December 15, 2008

Early Diagnosis

Reading parent blogs, I have been taken aback by how frequently mothers worry that their preschool boy is autistic. I have a naïve question. naive question? I don't want to offend any of you great parents, trying to do what is best for your child. . In all my years around young children(5 brothers, 45 younger cousins, 4 daughters) none were tested for autism as a preschooler. Has autism increased so dramatically or is there now so little tolerance for divergent thinking and unconventional minds?

I am desperately uncomfortable wit psychiatric diagnoses for preschoolers. And some of the softer austic symptoms bother me.
I must say I always wondered why I was different, and being told I was a manic depressive at age 7 when my mom worried about my worrying would have been nightmarish. My dad just told me I was smarter than other people and read much more, and I could live with that:) I wouldn't have dared to have my wonderful children if I knew I was mentally ill. Thank God I was diagnosed until the youngest was 4. If being a scientist happily working all hours in a lab is being a loner, so what? My brother met his life in the lab, and they are happy loners together. I can't imagine anything on earth could have made Stephen less like my dad, and why would anyone want to try. Another brother who is an elementary school teacher is very dubious about special ed for kids within normal limits. He thinks the stigma is far worse than the extra services justify.__What has changed so dramatically that your son is suspected of being autistic now when he wouldn't have been ten years ago? _Are there really effective treatments?

Sorry for the typos in the last comment. Blame it on my daughter's old computer. People who weren't diagnosed who wish they had been haven't been exposed to the stigma and discrimination and mistreatment that accompany diagnoses. They probably exaggerate the wonderfulness of the special services they didn't receive. We are not an enlightened society; stigma is very real. I would have never gone to social work school at age 46 if I had realized that mental health professionals obviously don't believe in the efficacy of their own treatments. __Loners and losers outgrow it, invent software, have TV shows made about them:) Nerds and geeks are the new prince charmings; they make great husbands. Diagnoses are forever.__I wonder if they make chemistry sets for kids Bub's age. I suspect they make microscopes. I recall a kid in Katherine's traditional kindergarten class. The teacher insisted he be tested for developmental disability. He tested at genius level.

With my kids, the educational accommodations they need were not to be insufficiently challenged. The gifted prgram was good in that respect, but their regular public school was totally inadequate. __I let my scientist stay home from school so much because she was obviously learning at a higer level than she could reach at school. Special ed kids are not usually recognized as gifted, which Bub so obviously is.

As I told you in my email, I always thought I could do something.. I admit my dad's legacy was intellectual arrogance. I always figured that I could read the same books and journals as the experts, and I knew my weird kids better. __Certainly that approach was the key to taming my bipolar order ten years ago. I researched psychiatric journals and the net to find the best possible medication and shopped for a psychiatrist who was willing to prescribe it. My psychiatrist has frequently expressed his gratitude for my educating him. That medication, lamictal, is the one he uses most successfully for his bipolar patients. I needed a psychiatrist who was a partner, who would discuss journal articles with me as a peer, who was as willing to learn from me as I was from him, who would admit when he didn't know and when he was wrong. Only then would I feel comfortable enough to be fully honest with him about my medication.

Using what you learn from blogs, books, and journals about autism is brilliant. I am sure they would have helped me cope with my dad, two brothers, two husbands, and two nephews:) I am very curious to read them; I love to think about how different minds work. Learning all you can is different than a formal diagnosis that might convey to a child, his teachers, his peers that there is something wrong with him even though different, original minds can't and shouldn't be fixed. __Do read For Her Own Good: 200 Years of Experts Advice to Women, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English. Thank God I first read it when it only covered 150 years in 1979, the year after my writer was born. Thank God I never consulted experts about her. Some minds are too mysterious to be meddled with. She probably would have qualified for bipolar disorder, autism, and social anxiety disorder, with a subtle oppositional defiant disorder. __The label "autistic" might be less frightening to your generation, but in 62 years I have never personally known a child so labeled. I have known many children who could have been so labeled, but they found their ideal career niche and the spouse who can translate for them. The more I read about it, the more I suspect it explains so much about men:)__Bub is lucky to have the best mother in the world for him. I would hate to see any specialist shake your confidence in that. I apologize for being so strident and tiresome , and I will shut up and save this for private emal and my blogl. Yesterday I wrote a post on "Experts," Testing, and Misdiagnosis. I might be overly influenced by my experience that being open about my bipolar disorder wasted all the money I spent on my MSW in social work.

December 11, 2008

Blogging and Me

I asked Janet, author of the excellent blog Three and Holding to send me some questions. She asked such thought-provoking ones that answering each one deserves a separate post. I am tackling the easiest one first:

You took a three year break from blogging. What brought you back to the blogosphere?

I am guilty of seriously misleading my readers. My break was from Matriarch. but I worked on several other blogs. After my mom died in 2004, I worried that family history might die with her. So I started a blog called Remembering: Time Travel Through Photos. This was a blog for my daughters and brothers and their spouses as well as my 11 nieces and nephews. I use lots of photos. When I was taking care of my mom, I scanned thousands of slides and family photos and made them into photo websites. I hoped the photos would reawaken my brother's memories. I invited other family members to contribute, but no one has shown much interest. I seem to be the designated family historian and photographer.

Another family blog consists of selected letters my mom and dad wrote from 1942 to 1946. There are thousands of letters, and I have only transcribed a few of the earlier ones. The later ones are less interesting; how many "I love you my darling" letters does anyone else want to read:). I have recently begun transcribing some of the letters my mom wrote to my dad in France when she was pregnant with me and during the first 7 months of my life. I probably will be sharing some of them on this blog, so I can compare and contrast three generations of mothering infants.

I have another blog, Ageless Internet, that I have neglected since my grandson was born. Last year I started a internet tutoring service, aimed specifically at senior citizens. I did lots of volunteer work at Penn South, where my daughter lives. It is a 2800 unit cooperative; seniors made up the majority of cooperators. If I had volunteered full-time, I could have had several hundred students, but I can't afford to do that. I learned that people who so far have not seen the need for the Internet are not willing to pay for private lessons. I might try to revive it on a small scale this fall now that my daughter's part-time work schedule is worked out, and I know when I am committed to care for my grandson.

When Michael was born, I started another blog about him for family and friends. It is far more pictures and video clips than text. But it got me back in the habit of blogging. Being with Michael 25 hours a week in the same place I raised my girls evokes hundreds of memories of their early years. So I am back in early motherhood again and have lots to write about on Matriarch.

I have another blog I don't link to, even though it is available to everyone. Under a pseudonym, I share the sordid details of my experience as a manic depressive. I keep revising this blog, adding or deleting stuff according to my moods. My mood swings are entirely predictable. I am up in the spring and fall, level or slightly down in the summer and winter. I don't truly get depressed anymore, but there are significant fluctuations in my energy levels and motivation. The spring and the fall are times to write; the winter and summer are times to edit. I hope if I get in the habit of blogging here every day and attract some regular readers, I will continue writing this winter.

I suspect you wanted a few sentences on this topic, Janet. Answering the question was helpful; I forget how much blogging I have done when I beat myself up for neglecting Matriarch. In truth, I have more blogs than I can possibly keep up, so I am concentrating on Matriarch and my grandson's blog.

Blogging and Me

I asked Janet, author of the excellent blog Three and Holding to send me some questions. She asked such thought-provoking ones that answering each one deserves a separate post. I am tackling the easiest one first:

You took a three year break from blogging. What brought you back to the blogosphere?

