Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Loss and Empathy

I went to a memorial service today. I went to the memorial service of a young woman I never met. I cried. I got up from my seat and hid myself around the corner in the hall because I didn’t want to be seen crying at the memorial service of a woman I didn’t know personally. Of course I was crying more out of empathy for the living, for the people who had prematurely lost someone so dear. But still I hid myself, feeling shame at crying because I, with my happy healthy child and my happy healthy partner, had no right to identify with people who just lost their loved one. Then feeling shame at my shame, shame at not being brave enough to be real and honest and just cry.

My co-worker lost her 26 year old daughter in a horse riding accident last week. Her child. Her only child. A young and healthy woman, newly engaged, optimistic for her future. I cannot begin to imagine what my co-worker has been going through this past week. So I cried for her.

After the memorial, we went to my co-workers home for a Celebration of Life. I was sitting there with a bunch of women from my office that I don’t see very often trying to make small talk and all I wanted to do was run home and hold my child. My only child.

I don’t know what I would do if I lost my child, whether it was from illness or accident, war or act of nature. He is my world. He is my life. He is my breath, my heartbeat, it is his lifeforce that keeps the blood circulating in my body. I have an extremely selfish confession. One of the reasons I want to have a second child is because I do not trust myself to cope in any manner, shape or form if I lost my only child. As a self preservation measure, I must have another child. Without my child’s lifeforce I would cease to exist.

The death of my co-worker’s daughter is not the only reason death has been on my mind lately. My father’s health is failing. Well, it’s been failing for a number of years, but now it seems to be really failing. There has been more than one occasion when I thought to myself at the end of a weekend visit, “This may be the last time I see my father alive” but then he would somehow manage to pull through it and recover.

I was searching for a poem by Dylan Thomas for another post I am working on (that also happens to feature my father prominently) and rediscovered this gem that I hadn’t read or thought of for years. It seems appropriate to print it now.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

If there’s one thing that can be said about my father, it’s that he is a fighter and a survivor. (Ok fine, that’s two things.) I want him to keep fighting. I want him to keep surviving. I want him to watch his grandchild grow up. I want my son to know him not for the things he bought and left for him, but for the person my father is. I want my son to know his grandfather’s story, as told to him directly with his own words. I want my son to know his grandfather’s love of family, tradition, and nature.

Everyone dies. I know this. I accept this. But I am not ready for it to happen to the people near me quite yet. (Is anyone ever ready for it?) I want my father to live and I want my son to live. I’m quite sure my co-worker wants her daughter to live too. So I cried. And when I got home this afternoon I held my child a little longer. I held him in my arms and in my heart, until he demanded to be released so he could return to the important toddler business of crayons and stickers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This post does not deserve a title

I almost titled this post "What the heck came out of my child's butt?!" but that seemed a little wrong to me.

I have a very juvenile confession. I think toilet humor is hilarious. John teases me that one only needs to say the word "poopy" in front of me and I crack a grin. Schmoopybaby's toots have long elicited grins, giggles, songs (When you're near me, I hear a symphony!) and other such silliness. I know I will regret it in a couple of years, but I just can't help myself sometimes. I am that big of a dork. :)

But there is a point when poop crosses the line from funny to gross; and my friends, this weekend we crossed that line. I'll spare you the details. Just sayin'.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on Being an Anti-Racist Parent

I was perusing through the entries to the ninth carnival of feminist parenting and I came across this post by Blue Milk, in which she describes an incident where her preschool aged daughter and her daughter’s friend encountered a nasty episode of racism at a public pool. Some boys at the pool “taunted her saying her friend has skin like poo.” Reading about the episode really had an effect on me. I was sad. I was angry. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THESE CHILDREN ARE ONLY FOUR YEARS OLD! WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

It got me thinking about how I can approach the issue of race with SchmoopyBaby.

Tami Winfrey Harris wrote on Love Isn’t Enough:
If love alone won't keep a toddler from touching a hot stove or stop a teen from engaging in unprotected sex, why, then, do so many of us think love is all you need to keep a child from absorbing prevalent biases against people of color or being damaged by them? …An anti-racist parent is a proactive parent, who includes race in the canon of important values that must be actively enforced in age-appropriate ways throughout a child’s life
So the question for me then becomes HOW? How can I proactively teach my white male child about important values such as this? How can I keep him from becoming one of those jerks at the public pool?

