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30 October 2012

Agency... Found in a Lock

While on radioactive lock-down a couple weeks ago (part deux of my cancer treatment, and the scarier part) I had a lot of time to myself. I admit, I watched a lot of The Mentalist and read a lot of Game of Thrones, book IV. But one night, I also fell into the 2011 film, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. If you haven't seen it, an approximately ten-year old boy, Oskar, loses his father on September 11th in the WTC. He tells us that he was tested for Asberger's, but "diagnostics were inconclusive." He is noticeably distant from his mother, but close to his grandmother, who takes a 'boarder'. Oskar discovers a key in the top of his father's closet one year after his death, and decides this key was meant for him to find, and for which he is determined to locate the key it unlocks, discovering a secret his father means for him to find.

There are many things Oskar finds, including the truth about 'the boarder' and the person who needs the key most. Oskar, being a man of select and distinct intellect and strategy, plots his way through the five boroughs looking for the person who holds the lock. He meets over a hundred people over several months, walking from location to location asking anyone by the last name of "Black" if they knew his father, Thomas Schell, and if they have the lock. Obvious significance of the names aside, Oskar is determined, methodic and secretive. Until he meets his grandmother's boarder, an elderly man who doesn't speak; he has not lost his voice, just his will to use it. Oskar wants to know his story, and pours out his own to the man at 3 a.m. The boarder asks Oskar if he would like a companion on his search.

Oskar has rules, many of them, and a strict schedule. He's afraid of the MTA, so walks; he is goal-oriented so figures to hit so many houses in so much time, insisting on at least 20 people per Saturday. The boarder agrees to everything, but Oskar makes some allowances: the boarder cannot walk that much or that fast; they take the train. The boarder needs to sit down and eat, and might need more than 6 minutes to consume his hotdog. So be it.

Oskar has a few tantrums, and the grandfather waits quietly, allowing the boy to feel his frustration. The boy insists on some rules, and the grandfather complies. But Oskar sees his limitations and adjusts for them.

The moment of truth comes on dry-run when Oskar insists on visiting a river home in the Rockaways alone, and looks back to see that the boarder has left him. Oskar finds him in a bar. The boarder is his grandfather, and Oskar admits that he would like the man to come with him from now on.

This 9/11 film reminded me of something we're allowed to forget in this society because we so rarely see it: that children and elders have an understanding. Perhaps they're bonded because they're free from the responsibilities of supporting themselves or their families (hopefully) and that allows both children and elders to see the world differently, traverse it differently. Perhaps it's that neither is prepared- physically, emotionally, or spiritually- to move at the rate most adults are expected to perform in the 21st century. Perhaps there's also a layer of being closer to the spiritual world than we "adults" are. Children have just emerged from it; elders are on their way back. But perhaps there's also an unfortunate commonality, too: that because they don't "work" they're not treated as having as much to "contribute" to society, and therefore not seen to be legitimate individuals - the way adults are.

From moment to moment, watching the exchange between this old man who is living out his last days, and his every regret, in secrecy while giving Oskar the agency he deserves, as Oskar discovers all the secrets and exposes them one-by-one, myself unable to care for my child, and in fact, being cared-for a great deal by my husband's parents, I realized how crucial it is to respect our children as real-live people. Yes, I ask my son if he wants cereal for breakfast, and if he says "no" I offer oatmeal, but a choice like that is an illusion of agency. Real agency is respecting him when he says "no" to a hug, and when he wants to walk instead of ride in the stroller, and backing off so he can engage in play his own way.

My son will be two years old just after Thanksgiving, so we've been dealing with the "terrible twos" for almost a year now, and I think it's high time we stopped allowing it to be called the "terrible twos". Don't we all want to accomplish the one thing we're on earth to do - to become what we are meant to be? Our children have so little say in so very much, while we make all the decisions. Now, I'm not pulling back on the routines, naptime, and insisting that my child eat three heads of broccoli before he can have a damn cookie, but I am saying that waking up each morning with an eye to what our child intends, his goals, his desires, his obsessions and his instants of insistence might help us see just a bit better into his soul, allowing us to let it show itself, and every day become more what our child is meant to be.

This is where I invite you to comment below. What do you do to respect your child's agency? What have your experiences been with raising toddlers? What do you think society could do to respect children as individuals more, and validate their needs and desires while giving them structure and security? Have you seen this in another society? What did it look like?

21 October 2012


Shameless plug for my friend Kamara's latest release.
New album drop is imminent!
This is "You Wreck Me" from Earth Hero

13 October 2012

the Mamas annnnnd the Papas

Four weeks ago I optimistically told you we would talk about the papas "next week." What happened? why is it so hard to talk about what Daddies do?