I am guilty of seriously misleading my readers. My break was from Matriarch. but I worked on several other blogs. After my mom died in 2004, I worried that family history might die with her. So I started a blog called Remembering: Time Travel Through Photos. This was a blog for my daughters and brothers and their spouses as well as my 11 nieces and nephews. I use lots of photos. When I was taking care of my mom, I scanned thousands of slides and family photos and made them into photo websites. I hoped the photos would reawaken my brother's memories. I invited other family members to contribute, but no one has shown much interest. I seem to be the designated family historian and photographer.

Another family blog consists of selected letters my mom and dad wrote from 1942 to 1946. There are thousands of letters, and I have only transcribed a few of the earlier ones. The later ones are less interesting; how many "I love you my darling" letters does anyone else want to read:). I have recently begun transcribing some of the letters my mom wrote to my dad in France when she was pregnant with me and during the first 7 months of my life. I probably will be sharing some of them on this blog, so I can compare and contrast three generations of mothering infants.

I have another blog, Ageless Internet, that I have neglected since my grandson was born. Last year I started a internet tutoring service, aimed specifically at senior citizens. I did lots of volunteer work at Penn South, where my daughter lives. It is a 2800 unit cooperative; seniors made up the majority of cooperators. If I had volunteered full-time, I could have had several hundred students, but I can't afford to do that. I learned that people who so far have not seen the need for the Internet are not willing to pay for private lessons. I might try to revive it on a small scale this fall now that my daughter's part-time work schedule is worked out, and I know when I am committed to care for my grandson.

When Michael was born, I started another blog about him for family and friends. It is far more pictures and video clips than text. But it got me back in the habit of blogging. Being with Michael 25 hours a week in the same place I raised my girls evokes hundreds of memories of their early years. So I am back in early motherhood again and have lots to write about on Matriarch.

I have another blog I don't link to, even though it is available to everyone. Under a pseudonym, I share the sordid details of my experience as a manic depressive. I keep revising this blog, adding or deleting stuff according to my moods. My mood swings are entirely predictable. I am up in the spring and fall, level or slightly down in the summer and winter. I don't truly get depressed anymore, but there are significant fluctuations in my energy levels and motivation. The spring and the fall are times to write; the winter and summer are times to edit. I hope if I get in the habit of blogging here every day and attract some regular readers, I will continue writing this winter.


December 9, 2008

Importance of Birth Order



In the first picture, I am two and one half; Joe is one. In the second I am four, Andrew is six months. In the third picture, I am seven; Bob is newborn. In the fourth picture, I am 12; Gerard is 1. Next I am 13; Brian is one month. The last picture was taken when I was 14.

Studying the pictures, I understand family dynamics much better. It has always seemed that sibling relationships matter more to me, that I try harder to keep the family connected. Being both the oldest and the only girl seems central. I was my adult height when my two younger brothers were born; they were only 5 and 7 when I left home for college. I must have seemed a quasi-maternal figure to them. In some pictures I look like their young mother.
We did not grow up in the same family. My mother returned to school full-time when Brian was 5; when he was 7, she started teaching high school. Joe, Andrew, and I had had a stay-at-home mother until we went to college. Brian doesn't remember my mom staying at home full-time. My father retired before Brian finished college.

We have very different perceptions of our parents. Joe, Andrew, and I remember our dad as a brilliant intellectual and mathematician; Gerard and Brian remember an old man who disappeared into Alzheimer's Disease. The three oldest remember our childhood perceptions of my mom as "just a housewife" who never went to college. My younger brothers remember her the way her obituary describes her: "teacher, activist, trailblazer."

With the death of my mom, Joe, 18 months younger, is my collaborator in family history. Unfortunately Joe was too busy climbing on top of the roof as a kid to remember very much. I realize I could write family fiction and convince everyone it is family history.

I struggled not to favor my first daughter Anne in sibling squabbles, because she, like me, was the oldest of several siblings. Both my first husband John and I were the oldest children of oldest children of oldest children--not the best recipe for marital harmony. Certainly Anne shows the same sense of responsibility for her younger siblings that I felt. John, Anne, and I thought younger siblings owe considerable gratitude to the oldest, who has fought all the battles necessary to whip parents into shape.

In my constant discussions with friends about baby spacing when my kids were young, I noticed that adult relationships with your siblings greatly influence you. If you love your sibs, you might think a brother or sister is the best gift you will give your kids. If you don't talk to each other, you will feel guilty about the trauma you are inflicting on the oldest. As people only have two children, there will only be younger and older older. Middle children seem to have special gifts society will sorely lack. When I told 6 year old Michelle, I was pregnant with Carolyn, she rejoiced, "Now I won't be the only middle child."

December 8, 2008

Penguins

This picture brings back many memories, whether fond or not I have to puzzle out. From first grade through high school graduation, I was taught by the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, Long Island.

My new post-World War II community did not yet have a Catholic school. My mother carpooled, so I could go to Holy Redeemer in Freeport for first and second grade morning classes. With so many Catholics eager to send their kids to Catholic schools, they offered split sessions. Then I took a bus to the closer Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Roosevelt for third through eighth grade. I was in the Queen's first graduating class. I then went to St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre.

My first grade teacher taught two classes of 60 children, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. All of us learned how to read and write, both printing and cursive. She recognized better students and gave them additional challenges. I craved gold stars on both my papers and my forehead. Regularly, I was sent to the second grade teacher, Sister Paula Anne, to report my latest accomplishment. I was her teacher's pet before I started second grade.

The tall nun on the right is Sister Miriam Francis; she was the principal at both Holy Redeember and the Queen. She died 3 years ago at age 93, having worked well into her 80's. I wasn't surprised; in retrospect she was an amazing educator. A tall, elegant, brilliant woman, she effortlessly ruled her 800 students with a clicker; she never had to raise her voice. One click, and we were instantly silent and attentive. She knew the name and the history of every student in the school. We all respected and admired her, were willing to work hard for her praise.

I was a very good girl. In seventh grade Sister Miriam Francis told me I could not have had a more perfect record. So I was never the victim of a nun's wrath, never had an eraser hurled at me, never was hit by a pointer, never had to stay after school to clean the blackboards, never was ordered to put my gum on my nose, never was compelled to bring my embarrassing private note up to the front, so Sister could read it to the entire class. Destructively, my innate shyness was reinforced, however. Good students only answered questions; they never asked them. Class discussion only occurred in high school history and English courses.

Most of the nuns were very young. Many had not yet been to college but were expected to teach classes of over sixty students. My young, beautiful physics teacher, who used to flirt with the boys, was one chapter ahead of us in the regents review book. None of my classes were chaotic; I simply can't remember how they did it. The nun's habit must have disguised a superman costume. I loved grade school, but was critical of high school. I resolved never to send my daughters to strict Catholic school that prized obedience over creativity.

As the negative memories fade, I can appreciate the excellence and rigor of my education. Writing this post has been a revelation. I have never publicly appreciated the penguins. For 8 years I edited books on the basis of my grade school English grammar classes. I always enjoyed diagramming thousands of sentences, especially at the blackboard. We had fantastic geography lessons. Every classroom had many world maps, rolled up in front of the blackboard. I loved drawing maps. A test would be a continent map with the outline of each country. We had to fill in the names. We were given a US map outline and had to fill in the state and its capital. We would never have been allowed to graduate from eighth grade if we could not fully explain Social Security.

The nuns were the only professional women I knew. As a group they were amazingly hard working and dedicated; most of them were warm, kind women. I remember only one mean nun in high school, Sister Jean Paul, who taught eighth grade, the nun on the left of the picture. She loathed FDR and made no pretense of being objective. The class wore black armbands the anniversary of his death and sniffed audibly whenever Sister mentioned his name. Too pull off such a massive group effort, we had to have learned lots of American history.

