Monday, 25 May 2015

Stop the Stupidity: Vaccinate Your Kids

Vaccinations.

One of the most talked about - and hotly debated - parenting issues lately is childhood vaccination, with arguments erupting all over social media between parents, most armed with inaccurate information. It has become a confusing issue with mixed messages and false information, leading people to believe it's a choice each parent has to make for their own child.

Here's the thing: it's not a choice. It's not a debate. There's a right answer and a wrong answer.

There's not a valid argument for one side and a valid argument for the other.
It's not a subjective issue that comes down to parents' personal preferences.
It's not a matter of opinion and it's not a parenting choice.
It's not based on your values or beliefs.
It's a matter of science.

Children who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. Period.

The most dangerous part of the vaccination debate is calling it a debate at all, giving the anti-vax movement creditability as a potential parenting choice - when, in fact, it's not. The anti-vax arguments are based on fiction, false studies, half-truths and flat-out lies, conspiracy theories and rumours and absolutely ridiculous statements.

There is no science behind the anti-vaccination movement.

Let's stick to facts rather than myths.

Myth: Vaccines have harmful side effects.
Fact: Vaccines are safe. Side effects are minor, like soreness at the injection site or mild fever. Major reactions are extremely rare (less than one in one million); you are far more likely to be injured by a vaccine-preventable disease, if you choose not to be vaccinated, than by a vaccine. (1)

Myth: It's more natural to be immunized through disease than through vaccinations.
Fact: Vaccines produce an immune response similar to the one produced by the infection, but do not cause the disease or the risk of potential complications - like disability or death. (2)

Myth: Vaccines can cause SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. These vaccines happen to be administered at an age when infants can suffer from SIDS; the two are not linked. (3) Giving the child the vaccines will not increase their risk of SIDS at all; not vaccinating will risk disability and death as a result of these vaccine-preventable diseases.

Myth: Vaccines can cause autism.
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. This rumour started as a result of a fraudulent study published in British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The study was subsequently discredited and retracted; the doctor who published the study was found guilty of professional misconduct and struck from the medical register; and the study was deemed fraudulent by the British Medical Journal. (4) The completely fabricated connection between vaccines and autism led to decreased vaccination rates - and therefore higher incidence of disease and death. There is no link between vaccines and autism - but there is a link between uninformed parents believing the false story and children contracting the disease they refused to vaccinate against.

Myth: These diseases are almost obsolete anyway.
Fact: Diseases that people once died from - like measles and polio - are uncommon now only because people are vaccinated against them. If people are not vaccinated, these diseases will reappear. (5)

Not up for debate is the effectiveness of vaccines. While one day science may find something more effective, current vaccines are the most effective means we have of eliminating disease.

Not up for debate is the safety of vaccines. Vaccine ingredients, risks and safety stats are all well documented and available.

The only thing up for debate is whether a parent wants to put one of these proven, safe and effective vaccines into their child's body.

Anti-vaxxers get confused by stories of vaccine-injured children (that <0.0001% chance we discussed earlier) as excuses to avoid having their own kids vaccinated. Tragic stories. Stories of children killed in car accidents are tragic, too, but I don't know any anti-vaxxers who avoid putting their kids in a car. On the risk-benefit assessment scale, I think risking a <0.0001% chance of my child having a side effect from a shot that prevents their death from polio is a hell of a lot more important than the significantly higher chance of my kid being killed in a car accident so I can get to the mall quickly and conveniently.

Choosing not to vaccinate your children is the same as choosing not to provide them with anything else they require for survival - food, water, shelter. It's not something subjective to be left up to the parents' best judgement - like cloth vs. disposable diapers or public vs. private school.

Making the parenting choice not to vaccinate your child is the same as choosing between feeding your child or letting them starve; not vaccinating your children is tantamount to child abuse. It's absolutely disgusting that schlock science, shock stories and fraudulent research are persuading misinformed parents that it's a choice.

When your kids are kids, you are the one who has to make the decisions for them. It's your job as their parent to protect them, to keep them safe, to keep them healthy, to give them the best start you can in life. You worry over whether to breast or bottle feed, whether to buy organic produce, you fill your house with safety equipment and research everything related to your little one's health and safety. There are many decisions to make as a parent, most with a variety of options - but vaccination is not one of them. If you choose not to vaccinate, you're making the wrong choice. You are putting your child's health at risk, and you are doing it for no good reason.

