Middle School Healthcare 101?

Repeat after me, “I love public school. I love public school. I love public school.” No really I do. I do love public school. I love the experiences they are having from Bria and Jack preparing a hula for May Day to Arleigh’s honor band and Hanan’s production of “Into The Woods, Jr.” We chose public school and this morning, I have to stop and remind myself why it was the best thing for our family. 

After prayerful consideration, we knew that we couldn’t hide Arleigh from the world. She seemed to have an innate understanding of the Great Commission in preschool. She was telling people about Jesus, encouraging them to go to church with us. I didn’t want to hide the light in a bushel so to speak. I went to public school. Ray went to public school. We turned out reasonably okay. The cost of schools and what we could do with that money was also a factor. We understand that different families choose different things. We needed to do what was right for us. Public school was our clear answer. That said, right isn’t always easy.

We’ve had our fair share of aggravating educators. They can’t all be as great as my mother. Of course those are hard shoes to fill. We’ve had lazy. We’ve had complacent. We’ve had one that I don’t even know how to describe but the thought of her makes my skin crawl. Having four kids with a combined number of teachers at around 37 give or take in the last 9 years and only wanting to complain about exactly 4…By far, the majority have been excellent, caring, compassionate teachers who really care about my kids. In fact, I worked a concession stand with one on Saturday night. Why can’t they all be like her?

Anyway, I’ve mentioned that all of my children have been born with an extra sensitive chip. One has been troubled by something lately. She just knew her teacher had to be right about what she said. She brought it up on the way home from church. As we had a discussion, my child had a minor meltdown. In part, this is the information my child said the teacher had been giving her.

  • America’s healthcare system is one of the worst in the world. We are killing our own citizens.
  • People are dying of cancer because they don’t have the money to pay and it’s not fair.
  • No one should have to pay for an education. Other countries have free higher education just like public elementary schools. Why should we pay for college?
  • She mentioned moving to Cuba for healthcare, France to have a baby and Germany maybe for education. 

This is just a small sampling of what was said to my very impressionable 12-year old. Worst of it was my daughter had the distinct impression that this teacher that she looks up to thinks our country isn’t just bad but is slowly killing us. That was a hard pill for this military spouse to swallow. Let’s add to it that this isn’t a social studies class. It isn’t economics or history. It’s her science teacher. 

Guess what I did after a long hard talk with Hanan. Well, I called my Mama of course. What am I supposed to do with this? Confront the teacher? Report her to the administration so the chip on her shoulder can grow? Sigh. 

Here are a few of the things I said to my daughter.

  • Yes, healthcare is expensive. The system isn’t perfect and is maybe even broken. If I had to pick a country to be sick in, I’d pick the United States. We don’t wait that long for care. Research is expensive and we are paying on the back end with the medicines we purchase. If you can’t afford healthcare, there are things like medicaid. And… we help people. The church helps people. If we know others truly need something we share. I want to know where my money goes. I don’t want the government to take it and distribute it. 
  • (These are Ray’s words not mine.) You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. This teacher omitted information that would be valuable when making your decision. 
  • I’m hurt that your teacher doesn’t see how great our country is and the freedoms that it offers you. I’m hurt that she doesn’t seem to understand the sacrifices that people make. At the same time, people made those sacrifices so that she could tell you what she thinks. 
  • Our family has seen the ravages of cancer. Some cancers are easier to treat than others. Grandpa’s was really bad. Amy’s Dad’s cancer was really bad. Your dad’s uncle is in remission though because our testing caught it early. Our treatments helped him. He was able to add a supplement plan to his insurance that helped with the cost. They aren’t rich people and they could pay for their healthcare because they planned ahead. 

We had other talks about how nice it would be if we could all be educated for free or had really good healthcare for free. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Research costs money. Uncle Sann needs money for his house and his kids and his student loans and his malpractice insurance. There was lots of good discussion. 

