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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Awakening from life as a human pacifier

Lately I've been feeling like Robert De Niro in that movie, Awakenings, where he plays a guy who has been catatonic from encephalitis since he was a boy. I haven't been slack-jawed and drooling for like 30 years, only for the better part of 15 months as I laid in bed with Annika for naps and bedtime -- staring at the ceiling, reading, thinking, daydreaming, planning my escape -- so she could nurse. And nurse. And nurse.

Lately, I have been able to sneak away occasionally when Annika falls asleep, which has been nearly impossible for the past eight months.

I remember the moment my career as a human pacifier began.

The moment is etched in my brain as clear as day because at that moment, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. I still don't know for sure.

Annika was only a couple of weeks old. I was nursing her to sleep one night and as she fell to sleep, I took my finger, slid it into the side of her mouth and popped her off of my breast. She stayed asleep, but new mommy guilt set in immediately. What had I just done? I was new enough to attachment parenting that I didn't quite understand all of the semantics. I suppose I took the "attachment" part quite literally.

So anyhow, as I sat in my rocking chair, hormones flowing, considering that I had quite literally forced my newborn away from my breast, panicked thoughts raced through my brain: What if she really needs to continue suckling? What if she feels rejected? What if something innate in her HAS JUST DIED because I physically extracted her away from me?

Unanswered questions raced, guilt surged, panic flowed, I did what seemed rational to me -- at the time. I carefully and tenderly attached my sleeping infant back onto my breast.

Now, almost 15 months later, in my head, I laugh dejectedly at this poor misguided woman. How I wish I could go back to that evening and tell her, "Hey, your kid is asleep, you did what you were supposed to do. Now get up as quietly as you can and deposit the child into the bed."

I spent the first three or four months of Annika's life not trying to un-attach her while she slept during the day.

I wonder -- now -- if I created that nursing monster, the child who seems to think my breast is her own personal chew toy.

Back then, I did realize though, that I needed SOME time to myself without a nursing baby attached to my breast, so at night I'd nurse her to sleep then slip away for a blissful two or three hours on some nights. Little did I know that my griping about THAT was foolish, foolish, foolish. How I wish, Oh HOW I WISH, she would sleep that long alone now.

These days I'm lucky if I get 45 minutes. And even that is an improvement over the chunk of six months to a year. I couldn't get up. She'd wake up immediately if I moved to get out of the bed. Some days she would not sleep at all without my breast firmly attached to the inside of her little mouth.

So, yeah, I'm finally able to move about the cabin. It feels nice, and like Robert De Niro, I don't know how long it's going to last and I wonder if I'll ever be normal again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Live and left live

It has recently come to light in my own head that I am way more controlling and a super tight ass than I have let myself believe. In my head I am pretty laid back, non-judgmental, open-minded, yada, yada, yada.

Since becoming a mother, I have been so intent on ensuring a happy and carefree childhood for Annika I have taken over the job of controlling everything around her and forgotten that I am not the only parent here.

Last week Toyin and I began having this same old argument we've been having on and off for some months. I don't even remember when it started. But a while after Annika was born Toyin mentioned something about how he hoped Annika would be right-handed. Not only did he hope this, but he intended to go about "encouraging" her to be right-handed because in some cultures, specifically Nigerian culture, left-handededness is seen as a negative trait.

Now, I am left-handed, a huge minority in the world, to be left-handed, and even more of a minority to be a left-handed female.

Toyin is right-handed.

It pissed me off royally that Toyin would try to sway her handedness. I worried that if he was successful she might have learning difficulties. And even more so, I guess there is a little part of me that hopes she will be left-handed because I think being a lefty is just the bees knees.

But Toyin's take on it is different. He says that we should encourage her to be right-handed because it could potentially ease some cultural divides. He says that Annika already has a lot of strikes against her being a Black woman and all, so we should try to ease the things that we can.

At first I tried to reason with him by telling him he was being stupid. He refused to see my point.

Then I tried to use reverse psychology on him.

The conversation went something like this.

Me: "So you want to sway Annika to be right-handed by trying to get her to use her right hand more?"