SchmoopyBaby is growing up in a much less diverse community that the one in which I grew up in California. In his play group there are two black children; all the rest are white. Familiarity with people who look or sound different, although not a be-all-end-all cure to racial discrimination, is at least a first step. His own (half) Jewish heritage ought to be a reminder of the dangers of discrimination, but that is invisible. His white skin, blue eyes, and non-Jewish last name hide his cultural identity, and *might* protect him from the insults I encountered and the beatings my father encountered growing up. It probably will not, however, protect him from internalizing discriminatory episodes, be they based on religion, skin color, or anything else.

One of Blue Milk’s commenters left the link to a Hand in Hand article called “Inoculating Our Children Against Racism” written by Patty Wipfler. The article has a series of suggestions, which I thought made sense, so I thought I would share some key ideas.

The basic premises of the approach are justice and respect:
Children have an inborn sense of justice. Children are able to retain their keen sense of justice if they are treated with respect. If a child feels safe and strong, he will respond with indignation to racism, whether it's directed at him or at someone else. He will know that the racist attitude he has witnessed is wrong, and won't adopt it as his own…What makes children vulnerable to racism is to treat children like we are better than they are, we know better than they do, we are more important than they are, and our feelings have more validity than their feelings. Instead, we need to guide them with respect for their intelligence, whether they are acting intelligently at the moment or not.
So what does it mean to treat a child with respect? The article includes a list of specific things, most of which I think are intuitively obvious - things like don’t use put-downs such as bratty, whiny, and stupid and do not hit, threaten with physical attack, shame, or blame. These kinds of attacks by adults lead children to believe that some people deserve to be called “bad” and then mistreated.

This one bullet point in particular caught my eye because it contradicts something most mainstream parents in this country take for granted:

The child should not be intimidated for having upsets about the things that matter to him. In particular, the child is allowed to express feelings with crying, tantrums, and "freedom of the mouth" while crying or tantruming. You, as parent, will often set limits that upset your child. That's your job, and it's an important one. However, your child's job is then to blast away the bad feelings that those limits bring forth, so he can recover his sense that you care and that his life is a good one. When a child cries, has a tantrum, or storms in response to a limit, he is using an inborn healing and cleansing process. He needs your attention while he gets rid of awful feelings. It restores your child's sense that his life is good, and his trust in you and others.
I can see in my head a number of people I know snorting and rolling their eyes at this point. I would guess their response to the passage above to be something akin to “So I’m supposed to reward my child for throwing a tantrum by giving him attention? No way. What do tantrums have to do with racism anyway?!”

The article addresses that question by describing how racism "piggybacks" on early mistreatment and fears. Rather than repeat the entire section, I will quote the bullets that pertain to the white child, because that is what I am raising.

* A child has bad experiences, either at the hands of adults or during threatening accidents or illnesses. He carries feelings of being terrified, separate, helpless, and unable to fight for himself. These feelings can be kicked into play by small incidents like not getting the first turn at bat, or losing his lunch pail, or having heard a fight between his parents. His fears make him withdraw at times, and at other times, those fears make him aggressive and angry.

* When any child witnesses racism, it frightens him. The racism fastens onto fears that have cracked a child's confidence in himself and others, like a secondary infection invades an open wound. He doesn't feel good enough or strong enough to reject racist mistreatment and protest it. So the words, tones, and attitudes are imprinted in his mind, along with a fresh helping of fear.

* A white child's fears make him vulnerable to adopting racist tones, words, and stereotypes. When a white child feels separate, scared, or disconnected, he tries to escape these feelings by playing out the oppressor role he has been frightened by. The intensity of his actions will reflect the depth of the fears that the child carried before the racism he witnessed gave those fears a racial twist.
The next section of the article covers what to do once your child has experienced an upsetting encounter involving racism. The key activity is to listen to the child’s feelings so the child can heal. The child may need to cry, tantrum, or rage. The parent's role is to actively listen and support the child while he releases his anger and fear. Protecting the child from exposure to racism is discussed in detail as well.

