fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

rice sock: pretty weird, sometimes useful

by caitlin meredith

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 9.12.18 PMI just opened a better-forgotten drawer at the bottom of my dresser and a flutter of tiny moths burst from dark to light. Though I should’ve just shoved the drawer closed and deleted the event from my working memory so as to not have to launch counter warfare (which we all know is impossible – my favorite line from an article about how to eradicate moths from your home: That said, it is possible to defeat moths. You could, for instance, burn your house down.) I peered into the drawer to see what piece of clothing I’d be dumping in the bin. Instead of cloth, however, I saw….rice. What the fuck? There were tufts of pastel pink and blue threading surrounding the main pile, with a nicely tied twine bow laid to the side. I’ve been accused of moderate hoarding (I say it doesn’t count if your favorite childhood bathing suit is in a box labeled “can’t throw away for some reason”) but pantry supplies in the bedroom were never my weakness. Finally it hit me: The fucking rice sock.

Did you know that you can go your whole life without hearing the term “rice sock” and then all of a sudden have it rain down on you like bird poop in a bad parking spot? Read the rest of this entry »


the shrinks were in on it? we need to talk about torture again. and again. and again.

by caitlin meredith

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.01.54 PMI am disgusted. A few months ago, my mom wrote a post about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, imploring us all to not let our outrage with the government-sponsored (ineffective) “intelligence-seeking” barbarities fade with the news cycle. A new bombshell released last month makes her call to action even more salient. The American Psychological Association not only participated in this program, they changed the wording of their ethics code in order to do so.

It’s one thing for our government to commit these atrocities – governments are no strangers to using lethal force to achieve their goals – it’s quite another for the governing body of a “helping profession” to collaborate in any way with a program that seeks to debase the human body and soul for any purpose. This scares the shit out of me. (If you want to see how the APA is dealing with this, click here.)

I’ve lived in many places where the government’s use of torture wouldn’t even make headline news. Not because it doesn’t exist – because it’s not news. Spending time in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo and other places where human rights abuses are justified in the name of protecting the State, it’s easy to feel a little smug as an American. We have the rule of law. We have certain ethical lines we do not cross. We have a transparent government where leaders are elected and defeated according to the will of the people. And of course all of these things are mostly true when compared to most of these countries. But the line that separates “us” from “them” gets thinner and thinner until it vanishes with the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Ebola is real. Our risk is not. Protect front line health-workers.

by caitlin meredith

PPE removal.1.1As a field epidemiologist, I have responded to disease outbreaks all over Africa during the past 10 years, from cholera to meningitis to Hepatitis E. Any other year, I’d be in Liberia right now, in gumboots with a map and a spreadsheet, trying to track and contain Ebola’s spread alongside my colleagues. Because of a new baby, however, I’m watching from the sidelines.

So far, what I’ve seen from the bench makes me concerned – not about Ebola’s threat to the United States, but about the mixed messages our leaders are sending and the mob mentality that results when fear overtakes facts.

Though my professional career in international health has been primarily with Doctors Without Borders, I am not speaking on behalf of the organization or my colleagues. I don’t know Dr. Craig Spencer personally, though he worked in Guinea with some of my good friends. I’ve never met nurse Kaci Hickox in person (that I know of) but we corresponded about project data a few years ago. I have e-mailed both of these colleagues messages of support in the past few days, but haven’t been in touch – i.e. I have no insider or personal information about either.  The facts I’m writing about here all come from mainstream news coverage.

Based on my experience as an epidemiologist and aid worker, I offer four main areas of improvement for the U.S. to start getting Ebola management right. Read the rest of this entry »

top ten ways pregnancy and childbirth will drive you crazy: #2 – your personality goes down the toilet

by caitlin meredith

pregnancy symptomsWhen she was pregnant, my friend Carolyn announced that her personality turned off at 8pm. When not pregnant, the usual shut off time trends towards 10pm so the difference is considerable for those spending an evening with her. As it happened, we were pregnant at the same time. While I was impressed with her precision, and felt similarly wilted by day’s end, I had one major question: What personality?

Carolyn is lovely – she has a sharp wit and a daunting intellect so this question was no reflection on who she was, just a mere observation from the pregnancy trenches. As much as I tried to fight it and show my non-pregnant friends just how unlike all the other pregnant women out there I was, constantly talking about weird food stuff and swollen body parts, I failed miserably. Read the rest of this entry »

top ten ways pregnancy and childbirth will drive you crazy: #1- trying to use the internet to find out if you’re pregnant or not

by caitlin meredith

woman googling2Ladies and Gentlemen, do me a favor. Do a web search for “signs of pregnancy.” Pretend your period is approaching a late arrival and you don’t happen to be able to think about anything else other than whether or not life is about to get really weird. “Concentrate on something else,” you tell yourself, so you try to get engaged with a New York Times article on the mysterious case of the disappearing bees, you try to lose yourself in the organic gardening tutorial you’ve meant to sit through for a year, you even try to organize your inbox by learning how to use the Gmail filter function. All to no avail. Finally, after the 47th trip to the bathroom to see if there are any new developments, you turn to the internet to determine your fate. Come on – do the search.