The high school curriculum was rigorous--4 years of English, Social Studies, Math, Science (Earth Science, Physics, Biology, Chemistry), Religion, Art, Music, Gym, and Two Languages, including Latin. As freshman, we had a half year library science course, mastering the card catalogue and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

In English class, we loved reading aloud all of Shakespeare's major plays. We were expected to memorize the major soliloquies and sonnets as well as many English and American poems. We read Dickens, Austen, Elliot, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Shaw, Ibsen, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck.

Sister Grace Florian was the best teacher I ever had in my 20 years of education. She taught first year Latin and senior year English literature. A tiny woman, she was brilliant, erudite, funny, and demanding. I still have the Jane Austen paper I wrote for her. It is rather good, but Sister Grace Florian incisively criticized the content, the typing, the organization, the grammar, the footnotes, the bibliography. My best friend recalls: "I also remember Sr. Grace Florian describing some Greek play to us in English -- she was just telling us the story, prior to our starting to study it (maybe Antigone?) and the bell rang. No one moved. She stopped, but then realized that we all wanted to hear the end of the story, so she continued. Don't know if we were late to the next class."

Sister Mary Cyrilla, who taught senior religion, was a fervent believer in Vatican II. Questioning traditional Catholic beliefs were encouraged. She later spent 15 years teaching at the seminary, where men study to be priests. Sister Mary Luke was an excellent French teacher; Sister Gloria Marie taught me to love Math so much that I considered it as my college major.

My friends and I ran the high school newspaper, the Agnesian Rock, and were members of the Speech and Debate Clulb. Debate was enormously challenging, requiring countless hours of library research. We had to argue both sides of each years's resolution, always a major political policy controversy. The paper advisor, Sister Veronica Marie, obviously independently wealthy, treated the editors to two nights in the Waldorf with room service while we gave workshops at the Columbia Journalism Conference.

But all was not ideal. Science was very weak. There were no female sports, because the champion boys basketball team needed the gym all year round. We had no choice but to apply to Catholic colleges. Those who wanted to attend non-Catholic colleges were refused recommendations. We were regularly taken to Church service; we had to go to confession once a month. In grade school, we had to report our attendance at Mass every Sunday; missing Mass compromised your religion grade.

My mother was an active member of the Women's Ordination Conference. I occasionally attended meetings with her, even though I had not been a committed Catholic after age 18. Many of its members were older nuns; everyone seemed to have a Ph.D. There are very few young women entering the convent. Catholic school kids aren't taught by penguins anymore.

Later:

JS's comment helped me realize that I give my family too much credit and the nuns insufficient credit for making me realize I was smart and education was so much more important than being pretty or having boyfriends. My mother wanted me to have boyfriends and spend less time reading. The nuns always encouraged my writing; they would have been disappointed that the best writer of the class of 1963 years has been burying her talent for 45 years. But with the exception of one shrink, people have been convincing me that too much writing equals mania. Actually letting other people, strangers even, read my writing makes me a candidate for the loony bin.

Did You Keep Your Maiden Name

Mary Nolan
Mary and Joe Koch

Both my parents are buried a Calverton, a military cemetery, on Eastern Long Island. My dad was a World War II veteran. When I was at Calverton for my aunt's funeral, I visited my mom's and dad's graves. I was perturbed to see mom's inscribed as Mary Nolan, because I had misremembered that she wanted Mary Nolan Koch.

I hunted through her correspondence and found the following letter sent to the Veterans Administration in Washington, a year after my father's death.:

Feb. 5, 1988
Dear Sir,

On May 11, 1987, my husband, Joseph J. Koch, an Army veteran of World War II, was buried in the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, NY, gravesite 8179.

It is my understanding that gravesite 8180 has been reserved for me, his wife. When I recently visited the cemetery I was disturbed to note that the wives of veterans were only identified by their first name. To me that is sex discrimination.

Although I accepted my husband's name at marriage, I still consider myself as Mary Nolan and would wish to be so identified on a name plaque making my grave. Is there any reason why your policy could not be updated?

Yours truly,
Mary Nolan Koch

Subsequent correspondence showed the VA changed their policy and accepted her wishes. I feel rather sheepish about my first reaction. Bravo, Mary Nolan, a feminist ahead of her time! We were allowed to add an additional line, so we added mother, teacher, activist.

Family decisions on maiden names fascinate me. After much inner turmoil, I took my husband's name when I married in 1968. It was an English name; Koch lent itself to too many embarrassing mispronunciations. When I went back to school and work in 1987, I reverted to my maiden name. My master's degrees in library science and social work are under Koch.

Partly to disassociate myself from my past indiscretions, I took my new husband's name when I remarried in 2001. Two daughters, successful professional women, surprised us by taking their husbands' even more English names when they married. The one whose husband's name was not Waspish kept her original name. Apparently, the Waspish name trumps.

Three of my sisters-in-law kept the maiden names One brother and his former wife made up a new name that combined elements of both their names. I have met people who have used their mother's maiden name, rather than the name of the father who deserted them.

What did you or your spouse decide? What do you anticipate your daughters will do?

November 28, 2008

Diagnosing Children with Bipolar Disorder

I am concerned that gifted, creative children, who march to a different drummer in our regimented society, are being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and threatened with a lifetime of dangerous medications and social stigma. Having that dire diagnosis imposed on you at age 6 severely compromises your ability to lead a normal life, marry, have children, go to college, have a career. How would you have reacted at age 6 if you were told you had a broken brain that could not be fixed, only treated with lifelong drugs with dangerous and/or unknown side effects?

Twenty years ago, psychiatry believed that bipolar disorder strikes in the late teens, that it was impossible to diagnose children or adolescents. Now psychiatrists occasionally diagnose bipolar disorder in four year olds, after too brief examination. Is diagnosing kids as bipolar sometimes an unthinking way to squelch kids who are divergent thinkers, who think too fast, talk too fast, question authority, get bored too easily in our increasing test-oriented schools?

Are other countries undergoing the same childhood bipolar epidemic or is this an American phenomena? When and how was the supposed epidemic of childhood bipolar disorder suddenly discovered? How many of the early pioneers were funded by drug companies? Have any longitudinal studies been done, comparing the life trajectory of kids diagnosed and medicated and of kids whose parents refuse medication? Is there any evidence that kids diagnosed as bipolar grow up to be adults with bipolar disorder?

Has the breakdown of the extended family and small, isolated families increased the number of kids in serious trouble? Why is there such a striking absence of social criticism about the so-called epidemic of bipolar children? For the last 30 years American society has conducted an experiment in having babies and toddlers cared for by a rapid turnover of strangers--not parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors, friends. Babies as young as two months spend their entire days in group care, with almost inevitable disregard for their individual temperament and biological rhythms. Parents have no choice. Both mother and father work long exhausting hours without the support of nearby grandparents, aunts, uncles. Schools are obsessed with testing, neglecting the art, music, writing, sports, exercise, play that nurture a child's creativity.

I only have the questions, not the answers. But the psychiatrists writing the prescriptions too often are unwilling to admit they don't know the answers either. That these prescribed drugs work is not proof of the validity of diagnoses.If any of us took an atypical anti-psychotic, we might appear calmer and more obedient. We might also find it impossible to do our jobs satisfactorily.

Big Pharm runs advertisements on primetime TV and popular magazines to convince patients that atypical anti-psychotics such as risperdal are the magic bullets to make their lives wonderful. Antipsychotics used to be reserved for chronic schizophrenics. Now they are used to make Alzheimer's patients and children easier to manage.

How many psychiatrist prescribing drugs for young children have taken them? Is America in danger of regarding children as high-end luxury items that parents insist on purchasing and then demand that society should take some responsibility for them? Any decent society is committed to all children. We are the least child friendly society in the Western world. Is that why so many more of our children take psychiatric drugs? I question whether bipolar disorder can be distinguished from normal crazy behavior of children and teenagers.

