“Book, Don’t Fail Me Now”

The following is a poem by Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet. Bradstreet was a poet and a mom. This poem compares publishing a book to sending your child out into the world: you dress the kid as best you can, attempt to wipe his or her face, and just pray that he or she doesn’t embarrass you out there.

I was introduced to this poem in an American Lit class in college, and even then I thought it was clever. At the time, of course, I had no children and had not published anything.

In the years since, I’ve thought of this poem once or twice whenever I do manage to publish something and find that it can look very different staring up at you from a newspaper than it looked on my laptop. Truly, works of literature, like children, when we turn them loose on the world do not always behave the way we hoped they would.

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth didst by my side remain,

Till snatched from thence by friends less wise than true,

Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,

Made thee in raggs, halting to th’press to trudge,

Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).

At thy return my blushing was not small,

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,

I cast thee by as one unfit for light,

Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;

Yet being mine own, at length affection would

Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:

I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,

And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.

I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,

Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;

In better dress to trim thee was my mind,

But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.

In this array ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.

In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;

And take thy way where yet thou art not known,

If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:

And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,

Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

The Author to Her Book, by Anne Bradstreet, via poetryfoundation.org

Precious Ramotswe … Eats Her Children’s Food

… food prepared for children was almost always tastier than the food cooked for oneself. It simply was. How many parents, then, found themselves hovering over their children’s plates, ready to swoop on any surplus or rejected morsel or, worse still, ready to sneak something off the plate while the child was looking in the other direction, or arguing with a brother or sister, or possibly having a tantrum. The closing of the eyes that went with a tantrum could be especially useful in this respect; when the child came to his or her senses, the quantity on the plate may have been significantly reduced, thus providing the child who noticed it with a sharp lesson in the consequences of bad behaviour. Make a fuss, and your food will be eaten by somebody else: a sound proposition that Mma Ramotswe believed could be applied with equal force to many other situations.

To the Land of Long Lost Friends, by Alexander McCall Smith, p. 137

Quote from the book How to Really Love Your Child

Photo by Hannah Nelson on Pexels.com

Believe it or not, many children are congenitally resistant to the natural ways of giving affection and love. They resist eye contact, they do not want to be touched, and they do not care for focused attention. … Many parents eventually resign themselves to what they conclude is “what the child wants.” This is a disastrous mistake. Even the extremely resistant child needs everything we have talked about concerning unconditional love. However, since he is uncomfortable accepting it, we parents must gradually teach this child to receive love comfortably.

[W]hen a child finds something to be quite humorous … parents have the opportunity to make eye contact, physical contact, and focused attention while commenting on the humorous subject. Parents must usually be quick in doing this because the defenses of a truly resistant child are down only briefly. We’ve got to “get in and get out” or a child may defend against similar tactics in the future.

[W]hen a child has accomplished something for which he is justifiably proud … parents can make eye and physical contact (and focused attention if appropriate) while praising a child. Again, we must be careful not to overdo it, especially by prolonging it; “get in and get out.”

Dr. Ross Campbell, How to Really Love Your Child, 1977, pp. 119 – 120

Still Chewing on This One

So I watched this on Netflix a few weeks ago.

It’s a critically acclaimed, independent film, but that’s not why I watched it.

I watched it because I “ought” to, because it has so much in common with my second book. Rugged landscapes, desperate situations, father-son relationships, snow. Even bears.

It’s sort of in the survival genre (if that’s a genre?). You know, as in To Build a Fire, where the story shows just how quickly things can go wrong when you’re out in the wilderness.

And did I mention the sound track is amazing?

Anyway, it’s very well done, and I highly recommend it.

Quote About Love

Photo by Bruno Bueno on Pexels.com

Over the years I have asked audiences for a show of hands if they thought their parents loved them. Over 95 percent of the hands went up. It was never 100 percent but it was always a high percentage. Then I asked this question of those who had raised their hands — “Do you think that your parents expressed this love to you adequately?” Only half of the hands remained up. The third question was: “Of those of you who think your parents expressed their love for you adequately, could you have used an even greater expression of love?” All of the hands remained up.

Jim Wilson, How to be Free from Bitterness and Other Essays on Christian Relationships, Canon Press, 2007, p. 76

Being a Parent is All About Being Blamed …

… for things you can and can’t control.

Flu leaves a 4-year-old girl blind in Iowa”

What stands out to me in this article is the way the article will begin to approach blaming Jade’s mother for what happened, and then back away.

This little girl didn’t get the flu shot this year!

