Thursday, January 26, 2012

Daniel's Own State of the Union

A friend I met in a political discussion group shared his blog entry today. It's brilliant. Take a look!

Beyond Forgiveness: Our Birth Story

I’ve heard my own birth story so many times I can see it in my head. My mom has a tradition of telling her children their birth stories on their birthdays. So by the time my daughter Katie was born, I’d heard my own birth story at least 35 times.

I was supposedly conceived on Valentine’s Day, which I used to celebrate as my Conception Day. I’ve since calculated and figured out if that were true, I was born 15 days after my official due date. Either my mom is pulling a David Sedaris and adding fictional details to make my life story more interesting (who wouldn’t want to be conceived on the official day of L-O-V-E?) which is very much something my mom would do, or I was really really hesitant to come into this world. Considering my long struggle with depression, perhaps my mom is telling the truth. I knew the world was too cruel for me.

Because I was so overdue, the doctor decided to induce my mom’s labor. The night before the scheduled induction, my mom couldn’t sleep. I have no idea why: she was only two weeks overdue and had four children and a husband at home to also worry about. Back then insurance companies didn’t dictate hospital protocol with specific instructions for how long a patient could stay, so Mom checked herself into the hospital late that night so she could have some time to herself and get some sleep.

Since I’m my mom’s fifth child, you’d think when it was my time to be born she’d know something was going on. Instead, she almost slept through it. She’s a very deep sleeper. And she’s one of those people you could imagine walking on hot coals or swallowing swords.

At 4:30AM, my mom woke up, heaved herself out of the hospital bed, and waddled into the bathroom to pee. A couple of minutes later, as my mom was crawling back into bed, the nurse poked her head inside my mom’s room.

“I saw your light was on Mrs. Burton. Is everything ok?” The nurse asked.

“Oh, yes, everything’s fine. I was just using the bathroom.” My mom responded groggily.

The nurse came into the room “just to check things out” and within seconds, she was out the door again, calling for help. “Call Dr. DuMont! Mrs. Burton is delivering!!!”

At 4:45AM, I was caught by two nurses: Marcia Loft, R.N. and Evelyn Rowland, N.A. It was Ms. Loft’s second delivery, and Ms. Rowland’s first. The doctor, my dad, and my siblings were all at home asleep. My mom claims she felt no labor pains whatsoever. She did, however, require stitches from her vagina to her anus, since I’d come too fast for an episiotomy, or her body’s own natural elasticity to take effect. It was the first of many pains I’ve given my mother, although most of the rest occurred during my teenage years.

Needless to say, my own birth story shaped the way I looked at childbirth. I always thought it was the most wonderful, magical, natural thing, and I never understood why anyone wouldn’t at least try to do it without drugs. My sister Jenny reinforced my feelings about the ease of natural childbirth when, one Christmas evening, around 7 or 8 at night, we were all sitting around our brother Jay’s house after a long day of celebrating. Jenny was nine months pregnant with her fourth kid, but she didn’t seem uncomfortable and sat, talking and laughing, on the couch most of the evening. Then, without warning, she nonchalantly looked at her husband Brian and said, “I think we should maybe head up to the hospital. I think I’m having some contractions.” A couple hours later, Brian called to tell us my nephew was born.

I can’t remember ever not wanting to have babies. Notice the use of the plural. Being from a large family, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that a person could have just one child. When I was a kid, they had these “adopt a kid” PSAs on TV. Some local newscaster would be sitting on a studio couch, made to look like it was in someone’s homey living room, with a sad looking parentless child, usually my age or older, pleading with the audience to support this child. I’d jump up and down on the couch and shout to my mom, “Let’s adopt that kid!” She always broke it to me gently that no, we wouldn’t adopt the kid, but some couple who couldn’t have kids of their own would be very happy to. I always thought to myself, I’m going to adopt a kid when I’m old enough.

One of my favorite activities when I was a kid was drawing my future family. I’d draw myself, my husband (who always looked suspiciously like whatever boy at school was my latest crush, the one I never talked to but secretly plotted in my head my future marriage with…the details of how we’d get married without ever speaking never seemed to matter much), and our brood. Our very extensive brood. When I was ages 8-12, at the height of my fantasy family artistic career, I evidently thought that families like the Duggars or the Gosselins were the norm. I had to use legal sized paper, turned horizontally, to fit all the kids on the page. Sometimes I had to draw on the back too. I’d draw them all in a line, holding hands with one another, and I’d write their names above their heads. “Becky Kneller, Jason Kneller, Noah Kneller, Libby Kneller, Elijah Kneller, Annalise Kneller, Jake Kneller, Daisy Kneller…” and so on. Then, the next week when I decided another boy in class was who I really was going to marry, I’d erase the surname and write in the new one. I never had to erase my husband’s first name, because every boy in my class was named Jason.

