The Incident at the Grocery Store

I said (on Twitter) I would post about our Tuesday night incident at the grocery store, but then I changed my mine because of some of the issues involved. But I cannot stop thinking about it and with a whole 48-hours distance, I’ve decided to post what happened. 

Tuesday night, Daniel and I were walking into the grocery store to buy cookies for a class project they were doing the next day. 

Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Why did you stick out your tongue at me? And why are you making such ugly faces?” I turned around to see a man behind us. I bent down to Daniel and asked him if he stuck out his tongue at the man because I was going to tell him to apologize and then Daniel, who is going through quite a rude phase, said, “You’re going to jail” to this African American man. Let us all cringe at this unfortunate, poorly-timed comment.

The man replied, “oh I see you have been watching TV. That’s right…start them early.” Then he shook his head and walked past us.

I was in shock and fuming because this man had just called my child racist when in truth, he was being an asshole.

We bought the cookies and Daniel was helpfully acting up in the cashier’s line and wanting all the candy. The man was by the customer service desk, observing all of this. I looked at him as we were leaving and he raised an eyebrow and shook his head at us.

I should have let it go. Maybe I should have walked over and apologized for my child sticking out his tongue and try to explain he was being an asshole.

Instead I walked over and asked him if he had anything else to say to me. He told me that what else could he think when my child said things like that other than it must come from the parents. I tried to explain that Daniel is 5 and loves his Lego police set and that he would tell anyone to go to jail. He said I didn’t even apologize to him. I said I didn’t have a chance and that he doesn’t know anything about me. He says all he knows is what he sees, a mid-30s white woman with a child who knows hate.

Our voices are rising as you can imagine and Daniel, who doesn’t know what is going on, starts flailing an arm at the man. I drag him away and the man shouts, “see? You have a horrible-ass kid with terrible parents.” 

I shake my head and leave. 

I was pretty devastated after that and Daniel was upset too. That night he kept saying he was going to put that man in jail forever and all I can think is how that exactly what that man has to fear. 

I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry that 5-year-old kids being assholes can be an unfortunate trigger. I’m sorry that this incident has shocked me to my core when as a privileged white lady, this is rare for me while likely a common occurrence for many others. I’m sorry it is a challenge taking my child out right now when he is too often rude, sassy and defiant despite my best efforts.

Mostly, I’m just sorry.

It’s Hard Out There for a Working Mom

This piece made the rounds last week. In it, Katharine Zaleski apologized for the condescension and outright disdain she showed towards her coworkers who were working mothers.  Her apology might have been more tolerable if it had come before she herself became a mother and realized that gee, it’s hard out there for working moms.  Zaleski has seen the error of her ways and is co-founder of a company that seeks to match women with work-at-home tech jobs.  Her piece rubbed me the wrong way because of her privilege that eased her decision to lean in or lean out.  The majority of women don’t have C-level positions at start-ups coming their way.  At the very least, I hope I wasn’t nearly the asshole she was to working moms in her office before I had kids.  And really, that’s the crux of it.  Was it really so difficult for her to attempt a modicum of empathy for those women? Was it really that impossible for her to think that maybe she might have kids someday and how would she like to be treated in the workplace?

One of the best responses to Zaleski’s piece was adamant in her refusal to accept the non-apology.  Anne Born notes that being a working mom would have been more bearable if just one person had backed her up or spoken up as she received comments and side eyes doubting her work ethic. By not extending any support, no matter how small,  women like Zaleski became just “one of the guys.”  And Born is writing about what she experienced in 1997, a time not that long ago. She concludes:

I worked with too many women like you, Ms. Zaleski, who reinforced that I was just a lesser version of the other women I worked with who did not have such tedious family obligations. Working women are worth less enough already without your help – or your apologies.

Sometimes I think that with all the media coverage of “leaning in” and telecommuting, we think that it is easier to be a working mom than ever before. This topic has been on my mind a lot, especially since in NC, children missed almost 2 full weeks of school due to snow and sleet in February and for many working parents, that time must be made up or vacation used.  Working from home is not permitted in all workplaces.

The truth is that it is still very hard to be a mom who works outside the home. It’s even more difficult if you need further accommodations.  I think that there is a perception that daycare and programs like after-school care make it easy to work 8-5 if you are a working mother. That’s true if everything goes to plan, but what I and several other women I know have learned, it is as fragile as a house of cards.

