Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trip to the State Fair

My kids & I took our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair this weekend. It was, as always, a glorious time: rides, food, animals, and lots and lots of people.

I just love the Fair!

Anyway, I came away with two observations, one positive and one negative, that I wanted to share here.

First, the thing I didn't like so much: somehow I never noticed before that right next to the Kidway (Midway, but with kids' rides) is a church. A church!! And not just one of those Lutheran dining halls that serves strong coffee and cheap breakfasts as a fundraiser; it's an actual church called Crossroads Chapel. Because we were there on Sunday morning (figured there'd be fewer crowds!), we passed right by one of what I now realize is one of several church services that take place on Sundays at the Fair.

I don't think this is a church/state separation problem - according to their website, the Fair is a quasi-state agency that hasn't received any public money or government appropriations since 1949. But still, ugh. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things... but not my favorite, anyway. My kids somehow didn't notice the activity tables set up outside, fortunately, because otherwise they would've wanted to stop by. It's right up there with the Tea Partiers who have balloons and candy. I kind of feel like a mean mama when I say No! You cannot have one of those balloons! But as long as we get stickers from the Democrats, they're happy in the end, and so am I. Hee hee.

But the coolest thing! We stopped by the Miracle of Birth center when a cow was in labor, and my older daughter was fascinated! I was surprised, because she'd been holding her nose and acting all squeamish through all the other animal barns we tried to tour. But this she wanted to see! We found seats on the bleachers and sat and watched the cow's labor for probably half an hour, while she peppered me with questions: What's that coming out now? Is she pooping him out? Why is she pooping? What does the baby eat when it's inside the mama? Does it hurt the baby to be born? Does it hurt the mama? Will it be cute when it comes out? Is that how I was born?!?

We haven't had much of a birds-and-bees talk, and this was a great way to get some of those questions asked and answered at her initiative. We talked about how some animals lay eggs, and other animals' babies are born alive, and I answered all the questions she asked (doing my best to keep it age-appropriate - honest answers, but not too complicated).

I was really proud of her for asking such good questions. It was an especially nice moment out of our lovely day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The anti-science anti-vax madness continues...

Because Donald Trump is, y'know, an expert on these things... from his Twitter feed:
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism....

Argh! What a way to start my Friday.

Hopefully nobody will take him seriously, right? Right, guys?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Soulemama, and why vaccines aren't a private decision.

So there's this mommyblogger called "Soulemama" - easy enough to find via Google; I'm not going to link to her here - who lives a charmed pastoral life in Maine. She 'unschools' her five kids, grows her own vegetables, sews their clothes, etc. etc. etc. You know the drill.

Recently, following a "pertussis party," all five of her kids came down with whooping cough. WHOOPING COUGH. You know, that incredibly dangerous disease that (in the words of the CDC) causes violent coughing spells so bad that children cannot breathe, leading to pneumonia, seizures, and even brain damage or death? And for which there is a vaccine? But which is making a comeback now, due to people who opt out of vaccines because they feel like they can treat diseases with homeopathy and natural remedies by rubbing garlic on their kids' feet?

ARGH! There's so much wrong with this situation that I don't know where to begin!! So I am going to stick with unpacking just one of the points that made me all ragey.

Soulemama never directly addresses whether or not her kids are vaccinated (I mean, obviously they aren't, because who would vaccinate their kids and then directly expose them to an infectious disease?!? We vaccinate because we want our kids to stay healthy!!), instead sidestepping the issue by saying (in the comments to her post): "if you read my post, never do I say that we did not vaccinate. I think that is entirely beside the point, completely personal, and only leads to finger pointing."

Head: asplode. Because actually? Whether or not you vaccinate your kids is not a completely personal decision. It's a question of PUBLIC HEALTH.

Not everyone can be vaccinated. People who are immuno-compromised, for instance, may not be able to tolerate the vaccine. Children under 2 months of age don't get the vaccine. And (as Soulemama points out, thinking it's a reason not to vaccinate) the vaccine isn't always 100% effective. That's why it's so important that EVERYONE vaccinate - to build the community (or herd) immunity.

If enough people are vaccinated, the spread of a disease becomes sufficiently unlikely that even those who can't be vaccinated, who aren't immune, are protected. But if people start opting out of vaccination... the community isn't immune. And these communicable diseases start making a comeback.

The website Science-Based Medicine has a nice explanation of herd immunity, and what happens when people start opting out, which I'll excerpt briefly:

Published in Pediatrics this month is a paper that looked at the effect of vaccine refusers on laboratory confirmed (PCR or cultures) pertussis in Colorado (13).  They had 158 cases of pertussis  in the Kaiser system between 1996 and 2007.
Infected children were significantly more likely to have parents who refused vaccinations  (11.5%) than the controls (0.5%). The difference translated to a 22.8-fold increased risk of pertussis in the unvaccinated children.
At the time in Colorado, vaccination refusal was less than 1%, but they accounted for 11% of the cases of pertussis.  That’s not surprising.  With a bacterial disease like pertussis, a small slip in the vaccine rate can lead to a big jump in disease.
The vaccine is not 100%.  So there will be cases in vaccinated children as well.  What is striking is ALL the cases in the unvaccinated group could be attributed to not having the vaccine.

So, in short: No, Soulemama, whether or not you vaccinate your kids isn't a "completely personal" decision.  Maintaining community immunity against infectious, deadly diseases requires EVERYONE to vaccinate who can. This protects people whose vaccines didn't take or whose vaccines need a booster; it protects small babies and elderly folks and people who are immuno-compromised. It protects all of us.

So if keeping your own kids safe and healthy isn't enough of a motivation for you to vaccinate them (to which, as a parent, I must say WTF?!?) - fine. But then do it for my kids.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome to the blog

I created this blog a while ago, but haven't gotten around to posting at it. It's funny; for the longest time I thought and thought about all the different things I would write here, and then when I finally got around to creating this - bam! My inspiration all dried up.

So as I wrote in my "about me" post, I'm the mother of two kids. I'm an atheist, but also a freethinker - an "Atheist plus" as it's being defined over at Freethought Blogs! What that means is that I do my best to apply my skepticism and rational thinking not just to religion, but to all areas of life. This leads me to feminism; anti-racism; anti-homophobia... basically, a belief in human equality, and that all these issues are just as important as your more 'traditional' skeptic/atheist concerns. Because whether or not someone believes in Bigfoot doesn't really affect my life or the lives of those I love quite as much as someone does who's trying to limit access to affordable birth control, or get marriage discrimination written into our state Constitution.

Because I'm a parent, I'm trying to raise my kids in that light. I'm also interested in secular issues that do and will affect them - for instance, separation of church and state, especially in public schools.

And of course, I have the sort of typical parenting concerns that anyone has who's trying to raise healthy, happy, freethinking kids (girls, to boot!) in a society that's all to often affected by the worst influences of religion.

Anyway, I certainly don't pretend to have any answers! My hope is that I can find other parents who are on this journey - either starting out, or further down the road than I am - to share thoughts, ideas, tough times, and triumphs.

Thanks for reading!