My Appearance on American Snippets

I joined Barbara Allen, author of Front Toward Enemy and What Not to Wear to a Murder Trial, on her show American Snippets recently. We talked about all sorts of subjects – my longest TV appearance yet!

I think I’m getting slightly better at them…..

This episode should also be airing on OpsLens TV – which is now available on Apple TV, Roku and FireTV! Stay tuned!

September 11th

What happened to our memory?

When the events of September 11th occurred, it changed the world. It was a horrible change, but it did bring some unity to our country. Suddenly we were united against one enemy. I was in Washington DC at the time, and I can honestly say that people just got nicer, even if it was only in the congested Washington DC traffic. People waved, allowed you to merge in front of them, made room, consideration for fellow humans prevailed… suddenly. We were all in shock.

I have written about this before…. I saw the Pentagon burning. I saw cars pulled over on the side of the freeway – people lining up at phone booths (we had them at this time) to call their loved ones. Cell phones weren’t as common, but if you did have one, you could not get through to anyone. I remember worrying about my family in California and what attack might be coming their way at the various federal buildings in which they worked. It was still early morning for them. I wanted to warn them not to go in to work.

But it really didn’t hit me until I was back at my small studio apartment in Alexandria, Virginia and watched on my giant clunky television (we had those at this time) the extremely tall buildings being toppled by airplanes. I had just seen these buildings in person, for the first time in my life, just weeks prior on a trip to New York. I remember thinking how tall the buildings were – they almost made me dizzy just looking up at them – they were THAT tall.

I saw people jumping out or falling out of these tall towers. It still makes me tear up to think about what I saw that day.

I kept wondering, what was it like to be at your office, working as a clerk or secretary, or any other average office employee… and to look out the window and see a commercial airliner coming straight for you. That was the image I had in my mind. Did anyone actually see it or was it just so quick that no one saw it coming? I guess you wouldn’t know unless you were in that situation. And those people are gone. This is just how my brain works, I picture myself in the other person’s position.

Since March 2020 life changed dramatically for most of us – if you were in California as I was, your life changed dramatically more than people in other states in the US because of the extreme measures that were taken. But there were no planes hitting towers. There was footage coming out of Wuhan, China showing death and quarantining of people, due to a leak of a virus – COVID-19 or what we then called corona virus. Then we quickly saw the statistics in Italy, which has one of the oldest populations in the world, of the deaths due to the corona virus.

People freaked out. In California, parents locked their kids inside the house. I still have the image of a child’s writing on a window in my neighborhood etched in my mind. It said “Can I go to the Out now?” We were told we had to mask up. We had one of the first mask mandates in the country in our small desert town. Playgrounds were promptly roped off with tape. People were actually calling 9-1-1 on people who dared walk in the neighborhood with no masks. It was an extreme reaction, and frankly, I wasn’t buying it.

I tried to sound the alarm. I was shouted down by the most vocal and loud minority in our society. Nobody was listening. I’m guess I’m just not loud enough.

Now, as I can think of the positive that came from the horrible events of September 11th, small as they may have been – they were human. But, I cannot think of any one positive thing that has come from this COVID pandemic hysteria. In fact, it is quite the opposite. People are ruder, less humane, and more division and hatred exists now than before. There is more visceral hatred.

People don’t even seem to WANT to get along. They treat each other – and even worse, our children – as lepers. They believe everyone carries this virus, dormant inside, and somehow we can all infect each other – sort of like a zombie apocalypse movie. Everyone is a big germ.

I see people now embracing awkward elbow bumps instead of shaking hands. People avert eyes as their mask-covered faces quickly look down at the ground. Where I used to imagine getting involved in the PTA or volunteering at schools, for instance, I now feel uncomfortable and frankly, unwelcome. It’s as if I am a walking disease just waiting to make everyone sick. And my children are too.

Why would anyone be wary of me ? My vaccine passport wouldn’t fit in a large suitcase – I have had vaccinations that many reading this have never even heard of.

Now, I could have gotten by thinking this is just temporary, but we are going on two years of this. Where does it end?

After September 11th I had friends (yes, it was California) who claimed that President Bush had orchestrated the attacks and it was all made up, like a Hollywood movie. They had all these conspiracy theories. I was horrified listening to them. Now, I’ve seen this conspiracy theory theme twisted around. The original conspiracy theorists are now telling people how to think. These same people will tell you there has never been a pandemic in our lifetimes. These people will also tell you we’ve never had two or three hurricanes lined up in the ocean at a time ever before.

I even had one clearly deranged individual tell me that the people in those towers that day deserved “what they got”. That the problem was how rich all those people who worked in the towers were. It didn’t matter to this person that the majority of the people in their office early in the morning were not the mega-rich, they were the clerical workers, secretaries and mid-level managers. Either way, being “rich” does not justify being murdered by terrorists.

