Scary moments in parenting

anaphylaxis in young children

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rolf Larsen

Hello all!  It’s been awhile…life has gotten crazy busy these last few weeks, but I’m looking forward to things slowing down a bit in the next week or so.

In the meantime, please check out my essay that was posted over at The Momoir Project:

[Bess] was playing with blocks on the living room floor while I loaded the dishwasher in the next room. Her piercing shriek brought me running. I found my daughter lying on the ground, face swollen beyond recognition, desperately clawing at her sausage tongue. With that inner calm that people find in moments like this, I picked up the phone. I dialed 911.

“What is your emergency?” I was the picture of composure.

“My daughter appears to be having an allergic reaction and is not breathing.”

Read the whole thing here.

What I’m reading: The Anti-Romantic Child

This review of Priscilla Gilman’s book The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy is running over at Woman in Washington.  I hope you’ll visit, and if you like reading and talking about books on motherhood in all its agony and ecstasy, I hope you’ll join the MOTHERS Book Bag group on Good Reads!

the anti-romantic child by priscilla gilmanIn her book The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy, author Priscilla Gilman chronicles her experiences as the mother of a special-needs child. Though Gilman harbored suspicions that Benj was unlike other children, it was not until he was almost three that Gilman’s worries were confirmed. The director of a potential preschool delivered the upsetting news that he suspected something was amiss.  What their pediatrician had initially assured them was perfectly normal turned out to be hyperlexia, a disorder characterized by early reading and vocabulary acquisition coupled with a delay in spontaneous speech, motor dexterity, and social skills.

Gilman and her husband, Richard, quickly had Benj evaluated and started him in various therapies which ultimately helped him to achieve a relatively high level of functioning. With the help of expert educators and therapists, Benj learned skills that led him to overcome, or at least cope with, his difficulties. Gilman’s unwavering commitment to her son, her absolute conviction that he possessed unique and wonderful gifts, was undoubtedly the major force fueling his success.

A high achiever who grew up immersed in the arts, Gilman met her husband when they were both students in the Ph.D. program in English and American Literature at Yale. She brings her literary background to bear in The Anti-Romantic Child, scattering quotes from Wordsworth liberally throughout the book. She uses these works as a jumping-off point for examining the ways in which her romantic notions of love, marriage and childhood shaped her expectations and heightened her disappointment over the failure of her marriage and the struggles of her son.

Gilman’s seemingly superhuman efforts on behalf of her son are impressive, but her story left me vaguely disquieted. After all, my children are mostly healthy and high-functioning, I have a stable marriage, and my paying job is relatively undemanding, and yet sometimes I lose it. I do not “listen attentively to [my child], at every moment…to always make sure I’m giving him what he…needs.” I am a mostly attentive mother – but every moment? Gilman recounts the extraordinarily amicable divorce she negotiated with Richard and describes the ingenious therapeutic activities she concocted for Benj. What she does not do is delve into the depths of frustration, despair and loneliness that she must have felt. The story would be more authentic, and more interesting, if the reader was given a real glimpse into the inenviable struggles and failures of Gilman’s life.

Perhaps her reluctance to shine a light on her difficulties is a function of her desire “to make life just right for those [she] loved,” or perhaps she was trying to protect the privacy of her family and friends. She dances around the issue, admitting that she periodically “felt so lonely, in a disconcerting, frightening way,” that sometimes “it can be extremely exhausting and overwhelming” to be a wife (and ex-wife), a mother, an advocate, a daughter, and an employee. Yet, she is quick with the disclaimer that “the blessings…far outweigh the worry and stress and fatigue.” In this, Gilman is no different from any mother who feels the pressure of perfection and confuses isolated failings with utter failure. We are so concerned with justifying our choices and validating our parenting that we are afraid to expose our inadequacies. The brave among us couch our admissions with declarations of maternal devotion or cite fatigue or busyness in self-defense. How much more support and validation could be gained from candid and compassionate discussions of the dark moments of motherhood!

