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On privilege

Ever notice the word “privilege” had the word “vile” sitting right there in the middle of it? I didn’t until tonight. Here’s what privilege is: being in your mid-thirties with an advanced degree and a writing job and still always wanting to insert a “d” into that word. Privilege is relying on spell-check for professionalism. It’s having spell-check in the first place.

We’re in the middle of a few “national conversations” right now: about flags, and states rights, and history, and somewhere on that list, maybe pretty far down, racism, spelled timidly with a lower-case “r.”

Privilege is the luxury of time to discuss these things, the ability to dissect issues from a so-called objective space. To determine from your own impartial analysis, for example, in the case of many recent killings, whether the dead person – presumably someone of color and with little privilege – somehow “instigated” the situation. To not fear any real consequences no matter what conclusion you come to. To know that no one in your inner circle will be targeted in an attack because of their race while you are making up your mind.

Privilege is discussing race, and gender, and sexuality, and religion, and, yes, privilege, in the safety of a classroom. It’s paying exorbitant sums of money to do so. It’s walking away with academic credit and a “specialization in diversity studies” on your resume.

It’s a gift. It’s ripe for misuse. It’s the option to not have read this far. To click “like” and move to the sports page. To disagree by posting vile commentary.

It’s willful ambivalence. It’s knowledge without action. It’s uncomfortable silence.

Definition

Privilege is paying hundreds of dollars to take a class about privilege and leaving with academic credit.*

*In many cases without once having to interact with anyone not also considered privileged.

On vaccination

Here’s what I know. If you’re reading this you’re either going to agree or disagree with me. You already agree or disagree. Reading this will reinforce what you already think, or you will think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t expect to change any minds. These are exactly the topics that I try to steer clear of online because I’ve never seen a productive conversation following a post like this. So I know I am opening my own can of worms.

But I know I have to say something. I am reading about an outbreak of measles in New York City, and this makes me nervous. I know that this is the first time I’ve thought about measles in my 33 years. I know that vaccination has become less routine, and that this has consequences.

Let me start by saying I sympathize with the desire to opt-out. I know the creeping feeling that our society is over-medicated, the suspicion that we swallow pills instead of solving problems. I know that I try to fix things the natural way. I won’t take aspirin for a headache until it’s lasted for hours. I ask doctors about the necessity of taking antibiotics before filling their prescriptions. I read every possible side effect of everything I ingest. I know what it feels like to give birth with breath as your only sedative.

I know what it feels like to become a mother. The awe. And then the terror. The realization that you are in charge of something – someone – so fragile. The certainty that he will experience pain you won’t be able to protect him from. The joy of trying to do so anyway. The agony of watching him suffer.

I know how much it hurts the first time you stand helpless as a a nurse sticks a needle into your son’s thigh. He looks at you for comfort. You cry. He screams. I know how it feels not to be able to explain. To watch for fevers at night. To rub the lump out of his leg. I know I hate it every time we get him vaccinated.

I know I am doing the right thing.

My son turned six months today. He is a strong, healthy baby, breastfed and big-cheeked. Just tonight, he rolled from his tummy onto his back for the first time. He laughs when you lower your finger to his nose. Tomorrow he will taste sweet potatoes – something new. He will go for his scheduled shots on Monday. He is still six months too young for MMR.

I know 19 out of 8 million is a tiny number. I know that we have to go on living our lives. I know when we were waiting in the doctor’s office last week, my son with his first bad cold, there was a boy with bright red cheeks who coughed in the waiting room. I know I wouldn’t have imagined they were spots if I hadn’t overheard the phone call, another worried mom on the other end of the line. I know the receptionist said that MMR is 99% effective after the first dose. That full immunity is usually conferred by age four. That there is no advantage to getting the second dose early, unless a student in your class is diagnosed. I know that other boy probably had a cold, just like my son. I know that won’t stop me from feeling his forehead for the next two weeks.

I know now why my mom always worried.

