent doesn’t have lost dreams? What parent doesn’t have a hole that needs some filling? And how many of us would do anything under the sun short of murder (and sometimes even that) to make sure our kids don’t feel the twisting empty hole we’ve had to learn to ignore?

It’s a natural part of the parent/child relationship for the child break away from the parent. It’s a normal part of a child’s growth for them to push back and say that’s not my dream. And there is nothing, nothing, in the world of (club, collegiate, professional or Olympic) sports that encourages young people to push back and declare their own space and their own boundaries. Regulating sports as labor would be one way to push back. If a kid can’t push back against coaches and parents and corporate sponsorship and college recruiters, maybe labor regulations can.

But in the end, what is point of sports if kids are hurting themselves to escape them? If kids are grateful to be hurt so they can be free?


As the Warrior Princess recovered from her knee injury, she joined the cross country team. She’s not any good, most of the kids on her team aren’t either. There’s no college recruiters showing up to meets, and most practices involve them running unobserved by their coach out at local parks or down long stretches of quiet road. She tells me about how sometimes her team will meet up at a nearby play structure and play on the swings together before they go back to the school. It reminds me of this Mexican kid I used to know with a sore neck and lost dreams that used to skip class to go hang out with her friends in back of the school and smoke cigarettes and ride skateboards. A rare treat before she had to go to work.

I don’t know if the world of cross country is reflected in my kid’s team. I don’t know if there are any club cross country teams or workshops or classes kids can take to get better or if all cross country teams are as laid back as the Warrior Princess’s team is. But maybe that’s the point. Because this is what it’s supposed to be like for kids. They’re supposed to have the time and space to fuck around while they figure things out. They’re supposed to have the space to push back and say no. So that when they’re on their own at college or at their first jobs or in their first relationships–they know how to do it.

Sports are an industrial complex now, and the foundation of this industrial complex is built on the silence and obedience of athlete/workers. On their lack of power. And this industrial complex manipulates the parents/child relationship so that parents are the enforcers of worker silence and obedience.

So we start there. We must be brave enough to start there.

Are we brave enough to help destroy the complex our kids are trying to escape? Are we adults brave enough to slay our own dragons, and not make our kids do it for us?

Unions Make Us Strong

The interesting thing as the MSU sex abuse scandals are developing, is how often so many different corners of the media world have tried to impose a ‘savior’ on the situation. Feminist minded people want Judge Aquilina’s sympathy for and fierce protection of victims to be the new standard we judge all judges by. The Atlantic went so far as to call her court room ‘transformative justice‘ and the meme of her tossing aside Larry Nassar’s letter has gone viral.

Michiganders are (not unironically) calling for Governor Rick Snyder to force MSU president and board to step down, fans are calling for the NCAA to ‘do something,’ and most (myself included) are wondering why the FBI hasn’t stepped in to do real investigating.

Nobody knows what to do with a scandal that is so all encompassing, that has so many different institutions in positions of culpability, that has gone on unchecked for so many decades. We want more judges like Judge Aquilinia, we want people to ‘listen’ to girls and women that speak up, we want victims to speak up–a few of us want boys and men to learn different ways of having sex. Almost everybody is calling for as many people as possible to be punished.

The one thing I keep getting stuck on, though, is how few calls we’re seeing for the empowerment of girls and women specifically as producers of labor. That is, next to nobody is treating the MSU case generally and the Larry Nassar case specifically, as a reason that justifies, in fact, demands, that non-professional athletes be unionized.

During the Nassar sentencing, over and over again, girls and women testified about the conditions of the gyms they spent upwards of 35 hours a week in. The physical and emotional abuse that coaches subjected them to. The contracts forcing them to submit to physical treatments or lose their place on the team. The trips without parents. The camps with no access to parents or guardians. The endless practices with no advocate in the gym, training or locker rooms. The endless practices girls with broken bones, torn muscles, unhealed bodies were pressured to participate in. The endless practices that girls as young as nine and ten years old were pressured to participate in.