By the time I was in my twenties, the age when people who are going to procreate usually decide to start, I wasn’t ready. Something changed in me when I hit puberty. The hormones that allowed me to become pregnant seemingly ignited a deep and profound depression that caused me to sometimes not want to be a resident of this planet let alone bring another human into it. That, and I still had trouble speaking to people I had crushes on.

After much psychoanalysis, anti-depressant medication, introspection, alcohol, excruciatingly bad poetry writing, serial-monogamous bad relationships and some casual sex here and there, I met someone who I could be around without hating myself or hating him. Being with Will caused me to feel at ease with myself and the world. Everything wasn’t right in my head or with the world, but I found myself dwelling much less on the negative and actually enjoying myself around him. I didn’t know it was possible.

So, it was finally my time to get married and start having babies. I married later than most, one month before my 34th birthday, but we’d been living together for about a year. I went off the pill a few months before we got married, to get a jump start on things, because my mom had taken DES when she was pregnant with me, which can cause fertility problems in the daughters of the women who take it, and also because I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a hormone imbalance which also can cause infertility.

After my Aunt Flo kept showing up and ruining our plans, I went to a Reproductive Endocrinologist who prescribed Clomid and Estrace. Three months later, thirteen months after I’d first gone off the pill, on November 4, 2005, the pregnancy test stick I had peed on that morning showed not just one line, but another, very faint line next to it. I’m kind of blind, so I brought it into the bedroom where Will was still asleep next to our two big dogs.

“Do you see two lines? I think I see two lines!” I tried not to sound too excited for fear that I would jinx the results, causing the faint line to disappear, but I’m not very good at hiding my emotions, so the words came out of my mouth like muffled little shrieks.

Will looked at the pee stick and smiled. We were pregnant.

I won’t be pulling a David Sedaris when I tell Katie, when she’s old enough to hear it and not be scarred for life, that she was conceived during a nooner. On October 19 I had an appointment with the Reproductive Endocrinology Assistant for a cycle-day-12 sonogram to see if the Clomid/Estrace combo had done their job and created mature follicles sizable enough to produce an egg, allowing us to time what their office staff jokingly referred to as “dinner and a movie.” She looked at the monitor, pulled out the wand, and said, “Go call your husband and tell him to meet you at home.”

I had already ovulated. We had to have sex right then or wait for another cycle. I was on my lunch hour from work, so I first had to call my boss and tell her I’d be a little late back from my doctor’s appointment. Not wanting to break multiple HR harassment rules regarding offending fellow colleagues with too much sexually descriptive talk, all I had to say was, “It’s time to make a baby” and that was as much info as she needed. After hanging up with my boss, I called Will and explained to him what I needed from him. Will’s not very fussy with office political correctness, so he hung up the phone, went into the back room to clock out, and upon seeing his boss said, “My wife called. I need to run home and impregnate her.”

I would make an awful porn star. It’s weird to have sex when you know other people know what you’re doing. But we did something right, and on cycle-day-28, November 4, 2005, we found out that although we’d never be the next Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy, we were going to finally be a mommy and a daddy.

My pregnancy was pretty easy. I never threw up until I was in labor. I got to eat lots of Sheridan’s Frozen Custard without guilt. I actually lost weight at first, and gained very little until my third trimester. Then my blood pressure started elevating and I started swelling up like Violet, the blueberry girl in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I was on the verge of developing preeclampsia, which is a common condition for women of “advanced maternal age,” especially if it’s their first pregnancy and especially if they’re obese. Ok, so maybe I should have felt a little guilty eating all that frozen custard. I was put on a month’s bed rest, which was annoying less for the boredom than for the fact that it was eating up all my paid time off at work, and I would therefore have less time with the baby after she was born before I had to go back to work.

Her official due date was July 15, 2006. That day came and went, and I was still lying on my left side in bed, reading, watching TV, mentally rearranging the furniture in the nursery. I went for my 40 week checkup and my OB-GYN suggested we induce labor on the 19th if she hadn’t arrived yet. I wanted to ask if we could wait until the 22nd, because Will and I both were born on the 22nd, but I was always shy with doctors and thought they knew something I didn’t. As it turns out, the 19th was probably just an arbitrary date, or more likely, a day when he didn’t have a golf game scheduled or a lot of other pre-arranged births lines up.

My doctor. We must talk about him. At first I blamed him for all the problems I faced giving birth to Katie because he was a bad communicator. He loved to talk, don’t get me wrong. He liked to ask me what new books he should read (when he found out I work at a library.) He liked to talk about how he was taking guitar lessons (when my husband, a guitar player, accompanied me on appointments.) He liked to talk about the weather. All that chit chat bullshit I can’t stand. But he showed no interest in talking about my pregnancy, or my birthing plan, or the fact that he most likely wouldn’t even be there during the delivery. I honestly had no idea that doctors who share an office also share the “on call” duties and therefore any one of the doctors in your office, including the ones you’ve never met before, could be the ones sticking their hands inside your vagina to pull out your stuck child, or worse yet, cutting you open when all else fails. I should have asked questions. I should have spoken up when something seemed not right. But I didn’t trust myself enough to make a fuss.