I am glad my son’s pediatrician insists all patients follow the schedule. Relieved his daycare requires proof of vaccination. I know the other adults in my son’s life are doing the best they can for him, but I know they can’t protect him either. I know that all vaccines carry a risk. I know that I’m willing to take it.

A friend is coming to visit later this month who is immunocompromised. I know that anyone dealing with serious immune system issues already has enough to worry about without adding preventable illnesses to the list. That the same is true in households with infants. I know that in both cases, they don’t have a choice in the matter: they depend on our health for their own. I know that isn’t convenient. But it must be acknowledged. No man is an island on the Island of Manhattan. We are all in this together.

I don’t know anyone who has had the measles. I do know the reason they haven’t.

A thousand untrue words

 

Since H was born, one of the conversations I keep having with other parents – after we get through the obligatory “how’s the baby” talk – is the issue of perceptions vs. reality of parenthood. At least once a day I find myself living a moment that feels like a scripted sitcom, but in fact is now my life.  

(I kid you not, my child picked this moment to poop so loudly he startled himself awake… will resume writing after a diaper change.)

So yes, my 4-week-old is developing a great sense of comic timing.

When I was pregnant, other moms of young children loved to tell me about the challenges of parenthood: the sleepless nights, the mountains of poo, the random inconsolable screams. Yet these stories stood in stark contrast to the photos these same friends posted on Facebook of delightful smiling cherubs whose main objective, so far as I could tell, was to make the world a cuter place for us all. 

As someone now receiving a crash-course education in the world of babies I can say safely that there is always a story behind the photo. Let’s consider the picture below, taken yesterday:

 Image

At a glance, this is the stuff the internet is made of: cat, baby, and smiling mama, all snuggled together on the couch as baby eats his 7th lunch of the day (infant eating schedules put hobbits to shame). But of course, this fails to capture what is really going on here:

Cat

After 15 years of being the spoiled only child, Sam’s response to the baby has been less-than-enthusiastic. This photo marks one of the only times Sam has willingly come near the baby, and notice he is touching my hand, steering clear of the infant. While his careful avoidance of H has advantages for us new, worried parents, Sam has been the big looser here as the worries are no longer about him. What this photo does not show is the giant, crusty booger that’s stuck to the cat’s nostril that I noticed just after taking this. Sam has had some sort of feline sinus infection for days and we, overworked and overtired, have neglected to take him to the vet. And so the snot festers and I try to wipe it off while feeding the baby and then realize that cat snot on my hands is probably bad for the baby and attempt to retrieve hand sanitizer without disturbing the baby (the cat having already sulked off in protest of me messing up his nose-sculpture) but that too fails and the baby begins  alternately crying and gasping for food and thus the magic is broken. 

Baby

Every feeding is futile. Babies are never full. We’re lucky our little one is putting the milk to good use and gaining weight as expected. But for every ounce of weight added to the charming rolls of baby-tub, my guess is that at least 4 ounces of food are wasted. This meal, like all the others, came quickly out both ends soon after this photo was snapped. The diaper that followed this feeding contained a bonus otherworldly pinkish liquid, in addition to the standard baby poop fare. This led me right back to my newfound expertise as a poop-googler (I might as well bookmark the “baby poop color” results page). Thankfully, it appears this particular rainbow is perfectly normal.  

Mommy

The lack of make-up, jewelry, or any sort of effort with hair is the stuff stereotypes are made of. Not pictured here is the lower half of my outfit, which consists of the same pair of maternity jeans I received secondhand from a friend’s sister and remain the only pants I am able to wear. A mid-September due date meant a New York City third-trimester summer of skirts and A-line dresses but not a single pair of new maternity pants. This seemed like an economical and fashionable plan, until I found myself nearly 5 weeks postpartum with the leaves turning and the temperature dropping and a big-old baby gut that is going nowhere fast. Someday I will find time to go into a store and figure out my new size. Until then, I submit that clothing may be part of the reason it’s so hard to get new moms out of the house. 

