30 July 2006

Because We Like Them

My pal V has 10 kids. Go ahead, let it sink in. But while it's sinking, pay attention to your reactions to that. I know that not too many years ago in my past, I would have been horrified and scornful. But having cycled through Susan Griffin's question,

"I have been asked if I had the choice again, would I have a child? This is an absurd question. I am not the same person I was before I had a child. That young woman would not understand me."
...I know that that young woman would not understand me. Because pretty much the heavens opened up for me, when I asked V the same question everyone else asks her. "Why?" I asked her. "Why 10?" "Because we like them," she replies. Four little words. And within them lies the entire Kingdom of Parenting. "We," she says. She and her husband both. It's an equality thing. They both think the kids are really, really neat. And they are a team. Maybe not always a unified front, maybe not always totally on the same page, but at base, mutually committed to the idea that everyone's got to pull together, and that family is worth it. "Like," she says. Can you imagine it, liking kids? Well, yes, everyone gives lip service to liking them. But it's entirely another thing when faced with the daily Toddler Stampede and all the extreme provocation therein, to remember that you will spend far more time with them as an adult than you will as a parent-child dyad, and that when all is said and done, it's all so much easier if at base, you like each other. I find this to be a form of mindfulness, especially useful at those moments when Captain Defiant has unleashed "No!" to what is to my mind a simple request. If I basically like them, then I have to stop and look at it from their eyes, and try to understand it, from a place of respect. And it's astonishing how many things I am humbled and horrified to realize were only conflicts because I chose to see them as power struggles rather than as natural conflicts of perception. "Them," she says. Who they are. Their inherent beings. Children are born with personalities complete, and anyone who challenges this just isn't looking, in my opinion. Both of my children were complete people, at birth, and no denying it. I can refer to both my children's birthdays as "the day I met you on the outside", because it's only a tiny stretch to the idea of having met them when they were in utero as well (in retrospect, both of them were expressing themselves in there as well as they could, in their very different ways). Last night, in order to avoid horrendous traffic, instead of hopping in the car and driving home from where we were, we walked to the nearest restaurant. It happened to be a fairly swanky, not particularly child-friendly place. We were seated, we ordered our meal, we were just busy being us. And I was a bit startled when a woman's hand appeared on my shoulder, and I found myself being addressed by a Matron, whose universe this clearly was. I tensed. "You," she intoned, "have done an absolutely wonderful job with those children. You should be proud." She then patted Rowan on the head, and left the restaurant. Just a few minutes later, our waitress (clearly a college girl) made a similar comment. "What are you used to?" I asked her. "Oh, we get a range in here. But I will tell you that your children are the best behaved I've ever seen. They almost make me think I want my own. " I smiled, remembering where my head was at with regards to children when I was her age. "Well," I told her, pulling all my motherly mantle about me, "it's pretty easy. You just have to remember that you have them because you like them, and then go forward based on that." She looked stunned. This was obviously a very new concept to her. She walked away. And as we were leaving, she returned to the table. "I think you've just restored my faith in the idea of being a parent," she says. Blinked a few tears from her eyes, and walked off. Thanks, V, for giving me the answer, in four short words. Because we like them. Of course.

27 July 2006

Making Room to Pray

I am not formally religous. Organized religion sort of makes me recoil, actually, no matter who's organizing it. But lately, I really, really feel the need to take what I'm thinking about and hand it up to a higher power who will make it all have been for some purpose. Nearly two years ago, I started a little nightly ritual, called the Thank-You Candle. I bought a heap of little tealight candles (fair-trade palm wax, thank you much!), and every night at sundown, I light one, put it on my altar, and say thank you for something. Anything, really. It started out as an exercise in gratitude, in seeing at least one positive thing in every single day, and winding up my evening by dwelling on the up side. Then, as the candle burned and the smell filled the room, I'd smile a little, and think again about what I'm grateful for. But lately, my little statements of gratitude have been being overshadowed by bigger things. First, is little A. Diagnosed with a form of brain cancer, he is fighting all the time. And just a few days younger than my Rowan, well, let's just say that every time I chat with his mom, M, I am amused that two little boys on opposite sides of the world should be so alike. Rowan and I talk about him all the time, especially when we light the candle. And while Rowan's thinking about little boys being sick and then being well, I am thinking about mothers who carry it all upon them. How can we keep being expected to be so strong? Because the only other option is failure, and that's not acceptable. Second, is this whole Middle East thing that I have already ranted about. I can't even manage to think about the big stuff any more, the whys and wherefores. It's all just babies dying, in my mind. And it's too big for me to even come up with words for any more (although I'm sure I'll keep trying). Third, is fear. It's been hot here, and we're going to bed with the windows open. That means we can hear the sirens charging up and down the highway and the main street a few blocks over. We used to joke that "someone's having a crappy night." But lately, the sirens are going all the time, and it's just not funny any more. I'm not so naive that I think that every siren is simply good cops doing their best to protect me and mine. Why so many more sirens? Is everyone crazier? Are there suddenly more bad guys than there used to be? Fourth, and always, is compassion. I keep trying. But some days it is so incredibly hard to remember to treat those around me with compassion. I'd like to say that I had it in me to just do it, but lately, I have to remind myself in terms of juxtaposing it with the horrors going on elsewhere. I have to remind myself that "it could be worse, I could be living in Lebanon, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, so I can afford to be kind to pretty much anyone, no matter how churlish." I guess it's OK to take enlightenment in baby steps. As heretical as it is to say out loud, I've been listening to Yusuf Islam singing the Adhan, and it's comforting. I think there's a deep need, across humanity, to have a time every day where you just take it all, wad it up into a big ball, and hand it over to an omnipotent being who can handle it better than you can.