Survival through compassion


compassion for line cutters

Finding compassion, even for rude customers at the supermarket! image courtesy of flickr user Robert S. Donovan

I WON the Non-Fiction Category of the 100 Prompts Contest over at The Writing Reader!  Woot!

Here is the winning submission:

When I was younger, I was annoyed all the time at someone.  Anyone.  Everyone.  Someone cut me off in traffic?  What a jerk.  Someone cut in front of me in line at the grocery store?  I guess they think their time is more important than mine.  Someone made a snarky comment?  I didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment!  As for the people in my life who I actually knew:  my mother, my husband, my sister, my father, co-workers, customers, especially my mother-in-law, they all were subject to my wrath, usually of the passive-aggressive variety.

Psychologists call this the Fundamental Attribution Error.  Basically, it means that if someone does something hurtful or inconsiderate to us, we assume it’s because he is a bad person.  We take one example of a person’s behavior and use it to judge his entire character.  So, if someone bumps into us on the sidewalk, we automatically assume that she is an inattentive, careless clod.  If someone takes our parking spot at the mall, we think he is a selfish, inconsiderate narcissist.

When I became a mother, all that changed.  I’d like to be able to say that I had become a more understanding person as a result of my entry into parenthood, or that my priorities had changed now that I had this new person in my life.  The truth is much less romantic.  Being angry takes a lot of energy, and I didn’t have any to spare.  I wasn’t sleeping, I was barely eating, and I was in perpetual motion trying to bounce, rock, and stroll my screaming daughter into dozing for more than four minutes and twenty-seven seconds at a time.  I no longer had it in me to complain about something someone had said or done.

I guess in a way, my priorities had changed.  It no longer mattered to me what people said or thought, because in the face of extreme sleep deprivation the likes of which are usually seen only at Gitmo, things that once had held the utmost importance for me no longer seemed very significant.  It took way less effort to just pick up the socks off the floor than to be upset that even after twelve years together, my husband still hadn’t gotten the hang of the hamper thing.  If I got a nasty email or phone call from a customer at work, I would just fire off a matter-of-fact, solution-oriented reply and move on instead of spending hours, days even, obsessing about how selfish and rude she was.

As I stopped getting wrapped up in the drama of it all, I stopped taking people’s behavior so personally.  I began to realize that other people’s actions really were about them, and rarely had anything to do with me.  The person who cut me off in traffic probably was late picking up his son from soccer practice.  The person who stepped in front of me in the checkout line at the supermarket probably didn’t see me there.  The person who said that hurtful thing was probably having a bad day.

I also started to see how my own behavior could sometimes be interpreted as being impolite or selfish.  After all, sometimes I do things that are inconsiderate or careless, and I’m not a narcissist or a clod.  At least I don’t think I am.  I’m simply…imperfect.  Just like everyone else.

I learned that we often choose to be angry and judgmental, and we can just as easily choose to be big-hearted instead.  So instead of being angry, I started being compassionate.  Instead of giving the finger, I gave an understanding smile.  Instead of wanting revenge, I wanted to lessen the load for others.  I became more patient, more understanding, and happier.  I have found that a much easier and infinitely more pleasant way to live.

Why I write

writing to preserve memories of childhood and parenting

image courtesy of flickr user mrsdkrebs

Check out my guest post currently running at The Momoir Project:

My daughter’s memories, on the other hand, all seem to spring to mind in vivid color and rigorous detail at the slightest provocation. She tries to engage me in frequent games of “Remember the time…” but usually I don’t remember, or not as well as she does.

She relishes the retelling, and rakes over the recollections for nuggets of meaning. It is in the telling and re-telling, the rolling over of images and words in her mind looking for a glimpse of a larger truth, that allows her to own these memories. I love being able to give my son and daughter the sweet memories that go with a childhood well-lived. But I also want to claim some for myself.

How about you?  How do you preserve your memories?  How do you create memories worth preserving?

Talking to kids about race

photo courtesy of flickr user voxefx

I have a guest post running today over at Humane Connection on talking to kids about race.  Head on over and check it out:

What I said was: “Shoshana is one of the girls who has very dark skin. She played ‘The Two Grenadiers.’”