I’ll take a moment to acknowledge here that this is the tame stuff, and to thank the universe for our luck. For every family with a new baby experiencing these sitcom moments, there’s a family struggling with health issues for baby, mama, or both. There are unplanned surgeries and screaming fights and postpartum depression and feeding problems and unpaid medical bills and a whole host of other issues that never appear on Facebook, but that you slowly begin to hear about as you start talking to other families.

In short, if you have a really good friend with a kid,  and you’re not afraid of body fluids, ask for the story behind the latest pics. I promise, there will be one. 

Returning a different person

Since my last post, 11 months ago, I grew and delivered a child. A healthy, hilarious boy, born 9/14/13. Three weeks into new motherhood and my first week home alone all day with baby. The grandparents have come and gone. The husband has exhausted his leave and work from home time. From here until January, it’s me and the baby and the cat, making a happy life.

Having this rare period of time away from work, I want to return to this blog to use the part of my brain that isn’t stimulated by regular diaper changes, feeding sessions, and googling questions like “how long can breast-fed baby go without pooping?”

Setting the goal for a weekly post. Given that it can take me 12 hours to complete a 3-line email these days, that seems a fair bar.

In which dreams imitate life

My husband, some friends and I were trapped in a house. There was no exit. It was a game, but we didn’t know the rules. We couldn’t leave until someone won. We spent days, weeks, months going through motions, going from friends to increasingly agitated individuals to near-enemies. Alliances formed. Drama everywhere. It was Big Brother without an audience, and the only prize would be to someday leave the house but keep going, taking with us whatever lessons we’d learned. The fights escalated until my friend punched his wife in the nose. A swollen nose was how you won the game. She was thrilled. /Dream

I’m having one…

I’m having one of those “you can’t always get what you want” type of days. You know the kind: you work really hard for something, and then it just doesn’t happen, due to circumstances outside of your control. And while I prefer to take a deep breath and bring in some famous French wisdom – que sera sera, whatever – it doesn’t change the fact that it utterly sucks when things don’t happen the way you want them to. At least for a little bit.

But here is me, accepting and not moping. So, Happy New Year, everyone. Here are the things that I am celebrating today, in spite of a little setback:

1) I have a glass of red wine next to me, and a cat on my lap. If the combination of these things is not the cure-all for whatever ails you, I don’t know what is.

2) My 95-year-old grandfather just had heart surgery. And he’s recovering well. Not only can my relatives can still rock life 95 years into it, they still strive to make themselves better.

3) I can so relate to Mick Jagger today. And, obviously, we have a ton in common. Especially the long flowing hair.

 

On food, and how we talk about it

Today’s news brings us the new government guidelines for all eaters: eat less. On one hand, very simple advice. On the other hand, is it maybe too simple?  Is the act of the government coming out and saying what Weight Watchers has been telling the world since 1963 really going to provide anyone with new information on how to reduce their weight?

It’s math, people.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that easy. For example, if people ate more, say, mushroom bourguignon with a side of kale (full disclosure: my dinner tonight), I don’t think they’d be getting quite so large. It isn’t only how much you eat, but also what you’re eating. Admittedly, the guidelines also call for half of your plate to be filled with fruits and vegetables, which is a helpful hint, but still doesn’t hit another issue that may be turning people away from healthy foods. Let me put forth another idea, as a person who has always preferred English to math. My hypothesis (science now) is that the language we use to talk about healthy food is a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.

For example, let’s start with your basic items on your basic fast food menu. What do you have? Hamburger. Cheeseburger. Chicken Nuggets.You can picture them all, can’t you? You have absolutely no questions about what they look like, and certainly no doubt about how to pronounce them. What about the signature fancy dishes: the Whopper; the Big Mac; and my favorite, the Baconator, which does not fuck around with things like “lettuce.” While these words may not mean anything on their own, they’re still friendly and easy to pronounce, which–by association–sound easy to eat. What’s in a Big Mac anyway? Special sauce. That in itself means nothing either, but gosh-darn does it sound fun. Really makes eating fast food seem, well, special, doesn’t it?