Him: "Yes, I'll encourage her. I'm not going to try to force it. But I've done some research on this. Handedness is mostly genetics, but it's partially environmental. I think that it would make life easier on her, especially in Nigerian culture since it is still seen as rude or bad luck to use the left hand. Did you know that in some cultures they will throw you out of their house if you try to shake hands using your left hand?"

Me: "Oh yeah? Well if you do that, I'm going to start straightening her hair! Maybe I'll even bleach her skin!"

Him: "You aren't going to do that. Be reasonable."

Me: "Go fuck yourself!"

After that particularly enlightening conversation I started doing some research, which mostly consisted of me reading the Wikipedia page on left-handedness.

Here's some of the information that struck me as the most interesting.

It is considered rude in Semitic cultures to shake with the left hand. In Muslim and Indian culture the left hand is traditionally used to clean oneself after defecating. In Christianity the left hand is used as a metaphor to shame society.

Language has tons of negative associations about the left hand.

The root of the word sinister originally meant left, but eventually was changed to mean evil.
Left is often used to describe awkwardness, example: two left feet. In Mandarin, left means improper.

The word ambidextrous comes from the root word, dexter, which, ironically, means right.

Then after I learned everything I never wanted to know about being left-handed, I started writing this blog, determined to find some sort of meaning in this potentially useless and time-consuming-waste-of-space argument.

It took me a couple of days, then I found the significance of this argument.

I started out by telling Toyin that he should just live and let live. Then I realized that I was not doing that.

I told him that he needed to leave it alone and let Annika be who she is going to be.

But as much as I'd like Annika to turn out to be a carbon copy of me and wonderfulness that is ME, she is not just my daughter. Toyin is her dad and that means he will have just as much influence on her life as I do.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My thoughts on Michael Jackson

I spent the afternoon watching Michael Jackson's memorial and feeling sad. A part of me felt embarrassed for even feeling sad. After all, Jackson was the topic of freak jokes, suspected of being a pedophile, and poked fun of in general for years.

But the one-gloved wonder was my favorite childhood singer.

I loved Michael Jackson as a child and pre-teen. I obsessed over his music, buying everything I could afford on my meager allowance. I even kept a scrapbook of articles and pictures about him. I wish I still had it.

I didn't feel sad when I first heard of his death. I was shocked, intrigued about how he died, and wondered what the outcome of his autopsy would be.

But after watching his memorial, I was reminded just how human he was, despite his appearance and all the rest of the Michael Jackson facade. And I feel a profound loss, which surprises me.
I also feel sad for his children. They have lost their father. And now that I'm a mother, I have real insight as to how this will dramatically alter their lives.

During the service, I, and I assume millions of other viewers, was interested in catching a glimpse of his children.

At first I didn't think they would show them. Throughout the service the camera panned quickly over the family and seemed to keep a careful distance from the kids, especially Blanket, the youngest.

Then at the end, they showed them in full view up on stage during the We Are the World rendition. It felt awkward and a bit callous how easily the family paraded them in front of the world when for all of their lives Michael had carefully kept them from the spotlight. Then wham, he's not even buried and they are in full view during a media circus.

Their lives will never be the same. They have lost their father and now they are being taken care of by the very people who put him in the spotlight and took away his childhood, as he complained of in past years. Up until now, they have been living what I can only guess was a relatively normal life.

That's all about to change. At least it will over the next few weeks and maybe months while the media speculates about his death.

MJ never had a real childhood. It is assumed that because of his upbringing, he clearly had severe mental problems. And now, likely, his worst fear has come true. His children will endure the same kind of intense public scrutiny that he did.

As a mother it frightens me to no end when I think of the possibility that I might die before Annika grows up. I can't imagine anyone more fit to raise her than myself and Toyin. Not even our families. It's not that they wouldn't do fine. But no one wants their kids to just be fine. I have hopes and dreams for her. I want to protect her from things that others, even family members, might inflict on her.

I can only assume that Michael Jackson felt the same.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Food Inc. is an eye-opening, sickening, must see

Toyin and I went to see Food Inc. today. It was an enlightening documentary about the corporate takeover of our food. As I watched, I felt sick thinking of the disgusting things I have been ingesting all of my life.

The film was sad in so many ways.

