Friday, June 04, 2021

My Mother's Eulogy

The eulogy I wrote for my mother is below.  I did not believe I could speak it because, as I write below, my mother passed along her "gift" at crying at anything, even AT&T commercials.  I had expected the minister to read it verbatim, but as my Mom would boldly and directly tell you, this man could rarely let anyone's statements go without commentary, much less a woman's texts.  

Our home churches are quite different. 

Yes, it's taken me months to post this.  I have written few thank you notes for all the kind notes and flowers and meals people sent. To acknowledge such kindness is to face why people have been so kind, and it remains extremely painful to fully reckon with my mother's passing.  

I have additional thoughts I will share in future posts, including my core family's realization that mom's brain damage from vascular dementia happened many years before her official diagnosis and how that affected our relationship with her.  But for now, the actual eulogy we wanted read at my mom's funeral.


A few words from Dot’s children.


Mom loved when, at her brother’s memorial, the family stood up and shared memories of love, compassion, and humor about his life. But we also recognize that Mom was incredibly tenderhearted and passed along to her daughter, at least, the special gift of crying at Hallmark movies and AT&T commercials. So, we do not trust that we can get up and say what we want to say without sobbing the whole way through.


Therefore, thank you, Dr. Clapp, for reading this for Scott and Anita.


Mom’s father told her she could do anything she wanted and she did.  She double majored in Chemistry and Biology at Woman's College and minored in French.  When she reentered the workforce after her children were grown, she was hired as a receptionist at Greensboro OBGYN.  But within one year, they saw her talents and charged her with starting and administering their medical lab. She remained in that position until she retired over 20 years later.


Mom passed her father's advice on to her children and told us that we could do anything and everything as long as we tried. And she supported everything when we tried from Anita moving across country to go back to graduate school to Scott starting his own private lawncare business after he retired from the Air Force and the North Carolina Zoo. She worried about the risks but believed we would be successful because we tried.


She celebrated every one of our successes--major and minor--as though we were winning a Nobel prize.


Her Christian faith was an essential part of her being. She was a scholar: listening, reading, and learning about God and the bible throughout her life.  She loved to share her faith and her knowledge. Her teachings had powerful, positive effects on everyone around her.  She loved engaging in theological discussions and she helped create an important foundation of Love and Faith in her family.


Everyone here knows that Mom had an amazing sense of humor. She created a family that laughed frequently and laughed hard. Our favorite memories are laughing until we cried over family stories both as they happened and every time we brought them up later. We are a loud family and we’re going to blame Dad for that so he could hear all our stories. But it also means that everyone else could experience all the love and laughs we shared as a family.


Mom loved unconditionally, which is what brought people into her light. She was always amazed that strangers would seek her out to share their life stories and then ask for advice. We think that was simply her aura: she had a light that others could see and wanted to be a part of.


As we have become parents, we have used her as a role model. Like her, we love unconditionally. We have created houses where the neighborhood kids come and hang out. We have created our own friendships with our children’s friends. We make friends with strangers. And, of course, we laugh. Loudly.


Mom’s family was the most important part of her life.  She loved and was extremely close to her mother and father, brother, and sister.  She was a second mother to her nieces and nephews. She cared about them, worried about them, and celebrated their lives.


She loved her grandchildren deeply. She made each one feel like he or she was the center of her universe because they all were.

We know that Mom and Dad were best friends. They were life partners in the clearest and deepest sense of the word.  We are so proud of Dad in how he has taken care of Mom in the last 6 plus years.  Vascular dementia is a cruel thief. But one gift we were given is that she recognized us and she told us that she loved us even until the end. Dementia took so much of Mom away from us over many more years than she or we knew. But it never took her love of her family away from her or away from us. And that feels like a true blessing.

All of this can be summarized best by her son. 

Scott would like to say for and to all of us: He misses his Mama.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Death (reposted from my one Medium post Feb 2021)

 My mom has vascular dementia. And she is dying.

It sounds both more dramatic and exactly as dramatic as it is. Everyone is dying. And we can contemplate the mortality of our parents, certainly, much easier than that of our own or our children.

But my mom’s dementia journey has moved to end-stage and it’s obvious. It sucks. She was diagnosed 5 years ago, but we all know she’s had vascular dementia a lot longer than that. But the last few months really have steamrolled downhill. She still recognizes us and she still laughs, sometimes very hard. But she can’t stay awake. She has a hard time eating. And she can no longer stand.

She has moved into long term care and we have called in a hospice evaluation. They are the ones who have said that yes, it is clear she is in the last 6 months of her life. And it may be longer than 6 months. Or it may be shorter. Her passing is not imminent, but it’s not years from now either.