November 11, 2008

Giving Her Children Wings



My mother's combination of fearlessness, faith in God, and experience with five brothers made her wonderful mother of boys. She didn't worry; she didn't clip any wings. She didn't let little things like sons on the roof or a son out of touch hiking the Appalachian trail for months upset her. Joseph and Andrew look so pleased with themselves, without any fear they might fall off or get in trouble. Her shy, timid, anxious daughter was a mystery to her:)

What she did effortlessly, I have had to struggle with every day of my 35 years as a mother. All my daugters are braver and more adventurous than I am. For the most part, my anxieties have not infected them. They respect my fears. They always call, email, or text when the plane lands, at any hour, in any part of the world. Flight Tracker is my friend.

October 10, 2008

Who Is a Good Mother?

mjve


MaryJo114
MaryJo106
1976,1981, 1983

I have been a mother for 35 years. My daughters are 35, 33, 29, and 26. At the moment, they consider me a good mother, who needs to fight her judgmental nature, specifically about the right balance between mothering and careers. I am reluctant to criticize Palin's mothering, because I am not sure what good mothering means. When I had one child, I was much surer than I am now. Who decides whether you are a good mother? All of the following will demand a vote. Of course, I am not suggesting they should be allowed a vote.
  • You and your spouse
  • Your mother, grandmother, siblings, cousins, friends, or employers
  • Your babies, toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, adult children
  • Your children's teachers, coaches, guidance counselors
  • Your children's psychiatrists and therapists
  • College admissions staffs
  • Your children's lovers, partners, spouses
  • Your church, the mass media, the USA, most other mothers
What are the criteria? Please, don't imagine I think these questions are reasonable. I just wanted to highlight the insane expectations of mothers, imposed by society and demanded of themselves. Given that none of us are divinely perfect, such crazy demands destroy our confidence and undermine our mothering.
  • Whether and how long you breastfed your children
  • How long you waited before returning to work
  • How often you screamed at your kids, how often you lowered their self-esteem, deservedly or not
  • Whether you ever spanked them
  • How many trips to the emergency room were necessary
  • How many bones they broke
  • How many times they got sick
  • How clean and orderly you kept your house
  • The nutritiousness of your meals
  • The amount of TV they watched
  • Their hours on the computer
  • How many books they read, how many you read to them
  • How many times you took them to the library
  • How many musical instruments they played
  • How many sports they excelled in
  • When they first had sex
  • How many sex partners they had, whether they got STDs
  • Whether you were rich enough to send them to good schools
  • What grades they got, what colleges they attended
  • Whether they became alcoholics, drug addicts, child abusers, criminals
  • Whether they had an abortion
  • Whether they chose public service careers
  • What candidates they supported
  • Whether they got married, became gay, had children of their own
  • What careers they pursued, how much money they made
  • How often they visit, call, email, share their lives with you?
  • Whether they accept your values and your faith
  • Whether they honor their grandparents, aunts, and uncles
  • Whether they attend family reunions
  • Whether they observe birthdays and anniversaries
  • Whether they can be relied upon during a family crisis
Can children evaluate your mothering before they become parents and realize what it is like? Can a good mother have rotten children? If you had a rotten childhood, do you get a handicap on motherhood? If your children turn out badly, can they evaluate your mothering fairly? If you remember a thousand instances of bad mothering, are you a good mother if everyone has been deceived or have more perspective?
There is a dark side of motherhood. When I volunteered to counsel parents suspected of child abuse, the volunteer coordinator asked me if I could imagine abusing my children. They refused anyone insufficiently honest or self aware to say yes. Every child at times is an unwanted child:) Raising children on the 20th floor in Manhattan tests your impulse control:) Often it is easier to be a good mother to one child than to another, but that doesn't mean the easy child is your favorite. Good or bad temperamental matches play a crucial role in mother-child relationships.

My mom was a good mother to her 6 children, absolutely there for us all our lives. But she and I had a conflicted relationship because we were so different temperamentally. Watching my mother care for her mother as she aged, I marveled how alike they were. How difficult it must have been to have a daughter who confronted and argued. Ultimately we did well with each other. I will always be grateful that she lived with me the last four years of her life, that she died at home.

Being a good mother, like being a good person, is something you need to work on every day of your life. I am finding the transition to grandmotherhood almost as perplexing. I desperately miss my mother, who knew me and my daughters equally well and could interpret for all of us. Many of us are probably better grandmothers than we were mothers.

Growing Up in the 50s and 60





When I compare my life with that of my parents, they were far more rooted in the community and virtually immune to the seductions of consumerism. Raising six kids and sending them to Catholic schools on one middle-class income, they had to make their own entertainment.We didn't get a TV until I was 14; we got a mediocre audio system at about the same time. The radio was our main entertainment source. I recall the thrill of my own radio as a birthday present when I was 10; I could listen to Dodger games whenever I wanted. Movies were a luxury; we ate out about twice a year, usually when someone graduated.

We entertained ourselves by visiting family and friends. On Sundays we often visited my nearby aunt and uncle and watched Disneyland. All of my 45 first cousins were an easy drive away. There were countless Christening, First Communion, Confirmation, Graduation parties. We had family picnics with terrific softball games for all ages. There were gangs of kids in the neighborhood to play baseball, shoot baskets, play badminton, volleyball. Someone's basement had ping pong or a pool table. There was no extra money for music or dance lessons or gymnastic lessons. Riding bikes was the way we got around. Summers we hung out at the high school swimming pool or went to Jones Beach by bus.

We learned how to take the bus by the time we were 8. We used our bicycles for transportation. My parents only had one car. My mom used to drop off and pick up my father at the railroad station, so she could have the car. My parents were too busy to play chauffeur. Because there was no neighborhood Catholic school when the first three of us were young, we took the bus. In high school I took two buses to get there, taking an hour for a 15-minute drive.

Card playing was the way adults socialized. Almost every adult was competent at cards, and many were excellent bridge players. My parents played bridge with friends once a week. We used to creep down the stairs to hear the kibbutzing. Every home had a card table. People almost always had a deck in their bag or their pocket if you had to wile away time. Periodically my family discovers there is no cheaper or more varied form of free entertainment than card playing.

My parents were devout Catholics, genuine good people with a stalwart faith. When they moved to Long Island after my dad came home from the war, our home town was just potato fields. Schools, churches, community organizations had to be build. St. Martha's, the local Catholic parish, met in a nineteenth century building that became the volunteer library after the church was built. My parents and their friends worked tireless to raise money for a church, a school for 800 kids, a convent for the nuns, and a rectory for the priests.

My mom and dad were tremendously involved in social action outreach with the local Catholic Church. My dad was head of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which ministers to poor struggling families in the parish. He visited the local nursing home every Sunday without fail. They visited parish families in need once a week. Some evenings he was called out to visit a family experiencing a sudden emergency. When they moved to Long Island in 1947, our town lacked a church. They and their friends raised the money to build a church, a convent for the nuns, a rectory for the priest, a grade school for 800 kids. That represented tremendous dedication to fundraising for a working class community.

The local library was run by volunteers for the first ten years. I had been infected by my parents' community spirit. When the library was vandalized when I was 9, my best friend and I volunteered two times a week to sort it out. I remember the chief volunteer struggling to explain to us the difference between fiction and nonfiction. My best friend and I also established the first library in our grade school. I spent four summer working as the children's librarian in high school. There were not yet professional librarians, so I had a free rein to run the summer programs anyway I liked.

October 9, 2008

1971, Strident Feminist Has Pregnancy Scare

I wrote these appalling journal entries shortly after I dropped out of Columbia Law School in 1971. Who would have guessed that eventually I would become the stay-at-home mother of four? However, this was also the only time in my childbearing life before my husband's vasectomy that I forgot to use birth control.