“Oh, yes!” Bess said. “I didn’t tell her, but I will the next time I see her.”

Was that the right thing to say? I don’t know. It felt right at the time. Or at least it felt less inappropriate than the alternative. What I said is absolutely accurate. Shoshana’s skin is darker than my daughter’s Mediterranean complexion, just as my daughter’s skin, inherited from her father, is darker than my northern European shade of pale. In one sense, it is as simple as that.

And yet…in another sense, it couldn’t be more complicated. It isn’t accurate to pretend that the difference between Shoshana and Bess is melanin-related in the same way skin color differentiates Bess from me. To imply otherwise is insincere, and unfair, and disrespectful. It is easy for me to describe Shoshana that way, given that I am speaking from a place of relative privilege. I cannot even begin to imagine all the ways in which people of color do not experience the world in the way that I do.

I’d love your feedback, either here or there.  How do you talk to your kids about race?  How do you teach them about diversity, especially if you don’t live in a particularly diverse community?  What kinds of words do you use?

Who, me? The Versatile Blogger Award

I have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by Kimberly over at A Little Crunchy!

And to think that I often wonder if anyone is reading…

I hope you will head on over and check her blog out (if you aren’t already a follower), as well as the other blogs she listed.  I am humbled and grateful to be counted among those who “question the sheeple”!

Recipients of this award are asked to:

  • Thank the person that nominated their blog for the award with a backlink to them.
  • List 7 things about themselves.
  • Award 15 newly discovered blogs with the award and notify them of the award.

So without further ado…seven interesting, or even marginally interesting, things about me?  That one is a toughie.

  1. I used to have two rescued lab rats named Bunsen and Beaker.
  2. I am addicted to the TV show Bones.
  3. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school.
  4. I didn’t know that Harry Truman’s wife was named Bess until after I had already named my kids Harry and Bess.
  5. I have read every word ever published by Lynn Andrews.
  6. I successfully complete the Monday NYT crossword about 99% of the time; Tuesday about 50% of the time; and I’ve only finished the Wednesday puzzle once.
  7. My favorite vegetable is Brussels sprouts.

And for my fifteen new fave blogs:

Head on over to check them all out!

Motherhood as an act of creativity

I made these people. From scratch.

Please go check out my guest post at Laundry Line Divine’s Out of the Mouths of Babes series.

Through the experience of being a mother, I have finally recovered that creative part of myself that I gave up all those years ago. It may be clichéd, but that is because it is true: having children is the most profoundly and inherently creative thing that we, as humans, can do. We make a whole new person pretty much from scratch, and then we create a home and a family for that person, and we ultimately help that person to create a life for herself. The act of committing my stories to paper (or screen) and looking at them in the light of day, pulling them apart, turning them over, putting them back together, and hearing what other people think about them makes me better able to create the experiences I want for my children and for myself as their mother.

It is so important for women to claim and own and revel in that part of themselves that is creative and life-giving.  Even if we choose not to become biological mothers, or are unable to, our bodies still contain the power of life-giving love.  We need to bring that out into the world and share it, use it to nurture ourselves, the people around us, and the planet we all share.  Especially on this day, my birthday, the day that I was given life, I want to encourage women everywhere to share their unique and special gifts!

Mother lit – what I’m reading these days

It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? image courtesy of flickr user nSeika

One organization that is near and dear to my heart is MOTHERS (Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights), an organization which works for policy changes that will increase the economic security for care workers, especially mothers, and especially especially mothers who take time out of the paid workforce to care for their children.  I occasionally guest post on their blog (see here and here), and I do book reviews for their MOTHERS Book Bag group on GoodReads.  I hope that you’ll visit, leave some feedback or suggestions for future reads, or maybe even join the group.  Some of my latest reads include:

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Fans of Joan Didion’s previous works will find something entirely different between the covers of Blue Nights, but then how could one possibly turn an objective, journalistic eye towards the topic of the death of one’s child? In this effort to understand, to come to terms with the loss of her daughter, Quintana Roo, Didion does what she does best – she tells stories.  Read More…

 

Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood by Cori Howard

Cori Howard’s collection of essays, Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood (now available for Kindle and Nook), falls squarely and beautifully into the category of Non-Fluffy. In each essay, Canadian writers offer honest explorations of the agony and the ecstasy of motherhood in a way that is easy an interesting to read. In sections exploring the topics of ambition, anxiety, guilt, devotion and redemption, writers explore each of these experiences that is shared by all mothers, everywhere. Marina Jimenez leaves her toddler son to travel to Baghdad as a foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Joanna Streetly gives up her beloved house boat for the love (and safety) of her daughter. Randi Chapnik Myers has a complicated relationship with her nanny. Susan Olding is an adoptive mother; Lisa Bendall, the mother of just one. Rachel Rose attends cocktail parties looking for the sperm donor who will make her and her partner, Isabelle, mothers. Cristina Sampang leaves her children in the Philippines to find a job caring for someone else’s children in an effort to give her own a better life. Every mother will find herself between the covers of this book.  Read More…

Making It Up As I Go Along: A Novel by Maria Lennon

For a woman whose previous identity hinged on bearing witness to the atrocities of war as a reporter for the London Times, attending pool parties and lunching with ladies for whom only Catherine Zeta-Jones’ favorite diaper cream will do represents a bit of culture shock. Heaven was a self-made woman who had taken over her husband’s real estate company and earned millions with it, but she raised her daughter to value ambition over comfort. Even as Saffron settled into live in Malibu, more or less, she continued to long for Africa even with its danger and hardships.  Read More…

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal

In an effort to understand where she had gone wrong, or perhaps where feminism had gone wrong, Staal decided to return to her alma mater, Barnard, to re-take the course Fem Texts to see if the words and ideas of her foremothers were able to shed any light on her situation. First commuting from Annapolis to Manhattan once a week (pretty sweet, right?) and continuing after her family moved back to New York, Staal re-studied the works of such thinkers as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Betty Friedan and Kate Millett. From a different vantage point than the other students in the class, as well as from the person she was when she first read these texts as a young and idealistic college student, she begins to understand herself as a wife, mother and person in a different way. Throughout the story, we watch as the author comes to peace with her marriage and motherhood as she studies patriarchy, society, and feminism again.  Read More…

The “Boy Crisis”…and why it doesn’t exactly work out to be such a crisis after all

Check out my guest post at Your (Wo)Man in Washington today:

If you read books like The Wonder of Boys and Raising Cain, you will learn that today’s American boys are in crisis.  As schools become more heavily focused on academic achievement and test scores, children are expected to spend more time seated quietly at their desks while physical education and recess are being squeezed out of their schedules.  The crunch is on after school as well, when time is spent going to organized activities and completing homework instead of running around outside, playing stickball and manhunt and generally letting off steam.

Boys, who on average are less inclined to sit quietly at desks and have more of a need to move their bodies, are suffering disproportionately under the current state of affairs.  Some even argue that the bias against girls in academic settings is a relic of the past.  With teachers under ever-increasing pressure, they tend to favor girls who (again on average) are more able to sit and focus for long periods of time.  This is borne out by the fact that young women are currently earning more post-secondary degrees than young men.

If women are doing better in school, and are earning more advanced degrees, then logic would dictate that the number of women in positions of power and prestige should be at least equal to, if not exceeding, the number of men.  And yet…women continue to be underrepresented in business, science, academia, medicine, and government.  The reason seems obvious:  biology is destiny, and motherhood makes the difference.

Welcome, SheWriters!

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

Welcome, visitors from Meg Waite Clayton’s 1st Books blog, where the She Writer Blogger Ball #5 is being hosted!

This blog is the new and improved version of my old AhimsaMama blog, though I’ve been in a bit of a funk and not posting as regularly as I used to!  I am an educator and activist who uses this space to explore the joys and challenges of living sustainably while parenting two small children and trying to stay sane (literally).

Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to continuing to tour the blogs of the other Blogger Ball participants!

P.S. ~ A big welcome and thanks to the Lady Bloggers who are visiting from the Tea Party going on over there as well!