Vaccinating your children is not a parenting choice any more than it's a choice to drive drunk. You can make that choice, obviously, in that you are a human being with the ability to exercise free will, but it's the wrong choice and there are potential consequences to that choice.
If you choose to drive drunk, you could hurt or kill yourself or someone else and, hopefully, you will be caught and arrested. If you choose not to vaccinate there are the same risks - there should be the same consequences.
Choosing not to vaccinate your children is wilfully negligent.
Calling vaccination a parenting choice lets the stupidity of the few risk the lives of the many. Do we discuss drunk driving with words like "choice" and "opinion"? Of course not.

Do your own research as a parent before making any decision for your child - of course. In the case of a medical decision, that research should mean valid scientific studies, vetted articles published in reliable medical journals, facts and statistics proven and endorsed by the scientific and medical communities by scientific and medical organizations and professionals, not a Facebook group or an actress on a talk show or a post that went viral. I've included relevant sources here for those unable to find accurate information for themselves. Valid, legitimate sources acknowledged by the medical community throughout the first world.

I can't understand why this is even an issue. Why any parent would choose to intentionally withhold vaccines from their child that could prevent them from contracting and spreading diseases - contrary to all valid scientific research and against the advice of the world medical community - makes no sense. Talk about first world problems - I can guarantee there are no parents in Uganda saying "no, thank-you; I'd prefer to take my chances" when offered life-saving vaccinations for their children. What a luxury to live in a part of the world where we have developed so far that some people are actually choosing to move backward instead of forward.

Measles - a disease which was officially declared eliminated in North America by the turn of the century thanks to four decades of routine childhood immunization - has returned in recent years thanks to anti-vaccination propaganda. The measles. A disease for which there is a very simple vaccine, which has been regularly and safely administered in Canada since 1963. More than half a century ago. There is no excuse for the kind of backward ignorance that would prevent a parent not only from protecting their child against diseases humans once died from, but risking the rest of the population's health.

It's back because a few ignorant, ill-informed parents have "chosen" not to vaccinate their children against this and other debilitating, life-threatening diseases - putting our entire society at risk.

There is no good reason not to vaccinate your healthy child. There are children who cannot be vaccinated - because they are too young, because they are immunocompromised - and it is these children who our herd immunity is protecting. It is not going to work if it has to protect every poor child who happens to be born to stupid parents.

Breast vs. bottle, sleep training vs. co-sleeping, public vs. private school, allowance and chores and consequences of behaviour - these are parenting choices. Parenting choices like these should be made based on what each parent believes will be best for their child, and though we all have different ideas of what's best, we should respect one another's choices as parents doing what we believe is best for our own child.

Vaccinating your children is not a parenting choice. Vaccinating is the best thing for your child, if he is able to be vaccinated. Period.

So by all means, don't vaccinate your child if you feel more qualified to make that decision than your pediatrician, Health Canada, the World Health Organization, every legitimate medical journal and organization and the entire scientific and medical community in the first world. I'm thrilled that group immunity granted by my child and the other children in our community will - hopefully - keep your kid from dying from a third-world disease.

However, if you choose to live here, in this society with this level of civilization and education and science and medical care, where your children will be interacting with others on a daily basis, they should have their required vaccinations. If you choose not to vaccinate your children against these completely preventable diseases, your poor choices shouldn't be allowed to put the rest of our children at risk.

Because every time some ignorant parent "chooses" not to protect their children it increases the risk that those diseases we once all but eliminated will return.


Garage Sale Season

The warmer weather means garage sale season - spring cleaning, opening cottages, the end of the school year, the spring real estate rush of families moving in and out - this is the time of year when people feel the urge to purge.

Every weekend neighbourhood lamp posts and mailboxes are plastered with hand drawn posters advertising yard sales, garage sales, street sales, moving sales. Saturday mornings see families across the city and suburbs lugging furniture and kitchenware, boxes of books and toys and board games, baby gear and odds and ends of miscellaneous household everything out of the basement and onto the driveway.