My doctor didn’t tell me anything to expect, so I was left with my own easy birth story. Will and I went to birthing classes, but at the time I thought we were going for him, so he’d know what to expect. I thought I already knew: You go to the hospital, you get to walk around the hallways, you get to relax in the giant Jacuzzi tub, you get to roll around on a giant ball, you get your husband to hold your hand and stare deeply into your eyes and support you through the pain and experience all the joy and the miracle of the birth of your child, the product of your deep and abiding love for each other. And you actually get assistance from nurses and doctors in the room.

Now I realize my expectations of an easy, natural birth, the acquiescence of my body to a medical establishment despite my instincts telling me something wasn’t right, and my plain old first time mother’s ignorance had just as much to do with, shall we say, my less than ideal birthing experience, than my doctor's absent-mindedness.

First of all, I woke up at 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, July 19 to pee. (Warning, TMI coming…) I passed what they called in our birthing class a bloody show. And I felt kind of nauseous and crampy. This is it! I’d never felt so excited to feel like crap.

I woke up Will and told him I think I was starting labor. I had an appointment scheduled that evening at the hospital to induce labor, and I thought it was kind of cool that I went into labor on my own, just before they were going to induce me,just like when my mom had me. Unfortunately that’s where the similarities end.

The contractions started, sporadically at first, but I was excited, so they didn’t bother me. We waited around until they were coming five minutes apart, like they told us in birthing class, and then we called the doctor's office. The nurse told us to go ahead and head to the hospital to get checked out. Hooray! This is going to be a breeze, I thought.

On the drive there, the contractions started to get stronger. I remember gripping the arm rest on the car, and thinking, gosh, this kinda hurts. I even said something to Will like, “Huh, this hurts more than I thought it would at this point. I must be far along!” But I was still so thrilled the moment we’d finally meet our child was so near, that I didn’t dwell on the pain.

When we checked into my room at the hospital, the nurse examined me and found that I was only like 1cm dilated, which is what I had been at my 40 week checkup when I wasn’t even in labor yet. That’s weird, I thought. I still had no idea what I was up against.

Now, I should tell you something else before I go on. It was either a Friends or a Seinfeld episode—I can’t remember which—where one of the male characters is talking to a female character about women being high maintenance. The female character asks, “Am I high maintenance?” And he responds, “Oh, you’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.” Or maybe it was in “When Harry Met Sally.” Anyway, I’m that way with pain. I think I’m such a tough cookie, when really I’m the one who cries when I find out that’s how the cookie crumbles. I think I can handle all kinds of obstacles and pain with stoic bravery, when really, I’m searching the medicine cabinets for any kind of pain reliever I can find if I get a paper cut.

Plus, I have this little thing called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder that makes my body shut down when I feel like I don't have control over it. I might have forgotten to mention that to my doctor. I wish he had bothered to ask me if I had a history of any mental illness. Might have come in handy to know this about me at this moment when I'm about to freak out from this uncontrollable pain!

If I had trusted my instincts or at least bothered to know myself a little better, to admit I’m an epidural kind of person without shame or judgment and laugh away the ridiculous notion that I could possibly bear a child with no drugs, I think the whole thing would have gone much more smoothly. Instead, I went in thinking, “Oh, I’ll relax away the pain with a nice little bath and a few massages from my doting husband." I soon found out it wouldn’t go as I planned.

For one thing, my doctor never showed up. I had no idea he wouldn’t be there. So I was introduced to another doctor who shook my hand coldly and I swear never once looked me in the eye. I met her at I’m guessing around 2:30PM. I was told she was the doctor on call and would be delivering my baby, and then I was told to spread my legs as she stuck what looked like a huge knitting needle inside me to break my water. She then left the room and didn’t come back until around 1AM the next morning to tell me I wasn’t progressing fast enough and it was time to have a C-section. But wait, there’s a lot of other fun stuff that happened in between this doctor's two visits to my room.

They were severely short staffed at the hospital that day. As far as I could tell there was one nurse, and as luck would have it, she was a chit chatter who popped in my room every 20 to 30 minutes or so to see how I was progressing and to complain to me that her co-workers sucked and she hadn’t had a day off in three weeks.

During one of her visits, after seeing me start sobbing uncontrollably after simply throwing up, (I really do hate to throw up, even when I’m not passing an 8 pound mass through my vagina) she said, “The patient down the hall is getting an epidural right now. I could have the anesthesiologist come by here and do you while he’s on the floor.” I felt like she was trying to kill two patients with one spine-stabbing doctor. It was late-afternoon by then. I was starting to realize the fifteen minute labor my mother experienced wasn’t going to be quite the same for me. Suddenly the voices of all the women, mostly strangers and casual acquaintances, who said throughout my pregnancy, “Oh, honey, just get the epidural” came to me and I said what the heck. When the anesthesiologist arrived, I started to have second thoughts. I felt like I was in the voting booth and everyone around me was trying to get me to cast my ballot for the Republican. But the anesthesiologist was already in the room, with needles out and he was talking to me and oh should I be listening to what he’s saying and oh God this hurts I think I’m going to throw up again where’s the little plastic vomit bucket and I don’t want to seem impolite by telling him I changed my mind and want to try it naturally, because then I’d be offending his whole occupation, wouldn’t I?