… But the family is not an anti-vaccination family.

But the flu shot can prevent complications like this from happening!

… But it’s only 40 – 60% effective at preventing the flu.

But you should always get flu shots for your kids!

… But this mother did get her kids flu shots, last March, and mistakenly believed they “were good for a whole year.”

But the flu changes every year!

… And this year was a very bad year for flu for kids, and the complication that happened to this little girl is vanishingly rare.

I understand that they are trying to make this article into a sort of public service announcement reminding parents to get flu shots and other vaccinations for their kids. And that kind of announcement is good. What’s not good is the implication that if you do everything right, you can prevent freak bad things from happening to your child. This is a very rare complication. It didn’t happen because this mom failed to get her kid a flu shot. It happened because we live in a fallen world. In this fallen world, freak bad things happen. People get sick. This is the definition of an imperfect world. This incident is more analogous to a plane falling on your head, than to failing adequately to provide for your child.

Every mom does this to herself, too, by the way. Jade’s mom says of the early days when her daughter had a mild fever,

“She was running around, having fun, eating normally, asking for snacks,” her mother remembers. “It was just — it’s a little bug, she’ll get over it.”

Phillips thinks back to those four days, December 19 through December 23, and wracks her brain for something that might have told her what was about to happen.”There wasn’t any sign that would’ve told me that something was seriously wrong with her,” she said.

Ibid

I once had a similar experience. My then 2-year-old got a fever. All he wanted to do was rest on me. I thought about taking him to the pediatrician, but I knew exactly what they would say. “If the fever hasn’t gone away in three days, call us again.”

On day 3, we had difficulty waking him. It was a Sunday (of course), so instead of the pediatrician, we took him to an urgent care clinic. The clinic said to take him to the ER.

He turned out to have a fairly advanced case of bacterial pneumonia.

He hadn’t even been coughing.

We ended up with a 2-day stay in the hospital and he was fine. But what if he hadn’t been? I’m sure I (and lots of other people) would have been asking, “How could I not have caught this?” But there was no way I could have. It just seemed like a normal fever.

A New Mom’s Favorite Passage from Isaiah

As promised, I am about to post a passage from the book of Isaiah that does not get as much play at Christmastime, but which I love.

Some context: I have long felt the call that these verses awaken in me, especially the first 3 verses of chapter 55 (“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” etc.). But I really hid this passage in my heart when my oldest was a baby. (That’s a while ago now.) I was a young mom, recently moved to a different country. Basically my entire life was about keeping me and the baby fed, rested, and reasonably clean. Oh, and safe from huge tropical insects. That was it.

I was hungry all the time, because I was breastfeeding and also fasting once in a while (yes, I know, I am crazy). I was also, like most young moms, super emotional. I read these two chapters again and again as I sat holding my baby. There are so many beautiful images in them (cities built of gemstones!), so much comfort (the names of God!), so many promises. There is also the promise of infinite free food, which I realize is metaphorical, but it sounded pretty good to me in my constantly hungry condition. Maybe it’s literal and metaphorical. That would be terrific.

Anyway, this passage, most of Isaiah 54 and all of Isaiah 55, had all the depth and range to deal with my deep, wide-ranging emotions and hungry body. The reading of it has become a very good memory, and I realize that even now, I have not plumbed its depths.

Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.

Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth

and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name —

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

he is called the God of all the earth.

The Lord will call you back

as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit —

a wife who married young, only to be rejected, says your God.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,”

says the Lord your Redeemer.

“To me this is like the days of Noah,

when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.

So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,

never to rebuke you again.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,

yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

nor my covenant of peace be removed,”

says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

“O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,

I will build you with stones of turquoise,

your foundations with sapphires.

I will make your battlements of rubies,

your gates of sparkling jewels,

and all your walls of precious stones.

All your sons will be taught by the Lord,

and great will be your children’s peace.

In righteousness you will be established:

Tyranny will be far from you;

you will have nothing to fear.

Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.

If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;

whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

See, it is I who created the blacksmith

who fans the coals into flame

and forges a weapon fit for its work.

And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc;

no weapon forged against you will prevail,

and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;

and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me;

hear me, that your soul may live.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you,

my faithful love promised to David.

See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander of the peoples.

Surely you will summon nations you know not,

and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,

because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;

call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.

Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,

and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and snow come down from heaven

and do not return to it without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,

and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

which will not be destroyed.”

Isaiah 54:4 – 55:13

Bashing our Heads Against the Brick Wall of Reality

The headline was pure clickbait.