What would we say about a child being forced to work at a fast food restaurant for 30+ hours a week with her back broken in four spots that was directly caused by the job? Would we be ok with that? Our child labor laws tell us no, we’re not.

So why is it ok if it’s being done in the name of a sport?

Sports are not just ‘sports’ anymore. Sports are an industry that from the time an athlete enters their first club, through until the time they end their ‘careers’ requires a massive investment in. Gone are the days that athletes experimented in gym class or joined a school team on a whim. Club sports have cornered the market on what used to be kids playing in the street or at the local YMCA. Many young people get so invested in the rigors of club sports, they even skip their high school season under the guise of how much of a ‘challenge’ club sports are.

Kids dream of Olympics and being recruited. Parents dream of free rides through colleges and maybe a house when Bobby makes the NFL team. They plunk out the thousands of dollars to enter their kids into the upper echelons of club sports, where they are given access to the chance to reach their dreams. You can’t achieve your dreams mucking around on a high school team coached by an unpaid math teacher.

The ‘chance to achieve your dream’ is a powerful narrative, one that is built into the fabric of US society. If you just work hard enough, you’ll get there. The sports industry especially embraces this narrative-Do you believe in miracles?? yells Al Michaels during the hockey game where a few scrappy American college kids took on the red force of communist hockey, and won. The ‘miracle’ is that hard work and dedication can really over come anything, lack of training resources, money, even the communists.

But lost in this narrative of ‘hard work’ and ‘achieving your dream’ is the reality that we glimpsed at the Nassar sentencing. Kids are paying thousands of dollars to labor in violent and abusive conditions to create a product that makes their clubs millions. Club sports are a $15 billion–yes *billion* dollar industry. On Olympic years, when kids get to see the Fierce Five undo the competition or Michael Phelps singing the national anthem for the 14th time, enrollment in club sports spikes.

When an individual does well, her club/home team is recognized, her club/team coach often gets as many interview requests as she does. And as we saw with Larry Nassar and MSU–that Olympic connection then becomes a powerful recruiting tool. As MSU gymnastic coach, Kathie Klages said in her recruitment letters–We have Larry Nassar!

But every single child, whether they make it to Olympic gold or not, are not just working for free–they’re paying to work. By the time those that go to the Olympics or they get recruited for top teams or they finally finally finally make it to the bigs, they’ve been paying to work for decades. The vast majority, who won’t even be recruited at a class D school, have been paying to work with no reward at all.

And yet, whether or not they make it big, the names of their clubs becomes permanently attached to their resumes. Any success they create, whether Olympic gold or just getting accepted to a good college, is another opportunity for the club to advertise and recruit. I’ve seen just as many clubs talking about ‘their girls’ being top notch students that wind up in elite colleges, as I’ve seen clubs advertising Olympic connections. Implicit in their recruiting efforts is the promise that a documented long term dedication to a single sport ‘looks good’ on an application and plays as much of a factor in getting girls into Harvard as their coaching plays in getting girls recruited by a Big Ten team. Whether or not that’s true, club/home teams using the success of the girls to recruit in more business means that it’s not just that these kids are paying to work, they’re paying to ultimately become a powerful marketing tool for their club/home teams.

Non-professional athletes have limited power–the ones with the most power are the ones on high revenue sports (like basketball or football) that know the worst thing a program desperate for the revenue his name could earn the college could hear is a ‘no.’ But even those athletes can only hope that they wind up making enough money in the pros that when their bodies begin breaking down from the years of overwork and abuse, they’re set.

All the other athletes, the athletes that are recruited by the Olympic dream that only five people every four years will be given a chance to compete for, continue to plunk out thousands and thousands of dollars for the chance to work too many hours in abusive conditions that depend on them being powerless, voiceless and obedient. The already limited power of a high revenue athlete is non-existent for those whose sport only becomes big every four years like gymnastics–or never for sports like rowing, softball, or field hockey. It means something that most low-revenue or ‘every four years’ sports are sports played by women/girls.