So I let him stick me.

Twice. I guess the first time he didn’t hit the right area, so it only lessened the pain on one side of my body but not the other. He performed all sorts of tests on me, raising my legs and pushing on them. Asking if I felt this, and if I felt that. After a while, he came back and said he had to do it again. He was a really nice old man, and I didn’t want to offend him by seeming to question his judgment.

After two epidurals, I could still feel the contractions, but I could no longer feel my legs. See, the deal is, you want to alleviate some of the pain, but you want to be able to push. The problem is, with numb legs how do you push when you can’t feel what you’re pushing up against? I didn’t tell anyone for fear they’d try to give me another epidural, so I just… dissociated myself from the situation. It’s a common trick among people with a posttraumatic stress disorder. Anxiety strikes and


The problem is, when you’re body wants to push an 8 pound mass out of your vagina, it’s best if you’re all there, mind and body, each doing their fair share of the work. My psyche and my body just completely broke apart. I lost control, which caused more anxiety, which caused more dissociation…and on and on and on.

I have to say, though, if I’d had some help – a doula, maybe, or just some regular damn nurses there to help me push, it would have been much better. I’m not exaggerating when I say my husband did 90% of the work trying to deliver Katie. Because there was only one nurse on the floor, and every other room was full of other women in labor, it was Will down between my legs, holding them so I could try to bear down, saying, “Ok, on the count of three, push! Good…good. Now one more time!” It was crazy. We were paying all this money to have our baby in a place with the most advanced scientific technology, and we might was well have been at home in our own bed. At least then I could have felt my legs and been able to push against something.

Finally, around 1AM, this stranger doctor came into my room, told me my baby was stuck, I hadn’t progressed enough, and I needed to have a C-section. I sobbed from the moment she told me, throughout the entire delivery, and I’m ashamed to say, even after Will brought our sweet little baby up to me when it was all over, just after 2AM, so I could see her for the first time. I cried, “Take her away.” Those were the first words my child heard me say. I regret it so much, and I hope she can forgive me. I hope she knows it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her, it was that I didn’t want her to see me, such a horrible horrible mother who can’t even push her own child out into the world.

I was so disappointed—with myself for not being able to deliver vaginally let alone “naturally”, with the medical establishment for forgetting about me and leaving my husband to do the work of the nurses instead of what he should have been there for, to encourage and support me.

I had never felt worse about myself than I did during my baby’s birth. Never during the awkwardness of my depressing teen years, never during the horrible mean nasty fights I had with ill-suited lovers, never in my whole entire fucked up life. Why the fuck did I ever think I should be someone’s mom?

But then, through the tears, blurry across the room, swaddled in my husband’s arms, I saw my little girl, so pink and fat and perfect. And I realized it was no longer about me, that all this self-indulgent angsty crap was a ridiculous distraction from the real meaning of everthing: this…little…girl.

An hour later, back in my room which had suddenly taken on an earthy, homey quality (when did they have time to redecorate while I was in surgery?), I sat up in bed, waiting for them to bring me my baby so I could hold her in my arms. The nurse, Miss Chit Chat Complainer, sat with me, perhaps on psychiatric watch, although she never said so, and I was too delirious to even think it at the time. She was filling out paperwork, piles and piles of it, and talking to me about her own daughter, who was grown and in college from what I recall. I remember thinking, I must cherish every moment of my own daughter’s life before it is I telling some stranger my daughter has her own life now and never calls. But I stopped myself before I started making too many plans, as plans come with expectations, and expectations are what got me into this trouble in the first place. So I just sat there and waited for another chance with my little girl.

Someone brought Katie into the room from the nursery and handed her to the nurse. She told me I’d have bad gas after the surgery, but these flutters in my belly were simply excitement and longing. Give me my baby!

The nurse walked over to my bed and placed Katie into my arms. We sunk into each other. At that moment, everything was right in the world. Her daddy had shown me how to enjoy life despite all its problems. Katie showed me a glimpse into the other side, like she wasn’t quite of this world yet, and so without regret, with nothing to forgive for she had done nothing wrong, she could trust to let herself just be. The nurse turned Katie for me to hold like a football so she could breastfeed without laying on my sore belly, but I felt no pain. Just pure, complete, and unconditional love. And as my baby lay there, attached to me, suckling nourishment from my body, she helped me understand our relationship is beyond forgiveness.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sex-Positive Politics

A friend of mine shared this photo on facebook. Gay marriage. Marriage equality. Whatever you want to call it, a consenting adult should be able to marry another consenting adult without government interference. The conservatives and liberals in my political discussion group all agree on this issue. It just makes sense.