  • Think of the mother whose child qualifies for one of the few free preschool options available in NC. The problem is that while these preschools end when the school day ends, after-school care is not available for these students. The mother will need to leave work at 3:30 to transport her child to some other program so she is able to return to work in order to fulfill the hours she is expected to work. The logical answer would be to let her telecommute but sadly, her position classification makes that option unavailable. She also cannot take her lunch hour at that time because OSHA rules dictate that she take a break after 6 hours of work.
  • After-school care is a godsend, but imagine if you are a mother whose child cannot cope in the school-sanctioned program.  Maybe the child is acting out or just not coping well and on the verge of being expelled.  Maybe the mother can hire a student to transport her child home and stay with the child until after work or maybe, if she’s lucky, she finds an alternative program that will pick up her child from school and take her to a program that is more suited to the child’s needs.  While this mother will be relieved to find any option that works to keep her child safe and engaged while she fulfills her expected hours, these options cost money, likely more money than the school-sanctioned after-school program. These are also options that are likely more available in larger cities than smaller ones. What would be the answer for the mother who lives in a small town?
  • Maybe your child is in a small school that is perfect for your child’s needs, and your child is thriving, but the after-school program goes only to 4 PM.  Maybe in this case you have the ability to make up some of the missed hours, but you live in fear of a meeting being scheduled late afternoon and any hint that you might not be a dedicated employee who deserves the responsibility she has been given. You worry that coworkers view you as Zaleski viewed her coworkers who had children.

It is easy to say that these women should find other jobs that are more flexible, but the reality is that many workplaces are less flexible than you imagine.  After all, even Yahoo rescinded its telecommuting policy.  I work for the state and while there are drawbacks to being a state employee (flexibility being one), it has decent health insurance, paid time off and security. It is also one of the largest employers in my state. It isn’t that simple to go get a new job, especially when children are involved.

I applaud Zaleski for her epiphany (even if it is infuriatingly late for those women she worked with prior to having her own child) and her effort to make things better for working women through her new company. The problem is that her company will help only a small subset of working women: those with in-demand technical skills. What about the rest?  What about the factory worker or hourly office worker who finds herself walking a tight rope of child care and praying that the few options that exist will work for her family? What about those women for whom telecommuting is not allowed? What about women who have children with special needs or needs that mainstream programs cannot support but who still need to or want to work?

We still have a lot of work to do to help mothers succeed in the workforce.

 

 

Eula Biss’ ‘On Immunity’

I first read excerpts of Biss’ On Immunity in Salon months ago. I was finally able to get it from my local library 2 weeks ago.  It is a slim book, so I read it quickly in about 2 days, but it is a beautiful, profound book.  It is a mother’s and a literature professor’s exploration of vaccination and an analysis of the terms used, arguments made and history. Biss appears to be pro-vaccination, but the book is full of vivid personal moments, and she manages to straddle the difficult area of highlighting parental concerns (her own and others) and using evidence and anecdote to respond. She doesn’t preach; she explores and explains and comes at it from a mother’s point of view which is disarming.

Honestly, I don’t even know how to review this book.  I kept it past the two-week checkout window so I could re-read it and post on it.  It is a beautiful, intelligent book, and I highly recommend it, especially in light of the measles outbreak and latest reports of mumps as well.

I am pro-vaccine.  Daniel is fully vaccinated, and I believe that vaccines are a public health miracle.  We are fortunate that we have never had to experience a polio outbreak or smallpox epidemic with little hope for a cure.  Maybe it is because I’ve read way too many biographies of historical figures, but I cannot think of vaccines as anything but good.

But. I felt nervous when Daniel needed to receive the dreaded “MMR” vaccine. He received it on time, but I closely monitored him.  I agree that these decisions are difficult, especially when it is your tiny, fresh new baby who is being poked.  I get it. I get how easy and comforting it is to think if only you can feed you child the best, safest food; provide the safest, most enriching environment, you can somehow stave off disease of all types, ranging from the flu to cancer. What we forget or don’t want to think about is that we are all irrevocably tied to our environment and all the good and bad things in it. We have far less control than we think, including over our own bodies.  As The Emperor of All Maladies (a book I had read already and one that Biss references) points out, cancer is us.

I don’t think I can do justice to this book in a review, so I’m going to post some quotes that stood out to me.