Let’s compare this with my aforementioned dinner. I’ll be the first to admit: even for a college-educated girl, bourguignon is way easier to cook than it is to spell. What about some other words I’ve come across reading foodie articles in the past week: radicchio, braised, au jus. Growing up in a Betty Crocker household, I can promise you that these are words we never used in the kitchen. Furthermore, when I first came across them–whether in a menu or in a cookbook–2 things immediately came to mind:

1) This shit is fancy; and

2) I can’t (eat/make) this–I don’t know (what it is) and/or (how to pronounce it)!

Some version of thought 2 ALWAYS followed thought 1.

I think I would have likely made the bourguignon sooner if we used the old fast food trick of calling it what it is: a dish cooked in alcohol. In fact, I may have made bourguignon about twice a week in college. I’ve never cooked raddichio, but knowing that it looks like cabbage makes me pretty confident I can tackle it with ease (it also helps that when I see it on the menu I now think “rhymes with ‘geek,’ not ‘radish.’) As for braising, I’m sure I’ve done it, but I wouldn’t know to call it that (a glance at the wikipedia page confirms my assumption). As for the “au jus?” Just juice baby. Sweet meat juice. (Why is this not an item on a fast food menu?)

In sum, (math again) healthy food needs a little modern marketing to be more accessible–mentally, not just in proximity. Think quick, easy dishes dishes described in USA Today instead of New York Times language. Don’t believe me? Call your friend who’s favorite meal is a Big Mac and tell him you’re making either beef in booze or chicken with meat juice for dinner. He’ll be right over–and may even try the radicchio while he’s at it.

El Gato del Muerto

Despite paying assiduous attention to this comic, I was totally unprepared for Sam to try to kill me last night. Sure, he digs away in his box, sprints out of the room all the time, loves to sleep on keyboards, and wakes me up by pawing my face almost every day, still I remained in denial about his true intentions.

He made his sinister plot known last night though. I was up on my trusty step ladder, trying to reach the top kitchen shelf. As I went to step down–without looking, of course–I stepped onto the back of the cat, who thought standing in the one square foot space behind my step stool was a good use of his time. I figured out what was going on in mid-step, tried to shift my weight, and ended up hitting the ground hard but on my feet. My arm was less lucky, slamming in to the corner of the countertop and developing an ample little black and blue mountain this morning.

Of course, it could have been much worse. The cat got away with nary a scratch, but I fear this may have been one of those test plots where he checks to see where the bugs in the plan are.

I’ll be sleeping with one eye open.

Black Friday in Soho

Yes, I’m the crazy person who went there. I was planning to do a little work from home this morning, and when I opened my computer, I got a light show like I had never experienced. Picture fireworks on the screen. I couldn’t do anything. After about 10 futile minutes of opening and closing my laptop, I borrowed C’s and made a Genius Bar appointment.

I dreaded this appointment for 2 reasons:

1) It’s Black F-ing Friday in Soho

2) Last time I was having trouble with my screen, I took it in, and while they couldn’t replicate the problem, I was kindly informed that it would be $310 to fix if it was what it sounded like. ‘Tis not the season for me to have an extra $300 lying around.

Though the Prince Street station was literally overflowing with people, and Broadway was clogged with tourists and barely crossable, we waited almost no time to meet our assigned Genius once we got in to the store. He kindly informed me that, yes, it is the screen, and yes, it would be $310. Then he left me to stew while he went to see if there was a “quick fix” he could perform.

There wasn’t.

However, he said, since we’d already paid to fix this problem once this year (the same thing happened last spring before I bought the Mac from C) and I kept the laptop in stellar condition, APPLE WOULD COVER THE COST OF REPAIR.

Happy Thanksgiving to me!