So why do all the candidates running for president oppose marriage equality? Ok, Obama thinks civil unions should be granted to gay people. It's not the same thing. It's separate and unequal.

Instead, presidential candidates run on these conservative family values platforms. No gay marriage. We wouldn't want to destroy the sanctity of marriage, says Newt Gingrich, the guy who just won the republican nomination in the South Carolina primary. The guy who is currently on wife number three after his first two models crapped out on him. I guess he forgot about the "in sickness and in health" part of his marriage vows. Twice.

But you know what? I don't care that Newt Gingrich committed adultery with his current wife, Wife Number Three, when Wife Number Two was sick and denied him his request for an open marriage. I mean, I think he's a jerk for doing that, but I don't think it makes him automatically a shitty world leader. A terrible husband, yes. A terrible president? Yes, but not because he's a jerk to his wife. Because he's a jerk to poor people.

Someone who wasn't a terrible president, who was much less of a jerk to poor people than Gingrich, is President Bill Clinton, the guy Gingrich tried to impeach. Clinton's an example of a good world leader who happened to be a shitty husband. Or maybe not. Maybe Former-President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have an arrangement. Which is their choice. Again, how two adults decide to love each other, as long as it's mutual, is none of my business.

Newt Gingrich made it his business when he tried to impeach the president over lying about his affair, while Gingrich was cheating on his own wife. Yep. Tits for tat. Sadly, this headline is not from The Onion, "U.S senator who tried to impeach Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair - admits he was having an affair too..."

It's all so ridiculous. And then President Clinton has the gumption to fire Joycelyn Elders for having an open mind to the idea of teaching our kids that loving their own body is a good way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Instead of firing her, perhaps President Clinton should have taken Dr. Elder's advice and masturbated instead of cheating on his wife with another woman.

Our society needs to teach children that masturbation in private is healthy and normal. I don't understand why people who are opposed to sex before marriage also tend to be anti-masturbation. How cruel is that?

I think we should talk to children about how masturbation in private is one of the healthiest ways to show you love yourself and to release natural biological urges while acting responsibly to not get pregnant before you want to and to not contract a sexually transmitted infection. I want to raise my daughter to be in charge of her own body and her own sexuality and to not feel that she has to "give" herself to anyone before she has decided she's ready.

With all the sex saturation in our society, I had a hard time just now thinking of pop culture references that glorify masturbation. Because everyone knows my daughter is not going to learn that masturbation is healthy and natural by hearing it in a sex ed class at her public school. Or by having her sex-positive feminist parents tell her it at home. She'll grasp an understanding of this fact through pop culture bombardment like all good Americans do. So here it is, yo. I'm calling for more artists to write pro-masturbation songs, publish pro-masturbation books, paint pro-masturbation pictures. Whatever your genre: we need more pro-masturbation artists telling our kids it's ok.

Here's what I came up with so far: Green Day's excellent song "Longview". It's not very sex positive, but at least it puts the topic out there. And from all the fans of the song we can see how people can relate to its sentiment. But pop culture needs more references to sex-positive masturbation. I wish more people knew how cool Betty Effing Dodson is: "Sexual pleasure and orgasm is the source of life and creativity. As we awaken our bodies through the senses, we awaken our minds to the knowledge that we are all related and connected to every living thing on planet Earth and throughout the vast universe." Take a look at her website. It's beautiful.

I posted on my political group's wall this link about the Joycelyn Elders firing. I mentioned my thoughts about teaching our kids that masturbation is healthy and natural. No one argued with me. I was surprised. If you listen to the people running for president, with their hypocritical speeches about family values, you'd think Americans were much less sexually evolved than we actually are.

It's time we get some sex-positive politics in this country.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Mutual Codependence

A couple weeks ago I allowed my forty-one year old feelings to get hurt by a five year old. Katie told me she feels like a baby when I'm the reading helper in her kindergarten class, if you recall in my post about it. I couldn't believe it. I had assumed she'd love having me play such an active role in her education. It never even dawned on me that she might feel smothered. S...mothered. Hmmm.

Well I'm the one who has learned my lesson from this dramatic episode of life. So the first week after Katie broke the news to me, I stayed home from my reading helper gig sick with a cold. Or possibly psychosomatic vindictiveness. The next week I felt better so I decided to go. I told Katie I didn't want to make her feel like a baby, but I had an important job to do because her teacher didn't have enough help and depended on me. I struck a deal with her: in an effort to treat her like a big kid, I would basically ignore her during class, other than when it was her turn to read to me, and I would not give her a kiss in front of her classmates when it would be time for me to go. Deal.

So we got there. I listened to each child read. When it was Katie's turn, I checked with her.

"How's this working? Do you feel like a baby with me here?"


She even came over to me once to give me a kiss, before I was close to getting ready to leave. In front of everyone. Hmmm.

So I finished and put on my coat. I waved to the entire class and said, "Goodbye everyone!"

I turned to walk out the door and heard behind me a screaming child.