We told our daughter that we never want her to listen to information someone gives and take it at face value, even her know-it-all parents. She needs to do her own research, form her own opinion. I want her to be prepared. What if she goes to college and her professor tells her that intellectual people, people who study and know things couldn’t possibly believe in God? I want my kids to be prepared for that. To stand for something. I want my kids to understand something J.K. Rowling said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

One last thing that I want my kids to consider and yes at least the two older ones will be reading this later, if you are passionate about something, go after it. If it is nagging at your heart that cancer isn’t fair, set your mind and your heart and your passion to helping find a cure. Don’t sit back and complain about it. Go and do. The last thing I’ll say is our family motto that Ray has been preaching to the kids. Always remember to Be Good and Do Good and we’ll come out okay. The do is an important as the be.


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Jack Jack’s Time Hop

So I have that Timehop app on my phone. It lets me see what I posted on a certain day years before. Yesterday after an excruciatingly long homework session with Jack that had me a bit down I opened the app. I saw a picture of Jack standing on the bridge of a playground at the girls’ elementary school in Tennessee. I remember that day well. Jack walked up the steps by himself, stood on the bridge and actually smiled. 

Sure. This wouldn’t be a big thing for most of you. What you might not know is that Jack had been with us for about 6 months. After an icy winter, our friends would want to meet us at different parks to play. This was a problem for me. Arleigh and Hanan were in school. I had to chase Bria to keep her from breaking her neck. The sight of the playground terrified Jack. I had a hard time spotting Bria when Jack was screaming his fool head off. If we put him in even a baby swing, you could see his white knuckles as he clung to the chains. His eyes would be sealed shut so he wouldn’t have to look. Eventually he would start to yell or scream. Jack had given up on crying real tears a long time ago. We tried to put him on baby slides, holding him to slide or any variation. There was abject terror. He would scream at the top of his lungs like I had stabbed him. Fun playdates. 

I started taking Bria and Jack on long walks. We would stop for even a few minutes at empty parks. Jack would watch Bria swing, slide and monkey bar her way across the playground. I’m a firm believer in pushing Jack. If I don’t push a little, he won’t try. I would let him sit at the bottom of the slide. The next trip I would set him a little further up. Talk about a mad little boy. Months and months of just wanting to watch Bria and Jack play together like siblings. I can’t describe it. I read all the books. I knew there would be challenges but I thought in my heart that we would bring him home and he would fine. I had no idea how emotionally draining it would make me at the time. 

This was the picture I posted yesterday. 

Jack lost his fear of playgrounds a long time ago. It has still taken him time to learn how to play with other kids. Can you see the difference? Jack loves to go to the park across the street from our house. He gets a little flustered when new kids arrive that don’t understand him, but he rocks every contraption on that thing, even the pole. 

Yesterday was a bloody nose mad at Mr. Arnie yelled at my kumu couldn’t understand number order made my mom completely crazy I don’t know if I should be sad frustrated or mad kind of day for Mr. Jack. (Jack’s kumu is his Hawaiiana teacher.) This gave me a high blood pressure frustrated try and fail at not raising my voice afternoon. That little Timehop app on my phone was a blessing. I needed to stop for a second and remember just how far Jack has come in a little over three years. 

I’m not telling you all this for praise or a pat on the back. This was not my doing. This is between Jack and God. I’m just blessed enough to be the witness and try my best not to mess it up. I hope that by telling the story, more people will understand that it’s hard but oh so worth it to provide homes and families for these kids. If I can encourage even one family, it’s worth all the time it took to share these few words. 

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Aloha Raheim

On Sunday we had to say fair winds and following seas to Raheim. 

I don’t even know where to start with Raheim. He was our big girls’ Sunday School teacher for a little while. He is hands down their favorite Sunday School teacher. I think it’s because he truly challenges them not to take their every day gifts for granted. He honestly let them know when he was disappointed and set the bar high and yet, if they fell or didn’t quite make it to the bar he loved them anyway. A mama’s heart loves a Sunday School teacher that will do that for her kids. He challenged them to make the right choices even when it’s hard. 

Arleigh wrote him a letter before he left Sunday. It was all I could do to hold it together. She really didn’t want me to read it so I won’t share all it said other than to tell you her gratitude oozed from her words. Raheim is special to us. I’m so sad he won’t be around to encourage all four of them. I have offered him my basement if he’ll just choose to go to school in DC. There’s always that… 

I think that people’s character comes out in how they weather life’s storms. A few months after Tye died, I sat in church hearing the horrible news that Raheim’s brother had been killed. It opened my own wounds and I just ached for him. I knew that there was nothing I could do to fix his pain but every ounce of me wanted to do something. Honestly, with the exception of maybe my own mother, I haven’t witnessed anyone overcoming grief with the dignity and character that Raheim did. He never questioned his faith. He continued to walk the line and even served others all while he was obviously going through so much. What an example at such a young age. 