I highly recommend you read the entire article at Hand in Hand. There are a lot of good suggestions. I haven’t had to broach the topic of racism with my 1 year old yet, but I think this article provides a thoughtful toolbox for how to be a proactive anti-racist parent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kisses

SchmoopyBaby has been really in to kisses for the last couple of weeks. He'll run up to me with his face tilted up, his mouth in a sort-of open pucker with his bottom lip protruding a little bit. When I give him a kiss, then he'll run up to John and do the same thing. Then back to Mommy for a kiss, then back to Daddy for a kiss. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Really, it's so insanely cute my head could just explode.

Although, it's a little funny when we are horse-playing around, wrestling and being rowdy, and all of the sudden he'll plant a big wet toddler kiss right smack on my mouth.

I am so lucky to have such a sweet, affectionate little guy.

Even his teddy bear has been getting more kisses lately. At bedtime, SchmoopyBaby will hold Teddy up to my face so I can give Teddy goodnight kisses, then he gives Teddy goodnight kisses himself. Then he'll bring Teddy's hand to the side of his face in our sign for "good-night".

Then he'll hurl Teddy as hard as he can into his bed with a Squee.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Girls and Math

Apparently there’s been quite a lot of press about a study that was recently published, linking math anxiety of female elementary school teachers with girl math anxiety. I learned about the study through this article by Ashley from Small Strokes (appearing in the Thirteenth Carnival of Feminists), who expressed frustration that the study included no male teachers, and anger towards the implication that “it is clearly the female teachers’ fault that their female students hate math”.

It’s interesting for me to think about female math anxiety, as someone who is a woman and has a degree in mathematics. I never feared math growing up as a schoolgirl. I was good at math, although I freely admit I did find most of it to be terribly tedious and uninteresting until I took calculus. (Ah, Calculus, when the angels in my head danced for joy and excitement… but I digress)

What’s more, I cannot say that I ever perceived my elementary school teachers, all of them women, ever expressing any kind of anxiety or aversion towards math. Upon my first read of the news reports, I couldn’t help but wonder, are female elementary school teachers more math anxious today than they were 30 years ago? If they are more math-anxious, why are they so? What can be done to ease women’s anxiety about math, whether they pursue careers in education or something completely unrelated? Why have I never been math-anxious when so many other women are?

In these two articles that appeared in Science Daily, the same basic conclusions are reached.
(1) Girls throughout the world have the same innate ability in mathematics as boys, as proven by standardized test scores
(2) Boys in the U.S. have more confidence in their math skills than girls,
(3) In cultures when there is more gender equality (as defined by more women role models in research related positions, and more educational opportunities and job opportunities for women in fields that require advanced knowledge of math) more girls excel in math and choose math-related careers.

I am among a minority of women who pursued mathematics and/or science in education and career. I am also a woman of privilege in this country. White, suburban middle-class, both parents college graduates. Education was a top priority in my family growing up. It was never “If you go to college…” it was always “When you go to college…” I attended public magnet schools in junior high and high school, and I was surrounded by other kids who, like me, were highly motivated and highly academically inclined. Everyone was pushed equally hard at my school, and was indeed expected to succeed in every class – science or humanities.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, I had two parents that had known familial oppression and didn’t want to pass that on to their own children. “You can’t do...” and “You aren’t good at...” were simply not part of their vocabulary. I was fed messages that I could be whatever I wanted, achieve whatever I could.

These are the messages that all children should receive – boy or girl.

I happen to be the mother of a boy child. Although I cannot stop the bombardment of messages he will receive from his teachers, friends, and the rest of the world as he grows up, my son will know that women are good at math because his mother is. If he chooses a path in life towards math, science, or engineering, I hope that he will assume that women in those fields are as normal and natural as his own mother giving him hugs, reading him bedtime stories, and helping him with his math homework.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Natural Dad


Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Love and partners!


This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing about how a co-parent has or has not supported us in our dedication to natural parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


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This month’s theme for the Carnival of Natural Parenting is Love and Partners: How has a co-parent supported your dedication to natural parenting – or not?

