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29 August 2012

Legitimate What!??

Sometimes something so horrific is said or done that we have to take time out to recognize it for what it is and does, but also for what it conceals and protects. Often that thing concealed and protected very much needs to be revealed and dismantled.

Rep. Todd Akin (Missouri): "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

While the majority of commentary and criticism about this abominable statement centers on its ridiculous and unfounded concept of the female body's capabilities, there is a glaring double meaning to the phrase "legitimate rape" - and that is this: that sometimes it's ok to rape a woman. Sometimes it's a legitimate act.
[A legitimate child is a confirmed member of society, well and good; an illegitimate child is one born of an improper act, an unsanctified union.]

I'm going to borrow from Rachel Maddow's genius criticism of Akin's inane comment and the tradition from whence it came. On August 20th, she reminded us that ideas as stupid as this rise up every so often in the speaker's desire to find loop holes that allow him to feel more justified in putting forth legislation that is unjustifiable. If he can find a way to make the woman the guilty party - manipulative, conniving, lying - then we can claim that it's really ok not to allow abortion exceptions for rape and incest "victims". After all, they're really the perpetrators in these cases, right? That is: we don't have to protect women.

When a man is capable of putting the words 'legitimate' and 'rape' together, my sense is that his underlying beliefs about women are so distorted by his power hunger and arrogance that he actually believes there are times it is ok to force himself on a woman and her body with total disregard for her as a human being with a mind, soul, heart and body of her own that deserve respect and, in fact, deference. And if that speaker is so divorced from the meaning of his words that he could let slip a phrase with such a glaring double meaning without realizing it, he should not be in public office, and perhaps be barred from using the English language.

And now let me quote from an equally powerful speaker, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

So, here's my chance to give something back to us as women. There's another story in our collective unconscious that can be read at least a few ways: the story of Adam and Eve. Western culture tends to focus on one reading of the "creation of man": Eve bit the apple, she did not resist temptation, and, in fact, tempted Adam, who was strong and resisted. She is both weak and manipulative while Adam is strong and forthright. Here's what I've never heard from anyone or read in any text: the apple came from the tree of knowledge. And the forbidden fruit held wisdom. When Eve bit the apple she gained the wisdom it held. (I personally eat an apple a day.) Adam did not.

I'm sure many men would like us to forget that we possess a wisdom to which they don't have access. Maybe it was from the apple, or maybe it was from our "punishment" that we gained that wisdom. Maybe it is in the stress and ardor of carrying a child, the pain and labor of giving birth to the child, and the infinite love and care we give to our children once they come into this world that we gain our wisdom - one men cannot experience. What is that wisdom?

Perhaps it is in part empathy, perhaps it is understanding through the pain we all experience, with our without pregnancy, each month, - a way to understand anyone's pain anywhere. Because we are reminded with each moon what it feels like to be in pain, to suffer, to bleed. For this reason, maybe we empathize better with the Sudanese. Perhaps it is the compassion that comes with empathy - making us more likely to startle when we see someone fall, cry when we read something heartbreaking. Perhaps it comes with the dark emotional places we go with our "mood swings" and crying jags. Perhaps in those dark places we see more of human experience, and are more willing to feel what others feel: drowning polar bears watching the sun fall away. Maybe in that darkness and pain we experience a more complex life - one that lets light come through the darkness, one that sees shades of grey and even a full prism of color, and the beauty each color lends the next. Perhaps it is a woman's intuition that knows why her infant is crying when the child has no other way to communicate but with tears. Maybe part of the wisdom we inherited from Eve is that as creators we understand creation. We understand that if nothing else is sacred, creation is. If nothing else deserves our protection, life does. Trees, streams, Pe' Sla, toads in Brazil, and the people of the Andes.

Maybe there are men out there who are afraid of, in poet Wyatt Prunty's words, "what women know, what men believe." Because there is an insinuation there that men can 'only' believe. We "just know." Trust what you know: it might save the world.


FYI: According to the NIH, 5% of rape victims of child-bearing age get pregnant. "A total 32.4% of these victims did not discover they were pregnant until they had already entered the second trimester; 32.2% opted to keep the infant whereas 50% underwent abortion and 5.9% placed the infant for adoption; an additional 11.8% had spontaneous abortion."

23 August 2012

Apollo, meet Matisyahu

Sometimes music says it better than I can:
This is
"One day" by Matisyahu

20 August 2012

Why Home Matters

Having something cut out of your neck is hard on your body, and anesthesia doesn't make it easier. Not being able to hold my son just compounded the pain. My parents and sisters helped so much, but my son cannot understand at 20 months old why Mama is there but she cannot hold him, feed him, comfort him, and put him to bed. Listening to your son cry for almost two hours at bedtime because you cannot hug him is next to torture - I'll wager that for any mother.

