Friday, September 20, 2013

No, thank you, I don't want your cough drop.

Being offered cough drops on a fairly regular basis from random people is probably an experience I have in common with many other CFers.  In high school, (since I'm 99% sure menthol-laced cough drops were illegal on school premises) friends and classmates would occasionally offer me peppermints or hard candies to suck on for my throat (usually accompanied by some sympathetic comment of "wow, you STILL have that cough, huh?").  In college, while working at the front desk of my dorm, a sweet foreign exchange student gentlemen from Singapore brought me a bag of cough drops and some un-identifiable asian "cold medicine" tablets that he swore made ANY cold/allergies/illness go away within 24 hours and was convinced I must need them.  I've had piano teachers, friends' mothers, and work colleagues come hunt me and my cough down when they're within earshot and give me a wink while they silently slip/force a cough drop into my hand.  In law school, I've had nameless classmates sitting next to me reach into their bags in the middle of class, then whisper "I have cough drops" as they offer me a smile and a handful of Halls.  The cake, though, might be in class tonight when the girl sitting in front of me, to whom I've never spoken and about whom I know nothing, turned around and, without making eye contact, plopped a cough drop on my desk, then turned back around to continue taking our quiz.  Umm….thank you?

In all honesty, my initial gut-reaction whenever this happens is to feel both sad and offended.  There's a part of me that cringes on the inside anytime my cough is acknowledged as something noticeable or abnormal.  Trying so hard to stay healthy and be "normal," only to have someone point out to you that there is something obviously wrong…well, it can be a tiny bit of a soul beating.

However, I absolutely realize that 99% of the time it is done out of kindness - people see what they perceive as a "suffering" and think they have a small way to make it better. (Or they really want me to stop making all those distracting coughing/throat clearing noises so they can concentrate on the class material!  Either way, I guess I can't really blame 'em…) And so, that initial gut-reaction of negativity has been trained to almost immediately give-way to the thought "They're just trying to be nice.  Now either accept or decline the cough drop, and either way, remember to SMILE and be GRACIOUS."

Over the past year or so, as I've really started to better embrace and accept the CF-patient part of my identity (and also since I've met and married the love of my life who accepts me exactly as I am, CF and all, which has given me way more confidence than I ever would have imagined) little things like the cough drop offers tend to roll off a lot easier than they used to.  The last two times it's happened, though, have caught me off-guard, because when they're offered I honestly am not aware of any coughing noises even going on!  The next-to-last time, it was right before a sinus surgery, and all I can figure out is that I must have just been clearing my throat a lot in class; tonight, I had to run across the parking lot and up a stair case with my heavy backpack to make it to class on time, so I was huffin' and puffin' and coughin' a bit when I first sat down.  All that had passed, though, by the time our quiz was passed out, and as far as I was concerned I was just sitting there quietly when the cough drop "drop and run" occurred.  After the quiz was over, friendly cough drop girl turned around and asked "You were the one that was coughing at the start of class, right?"  That at least made me feel a little better that she was referring to a legit coughing fit and that I wasn't subconsciously making a lot of weird noises in class that I wasn't aware of!

So, bottomline, yes, it hurts my feelings a little bit, but I understand and am grateful that people are just trying to help when they shove a cough drop in my face.  It's also taught me to consider how many times I might accidentally hurt others' feelings by innocently pointing out something that's a little "off" with them and be completely oblivious to the fact that I'm calling attention to a very sensitive aspect of their life.  In the end, though, we're all human, and we're all going to put our foot in our mouth at some point, whether we realize it at the time or not, so I think a little grace all around is needed here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Internships and Housewife-ing (or at least attempting it)

Welcome to my-life-in-a-nutshell-for-the-last-three-(now-four-)months Part 2:

The day after hubby and I returned home from the honeymoon, I started my summer internship with the Immigration and Legal Services department at a (somewhat) local Catholic Charities office.  My real interest in the internship was to learn about refugee and asylee law, but I knew the job would include exposure to a much wider variety of immigration legal issues.  In the end, it was a great experience - having just finished an immigration law course a few weeks before I started, it was really cool to be working in an environment where I could observe how what I'd learned in class directly affects the everyday lives of so many people.  I was little disappointed at the lack of actual "legal practice" involved, though - this particular office doesn't provide any legal services that would require a lawyer accompanying a client to court or removal proceedings, or an asylum hearing.  Instead, the office primarily provides consultations to clients who are seeking some kind of pre-emptive immigration relief (meaning they haven't already been tracked down by ICE and are seeking some kind of protection or relief from future possible deportation).