I have a bit of a problem with this theme as it is written. I feel like the frame of the question implies that I am the only person responsible for making parenting choices in my home, and my partner has but two options – support me in my parenting choices or not. However, I cannot write about how John has supported me in my parenting style without crediting his influence with developing our co-parenting style and writing about how we have supported each other’s dedication to those aspects of natural parenting that are meaningful to each of us. We are a family. We support each other. We make decisions together. While I could probably say that our parenting styles started out at a slightly different point, we have evolved together on our co-parenting journey and have found ourselves in a place where neither one of us might have expected.

Take cloth diapers for example – they were actually his idea, not mine. All I knew about cloth diapers when I got pregnant is that they involved safety pins and rubber pants – certainly more hassle than I imagined I would be willing to deal with. And all the additional laundry – what working mom has time for that? Nonetheless, when he suggested it for the environmental benefits I had to agree with some of his arguments so I did some online research. Holy cow, was I surprised with what I found! Prefolds, fitteds, covers, pockets, all-in-ones, all-in-twos! So many options, which to choose!? My hormonal pregnant brain was so overwhelmed, I actually cried.

The two of us together went to an introductory cloth diapering workshop hosted by a local boutique for natural-parenting-friendly items. It was there we spoke with other cloth diapering mamas and decided to try one-size pocket diapers.

Now, I should mention here for anyone who doesn’t already know, that John is the stay at home dad while I work during the day, which means he changes A LOT of diapers. I sometimes have to smile when I see advertisements for cloth diapers that claim to be “so easy, they’re husband-friendly”. No worries about that in this household!

John’s influence goes way beyond what we put on SchmoopyBaby’s bottom. Knowing I was hoping and planning for a natural, unmedicated childbirth, it was John who convinced me to switch doctors at the beginning of the third trimester when my current doctor started trying to scare me into agreeing to an early induction based on my risk factors. It was also John’s idea to take me to a midwife for a nutritional consultation where we were introduced to super greens and the pH miracle diet. It was John who made sure we always had fresh spinach and kale salad prepared in the house, and religiously went through the relaxation exercises we learned in Bradley class with me every night. Although my pregnancy did ultimately end in an induction at 39 weeks due to pre-eclampsia, I doubt I would have made it to 39 weeks without his constant support.

Are we on the same page all the time? Certainly not. We both continue to challenge each other on important and difficult decisions. But he is my partner in every sense of the word, which means we make decisions together and we support each other in our mutual dedication to natural co-parenting.



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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!



Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:



(This list will be updated Feb. 9 with all the carnival links, and all links should be active by noon EST. Go to Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama for the most recently updated list.)



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thank You and A Credo

First off, I'd like to thank all my friends and family for their kind words and support. I really am so touched, I even had a couple of out of town friend offer to brave traffic to Vegas on the upcoming 3 day holiday weekend just to come give me hugs and support. Thank you so much, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your warm thoughts.

That brings me to the next part of this post. I've been a bit hormonal lately. Which is to say, anytime someone (John) says something 'wrong' (every time he opens his mouth) I've been having a tendency to react somewhat strongly (like flying into a rage or breaking into tears). Although it's temping to say "I'm entitled to be a bit off this week" the fact of the matter is there is no excuse for not communicating in a more productive manner. So when I received the Gordon Institute's monthly newsletter and saw that it was the Credo For My Relationships with Others I thought it was so aptly timed, I would repeat it here. One note, when John and I took the Parent Effectiveness Training class, our instructor had been studying, teaching, and living the Gordon methods for 20 years. She is a real "Gordon purist" and had us alter the instructional materials a bit because "they redid the teaching materials to make them more up to date, but they changed things in such a way that Thomas Gordon would have never said!" So here is Gordon's Credo for My Relationships with Others, with her minor modifications. This credo is intended for everyone - partners, parents, children, friends, co-workers - if there is a relationship involved, this applies.


You and I are in a relationship which I value and want to keep. We are also two separate persons with our own individual values and needs.

So that we will better know and understand what each of us values and needs, let us always be open in our communication.

When you are experiencing a problem in your life, I will listen with genuine acceptance and understanding in order to help you find your own solutions rather than imposing mine. And I want you to be a listener for me when I need to find solutions to my problems.

At those times when your behavior interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me. Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, you will tell me openly so I can change my behavior.

And when we experience conflicts in our relationship, let us agree to resolve each conflict without either of us resorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other's losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met, and so will mine—neither will lose.