Which all makes me wonder; what would happen if all these athletes were allowed to organize and unionize?

If we’re to go by how quickly the state of Michigan created and signed into law Public Act 414, the law that makes it illegal for student athletes to unionize after athletes in a different state and non-Michigan school were allowed to unionize, we’d have to suspect that empowering non-professional athletes would cause a massive shift in power that universities, club sports, the NCAA, the Olympic organization and even sports media don’t want and would be unprepared to handle.

Of course there would be a tremendous loss of money for these major institutions if student athletes had the right to organize to be paid for their labor instead of to pay for it. But more importantly, what would happen if any of the student athletes at MSU had the chance to go to their union rep when coach Kathie Klages ignored their complaints? Or if either of the women’s gold medal winning Olympic teams had the power of their union behind them when they said, unless you get rid of Larry Nassar and allow each athlete to go to their own doctors, we’re not competing at the Olympics? Or if every little girl at Twistars gym had the power to mobilize all the gymnasts at the gym to get rid Larry Nassar? Or Kathie Klages? Or Jim Geddert?

How quickly might things have changed? Do these huge sports entities really want that level of change? Or do they depend on athletes being powerless?

I know that unions come with their own problems. And we have to assume that if all these other institutions could so fantastically and horrifically fail hundreds of athletes in this way, a union could too.

But right now, with so many people looking for all these individual entities to ‘save’ girl and women athletes, it’s shocking and appalling to me that next to nobody is acknowledging that girl and women athletes saved themselves. And that their power comes from their ability to mass mobilize. And that right now, the one entity we have in the US that can provide any sort of protection at all for mobilized populations, are unions.

What if the best thing we can do to ‘save’ our athletes, and especially athletes that are women and girls, isn’t get more sympathetic judges or get the FBI or the NCAA involved in investigations, but is rather instead to fight that fucked up bullshit piece of shit legislation in Michigan that makes it illegal for college athletes to unionize?

Would we be willing to support their efforts by refusing to buy tickets, products advertised during major sporting events, and refusing to allow our children to go to colleges that refuse to let their teams unionize?

Sports are a money making industry now. Acknowledging that we’re expecting children to pay to work in abusive conditions is not cynical or an attempt to eliminate the ‘purity’ of sports culture. It’s acknowledging that industries rarely, if ever treat their workers with respect or dignity unless they’re forced to.

Rachael Denhollander asked us all to answer the questions–how much is a little girl worth? How much is a woman worth?

Their lives are worth fighting for unionization. They’re lives are worth shutting everything down until all athletes have the right to mobilize, organize and unionize. And their lives are worth me doing without sports until the power shifts and one athlete’s voice saying the first time it happens that they want it to stop, holds as much power as 156 voices in a court room does.




the sound of water is everywhere.

it starts in my abdomen, the soft whir of incoming waves building until it crashes into my ears.

my hands go to my body and I try to pay attention, try to see the sun from under the waves,

but my body relaxes

and i sink…


i went to california recently. and saw the pacific ocean for the first time in my life. as i hiked toward it on that first day in california, i kept hearing a sound–like traffic. like the roar of the freeways that you can’t escape in southeast michigan. semi-trucks crashing across lanes, car tires slapping concrete, the relentless sound digs into your ears, even when you’re inside.

anger shifts into rage as i walk closer to the ocean. i am staying at a former army barracks converted into a national park and just this once, i need to see nature, feel nature, hear nature, without the taint of roaring freeways in the background.

but then i break through the forest i am hiking through and see for it for first time. the huge endless ocean. that’s when i realize that the roar was not coming from the freeways–but from the ocean.

thick rolls of sound crashing into rocks.

on that day…slow. a comfortable rhythm.

my feet easily shift from angry freeway rumble to the relaxed roll of the water.

i don’t stop walking until i am on a large cliff overlooking the entire ocean. i  see nothing but water. no land, no people walking on the beach, no military barracks. just me and the ocean.