When I search now for a synonym for ‘protect,’ my thesaurus suggests, after ‘shield’ and ‘shelter’ and ‘secure,’ one final option: ‘inoculate.’ This was the question, when my son was born – would I inoculate him? As I understood it then, this was not a question of whether I would protect him so much as it was a question of whether inoculation was a risk worth taking. (p. 7)

The very expression ‘herd immunity’ suggests that we are cattle, waiting, perhaps to be sent to slaughter. And it invites an unfortunate association with the term ‘herd mentality,’ a stamped toward stupidity. The herd, we assume, is foolish.  Those of us who eschew the herd mentality tend to prefer a frontier mentality in which we imagine our bodies as isolated homesteads that we tend ether well or badly. The health of the homestead next to ours does not affect us, this thinking suggests, so long as ours is well tended. (p. 20-21)

When I ask the pediatrician what the purpose of the hep B vaccine was, he answered, ‘that’s a very good question,’ in a tone that I understood to mean this was a question he relished answering.  Hep B was a vaccine for the inner city, he told me, designed to protect the babies of drug addicts and prostitutes.  It was not something, he assured me, that people like me needed to worry about. (p. 23-24)

The brief that public health measures are not intended for people like us is widely held by many people like me.  Public health, we assume, is for people with less – less education, less healthy habits, less access to quality health care, less time and money. (p. 24)

One of the mysteries of hep B immunization is that vaccinating only ‘high risk’ groups, which was the original public health strategy, did not bring down rates of infection…But rates of hep B infection remained unchanged until the vaccine was recommended for all newborns a decade later.  Only mass vaccination brought down the rates of infection and it has now virtually eliminated the disease in children. (p. 25)

When the last nationwide smallpox epidemic began in 1898, some people believed that whites were not susceptible to the disease…And when smallpox arrived in Middlesboro, Kentucky, everyone in the black section of town who resisted vaccination was vaccinated at gunpoint. These campaigns did not limit the spread of the disease, but all the risk of vaccination…was absorbed by the most vulnerable groups. The poor were enlisted in the protection of the privileged. (p. 25-26)

If it was meaningful then for the poor to assert that they were not purely dangerous, I suspect it might be just as meaningful now for the rest of us to accept that we are not purely vulnerable. The middle class may be ‘threatened,’ but we are still, just by virtue of having bodies, dangerous. (p. 27)

In a study that invited people to compare various causes of death, Slovic found that people tended to believe that accidents cause more deaths than disease and that homicide causes more deaths than suicide, when the opposite is true in both cases. (p. 37)

‘Intuitive toxicology’ is the term that Slovic uses for the way most people assess the risk of chemicals…For toxicologists, ‘the does makes the poison.’ Any substance can be toxic in excess. Water, for instance, is lethal to humans in very high doses…But most people prefer to think of substances as either safe or dangerous, regardless of the does. And we extend this thinking to exposure, in that we regard any exposure to chemicals, no matter how brief or limited, as harmful. (p. 38)

Allowing children to develop immunity to contagious diseases ‘naturally,’ without vaccination, is appealing to some of us. Much of that appeal depends on the belief that vaccines are inherently unnatural…Vaccination is a kind of domestication of a wild thing, in that it involves our ability to harness a virus and break it like a horse, but its action depends on the natural response of the body to the effects of that once-wild thing. (p. 41)

The idea that toxins, rather than filth or germs, are the root cause of most maladies is a popular theory of disease among people like me. (p. 73)

As for mercury, a child will almost certainly get more mercury exposure from her immediate environment than from vaccination. This is true, too, of the aluminum that is often used as an adjuvant in vaccines to intensify the immune response.  Aluminum is in a lot of things, including fruits and cereals as well as, again, breast milk. Our breast milk, it turns out, is as polluted as our environment at large. Laboratory analysis of breast milk has detected paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, flame retardants, pesticides and rocket fuel. (p. 74)

Though toxin is now often used to refer to man-made chemicals, the most precise meaning of the term is still reserved for biologically produced poisons.(p. 74)

Immunity is a public space. And it can be occupied by those who choose not to carry immunity. For some of the mothers I know, a refusal to vaccinate falls under a broader resistance to capitalism. But refusing immunity as a form of civil disobedience bears an unsettling resemblance to the very structure the Occupy movement seeks to disrupt – a privileged 1 percent are sheltered from risk while they draw resources from the other 99 percent. (p. 95)

Paternalism has fallen out of favor in medicine, just as the approach to fathering that depends on absolute authority no longer dominates parenting. But how we should care for other people remains a questions. (p. 98).