“A Viral Google Memo Alleges Retaliation Against A Pregnant Manager.”

At least, that was the headline back in August when I first noticed the article. The headline has since been changed to,

“A Leaked Google Memo Exposes the Fallacy of ‘Generous’ Parental Leave”

That’s a lot less clickbaity, but the first paragraph is still pretty damning for Google:

On Monday, Motherboard re-published a memo written by a Google employee with the title, “I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why.” First posted on an internal message board, it details a now-departing employee’s allegations of pregnancy-related discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The memo writer alleges that a manager made sexist and derogatory remarks about a coworker who might have been pregnant before retaliating following a related HR complaint. When the memo writer herself became pregnant, she says things got even worse.

op. cit.

Let’s find out what these sexist and derogatory things were. I am going to give you my take on this article, and you are welcome to click on the link, read it yourself, and draw you own conclusions.

 The writer of this latest viral memo … was a manager at Google when she says her own manager “started making inappropriate comments” about a member of her team, “including that the Googler was likely pregnant again and was overly emotional and hard to work with when pregnant.”

op. cit.

Hmm, the third party was “overly emotional and hard to work with when pregnant?” Does that sound like a thing that ever happens? Do you suppose it’s ever happened before? Oh, yes, it must have happened, to this very person, because the manager said the Googler was “likely pregnant again.”  So perhaps the manager is speaking from direct, even recent personal experience. And perhaps his or her words are, in some sense, true.

It is well known to all people with a brain that many women become emotional and forgetful when pregnant.  We also become easily fatigued. This could make us difficult to work with, especially in a high-pressure, fast-moving, competitive work environment.

This is not a slam on women. Pregnancy is a major life event. It drains the energy from your body, often makes you physically miserable, and messes with your hormones and, yes, your emotions something fierce. It is, in fact, a full-time job. It would be surprising if such a major physiological event weren’t.

 She continues, “My manager also discussed this person’s likely pregnancy-related mental health struggles and how it’s difficult because, ‘you can’t touch employees after they disclose such things.’” The author felt her manager was encouraging her “to manage the member of my staff off of the team.”

She says she then reached out to HR with a complaint and “almost immediately” found that her manager’s “demeanor towards me changed, and drastically.” The employee alleges “months of angry chats and emails, vetoed projects, her ignoring me during in-person encounters, and public shaming,” as well as the manager “sharing reputation-damaging remarks with other more senior Googlers” and “actively interviewing candidates to replace me.”

op.cit.

Wait a minute. Her? Her??? The evil, pregnancy-retaliating manager is a woman??? Don’t you think this might be relevant?  Yes, yes, I know that women can be sexist against other women too, but given what we’ve already heard, I can’t help but think there might be more going on here.  Like maybe this female manager wasn’t looking forward to having to manage an emotionally unstable employee, and now she finds out she’s got another direct report who is complaining to HR, calling her a sexist, over remarks she made in an unguarded moment. Remarks which, perhaps, she expected that another woman would understand.  Clearly, she was mistaken.

At this point, I no longer trust the author of the memo accurately to describe her manager’s behavior.

After complaining again to HR, the employee says she was told there was “no evidence of retaliation.” Then, she says she was encouraged, and agreed, to find a role on another team, but was told that she wouldn’t be able to manage her new team “until after returning from maternity leave for fear that my maternity leave might ​‘stress the team’ and ‘rock the boat.’”

op. cit.

Maternity leave might stress the team and rock the boat? You mean if the team manager had to leave for several months? Nah, that doesn’t sound at all likely.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Then, she writes, she was diagnosed with “a pregnancy-related condition that was life-threatening” to both her and her baby, and which would require an early maternity leave and bedrest. She relayed this to her new manager, who then allegedly told her that “she had just listened to an NPR segment that debunked the benefits of bedrest” and shared a personal story about how she had personally ignored her doctor’s bedrest order while pregnant herself. “My manager then emphasized in this same meeting that a management role was no longer guaranteed upon my return from maternity leave, and that she supported my interviewing for other roles at Google,” she writes.

When she later wrote her manager announcing that she was “experiencing concerning symptoms” and would likely be starting her leave, she says she received back “an angry email letting me know I wasn’t meeting the expectations of someone at my level, nor meeting the expectations of a manager.” 

op. cit.

OK. It’s time for some reality here.  Maybe, just maybe, the childbearing years do not mix well with building a high-powered, team-managing career at Google.  Maybe this is the elephant in the room that is being ignored by everyone in this story, heroes and villains alike.