the sound is everywhere

and i sink…


it’s been years since i was suicidal.

but in michigan, things haven’t been going well. i was driving to work the other day, on that freeway that i have a relationship with. i see death almost everyday on this freeway, in the form of animals mostly, but every once in a while, people too. usually you know something horrible happened not because you see it, but because the freeway is backed up for hours. that usually means that whatever accident happened is deemed too grisly for the average person’s eyes and they shut down the freeway entirely until it’s cleaned.

sometimes, though, you see it. maybe the cops/ambulances aren’t on the scene yet. maybe it isn’t quite bad enough to shut everything down. traffic creeps along slowly enough that you can see the traumatized people’s faces as they stand next to obliterated cars, only aware enough to be grateful that they are not the person in the ambulance. you spend the rest of the slow ride into work thinking about things. thinking about life.

i try not to think about my time on the freeway much anymore. i try to respond to fear with sensible responses. leave two hours early so you can go slow. travel in the middle lane so you don’t have to deal with merging cars on the right or out of control trucks on the left. kitty litter in the trunk in case you get stuck. phone charged.

go slow.

one day, as i was driving down the middle lane, i’m in control, i’m in control, i’m in control…

a car coming in the opposite direction flew into the median, flipped completely around from the impact of landing, rolled up the small hill of the median and crashed into the wire fencing on my side of the road.  it all moved in slow motion, i could see exactly what was going to happen even as it was happening. it was as the other car crashed into the wire fencing that i was just starting to see that there was no way i could escape the collision, even by going slower.

if it wasn’t for the fence, i would’ve collided head first with the other car. but the fence was there. the fence was there.

once i realized i had escaped, i didn’t pull over, i didn’t call 911 to report the accident. i kept going my “safe’ pace down the middle lane of the freeway. breathing. in. out. in. out.



i am in control

of nothing.


it’s been years since i was suicidal. and yet,

as i sink, the water fills me, suffocates me,

i don’t fight.


i’m going to be 40 this year. it’s a momentous year, one that can point to my achievements, allow me to take inventory, and make the commitment to live the next 40 years as i haven’t lived the past 40 years, with intentionality.

but my boss started the year off with that talk. the “there is never any easy way to say this….this organization needs to make some changes….” talk. i knew it was coming. i had known for awhile. in a way that somebody always expects things to go wrong knows. i got the email from my boss on a friday, asking if we could meet the upcoming tuesday. i replied sure, and asked “why?” i never got a response.

so i knew. i knew what was going to happen before it happened. i almost hyperventilated as i waited for my turn to get fired (there were three other people fired on that day). i tried to text mr. toast for support–but my fingers were shaking too much. after almost dropping my phone, i gave up. took a deep breath. and walked into a room to face down a table full of board members and bosses.

“there is never any easy way to say this….”

can you be chicana and not have a job?  a chicana getting a job is testament to the world that you are no longer a child, no matter how young you are. if you could bring home a paycheck, if you could help provide, you were grown. i’ve had a job since i was 11 years old.

what am i if i don’t have a job? what am i if i was fucking FIRED from my job? who am i allowed to be?

who am i?


i suffered for years from severe gallbladder issues. horrible attacks that completely immobilized me, drained me so much that i couldn’t get out of bed for days. after years of suffering, my body suddenly revolted and things got even worse. for three months i threw up everything i ate, had severe attacks constantly, and was mostly unable to get out of bed, even to work.

i finally convinced a doctor to take the damn thing out. i never felt more right about a decision–and yet, as the day drew closer and closer, i felt more and more backed into a corner. i’d be in bed, trying to doze, doing my best to quite my body, only to be awakened by dreams of people choking me, using my blankets to smother me. one day, the dreams were so bad, i finally forced myself out of bed and wandered around the house aimlessly, looking for something, anything, to distract me.

i found mr. toast working out in the garden.

he said hey as i walked to him and kept working.

i stood in front of him and made him stop.

