Monthly Archives: July 2010

Parents: No, you do not have to Try Your Very Best

I’ve run across this a thousand times before, but here’s the most recent example which inspired the following (no, I’m not linking):

[Parenting] is a job in which you need to put forth your very best effort.

admonishes one parent to another (who apparently isn’t meeting the author’s standards).

This? Is such bullshit.

Yes, our parenting choices matter. No, not “anything goes”. Yes, kids deserve so much, and no, a lot of kids aren’t getting what they need. But who can possibly sustain a Very Best Effort at every moment for at least 18 years? I’d say no one can. I surely can’t. And the pressure this puts on women — for it is indubitably mothers who receive the brunt of this admonishment — is untenable.

Much like in the attachment discussion, kids have needs, and often we ignore those needs, or try to fill them with things that aren’t quite right. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do better, especially if one is trying to go against the standards of a society that marginalizes children and alternately exalts and belittles them. There’s nothing wrong with putting effort into parenting, or spending a lot of time researching decisions, or thinking of parenting as the most important job of your life.

But there’s nothing necessarily wrong with not, either. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with just doing what you do and not putting extraordinary effort into parenting, either.

What does it even mean that we “need” to use our “very best effort”? So what, if we don’t, we’ll fail at parenting? We’ll ruin our kids? But if they’re not ruined (and how do we measure??), then I guess it was enough? But if we ruin them, is that proof we didn’t try hard enough? Or that failure is OK as long as we tried hard enough?

How messed up is that is that philosophy? According to that thinking, if we spend 23 hours a day with our children, does that mean if we “fail” we should have spent 24? If we sleep only seven hours a night, does that mean if we “fail” we should have slept only six? How much is one’s very best? Do we have to collapse, push ourselves to exhaustion and past it (to death?), before we can rest safely knowing that no one will say of us that we should have done more? But no — someone will say we should have rested more. That wasn’t our best. We could have tried harder for balance.

Kids do not need perfection — which is wonderful, because none of us can achieve it. They need good enough. They need their basic needs met: for interdependence and attachment, for freedom and responsibilities, for a stable base to jump from and a safe place to land. But they don’t need every need met perfectly every time. They don’t need a mistake-free upbringing. And they certainly don’t need us to break trying to meet impossible standards — or impossible standards of effort.

I’m not a particularly laissez faire parent (though I might call my parenting free-range inspired), nor a laissez-faire-in-parenting advocate. I think some decisions are better than others. I think some decisions are worse than others. And I don’t think “but I was ____ and I’m Just Fine(TM)!” is a particularly good justification for continuing practices we know are harmful and for which we have accessible alternatives. But at some point, we need to say that it’s enough. Our effort is enough. We are enough. Even if we don’t do everything the ideal way, even if we perform the blasphemy of not even trying to. Our good enough effort is good enough.

You are a good enough parent. And even if you’re not, your good enough effort at doing better is good enough. Maybe you could try harder, research more, up the pressure, increase the guilt when you (inevitably) fall short — but why? If there’s something you think you could be doing better, and want to be doing, and have the ability to do, then do it. Not because you’re not good enough right now (you are), but simply because you want to. Or because it would make you life easier. Or your parenting more joyful. Or your child happier or healthier. Not, please, because you’d be failing if you didn’t, because unless what you’re doing now is likely to kill your child in the near future, better is probably not a requirement. It’s probably just better.

And good enough? Is enough.

The things I haven’t been telling you

Dear family: please stop reading. Auntie (!!!), and SIL, and brother, and mom, and dad, this means you. Really. Please. Stop. If you want me to keep blogging, ever, stop reading, right now.

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Family-avoidance interlude

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As I’ve alluded to before, there are things I haven’t been mentioning on the blog, in part because my family reads here.

When I’m not saying anything about those things, I find it hard to say much of anything at all. Which can, without exaggeration, drive me crazy.

So here they are:

I’m trying to make a book. And we’re trying to make a baby.

I have, in fact, conceived the book (the one I alluded to recently, Martyrdom Not Required: Attachment Parenting in the Real World). And I did, in fact, conceive a pregnancy.

The book might yet, if I am very, very lucky (and very, very diligent), make it to fruition.

The pregnancy did not.

It was not, you might be surprised to hear, the most recent cycle, nor the cycle that I missed blogging about. Nor was it the cycle where my back went out. No, it was the one before that, and it was so very, very short that I hardly feel justified in calling it a miscarriage. We never had a chance to fully confirm, much less celebrate, even privately, before there was nothing to celebrate, and the confirmation was a resounding “not this time”.

This was not the first miscarriage I’d ever had — not even the only I’d ever known about.