When I first realized I’d forgotten to take the pill Saturday night, I was terrified, hysterical, uncontrollable. I was going to get pregnant; my life was ruined; I could never face anyone again. I was convinced that somehow I deliberately forgot to take the pill because subconsciously I wanted to be pregnant. That would justify my not having a job, my staying home, my sleeping late, the lazy pattern I’d fallen into the past few weeks since Columbia. Then I would have all the time in the world to read, to think, to learn, to write, and everyone would think any effort on my part was commendable.

I am still torn between two interpretations of my forgetfulness. After religiously remembering to take the pill for three and one half years, it could not be just by accident that I forgot. The other is that in three and one half years it was inevitable that at some time I would forget; no one’s memory is perfect. The actual circumstances are strange too. After I finished my sandwich Saturday evening, I went into the bedroom to take my pill. Instead I put the pills in my pocketbook, thinking Chris and I might spend the night on Long Island. But I remembered taking it, even now I half remember taking it. Often at two in the morning I’ve become convinced that I hadn’t taken the pill and gotten up to check. Always I had. This is the first time I remembered taking the pill when in fact I hadn't. Of course we left for Long Island early about 6:30. Usually I take it around 8 or 9. I must have put it in my bag, thinking I would take it later.

Later I calmed down, realizing how extremely unlikely it was that I would get pregnant by forgetting to take the pill once. But more strangely and more interesting, I also calmed down because I realized getting pregnant wouldn’’t necessarily be the end of my life. I don’t think I could ever reconcile myself to having an abortion. Although I may recognize that my reluctance is the result of Catholic teachings that on the whole I have rejected, that recognition does not vanquish my reluctance. While my Catholic training hasn’t given me certainty, it’s given my doubts--the worst kind of doubts. Can you go ahead and do something when you’re not sure whether it’s murder or not? Don’t some doubts have to be resolved before you can act?

In addition I somehow feel you have to have a better reason for an abortion than we have. We could afford it. Chris’s and my joint income is easily $16,000 or $17,000. In fact, if I built up my free-lancing just a little more, we could afford the two bedroom apartment in the new building. Once I found a full-time job, we could easily afford to hire someone to take care of the baby during the day. Before the crisis I never considered the advantages of having children now, rather than five or six years from now. I have always felt I should be firmly, absolutely, unshakably settled in a career before I could even consider having children. But once you decide you’re not going to stay home and take care of the child, having one now wouldn’t hinder my career much more than having one later. In fact, now my career, being relatively new, would probably demand less than it will five-six-seven years from now.

January 10, 1972
I don’t think I quite realized how suggestible I am. Merely seeing Miriam’s baby, talking to Richard and Kathy, learning Pat was pregnant and seeing her and Peter’s excitement have set my fantasies racing. Yet rationally I know this would be the worst possible time for me to get pregnant. I’m discouraged, depressed, uncertain about what I’m going to do, haunted by the feeling I’m wasting myself, that I am a failure. Having a baby would be the easy way out. On the other hand, this time I would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire for the rest of my life. You can change schools, quit jobs, cease to see friends, but you can’t cease to be a mother. That brief little crisis when I forgot the pill seems to have had serious results. Deciding that my life wouldn’t be ruined if I got pregnant seemed to have had an incredible impact on my thinking. I wonder if such fantasies are in any way related to the fact that it’s a week before my period.

I don’t think I’m in any serious danger of giving way to my fantasies. But somehow I thought I was immune to them. I didn’t realized that I was insulated because none of my friends, none of the women I could conceivably identify with, had children. Perhaps my greatest fear is that when you have a baby some mysterious change comes over you and you either are content to stay at home despite resolutions you made before the baby was born or you are powerless to return to work even thought you might want to. I hate to consider Pat my guinea pig, but I’m very curious to observe whether and how she changes. I can’t entirely identify with her; she’s six years older than I am, and she lacks ambition. Even so I cannot conceive of her fading into a devoted mother, interested in nothing but her precious child or guilty if she is interested in anything else.

Thank God my daughters are nothing like I was at age 26. I got pregnant 6 months after this last entry.

September 28, 2008

In Praise of Mud and Sand





I recall convincing myself that being a good mother required my faking an enjoyment of holding frogs. Vanessa seems to have made the same decision about muddy sand. Mucking around in the mud as frequently as possible is a toddler necessity.

In Praise of Mud and Sand





I recall convincing myself that being a good mother required my faking an enjoyment of holding frogs. Emma seems to have made the same decision about muddy sand. Mucking around in the mud as frequently as possible is a toddler necessity.

September 8, 2008

Birth as Child Abuse

ElizabethPatriciabirth82
bonding_1

Sisters bonding or poor family values?

I kept postponing writing this post, hoping it wouldn't be necessary. But once again I read a blog post and got an e mail from an Obama group, using Palin's childbirth decisions in her last preganancy as proof she is a poor mother, lacking true family values. I loathe having to keep defending a right-wing fundamentalist, when I oppose all her public policies. But this obsession with Palin's childbirth is creepy destructiveness.

I had my last two children at home. The births were planned. My third daughter was delivered by a nurse midwife; my fourth by a family physicians. Both had admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists characterizes home births as child abuse.

So I couldn't run for assistant dog catcher, could I?

I don 't want to list the misconceptions and lack of information displayed in the obstetrician-for-a-day posts. That would be doing the same thing I am accusing other bloggers and the media of doing. Short of leaving a baby in the trash pr refusing to take her home from the hospital, what business is ours how a candidate or a candidate's spouse handles birth?

We have absolutely no information on the births of Obama's and Biden's children. We don't even know if they took the time to show up in the delivery room. We don't know if they attended childbirth classes. We don't know if their wives had unnecessary C-sections because they didn't help her research local hospitals or didn't advocate for her when she was in labor.

We have no right to that information, anymore than we need to know how often they make love, whether their wives have had abortions, what kind of birth control they use, whether they ever had an STD.

Some things are none of our business. As all semblance of privacy is stripped from our candidates, the talent pool for our politicians inevitably shrinks.

Obstetricians for a day are not effective Obama supporters.

Birth as Child Abuse

ElizabethPatriciabirth82
bonding_1
Sisters bonding or poor family values?
I kept postponing writing this post, hoping it wouldn't be necessary. But once again I read a blog post and got an e mail from an Obama group, using Palin's childbirth decisions in her last preganancy as proof she is a poor mother, lacking true family values. I loathe having to keep defending a right-wing fundamentalist, when I oppose all her public policies. But this obsession with Palin's childbirth is creepy destructiveness.
I had my last two children at home. The births were planned. My third daughter was delivered by a nurse midwife; my fourth by a family physicians. Both had admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists characterizes home births as child abuse.
So I couldn't run for assistant dog catcher, could I?
I don 't want to list the misconceptions and lack of information displayed in the obstetrician-for-a-day posts. That would be doing the same thing I am accusing other bloggers and the media of doing. Short of leaving a baby in the trash pr refusing to take her home from the hospital, what business is ours how a candidate or a candidate's spouse handles birth?
We have absolutely no information on the births of Obama's and Biden's children. We don't even know if they took the time to show up in the delivery room. We don't know if they attended childbirth classes. We don't know if their wives had unnecessary C-sections because they didn't help her research local hospitals or didn't advocate for her when she was in labor.
We have no right to that information, anymore than we need to know how often they make love, whether their wives have had abortions, what kind of birth control they use, whether they ever had an STD.
Some things are none of our business. As all semblance of privacy is stripped from our candidates, the talent pool for our politicians inevitably shrinks.
Obstetricians for a day are not effective Obama supporters.

