Generational Differences

This essay was published on Huffington Post, and can be seen here.

When I was a child, we played outside, rode bikes without helmets, we rode in cars without booster seats, and our parents didn’t organize and supervise play dates.

This is a popular meme making the rounds on social media. It’s usually accompanied by a photo of some kid jumping something enormous on a Big Wheel with no helmet, hair flying maniacally, face full of joy. The implication of course is that today’s children are too coddled. The Atlantic just did a big article on this subject (See here). The article was good. It focused on helicopter parents and people who won’t let their children do anything with risk.

But I think it’s a mistake to revere the way things used to be. When I was a child…keep reading by clicking here.

I Can’t Categorize This One

I’m not a seed, or a hipster, or anything that can be classified. Female? Wow, that’s original. Aren’t many of those around.

Have I mentioned lately that I’m in love with Isabel, Milla, my pets, and my new house? Not necessarily in that order. Well, that order, except the two children are interchangeable. And I do love my new little house. It’s not large, by any stretch of the imagination, but it suits us fine. My dad is bringing Isabel a playhouse. It used to be my sister’s children’s, then Milla’s, then niece Sarah’s, now Isabel gets it and she gets it at home instead of at my parent’s, which is nice for her because we rarely venture there. It’s a little blue house. I need to scrub and repaint it. I will probably choose a color other than blue to blend with the landscape.

I must go to bed. I must also confess, to the very few who read my blog, that in times of stress I resort to prescription sleep aids. After nearly two decades of insomnia, I finally gave in and asked Miss Doctor, is there something I can take while breastfeeding that will help me to sleep through the night and not wake up worrying about any number of things at 4 am? Why yes, there is one pill, and it won’t make you drive across the city to your boyfriend’s house in your sleep (like Ambien did the one time I took it four years ago). I was lucky I wasn’t killed. She said Ambien is not tested for breastfeeding. I would not take it, in that case, even if it weren’t for the driving incident. So I’ve been stressed about starting my own practice. I will be partnering with a friend and in that I’m grateful. I’m not concerned about the practice part of it. I do that, have been doing that for three years. It’s the bringing in business part that scares me, and the tension with the people I was sharing with before. Things have not been pretty and I don’t like this at all. So, the sleeping aid. C’est la vie. But it’s working and it’s working now so I’m going to snuggle my three-year-old, the three-year-old who now wears UNDERWEAR, I might add, because I knew she was ready and I told her three-year-olds wear underwear all the time and not diapers. She’s a champ and it’s going swimmingly. As is this paragraph. It has swum from one topic to the next. Amazing paragraph it is. I’ll let it go now and proceed forthwith to bed.

These Breasts were Made for Feeding

This article was published on Huffington Post and can be seen here. If you like it, buzz it up and feel free to share, with proper accreditation of course.

These Breasts were Made for Feeding

~ by Lara M. Gardner

Time magazine recently ran a cover story about long-term breastfeeding. It depicted a cover photo of a woman standing and staring into the distance, a three-year-old boy standing on a chair in front of her, attached to her breast. Needless to say, the photo and article caused an uproar. Some people thought it was obscene. Others, myself included, thought it was misleading, to say the least.

It doesn’t surprise me that breastfeeding and breastfeeding to an age that more naturally suits biology has come to the fore in the public consciousness. It fits right in with the resurrection of the right-wing war on women, statements by politicians that women should never have been able to vote, laws that force women to share their sex lives with employers, and basically anything that says women cannot and should not be able to determine anything about themselves, and most especially their sexuality or anything related to their bodies (unless they are getting their breasts cut off because they have cancer, then it is okay).

All this furor over women breastfeeding children beyond an age our culture has deemed appropriate (corporate profits aside) belies a greater underlying issue. Ultimately, any discussion of breastfeeding as obscene is part of this American cultural hostility against women. Our culture would like to maintain that women’s bodies are property and should be available at all times as sexual playthings. Seeing the female body as life-giving and nurturing (i.e., breastfeeding) is a far more powerful message, and certainly not something that can be owned and controlled.