I was seventeen, The Man was nineteen, and I was known for having long, heavy, irregularly timed periods. But one was later still than my unusual-usual. I didn’t suspect anything — I had no particular reason to, and I was as bad about tracking my periods as my body was at regulating them. But when I bled, finally, it was harder than anything before. And there was… something. Something very, very small. Maybe the size of my pinky fingernail, in memory. Probably even smaller than that, if we try to factor out memory’s magnifying focus. But there was something unusual, something unexpected, something I hadn’t seen before nor since, resting atop the plastic pad, when all the rest of the blood and serum and fluid had soaked in.

I didn’t tell anyone, not for years. I still answer “one” when filling in number of pregnancies on medical forms. After all, I don’t “know”. There was no stick with multiple lines, no disturbing, distorted black and white films from an ultrasound, no diagnoses scribbled near illegibly in an official medical chart somewhere. I don’t “know”. Just as I don’t “know” this time, this so much earlier time, with even less physical evidence for support.

But I know.

Three times now, my body has been home, temporarily, to DNA that was of me but was not mine. One became a baby, now a bubbly, blond, aggravating, adorable child. Two… didn’t. Once, over a decade ago, it was a strange, spikey knowledge — something unasked for and unwanted disappearing, without my having to do anything about it. This time, it was pain I didn’t let myself feel for a month, when finally, bleeding again, I sobbed on the floor in part from pain in my back and in part because I was surrounded by fecundity, by women with proven fertility, and I should have been one, I should have been like them, I so wanted to be and almost was like them and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair, and it hurt so much. And so I cried, and sobbed, and gulped for air and breath, and keened with anger and grief and fear and envy and so many kinds of pain.

But everywhere else, with all but a very small few, I was silent.

I don’t know if I can explain my silence, because I’m not sure I understand it. About everything else, I am vested in full disclosure. I’ll write about craziness, self-injury, pelvic organ prolapse, the -isms I am infected with. I’ll write about mundanities and profanities and even, if you ask nicely, the time I talked to Jesus. But this? This desire for baby-baby-now? This trying and trying and waiting and trying and the interminable months of failure? This I have a hard time disclosing.

I think I want to present a fait accompli — I don’t want the kibitzing and second-hand second-guessing along the way. I want the congratulations — I don’t want the commiserations that it takes us so damn long. I want, in one area of my life, to not be made to feel that I am damaged, deficient, that nothing will come easily to me, or for me.

Neither do I want to publicly perform pious self-pity. I don’t want to be anyone’s maybe-baby show. I don’t want to declare woe-is-me when so many have it so much worse, require hard-to-access technological intervention in order to reproduce, or are not able to at all. What right have I do bemoan my circumstance when odds are decent that, eventually, a pregnancy will stick, virtually free, and societally approved?

I think also that I don’t want to have to explain or defend or justify my desire or my timing or any other part of this. I don’t want to try to explain to the childfree what this compulsion feels like, nor defend from the childless my grief over the loss when I’ve already had a baby, nor justify to the environmentalists or the anti-child feminists the decision to try to bring yet another person into the world.

With both the baby and the book, I think I want to be able to quit quietly. I want to be able to fail, without failing anyone. I want to be able to give up, without being seen to. I want perfection — mission accomplished, see what I made! — or to pretend I never wanted it in the first place. (I admit: as coping mechanisms go, I could perhaps find healthier.)

And I really, really don’t want my family to say one damn thing to me about it, good or bad or anything. (If you’ve ignored my previous warnings, family dearest, you’ve only yourself to blame.)

Yet… I’m tired of silence. I’m tired of Not Talking about something that matters to me. I’m tired of not being able to write because I’m not writing what’s most pressing to me. I’m tired of my desire for privacy from my sometimes-draining family blocking off the soul-sustaining support of my friends (whether I’ve been blessed to meet you in person yet or not). I don’t want this to become a baby-making or book-hocking blog, but I don’t want to have to censor every impulse I have to mention a major undertaking — which informs almost every area of my life — either.

So that’s it. Baby, book: gimme. I don’t know how I’ll manage, I don’t know whence the time and energy and space in my life will come, but I don’t care, because I’m doing it anyway. And I’m not going to keep it a secret any longer.