suddenly, everything came hurling out. i just need to tell you in case i die from this surgery that i love you that i really love you and that i’ve loved you all these years even though i never really thought i did but i do and i need you to know that, to really KNOW that in case i die. i love you. i mean, i really really love you. i’ve never loved anybody else. just you.

he stood there for a minute and then smiled. i know you love me.

but i stopped him. no, i mean i REALLY love you. i’m not just saying it.

he paused. amused. so you mean you’ve just been saying it all these years?

yes, that’s what i mean. but i didn’t realize that i wasn’t actually just saying it, that i actually MEANT it. i really do love you. and i need you to know this. in case i die.

he laughed. and pulled me into his chest. his warm sweaty chest, that has held our crying babies for hours at a time, that i can perfectly snuggle my body into when he hugs me, my head resting in the curve of his neck, my body wrapped completely by his arms.

i know you’ve always loved me, bfp.

i needed you to know. in case i die.

he is kissing my face, my hair, my lips. you’re not going to die. and i love you too. i’ve always loved you.

the sky is blue. the warm air twists around us, holding us together.

i love you.

there is nothing like potential death to make a person brave.


the water floods my chest, i can’t breath.

i don’t fight it.


i don’t want to die. i’ve never wanted to die. even when i was suicidal.

but what is the alternative? it is near impossible to live life without love, without having been loved. i read this book by dr. gabor mate where he gave a case description of a man who doctors found had a serious illness. life threatening, but the guy definitely had a good chance. the guy, however, didn’t have a strong support team, didn’t feel like he was worth fighting for. so even after church members talked to him and his doctors talked to him and everybody talked to him and told him he had a really good chance of survival–the guy just shook his head. refused to fight, and eventually died. mate was using this story to talk about support systems and how having them can really help improve your chances of getting through a serious illness.

i took it as a testimonio. one that i could’ve written. what is the use of fighting, when there’s nothing to fight for?

i was that guy, and i didn’t even know it. a tale of two city’s unloved sydney carton. the lonely drunkard who was smart enough (hurt enough?) to know that it just didn’t make sense that the pure innocent lucie could love him. it didn’t make sense that anybody could love him. so he switches himself with a man about to be killed by a mob. sydney will be killed in his stead. the man sydney saves is the man who could be loved. the man who was dearly loved. who was not taking up space.

sydney does not send himself off to die from a sense of martyrdom (i will die so others can live!), but because there’s no reason to live. how could you be arrogant enough to take up space when you could never possibly be loved?

as a small child, i’d play make-believe and i was a beautiful and kind hearted girl who could see the good in sydney. so i loved him. and i’d plead with him to live, to please please live. eventually he’d be energized by my love, and i’d help him escape and we’d live happily ever after.

at some point, as i got older, i couldn’t manage to convince sydney that i loved him, even in my imagination. he’d look up at me sadly, shake his head, and turn away. eventually, i just stopped playing make believe. even my imagination couldn’t overcome reality.


water is flooding into my mouth, filling my chest. i can only see watery darkness.

i am safe.


i don’t want to die. i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.

and that’s why when i read that case study in that book that i can’t even remember the title of, i did not look away from the mirror. i studied what i saw for hours. shocked, not at the willingness to die, but at the comfort. the utter ease of drowning. the way i moved in it, as if with an old friend. no need to talk, no need to explain. understanding each other.

all these years, i thought the ease of my relationship with death came from a buddhist sense of resignation: death is inevitable. or maybe it was acceptance of my depression. depressed people are ok with dying. depressed people don’t want to die, but they can’t help themselves. they just have to one day, when it becomes too much.

as it turns out, i did not really have a relationship with death at all. lack of value was who i had formed the real relationship with. it made sense that nobody would want me in this world, that i wouldn’t want myself in this world. i stopped noticing how much sense it made, and it just became the norm. hegemony played out in my own body. complete and utter submission to “valueless.”