Here are a few tips if you're hoping to clear some clutter and maybe make a few dollars this garage sale season:

Purge Ruthlessly
If you're really trying to get rid of stuff, you might as well do a good job of it. Go through the entire house systematically - room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, box by box. Ask yourself, "Do I need this? Do I love it? Have I used it recently? Why do I have it?" Everything that's just taking up space, serving no purpose and providing no pleasure might as well go. Maybe someone else can get some use out of it - and you'll feel lighter living in a cleaner, less cluttered space.

Let it Go
If it made it's way out to the driveway, you're ready to be rid of it - promise yourself that it won't be permitted back in the house. Whatever doesn't get sold can get donated to charity or placed at the curb for a neighbour to take for free; don't bring anything back in the house that you planned to sell, even if it doesn't sell. And on that note...

Price to Sell
It's a garage sale, not a boutique. It doesn't matter how much an item cost you when you bought it new; it's not new any more. It doesn't matter how much you think an item is worth; it's not worth any more than someone is willing to pay for it. If you don't want or need it any more, let it go. It's better to have ten dollars you can use than an item you can't that you think is worth twenty.

Partner Up
Get as many people involved in your sale as you can - friends, family, neighbours - if you can advertise as a multi-family sale, if you can fill more than one driveway or even get the whole street involved you'll bring a lot more traffic to your sale and hopefully sell a lot more items.

Having a garage sale isn't going to make you rich or bring in enough to take the family on vacation. But it's a great way to purge some of the stuff cluttering up your space and it's far better for the environment to let your used stuff have a second life as someone else's than throwing it away. And who knows - maybe the few dollars you do bring in will add up to enough to cover the trip to the nursery for this weekend's spring gardening or a little treat on a patio this sunny spring afternoon.

Do you have any tips for how to hold a successful garage sale?

Originally published as "Garage Sale Season" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Monday, 18 May 2015

How Bad Can It Be?

It's finally here: May Two-Four weekend, the first long weekend of the spring and the official kick-off to summer in Canada. The long weekend means it's time to open up family cottages, take covers off backyard pools, start planting the summer gardens, break out the bicycles and barbeques and, after a long season of hibernation, generally revel in the warmth and sunshine of the great outdoors.

The long weekend marks the start of the outdoor sports season, every local baseball diamond and soccer field filled with little athletes and lined with cheering families on folding chairs and picnic blankets every afternoon and evening for the next four months.

And for me, this year, the long weekend starts the countdown to the end of the school year and the beginning of the end of the toxic job I'm trapped in.

I've written before about how strongly I feel about being home with my kids as much as possible, particularly while they're young, and how I would do almost anything for work in order to make that happen. Nothing is more important to me than raising my kids myself - spending time with them, making memories, teaching them and learning from them and cherishing every moment I can with them while they're young.

Children are young for such a short time; nothing is more important to me that being there for them while they are - not wealth or career, personal ambition or goals. These are my priorities; not everyone may share them, and that's ok. We all live with our own set of values and priorities. Mine mean that I will do anything at all for work if it means being able to be home for my boys; even if I'm overqualified, even if I'm being underpaid, even if I don't particularly like it.

But.

The work situation I'm in right now has been testing me to the absolute limit. The situation is positively toxic.
I'm running a home daycare for my former neighbours' kids. It's a situation that happened almost by accident, the end of my biggest contract coinciding with my neighbours needing part-time care for their kids, a matter of timing and circumstance I thought would be a great short-term temporary stop-gap solution for everyone - less expensive daycare for them and that last little bit of extra income I'd need to ensure I could remain at home with my kids until my youngest starts school this fall.

Seven months later, part-time has become full-time, short-term has become painfully protracted long-term and what started out as a mutually beneficial arrangement motivated largely by sympathy for the parents and a sense of fortuitous timing has turned into a tortuous ordeal that I feel trapped in out of overwhelming pity for these poor kids.

I absolutely hate this job. Hate it.

It's not the kids.

Without getting into unnecessary detail, this is the most toxic situation I've ever experienced. I'm angry and outraged by almost everything to do with this family, their lifestyle, and how they raise their kids. Which doesn't need to be any of my business - except I'm the only human being who actually consistently spends any time with these children. So it becomes my business. Whether I want it to or not.