September 1, 2008

Mothers, Lawyers, and Politics

My mother had 6 children and 15 grandchildren. Born in 1921, she wanted to be a lawyer. Her father died when she was 17, and she had to go to secretarial school, not college. Her family required her financial support. From 1945, she raised 6 kids, was an active volunteer in her church and community. When my youngest brother was 5, she returned to college, graduated the same day I did in 1967, became a fervent feminist, got her master's degree in American History, and taught high school. After she retired, she worked for Bread for the World, an international organization fighting world hunger. When my dad developed Alzheimer's Disease, she became a support group leader, then the Long Island legislative lobbyist for the Alzheimers Association. Later she became a lobbyist for long-term health care. She was an officer of the Women's Ordination Conference, fighting for women priests. She would have been a superb congresswoman or senator, much more effective because she didn't go to law school. Her obituary characterized her as a trailblazer.

I was raised Roman Catholic and have 45 younger first cousins. Like my mother, my aunts, their friends, my friends' mothers could not afford to attend college before they had children. They had their large families very young, then got their degrees and started their careers by the time they were in their early forties. Since their children were largely grown, they were able to focus their tremendous energy, talent, and experience on their jobs.

At that time being a mother of a large family was considerably more respected than it is now. My grandmother had 8 children; my mother had 6; I had 4. I am so pissed when I read mockery of Palin for not knowing how babies are made. With my fertile genes, having only 4 planned children required practicing birth control every day except the four months it took me to get pregnant and the 8 months I was knowingly pregnant with each baby.

The extensive volunteer executive experience of my mother and my aunts was more likely to be acknowledged. My aunt went to law school when she was 40 and in a few years was chief counsel to the president of a large university. Now even many professional women don't seem to value women who chose to emphasize mothering instead of careers while their children were young.

I stayed home with my children full-time for 14 years, then got two master's degrees. I was a political activist, editor, childbirth educator, breastfeeding and parenting counselor, researcher, nursery school vice president and treasurer, PTA leader, volunteer teacher and librarian, mental health advocate. i Even in the traditionally female fields of library science and social work, I often felt that my experience as a mother and community activist was not acknowledged and valued. In social work school, I often was regarded as a beginner, and the tremendous amount of knowledge I had gained by reading, childrearing, and counseling, activism was regarded as cheating, because I hadn't put in the requisite years on the job.On the job,. I was given the responsibilities of an experienced librarian and social worker, but paid and promoted like a beginner.

Ann Crittenden has a provocative book, If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything." Anyone who doesn't think PTA activism is political experience has not been involved in Long Island PTAs:) Mothers' executive experience seems invisible to most people because they are not highly paid.

We need to broaden our conception of political experience. We cannot draw our political leadership from graduates of Yale and Harvard Law Schools. Sixty US Senators are lawyers. That certainly rules out most people, who could not possibly afford law school. How much of the adversial, partisan character of our politics is shaped by the exceess of lawyers? A Congress of PTA presidents would be considerably more effective.

Women need not follow the traditionally male path to political power. Otherwise they have to be Hillary Clinton's age before they can aim for major office and then are dismissed as too old, too entrenched in the status quo.

Women who have raised families are the most untapped resource for political talent. The mother bloggers who list a truly impressive list of achievements and experiences, claiming that doesn't make them qualified for being vice president are undervaluing themselves. Women who run for political office are relatively successful. The problem is most women, not graduates of elite law schools, aren't confident enough to run because work that mostly women do is often unrecognized and even scorned.

The positive aspect of Palin's candidacy is the possibility of opening up dialog and debate about what kind of experience qualifies you for public office.

August 31, 2008

Feminists Don't Tell Palin How To Mother

I am a lifelong Democrat. I supported Clinton in the Democratic primary, but switched my allegiance to Obama as soon as he became the presumptive nominee. I have actually been campaigning harder for Obama than I did for Hillary.

I was sickened and infuriated by the misogynistic, sexist attacks on Hillary coming from the media and from the progressive blogs I regularly read. I found it necessary to stop reading and commenting on many blogs and retreat to feminist ones. For almost a year I have been writing posts on how Obama needs to campaign as a feminist.

I have been disappointed by Obama's and the DNC's continued reluctance to address misogyny and sexism. I prayed that Obama would make a speech on sexism equivalent to his speech on racism. I am not entirely sure he gets it.

I had very mixed feelings about Michelle Obama's superb speech. It disturbs me greatly that she felt compelled to downplay her educational and career achievements and stress being a daughter, sister, wife and mother. Michelle has had to quit her job and her mother retired early to help take care of the children. Obama hardly sees his children by his own admission.

The Democratic Convention left me optimistic that the Obama and Hillary supporters could unite and defeat McCain. I thought we might be spared sexist onslalughts for the rest of the campaign.

Then McCain appointed Palin, and I am drowning in sexist bilge from leftist blogs. She is not experienced enough to be vice president. But she is not a twit, a VPILF, a beauty queen, an abusive mother. Too many of the young progressive bloggers who attacked Clinton can't seem to help themselves; they require a woman to kick around.

The sexism is different this time. Much of it concentrates on her mothering. Details of her labor are analyzed, debated, criticized. Her daughter is potrayed as her sibling's mother. Pictures of her daughter's belly are scrutinized. People are comparing her marriage certificate with her first son's birth certificate. This is just creepy; it feels stalkerish. That Democrats are doing it is revolting.

People don't seem to be able to get beyond stereotyping conservative women to hear that her husband plans to be the primary parent. Abortion is not the only feminist issue. Mothers' being able to care for their children and hold demanding jobs, fathers' sharing parenting equally with mothers, seem even more important to me. Palin has laughingly dismissed people who questioned her ability to mother and to govern as neanderthals. It must do girls good to see that the mother of young children can also run for major office. Despite the fact that I would never vote for her in a 1000 years, I still got a kick out of a picture of Palin's signing a bill into law, wearing her baby in a sling.

As the mother of 4, I am offended by the jeering that she obviously doesn't know how babies are made. Have we decided we don't need the vote of anyone who dared to have more than two kids? Her right-wing nuttery is being exaggerated. She doesn't have a record of imposing her views on anyone. I find it very upsetting that OBs are now recommending that every women be screened for Down's Syndrome, and that most people chose to end their pregnancy if they have a DS baby. I admire her keeping the baby and not hiding him at home.

Of course, Obama has considerably more experience. But being the mother of 5 over a period of 20 years probably is more than the equivalent of being a community organizer.

During the Democratic Convention, I watched the absurdly short speeches allowed to the women senators, representatives, and governors and sadly concluded there was not a Hillary in the bunch. There wasn't a Palin either. Democrats seem to be underestimating her. She is an American original, a women Daniel Boone, and the media as well as progressive bloggers seem obsessed by her.

I want us to campaign against her as we would against any conservative Republican. But along the way, we might want to celebrate the historic nature of a woman with a young child campaigning for major national office.

Hillary's comment seemed right: "We should all be proud of Gov. Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Sen. McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Gov. Palin will add an important new voice to the debate.”

Please refrain from telling a mother of 5 how to mother. It is already obvious that his father and his sibs are very good at nurturing Trig. Being in the thick of things is good for babies.

I have always understood Hillary supporters who are still not on board with Obama. It was not about Hillary. It was about the sexism and misogyny of the Democratic Party. It was about the Democratic Party's offering women little more than Roe vs. Wade. I think Hillary's speech convinced many of them, but the sexist onslaught on Palin might reopen the question. I am sadly concluding that if I want to continue to work hard for Obama, I better not read the progressive blogs I couldn't read during the campaign. Every time I read, "what kind of mother.." I want to make one fewer phone call, register one fewer voter.