25 July 2006

Helplessly Hoping

Today's post is a reprint of a Cindy Sheehan article originally posted on Truthout.org. Sums up what I'm feeling lately pretty darned well. I've both linked and highlighted in red a mention of Kucinich’s Resolution (H Con Res 450) Demanding Bush to Call for Cease-Fire, which you could contatct your Representative about, if you were motivated.

Helplessly Hoping Day 21, Troops Home Fast By Cindy Sheehan t r u t h o u t | Perspective Tuesday 25 July 2006 I have been in such a blue funk of depression and worry since Israel's over-reaction - or "over action" - in Lebanon in what seems to be insanity escalating out of control. What our media and some world leaders seem to expediently forget is that Israel massacred an entire family on a beach in Lebanon with a rocket and kidnapped two Palestinian citizens before Hezbollah and Hamas kidnapped some Israeli soldiers. Who started the cycle of violence in those countries? Who knows? Who cares! The important question is: who are going to be the courageous ones with integrity, wisdom and compassion who are going to at long last stop the absurdity? As hard as I may try, I cannot wrap my mind around the fanatical rhetoric coming out of DC and from all over the world and the mindless and seemingly overwhelming support of Israel's right to "defend itself." What Israel is doing in Lebanon by killing hundreds of innocent civilians in a relatively short period of time is like the US defending itself from the tens of thousands of innocent babies, women and children in Iraq. It is morally reprehensible and just an extension of BushCo's campaign to enrich the voracious war profiteers. I read yesterday that our State Department approved a new shipment of bombs and rockets to Israel. With the thousands upon thousands of US-made bombs and rockets being dropped on Lebanon by the IDF it makes one wonder if the expiration dates on the bombs were nearing and the war machine needed to sell and ship more bombs so that the CEOs could fill their Hummers, limos, and jets with gas. Naively, I always presumed that the State Department was there to prevent the use of military force, not support it by authorizing more weapons for more efficient killing! Don't we have a War Department for more killing? I feel like I am living in Bizarro World. I have been watching a lot of cable news networks and have heard such one-sided phrases as: "Over 50 civilians killed in Lebanon today, but the real story is in the Israeli city of Nazareth, where two Hezbollah rockets landed." Why is that the real story, Tucker Carlson? It is an immensely tragic story, because two harmless children were killed in Nazareth, but how does it trump over 50 civilians being killed in Lebanon? Oh yeah, I forgot! John Bolton said that there is no "moral equivalency" between innocent Arabs being killed and innocent Israelis being killed. It's not immoral for Israel to kill innocent civilians because they are fighting terror with more terror: it's the American Way! One day I heard another perfectly coiffed and composed talking head say while the fancy war graphics rolled across the TV screen in my hotel room: "This is day 12 of fighting in the Middle East." Day 12! Try selling that idiotic sound bite to the people of Iraq and who are dying by the dozens still every day in increasing violence. Try telling our soldiers who keep on dying over there that this is "Day 12" … It is more like 2,567 on day 1,200 plus of fighting in Iraq. The war crimes in Israel and Lebanon have so conveniently knocked Iraq completely off the radar screen, which is probably a thing of beauty and a welcome development to the White House and Pentagon. We are being told that a few hundred people have been killed in Lebanon when we were shown a mass grave on CNN in the ancient city of Tyre that had almost 90 coffins in it being presided over by a distraught mayor, telling us that at least two or three hundred more of his city's residents were buried in the rubble of the barbaric Israeli attacks. Tyre is one city, and we viewed the mass grave days ago. Tyre and the rest of the country are being relentlessly bombed for the sins of a few, which is a crime against humanity. It seems like we are armchair witnesses to Armageddon and ashamed witnesses to our fool of a President at the G-8: groping women; talking, eating, and swearing with his mouth full; drooling over slicing a pig and generally acting like a drunken and amorous frat boy at a toga party. I would like to ask George Bush a few more questions besides "What noble cause?" Like: "What the hell is so humorous, you jester in a tailored suit? You told us that you were making the world a safer place because of your War of Terror, and you are decidedly not!" I would also like to ask him if he is proud of himself for the way things are going on the 1200th plus day of fighting in the Middle East. Of course it is not about pride - it is about profit and the Project for a New American Century. I mourn for the murders of the Israeli people, which are just as tragic (but not more tragic) and done just as barbarically (but not more barbarically) as the murders that Israel is commiting in this needless violence, as much as I mourn the deaths of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the innocents in all Arab countries who are trapped in this insane spiral of bedlam. When is the world going to realize that bloodshed cannot be stopped, cured or even alleviated by shedding more blood? Killing is a cancer that spreads the more it is fed. This disease is spreading around the world, and instead of passing resolutions to condone the punishment of an innocent civilian population, Congress should be passing resolutions condemning ALL types of violence and should be supporting Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) call for a truce (H.Con.Res 450) so a diplomatic solution can be sought - one that brings ALL sides to the table and one that ALL sides can feel comfortable and safer with. The only way to a "lasting cease-fire" that the weapons broker, Condi, keeps talking about is a negotiated settlement that includes and insists on peaceful co-existence in the region. Martin Luther King Jr. said it is either "peaceful co-existence or mutual co-annihilation." Our planet is headed on a path of annihilation if we don't all stop and take a deep breath, relax and realize that our brothers and sisters are being killed in the Middle East so that more bombs and rockets can be rushed there (on all sides) and so that our oil companies can have total control of the world's oil resources. I have felt so helpless in the face of such unwarranted carnage, calamity, and sorrow. I have felt hopeless that anything I do can even alleviate the suffering of one person. I am helplessly hoping that the people of the world will join me and rise up to say a collective: "In God's (Allah's - whatever's) name: enough is more than enough, already!" One last quote: Dwight David Eisenhower said, "I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it." I believe that we the people of Earth should demand that our governments get out of our way and stop being beholden to the war machine and allow us to have peace. Selfishly, I would love to have a world that my surviving children and their children can peacefully co-exist with peoples of other nations in. I recognize Israel's right to defend itself as I recognize the US's right to defend ourselves as I recognize Lebanon's and Iraq's right to defend themselves - but I do not, cannot, and will not recognize anyone's right to commit wholesale slaughter on babies and children. I refuse to recognize that right no matter who does it - terrorists or state-sanctioned wars of terror - I refuse to recognize the right to slaughter and, whether it makes a difference or not, I refuse to be silent about it. It must stop: For my children, your children and their children. They are all our children.