It's eating me up inside and it's keeping me up at night. I am worked up and resentful and angry all the time. It's getting worse every week. It's not a healthy situation. It's not normal to keep this kind of anger inside. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's absolutely toxic. But there are only a few weeks left.

My question to you is: how bad is too bad? How important is job satisfaction and life enjoyment over the all-important bottom line?

Originally published as "How Bad Can It Be?" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Outdoor Sports Season

And just like that, the outdoor season is upon us.

Though house league sports haven't started yet - baseball for my oldest and soccer for Baby Boy - rep sports run year-round and the opening of the Town outdoor facilities means my oldest two have moved from the indoor turf to the outdoor soccer fields.

This, this is what summer means to me. Sitting field-side in folding chairs with the other soccer moms, more family than friends after so many years together. The slowly sinking sun warming the skin on our bare arms and legs, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the shouts from the coaches and the boys as they drill and scrimmage and race up and down the pitch in front of us. This is what summer means.

I'm so happy the outdoor sports season is finally here. If anyone needs me I'll be field-side for the next five months!


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Monday, 11 May 2015

Getting Our Spring Garden Growing

Though it's not yet the May long weekend - the official kick-off of summer in Canada - we've already started our spring gardening. We're patiently waiting until the two-four weekend to fill the flower beds with blooms and transplant the carefully cultivated herbs and veggies from their teeny-tiny greenhouse into our kitchen vegetable garden; but we've been hard at work for weeks getting the rest of the yard warm weather ready.

We completely ripped out the front garden which has been dying a slow, painful death since the massive ice storm that damaged so much of this part of the world last winter. At one time we thought the cedars might recover, but after another winter it became pretty clear they weren't going to make it. We replaced the dead brown cedars with spanky new green ones and the pathetic assortment of mismatched shrubbery with a couple of variations of boxwood. A summer or two of growth and our front garden will be beautiful.

Sunny yellow flowers spill out of hanging baskets welcoming visitors at the front door and more baskets of lush droopy ferns drape down from the trellis atop our back deck. The perennials in our back garden are actually coming up again despite how many times we've dug everything up and transplanted and rearranged back there over the last few years and both the mature strawberry plants and the newly planted blueberry bushes are blooming cheerfully.

I'm pretty pleased with our early spring gardens and can't wait for the long weekend to get the rest of the plants in the ground.




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Friday, 8 May 2015

Organization Obsession

I am obsessed with organization. My favourite hobby is organizing and reorganizing. Nothing gives me more of a sense of peace and calm than a clean, clear, clutter-free space. Our house is compulsively organized and clutter-free.

To maintain this state of visual zen I am pretty much constantly tidying and sorting and purging. I do a major purge - the kind of thorough digging through the backs of closets and crawlspaces that most people only do before they move - twice a year.

Right around now, actually. Spring is here, we're opening windows and spring cleaning and moving outdoors, gardening, working on backyard projects, switching from indoor hibernation mode to an outdoor living lifestyle - it's the perfect time for a purge, to take a look at our home and stuff with fresh eyes and lighten up.

Except I can't.

These children that I'm sort of accidentally-on-purpose doing home daycare for are still here every day. And there's absolutely no point in sorting or organizing or re-doing anything until they're gone. (Less than eight more weeks, but who's counting?)

Though both boys are older than my youngest they act much younger. My three-and-a-half year old likes to play board games, do puzzles, build Lego, paint and colour and do crafts. When he's playing with toys - cars or action figures or Little People playsets - he uses his imagination and creates stories, explores and discovers and makes connections and problem solves. The four and five year olds I watch can't understand board games or puzzles and ask me to build Lego or draw pictures for them. "Playing" with toys, for them, means mostly throwing things around and smashing them together and I've never seen any kind of imaginative or creative play or any interest in figuring out how a new or different toy or game works.

All that said, when they first started coming to our home we quickly realized we had to re-baby-proof our house if our stuff was going to survive. My kids pulled all of the toys they wanted to rescue (anything breakable, or with small parts, or particularly special to them, or anything considered a "big kid toy") and put these in their bedrooms - an off-limits part of the house for the daycare kids. I installed a bunch of high shelves in the playroom to keep the boys' models and Lego creations visible but out of reach from destructive hands. We moved things around to make the playroom more toddler-friendly. I put a small tv with an old Playstation and DVD player in the older boys' bedroom and relaxed the "no video games on weekdays" rule during the hour and a half after school while the daycare kids are here to make up for my boys having to put up with them.