Obviously it is not good to discourage a pregnant woman with a life-threatening condition from going on bedrest when her doctor has recommended it. Nor is it good to tell someone else how to care for their own health problems based on your own personal experience.  What could be causing all this bad, arguably sexist (though I prefer the term anti-pregnancy) behavior from another woman?

Maybe it’s the cultural expectation that prenancy is not a big deal and should not in any way affect a woman’s ability to “meet the expectations of a manager.” Which, of course, it is and it does.

This is a subset of the bigger problem of wanting to pretend that men and women are exactly the same and should behave and been seen as exactly the same at all times. Or, rather than being a subset, this is more like the real road test of that idea. Can women behave and perform exactly the same as men … even when pregnant? Even when on bedrest?  And if they can’t, does this make them inferior? And if you say they can’t, does this make you anti-woman?

One Google employee who dared to say “men and women are not the same” was James Damore. Adding insult to injury, he is now used in this article as an example of sexist attitudes within Google. 

Then-engineer James Damore wrote a memo arguing against the company’s diversity efforts on the scientifically inaccurate grounds that women are less competent in the field of technology than men.

op. cit.

The only part of that sentence that is accurate is the phrase “then-engineer.” That’s because Damore lost his job for writing the infamous memo. But the way the article quotes him is extremely misleading. He did not “argue against the company’s diversity efforts.” He suggested that there might be a natural limit to the number of women Google was able to recruit and retain. He didn’t say that “women are less competent in the field of tech,” at least not that all women are. He said that, in general, women tend to be less drawn to that field.  This is not “scientifically inaccurate.”  It’s extremely well-documented. As Jordan Peterson has pointed out, in countries where people are allowed the maximum freedom to choose their careers, women tend to gravitate toward the helping professions and men tend to gravitate toward the hard sciences. 

What is scientifically inaccurate is the idea that women and men are exactly the same in mind and body, that pregnancy is a minor exception to this sacred truth, and that in the service of “equality,” pregnancy should at all costs be minimized, ignored, and if possible avoided altogether.

Certainly, goes the reigning orthodoxy, pregnancy shouldn’t be a big deal, shouldn’t change a woman’s work performance or lifestyle in any major way.  And if it does, somebody is due for some blame. Usually it’s the pregnant or newborn-having career woman, who “needs to figure out how to balance work and family” (translation: how to care for an infant without any help and without anyone else ever having to see or hear about the infant).  Occasionally, as in this article, the person who gets blamed is the woman’s manager, who dares to point out that her childbearing might have some impact on what she’s able to do at work.

People are flawed and sinful, and often, when we are blamed for something, it is at least partially justified. Not in this case. In this case, people are being blamed for not being able to enact a completely false picture of reality.  

Expecting women to combine their child-bearing years with their prime career-building years is unfair to everybody. As we see in this article, it puts managers, co-workers, and teams in a bad position. It also, of course, puts the young moms in a bad position, guaranteeing them a bad experience at work and robbing them of the ability to focus on their bodies and their babies during those childbearing years.

I’m not trying to guilt anybody here. Some young moms need to work so the family can get by. I get that. But we need to stop insisting that this arrangement is desirable for everyone … no big deal … easy … possible without something having to give, something having to suffer. Until we stop pretending, we’ll continue demonizing people (like the poor manager in the story above) rather than question the flawed doctrine.  That attitude, and not James Damore, is the real sexism.

Recommended reading: Maxed Out by Katrina Alcorn

Re-Parenting in Fiction

“It takes a village to raise a child.” 

When Hillary Clinton says this, it means your children actually belong to the State, and the State has a right to intervene if they don’t think you’re doing it right (which, trust me, you’re not).  When normal people say it, it means only that in order to grow into healthy, functional adults, kids need more than just a mom and a dad.  They need a whole community around them.

In the past, I’ve blogged about how living in a small, isolated community consisting mostly of extended family limits the options when a family must deal with abuse.   That is still true.  But it’s also true that living in a close-knit community can provide some benefits for children whose own parents are lacking in some way.  They can receive re-parenting, or supplemental parenting, from aunts, uncles, grandparents, older cousins, and others.

Re-parenting in Harry Potter

Re-parenting occurs in Harry Potter.  Harry, as we all know, does not have a proper family and lives as the unloved stepchild of his aunt and uncle.  When he meets his best friend, Ron Weasley, he is introduced to Ron’s family.