Fatigue kept me from engaging in any of the fun and most of the responsibilities, but from my vantage point on the futon, I got a very new view of my son - the way he plays, what he needs, what he does and doesn't understand and how he learns. Entirely discluded, except for a few hugs from the side of the couch, I had to see with a new eye.

What I saw answered the question for me, what does my child lose when he's at daycare?

I didn't want to go back to work when my son was born, but I had to, so I was determined to lose as little time as possible with my son. He went to a family day care near my work because I wanted to nurse him at lunch, and it kept his daycare time to a minimum. But as time went on, some positives emerged. The main caretaker is a grandmother who loves children, and works with her husband and daughter. They play games, paint, sing, dance, read stories, and do puzzles. My child was in a home, with loving people, learning new things and building relationships with other children. But the one thing my child needs at this age, no one can give him except his own family: the time, space, love, and security to develop emotionally.

A child from his or her first days to three years old simply is not ready, does not have what he or she needs to be outside the home and away from family all day long. The stress on a child in my son's situation three days a week is not something he is prepared for. It forces him to cope with something he cannot cope with. The hour long subway ride each way, which gets harder as he gets older and is bursting with the joie de vivre stored up in his 11 hour night; being surrounded by children of all ages playing, yelling, arguing, and yes, laughing; the sensory overload of a full house; the discomfort of not being in his own home when he has almost no ability to soothe himself. The fact that he simply is not with the people he most trusts in all the world: Mama and Daddy. No one is Mama and no one is Daddy, or Nana or Grandpop or Meme and Gramps, and no one can replace them or do what they do - and he knows this in every way. From the calm that runs throughout his body when he first smells my skin, to his breakdown on the train letting out all he's kept inside -the frustration, anger, irritation, stress, sadness, and even excitement or challenge or joy, all day long for the babysitter.
When we're not ready to do something, by and large, if we try, it won't go well. My son is not ready to cope with all that challenge.

But a child's first three years are so primal, so prime, because what he does need and is doing right now is finding and feeling his place in the world. And his place is within a loving family of relationships. At the end of the day, my son knows he goes home to one father, one mother, and one family, and where and with whom he spent the day really doesn't matter a hill of beans compared to his own pack. He knows this because he feels it, all his senses reinforce it, and his relationships are meant to support it. If we're unsure just what the best way to approach almost anything is - we have only to look to nature. Fox pups are kept with mama in the den until they can hunt, keep their own den, and raise their own little pups.
This is the time in my son's life when he needs to bond securely, and feel that he can completely trust his family, his world, and his place in this world. This is the time to love your child in every way possible, making that child feel completely secure - being there as he takes these many new steps, experiencing the wide world for the first time. Because everything that follows comes from this time.

With that trust, love and support, your child can flip stones over and poke bugs, jump off the slide for the first time, and have a spat with his playmate: because he knows you're there to stand behind him, pick him up, and make things right again. You show him how he can trust the world, because there is no one he trusts more than you. And it is being with you, living in this world with you, sharing with you that builds his relationship with you: the relationship he is going to emulate for the rest of his life.

In my first job after college, I was so excited to be around adults! To work with people who would work with me, cooperate, collaborate, communicate for a common goal. After about three weeks I realized most people had not matured past wherever they were at about age 14 - just like at college. This was a major letdown. I'm 34 and I think I've only begun to learn how to get by at work -- knowing this for over 12 years.

If there is one thing I see lacking most in the world it's emotional maturity. Maybe it's something our culture has not placed much value on: knowing how to read our own emotions, and what to do with them and with ourselves in the midst of them; to read other people; coming to feel what others feel; knowing how we feel and yet not always acting from an emotional place; and valuing what all this means - even using it to advance relationships, to work together, to accomplish what we're meant to do. Again, folks, I gotta say - if we spent more time with our children at the most important moment in their emotional development - giving them time and our love to develop in their own time in this very precious way - would we be better people, would our society be less combative, and more cooperative?

I was given the time to heal. I'm better every day, and for that I believe I will be stronger sooner, and stronger longer. My skin is almost entirely knit, I'm able to lift my son, put him to bed, and push him on the swing - now. My family was here: taking care of everything I needed, nutritious food, time to sleep and rest, taking care of my son in the best way he can be cared for: by those who will be a part of his life for the rest of his life. I only want the same for him.

** It's imperative that I make a note here for all the working mothers who love their jobs: if you love your job, God bless you. If you need to work to be happy, God Bless YOU - most people don't have that! If being at home all day would deprive you of what you need to be yourself, I fully support your decision to work. As they always say, "when Mama ain't happy, ain't NObody happy!" I support you. It's not good for anyone when the person taking care of the child is unhappy.

07 August 2012

Cut My Throat

Tomorrow I'll wake up at 4:30 in the morning. It will be dark and still. The black silhouette of trees will be all I see against the blue dark sky in Brooklyn in this very early morning. I won't be awakened because my son is teething or had a scary dream. I'm awake because I need to have my throat cut.