"Mama! Mama! Don't go!"

I turned around and Katie was running to me, arms outstretched, face contorted as if she was about to cry.

"Sweetie! It's ok. I'll be back in just an hour and a half to pick you up and then we'll have the whole rest of the day together."

After a long hug and several kisses, she released me.

Ahhh, the moods of a five year old.

But you know what? I'm not all that much more mature.

After I left the classroom it was all I could do not to run down the hall, clicking my heels up in the air like in an old Hollywood musical, bursting out singing, "She still neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeds me! My baby neeeeeeeeeeeeds me!"

At least it's once again a mutual codependence.

Happy Dr. King Day!

This video tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. set to Irish rock band U2's excellent song, "Pride" made me cry like a pregnant lady watching a birth show on TLC.

This was one of my favorite songs when I was fifteen. A white girl living in the Midwest during the conservative Regan era, my hippie heart felt squelched by suburbia until I discovered this song. At the time I didn't know very much about Dr. King. Just as my love of The Smiths and Morrissey lead me to an interest in vegetarianism, my love of U2 lead me to my love for Dr. King, Gandhi, and nonviolent resistance.

I was born too late to have been able to march with civil rights and anti-war activists. Instead I laid on the basement floor in my bedroom, eyes closed, listening to the album "The Unforgetable Fire," dreaming I was a part of the movement.

My mom sewed me a couple pairs of bellbottom pants. I would occasionally walk down to the corner flower shop and buy some daisies to wear in my hair at school. But that was about the extent of my hippie activities. Kinda lame-o.

I was born too early to be a young person today, when Dr. King's dream is closer to reality. Katie is off school today to honor Dr. King's birthday. Last week she came home from school, from kindergarten, to inform be about "this great man Mark and Luke Were King and how he used love and peace to care about everyone no matter who is different!"

She learned this at school, at age five. We didn't learn about Dr. King at school when I was five. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day wasn't even observed as a federal holiday until I was fifteen, and then there was a big controversy about whether or not he deserved it.

I'm happy to see this change in my lifetime. We've gone from a suburban white girl having to learn about historical peace activists through her subversive pop culture interests to a suburban white girl being taught about this great man by her public school teacher, sitting next to twenty-one other kids, some white, some black, some both, lots of in between.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Miss America

When I was eleven I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I had been a very early developer, but I discovered when I didn't eat and did things like run up an down the stairs to our basement for 45 minutes without stopping, my breasts and hips shrunk back to that of a little girl.

I remember sitting in our living room during this time, watching the Miss America pageant. I had my little diet journal in my hands and each time they announced a contestant, I'd hurriedly jot down their measurements--height, weight, bust, waist, hips. I had my own measurements listed at the top of the sheet for comparison.

It seems like I'm watching someone else when I think back on that time in my life. But that was me. Not some dumb girl. I was a smart kid, just completely brainwashed by society's fascination with the female body and what it is "supposed" to look like.

Don't worry, I'm completely over that bullshit now. I'm all into the Health at Every Size® movement now. It's been about two years since I've overcome my tendency toward disordered eating, something I was only able to achieve after I finished reading Dr. Linda Bacon's book, Heath at Every Size®.

Some friends of mine were commenting on the Miss America show last night. Will and I dropped cable. Our TVs are so old they need that digital thing to pick up a local TV station's signal, something we never bothered to get, so we have no working TVs in our home. We use them to watch DVDs and, yes, VHS tapes. Kickin it old skool, hells yeah. So I had no idea the Miss America pageant was still a cultural phenomenon.

I don't care one way or the other about the Miss America pageant. If people want to put themselves on display in a chance to win some scholarship money, that's their business. But I hope girls today aren't sitting in front of the TV, comparing themselves to these rare body types like I once did. It's sad to think that women and girls today would still feel like our bodies are on display in some fucked up competition. Most people I know who really dig women think ALL kinds of bodies are sexy. And they also know women have meaning far beyond just their bodies.

Not everyone has a problem with beauty pageants. I think her argument that competing with our so-called God-given talents is harmless is too simple. My problem with any competition is when it causes the so-called losers, and the spectators, to think they are somehow lesser beings for not having won.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

George Carlin for President 2012!

Some of my friends are thinking of not voting this year. They don't feel our choices are good enough and they're tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. I can't do that to my suffragist sisters who fought so hard for people like me to have the privilege to vote. That's right. Privilege, not right. Like George Carlin said. I have an idea. Instead of not-voting, let's all write in George Carlin. They voted for a dead senator in MO recently. Come on! Let's elect a dead president!

When I shared my idea, a conservative friend called Carlin a useless whiner. I don't see Carlin as a useless whiner at all. I see him as a modern philosopher. We laugh at his observations not because they're entertaining, but because they're true, and if you can't laugh at the absurdity of this world, what's the point?

I don't agree with everything Carlin ever said, but I still agree with him more than the other guys who are actually running for president. And actually alive. I'm a big (pun intended) Health at Every Size® advocate, and yet Carlin used to rant against fat people. No one is above ignorance and bad arguments.