The Time photo is offensive precisely because it is obscene, but it is not obscene because the young child in it is breastfeeding. Rather, it is obscene because it has taken something that is nurturing (and arguably scientifically best for children and women), and turned it into something salacious and indecent.  Nothing about the photo is in any way representative of breastfeeding as it is. It seeks to make breastfeeding seem suggestive and forbidden, something tawdry that should be stopped before it gets out of control, something that should be hidden under a blanket.  No matter that breasts are flaunted as sexual playthings in advertising and on magazine covers. In the latter context, breasts are kept in their place. It is the former that touches a nerve because it suggests that breasts might have another, more fundamental purpose, one that doesn’t involve breasts as property or women as objects.

Perhaps the editors of Time intended for the photo to inflame and kickstart further discussion about women’s bodies and women’s place in our culture. Perhaps they understood that breastfeeding is something so fundamental to being a woman, something as life-giving as the birth process itself, that it should be acceptable in our culture, without question and without blankets. Perhaps they wanted to make it loud and clear just how ridiculous it is to claim this act is obscene. Maybe they weren’t just trying to sell magazines. I doubt it, but it is possible.

(In the interests of full disclosure, this article was written while my 2 1/2 year old daughter nursed in my lap.)

Who Took My Mother and Replaced her with a Lunatic?

Tonight while gathering up the boxes of unused holiday decorations to take to the basement, I had the thought that I would like to vacuum, and nearly simultaneously had the thought that I’m so grateful to now have a house again. The thought followed on the heels of the other because when one lives in a house, it is possible to do things like vacuum at 10:30 at night without worrying you will disturb the neighbors. Since selling my house in mid 2008, I have had to concern myself with nearby neighbors who would hear things like vacuuming, or hollering.

It is possible to spend your entire life doing something and not even notice you are doing it. Then one day you notice, and it is as if you are noticing yourself for the first time, wondering what in the world am I doing?

Twice this week I yelled at my Isabel. Yelled at her. I was in the car and she would not stop crying and yelling herself, and I turned and yelled, “Stop yelling!” I then realized immediately my hypocrisy in this statement. Yelling at her to tell her to stop yelling. She was so surprised by my yelling at her that she stopped immediately and stared. I faced forward to drive, then turned back to her and apologized, shamed and sorry. I love my little girl with my whole being. I don’t want to yell at her.

Then tonight, I was sitting in one of the chairs in the living room and begged Milla to push on my back and try to fix the cramp next to my right shoulder blade. It felt as if a rib was out. The pain was relentless, had been gradually increasing all day, and I could hardly bear it any longer. Milla agreed and I laid on the floor. Isabel immediately came and walked on me, her tiny feet making no impression in my skin. So soft, so dear.

Milla walked on the spot and I felt a pop and relief, but wanted more walking because the rubbing felt good to my sore muscles. While she walked, Isabel kept walking too, nearer my head, then she stepped onto the base of my neck and hair. She was wearing shoes with rubber soles and the rubber caught my hair she slid to the side, yanking my hair. I am a thorough tender head, and the pain was immediate and intense.

“Get off!” I screamed. “Get off! Get off now! Both off me now, off off off!”

More lithe and agile, Milla jumped off quickly. Isabel was slower. She slid off and landed on her backside, rolling to her back.

“That hurt!” I yelled at her. “That hurt so much! Don’t walk on my hair!”

Isabel looked at me as if to ask what had happened to her mother. Where had she gone? Who had taken her and replaced her with this screaming banshee? There was no fear in her eyes, only perplexity as she seemed to wonder whether I had gone insane, or had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a lunatic. I jumped up and ran to my bed.

Isabel and Milla kept playing. I fell asleep for about 15 minutes and when I woke up, I lay there and wondered what I had become. I don’t want to be a person who yells at my children. Yet I have. I don’t do it often, and this is the first time I have ever done it to Isabel, but I know I have hollered at Milla. It must stop. It’s that simple. I woke up today and saw myself in a way I have not before, not really. Maybe noticing is the key. I think it is.