So, basically, our entire house is upside-down and nothing is where it belongs. Like things are not with like things, things that should be out have been put away and things that should be packed away are out and my OCD is making me all twitchy and anxious over it all. But there is simply no point in starting any kind of spring cleaning, organization or purge until these daycare kids are gone and we can have our house and lives back.

Until then I'll just have to keep obsessing over my less-than-perfectly-organized house.


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Monday, 4 May 2015

Kindergarten Baby

My baby boy is officially registered for kindergarten and I'm a little bit broken.

I can't believe it's been almost four years since my deliciously dimpled, beautifully perfect, squishy little baby boy arrived and made our family complete.

My sweet, smiley little squish-bug is suddenly a big boy off to join the great big grown-up world.

Oh, how I'm going to miss my last little baby being a baby. How I'm going to miss those special mommy-baby moments. Those chubby, dimpled arms wrapped around my neck, those salty-sweet little boy kisses, those golden curls glistening in a sweaty, perfect, messy halo around his little head, those big, beautiful, bottomless brown eyes staring into mine. How am I going to manage being away from that angel face for hours and hours every day?

It's somehow almost worse this time around - I don't know if it's because he's the baby, because he's my last, because this time around it means the end of my life as a mommy of babies. Because he's the last of my babies, the last of my little boys, the last little angel that will ever look up at me with those trusting eyes and squeeze my hand with those chubby little fingers and head off on his own into the world.

It was awful with my first - my oldest - my firstborn, my special baby boy, my angel dropped from heaven who made me into a mommy. The little boy who changed my everything. The love of my life, the centre of my world. Sending my firstborn off to school was the hardest thing I'd ever done - heart-wrenching, emotionally draining. My boy. My heart. My life.

It was hard with my second - my baby, at the time - my little guy, so sweet and small and wanting to follow in his big brother's footsteps but still my wee small sweet little guy. Another angel growing up and growing away. My baby. My love.

And it's definitely painful with my my third - the last in line, my baby, the last little boy I'll ever go through any of this with ever again. My last child. My last baby. I'm actually not sure I can even handle this.

How can my baby be so big now?

How can he possibly be heading off to school?

How can my babies all be so very big now?


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Friday, 1 May 2015

Joint Finances

Joining a life and a household with another person is a huge step with roughly a million complications and potential pitfalls. But what of joining finances?

I have gone through the process of combining households twice in my life. In my first marriage, we had joint everything and separate nothing. Married at twenty-two and fresh out of university, we just combined everything automatically as soon as we got married without giving it a second thought - we just assumed that's what we were supposed to do.

And it was relatively easy to do - all we had going in were our bank accounts and cars. The house, the mortgage, insurance, credit cards - those we got jointly, in both of our names. When that marriage broke up seven years later it was an absolute nightmare to separate everything - selling the home, paying off debts, cancelling credit cards, switching banks and insurance companies, dividing up assets and pension plans and savings.

When my current husband and I moved in together before getting married we put the lease for our new place in both our names but kept all the rest of our finances separate. As adults we had a lot more to deal with by then, previous lives, children, years of earning and spending and saving, and it made more sense to leave everything as it was - bank accounts, insurance policies, everything. We split the household expenses down the middle from our separate bank accounts and didn't change a thing.

Once we were married and moved from a rental to our current home things changed somewhat, of course. The home and mortgage are in both our names, as are the car and all the insurance policies. We've kept our banking separate up to this point, though - for no real reason other than sheer laziness - and have simply divided up which bills and payments each of us are responsible for.

Joining lives and households means joining financial responsibilities. But does that necessarily mean joining finances? Should some aspects be kept separate - credit cards, bank accounts, savings - or should everything be together? Or, might it be better to keep everything completely separate as it was when you were two single people?

How did / would / do you handle the joint finance situation?

Originally published as "Joint Finances" on my weekly article at gailvazoxlade.com


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