It showed how the monstrous food industry corporations cause death, poverty and injustice in the everyday lives of average Americans and it had a profound impact on me. After seeing this film, I intend to alter the way I buy groceries.

Because I am a mother of a toddler, the saddest part of the movie was the story of Kevin Kowalcyk, a 2-year-old boy who died in 2001 from E. coli poisoning from eating a hamburger. The meat that he ate was part of a recall from a processing plant that had been cited numerous times for unsanitary conditions. The plant should have been shut down. The recall didn't actually happen until several days after he died.

His mother, Barbara Kowalcyk, has been on a mission to have the law changed to allow the FDA to shut down processing plants that violate contamination standards repeatedly. She helped introduce a bill called Kevin's Law (which never passed) that would give the FDA authority to shut down processing plants that violate unsanitary conditions repeatedly. Apparently, the government does not have the authority to do this? How crazy is that?

At the end of the film Kowalcyk says that the thing she hates most about telling her story is the look of pity in people's eyes when she talks about her dead son.

She says she doesn't need a pity party; what she wants most is for people to help her get laws changed.

I started this blog last night and I didn't post it because I wanted to continue writing, but I didn't know what I wanted to write.

Now I know.

I can testify that this movie changed my life because already, this morning, as I fixed my breakfast I was slower to put things in my mouth. I wondered what is in my cereal that is going to have a harmful effect on my body and I don't even know it.

I wondered if the milk I drank came from cows who were standing in their own feces and pumped full of antibiotics.

It pisses me off when I think about the farmers who are being controlled by companies who hold patents on seeds.

Monsanto is highlighted as a corporate bully against farmers into using only its products and suing the crap out of anyone who doesn't lie down with them. There is even a documentary.

This film pissed me off at our country and our political and legal system. Where's our aid? Where are our rights to live the way we want and to do business the way we want to as individuals in a supposedly individualistic society?

It pisses me off when the government tries to shut down local farmers who do things the old fashioned way.

It pisses me off that small farmers are sued by big companies for just trying to make a living.

It pisses me off that 90 percent of processed food is filled with corn and corn products because corn is subsidized, making it cheap filler.

It pisses me off that migrant workers are jailed for working illegally in the U.S. while the American bosses who hired them aren't given so much as a fine.

It pisses me off because now I wonder what kind of crap I have been feeding my 1-year-old daughter.

It pisses me off because I think about 2-year-old Kevin Kowalcyk who died because he ate a hamburger. And instead of watching her child grow up Barbara Kowalcyk fought the government for seven years and lost, and she did this only to try to keep other mothers from experiencing the same pain that she did.

It pisses me off because I think of all the times I've fed Annika junk food and said, "Well, it might not be good for her, but it's not going to kill her."

And now I wonder if maybe someday it will.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Soul mirror

My daughter and I look nothing alike.


I have actually been asked numerous times by strangers if she's adopted. The most interesting phrasing of that was by a third cousin's husband at my great aunt's funeral.

"How long have you had her?" he asked.

Had her? I didn't quite understand what he meant at first.

My answer, "She's a year old."

He then went on to tell me that he and his wife had adopted some bi-racial children.


"No, no, no, she's all mine." I said itching with irritation. "I carried her for nine months and went through 19 1/2 hours of labor to prove it. Although, I know, she looks nothing like me."

But I have been noticing lately that she is becoming more and more like me. Watching her is like looking in a mirror sometimes. She reflects back to me much of what I am. I see myself in her, and I see her in me.

For instance, she gets this look on her face when she is examining something very intently.

That's me! My inner voice screams with delight when I see that look.

"I get that look too! That's me! She does look like me!"

And also, the way she enters a new situation warily, and insistent that she examine every thing and every person before she gets comfortable.

That is also me. To a tee.

I have heard parents say that they see themselves reflected in their children.

I never really understood.

Having a child forces you to see yourself in a light that was impossible before becoming a parent.

Socrates said "An unexamined life is not worth living."

I spent years writing in my journal, going to therapy, meditating, hashing out my problems with my best friend, venting, examining, amateur psychologying....

Only to have a child and see so many things as clear as day.

It's nice to see myself in her.


It's cute.

I just wonder what it's going to be like when she starts yelling at the dog and screaming "Asshole! out the window at other cars while driving down the highway.