Love

My little daughter is perfect.  I have moments sometimes, when I’m holding her hand or looking at her, when I think to myself that I am a human and she is a human, she is my cub, my baby.  I held her hand tonight as she lay against me in the crook of my right shoulder. I could smell the warmth of her body wafting upward, see the tiny curls forming in the sweat along the base of her neck.  She held both my hands with her hands, each of her fingers warm and soft.  I picked at her baby fingernails with mine, catching the ends and pulling off the sharp places.  This is my cub, I thought. This is my little human.  Here we are, two humans, lying together in this bed in this house in the twilight as she moves into sleep.  The moment was so basic, so contented, so perfect in its simplicity.  I love my human child.  I love every moment with her.  She brings me grace and contentment.  She is perfect.

Ewww

Someone asked me how many times a day I have to change Isabel’s diaper, the implication being that I must change cloth more than I would change disposables. It should be the same.  If someone is changing their child less frequently because the child is wearing disposables, that means their child is sitting around in plastic soaked urine. That is just gross.

Pregnancy Insomnia

It does not matter when I go to bed, I wake up at 6:43 a.m. every day, usually to pee, then cannot go back to sleep.  By the time my body might consider going back to sleep, it has to pee again.  Pregnancy is so fun.  There is also often the problem of a numb hip or arm.  My middle is so much heavier than I’m used to, it seems to cut off circulation.  I noticed a reflection of myself yesterday while waiting in a line.  I look funny.  I have skinny legs and skinny arms and then this watermelon in the middle.

I am carrying differently than I did with Milla, but this does not surprise me.  Milla obliterated the flat and tiny stomach muscles I had enjoyed my entire life up to that point.  I think she also shifted my guts around.  This baby also seems to like to hang out up in my ribs more than Milla ever did.  My sister complained about her babies (she has 4!!) bruising her ribs.  I had no context.  Milla liked to lie on my pelvis.  That hurt.  I think wherever baby hangs out inside us eventually hurts.  Anyway, this baby moves all over, but she does hang out near my ribs and it is quite uncomfortable.  I push and shove and rub and move her back down.  Lately she has been lower in my pelvis (in fact she’s wiggling there now), but it’s getting closer to birth time.  In fact yesterday was 2 months to due date exactly, so there isn’t a lot of time left.

I do believe I have the sweetest child in the world.  As I sit here I see the little pile of jewelry she made me last night while I was working away on the computer.  She and I were talking yesterday about some girls she met in our building.  They told her they could not imagine having no television (we do not have one).  I reiterated to Milla that I think it’s better not having one, that I never even notice not having one.  The jewelry-making provides an example why.  When we are home in the evenings, or even during the day, Milla finds things to do with herself.  She knits.  She crochets.  She draws and draws and draws.  She makes me jewelry.  When she grows up, I will have all these mementos of a childhood spent doing things rather than staring at the idiot box.  That’s a good enough reason for me not to have one.

Baby One is growing up.

Baby One is growing up.

Baby Two sucks her thumb.

Baby Two sucks her thumb.

Single Mother, Foiled Again

There is a line in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary where she is talking to Mark.  She says to him, “You seem to go out of your way to make me feel like a complete idiot every time I see you and you REALLY needn’t bother.  I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway.”

I feel like I am that line.  It is me.  I feel like an idiot most of the time anyway, so when I do something that seems to make this more self-evident, it just seems all the more obvious.  Spring break begins after school today.  I thought school ended at its usual time of 3.  I was pleased with myself for remembering there is no aftercare today.  I started my day and have been progressing towards that 3 o’clock pickup time.  At 12:49, Milla’s teacher called and asked if I knew school ended at 12:30.  Nope.  Missed that memo.  It was probably right there in the email telling me there would be no aftercare today, but I missed that part.