valueless wrapped itself around me, comforted me when things got hard. it makes sense that i messed that all up, i’m a fucked up worthless piece of shit, right? it makes sense that i don’t get recognition for work done, other people who work harder/are better than me deserve it more. who am i? and why should it matter that i get nothing? why *should*  i get something?

i looked long and hard at all those thoughts. and i started to realize something.  so much of my writing up until that point had actually verbalized all those thoughts and tried to reconcile, conquer, own, destroy, evaporate, make friends with, and control those thoughts– practically everything i had ever written in the past 10 years, if i was honest with myself.

and the more and more i thought about it, even when i moved outside of my blogging and into my school essays or my short stories or the letters i used to handwrite as a child–it was all the same thing. the invisible relationship that i thought i had never really noticed was actually a life long battle that i have been trying to detangle myself from since i was a small child.

somewhere in me, there was somebody who was actually fighting. somebody who kept pushing. somebody who was inside the prison, not sitting next to me, but sitting IN me. somebody who wouldn’t let go. somebody who, even in the worst of times, kept whispering–

but…but…where did you get the idea that worthless people don’t deserve life?

but…why does screwing that one thing up mean you’re worthless?

but…who decided you were worthless anyway?

but…why do you have to believe it?

somewhere in me (buddhists tell me it is my true self, the inner buddha that is in all of us), there was somebody who always knew better. and fought back through writing. i didn’t really understand that there was a fight going on. i couldn’t see it. maybe it was that i didn’t want to. because then i would have to take sides.

i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.

what i never knew was that i was actually suicidal because i never wanted to die.

and i thought that was the only choice i had.

reading the story of the man who thought his only choice was to die, because he was alone, worthless, valueless, i saw clearly that he was wrong. i saw this, because for the first time, somebody who had no vested interest in my own battle pointed it out. i believed dr. mate, because he never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable. that’s the cruel irony of it all. those of us fighting this life long battle with “valueless”? we would never in a million years think anybody else didn’t have the right to live. we would never talk to anybody else the way we talk to ourselves. we would adamently stand up for the person being assaulted by the words and judgement that we inflict on ourselves. i have gotten into physical fights with men who treat women the way that i treated myself. i would destroy any human being who talked to my children the way i talked to myself.

so it makes sense that the time i finally paused, stopped, sat down and studied the mirror up in my face was the time when a person was pointing out my own actions in somebody else. when the person who was pointing out my own actions never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable.

i still think about the man from dr. mate’s book. i am very defensive of him. i don’t want anybody to think that he was “stupid” for just “letting” himself die. that this about needing to “get a more positive attitude.” or “if you just believe in yourself.” or “if you would get out of the house more.” or any of the crap people who don’t know what is going on try to “help” with. i don’t know if what he (i) have is depression. i could make a strong case that it’s actually a bad case of oppression. but whatever it is, whatever this battle is about, “being more positive” or “believing in yourself” is not going to win it.

but because of him, i am not hopeless. something will win this battle, because now i know what is going on. for the first time, i believe this truth more than i believe the logic of “valueless.”

something will win this war.

and i will be there to see it done.


my dreams are shifting. i no longer want to be fearless or even brave. because now i know that they aren’t really the point. i want what others know, without question. without even noticing it. hegemony taking over their bodies. they are loved. of *course* they are loved. it is natural and makes SENSE that somebody loves them. hegemonic love. it’s ok to try new things and go new places and not be perfect and face down life with or without fear–because you are loved.

it’s ok to be happy, it’s ok to put your fists down, it’s ok to lay next to your life long loving partner who has been with you through all the war years, and not worry that he’s just faking it or there because of some mistake.

it’s ok to just relax. rest your hand on his alive beating heart, breath deep.

maybe it’s even ok to start itching back around that idea that formed so many years ago, that faulty logic. maybe it’s possible to love somebody like me. maybe loving somebody like me isn’t such an impossible concept. maybe…maybe.