August 24, 2008

Weekend Visit with All My Daughters

So far, I have mainly shared some struggles with my daughters in childhood and adolescence. Talking too much about their present lives seems a violation of their privacy. I might have given the impression that everything is lovely now that they have grown up. It's more complicated than that. Often I try to avoid thinking about disappointments and hope that once they become mothers, things will change. I discipline myself not to nag them about calling or visiting so infrequently. Certainly my relationship with Anne, my oldest, has become even closer since she became a mother.

All four of my daughters and their guys visited the first weekend in November. It wasn't planned far in advance; it just happened. Two are in Boston and one is in Chicago, so I don't see three of them nearly as much as I would like to. Marriage and in-laws complicate holiday get-togethers. Three of them aren't celebrating Thanksgiving with us for the first time. I know Anne is disappoined that Michael doesn't see more of his aunts and uncles.

The visit was great. Everyone lavished love and attention on Michael, who was his usual friendly, happy self. For once I didn't try to do more than I could manage without resentment; my injured knee helped to lower my and everyone's expectations. We had cold cuts for lunch and pizza for dinner instead of our making lunch and dinner. No one complained that our house wasn't up to the standards of their true loves' mothers. The girls didn't act like a bunch of selfish brats who will always expect to be waited on, who complain about the house but never lift a finger to clean. I did not have to question my whole childrearing philosophy. Had I raised ambitious members of the new ruling class or decent, helpful human beings? Their husbands/boyfriend helped clear off the table, loaded the dishwasher, made coffee, because their moms obviously trained them better. I was lavish in my appreciation.

Often it works better for them to visit one at a time. Returning to their childhood home often seems to evoke mass regression. My husband grew up in a civilized English home with only one sister. He finds it overwhelming when all 4 of them are talking at once, interrupting each other. Rose got married in 2002; Anne and Michelle in 2005. Carolyn met her true love last year. Having 4 guys around is delightful and brings out the best in everyone. Three years ago I created a family email list including me, my husband, my ex-husband, the four girls and their four guys. Six months ago, when Michael was born, I started describing his development in a photo blog. Everyone reads all their email and the blog, so we stay connected with each other's lives.

I am jealous of mothers whose children live nearby. Rose does want to come back East from Chicago as soon as her husband, an economics professor, gets another tenured position offer. Michelle and Carolyn are probably in Boston for good. I recall asking a library patron if her children lived close; she said, "no"; one was in Manhattan (20 miles away), one was out on Long Island (25 miles away). At the time Anne was in Niger and Michelle was in Australia on business. My uncle warned me if you send your kids away to college, they will never move back close to home, and that seems to be true.

Why Do I Feel This Way?


Some parents have asked me why I feel so passionately about preschool psychiatric diagnoses when my own daughters didn't have such serious problems. I will let you in on a secret. Bright, creative children can have a terrible time adjusting to traditional American grade schools. Bright bored children don't finish worksheets, don't pay attention, daydream, forget assignments, leave books and homework home, ignore the teacher, read ahead of the class and miss their place if called upon, miss many days of school. My local school insisted on testing a kindergarten boy for development disability; his IQ was genius level. When my writer, pictured above, was in first grade, her teacher refused to assign her to the advanced reading group until she was more "cooperative and compliant." Rose never became compliant. In kindergarten she refused to do assignments because "writers use their own words." In high school she refused to do art projects because "artists paint what they need to, not what the teacher assigns." Now I would be told to have her tested because her "emotional maturity" lagged behind her intelligence. My two high school valedictorians were not given any awards from grade school. They only truly liked school when they got to Yale.

Your bright preschooler might face as many challenges as your friend's autistic or ADHD son. More schools have special ed services than have gifted services. Again and again, I questioned whether home schooling might be easier than my daily struggle with their school. Younger parents might not anticipate the extent to which they need to be advocates for their kids in American's test-obsessed schools. Getting high test scores is more important than being a gifted musician or artist. Kids who don't adjust to the norm are stimatized. The most creative, divergent thinkers our society desperately needs can be slapped with a psychiatric label and have their giftedness drugged out of them.

Ripples

"We drop like pebbles into the ponds of each other's souls, and the orbit of our ripples continues to expand, intersecting with countless others. " J. Borysenko

Most children and their daddies love throwing pebbles into the water. What I loved about being a public librarian was the opportunity to throw thousands of pebbles over the years. Handing the right book to a child going through a difficult time could be worth months of therapy. A ten minute conversation with a distressed mom can help her and her child. Fifteen minutes coaxing an elder to try the internet can open up the world for her. Guiding a frightened new cancer patient to local support groups might lessen their fear.

I prefer being a librarian to being a social worker. Insurance companies compell therapists to put numbers on people; librarians only number the books." So many public librarians considered being social workers.

I once treated a young Irishman struggling with gay identity issues. Introducing him to James Baldwin was my crucial intervention. A friend, a ER psychiatric social worker at a large municipal hospital, has an office filled with books that he gives away. Chris believes many people experiencing the spiritual emergency of acute mental distress need a good listener and the right book, not hospital admission and mind-dulling drugs.

Being a La Leche leader was also a deeply rewarding way to create ripples. In the days before cordless phones, I use to have a phone cord that stretched anywhere downstairs, from the front to the back door, so I could ,give breastfeeding suggestions and make sure my kids weren't painting themselves purple, feeding potions to the baby, or decorating their playroom with talcum power and desitin.

Blogging, commenting, and linking allow us to throw even more pebbles.

Ripples

"We drop like pebbles into the ponds of each other's souls, and the orbit of our ripples continues to expand, intersecting with countless others. " J. Borysenko
Most children and their daddies love throwing pebbles into the water. What I loved about being a public librarian was the opportunity to throw thousands of pebbles over the years. Handing the right book to a child going through a difficult time could be worth months of therapy. A ten minute conversation with a distressed mom can help her and her child. Fifteen minutes coaxing an elder to try the internet can open up the world for her. Guiding a frightened new cancer patient to local support groups might lessen their fear. I prefer being a librarian to being a social worker. Insurance companies compell therapists to put numbers of people; librarians only number the books." So many public librarians considered being social workers.

I once treated a young Irishman struggling with gay identity issues. Introducing him to James Baldwin was my crucial intervention. A friend, a ER psychiatric social worker at a large municipal hospital, has an office filled with books that he gives away. Chris believes many people experiencing the spiritual emergency of acute mental distress need a good listener and the right book, not hospital admission and mind-dulling drugs.

Being a La Leche leader was also a deeply rewarding way to create ripples. In the days before cordless phones, I use to have a phone cord that stretched anywhere downstairs, from the front to the back door, so I could give breastfeeding suggestions and make sure my kids weren't painting themselves purple or making potions to feed to the baby or decorating the playroom with talcum power and desitin.

Blogging, commenting, and linking allow us to throw even more pebbles.

August 22, 2008

Duck and Cover, McCarthy, Assassinations, Vietnam

This is a picture of Robert Kennedy speaking at my graduation from Fordham University in 1967. RFK was running for president in 1968 when he was assassinated June 5, ten days before my wedding. I had a final wedding dress fitting the day of the assassination, and I was in tears the whole time.

My first specific political memory centered around the duck-and -cover, hide-under-our-desks, exercises that were a regular feature of my early school life from age 5 on. I knew enough about nuclear war to be terrified. We lived one mile away from an air force base, and I used to go out to the backyard, look up at the planes, and try to determine if they were American or Russian. I remember getting a book out of the library on aircraft identification. When I heard Joseph Stalin died, I remember asking if that meant no one would drop atom bombs on us.