On Tuesday I worked from home, and when my son and I arrived at the playground just before 9 am, there were two other toddlers there. With their papas. By 9:30 there were seven kids on the rainy blacktop: all of them except mine with their daddies. The thing is I was home that day because my husband had a meeting he couldn't reschedule. Every other Tuesday he's the one with our toddler at the playground, with all those other daddies.

And he has been since I went back to work, at which point my two best friends in New York also had infants. And at that time, all three moms returned to work while the dads did some or all of the 9-5x5.

So the economy sucks and we're getting creative, but maybe that is changing the daddies. Before we get into the post-partum stuff let me relay a few things I've learned from science:
  • during pregnancy, if the papa got any of mama's symptoms (for mine it was the bloating, and my bloating was from hell!), he probably had high prolactin, which made him more nurturing;
  • once your baby was born daddy's prolactin rose (even more) when he was near the baby making him more nurturing, and fell when he was out of the house, so he could go back to bread-winning;
  • and if the two of you felt closer during pregnancy, it might also have been due somewhat to hormones: mama's pheromones told papa to be closer to her, but they had no effect on any other man around her.
They say the mother's role in childrearing is to be nurturing, caring, respond to the child's needs, and teach trust, reliance, relationship and communication skills, and encourage the child in all things. The mama looks inward - creating a family life, a nest, and looking to the child's innermost needs. A father's role is to push baby out of the nest, to show her the world, to encourage her to go out and see it, and do it, and be it. He teaches her confidence, pride, work ethic and perseverance. Papa is focused on the outside world, and helps the child to leave the home and discover the universe.

But I've definitely noticed that the daddies we meet, like my son's father, are nurturing and emotionally in tune with their children. In some ways they do respond totally differently to situations than I do. For example, when my son wiped his arm over the picnic table scattering the acorns a three-year-old carefully gathered, I went over and said, "Mihijo, we don't do this, he's playing with these nuts - let's put them back." When my son's best friend did the same thing minutes later, her daddy called out, "oh, man, there they goooo!" a big laugh resounding over the chaos. Honestly, I thought it was awesome.
I was teaching my child to pay attention to others' needs and wants, and to be empathetic to others. My friend was teaching the kids that shit happens, and that can be laughable (the nut-gatherer was, by the way, no where in sight for either incident). Both are good lessons.

This moment crystalized for me one difference between mommas and daddies - yes, we're teaching different stuff, but I've seen that daddy hug and love and comfort his daughter in all the same ways I hug and comfort and love my son.

What occurs to me is this - I do believe that daddies are spending a lot more time in the 21st century with their young children than they did in the 20th century - at least among western civilizations. And the papas I know are much more emotionally in tune with their children than the fathers of my generation.

I see a unique opportunity here for our men to learn a new emotional intelligence (E.I.). Just as I've said my child made me a mother, I believe our children teach their fathers to be fathers. And I see the dads around us learning to be the kinds of fathers we would have wanted. I don't think past generations put a lot of stock in men having emotional intelligence - that is paying attention to their and others' emotions, being sensitive to them, and offering care for those emotional needs and the people who have them. I don't think society in general has placed much value on emotional intelligence. There's a reason why it is women who dominated the lines of work that require care and E.I.: teaching, nursing, child-rearing, and management positions. Because we have learned E.I. over millennia of taking care of small children, older children, the elders, and managing households chock full of emotions coming from every direction. Note that it was those lines of work that pay the lowest wages (see previous posts for data links).

As the work world learns that we have to find a way to reconfigure work to allow both [working] parents to care for their children, more men are carrying a part of the load, and learning a new kind of sensitivity. There is a great opportunity here - one where men can take what they are now learning as the fathers of small children (who have perhaps the highest emotional needs), back into the larger world - and give new authority to valuing emotional intelligence as one we all need, one that is essential for working together and working together better, not to mention heightening our awareness of the value in all things - from the human soul, to four-leggeds, winged-beings, and swimming things, and the very earth we stand upon.

Maybe feminism's cosmic role wasn't just to let women out of their Leave-it-to-Beaver shackles but also to release men from the just-as-restrictive life of Mary Poppins' nemesis, Mr. Banks. Just as we see how our bodies work together not only to create a child but to create the relationship that will sustain a child after birth, we can see that it's both men and women who nurture our children.

Papas, you have an opportunity here - to go back into the world and add the authority of your voices to those of women everywhere who know the value of understanding emotions, empathizing with others, and responding to emotional needs. Human beings are emotional creatures, and that is part of what gives us the ability to bond, to serve one another, to provide for each other what, individually, we can never do for ourselves. Some would say it's what allows us to touch the sublime. Women can't change society alone. As we created life together, we can elevate it, only together.

Dear Readers,
I'm honored that you take the time to read what I write for you. Thank you for this and for caring about the issues I discuss in my posts. I also invite you to comment on what you read - share your stories, comments, thoughts, statistics or meditations. I would love for this blog to be come a forum where we can all get together to share and change the world.
Sincerely yours, Mariah