Except from my family.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: One

Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to parents who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

One

The Story

One by Kathryn Otoshi tells the story of a group of colors and their transformation/maturation into numbers. We are introduced to Blue, who is cool, and his friends Yellow, Green, Purple, and Orange. Then we meet Red, who is hot, and who bullies Blue. The other colors console Blue, but do not stand up to Red — which makes Red bigger and bigger, until he starts bullying all the colors, and “[t]hen everyone felt…a little blue.” And then One (who is grey) comes, and makes friends with Blue and the other colors, which angers Red, who bullies all the colors — but One stands up to him, which inspires the other colors to stand up, and turn from colored “blobs” (for lack of a better word) into colored numbers (2-5) as well. Finally Blue (who has become 6) also stands up to Red, who tries to roll over Blue/6, but all the color-numbers stand up to Red together, making Red very, very small. In the end, Blue/6 calls out to Red, and One declares “Red can count too”, and Red becomes 7. The last page declares: “Sometimes it just takes One.”

Intended Audience

Through the use of extremely simple (but beautiful) blobs of primary colors, One manages to avoid many of the culture-cues that might limit its appeal to marginalized audiences. It does seem more directed to shy children or bullying victims and bystanders than children who have problems with aggression, although I think it would do those children good to hear as well. It is also a simple and engaging story, and offers children, whether in an environment with bullying or not, exposure to colors and to counting 1-7.

Changes in the telling

There is nothing I change in reading this, although it does annoy me a little that all three major players (Blue, Red, and One) are “he”, and only one of the other colors (who do not initially stand up to Red) is gendered by pronoun use and is “she”. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about One being the only non-primary color, either (grey). And I have some ambivalence about the final message, as I go into below.

Right on!

I love so many things about this book. I love the beautiful paintings, which convey so much meaning and energy in a few simple strokes. I love the punny prose (yes, I am that kind of person). I love the use of color in the text, although I frequently find myself thinking it might be a hindrance to anyone with color deficiency in reading it. And I love the message that violence can be, and best is, countered not by passivity, but by active, unified nonviolence. The final message “Sometimes it just takes One” bothers me a little because in the story (and in real life, I would argue) although One acts as a catalyst, it does take all the color-numbers to counter Red’s aggression. But I like that it encourages children to be that One, who helps make a change for the better for everyone. I also love (though in a more ambivalent way) that Red is not kicked out or vanquished, but ultimately invited to be a part of the change as well.

(I am ambivalent because I dislike a zero-sum us-versus-them winner-and-losers attitude, but also dislike the idea that the victim/survivor has an obligation to reach out to hir aggressor. It’s not as simple as should-always-happen or should-never-happen, but depends on the particular dynamics and personal safety involved. If, as a single story must, one way must be picked, I do appreciate that One chooses reconciliation from a place of survivor-empowerment and strength.)

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

The Boychick is quite enchanted by this book. I think some of the concepts — of bullying, and standing up to bullying — might be a little advanced for him, but the story itself is compelling, he enjoys the appearance of the numbers, and it introduces the idea of nonviolent resistance in a not overly pedantic way. I think children both younger and older than he is (he’s a bit over three years old) would appreciate it, although it is recommended for 4-8 year olds; younger toddlers would find the bright colors on the plain white background appealing, and older children might appreciate the puns, such as the last line, the aforementioned “everyone felt… a little blue”, and Yellow’s declaration, upon her decision to stand up to Red and also “count” (transform into a number), of “Me Two!”

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

Buy it. One has a broad enough appeal, an engaging and amusing enough story, and an important enough message that I’d encourage anyone to add it to their own bookshelf.

Your Take

Have you read One? What do you think, and what do your kids think? What other books with anti-bullying or nonviolent protest themes have you read, and would you recommend them? Are there other books whose clever use of colors and numbers in an entirely separate story you’ve admired?

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Purchases made through the Amazon links offered here support this blog and compensate — quite minimally — my time and work as a blogger. I encourage you to support local, independent booksellers whenever possible, but if you’re going to order online anyway, why not support an independent blogger?

No words no sleep no sanity, take eleventy billion

Someone asked me the other day how I remembered to update the blog regularly. My mouth flapped open, and stuck that way, as my brain tried to understand a question for which it had no frame of reference.

She was not a writer. Or rather, not the kind of writer I am — writer by requirement. Vocation, not avocation. Payment doesn’t matter; this is a lifeline, not a hobby.

Words? Are not optional for me. They are as required as water, as food, as air.

Or more germanely — as required as sleep. Go too long without either, and there goes any semblance of stability, of sanity. I might live, but I wouldn’t be able to continue my life. So, because this is how much the universe hates me, my life is structured such that more of one requires less of the other. And I don’t always get to pick which will happen. And sometimes, neither will, and there’s the conditions for a flash flood of crazy.

I am drowning.

*****

Four days ago: the words would not stop. Post after post, perfectly composed, popping into my head, long after I was done for the day. Lying in bed, begging for respite, for sleep.

