Monday, April 28, 2008

"I said, 'Don't judge!'"

And I was just going to write about how my son has helped me learn to be less judgmental. Damn.

Now, I realize that meta-writing is passé in poetry, unless you’re Billy Collins, so I apologize if it’s similarly taboo to write about writing in a pseudo-personal essay/blog. But my point, if you’ll follow me there, is precisely that my thoughts were not merely thoughts but embryonic words, sentences in formation. I was seriously going to commit them to pixels.

I intended to wax rhapsodic about various experiences in which my son’s reaction to something or participation in something caused me to eat my own words, rethink my position on something, or at least have compassion for people I’d previously dismissed with a sneer.

There was the need for a c-section, which I used to think hardly anyone really needed; they just didn’t try hard enough, I was sure, until my son’s eight-inch umbilical cord holding him high in a breech position kept us from delivering naturally.

I took a vehement stance against cheap birthday party favors until my son fell in love with one, a plastic beach ball and the blown up fish inside, causing me to realize I needed to get him some rolling objects.

Attached babies are peaceful babies, I was sure, until my son started grabbing other kids’ hair and biting their hands so they would let go of a toy.

That first violent phase passed quickly, and I was going to write my vision that I could see him as a sweet teenager, perhaps with still uncut red curls spiraling down his back, strumming the guitar that now towers above his toddler stance when he plucks it like he’s waving his hand. “It’s okay, Mom,” he’d reassure me about someone I viewed as misguided. “They just do things differently.” Of course, I’d know he was right. “Thank you, honey,” I’d repeat for the umpteenth time.

But then I read Thursday’s Washington Post and thought not about writing a paean of gratitude to my eye-opening son but rather a pointed, know-it-all letter to the editor. First I growled at the graphic depicting how many bottles per year are used by twins, triplets and quintuplets. “Why do they have to assume these kids will be bottle-fed, god dammit!” Plenty of women have exclusively breastfed their multiples at the breast, though I certainly understand needing to pump to increase supply or to have a break from a feeding, and I realize some folks may need to supplement with formula.

Still, the twins whose bottles were pictured on the front of the Home section – three with the initial E, three with M, all six filled to just a few ounces – were only seven weeks old. I scoured the more detailed photo on page H4 and found Medela among the brands, raising my hopes that this mother was at least giving the infant girls some breastmilk.

But whether she is or isn’t, the problem I would like to correct is the assumption of the media outlet (and whoever put together, approved and edited the story) that bottles are a normal part of infant care. If a mother has to go back to work and there is no on-site daycare or an inflexible schedule for her breaks, then certainly babies do have to get used to taking nutrition from a source other than the breast. However, there are plenty of moms who stay home with their kids and make the choice not to breastfeed in part, I think, because alternatives are so accepted and pictured as normal and just as good.

The focus of this article was on staying organized with multiples. It would have been interesting to hear an attachment parenting proponent talk about how cosleeping, babywearing and breastfeeding on cue could contribute to a more peaceful home. Maybe they make some things more difficult in a family of multiples; I don’t know, but I would have liked to see that question explored.

In the same Home section, there was a small feature, as there is every week, with a photo of a poorly used space and the owner’s description of how they’d like to transform it. Then a designer offers a sketch and explanations of how furniture and colors will shape the newly conceived room. This week, the background blurb explained that the couple was expecting a child, and they wanted to make their upstairs loft into a master bedroom and their current downstairs bedroom into a nursery. “You want your baby on another floor from you!?” I wanted to scream! I can’t even imagine my almost two-year-old son in another room, much less another floor. Another mom I know recently made that switch, but she also acts like she doesn’t like her son a whole lot, saying things like “what’s wrong with you?” I want to ask her the same thing, and ask the question of the editors of this paper who didn’t turn down the family’s loft-space inquiry on the basis of it being a really stupid idea.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. I just wish all this detachment from one’s kids and disrespect of them seemed more ridiculous to parents.

So, yes, I still judge. I judge other parents when I feel like they are harming their children for their own convenience, and I judge news outlets for promoting what I see as bad choices that will only contribute to kids feeling bad physically and feeling bad about themselves emotionally. Bottle-feeding and berating may not cause kids to get sick, but they sure aren’t providing the best possible start. As a former high school teacher, I know what it looks like at sixteen when you’ve been denied good nutrition and a nurturing environment. It ain’t pretty, and it’s not the future I want to live in or have my son live in.

However, as I admitted upon opening, I can be proven wrong. I thought I was a changed woman, fully open-hearted and willing to accept that I could learn from things I didn’t agree with on the surface. Now I come to find out that I’m as stubborn, opinionated and judgmental as ever. If I can be wrong about myself, maybe I’m wrong about these supposed evils of parenting.

Except that I know I’m not.

Note: This piece was originally written March 7, so the articles I reference are not from this week.

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