23 July 2006

Child abuse by any other name

A friend of mine sent me this link yesterday: http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411419/792057 Can I just say, right here right now for the record, I can't even freaking believe we still even have to have this conversation in the civilized world??? Maybe this is just another in a long, long series of things that proves to me that I and my parenting just don't belong in this culture. Somebody wake me up and send me back to wherever I came from, cause it sure as hell isn't here. In my freaky little fringey world, the primary job of motherhood is physical nurturance, followed by spiritual nurturance, followed by social nurturance. The main thing being, uh, nurturance. It's my job to keep them fed, clothed, sheltered, rested. Attending to the basics until they can take those functions over reliably themselves. It's my job to be my child's best advocate. It's my job to believe the best of them, to attribute positive intent to them until I find out otherwise. Not that I don't blow it, mind you. I get tired and crabby and hungry and pissy and intolerant and impatient and dogmatic just like every other human being. But fifteen solid minutes of beating my own flesh and blood for their tiny little transgressions? That is pathological. There is no other word for it. No sane human being could possibly watch their own child sleep and manage to still deny that the Hand of the Divine rests upon them all. But then again, I also think it's ridiculous to believe that an omnipotent being could be so offended by the sins of us mere mortals. It's precisely the same issue of scale, to my mind. My God does not beat his children, and neither should I. They use the term "smacking", a cute little dimunitization of a word. The word, friends, is CHILD ABUSE, in case you're unclear on the concept. Just like a pedophile is hardly someone who "loves children" as the latin derivation suggests, fifteen minutes of physical abuse is hardly "smacking". But opressors since the beginning of recorded history have managed to get away with lessening the impact of the reporting of their horrors by twisting the language. I suppose the drive to commit physical violence goes deep. I know what I'd do with 15 minutes behind closed doors with one of those goons... not that it would help...

