Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Attachment Parenting

I just finished reading the article in last week’s Time Magazine about “attachment parenting” supporting the controversial cover of a twenty six year old mom feeding her three year old son by having him stand on a chair sucking at her breast.

The photo is provocative first because the boy looks older than three and second because it unnecessarily conjurs a bit embarrassment, disgust or even arousal and represents a trend in parenting today that demands breast feeding at any time of the day or night, any place, sleeping with your baby beginning during infanthood and carrying the child in a kind of sling that one often sees native peoples around the world using. Strollers are frowned upon. I wonder about car seats.

According to the article, which is exhaustive, the father of this so-called “attachment parenting” movement is a pediatrician by the name of Bill Sears whose theory is widely followed by a number of young parents, especially mothers.

The article compares the methods of Dr. Sears today with the harsher methods of Dr. Spock yesterday, and modern moms with our grandmothers whose mothering occurred during the Spock era. The mostly anecdotal study results in two very extreme models and the behavioral zeitgeist that the two methods incur.

I feel qualified to speak to this. I raised four children without any baby books. I was young and ignorant and I remember my mother’s voice (a Dr. Spock advocate) in my head saying, “. . .let them cry or else you’ll spoil them.”

I loved my mom, but I knew instinctively that this was wrong. Since then, I’ve read that Spock actually was a little less stringent, advising young, inexperienced mothers: “you know more than you think. Follow your instincts.” I did that – without being told.

Still, I think that the non-stop mothering promoted by Dr. Sears is over the top. And, let’s face it, no matter how hard dads try to become involved, it is the mother who feeds the child and spends most of her time mothering (or possibly smothering). She needs a break now and then as any mother can tell you, but she shouldn’t be held to such a strict standard that taking a break is also taking a guilt trip.

Dependency on the parent is supposed to be a temporary thing, is it not? Aren’t we supposed to be teaching our children to be self-sufficient and independent? I guess not. And that’s my point.

I graduated from high school a month after my seventeenth birthday and went to New York to live with my sister. I found a job and supported myself in the most intimidating city in the world. It took nerve. More than that, it took confidence and self-reliance. The question is this: was I able to do this because my mother supposedly allowed me to sleep alone in a crib and bang an empty formula bottle against the slats for hours? Seriously, I don’t think so. But it was a result of having been reared in a family who believed in letting their children grow, not just physically, but emotionally too. Parents can learn something from this, too.

Given that the economy is pretty bad today, young adults are often living in the parental home with all their basic needs taken care of by mom and dad, even insurance until the age of twenty six or twenty eight. I hear constantly about the cost of education and how kids are graduating from college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because most college kids would rather incur all this debt rather than cut hours and get a part-time job. Apparently so would the parents.

I personally know “kids” in their twenties who’ve never had a paying job even after a college education. Because they can’t get the job in their field – the field they’ve been educated for, they don’t work at all, and parents continue to support them.

When I think about my own parenting, I realize Dr. Sears would not have approved. My mothering was efficient and no-nonsensical. I think I succeeded in accomplishing my goal though. My kids are independent, happy, successful and useful. I am immensely proud of them and they were not coddled.

Raise your kids to be independent and adventurous. If they’re sick, they need to be cuddled and hugged and rocked and nursed. That is your duty and your pleasure as a parent – to care for them and support them. But you also have a duty to prepare them for life – life without you.

Life can be difficult. Allow them to have a life apart from you. They will be better for it, no matter how great a parent you are. Let them breathe, let them grow, let them learn to take a risk now and then. Teach them to seek a little adventure. Traveling away from home to go to school can certainly help in this regard. If they need a little spending money, let them take on a part time job around campus.

You have to let go at some point. It can be a gradual letting go, but it must begin sometime. This is the greatest lesson of all.  And my goodness! Wean the child from the breast before he’s old enough to play football. There is a reasonable middle ground here. The emphasis is on “reason.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Keep "AWAKE!"