Autonomy is usually imagined as the alternative to paternalism. But in what is sometimes called the “restaurant model” of medicine, the paternalism of doctors has been replaced by the consumerism of patients…And the doctor, who was a father in the paternalistic model, is now a waiter. (p. 99)

Once you are infected with chicken pox, the varicella virus never leaves your body. It lives in your nerve roots and must be kept at bay by your immune system for the rest of your life. (p. 115).

We used to live among wild things, mountain lions on the ridge and fires raging on the prairie. There were dangers….It is difficult to imagine any type of chicken pox, with its distinctive rash described as a ‘dew drop on a rose petal,’ as sinister. And it is hard not to suspect, when the two types of chicken pox virus are termed the wild type and the vaccine virus, that the wild type might be superior. (p.115-116)

The natural body meets the body politic in the act of vaccination, where a single needle penetrates both. The capacity of some vaccines to generate a collective immunity superior to the individual immunity produced by those same vaccines suggests that the politic has not only a body, but also an immune system capable of protecting it as a whole. (p. 126)

The anxieties generated by the AIDS epidemic have bled into our attitudes toward vaccination. Needles, as we learned from AIDS, can spread disease. The needle itself has become ‘dirty.’ AIDS reveals that our immune systems are vulnerable to sabotage and can be permanently disabled. (p. 136)

AIDS education taught us the importance of protecting our bodies from contact with other bodies, and this seems to have bred another kind of insularity, a preoccupation with the integrity of the individual immune system. Building, boosting and supplementing one’s personal immune system is a kind of cultural obsession of the moment. I know mothers who believe this is a viable substitute for vaccination, and who understand themselves as raising children with superior immune systems. (p. 137)

Biss’ On Immunity is truly an amazing book. I think I’ve read it three times now, and its study of the language used in vaccine discussions has taught me so much. I urge everyone to read it.

 

#MicroblogMondays: Wiped

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I think this picture sums up our feelings about the weekend. Daniel was soooo full of energy & we were not. It would be nice if it didn’t rain for a while too :-)

In other news, we are ordering new couches & a mattress! You know you’re adults when purchases like that make you happy :-)

Wrestling with Control

Two very different pieces about having children made me catch my breath this week.

Mandy, my friend and 2014 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham cast member, had her first piece published in Mamalode this week and in it she muses movingly on the pros and cons of having a fourth child:

I want my two living children to have another sibling.

I want them to have the playmates I never had growing up. (I am one of four, but my siblings are from my mother’s first marriage and are much older than I.)

I want them to have a larger support system when they get older and have to deal with their aging parents.

And, more than anything, if through some terrible and cruel fate, we lose one of them, I don’t want the other to be left alone. Our daughter was only 17-months-old when she died—we have decades left during which something could happen to one of our two living children.

I want my two living children to have another sibling.

And concludes:

What I understand now is that I am not in control of very much at all that happens to my children, and in order to manage my fear, I must accept how little control I have.

And then there was this article making the case for having an only child by Wendy Thomas Russell.  One-and-done by choice, Thomas Russell aims for a bit of levity with a not-so-funny Top 10 list about why having one child is great, but she makes a similar point as Mandy did:

Listen, I’m not saying the only-child scenario is a perfect one. I’m the first to acknowledge that there are some disadvantages to capping our family tree so soon.

Once, at a hotel in San Diego, Maxine, then four, found a friend and began skipping along the concrete rim of a courtyard fountain. The rim was plenty wide and not much more than two feet off the ground, but my husband was hovering. Every 30 seconds or so, he reminded Maxine to “slow down” or “be careful.”

At one point, he turned to me. “I know I’m over-protective,” he said, “but I can’t help it. She’s our only one. We don’t have a backup.”

And it’s true: If we lose our daughter, we lose everything. It’s like we’ve put all our money into one stock without knowing whether it’s a high- or low-risk investment. Parents who have two or more children are diversified; the experts would surely agree that’s a smart way to live, right?

Smart, maybe. But it’s not foolproof.