Nowhere in my abilities as a human do I feel like an idiot most of the time anyway than as a mom.  I feel like I’m constantly falling short.  I know other moms who are unbelievably busy, yet they seem to get things lined up and done.  Why can’t I?  Each time I take a misstep, I resolve to try harder.  I make better lists.  I go out of my way to make lunch the night before so we aren’t late in the morning.  I drag my ass out of bed to drag Milla’s ass out of bed.  I help her choose outfits and lay them out.  Yet again and again and again I keep missing things.

I just have to wonder if this is always how it’s going to be.

I Apologize in Advance for My Lack of Brevity and Wit

My daughter goes to a Waldorf school. There is a lot I love about the school. She has learned to knit and she is only 8 years old. She can do math word problems like no non-Waldorf 8 year olds I know. And she’s been learning music for years now as well.

But sometimes, if I’m honest, the “I’m liberal and New Ageyness” of some of the parents can be a little annoying. It’s like listening to the local NPR station sometimes with these people. Oh yes. Tomorrow we’re going to the farmer’s market to find grain to grind to make our own bread from scratch. It’s all organic and grown on that lot that was purchased in north Portland. Oh really? Wow. Yes, tomorrow Balfour and Aaliyah and I are going to a pottery class for 3 year olds, then we’re going to chant at the spiritual center. Both of these statements are made to one another in perfectly modulated, quiet voices, our indoor voices if you will. You know, just like NPR. And of course our children have unique foreign names to show our multiculturalism. We may be white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but we’re diverse!

I know, I know. I’m being judgmental. I mean, after all, I am blonde, blue-eyed, white, and liberal. We eat organic and Milla knits. But I can honestly without a doubt say that sometimes our house sounds like trailer trash central. I walk in the kitchen and discover my dog vomited all over the floor and I scream, “What the FUCK is this mess? Goddamned dogs!” And last night, I admit it, we watched Dumb and Dumber without compunction. That movie is stupid and funny. And Milla watched it and laughed right along with me. Uh oh. If any of the other Waldorf parents found out, I’d be voted out. Maybe her teacher could claim the fact we’re late at least once a week is because Milla has heard the word fuck and has seen Dumb and Dumber. The fact I’m the only parent living here and have a hard enough time getting my own ass out of bed let alone my daughter’s has nothing at all to do with it. No sirree. And on the days where we’re late and I’m in the parking lot hollering at Milla to get moving because she’s the slowest thing on the planet sometimes, I swear, the holier than thou, how dare you speak to that child in that manner looks on some of the smug little faces make me want to whack them one. I don’t spank her. She’s got a good life. It isn’t going to kill her for me to tell her to get her damn ass moving already when she’s taking her own sweet time checking out some spot on the car door instead of getting into school. Jeez.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Milla’s school. She used to go to a different Waldorf school where it felt like being in junior high all over again. The exclusion that went on there was out of hand. I guess what bugs me about the “I’m Liberal and New Age” crowd is that it’s worn like some badge of honor and used as a way to exclude those who aren’t in the “I’m Liberal and New Age” crowd. It’s the queen bees in another context. “Oh,” the eyes say as your child walks by wearing, GASP! Something from Old Navy! “You mean you didn’t spend eight-thousand dollars on a pure cotton, hand-knitted, grown up on the remade lot in north Portland skirt and shirt combo? How DARE you! I would NEVER let a stitch of acrylic touch my perfect child’s skin. And I certainly wouldn’t let little Balfour wear something made somewhere besides my own backyard! God forbid.”

It’s frustrating when you agree with the results of someone’s choices, but the why of their choices is problematic. Does it matter? I suppose it does in the context of trying to live without judgment, just letting others live their own life. Even the fact that it bugs me that they judge me for not being “Liberal and New Agey” enough in their minds is a form of judgment on my part.

Thinking about it, I suppose it’s how or why we identify with groups. Do we do it to belong or to exclude? And in belonging is there automatically excluding? Or can you belong simply for the sake of being a part of something? And some things people belong to by an accident of birth, yet this does not stop their identification to the point of even killing someone else who had a different accident of birth. Ireland comes to mind here, or Israel and the Palestine. Why is it that we will fight to the death for something that we wouldn’t have cared about if we had been born to another family? Even a seemingly innocuous choice, like which dog breed you prefer, can be a choice for exclusion as well. It’s weird. The whole thing is tied up in a big, old mess. Humans have this need to be a part of a pack but in doing so they leave others out of the pack and it seems like every conflict centers around this tidy piece of information. It’s the nature of conflict, isn’t it? One side against the other. One view against another. Me against you against me.