From Ron’s point of view, the Weasley family is not all that great a place to be.  It’s a large family, Ron is the youngest of many brothers, and he often feels overlooked.  Also, the Weasleys are poor, not in the sense of starving but in the sense of wearing hand-me-downs and being subject to taunting from snobbier wizards.

From Harry’s point of view, Ron’s family is paradise.  It’s an intact family with a loving father and mother.  Mrs. Weasley is a great cook, and Harry’s wizarding gifts are accepted as a normal part of life instead of being hated, feared, and suppressed.  Even the large number of siblings makes the household a fun place to be.  Harry stays with Weasleys many times and eventually ends up marrying into their family.

Imperfect Parenting and Re-parenting

Over the course of the series, Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, also provides a father figure to Harry.  However, it takes Harry some time to realize that this is happening because he has been conditioned to mistrust authority figures. 

Harry is also re-parented by his father’s childhood friend Sirius Black.  This brings out the point that all of us need re-parenting from a variety of people, not just one person or one family.  Neither Dumbledore nor Black is perfect (Mr. Weasley might be perfect though!), but between the three of them they give Harry a decent composite father figure.  That’s why we say “it takes a village,” not “it takes one perfect person other than your parents.”   

Ironically, sometimes someone who is a flawed parent themselves can be an ideal supplemental parent.  This is true of Dumbledore, who is a wonderful mentor to Harry even though he let his own family down in significant ways.  We also see it in how Ron experiences his family as a place of being second-best, whereas Harry has a great experience in the same family.  In some ways it’s easier to be a good parent to your child’s friends than to your own child. Thus, the need for re-parenting is not necessarily proof that our own parents failed us completely or were more than usually flawed. It takes a village is an expression that, properly understood, simply takes into account the fact that everyone is badly flawed. It’s like the interpersonal version of the need for checks and balances in government.

Re-parenting in Voyage of the Dawn Treader

In C.S. Lewis’s classic sea story, Eustace Clarence Scrubb has parents who are neither neglectful nor directly abusive, but they have raised him with an inadequate set of values that is rapidly forming him into a sluggard, a coward, and a snob.  Eustace, when he is whisked into Narnia, is re-parented not by any one adult per se but by the total experience of being in Narnia.  And ultimately, of course, by Aslan Himself. 

In Eustace’s case, getting re-parented is painful.  At every turn, he is asked to work harder, put up with more hardship, and complain less than ever in his life before. Then things get really intense when he turns into a dragon and, to cure him, Aslan literally rips away his dragon skin.  Eustace’s experience shows that re-parenting is not just about lots of love, hugs, and healing emotional wounds (though of course it can include that).  It’s also a process of re-training, being challenged and held to higher standards.  We see this in Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry in the later Harry Potter books, where Dumbledore starts giving Harry difficult assignments and holding him accountable whenever he doesn’t get on them.

Re-parenting in The Strange Land

Ikash, the teenaged protagonist of my novel The Strange Land, has an abusive father and a mother who because of her circumstances is barely functional.   Early in the book, before Ikash ever notices his crush, he “falls in love” with her parents, who have an imperfect but warm and loving home.  They demonstrate to him that there is another way to have a marriage besides the one his mother and father have.  It takes a village.

His crush’s father doesn’t immediately accept Ikash, seeing him for the at-risk teen that he is and a potential danger to his daughters.  Ikash is re-trained and challenged when he sees that Hur does not trust him, and is motivated to become worthy of that trust.  The relationship grows through a series of tragedies and setbacks, and by the end of the book, the way those two re-parent him is really a sight to see.

Ikash also finds father figures in his paternal uncle and in his older cousin Ki-Ki.  In both cases, it takes him some time to trust them because of his previous bad experiences with authority.  I didn’t consciously copy this dynamic from Harry Potter.  It’s just a natural dynamic that often repeats itself because of human psychology being what it is.

“Found Families” versus Re-parenting

Once or twice while reading book blogs, I have seen the term “found families.”  I take this to mean stories where a character is orphaned or rejected for whatever reason and goes on to find or create a “family” for themselves from friends they meet along the way. 

Clearly this is related to what I’ve been saying about re-parenting.  I am not sure that it’s exactly the same thing because I don’t know the details of what people mean when they say a “found family.”  My sense is that found families might more often consist of peers, whereas when I say re-parenting I am thinking more of a character being brought under the wing of a mentor (or, ideally, a couple) who are older and wiser.  Also, re-parenting can happen without the characters really being considered a family, as in the case of Eustace.

In the comments, please tell me what you know about the term “found families” and also what you love and/or hate about found families and re-parenting in fiction.