I am a big proponent of using the right words. I teach a course on writing clearly and precisely. But writing about my mother’s death is more than I can handle. The word “death” seems particularly ugly right now. I want to write about her passing, her journey, her transition, but not her death. Those other words imply continuous movement. Death is an dead-end in front of a stone wall.

I also don’t understand death anymore, either. In the past few years, two young friends/colleagues of mine have passed and they left a gaping hole in the fabric of my life. Their deaths were not timely and their lives were not complete. But they left us anyway. It’s their passages where I truly do not understand what it means to die.

I recently shared with some friends that I don’t understand death. And they took that as an invitation to explain their understandings, to share their truths to help me with mine. However, I think death is one human truth that is unique to each of us. I don’t know what happens next. But I don’t think God/The Universe would create one source of energy that isn’t recycled again in some way. I’m not saying I believe in reincarnation as much as I believe in compost.

But one thing a former student shared with me that has become my new mantra. When she sat by her father’s bedside as he passed, her first thought after he was gone was “I didn’t know you could do that.” I honestly cannot think of a better explanation for where I am right now. It is one truth I am comfortable sitting with for a while.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

How To Science: Decision Making

So, you have to make the decisions about your children and school that are right for you in the community that you live in.  

I've had practice writing about our family's choices regarding bfing and co-sleeping and I've already been through the media-hyped Mommy wars and I have no intention of going back again.  Although, really, I found most people to be supportive (publicly) of other family's choices. 

So, we have decided to go for the Full Remote Academy Option at CMS. This is NOT homeschooling and it is NOT Plan C, which is where students are doing remote learning but can be called back to in-person learning at any point. Y'all: There is NO BEST WAY to do this. (Note: while that is an academic's report, it is NOT a peer-reviewed journal article and thus, it is NOT science.)

So how did I use science in making my decision?

I used science by applying two very strong scientific relationships that I've taught about for 25 years.  We know a great deal about what causes stress in humans.  While I study/teach this in relation to employees, it applies to "humans," too. (HA! A joke)  

Two of the biggest predictors of stress are ambiguity and lack of perceived control.  What the hell has this pandemic been besides "What the hell is happening?" and "Why the hell can I not stop it?"  

Indeed, considering that these are two normal responses to the pandemic, it is easier to understand some people's irrational response to wearing masks--irrational meaning NOT wearing the mask.  Wearing a mask means that some invisible particle can hurt me.  I can't see it and I can't control it. (Ambiguity and lack of perceived control) Even I find it weird to go shopping and see everyone wearing masks: it means everything is very different and dangerous and I can't do a damn thing about it.  

People who do not wear masks are refusing to accept the ambiguity of and their lack of control over the situation: 
  • There is nothing to worry about: the death rate is only .1%  No ambiguity here.   The death rate is low!  I won't die!  I'm smart by using those numbers!! One-third of the world's population got the 1918 Spanish flu and 50,000,000 died.  Even with a low death rate of this pandemic and/ 1/3 infection rate, a 7,800,000,000 world population means 2,340,000 people dying before their time. Keep an eye on worldometer.  We are nowhere near 1/3 infection rate yet. And using the current deaths to infections means closer to 93,6000,000 deaths. (I think the current worldomter 4% death rate is way too high based on fewer detected infections) 
  • Masks don't work, therefore I can exercise control by not wearing them. If you deny a problem, you have more control than everyone else in how you respond. 
I really get it. Wearing a mask means my current situation feels dangerous and I can't control it. Remove ambiguity and increased perceived control and you'll feel a heckuva lot better. But that doesn't change what is actually happening.  

So what CAN I actually change to reduce ambiguity and increase my perceived control?  What CAN I do to reduce my stress over the school year?

This hit me yesterday when discussing the school choices with a friend.  I honestly believe that CMS will be full remote learning all year long.  I honestly believe that.  Our county is doing a shitty job reducing the spread of the virus and it's only going to get worse once September and flu season starts.  

As a white cis-gendered woman, I fully expect the authorities to take care of me. I keep waiting for the CMS school system (and my university) to make the right choice.  But as my Twitter sister, Angela Blanchard says, No one is Coming.  You have to save yourself.  

And why should I trust them to do the right thing? Even if CMS does start the school year remotely, they could at any point, yank the kids back to FtF school due to political and not scientific reasons, and I could do nothing about it.  Ambiguity (will they?) and Lack of Perceived Control (I will be forced to send my children to school even if I don't think it's safe).  