But for the most part, what came out of his mouth was golden.

What will happen when we elect a dead man who thought American politics is garbage? I'd like to see. Wouldn't you?

"Garbage in, garbage out."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

From Bullies to Friends

I was arguing with the members of my secret group on Facebook. The topic, bullying. As usual, my comments garnered responses to the effect of "you don't live in the real world." I had merely said bullying is not a natural part of childhood. It is a symptom of our societal ills. I'm not raising my child to bully people. I'm raising her to stick up for the kids being picked on. It takes more strength to not fight than it does to fight sometimes.

I was accused of raising my child in a padded cell. Wrong. Teaching our children to care about others is not the same as raising them in a padded cell. If anything, it takes a stronger-willed individual to stand up against injustice when it goes against social norms, especially when that means using non-violent resistance and not engaging in physical or verbal fighting.

One recent "real world" example I'm quite proud of is when Katie was having problems with a kid at her school. Every day he'd tease her about something, her hair, her clothes, whatever. Each day when she'd tell me about it, we'd discuss it. I'd ask her why she thinks he does that, what she can do to convince him to stop it, etc. One day he made fun of her shirt, saying she was wearing a pajama top. She might have actually been wearing a pajama top for all I know: most of Katie's clothes are hand-me-downs from my husband's cousin's kids, and when they send them to us they don't label each one with its proper use. So, she very well could have been wearing a pj top. Who cares?

But Katie wanted him to quit teasing her about it. After we talked about various incidents like this, we decided that Katie should simply say something like, "I like my shirt. You don't have to like my shirt, but I do" and then ignore him. It worked. Soon N stopped teasing Katie because he saw that it didn't bug her anymore.

A few weeks went by and it was time for their school's anti-drug awareness week, which for some reason meant the kids got to wear their pajamas one day. Katie came home and said, "Guess what, Mama?! I went up to N today and said, 'I realy am wearing my pajamas today!' and he laughed. We're friends now."

I don't know about you, but I think learning how to laugh about our disagreements and making friends with our bullies is one of the best lessons a person can learn to get along well in the real world.

It's not always me teaching Katie lessons in caring, though. Sometimes she teaches me.

Yesterday when we were leaving the park playground Katie saw a girl lying down on the ground. She stopped and asked, "Is she ok?"

Will and I both shrugged it off. Surely she was just playing and we were trying to leave, hungry and ready for dinner. Katie let go of our hands and started walking toward the girl. The girl got up and was laughing and playing before Katie got to her, so Katie turned back toward us. Will said, "See, Punkin, she was ok. She was just playing dead with her friend."

Katie looked at us with utter disappointment, as if she couldn't believe she had to remind us once again, yelling, "BUT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO CARE ABOUT PEOPLE!!!"

Schooled again by the kindergartner.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I feel stuck. I feel like this song.

"Nude" by Radiohead, lyrics:

"Don’t get any big ideas
they’re not gonna happen
You paint yourself white
and feel up with noise
but there’ll be something missing
Now that you’ve found it, it’s gone
Now that you feel it, you don’t
You’ve gone off the rails
So don’t get any big ideas
they’re not going to happen
You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking"

I am skeptical of Big Pharma's long term role in the treatment of my mental illness, so I tapered off my psychotropic drugs. I took my last Clonazepam a couple of months ago and my last Sertraline about a month ago. I've continued taking my fish oil pills and vitamin D, going for walks, focusing on the moment, trying to multi-task as little as possible, enjoying more time with my friends and family, eating fruits and veggies, all those natural things that seem to promote mental wellness. But I'm off the drugs for now.

Yet I feel stuck. I've been worried that my anxiety, which leads to an overwhelmed feeling that mimics depression but is actually a sign of posttraumatic stress disorder, is creeping back.

I've been losing interest in things I usually enjoy. Like writing. I've felt very blah about attempting to get my novel published. Amost like giving up. But giving up is still an action: deciding to stop actively seeking an agent for my novel. I'm not even motivated enough to decide for sure I want to stop. Like I'm in a holding pattern. Like I'm stuck on a grounded plane and I've lost interest in my destination. I can't fly.

Writing helps me get unstuck. When I write, my thoughts and feelings are no longer a jumbled mess inside my head. I gain insight into my life by writing.

So I'm forcing myself to do it now. I don't even really have anything to say.

I'm not going to go back on drugs, yet. I've been thinking about why I feel stuck, and I realize I have a perfectly legitimate reason to feel this way: My plans are not working out as I envisioned. Why should I medicate the truth?

I found out this week my daughter doesn't like it when I come to her class to volunteer as the reading helper. When her teacher asked for volunteers to come to class once a week to work one-on-one listening to kids read, I thought, who better than me, a librarian. So I didn't even ask Katie what she thought. Of course she'd love to have her mother in school with her.