I have cancer. Tomorrow morning they're going to take out my thyroid and anything that looks abnormal. I'm probably not going to die of this now; it seems likely I will die of something else later. This is because thyroid cancer, and the one I have, is one of the least awful cancers you can have: it's slow-growing and usually only spreads in the neck, if it's going to at all.

Slow growing it may be but it's had a real fast effect on me. It was the day before my birthday that I decided to start writing for you, and the day after I was diagnosed that I wrote my first post. I remember thinking, well, I can let this distract me from the important things in my life, or I can just do the things that are important to me.

It's been said to me that cancer will change my life, and in some good ways. Right now, I think it already has. When it comes to my husband, time always came at a high premium, and I feel like we've fought for every minute together. Likewise with my son - I have craved every second I could get with him, connived and finagled a million little schemes to get more. But with myself, I seem to have let time go, time and time again. Not done what I most wanted to do - out of fear, anxiety, self-doubt. Now, I look at my life and see that for myself - I've had all the time in the world. To do what? Cancer has forced me to see how I've treated myself for the last 34 years.

Now, time is precious and pregnant. In this moment, it is all very clear to me what is important. Being with my son is important; having a stronger relationship with my husband is important; and doing what I am made for is important. In cancer stands the possibility of not being here, of not living the life given to me, of not having the chance to become what it's in me to be. Of missing my chance to care for the world the way it has cared for me.

It will be dark and quiet tomorrow morning. I will leave home with a throat that is blocked. But I will come home with a body that has a new space and new vulnerability. I will come home a little less the woman I used to be, with a new opening in my throat. A second place to breathe, a second place to speak. I will receive the chance to have a new voice.

01 August 2012

What's School Got to Do with It?

Why is how well our children will perform in school the end all and be all of every discussion about early development? (Or, for that matter, any period of development?)

I especially ask this question amidst a culture of underachievers, because we're one of the only developed nations in the world whose young people now earn fewer college degrees than its now older generations did in their time. In fact, we hear from American business leaders that "too many" young people are in college "for their own good." What!? I digress.

Let's, for the sake of argument, focus on this school performance issue: even if we're only interested in how our children perform in school (assuming that this performance translates to success in the 'workplace'), do we not recognize that pretty much every emotion humanity experiences effects a child's ability to learn? Shame, anger, frustration, pride, confidence - yes, love.Children (especially from zero to three years of age) learn best from the people they love, and children love people who love them. That's why, PC or not, it's best for babies and toddlers to be home with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles- as much as possible. I've always put it this way: small children should be cared for by people who will be a part of their lives for the rest of their lives. Because love is a huge part of learning.

Yes, love is patience, love is kind, love is selfless, and asks nothing in return. But love is focus, love is determination, love is staying power, love is investment, love is commitment. A mother or father, a teacher or principal who makes a mark, who actually helps a child learn is committed, is emotionally involved, is observing and meditating on a child's growth, is creative and determined to help that child master a topic or a skill or improve his or her writing. This teacher is determined to see progress, and his or her investment brings focus to the child. A child who knows her teachers are invested feels her importance to this community, and wants to live up to not only what's expected, but the effort everyone else has put into her. She becomes committed, she is focused because she cares, she is determined because of this love.

In fact, its been repeatedly shown that the most important factor in school design affecting positive student performance is not curriculum, mission, or location, not even class size. It's school size. Because when a school is small each child experiences growing involvement in the community. From one year to the next children are not just moved from one teacher to the next, forgetting Ms. Rodriguez from first grade, and Mr. Henson from second grade, and unknown to each new teacher they meet, year to year. No, each child sees Ms. Rodriguez every day, just like he did in first grade, and second grade, and will again next year in fourth grade. And Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Henson are friends, and they talk to the third grade teacher every day, too. This child is known, and he knows everyone else. And through that knowing and sharing comes love. When we are known and loved, we know we are important, we want to live up to others' expectations, we want to make them proud, we want to live up to the potential others see in us. This is the social contract that defines human beings pack animals. We care what other people think about us. And thank goodness, because we're better together. We're more than just ourselves, together. We're more than what we would be alone, when we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

We care what others think about us because we're social animals, because we want meaningful relationships. Relationships make our lives meaningful. And where all of that begins is at home with our families. This is the first pack, this is the first experience of being a part of something bonded by love, being in relationship with people we need, and who need us. This is where we learn about our place in the world, in a meaningful world we want to be a part of. This is where we learn that we are important.

We care about how our children will do in school, and how they will do out in the world because we love them and want them to live good lives. What we give them by loving them no one else can give with the same importance. At the end of the day, your children know they are part of you, and that they will carry you the rest of their lives. The gift we can give our children by keeping them close is themselves.