Sometimes it’s funny though. I try not to laugh at the “Liberal and New Age” voices in the hall at my daughter’s school. I try not to roll my eyes in class meetings when the parents get into a disagreement that they don’t want anyone to recognize as a disagreement. We’re using soft voices and “I centered” messages so it’s not a disagreement, is it?

“But really, I just can’t have Aaliyah eating cheese pizza for lunch, and we wouldn’t want her to feel excluded if the rest of the class has cheese pizza. She is allergic to dairy, yeast, soy, sugar, brocolli, pineapple, peanut butter, white bread, wheat, and every nut on the planet after all.” (And that’s another thing. Why is it that every kid is allergic to 18 different foods? For Christ’s sake, get a grip already!)

“Well, you know, Galbraith has been so cooperative at home lately, I promised him he could have cheese pizza. I wouldn’t want him to feel like I’m not listening to his needs if I didn’t get him cheese pizza.”

“Well, perhaps it may have been a wiser choice to bring him other options for his calm behavior. Perhaps you could discuss another choice with him. I’m sure he would be awake to such changes.”

“I just think that would create a lack of trust. Galbraith is such a sensitive soul. He has to be open to understanding, but I wouldn’t want to send the wrong message.”

And on and on and on. I just want to scream, For Christ’s sake! Let’s get the fucking pizza already. If your kid doesn’t ever eat pizza, how the hell is she going to miss it when everyone else eats it? And you’re just afraid Galbraith will throw a fucking tantrum if the class doesn’t get pizza. Why are we sitting here listening to this drivel at a parent’s meeting? I thought we were going to find out what they’re working on in class, not spend a half an hour bitching about whether or not to let the class have cheese pizza.

I sit there during these meetings and look at my shoes and wonder why it is exactly that the rest of us have to sit and listen to this nonsense for a half an hour. Oh, that’s right. Because we’re giving them an opportunity to be heard. And we all need to be heard, right? What about my right not to have to sit and listen to the shit? Guess what? We can’t all have all our rights at every moment we want to have them.

Okay, that was the longest, pointless rant ever. Sometimes I wonder about the pointlessness comes out of my typing fingers. I start with one thought and end up somewhere completely different. There is another blogger I like to read.  He wrote about the fact that he writes about a bunch of nonsense sometimes and wondered why he does it. Why indeed? Why is there this need to spew forth our opinions and observations? Why is it that when I’m writing for my blog I can write and write and write but when I just did my journal it was like pulling teeth sometimes? My counselor said that artists need an audience. I just wonder how anyone could call my drivel art. It makes me chuckle. But Full Metal Gerbil is right about one thing, if I’m writing on here, I’m not wasting time elsewhere, so it’s all good. Plus it keeps me sane. I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I need to in order to keep the brain sane and last night I realized I was in a depressive funk. I just have to do it. I have to get the meaningless drivel on the page. If someone has the stamina to sit and read all of it, more power to them. I apologize for my lack of brevity and wit.

Why We Celebrate Birthdays

I love the movie Waitress.  I saw it twice at the theaters and now I own it.  It’s an amazing movie.  So well-written.  So funny and sad at the same time.  That moment when she says to the nurse, Give’er to me.  Then looks at that baby and the rest of the world fades from view.  Nothing else matters.  I have never seen a movie capture that feeling, that moment when your child is looking at you for the first time and you know in the marrow of your bones that you have fulfilled your life’s biological purpose; you know why you were born.  There is nothing like it.  When Milla was born, the doctor put her on my stomach, I laid my hand on her back, she lifted her head and looked at me and I told her Hi Baby.

I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.  It was the best moment of my life.  I know now why we celebrate birthdays.