In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.

Dr. Thomas Gordon
©1978 Gordon Training International

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Pregnancy Loss Story

So I’m 7 weeks pregnant and I go to the bathroom at work for a routine pee, which, those of you who have been pregnant before will remember, is like every 10 minutes. As I was finishing I looked down. Upon seeing a toilet full of red I just about jumped out of my skin and my first thought was “Gross! Some woman at work had her period and forgot to flush! EEUUWW! Why do people have to be so nasty?! I can’t believe I missed that when I came in!” (yep, when in doubt, blame someone else)

And then the second thought was “Wait a minute, how could I have missed that when I came in. Maybe it wasn’t already there. Maybe it’s…. me?” It was me.

Allow me to start from the beginning. On Friday, January 22, I tested positive for pregnancy. On Monday, January 25, I tested positive a second time. This was somewhat, but not much, of a surprise. We hadn’t been actively trying to conceive the way we were when trying for SchmoopyBaby. We were merely being what I like to call “consciously careless”.

So why didn’t I tell anyone? I felt good. More than that, I felt great. I felt FANTASTIC! I felt too good to be true. Anyone that’s known me for more than a couple of years knows how much I hated being pregnant with SchmoopyBaby. So sick I want to die – that’s the feeling I associate with a healthy pregnancy. This feeling great business – I didn’t trust it. So I kind of had it in the forefront of my mind that this pregnancy could very well end in miscarriage. That is why, after over a week, we told no one but our immediate families.

After the bathroom incident I called my doctor’s office. They had me come in for a blood test and then told me I’d need to come back in 2 days for a follow up blood test. My first results were not good. My hormone levels were lower than they should be for a healthy, viable pregnancy. The writing was on the wall. Of course, I hadn’t stopped bleeding the entire time, so it was completely obvious to me what was happening.

I got official confirmation from my doctor’s office this morning. My hCG level on Monday was 238. On Wednesday it was 61. I called John to let him know the news, and then I broke down. I made a quick dash to the bathroom so no one at the office would see or hear me cry. I don’t know why that phone call affected me so strongly when I already knew I had miscarried. I already knew, I had already accepted, I had already made peace and moved on. There is something about hearing an official diagnosis that somehow makes it more, I don’t know, real, concrete, official.

So why am I sharing this bad news now? I’m sad. I both want to talk about it and don’t want to talk about it, which is why I’m sharing it in the form of a written story. I know it’s very impersonal, but calling everyone I’m close to and telling everyone and talking about it and rehashing it multiple times is not something I am particularly up for at the moment.

Even though I am sad now, I will be fine. Like I said, I was kind of psychologically preparing myself for this possibility, and have more or less made peace with it. Everything happens for a reason, this was just not the right time. SchmoopyBaby still needs me, and I’m not really ready to make him share me yet. He’s not 100% weaned and I was really hoping to have him weaned before I got pregnant again. This takes off the pressure of trying to wean him by some deadline before he’s really ready. I know several women who have tandem breastfed - more power to them, but I know my limits and that is one of them. I can nurse one child at a time, I don’t want to nurse two. Let’s face it, we weren’t really ready quite yet for #2.

Do you love the way I rationalize away any negative feelings? What? I’m a Virgo, that’s what we do.

So no more being careless for me. Next time (and yes, I’m reasonably sure there will be a next time) all necessary precautions will be taken until we are sure we are ready. I’ll eat better, take vitamins more regularly, all that good stuff that creates a healthy baby-making environment. Until then, I appreciate any happy thoughts you care to send my way.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thirteenth Carnival of Feminists

You MUST check out the Thirteenth Carnival of Feminists, hosted by Zero at the Bone. There are so many good pieces of writing! I haven't had time to read them all (there's a lot) but the articles I have read have been really amazing. Some are thought-provoking, some inspiring, some disturbing, some really challenged me to think from a totally new perspective. Check it out. I may have to comment on some of these issues when I get a chance.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Satan versus Pat Robertson

Anybody need a smile to keep from going crazy today?

(Raises hand and waves wildly)

Check out either of the links here or here to see what Satan had to say about Pat Roberton's asinine comments about Haiti.

Then click here to read about Satan suing Pat Robertson for breach of contract.