Three days ago: Stay up, waiting for words, they don’t come. Shrug, go to sleep… eventually.

Two days ago, I would have asked The Man to stay home so I could write — but he was (is, forever will be I fear) on mandatory overtime, so I couldn’t, and didn’t. So I said screw the sleep, and stayed up.

And they didn’t come.

All day — driving, in appointments, in class, while parenting, parenting, parenting — neverending words, a torrent of words, a flood of words, brilliant thoughts, important points, cleverly composed. But no time to stop, no time to sit, no time to get them down.1

And later, when everyone else is in bed, when I stop, sit, wait — silence. Or nonsense.

What do you do when the two things required for sanity are denied to you? Why, go crazy, of course.

You know what’s not crazy? Heavy traffic. Crowded grocery stores. Hyper children. Chaotic playgrounds. Inconsiderate or reckless drivers. Overwhelming course loads. Racist or sexist bullcrap. (Though, if you’re like me, those all might drive you crazy.) “Traffic/the store/those kids/the playground/that driver/this semester/that new law is crazy!” is as linguistically lazy as it is offensive. I am not your metaphor. I am crazy. I am not heavy-crowded-hyper-chaotic-inconsiderate-reckless-overwhelming. Stop it.

Not a fun night-on-the-town crazy. Not a productive crazy. Not a foreshadowing-visions crazy.

Crazy like this: Twitching twitching, chest constricting. Breath coming fast or not at all. Thoughts circling: out out out no no no. Losing it because I couldn’t lose it because there’s a child in my lap and he won’t go to sleep — until I dump him on his sleeping father and run away and we both cry for an hour.

*****

This is a minor wobble, as these things go (…I hope. I think.). It seems self-indulgent to go on about it, but it’s this or even less healthy coping techniques, and I can afford a concussion even less than I can afford the night of sleep missed thusly.

I worry that I’ll lose you, my readers. “Didn’t she write that gone-crazy-back-soon post a few months ago?” Well, yeah. But this is life for me. Mostly fine. Sometimes… this. It doesn’t go away. Not ever, not completely. As tired as you, hypothetical bored reader, might be of these repeats, I promise I am a thousand times more so.

*****

Sometimes, I know where it comes from.

Sometimes it’s my choices.

Sometimes it’s my circumstances.

And sometimes? It just sneaks up on me. Sleep eludes me. Words scramble into garbage. I don’t know why.

Sometimes I don’t know where it comes from, I only know it’s coming.

I feel its hot breath on my neck. My hands twitch at its groping touch. My breath is shallow, my belly tight, anticipating its presence. I am running from it — yet it is the running.

Did I cause it by trying to avoid it? Could I have breathed more, shut down the computer sooner, laid wide-eyed in the dark longer? Did I tempt it by rejecting the words offered? Was my error to think I could write in the first place, could have some success and stability?

All the answer I can bring forth now is the equivocating maybe.

*****

I don’t know if I’ll ever be “successful”. I don’t know if these mood regulation glitches, these writing/sleeping imbalances will let me do the things I long for — have I told you about my book idea? Martyrdom Not Required: Attachment Parenting for the Real World ‘Cause I’m obviously so damn skilled at this parenting-life-balancing-gig – but they are a part of my life. They always will be. As much as I hate this — and oh, right now, I do — I don’t hate my life. I can’t hate me, as much as I curse my brain at times. And so I deal.

*****

I don’t have a witty conclusion. There’s no insightful point, no cue for you to nod your head and declare “That’s so deep.” There’s just me, exhausted, face salty from sweat and tears, wrung out, done — yet knowing I have to get up in the morning, to the chirp of “Where’s my dad?” and answer “He’s at work again, little one, but I’m here with you again” alone with you again, make it through the day, no time to break down, no time to stop, no time to be and be drained and be done and have that be enough. There’s just me, thinking this will have to do — not enough writing, not enough sleep, but if I make do with this, I can get just enough sleep to make it through.

Wish me luck.

*****

  1. An update on Twitter, at 5:45pm: “Someone tell my brain I don’t have TIME for a panic attack now. Try next Monday evening, I think I’m open then.”

No, less-than-threes do not need their moms 24/7/365

“A mother shouldn’t leave her child until about the age of three”, declares a father.

Oh, I do not think so.

What infants and toddlers and preschoolers need is attachment — loving, responsive care from people they know and trust, preferably have known for most or all of their lives but at least with whom they have built a relationship. They need to have older people — adults, yes, but also teens, older children — who know them and love them and who they know and love, accessible to them when needed. The placement of that responsibility exclusively on the mother makes it not a joy, a task of life easily fulfilled, but a burden, under which so many of us are breaking.