So, I'm opting for the Fully Remote Academy.  It reduces the stress over worrying about something that I think is going to happen anyway.  Yes, there are lots of privileges to this choice, especially now that my children are old enough to stay home alone. No, I am not sure that the twins will still get the quality French education or my son will get the IB/AP courses he's signed up for.  

But you know what?  We don't hear a lot about the Great Brain Drain when the 1918 pandemic interrupted worldwide education. And there was a World War, too! (Well, WWI!  Ha! Pun!) What we talk about most is the number of deaths.  And I'd like to do my part to keep those deaths down.  

So, there.  That's what we've decided to do.  I hope this helps you in some way make your decision and make it so you feel good about it and it's less stressful.  Remember, this whole awful thing is only going to last a short period of time, relatively.  Breathe. As long as you and your loved ones stay alive, you've made the right decision for your family.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Back To Normal: Pandemic vs. Infants

I just finished a conversation with a colleague and I realized what all this reminds me of.

I remember when Conor was just born. The first 6 weeks of his life were hell.  He was moving from being a 70th percentile newborn to a 99th percentile infant and he was eating ALL THE TIME.  He was a nibbler, too, so he would eat for 45 minutes and then sleep/look around for 45 minutes.  For 24 hours in the day, I would have to start bfing every 1 1/2 hours.  

I remember being so incredibly exhausted and realizing for that for the first time in my life, even though I was tired, I just couldn't "go to sleep." I had to wake up and feed my baby again.  It was awful.  And it felt permanent.  


It was only 6 weeks out of my life.  We figured out how to safely co-sleep.  I finally got to sleep for four consecutive hours, thank you, Jesus.  He got out of that hellish growth spurt and ate at more reasonable hours. 

It was a very short time in his and our lives, but in the middle of it, I thought my life had changed forever and IT SUCKED.  (Well, he sucked.  Different story) But it is and was over.  

Then I realized, we are all going through the newborn stage of a pandemic together, well, I think the lockdown was the pandemic stage.  We are still in the "first 3 months of living with a newborn stage which means it still sucks but it's not as bad as it was. But there's a sleep regression coming up and we all know it's going to suck again."  How's that for a title of what's going on.

The good news is this: WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IS NOT FOREVER.  It's going to change.  It's going to get back to normal.  It may take away, as any caregiver of children younger than two will tell you.  But--as parents of children older than 4 1/2 years old will tell you--it WILL get back to normal.  In 10 years, this will be a distant memory of suffering but not actually suffering again.

I honestly believe that 1) the  Oxford vaccine looks very promising (but NOT PERFECT) and 2) once we get a safe, effective vaccine it will take about 6 months but we'll be back to normal.  But we're in the newborn parenting stage and IT SUCKS.  But it's not going to last forever.  

So let's do what we can to protect each other and ourselves knowing that eventually, we'll be back to normal, and eventually, this will be a memory our children tell their grandchildren.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

How To Science: Who Should We Trust as Experts?

So, I saved this as an idea to blog about in April. Who should we be able to trust as "experts" in whatever field we need information? Here is the conundrum I start with:

We should most trust the people who are experts in their field.  I am not an expert in teaching people who experts are. Ergo, I should not tell you who to trust as experts.

However, by saying that I am not an expert gives me a bit more credibility to tell you how to figure out how to trust someone's expertise than someone on Facebook or YouTube who says I KNOW WHO THE EXPERTS ARE! TRUST THEM AND NO ONE ELSE!!!

I do know some things about mentoring though.  I'm not an expert on mentoring, but I know people who are and I've written papers with them. So I approach telling you what I know about how to choose experts as a peer-mentor or perhaps even a step-ahead mentor (someone who is very much like you with a bit more knowledge/experience). 

So here we go.  Here is my checklist to determine if someone is trustworthy.

First, have they moved up the ladder in their own field?  A professor is more of an expert than an undergraduate.  The head of an agency should have more knowledge and broader understanding than a front-line employee. There are exceptions to both of those examples, but generally, those criteria are a good starting point. My example for clarification: a nurse on YouTube at an Open Up Rally in Raleigh is NOT more of an expert than Dr. Fauci. 

Further, PhDs mean people specialize in particular aspects of their field.  I am an Organizational Psychologist.  I am not qualified to diagnose anyone on their mental health or illness even though I have a PhD in Psychology.  If someone starts to overreach their area of training, you should be highly suspicious.  Easy examples: Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, that woman in Plandemic. Experts will tell you when you've asked them for information outside of their expertise.  