22 July 2006

Seemed time for this reminder

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28151 It's a bit dated, with the September 11 references, but the overall message? Yeah. Just Yeah. You listening out there?

21 July 2006

Peace Train

Everyone in my real life knows that I avoid the news, mostly, as a means of self-defense. But you'd have to be under a rock in a cave to not know about the insanity happening in the Middle East. Every single blurb I read, everything I hear... I hear panic, I hear fear... over some stupid hunk of dirt and someone's idea about control, and about the truth of God. Yes, yes, I know it's overall more complicated than that. But I don't care. They're all somebody's baby, killing or being killed. Every single casualty has a mother grieving. But ultimately, I believe in the triumph of hope over hate. And so, I'd like to invite everyone to go here: http://www.mountainoflight.co.uk/av/av.html Stop whatever you're doing, make sure you're on a computer with excellent speakers and Macromedia Flash installed, and settle in (no matter how long it takes, I don't care if you're on dialup, it's worth it) to listen to Yusuf Islam singing Peace Train. Someday, it's going to come.

19 July 2006

Complex Faustian Debt

A few months ago, I came into some money; enough to pay off the last dregs on my credit card. "Hurrah!" you say? Not so fast... I called the card company, and asked for a payoff amount. "How are you intending to pay?" he asked. "Electronic transfer. Why?" Well, it turns out that interest is being calculated every flippin second, and how fast you get the money to them matters deeply. So the young man took a stab at the total amount, which I immediately paid, through the company's web interface. "Hurrah!" says I. But not so fast... Turns out young man overcalculated, to the tune of about $80. So the card company had $80 of my money. Fine. I call them, and ask if they can issue me a check for the overage. "Sure," says the young man on the phone, "but it will cost you a $15 fee." Yup. They are going to charge me $15 to get my own money back from them. Bastards. "Fine" says I, "I'll leave it there." And leave it there I have, until yesterday. Due to one thing and another, I decided I needed that money. So I call the company, and ask if there's another way. "Sure," says the young man on the phone, "you can get a cash advance anywhere. Any bank, any company, even casinos, will give you that money, just flash them your ID." "Hurrah!" you say? Not so fast... I toddle down to the bank that issued the card, step brightly up to the window, and ask for my money. The teenage minimum-wage earning bippy functionary declines. "What???" I say. "I can get that money from a freaking casino! So says the man on the phone!" "Sure," says the teenage minimum-wage earning bippy functionary, "but we have to assess you a fee equal to a percentage of the total advance and subject to the current interest rate on cash advances." "Get me a manager, and someone who can operate a calculator!" I cry. "All I want is a zero balance! You can't have my money, I don't want yours, can't we get some sort of detente going on, or is this Hezbollah and Israel over Gaza?" The teenage minimum-wage earning bippy functionary blinked at me, clearly not understanding a word of what I'd just said. She then blinked again. "I'll get my manager," she finally decided was the prudent course of action. "Does your manager know how to operate a calculator?" I asked? "I'm not sure", replies teenage minimum-wage earning bippy functionary. "Why do you need one?" I slip into Mighty Homeschooling Mama mode. I don't even realize I've done it. "Well," I explain, "if you're hellbent on charging me a fee for extracting my own cold cash from your greedy bloodsucking imperialist claws, we're going to calculate the percentage fee and the APR (which incidentally it is wholly illegal for you to apply on a credit overage, but you don't know that, apparently), and then I'm going to request a cash advance amount that will result in me owing you three cents, so that your company's greedy bloodsucking imperialist accounting department will have to keep going through the hassle of billing me for three stinkin pennies, and since your billing costs far more than that, in wages, in paper, in mailing costs, your greedy bloodsucking imperialist employer is going to go into the hole a minimum of $10 every single time they dare screw with me and my simple request to right a wrong." She popped her gum at me, and asked me to step aside so she could help the next customer, clearly unmoved by my challenging of authority. Eventually, I left, clutching my card, my cash, and my dignity around me. I had challenged the behemoth, and I think I won. "Hurrah!" you say? Not so fast...let's wait until the next billing period.

17 July 2006

Rowan's Four!