Something is wrong with a culture that expects a six week old to sleep through the night, that tells a four month old her hunger is inconvenient and needs to be scheduled, that is surprised when a one year old doesn’t want to be left with a stranger. Some of us recognize this, and some have decided the problem must be because women are employed outside the home, have chosen to have lives that do not revolve around our children.

Not that we have moved away from our families of origin.

Not that we have built fences real and psychological between us and our neighbours.

Not that we have tiny families and a dearth of siblings and cousins.

Not that we have segregated adults and children, and alternately marginalize people with fewer years as second class citizens and exalt them as angels on earth (but never simply honor them as perfectly imperfect persons).

Not that we hold ideal a single family home, and define family as up to two parents and 2.5 children.

Not that we have taught half the population to deny and repress any nurturing potential, for fear of being “unmanly”.

No, it is, as always, entirely the fault of women. Of mothers, for daring to stand up for our humanity and our autonomy, for daring to do the work that earns power and prestige and some amount of protection, for daring to say we have needs and wants and goals too, for daring to take even an hour away to nurture ourselves so we have something to give to our children.

How dare we?

What some misguided whistleblowers (on the problem that is our parenting culture) have deemed is the solution — a mother, subsuming her own desires entirely to her offspring for a full three years each, minimum, accessible at all times of day, all days of the week, all weeks of the year — is just as unnatural and damaging as the model it rebels against.

We are not supposed to do this gig — which risks becoming labor and work and mind-breaking, body-destroying toil the less it is shared with loved ones — all by ourselves. We are not. That some can do it and survive, even enjoy it and would pick it first over any other idealized options, speaks far more to the diversity and flexibility of humanity than it does to the failure or unnaturalness of any woman who doesn’t choose or wouldn’t enjoy (possibly wouldn’t survive) 24/7/365 sole caregiving.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is going to break if she has to clean up one more fecal-smeared surface.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is snapping and yelling and cannot catch her breath alone.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person’s back is breaking from twelve hour shifts of bending and lifting and carrying and holding.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person has lost herself and her center and has no core around which her child can revolve, no life from which her child can learn.

Kids need people, people they know and love and trust, people who are with them and responsive to them day after day, who know their rhythms and their personalities and their needs and their wants, who have done the work of endless toiletings and feedings, who have assisted nap times and play times, who have tickled and carried, who have been there through laugh fests and crying jags. Kids need as many of those people as possible. Blood relation entirely optional.

One? Is a bare minimum. The kid might survive, even thrive (because humans are fantastically adaptable); and the parent might as well (ditto): but it comes at a high risk of burning out the carer, torching the relationship, scorching the child. And if that happens, there is no one for the child to turn to.

Two is better.

Three or four are better still.

Half a dozen is getting closer to ideal.

Half a dozen? Sure: a parent or two, a grandparent or two, a parent’s sibling or two, a couple teens or older kids: it’s not a big family, as primate evolution (or human tribal history) goes. But good luck growing it in this society.

(My infant only wants me. She’ll have nothing to do with her dad!

Has her dad been there? Does he know her? Does she know him? Did she hear his voice in the womb? Did she breathe in his smell within hours of birth? Did he carry or wear her her first day out of the womb? And the second? And the third? Does she sleep with his breath on her face, his heat keeping her warm, his body keeping her safe? Does he respond to her attempts at communication about her hunger and elimination? Does he help keep her clean? Does she know him?)

Kids — the younger they are the truer this is — need to be with people they know, and trust, and love (who among us doesn’t, really?). They need attachment; this is immutable biological fact. They’ll make do with almost whatever we give them, but the more the better. It is only our messed up society — or the very rare, very exacting child — that says that this means all-mom all-the-time.

(Oh, the breasts. The sweet, sweet breasts. Yes, infants need near-immediate access to milk at basically all times; known and trusted lactating breasts are biologically expected to be on call 24/7. Only humans — and only some humans — would translate this as mother’s-breasts-only, and even fewer as mother-as-primary-minder-at-every-moment. But a ten, a twenty, a thirty month old gets ever less in need of such omnipresent access, even as their need for it sometimes, and their need for constant nearby presence of trusted caregiver(s), might remain unabated.)

Do you, caring mother, have to leave your less-than-three? Of course not. (If there’s no one around we trust our children to trust, why would we want to? If we have enough people to share the load with that it is still a joy and not a toil — however many that is for us, zero or a dozen — why would we want to?) But you could. If you wanted. If your child wanted. If there are other people your child knows will care for them.

And I promise — it wouldn’t destroy them.