There isn’t, and would never have been, a replacement for my Maxine. A second child could not lessen the grief of losing her. Perhaps the distraction of a second child would help me get up in the morning during those early months — but I don’t believe in bringing children into the world to act as a distraction in the case of some theoretical tragedy.

Having a child is a risk of the heart. Every day we parents get to experience the unrelenting joy of watching our children drink from the fountain of life while crossing our fingers that they don’t fall off the edge. We all do. Whether we have one child or five.

Both pieces were kicks in the gut. I’m thrilled and happy for Mandy but envious as hell. And it isn’t only she I envy; there have been many pregnancy announcements in the last year that have roused my green-eyed monster. Let me be clear: I can be envious AND happy for them at the same time. But I still feel the hot wash of shame in admitting I am envious. There seems no room for that emotion in polite society. And while it is inappropriate and inaccurate to say someone “deserves” good fortune (what is the criteria for that??), my shame at my envy is more acute with Mandy since she has had some truly horrific experiences. It feels churlish to feel envy even though my envy is more about me than it is about her.

Like the author of the second piece, I suppose we are technically “one-and-done” by choice as well. It doesn’t really feel like a choice though. Not when we consider our ages, our jobs, the huge cost just to try, and the fact we have a young child to whom we want to give a good life. And he will be 6 soon. At what point is there a diminishing return at having a sibling? Which leaves the other option as doing nothing, which is painful since we have 5 frozen embryos. Six-year-old frozen embryos.

I researched definitions of choice today because again, it doesn’t really feel like a choice. I discovered there is something called Hobson’s Choice, meaning that you really have only one option: accept it or don’t. That seems to be accurate – either we try for a sibling or don’t – but it doesn’t convey the weight and variables involved. Then I researched dilemma. Dilemma means two possibilities, neither of which is acceptable. That definition gets me closer to how I feel. It acknowledges the major hurdles we have to try for a second child as well as the cavernous hole I feel about not having a second.

Of course, this is an academic exercise. We try so hard to define different types of choices in order to make sense of our world, to reassure ourselves we have an iota of control. In fact, control is an illusion. We like to think we have broken the world to our will like a stubborn horse, but the joke is on us.

Both of the pieces I linked to are ultimately about control and our lack of it. What I am angry about is our inability to control our family building and what our family looks like. The fact that we had so little choice in how things turned out, so few options.

But that’s me. Us. Others may feel and find that lack of control and the illusion of choice in other areas, other pain points.

I cannot control much, but I can try to start making peace with that realization. Focusing on what we do have instead of what never will be.

That’s a choice within my power. In truth, it is freeing to know so much is beyond our control. That frees us from blame and fault. And guilt, that ever-present foe.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a life with a lot less self-blame and guilt.

#MicroblogMondays: Snaggletooth

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We had been on loose tooth watch all weekend.  One of Daniel’s lower front teeth was so loose that he could bend it all the way forward (fun fact: loose teeth are disconcerting). We had the tooth pillow. We had been talking to him about losing teeth and the Tooth Fairy’s job.  We were ready.

Sunday morning Daniel bounds into the bedroom around 7:30 AM. “Mommy, my tooth fell out,” he announces calmly.  I squint and ask him if he has the tooth.  I feel something drop onto my palm.  A tiny, perfect tooth. High fives and hugs are exchanged.

At bedtime, we put the tooth pillow on the door knob outside his door.  He is so excited.  Jimmy and I change our mind about 14 times on what we want the Tooth Fairy to give him for his tooth.

Daniel’s tiny tooth is tucked in our safe, and we wonder how long it will take for his adult tooth, already emergent, to make its way forward.

There’s something special about that first lost tooth.

 

toothpillow

Tooth Fairy pillow

 

Tooth and Loot

Tooth and Loot

Submissions Open for 2015 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham

It begins!

I am pleased to announce that Marty and I are now accepting submissions for the 2015 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show! I know you have stories to share, and I’d love to hear them all. Please consider submitting or passing along the information to your book clubs, neighborhood groups, church groups and school pages or lists.  We are looking for diverse voices to share their stories, and remember you do not need to be a mother or a woman to submit.  The submission deadline is January 31, 2015. You can find more information here, and if you’re curious about what the show is about, check out the videos from the 2014 show.

If you are outside of NC, I encourage you to find a city close to you and submit.  There are shows in 39 cities this year.  I was delighted that Arch Mama was in the St. Louis show last year, and I’d love for you to participate!