You’ll find that there are a gazillion web health “articles” on every site from WebMD to the Mayo Clinic with identical lists of early pregnancy signs and symptoms. Their purported intent is to help women figure out whether or not the most important event in their reproductive lives is in fact happening. In reality, they exist only to drive women bat shit crazy. Read the rest of this entry »

jew-ish: the life and times of a one-sixteenth jew

by caitlin meredith



I am one-sixteenth Jewish. It’s funny to say it like that, but that’s what it comes down to on the family tree. And, I guess that’s how much Jewish I feel. One-sixteenth.

How exactly does that translate?

Most of the time I don’t feel Jewish, but I don’t feel not Jewish either. I feel Jewish-ish. Since my Jewish blood comes through my mom’s mom’s mom (otherwise known as my maternal grandmother), it would be enough for Israeli citizenship should I want it, and, as my mom pointed out, it would’ve been good enough for Hitler. Blood is what I’ve got to go on since all the women in my family coupled with gentiles and it’s an atheist line.

My mom once told me that the closest she could get to defining her Jewishness was that she gets a family feeling when she was around Jews. I feel the same, but I wonder if that counts. Doesn’t everyone get a family feeling around Jews? Sort of like the Italian mama in the neighborhood is everyone’s mama. Read the rest of this entry »

this old house: my life in a highly permeable membrane

by caitlin meredith

the sad little house on the day I moved in

My house breathes. That’s not the technical term for it, of course – the technical term is that it has “excessive air infiltration.” I had an energy efficiency audit last week that confirmed it. Jim from the energy utility here in Austin hooked up a blower door to my entryway and let it rip. The blower door has a red piece of canvas with a big fan in the center that covers your front doorway. It looks like it would be used to inflate a circus tent but it’s the opposite. It sucks all the air out of your house and then tests the pressure. Well, at least it tries to – my house gave it a good run for its money.

Jim told me the appropriate level of seal for an energy efficient house in this climate would have to be less than 5 air changes per hour, or ACH, for those trying to quantify energy hogs like me. (He also told me that’s measured at 50 pascals of pressure, which I’m passing on to you, dear reader, because it means nothing to me.) The little computer attached to the blower reported that my house had 35 ACH. Was this the worst he’d ever seen? No, but he did later make a casual comparison between my house and a tobacco drying barn, a structure purposely built for open ventilation. Read the rest of this entry »

murderers are more reliable

by caitlin meredith

caution signThe other day I stopped by the criminal defense attorney’s office that I’ve been doing some work for. His paralegal and I got talking about a particularly unsympathetic client. A young guy with three DWI’s and of course it was always someone else’s fault. I admitted I’d had an easier time working on a recent pedophile’s case – at least he admitted he had a problem and wanted treatment.

I always thought that the hierarchy of criminal awfulness went from murderer on down to shoplifter. In this imagined matrix pedophile placed way, way higher on the disdain grid than drunk driver. Granted, the child sex offender was pretty mild as those cases go, but still – I was shocked by my inversion of sympathies. She wasn’t. “After working as a parole officer for twenty years I can tell you who the best people to work with are: murderers.” Read the rest of this entry »

they do it better in dutch: sex workers and the disabled

by caitlin meredith

painted wheelchair on dutch beachMy mom’s last two blog posts about sexual surrogacy and the movie “The Sessions” (see part 1 and part 2) reminded me of one of my old pieces of dinner party trivia. In Holland, the government pays sex workers to have sex with physically disabled people. I know – crazy, right? At least that was my first reaction.

At the time I learned about this little social service gem I was working in Sudan living with three Dutch colleagues. So many of the things they revealed about their quirky country astounded me that I became used to having daily conversations sprinkled with counter intuitive nuggets. None of them had ever tried drugs, including pot? What was the point of living in the Netherlands?? The government had public health campaigns encouraging people to snort their snot back into their noses instead of using a tissue?? This was deemed more hygienic? Their national cuisine is a bowl of mashed up everything called stamppot?

By the time someone casually mentioned the generous sexual services benefit I was a bit jaded and it almost escaped my “Wait, what??!!!” radar. Almost. Read the rest of this entry »

thanksgiving in jail

by caitlin meredith

razor wire fenceIn September I started teaching a journalism class at the county jail here in Austin. The homework assignment I left the students with before Thanksgiving was to write a review of something they experienced either in jail or in their past: a TV show, a movie, a concert. I gave them five minutes of class time to get started.

One woman started hers about a fancy hotel she’d stayed at in Dallas called Hotel Zaza. She talked about the lobby, the decorations and the high thread count beds. The woman sitting next to her also evaluated beds, but her review was of the psychiatric unit of the County Jail. That promised to be a much more interesting subject but unfortunately class time ran out before she could read beyond her first paragraph.

When I came back this Wednesday I got to hear their final drafts. They were great. The woman who had written about the psych unit had been transferred to a rehab program so I didn’t get to hear hers, but the others entertained with sharp commentary on cooking and singing reality shows. The real standout, however, was a review one student wrote about spending Thanksgiving in jail. With her permission, but without her name, I’m sharing it here. Read the rest of this entry »

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