A little while ago we were watching the Captain America:The Winter Soldier. During the movie they introduce a character called Falcon. That character is former soldier who spends his time helping others in particular military members suffering from PTSD. As they introduce him you could see that he was just an all around good guy who’s life was built on service. He didn’t need the wings or to be a super hero to be the good guy my kids were desperate to watch. Before you even realize that his character is going to be Falcon the girls started pointing out how he’s just like Raheim. 

Raheim is moving on to go do great things. He will always be a super hero in our eyes…even if you can’t ride a skateboard. We love you brother. 



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Do You Ever…

Do you ever tell your child her tummy probably hurts because she ate too many pickles only to hear, “It was only 5 pickles mom.” Not pickle slices, full on baby cucumber kosher dill pickles and a certain seven-year old ate 5 because she thought the jar was almost empty. 

Do you ever eat well past your full only to prevent a sibling from having the honor of getting the last one? Apparently my kids do. 

Do you ever look and look and look for a junior sized party dress for your daughter online so often that the sluttiest of ads pop up in your Facebook feed? Yeah, me either… Good grief. She’ll graduate from college before we find an appropriate dress that we can agree on.

Do you ever spend hours trying to detangle and adult sized Rapunzel wig and just give up before all the hair comes out and you are forced to purchase a new one but also have to consider it took forever for the one you ordered to arrive and the play is this weekend? Yeah… There’s that and the fact that there is a pile of synthetic hair in my floor. Good times. 

Do you ever convince your husband to purchase cheaper liquid detergent because the red dirt in Hawaii doesn’t come out of anything anyway? Well, I did. Let me tell you there’s a price to pay. Last night, Ray was trying to show me something and I heard a crash in the laundry room. I thought it might have something to do with a forty pound sopping wet wig. Nope. I had previously loosened the cap to allow more liquid to flow from the dispenser. The detergent decided to commit suicide, diving from the high wire shelf on top of the washer and then tumbling to a slow death on the floor spraying it’s vile blue gel on every surface in the room. It looked like someone had stood in the laundry room and thrown up blue gel liquid more than once. Because Ray was insisting on showing me something and I knew all four children were upstairs, I delayed running when I heard the boom. This slight delay allowed at least a half gallon of the oozing blue gel to leak behind the washer. In other news if the prior residents want their mail, we found it! Ray stood outside hosing off towels and rugs while I wiped down the walls, shelves, washer and floor. On the bright side, I don’t have to worry about my house smelling like animals. It’s surely going to smell like laundry until well after we move. 

Do you ever see oozing blue gel all over the place, think it looks like a crime scene and after you’ve cleaned half of it up think, “I really should’ve taken a picture.” If you have a blog it would have at least crossed your mind. 

Do you ever put Tide pods on your laundry list… cause I just did.

Do you ever sing Blue Skies and Rainbows at church? We see more than our share of rainbows here but it’s true that rainbows are often accompanied by gray skies not blue. Saturday was not a bad day. In fact, we had the most beautiful weather for soccer. We were for the most part not rushed for anything. It should have been fabulous. For whatever reason, I was a grump. There is so much on my mind right now. I was thinking of a friend who has also had gray skies lately. I was thinking about this blog post and how it could have in some ways been written by me. (Although, Jaime is a much better writer.) As I turned the corner to head  up the hill in Aiea, I decided to say a little prayer. I prayed for a friend that is heavy on my heart all the time these days with marriage struggles. I prayed for my friend that has been seeing gray skies everywhere and I prayed for my attitude. As I topped that little hill, I saw it. It’s one of the few I’ve seen here. Yes, I felt like it was just for me. 

It was a true blue sky with a brilliant rainbow running through it. I couldn’t see the rain. I raced to the top of the hill and behind the school so I could take a picture. 

Do you ever have a regular to do list a mile long and then have to add to it, family is visiting soon and oh yeah, movers are coming list? That’s mind today so I better get busy!