It's really too bad that a show like "Awake" is whisked off the air just as some of us were beginning to ride the wave of alternative realities.  This was a mind blowing conception that appealed to those of us with a bit of imagination who prefer to "think" rather than to stare vacantly at the current crop of pap seen on reality shows and tv sit-coms.

There is so much crap out there -- why oh why can't you nitwit (oops, I meant "network")  middle brows allow a truly unique idea to flourish?  Some of us actually enjoy being challenged,  but you continue to pander to the pre-pubescent mentality.

Television could be so much more,  but in the words of Newton Minnow so many years ago, it remains  a  "vast wasteland" inhabited by a bunch of non-creative boors.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Excerpt from my novel, "When the Eagle Flies with the Condor. . ."

This excerpt begins on page 275 of my novel, "When the Eagle Flies with the Condor, a novel of the sixties."  Enjoy

     Every few months, Bernie drove the 382 kilometres to LaPaz by winding roads both asphalt and dirt in order to scour the shops for trinkets for Catalina and the few native children she was teaching, and to arrange for the supplies she needed for her work. Sometimes Ray came with her and they’d enjoy a weekend there together, visiting the shops and the small cabarets that seemed always to be filled with people who had the money to spend on a pisco sour or a local brew of cerveza. They’d rent a hotel room, take hot showers, have a civilized dinner with wine and dessert and make love throughout the night on comfortable beds.
     She still knew a few people in La Paz who kept her informed of the local politics, those who lived within the diplomatic corps, some who remembered her parents from years before: English, Americans and Bolivian officials. Early in the year, she made the trip alone. Ray had gone back to the States for a month’s vacation, after having served over two years with the Peace Corps. It was on this trip that she ran into Norwelia.

     After Punta del Este, they had gone their separate  ways. Norwelia, still smitten with the idealistic persona of Che, had returned to Cuba through his intercession, apparently kept safe from any reprisals against her rebel newspaper father and stuck it out there during Che’s reforms.

     Che had parted with Castro, but was still regarded a hero in Cuba. He was rumored to be in Germany, in the U. S. and back in his native Argentina. It was said that he was in Africa. It was reported that he was in Moscow. No one knew where he was but everyone speculated. Rumors of his whereabouts had been the focus of conversations within the diplomatic community for at least a year.

When Norwelia walked into El Gallo de Oro, it confirmed in Bernie’s mind what had until then been rampant speculation–that Bolivia was a prime target for the Cuban supported guerilla campaign to convert the peasants to Communism. Bernie knew that the Communist Party was active in Bolivia. On an earlier trip to La Paz, she’d been introduced to a guy by the name of Mario Monjé Molina, their party chief, at a masquerade ball thrown by her mother’s dearest friend from Cochabamba, Mama Ortega. She wondered if Norwelia had developed a contact there.

     Norwelia’s eyes found Bernie’s almost immediately. She had lost the soft, tawny luster to her skin; her face looked gray, with the muscles of her jaw clenching spasmodically. Bernie was struck with the wild, caged look that seemed to dominate her face. Yet she was flooded with an irrepressible excitement that she could not define and for a moment she wished fervently that she could re-live the past few years, bringing her to this moment of danger and intrigue in which she now found her friend.

     She became exhilaratingly cautious. Her breath came quickly as she excused herself from the bar where she had been seated with friends and joking with the British bartender, Ned. She ordered dos cervezas from the rattan bar, blew Ned a kiss and led Norwelia as unobtrusively as possible to a small round table at the back of the cabaret.

     Bernie had many questions she desperately wanted to ask Norwelia, but she managed to control her curiosity and her voice.

   “Are you looking for work?” Her heart pounded with anticipation.

     “I have a job ford now, Bernicita,” Norwelia answered. Her hands were shaking so badly, she clasped them tightly on top of the small table.