Money and Power
Does someone have something to gain from their position? Big red flags are if they get money or power if you believe what they say.  There are several great examples and several ways to go deeper into this evaluation. The twins' pulmonologist violated both the credentials and the money this week when he moved from talking about the twins' susceptibility to COVID (they have "hypersecretious" asthma) to advocating that all kids should be in school and no businesses shut down so that we can develop herd immunity ASAP. "Old people are at the end of their lives anyway. People with underlying conditions are just going to die."  

Yeah, the Sweden model won't really work in individualistic America.  Also, we got into his private practice as new patients almost immediately. The twins haven't been then in more than 3 years so they are "new. Clearly, he is not overly busy and he is probably not making the same salary he has been used to. They need more patients.  Further, an MD in pulmonology NE (a PhD in public health or a PhD in Epidemiology). In layman's terms: Stay in your lane, dude.

So the money thing requires some explanation.  I hear LOTS of laypeople say you cannot trust a PhD who has been given grant money from a private or possibly public organization (like NIH or NSF). Here is why that is an erroneous argument.  If I get funding from NSF, let's say a $200,000 grant, MOST of that money goes to my institution (I think 46% or something like that? Some expert with more grants will let me know!).  I would get one month's salary in the summer for each year of the grant. For researchers who survive on "soft" money (i.e., grants), they would get more, but it never surpasses their annual salary (I believe) and most of the money (I believe) still goes to "overheard" and the institution. See how I'm using "I believe" to let you know what I KNOW and what I THINK so that you can evaluate my expertise? 

I am MUCH more concerned about people who want you to believe what they have to say so that you will buy their book, watch their YouTube channel, attend their for-profit conference, come shop at their store, shop in general to increase their stock portfolio, or bring your sick kids to their office.  Those folks are not getting a small addition to their annual salary: YOU ARE THEIR ANNUAL SALARY. 

Further, just because someone gets a grant doesn't mean their data is suspect. IF IT GOES THROUGH PEER REVIEW, it is evaluated exactly like non-funded research and possibly even more skeptically because researchers are supposed to acknowledge every single grant that funded their research.  If it is NOT peer-reviewed, it's bullshit.  Blogs and books are not peer-reviewed.  No skeptical eyes have evaluated whether what they are saying is methodologically valid and theoretically reasonable. 

But don't the real mavericks in a field get suppressed, especially by all those folks who have privately funded grants?  Aren't the researchers/PhDs/laypeople who go against the mainstream and say X IS TRUE suppressed by all the other researchers who say X IS WRONG or even Y IS TRUE? 

No. Simply, no.  If a researcher can build a stream of peer-reviewed research (so more than one study that could be just a statistical fluke) that challenges our current beliefs and says "BY JOVE, X IS TRUE NOT Y!!" they would become very, very famous.  That's how the Academy works.  

So that's my peer and possibly step-ahead mentoring for how to determine if someone is an expert.  The key issues are Expertise and Money.   There are obviously some exceptions and that's why I'm not the expert on who is the expert. But for the most part, this is where you can start when you are trying to believe who to trust. 

I am hoping to write about using the philosophy of science, epistemology, and ontology to understand How To Science: Understanding Specific Studies in a future blog soon. 

And because all blogs should have a picture now so social media pays attention, here is an expert we should pay attention to.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Difficulty of Social Distancing

My research focuses on entitativity: a person's cognitive assessment that they are in a group.  The classic example compares a "group" of people waiting for a bus stop compared to the same group of people at a cafe sharing coffee and conversations (pre-COVID, of course). The cafe is "groupier" than the bus stop.  

Way back in the day (like, seriously, the 1950s) when Don Campbell identified entitativity as a fundamental component of groups (i.e., you need to perceive you are in a group before you enact group processes or experience group outcomes), he focused on a couple of important antecedents to entitativity: similarity, interactivity, history, and "pregnance." Must like "entitativity" is an ostentatious name for a simple concept (how groupy a group is), pregnance is a BS word meaning that when you look at a group you can see its form/shape.  It's been called the boundary separating the group for the not-group, but I currently think pregnance in today's psychological concepts relates more to environmental psychology (especially my training in behavior settings and/or sociomaterialty). Think of the people sitting around a table at the cafe: you can see them forming a group much easier than the folks dispersed in an unidentifiable pattern around the bus stop.

What does this have to do with social distancing?  I believe a heckuva lot.  

Humans are born with a need for belonging, a psychological need to belong to a group that's as important as the biological need for eating. When people are together face-to-face, they want to form and be part of a group.  I simply do not believe that we can create "pregnance"--an easily identifiable grouping--from 6' feet apart.  I think that's why even when we believe strongly is social distancing, when we are interacting with people that we like, it is nearly impossible to stay 6' feet apart from them.  We want to be closer to form a boundary between our group and the not-group. 