*I've realized the next few paragraphs of this post are probably unbelievably boring to 99% of the people who will ever read this blog, but it's taken me so long to write it I can't bring myself to delete it.  Sooooo….IF YOU CARE TO LEARN A TAD ABOUT IMMIGRATION LAW, FEEL FREE TO READ EVERYTHING BELOW.  IF NOT, FEEL FREE TO SKIP TO THE NEXT *

Therefore, I spent most of my summer meeting with people who qualify for something called "deferred action for childhood arrivals" (DACA).  This is a piece of legislation passed in August 2012 that aims to give some temporary protection to immigrants who have been in the U.S. for most of their lives.  This typically ends up being children who crossed the border with their parents, usually before they were school-age, and have lived in the U.S. for nearly the entire lives.  The requirements (if anyone is interested) are that they have to currently be at least 15 years old; show they entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday; show they were physically present in the US on June 15, 2007 and have been continuously present in the US up to the current date; show they are either currently enrolled in school, have received a high school diploma or GED; show they are currently living in the US without lawful status; and show they have no criminal history.  Being approved for this form of temporary relief means that, while the legislation lasts (Congress can revoke it at a later date), a recipient will not be placed in removal proceedings (i.e. deported) simply because they are present in the US without lawful status.  This means if they commit a crime or some other deportable offense, they can still be placed in removal proceedings, and if they leave the country, they have no license to re-enter the United States - however, simply being in the U.S. "illegally" will not land them in immigration court.  This legislation also allows recipients to apply for a social security number, which in turn allows them to get a job, driver's license, etc.

I also had the chance to work with immigrants who had been admitted to the U.S. as refugees, and were now eligible to adjust/apply for their permanent resident status (aka their "green card"), and also with U.S. citizens who were ready to petition to bring over family members from another country.  I enjoyed meeting with these people and hearing their stories, and their cases were typically pretty straightforward and simple.  It's a little crazy, though, that people come in to start the petition process of sponsoring their parent or siblings so they can immigrate to the U.S., all the while knowing it will likely be at least a 7-20 year process.  It was a good reminder at just how blessed I am to live in a country with so many opportunities and so much affluence, and also a good reminder that not everyone gets to experience the same political and economic security I've known my whole life.

Additionally, I had the chance to work with some women who had been granted temporary relief status because they were either victims of a violent crime (U-Visa recipients) or domestic violence (relief under VAWA - Violence Against Women Act).  Both of these programs allow people to stay in the U.S. for a temporary period while they "get back on their feet," and the recipients are then allowed to apply permanent resident status after a given period of time, provided there is no criminal activity or other problems during that probationary time period.  I really enjoyed speaking with these women, and hoped that the few hours I got to spend with them preparing their files and applications helped at least a little in setting their lives on the right track to recovery and a better life.

Overall, immigration law is an extremely interesting field, and I wouldn't mind getting back into later on down the road.  It's such a complicated and codified process, it was nice to be in a position where I was simultaneously learning about the law and helping people navigate their way through our complicated system in their quest to obtain a rightful, legal status.  There were two main issues that made me decide I want to try something else for now, though - #1 - I don't speak spanish.  Like, not even a little.  And that severely limits how much direct contact I can have with clients in my area who are seeking immigration law advice.  #2 - I honestly don't have strong feelings about immigration policy and legislation either way.  I loved learning about immigration law - digging into legislation policy, however, is not something I've ever been interested enough to really research and form a firm opinion on.  This summer, I got to see how this is a topic that directly affects SO MANY people, and it really helped remind me that this is an issue that affects individual lives, not just a generic group of "other people" - aaaaaaand at the same time, it showed me that there are a LOT of people who feel completely entitled "work" and take advantage of our immigration and legal system, which was frustrating.  Given what I've seen so far in my new internship, though, I'm starting to think that's just a trend that nonprofit legal organizations see, no matter what field of law you are working in.  You just have to remember that along with the frustrating clients, there are also those who genuinely need, deserve, and appreciate the help.


Thankfully my immigration internship ended with another month of my summer left.  Woohoo!  It was definitely time for a break, too.  Between the engagement, wedding planning, school semester, finals, moving, wedding, honeymoon traveling, then a full-time internship with 3+ hours in the car each day, my body was getting crazy rundown.  Over the next few weeks, I tried to balance a good amount of "down time" while at the same time finally going through all our wedding gifts, packing/moving/unpacking the rest of my stuff from my parents' house, and trying to "set up house."  During that time hubby and I also traveled up to DC for a long weekend with my family for my grandfather's memorial service in Arlington Cemetery.  It was absolutely wonderful - we got a few days to explore the city, followed by all my aunts, uncles, and cousins being in the same place to honor my grandfather's life and service to his country.  He was a colonel in the Air Force during WWII and beyond, and he had a full honor guard present at his memorial service.  It was beautiful, and we all knew he would have been extremely pleased.  After the service, the whole family headed to a french restaurant my grandparents used to frequent in the city, and we spent the night savoring some delicious french delicacies and sharing stories about my grandad's life.  My family has a strong french heritage and pride, which was primarily instilled in us by my grandfather, so this was an absolutely perfect way to wrap up a day/trip celebrating his life.

During the few weeks at home before school started back, hubby and I were finally able to get a little more "settled in" - curtains got hung, wedding gifts got returned/exchanged, our dish set got completed…it was a nice sense of accomplishment - but it still feels like there is so much to do!  It's hard to believe we've both been living here for over three months now.  I think it's about time I start getting some of these decorations up, or else it will be time for us to move again before they've even been put up!

That's about all for now.  There's more to update on now that school has started back and a new internship has started, but this post has already hit "way too long" status.  I'll include more of a health update in my next post, too (it looks like it's about time to cave and start another round of IVs - but you gotta do what you gotta do).

Be back soon!