    “Really? Here in La Paz?”
    “Si. I have a work permit. A newspaper job here in La Paz. And I clerk in that shop where they sell souvenirs, on El Prado.” She spoke in English and Spanish, her Spanish softer, more like the Spanish of the Argentine.

    Bernie leaned forward, her mouth open, her lips raised in a calculated smile. Norwelia whispered something with a slight lisp that Bernie  could not understand. She leaned forward again, motioning with two fingers for her friend to do the same.

   “I said,” Norwelia continued in a husky whisper. She glanced from side to side and back to Bernie “... that I am here under Argentinean passaport.”

   Bernie straightened in her chair quickly, trying to think. The smile she had been forcing on her lips froze.

    “My God, Norwelia.”

    “Por favor!” It is Rosa . . . Suarez.” Norwelia whispered. She wet her lips and began again in a shaky, trembling hiss. “Please be careful with how you call me. You must try to forget what I just toll you, Bernicita.” Norwelia touched the bottle to her lips, but she did not drink. Her eyes locked in to Bernie’s. There was palpable fear there. Bernie felt sick. Norwelia went on, having gained some control, in a more natural voice, describing her reasons for coming. She had obtained Bolivian residency and a job because she needed the money, she said, but she was just a tourist really, wanting to get some local color, intrigued by the history and the tradition of the country.  She had gotten bored with her life, she told Bernie. She remembered how Bernie had talked of
Bolivia when they were kids together in Miami.

It was a spiel designed for any eavesdroppers in the bôite. She wasn’t stupid. She surely knew that  Bernie had figured it out. Certainly the passport was the clincher, and she would not have told Bernie about it, if she had not wanted her to know. Unless, Bernie thought, she wasn’t thinking clearly, out of fear, out of nerves. Because of Cuba’s revolution, the rumors about Che, and the general edginess of Bolivian officials, a Cuban passport might have been subjected to serious scrutiny. Argentina would be considered merely a sister state, a neighbor with the same fears and concerns about an imported revolution as Bolivia.

    They talked of family. Norwelia asked about Nicholas of course and then after thirty minutes of trivialities, they stood and touched each other’s hands and tried to smile for the benefit of the other customers. Norwelia’s trembling fingers were thin and cold, her large chocolate eyes were streaked with red. There was still a heavy curtain  of reserve between them, but suddenly, as
though on some unspoken cue, they both leaned forward, touching cheek to cheek. Bernie hugged Norwelia to her, patting her shoulder and trying not to cry. It was a gesture that indicated a more intimate friendship than they had been trying to portray and she hoped it went unobserved.

  “Hermanita,” she whispered. “Vaya con Diós.”

    Norwelia pulled away tentatively, her chestnut brown hair intruding on the suggestion of a smile, her eyes wide but steady.

   “A diós, amiga!"

This excerpt begins on page 275 of the novel "When the Eagle Flies with the Condor, a novel of the sixties."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Book that Defies Categorization

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Normally I read a book all the way through, sometimes in a few days, sometimes over a weekend. But this book called to me the entire time I was away from it. I wanted to immerse myself into the lives of the characters, into this warm cocoon of family love in unfamiliar surroundings.

There are many levels of intellectual challenge here - the foreign-ness (for most of us) of Ethiopia. The sterile, other worldliness of the operating room; the super sensitive connection of the twins; the religious background of their mother; the rigid rejection of their father and the overwhelming devotion of their adoptive parents. I love a book that demands something of its reader; this book requires your attention.

The way in which medical expertise is interwoven into the narrative is extraordinary and does not detract from the power of the story. I loved every minute of the surgical descriptions and unlike many reviewers, did not skim through them. That is because the writer made these scenes crucial in revealing insight into the characters, whose personalities and histories are vividly portrayed and far beyond stereotypical.

I congratulate Mr. Verghese for having the courage to deviate from the same ol' formulaic drivel that is filling up our libraries today. This book defies categorization and dares to be different. It is a fitting and admirable tribute, in every way, to its author.