I think it's easier to socially distance around others when you have your own "pod" of people you can be closer to, like going on a picnic with others and staying on the blanket with your family 6' from another family. 

But at work, when we are trying to belong to a group with our co-workers? At school, when we are trying to belong to our group of friends?  At any religious gathering, when we are trying to belong to our faith community? I believe it goes against our innate human development to stay 6' away from other people in these settings, and it links directly back to entitativity--our perception that our coworkers and friends are more like a cafe than a bus stop. 

This is obviously, a testable hypothesis. However, it is a hypothesis the IRB will not allow me to test until we are out of this pandemic. Although, if you have skills at drawing or drafting pictures of anything to scale, hit me up: I have an idea of how to test this.  

Until then, interacting FtF with meaningful others outside of our pod is going to be extremely difficult at 6' apart. 

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Why is This Summer So Hard?

So I've been trying to figure out why this summer is so hard beyond the obvious fact that we're in the midst of a global pandemic and about 1/3 of Americans have politicized science and are unable to wear a mask because it means the "other side" wins instead of realizing that WE ALL WIN IF WE CAN STOP THIS FREAKING VIRUS AND GET ON WITH OUR LIVES BY WEARING A BLOODY MASK.

But no, it's not that.  

There are other reasons why summer is so hard this year, at least for academics.  People (I mean people who are not in Academia) think that professors have the summer off.  There's a perception that as soon as finals are graded in May until Freshmen move into their dorms in August that we are free to do whatever we want to do: travel, garden, eat bonbons.

The irony is that given that choice, the vast majority of us continue to work over the summer--for free.  So we are "free" in the summer (in that we aren't paid) but we turn ourselves into free labor.  This is when we work on articles, catch up on administrative duties (and fill out reams of reports), read articles, go to conferences, etc.  The difference is the pace is a little slower.  

Usually, I have about 4 weeks where the kids are in school and I'm not and I'm intensely writing.  Then the kids come home for summer break and I try to work for half the day and then take the afternoon off to do family things. Sometimes that works and sometimes I just work the whole day anyway. I usually take a week or two completely off in July to go to my favorite conference and do some traveling/vacationing with the family around that. 

One WOULD THINK that this year, we'd be about the same, or at least similar to the times in which my children are home in the summer--I work most mornings and take most afternoons off.  

However, that is in no way what has been happening.

I have been working most days from 7 am until 5 or 6.  I may take a little time off to help the kids do something around the house, but for the most part, I'm working most days all the time.  I don't have any energy to cook dinner.  I'm not doing the stuff I think is fun around the house (gardening, hobbies).  I'm just working all day for free.


Well, one reason is that we faculty are continuing to have regular meetings.  Usually, we can't meet so much during the summer because Dr. X is at Conference Z and Dr. Y has traveled to County Q.  But we're all sitting at home working for free, so what's another committee meeting? Another administrative discussion?  We don't say No because we can actually, physically say Yes. We're home.  We're near a computer. We haven't kicked our grad school habit of working all the time whenever anyone needs us (for free). We can agree to meet at a time during the summer when none of us would have ever considered meeting before.

And I'm tired. It's wearing on me. And for those of you outside academia who may not understand this: We don't get vacation days. Usually, when the University is closed for some holiday (e.g., "Spring Break"), that's when we are doing most of our work--writing and catching up with teaching/grading.  And, BTW, during this year's Spring Break, I was leading a class in Berlin just as the world was starting to shut down. So, really no break there. 

My husband gets Paid Time Off.  He takes "vacation" and unless there is a stark emergency at work, he is not in communication with folks from his job.  Professors do not get a vacation of this nature.  Yes, that means that some Friday afternoons, I can stop working at 2 or 3.  But it also means that I check my email "when I'm off work" because students or colleagues actually do need help at weird hours and I can help. Unless I'm traveling, I am usually very willing to meet with folks, work on my research, or help out my students. Except now.  I decided to take this week off.  And here I am talking about how I can't stop working. 

I imagine many folks working from home are going through something similar right now.  It's just the sameness, right?  It looks like what it's looked like since March.  And it looks like it's going to look like this until January 2021, at the least.  And if Americans don't start wearing their freaking masks we are never going to get out of this hell hole of everything looking exactly like it's been forever.  

I feel guilty taking this time off.  But my head is going to explode if I don't.  

So here's a picture of the back of the house with our newly painted fence because if I didn't do something that didn't involve writing/reviewing/editing a paper, I think I would just lie down and cry. Can you find the bunny?  It's our pet bunny, River Song.