Where once, aside from the obvious nut jobs mentioned above, we stood together after a horrible terrorist attack on our country, now it seems it’s every man for himself. Parents of older children are not concerned with the effects of masking on our youngest children – because it doesn’t affect them directly. If it doesn’t affect them, they don’t want to get involved or even hear about it. They hide their heads in the sand. The small, loud minority of shrieking voices rules the day.

“It’s just the way it is now.”

It is only that way if you continue to allow it to be that way.

On this Patriot Day, let’s remember.

Dilemmas of the 21st-Century American Parent

Standing in the breeze on a warm spring day at the end of another school year, I listen as a pre-Kindergarten child receives a prize at the elementary school’s yearly awards ceremony. Inwardly, I cringe as I hear “ . . . and she wants to be a YouTuber when she grows up.” My attention suddenly is diverted as my 2-year-old darts off into the crowd, tearfully screaming for daddy.

I see far too many social media posts from well-meaning parents who worry that their toddler isn’t speaking yet, or fret about their 4-year-old’s short-attention-span. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read well-meaning but (to my mind) misguided advice to “get him (or her) evaluated.” What explains this push for a magical pharmaceutical remedy or some other treatment to shoehorn kids into our concept of “appropriate” behavior. Apart from wondering where this mythical child evaluation station is located, I wonder what is happening to the American parent.

When I was a child, I spent countless hours digging in the dirt, discovering beetles and worms. I could construct an entire village out of pebbles, coral, and rock. I built bridges and put ants on leaf boats that sailed across great puddles of water.

Nowadays, pre-school and pre-Kindergarten kids are placed in front of a tablet or a laptop almost as soon as they enter the classroom. Parents, understandably tired and overworked, willingly surrender their smartphones to their children when they can’t seem to entertain themselves for a few minutes. Teachers, overburdened with bulging classroom sizes, time-sucking administrative meetings, and more and more “professional development” requirements, sometimes rely on apps—educational as they may be—to teach children the basics during their long classroom days. Even if we assuage ourselves with the idea that our child is getting limited screen time at home, they are getting plenty of it at school.

Parents, on a constant scroll through social media, are bombarded by worries about how their children are developing. Are they measuring up with their peers? New young mothers often get their parenting advice from a Facebook group filled with other young, inexperienced mothers rather than from more experienced family members or from medical professionals. Doctors’ offices are overflowing with patients, though it is rare to see an actual doctor during an appointment. All it takes is a quick glance at the majority of commercials flooding our television screens—so many offering pharmaceutical solutions to just about every preventable health problem.

An Epidemic of Overprescriptions

You can’t even glimpse at a parenting blog or article without seeing numerous parental claims of a child suffering from anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even for children as young as 3. Perhaps a small pill could solve all of our parenting worries.

The United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population but 83.1 percent of the global volume of ADHD medications. Methylphenidate (also known as Ritalin and Concerta among other trade names) is a central nervous system stimulant and is one of the pharmaceuticals used to treat ADHD. Some figures I have found say that 85 to 95 percent of the methylphenidate produced in the world is consumed in the United States. Does this mean that there is no ADHD in the rest of the world?

Many doctors will tell their patients that depression is caused by a problem in the brain, a chemical imbalance. This has been the explanation for decades. Yet every year, diagnoses of depression and anxiety increase, especially among kids. Administration of psychotropic drugs, such as Ritalin and Prozac (among others), causes long-lasting alterations in brain function. As a result, the brain operates differently from the normal state.

Some studies have found that there may be social or economic incentives that encourage an ADHD diagnosis. Public school children diagnosed with ADHD may qualify for additional educational services. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Sullivan v. Zebley led to the inclusion of ADHD for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. There was a three-fold increase in SSI benefits for children between 1989 and 1995. In 2013 alone, SSI benefits for ADHD were more common than those for intellectual disabilities, autistic disorder, speech and language impairments, and other developmental disorders.

One interesting theory for the increase is that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) may have encouraged school districts to pressure parents of academically low performing students to have them evaluated for ADHD and other learning disabilities. The belief was that if those same children were administered cognitive-enhancing drugs, they would perform better on standardized tests, which would stave off cuts in federal school funding. Some statistics support this view. In particular, low-income public school children from states where this strategy was introduced as part of NCLB showed double the increase in ADHD diagnoses between 2003 and 2007, relative to other states.

Since then, however, many state legislatures have become concerned about the influence that schools were having on mental health diagnoses and decisions about medications for students. Many states have since enacted child psychiatric drug laws (CPDL), which instruct public school boards to prohibit school personnel from recommending a child take a psychotropic medication, mandate that a child take psychotropic medication as a condition of enrollment, or use a parent’s refusal to medicate a child as the single basis for a neglect accusation.

What Have We Done to Our Kids?