In 1954 I had a severe case of the measles and Grandma Nolan came to help nurse me. She was listening to the Joseph McCarthy army hearings. Hatred of McCarthy's voice might have shaped my entire political development. In 1956, just turning eleven, I fell madly in love with Jack Kennedy as he made an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidential nomination. A good catholic school girl, I was initially attracted by his Catholicism; ten minutes later I was smitten by his intelligence, wit, and charm. I was luckier than his other women. Loving Jack Kennedy was good for me. I read about politics and history. From 1956 to 1963, I read everything I could about Kennedy, politics, American History.. When I was 15 I did volunteer work for his presidential campaign.

In high school we had political debates to imitate the famous Kennedy/Nixon debates and I represented Kennedy. What he believed in, I believed in. Gradually I moved to the left of his pragmatic liberalism. Certainly Kennedy was responsible for my decision to major in political science in college. Kennedy's assassination, occurring in the fall of my freshman year in college, devastated me. I felt like there had been a death in my immediate family. I quickly transferred my political allegiance to Bobby Kennedy.

I cannot precisely date my interest in and commitment to civil rights. When I was a freshman, I joined my college's Interracial Understanding Group. I was envious of those college students who could afford to spend the summer down south registering voters and didn't have to worry about money to pay their tuition.

Gradually during college I became a pacifist. Opposition to the Vietnam War right from the beginning was the catalyst. My husband to be, John, applied for conscientious objector status and was willing to face jail rather than be inducted. We became very active in the Catholic Peace Fellowship, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resister's League, all pacifist organizations. We went on several anti-war demonstrations both in New York and Washington. I briefly attended Stanford University where resistance to the war was at its height. Almost every afternoon, David Harris, Joan Baez's future husband, spoke out eloquently against the war.

My first job after Stanford was as an assistant to Victor Riesel, a labor columnist, who had been blinded by acid thrown in his face by the mob who controlled the waterfront he was exposing. My assignments included reading the AP ticker to him every day, clipping and reading articles in about 20 newspaper and labor papers. This was in 1968, when King and Kennedy were assassinated, when anti-war protect was at its height, so thinking about politics was my job.

After I returned from Stanford, I had rented a room from an elderly women on the Upper West Side, who supported herself by taking in borders. I spent most of my time with my fiance and didn't want my parents to know it. (I now know they saw through me.) I wasn't supposed to use her phone. I had gone to bed very late; I had stayed up to hear the results of the California primary. I was ecstatic; Bobby had won. I always woke up to a clock radio. As I groggily came to consciousness the next morning, it took minutes to penetrate what they were saying. At first I told myself they were talking about someone else. I crept into the hall and used the telephone for the first time to call John. I was crying so hysterically he thought something had happened to my parents or brothers.

I was working for Victor Riesel, the blind labor columnist. He had been blinded by racketeers because of his investigations of waterfront corruption. Acid had been thrown into his eyes. He was too proud to learn Braille, so he always hired bright young political women to be his eyes. My job was to read about 7 newspapers and 40 labor newspapers and bring to his attention anything that might provide column ideas. The equivalent of the internet was a constantly running ticker tape. All day and all wee I had to read him about the assassination between my tears. This was less than two months after MLK had been shot. The world was shattering, and it was my job to read about it and talk about it all day, everyday.

My husband escaped jailed by getting a high number in the 1969 Draft Lottery. I will never forget the night. I arrived home from work when they had reached 50. As time when on and they didn't call out John's birthday, I was convinced he had been in the first five. His number was 339. For the first time in two years, we could plan our lives together without worrying about a jail sentence.

Don't Cry Kitty; Mommy Will Read to You


Mom reading to me, Joe, and Andrew, 1951; Dad reading to Anne, 1974

In my baby book my mom wrote: "A book worm--she loved all books. At 2 years her favorites were Dumbo, Children's Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland. Was always eager for Cinderella, Goldilocks, etc." Under my favorite books, she listed Daddy's and Uncle George's yearbook, Mother Goose, all magazines, ABC book. Later I wrote in Nancy Drew. My obsession with my dad's yearbook indicated that I was fascinated by family history and dynamics from infancy.

My parents read to us every single night. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, etc. at an early age. On their first visit to Anne in the hospital the day she was born, my mom and dad bought three picture books.

My mom and dad were consummate book worms. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. As a librarian, I am upset by parents who restrict their kids to two or three books, especially when they ask me to back them up. My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized that card was a passport to the whole world. Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are home. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."

I have always been grateful that we did not have a television set until I was 14. John and I experimented with throwing out our television and maintained our resolve for for five years. Rose, who never watched TV until she was 5, is the most voracious reader.

My sister-in-law once paid me the supreme compliment: "Your idea of domesticity is putting your books in alphabetical order." Reading always took precedence over housework in my family. I have always found time to read at least 4 or 5 books a week. Admittedly my speed is much better than my retention. I can enjoy the same mysteries twice.

My family believes this picture of 3-year-old Carolyn, taken in 1985, is our cutest. Carolyn's kitten-holding technique was not optimal. She assured me she could talk to animals, and I absolutely believed her. What living creature could resist such an adorable child. Her sisters were in their Madonna phase. Carolyn loved to dance around with her grandma's rosary beads around her neck, telling everyone she was a material girl. She wanted to be in the movies.

Reading to toddlers and preschoolers is one of life's supreme pleasures. It is the natural follow-up to breastfeeding. Preschoolers who are read to realize that reading aloud is a wonderful way to nurture someone. I recall my daughter Rose's saying to her doll, "Don't cry baby. Mommy will read to you." I always read aloud to the older girls when I was nursing the baby.

Preschoolers can enjoy chapter books. Michelle insisted on our reading The Wind in the Willows to her three separate times when she was 4. Beverly Cleary's Ramona books are perfect for 4's and 5's. Carolyn did regard Ramona as her ego ideal. Don't stop reading to your children when they learn to read. Continue to read chapter books, books beyond their ability to read themselves. We never lose our love for being read to. Check out the thousands of books on tape and CD at your local library. If your library doesn't have the title you want, they can usually get it from another library.

I babysat for the same family from age 11 to 18; the kids were 2 and 6 when I started. By the time I graduated from college, Marion, the oldest, could babysit her brother by herself. I always read to them. About 10 years ago, I discovered a novel written by Marion. I was thrilled, look her up, and we write to each other sporadically. I loved to imagine that all those hundreds of books I had read to Marion and her brother helped influence her to become a writer.

My oldest daughter Anne loved the Curious George books. She loved them so much that both my parents and her parents gave her the same giant Curious George for her second Christmas. She grew up to be a curious Anne. She spent her 20s and early 30s working around the world in 75 world cities, living in Kosovo, Niger, and Rwanda.I recall George wound up with his head in the toilet.
When Anne was a teenager, we often seemed to communicate best by leaving books for each other on the radiator next to the toilet. No matter how conflicted our relationship could become, we both enjoyed the same books.

Do you ever go back and read your favorite children's books? At any age, it illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Anne's calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children's books. After my dad died, I loved to read again the books he read to me and my five brothers; the books and the memories seemed to bring him back. Pictures of parents reading to children are among my favorites.

I want a software program that enables you to feed in all your children's favorite books and then spits out an analysis of their character and advice on what battles are worth fighting. When asked to recommend books for children in the library, I usually talk to the kid for few minutes, figure out what daughter, brother, niece, nephew, cousins, friend she reminds me of, and recommend that child's favorite book. This absolutely intuitive technique works well.

As a child I adored all the Oz books. I spent a great deal of time pretending I was Glinda the Good. I frequently wear a pin with red shoes, celebrating Dorothy's magic red slippers. Nancy Drew, girl detective, was my other favorite. Veronica Mars reminds me of Nancy Drew.