“maybe” holds all the possibilities i have never imagined before.


in california, i read some of my writing out loud for the first time. i spent the whole time in california feeling awkward and alone and too afraid to say much of anything to anybody. i was still struggling with my health issues and i felt ill most of the time. so old and out of place among a group of young brilliant activists. it’s hard to be an introvert surrounded by extroverts–it’s near impossible to deal with social anxiety around people who all want to do “get to know you” activities into the middle of the night.

but on one night–the night where they did “open mic,” i decided to read something i had written. something about dancing.

that night after my kids got home, we started watching the opera Carmen. It’s a catchy opera that is a lot more accessible than other operas are, but even so, they both went upstairs after a while. I was ok with that, because as soon as they went upstairs, i got up—and at first just paced around for a while—but eventually, that evil little monkey thief took over. and i started to dance. i swirled and twirled and practiced holding my arms just so while looking in the mirror. i thought i was being quiet—but in that way that kids always do, within about 6 minutes they were back downstairs asking incessantly, what are you doing, what was that noise, why are you doing that, what is going on, i thought i heard something, what are you doing?

i stopped at first, and started to tell them to mind their own business—but then my body took over. that body that is the universe. that universe that i am learning to trust. and next thing you know, i was dancing.

when i was done, people stood and cheered for me. women surrounded me and hugged me. there were tears and love and laughter. it wasn’t that i was exceptionally moving, a writer above all others. it was that kind people knew i didn’t like being the center of attention and were genuinely rooting for me. it was that in that place, for once in my life, i decided i didn’t need to have both fists up worrying about what could happen. i didn’t need to worry about if i was taking up space i didn’t deserve to be in.

i deserve to be here.

my fists go down.

and i am alive.


i am standing at the top of a small cliff at the end of the world. the silvery grey ocean flutters in front of me, the sun dips into the water. the waves roll into me, roll into my abdomen, my ears, my cells. i spread my arms and allow myself to fall from the hill into the water, into the sun.

the universe i am learning to trust.

this body that is the universe.

my face breaks through the water,

i say hello

to the seagull that floats

next to me.


i am back from california and i am in his arms. i breathe in the smell of his chest, savor the heat radiating from his alive body. i am on top of him and waves are crashing. i have never seen him before this moment, never noticed so much about him. the way his face softens with (could it be?) love when he watches me, the way his calloused worker hands that have changed diapers and cleaned up my vomit hold me, won’t let me go. the rhythm rocks in my ears, flows through my body. i have never seen him before. in all these years, i never knew that he loved me. i never knew.

he is in me and through me and he knows how comfortable it feels to me to drown. but he pulls me up anyway. rubs the muscles in my chest, opens my lungs. so i can breath.

there are warm blue kisses and our breath in the sun and mr. toast whispering.

you’re not going to die. and i love you too.

i breathe.

flint, food, water

Ever since the Flint water crisis began, lead poisoning has been a top news story in national media. Most know the story of Flint’s water crisis by now. Flint was assigned an emergency manager that eliminated most democratic checks and balances in the city, including the power of the city council and mayor. The emergency manager then decided to change Flint’s water source. Changing the water source caused an erosion in the water pipes throughout the city, which in turn, caused the lead in the pipes to contaminate the water. Flint residents have been unable to drink water out of their pipes for the past two years.

Many people have asked what they can do to help the people of Flint. And rightfully, the top response has been ‘send water or money for water.’ But as the crisis of water access is being dealt with, more people are starting to wonder about how to help people suffering from poisoning. While the effects of lead poisoning are permanent, Doctor Hanna-Attisha, the doctor that wrote the report that made the increase in lead poisoning levels major news, has repeatedly pointed out that nutritious food is an excellent way to minimize the impact that lead poisoning can have on a body.

In food insecure regions that deal with high poverty, people very often count on high calorie/low nutrition food like fast food or gas station food to feed themselves. While the food is low in nutritional quality, the high calorie count can make living on one meal a day much easier. And very often the cheap cost of the food means that one meal a day can be flipped into two or even three meals. The problem is that those low nutrition foods often lead to some of the very same problems that lead poisoning does; short attention span, hyper activity, depression and lethargy, and even potential criminality.