Today, my little guppy is officially four years old. So big, and so very little at the same time. This is the first year that I've woken up, run a mental finger over all my old wounds, and been generally OK with everything that happened in Rowan's birth. In years past, I've woken up screaming, had horrible cramps all day, and just generally had all kinds of little tweaky PTSD symptoms (unrecognized, untreated, generally scoffed at and ignored, cause afterall, I have a healthy baby, right? ::snarl::). My VBAC seems to have healed a lot of those old wounds, and I'm grateful for it. I was pretty sick of being sick. Course, the topic of unnecessary Cesareans still makes me a bit rabid, and I'm still trying desperately to figure out how to help women not become like me, still with very little success. But back to Rowan. His personality has developed so intensely over the last year. Sometimes it's all I can do to keep up. I've found that if I remember that it's all about his stomach (a Cancerian trait), and that he approaches everything shyly, and sideways (more Cancerian), we do OK. And yet, he's so close to Leo, there's a streak of boldness, of "look at me!" that's really breathtaking. I could ramble on about his vocabulary, which is stunning, his ability for logical thought, which is astounding, his physical agility and grace, which are subjects of both awe and terror. He's any parent's dream and nightmare, which is true for pretty much any four year old, I think. I struggle daily with the lows of dealing with losing my temper at him, and the highs of trying to figure out how to give him all the tools he needs to become whatever will give him the most personal joy. This parenting thing is certainly a ride. Thank you, my little Rowan T., for four very intense years. I can't wait to see what happens next...

15 July 2006

The Spirit Indomitable

Wednesday at swim lessons was horrible. Rowan's got a new teacher, more's the pity. She's a bippy, used to be teaching Kestrel's class, and was completely useless there too. I can't tell if she's not too bright, or just very very distracted, but in either case, she's a crap swim teacher. And on Wednesday, my little guppy acted up. He was underwater for most of her instructions, did nothing he was told, and spent so much time trying to swim around behind her (underwater) that she gave up and had the lifeguard yell at him. A number of times. I was so mad, I was grinding my teeth. I kept an eye on Rowan, and he seemed utterly unphased, and kept doing his thing. Which was rather upsetting to Bippy n Co. We skipped class on Thursday. In my typical way, I stewed about it. Who the hell were these people? Why yell at a kid in swim class, fercryinoutloud, for swimming???? Oh, because they want him swimming on the surface, because kids who swim below are too hard to control (there's a really incredible metaphor there that I'll probably spin into something cool sometime). I ranted at my mother, at Jason. What were those swim bimbos thinking, screaming at a kid who was demonstrating (albeit, spontaneously) better swimming skills than any other kid in the damn pool??? And quietly, internally, I fretted. What if, in his first brush with the organized educational system of this world, he got his spirit crushed? Was I going to be able to keep him happy in the water anyway? Or had the damage been done? Last night, in the bath, Rowan asked for deep water. Then he asked for his mask. I threaded the strap, helped him put it on, and was rewarded by his grin and the following Declaration of Independence:

"I don't need swim lessons any more, Mama. Because I'm a diver!"
My little guppy then submerged himself full length in the tub, did a decent flutter kick, and stayed under for nearly 15 seconds. I've landed a new scuba teaching gig (more on that in another blog sometime soon), so there will be plenty of time for Rowan to play around in the water with Mama and her dive students. I think we're done with formal swim lessons. And my child? My child has the spirit indomitable.

14 July 2006

I Never Knew

I pride myself on the breadth of my studies, and on having a sort of general familiarity with all kinds of things. So finding huge gaping holes in what I know is somewhat distressing... and it's even worse when it's a hole I didn't even know I had. I mean, I know I know nothing about astrophysics, for example, but that's a comfortable edge of the map for me. But last night, the family was snuggled down together, watching Michael Palin's "Sahara". It's a fabulous BBC documentary that follows Michael (of Monty Python fame) on a trip around the Sahara. It's quite engrossing. And it's highlighting so many things I don't know. Some of it is comfortable edges. Until he got to Senegal. I had never heard of Goree Island. And am thoroughly ashamed that at my age, I had to be sitting, listening to an Englishman lecture me about something that I bet 90% of the people in my town know all about. The town I live in has a huge "us-vs-them" dynamic. It's more compartmentalized here than in any other place I've visited, with less cross-traffic. And with isolation, comes hostility and mistrust. There are a lot of acts of violence here, and of racial hatred and misunderstanding. So there on my TV, a group of American dancers is rehearsing a performance commemorating the suffering of their ancestors in that hideous place. African Americans, Michael tells me, make pilgrimages to that island every year, to see the place where their ancestors had their last sight of Africa. I never knew. And if I never knew that.... what else don't I know? What other critical component of understanding am I missing? And for christ's sake... why did no one teach me before now?