Washington State Students Can Now Take Excused Mental Health Days

Washington joins 11 other states that specifically allow students to take excused mental health days off. From Crosscut:

“Schools can now accept mental health symptoms in the definition of an excused absence, just as they do physical health symptoms. It formalizes allowing students to take days off to care for their mental health, including for counseling and behavioral health appointments.

The law does not allow students to excuse themselves, and each district will come up with its own requirements — for example, if a parent or doctor note will be needed to determine whether an absence is excused.”

One principal acknowledged,

“. . . it’s a change that’s been needed. ‘If a kid breaks their leg, we wouldn’t expect them to take part in PE. But I don’t think there’s an equivalent for a student with debilitating depression.'”

The new rule also enables schools to collect information on its overall mental health, which can inform how they might respond in other ways.

I’m not sure much more information is needed to conclude families, teachers, and administrators are woefully unprepared to adequately help students’ with their mental health challenges.

Week One’s Highlight

Fall semester is off to an excellent, largely mask-free start. Of course it takes more than one or two class sessions to get a true feel for your students’ personalities, but all signs point towards a great semester. The most notable demographic shift of the last few years seems to be accelerating—a significant increase in Latina students. I have half of the football team in one writing seminar (slight exaggeration) and half of my students in my other one want to become writers which is exciting.

Some context. For those newish around here, earning a chili pepper, signifying hotness, on the website “Rate My Professor” is my primary career objective at this point. The one unchecked box. And with each passing year, the Las Vegas oddsmakers say my receiving one is less and less likely.

The highlight of the week happened Tuesday morning when I descended the stairs of our house. Since I’ve been slumming it for months unshaved in t-shirts that could double as bike rags, the Good Wife was impressed with how much I had cleaned up. As she moved in for a steamy back-to-school smooch, she said the nicest thing ever. “I would give you ten chili peppers.”

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Coming To A Theater Near You

Sometimes A lot of the time I amaze myself.

A movie idea just came to me and no doubt it’s gonna be warmly embraced by Hollywood’s top studios. Let the negotiations begin! Since I’m the ultimate triple threat, they will probably want me to write, produce, and star in it.

The idea came to me Saturday, shortly after Al’s memorial service at The United Churches in our fair city. The service was another amazing remembrance of a remarkable person. Similar to the one for my in-laws last year. At that one, my wife and daughters did a beautiful job capturing what made them so special. If watching a slide show of a person’s life and listening as family and friends reflect on how they left the world better than they found it doesn’t inspire you to consider how to best spend your ever shrinking time, then something’s wrong.

Forget psychedelics, forget chasing fame and money, forget vanity in all its forms, nothing is as inspiring as positive people’s life stories. Just ask anyone involved with hospice care. Al’s three sixty-something daughters told unique, funny, and moving stories about their father. And another friend talked about how Al lit up the retirement community he was a part of and had to be held back when hiking in the mountains even into his 90’s. The quintessential extrovert, Al embraced life to the fullest. He said he would sleep when he was dead. Long live the memory of Al Walter.

Back to my homerun of an idea. Remember Wedding Crashers? Well, how about Memorial Crasher?! Part Ted Lasso, part Ricky Gervais’s After Life, Memorial Crasher is the story of a dude who has lost his zeal for life, meaning it’s the story of most of us. Just can’t find the loving feeling he enjoyed in his youth. He’s surviving sure, but not thriving. He breaks out of his malaise after attending a memorial service for a close friend. As per usual, his resolve to be a better person and live life more fully only lasts a few weeks, then he slowly reverts to his formerly alienated, disconnected, somewhat negative self.

So he concocts an antidote to his default condition. He scours obituaries in local papers and church bulletins, and when he finds particularly inspiring ones, which happens about once a month, he crashes the memorials. No one ever knows he has no connection to the deceased. That way he receives a steady stream of reminders of what’s most important and is continually inspired to be more selfless and daring.

Consequently, his life is transformed. His focus shifts from himself to others. He cultivates gratitude for how little time he may have left. He becomes a much better neighbor, friend, and person.

And picks up several Academy Awards along the way. 

How To Drive Your Daughters Crazy

That void in your life. . . me not having done a “How To” post in ages. Let’s right that wrong.

Two sure-fire ways to drive your daughters crazy. First though, why drive your own flesh and blood crazy? In short, homeostasis. No doubt they’ve been driving you crazy for years, now it’s your turn to reciprocate in the interest of harmonic balance.

The key to the first strategy is to control the television remote like Raphael Nadal controlled today’s quarterfinal tiebreaker. Then, once you’ve queued up the show, skip the intro. Done and done. If your daughters are like mine, they may never fully recover.

The second related sure fire way to push them over the edge is instead of watching a series from the beginning, just watch repeated episode highlights on YouTube. I’m currently doing this with Curb Your Enthusiasm. At my age, I can’t commit to watching 110 episodes spread out over 11 seasons, not knowing if I’ll make it to the end. Much to my daughters’ dismay, YouTube has me covered.

If I knew it was so easy to make them apoplectic, I would’ve honed these skills years ago.

Another Balm For My Cynicism

In Little League, I was a good fielder, but I couldn’t hit. Another swing and miss on my last post which The Good Wife didn’t find too funny. Maybe it’s not me that was amazing and now isn’t, just my sense of humor.

Through the Biggest Little Farm, a Canadian television documentary about University of British Columbia graduates committed to urban farming, and related reading and multimedia, I’ve become infatuated with small scale farming. I can’t fully explain it, I’m just extremely moved by small groups of people working small plots. I’m sure I’m romanticizing it, but their commitments, work, and products give me hope for the future.