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Hau`oli Lā Hānau Grandma

Let me start by saying, “It’s Grandma’s birthday and I’m so glad. I hope it’s the happiest birthday Grandma ever had.” That’s the family birthday song, in case you haven’t heard any of us belting it out. Mom heard it in a movie once and it stuck. For years, I thought she made it up. 

If you see this lovely lady around today, please pass on our aloha. Today is one of those days that it just stinks to be so far away. 

While I don’t tell her nearly often enough, she means the world to me. My aunt teasingly refers to her as her sister, Pollyanna. The truth is my mother is full of kindness. Her compassion spills over to everyone who knows her, especially the kids she taught in school. I should know. I was one of them. She is the most generous person I know. Nana Bonnie may call her a Pollyanna but Ray refers to her as a saint. I think I love that “Have Courage and Be Kind” saying from Cinderella so much because it makes me think of her.

My mother is strong and full of courage, even if she doesn’t believe it. She’s also extremely pragmatic. She isn’t jumping off any rock walls with her adrenaline seeking daughter, but she takes on any reasonable challenge without blinking. 

My mother has been through a lot. She watched her daughter that was supposed to set up shop next door move all over the world and managed to follow me to places she really didn’t want to visit. She’s been there for me more times than I can count. When we lost Jessa, she was there. When we went to China for 16 days, she was there. Move to the other side of the world…she visits as often as she can even when she feels torn to stay home. She watched a husband suffer from PTSD before anyone really knew what PTSD was. She lived in constant fear of strokes and heart attacks until she had to bury her first husband. Then came the son that chose a dangerous profession that kept her up at nights. While it wasn’t his profession, Tye died too early. You should never bury a child. She walked a long cancer road with her second husband. It was awful. The grief that she has been forced to endure is far more than most people can even begin to imagine. 

I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for her, or to pity her. Heaven knows she wants none of that. She is managing to pick up the pieces and continue to live her life the best way she knows how. We love to tell stories about the people we’ve lost and remember them. She wants to remember the good and laugh because she knows they are in a better place and she’ll see them again. Although, hopefully for my sake not too soon. 

I wish I was home to take her out on the town. Better, I wish she was here to take her on a day outing and out on the town. She’ll have to settle on a video from the grandkids, lots of FaceTime this afternoon between school, band, drama and soccer… We’ll celebrate this summer. In case you see her, please with her a very happy Hau`oli Lā Hānau!

I love you Mom. Happy birthday. Thanks for the example you set for all of us and always being there. You’re my hero! Here’s a little message from some of my favorite people in the world, and I think your too…



IMG_0036Hau`oli Lā Hānau Grandma! We love you very much. Sending you lots of aloha today.

Posted by Brandi Jackson Stiff on Thursday, April 9, 2015

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To Old Hoalohas

When I venture back home to that Bourbon State of Mind Kentucky my mother, bless her, sort of monopolizes my time. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t fuss at all if I tell her I’m leaving for a girls’ night…as long as I leave my children behind. So when I go home, I don’t see everyone that I used to hang with. By the time I see my family and a handful of people at church, the only time I have left is to hope I happen to bump into you at the Wal-Mart. That’s why I get so excited when someone comes to me. That means I get to monopolize their time on my little island. Like mother like daughter and all that jazz. 

Yesterday, Ray and I got to catch up with some hoalohas (friends, you know I had to throw some Hawaiian in there while I still can) from high school. John and Ray graduated together. Shelly and I ran around together, well for as long as I can remember until we ended up in different colleges and I left our little town for navy life. She drove me around in that red Cavalier of hers more times than I can count. Honestly, I don’t know how on God’s green earth she put up with fifteen-year old me. 

Anyway, we got to tour the base and Ford Island with the Hodges ohana. We had lunch and sent them off to tour the Arizona. I wish I was as good as Mom at monopolizing time. (Just kidding Mom!) They were on a family vacation and generously let us crash their party for a few hours. The great thing about old hoalohas is that in more than twenty years not much has changed.


Well maybe the hair… and the wrinkles and the… okay. Only Shelly’s hair has changed. I swear she looks exactly like she did when she graduated high school. She never told me her secret though. 

Thanks for a brief moment Hodges! Aloha!

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