Apparantly not. This week when I asked her if she likes it when I'm the reading helper she said as a matter of fact, no, that it makes her feel like a baby to have her mom invade her zone. That my daughter would feel that way had never crossed my mind.

So I woke up this morning with a horrible sore throat and congestion in my chest. I have a chronic cough due to an allergy to mold, which is nearly unavoidable in this world. But this morning I felt less well than usual. So I called Katie's teacher to say I wouldn't be in to volunteer today. I didn't want to get the whole class sick.

But now that I'm up and about and I took an antihistimine and feel a little better, I wonder if maybe I called in sick to my volunteer gig subconsciously because my daughter hurt my feelings and I wanted to spite her. Am I really that immature? Possibly.

I love my daughter so wholly I can't imagine I'd do such a vindicitive thing. "See what you're missing! If you don't want me there, I don't want to be there, so nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in dog doo!"

Really? Me?

Maybe. I hope not. But maybe. I really did have a sore throat. But that's the weird thing about psychosomatic illness: it feels real.

I'm not a good mama bird. I don't have it in me to kick my baby out of the nest. "My" baby. Possessive. She's her own person. I must let her go and quit worrying that sometimes life will bring her pain. She's healthy. Let her fly.

See, just writing about this, I feel so much better.

When I feel stuck, I start questioning my decision to cut my hours at the library so I could get my writing out of my head and spend more time with my kid because I still haven't found an agent for my novel and my kid tells me to back off. Just keep writing. Not for an agent. Not for my kid. Not even for you, although thank you for staying with me on this rambling ride.

For me.

See, now I'm unstuck.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Public Education

The other night Katie and I were talking about school and what special things they do each day: Monday, library; Tuesday, PE; Wednesday, music; Thursday, art, Fridays, reading with the reading helper (me). Fishing for compliments about what a fantastic mother I am for volunteering to be the reading helper, I asked, "Do you like it when I'm the reading helper in your class?"

Katie paused and got this look on her face like she had some bad news to break to me. "Well, not really, Mama..."

"Why not?!" I was shocked.

"Because it kinda makes me feel like a baby when you're there. I like to be at school with my friends and my teacher, not my mom."

"But your teacher needs someone to help her listen to all the children read." I pleaded my case.

"I know! Maybe you could be the reading helper for another class and not mine!" Katie produced a smile far too fake for a five year old. What's happened to my baby?

Wow. This growing up thing is much harder for me than it is for the one doing the growing up. It's so funny how parents give their children what they think they want based on what they didn't have as a child. My mom and dad both worked full time by the time I was in school. I longed for them to be more active in my schooling. So now that I've changed my schedule so I can be more active with Katie, she'd prefer I butt out.

Even though it hurts my feelings to watch Katie grow apart from me, I know it's healthy. I'm proud to see my daughter's independent thinking. There are two major things a child needs to have a good education: curiosity and critical thinking. Not all people are lucky enough to get a decent formal education. As long as they have access to resources to educate themselves, though, they'll be fine.

Some conservative friends of mine were recently questioning the idea of federally funded public television and radio. My argument is that I would be a different person today if I hadn't watched "Sesame Street" when I was a little kid in the early 70s living in St. Joseph, MO. I really think it was "Sesame Street" that got me interested in anthropology, seeing little clips about how people live all around the globe. Those were always my favorite segments. I think it's healthy to show kids that life is not just what's outside their own front door and that there are endless possibilities out there.

Plus, who doesn't love the cool, trippy videos?

I think of "Sesame Street," and similar educational programs on both PBS and NPR, as an extension of public education. It's an inexpensive investment for the vast education it brings us.

For example, Carl Sagan's series "Cosmos". It's brilliant! I can't imagine advertising-supported broadcast TV running such a series. With no public TV, I'd have to put down my novels and my narrative nonfiction to actually read Carl Sagan's thoughts about the universe. Blah! TV makes education fun.

Public television and public radio help educate the masses. One doesn't even need to be literate to watch TV or listen to the radio. If we want to have the most well educated population, we need to pour more federal tax dollars into things like PBS and NPR as well as the public school system.

I "only" have an associate's degree. And yet I consider myself to be
fairly well educated. I will never know everything, which is one of the first things you realize when you're seeking an education. But I can hold my own in many intellectual conversations, and I'm still excited to explore the unknown.

I was able to educate myself after attending public school from grades K-12 by going to a public community college, reading books and watching videos from the public library, listening to amazing shows on NPR like "Cypress Avenue" (on KCUR), "All Things Considered," and "This American Life," and by watching TV shows like "Cosmos" and "Nova" and "Sesame Street."

I've never had enough money to pay for a private education. Thankfully I never needed money to get a good education due to our publically funded schools, libraries, television and radio.

So we'll see if Katie changes her mind about my being the reading helper at her school. I'm not too worried either way. If she wants to explore the world on her own, without my holding her hand, at least I know she lives in a country where she has access to a decent education for an autodidact.

One thing I've learned for sure, being Katie's mom. I'm gonna quit fishing for compliments.