And that’s hard to come by these days.

This heartwarming story, “America’s Most Luxurious Butter Lives to Churn Another Day” nearly brought me to tears. I just love everything about it—the people, the cows, the cows’ names, the pictures, the incredible serendipity.

I want to support local farmers, but besides buying their products at the Olympia Farmer’s Market, I’m not sure the best way to do that yet. If you have ideas, do tell.

Caring, kind, patient parenting and caring, committed, and sustainable farming keep me going when so much seems to be spiraling downwards.


Postscript. Informative critique of “The Biggest Little Farm”.

A Balm For My Cynicism

If I could press “rewind” and stop the tape of my life halfway through 1990 when the Good Wife and I were leaving the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to begin my Ph.D. program at the University of Denver, we may have taken second international teaching gigs somewhere else in the world. And then a third. And then a fourth. And then a fifth just like some of my Addis Ababa teaching friends did.

If I was younger and there was more demand for C-list bloggers, I’d move to Canada. Or some other less violent, less divided country. Where the quality of life is noticeably better.

To which the deluded “Greatest Country on Earth” people reply, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

I concede, pessimism is a downer, but I think of it more as realism. The “Greatest Country” contingent is living in the past, unwilling or unable to rationally assess the numerous ways our quality of life is declining.

And yet there’s at least one thing that gives me genuine hope for a decent future. Loving parenting of small children.

I see it most often in the YMCA locker room. Sometimes at Vic’s (Wildwood) Pizza. I’m constantly seeking it out because I can’t get enough of it. It’s damn near the only balm that does anything for my chronic cynicism.

Since it’s the male locker room, it’s almost always dads, sometimes granddad’s. Sometimes white dads, often dads of different ethnicities. Sometimes middle class dads, other times working class dads. Most of the time I can’t see the father and children because we’re in different rows, so I just eavesdrop. Nothing soothes my soul like listening to a dad talk to his two, three, four year-old daughter or son as if they’re just small adults. Respecting their intelligence, knowing they will rise to the level of their expectations.

Often, that respect is coupled with a beautiful mix of patience, gentleness, and kindness, a trifecta that gives me confidence that those kids will be more than alright, and that collectively, we will too. I have no doubt the same thing is playing out in the women’s locker room.

What if we collapsed all pressing public policy questions down to this one: How can we make it easier for parents to love their children unconditionally? How can we design policies that make YMCA membership feasible for everyone so that children can take swim lessons, and families can swim together, and older kids can play team sports?

At the same time, let’s acknowledge the endless forms family life takes. No form is better than another. The only thing that matters is loving parenting. Parenting marked by respect, patience, gentleness, kindness. I suspect, if we get the parenting of young children right, like so many of my fellow YMCA members do, we’ll be alright.

My Total Lack of Self-Awareness

The Good Wife and I are in marriage counseling, not because our relationship is bad, but because we want it to be better.

I deserve no credit for this, the GalPal has taken all the initiative. And therein lies one of the challenges. I think we should be able to improve things on our own if we carefully consider the different dynamics of the alternating peaks and valleys of our partnership. And then accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You know, easy-peasy, just use more of our brain power.

Now I know that assumption is terribly flawed. We can’t think our way to a better relationship, it’s much more about heart, and dare I say, feelings. If it has anything to do with intelligence, it’s solely emotional intelligence.

Our counselor diagnosed our main problem quickly in a way that resonated with both of us. Most of the time, when we try to resolve conflicts, one or both of us are too angry, or emotionally “flooded” or “unregulated” to show genuine care for one another and have a constructive conversation. We ignore the flooding at our own peril, proceeding to get more and more angry, and ultimately, saying hurtful things we inevitably regret.

One epiphany came when our counselor asked each of us to describe the physiological changes we experience during the initial stages of a challenging conversation. The GoodWife aced that quiz describing in some detail several physiological changes. The weekend warrior athlete who constantly assesses how his body is or isn’t functioning while swimming, running, and cycling, couldn’t describe a single physiological change; earning a donut hole on the quiz.

The point of physiological self-awareness is to make sure we only enter into challenging conversations when each of us is regulated, meaning sufficiently calm to engage in a kind and caring manner.

I wasn’t as embarrassed by my total lack of physiological self-awareness as one might think, more intrigued. How can that be? Why the hell is that? That realization has me now trying to get into some kind of touch with my physiological married self. To quote Bill Murray, “Baby steps.”

I think the answer to “how can that be” and “why is that” is two-fold. I had two great parents, three older siblings who I tried to watch and learn from, and an overall positive childhood, but there was no intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning more generally going on in our house. Ever.

Nor was there any intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning going at any of the K-12 schools I attended. Extra-curricular activities included. Sunday School and church youth groups included.

So it’s not entirely surprising that I failed the quiz.

By this point, my older sissy has stopped reading, thinking to herself, “Ron, it’s not all about you.”

It’s too bad she checked out because I know my experience is that of damn near every male growing up in these (dis)United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We talk about “food deserts” in poor communities, but what about “emotional deserts” in every community, irrespective of economics?

What would emotionally intelligent parenting for both boys and girls look like? What do emotionally intelligent parents know and what are they doing that’s different?

How can educators, coaches, art and music leaders, youth pastors, anyone in youth leadership positions begin fostering emotional intelligence?

How can parents better partner with other adults in their children’s lives to help their sons and daughters develop some semblance of emotional and physiological self-awareness?

We need more attention and better reporting on these things. Meaning engaging and accessible stories that will educate and inspire ordinary people who only know what they’ve experienced. Stories that spark imagination, challenge the status quo, and foster new and better ways of relating to one another.