So a high quality nutritious food program that is available to entire community would be an excellent way to not only feed people, but potentially minimize the effects of lead poisoning. And yet, there’s been very little conversation and even less action taken towards improving and increasing Flint’s access to nutritious food.

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, petitioned the Federal government to increase it’s age limits on the  Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program from 5 years to 10 years. WIC is a supplemental food program that makes food available to low income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women and their children.

Snyder’s petition was rejected almost immediately by the Feds, causing a bit of an outrage from the Snyder camp. Snyder released a statement where he stated that the Federal Government wasn’t acting like ‘much of a partner’ on the problems of Flint, and that in fact, because the Feds were a part of the problem they had a responsibility to be a part of the ‘solution.’

And yet, Snyder’s position on WIC doesn’t really make much sense when you dig deeper. WIC is a program designed to eliminate health problems women face when they are pregnant or breastfeeding without adequate nutrition. Thus, WIC is a program that can only be accessed by pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding women and their children. Grandparents, fathers, women without children, etc are ineligible for the program. Lead poisoning in Flint certainly hits young people very hard, but the entire population was poisoned. Increasing the WIC age will do next to nothing for anybody who is not pregnant or parenting young children.

The interesting thing is that welfare is a food distribution system set in place that is capable of reaching multiple populations of people, and is proven to effectively challenge food insecurity. But one of the very first things Snyder did when he got into office was to enforce a 48 month life time limit on cash assistance. Eventually he also signed legislation requiring students attend school or risk losing family benefits and mandatory drug testing.

When Snyder’s cash assistance restrictions were put in place, the three counties that saw the most people fall off the roles were Wayne (which is home to Detroit), Kent (Grand Rapids), and yes, Genesse (Flint). Getting people back on the roles would be something that Michigan legislature could easily do, seeing as Michigan legislature were the ones who took everybody off. The federal limit on cash assistance is 60 months.

But instead of immediately repealing the 48 month limit Snyder volunteered at a food pantry for a half hour and held an exclusive birthday party for his wife that included security, blacked out windows and an extremely expensive cake. It’s hard not to wonder what kind of a ‘partner’ Snyder is being with this sort of ‘effort.’

As discouraging as Snyder’s actions have been during this crisis, there have been small rays of hope. Dr. Hanna-Attisha has been a leader in organizing a research/medical response to the lead crisis, including putting together free testing clinics and and gathering/tracking data on lead exposed infants. But she also is working on nutrition as part of the program she is directing, the Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI). She set up her clinic above the local farmer’s market that accepts SNAP (the food assistance part of welfare) and has cooking classes that demonstrate how to cook meals with the food bought at the market. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is quoted as saying, “We give out nutrition prescriptions (at the clinic).”

Michigan State University, the university that is sponsoring Dr Hanna-Attisha’s work, has also been instrumental in making educational resources available. This book of recipes is filled tasty kid friendly recipes that use ingredients that are targeted at improving the quality of a body’s response to lead poisoning. The booklet also explains what foods to look for and what foods are going to be most beneficial to helping to fight lead poisoning. There are multiple other resources at their website set up to address lead poisoning.

edible flint, an organization in Flint that focuses on helping Flint residents grow healthy and accessible food, is focusing on what the water crisis means to food growers in Flint. If you’re using contaminated water, it can affect the food you grow and how healthy it is for those consuming it. Food growers recognize this and are studying the situation and working to develop meaningful responses. This work is ongoing and deeply necessary.

The Flint water crisis has the possibility of reinventing how we understand food in the United States. Is food insecurity a punishment we dole out to people that weren’t good enough to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Or is food a human right that we ensure everyone has enough of because of the way corporations have violated our environment? We need fresh nutritious ideas about food and justice, but we need those ideas to focus on meeting the needs of all communities. Where we go from here is up to us.