I cannot help but think we are letting our children down with our desire for a quick fix, a convenient “solution” that does not even come close to identifying any underlying problems.

Not too long ago, a friend who works in the pharmaceutical industry told me a disturbing story. In the late 1990s, while working at a managed care pharmacy in Davenport, Iowa that serviced three surrounding states, he noticed a huge number of methylphenidate prescriptions from one particular state. When queried about the numbers, the head pharmacist replied, quite matter-of-factly, that ADHD was well covered by insurance in that state, so everyone there supposedly had ADHD.

Then the pharmacist said something that sent a chill down my friend’s spine: “Twenty years from now, we will look back on this and ask what we have done to our kids.”

Two weeks later, on April 20, 1999, my friend happened to be in Littleton, Colorado when two teenage boys went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School. They killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves as police closed in.

Oftentimes, the privacy of medical records is a barrier to uncovering the role psychiatric drugs may have played in violence such as the Columbine shootings as well as most of the student school shootings since that time. There is some evidence that many of the mass shooters of our recent history were either on or withdrawing from medications prescribed for depression, anxiety, and/or ADHD when they went on their murder sprees.

In our overworked, overstimulated, and exhausted lives are we too susceptible to believing that our depression, anxiety, or lack of an attention span is due to a chemical imbalance in our brains? Could that be cutting us off from discovering the real causes of depression or anxiety? Are we too quick to take bad advice from strangers on social media without educating ourselves first? Shouldn’t we strive to become our childrens’ greatest advocates? In doing so, wouldn’t we ensure that doctors do not hastily hand us prescriptions for powerful psychotropic drugs just to clear out their overcrowded waiting rooms?

Perhaps it sounds simplistic, but we may need to be more mindful of our kids. That does not mean that we need to coddle them, but we need to learn how to pay attention to them and truly listen to them without distraction.

We need to practice being present. True mindfulness means being in the moment and focusing on what you are doing at that moment. We need to learn how to hear our children and spend time with them, without the interruption of social media or electronic devices. We need to be aware of what they are interested in, and what they are doing in their free time. We need to place limits on electronics, social media, and video game usage and promote reading books, physical exercise, and being present.

What are we doing to our kids? We are all strapped for time; we are all busy. But somehow we need to make more time for our children—more time to listen to them. It may not pay a salary, but it could very well be the most important thing you can do for the world.

This article has been republished on OpsLens with permission from American Greatness.

Manatee Feet?

Did you know that manatees have 3-4 nails on each flipper – one thing they have in common with their closest living relative, the elephant! These nails don’t serve a specific purpose, but they may help reduce abrasion on the manatee’s flipper when the manatee “walks” on the bottom.

This manatee fact was presented courtesy of savethemanatee.org/facts.

What is Runoff?

“Dad said something about runoff from the street? I think he said something about fertilizer, oil and other chemicals.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what that means though.”

What is “runoff”?

In my latest book, A Manatee Miracle, I aim to teach our youngest readers about ocean life and ocean health – but in a non-preachy way. I’ve seen the effects of runoff in the ocean firsthand. As a child in the Florida Keys I witnessed the death of much of the life in one canal in a span of less than ten years. Manatees are just one of the victims of human carelessness.

You can help prevent manatee mortalities as well as harm to our oceans and other sea life. Runoff, such as sewage, manure and fertilizer enters waterways and causes algal blooms, some of which can be fatally toxic to manatees, and can kill grass beds that manatees rely on to eat.

What can you do to help?

Purchase environmentally safe products. (I know this is easier said than done, but there are many alternatives to the harshest of chemicals available in stores these days. It’s worth a shot.)

Properly store and/or dispose of toxic materials and do not discard waste in storm drains.

Use fertilizers sparingly and consider using a compost for yard and food waste.

Sweep up areas instead of hosing them down.

Check vehicles for leaks and properly recycle motor oil.

Take your car to the car wash instead of washing it in your driveway.

Pick your weeds instead of spraying weed killer chemicals that end up in the oceans and waterways.

The good news is, I have seen improvement in the canals of the Keys too. With a little bit of knowledge we can help bring life back to waterways that have been hurt.

Book Launch Day!

What better day to launch my latest book than Biodiversity Day 2021!

Today is the official launch of my latest book, A Manatee Miracle. The first installment in The Adventures of Shelly Beach series, A Manatee Miracle introduces us to Shelly Beach and her family as they move to the Florida Keys. A friendly manatee leads Shelly and her brother Sunny to a magical paddle boat and on to save the fragile environment they have come to love. #ForCoral #ForNature

It’s an elementary-grade chapter book for new, young readers. The print copy comes in large font, to assist those computer-strained eyes. With so much being done on the screen these days, I know firsthand how much damage can be done to eyesight.

My hope is that the series will teach young kids the value of wildlife, nature and the ocean in a fun and magical way.