Friday, April 26, 2013

Please, aggression acceptors

As a child, I feel like I played plenty of war games. Imaginative games born of hours Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (here's lookin' at you, Emily K.). Spy games, play fights, pretend weapons of all kinds. I once got chided at recess for making up some version of tag that we called Unabomber. Even looking back on these games now, I feel a sort of visceral satisfaction. At times, I think all kids want to play a little rough.

Knowing this full well, I did not go into raising a little boy with any kind of a pacifist mindset. I still don't consciously have a pacifist mindset, but...I've been thinking a lot about aggression in little boys. I've been thinking about what's acceptable and what's not, what's encouraged and what's not.

Luke is a really gentle little boy. I think some of it is his natural personality, and some of it is choices we've made in how we raise him--like nursing till he weaned on his own (around 22 months), co-sleeping, wearing him as a baby, not physically punishing him, playing gently with him, not really exposing him to shows with fighting. All of those things have seemed like the most loving and developmentally healthy choices we could make; they happened gradually, case by case, not necessarily with any goal to raise a gentle boy. But so far, that is what has happened. Contention of any kind stresses Luke--when he watches Toy Story 2, the infighting about who turns on the TV in Al's apartment makes him really upset. He has implored us to turn off episodes of TV shows where characters are bickering. He was given a toy gun and said, "A trumpet!" He was given a toy sword and persistently held it by the tip instead of the hilt. Any roughness with Renée has thus far been...experimental? Based out of curiosity, and not aggression. It has always been met with severe disapproval from us.

I don't know if it will always be this way. Maybe he'll realize that such things as hitting or shoving in anger actually exist. Maybe he'll experiment with this behavior. I don't know. But I do know that I have come to expect gentleness from him, and it doesn't seem that all mothers of sons expect gentleness.

I have seen Instagram pictures of older brothers shoving and kicking each younger siblings. Pictures are a form of praise. When I see these pictures, I have to wonder...why was a photo being snapped instead of the younger sibling being defended immediately? If Luke ever came close to doing that to Renée I would totally freak out. I know I'm not the only mom who feels this way...but it seems like most other moms who share my chagrin at shoving are moms of older sisters. And when I have a lot of time, my mind starts fixating on socialization of girls and boys, about how men commit radically more violent crime and acts of abuse and terrorism...about how the bombers at the Boston marathon were brothers, darkly united in their aggression. Sigh.

I have talked with another mom of a gentle boy. We discussed how other boys sometimes treat our sons, and how their mothers react. Her son got purposefully clocked on the head with a heavy toy at a church play group. The hitting boy was not corrected by his mother. Last week, Luke was forcefully shoved to the ground by an older boy. Luke was visibly baffled by the encounter; as he stood up, I wondered what he would make of it. He quickly started to say, "Oh I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding," as if he decided the shoving boy had to be joking. In Luke's mind, there could not possibly be another reason someone would shove him like that. He could not even perceive aggression.

I have talked with our friend Patrick, who is the oldest of four children, including two younger brothers, about this issue. He related that people ask him all the time, "Oh, what was it like growing up, did you beat up your brothers a lot?" And he is always really weirded out by the question, and responds with a version of, "No, my brothers actually love me, and I love them. I never beat them up." Patrick is quite tall, and always has been. If he'd wanted to wail on his brothers, he surely could have--but something led him not to. Either Patrick's innate gentleness, or perhaps his parents' encouragement. But regardless, people assume that an older brother=a hitting brother.

I have pondered at length about how it seems to me like moms of rough boys are secretly/subconsciously pleased that their little boys hit, push, or tackle. Sometimes it doesn't really seem like their hearts are in it when/if they correct their boys. There seems to be a sort of pride, as if they're thinking, "Well, sorry my son is rough, he's just the alpha male. He'll clearly grow up to be a leader/quarterback/CEO/the President."

I don't know what Luke will end up doing in the coming months and years. Like I said, he may at some point discover that roughness is a possible choice. But I don't want him to be that way. I don't assume--and by assuming,  accept and approve of--all boys' innate aggression. I look at the gentle men in Nick's family and my own--including Nick, his father, my father, my brothers, his uncle, his cousins (a family of 5 boys and 1 girl)--and I hold out hope that gentleness will be genetic. I hope one day, Luke will be just as puzzled as Patrick when asked if he pushed his sibs around.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thank you, Antonin Dvorak

I love America. It is still the country that inspired Antonin Dvorak to compose this:


The refrain of the second movement of the New World Symphony wraps around me like a blanket crocheted by my mother. Its gentle ups and downs comfort me like the ridges in the hands of my father. Many songs have borrowed this melody, because of its unique ability to place the peace of home in people's hearts. My favorite song that lovingly borrows from Dvorak is a French LDS hymn called "Souviens-Toi."

Anyone who is Mormon and knows French has probably heard of this hymn; I've seen various LDS people translate it on their blogs. Right now, I am in charge of teaching the 12-13 year old girls at church, and for a recent lesson, I decided that I would attempt my own translation of this song. My main goals were to preserve the spirit of the song as poetically as possible and to have the English words actually fit to the melody and be singable. The French text rhymes, but I felt that rhyme in English came off wrong. I did not translate every single thing word for word, but tried to find the right way to express the same thing in English. This is my offering:

Souviens-toi, mon enfant
Souviens-toi, mon enfant: Tes parents divins
te serraient dans leurs bras, ce temps ne’st pas loin.
Aujourd’hui, tu es là, présent merveilleux,
ton regard brille encore du reflet des cieux.
Parle-moi, mon enfant, de ces lieux bénis
car pour toi est léger le voile d’oubli.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant des bois, des cités.
Pouvons-nous ici-bas les imaginer?
Et le ciel jusqu’au soir, est-il rose ou gris ?
Le soleil attend-il la neige ou la pluie?
Conte-moi, mon enfant, la couleur des prés
et le chant des oiseaux d’un monde oublié.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant : A l’aube des temps,
nous étions des amis jouant dans le vent.
Puis un jour, dans la joie nous avons choisi
d’accepter du Seigneur le grand plan de vie.
Ce soir-là, mon enfant, nous avons promis
par l’amour, par la foi, d’être réunis.
Remember, My Child
Do you know, little one, your parents divine
held you close in their arms not so long ago
Now today, you are here, marvelous, aware
your small face still reflects the bright light of heav’n
Tell me now, little one, of this blessed place
for you make light the veil of forgetfulness

Ponder now, little one, on the woods and towns
Here below, do you think we can picture them?
Was the sky pink or gray at the close of day?
Would the sun, warm and fair, wait for snow or rain?
Tell me now, little one, the hue of the fields
Sing me songs of the birds in a world away

Picture now, little one, at the dawn of time
We were there, best of friends, playing in the wind
Then one day, filled with joy, we both made a choice
To accept, from our Lord, his grand plan of life
That night then, little one, we promised ourselves
By our love, by our faith, we would reunite

It is not perfect, I know. If you know French, you can see how the French is much more beautiful. I did my best. 

This song is a parent--a mother or father--asking a child or infant about what it was like living with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother before coming to this mortal life. Yes, in the LDS church, we do believe that we have a mother in heaven, as well as a father. We believe that everyone on earth lived as spirits with our heavenly parents before coming to earth and receiving a body. We believe that Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, created a plan whereby everyone on earth could learn, progress, repent, and choose to return to live with our heavenly parents again after this life. This is the Plan of Salvation, or the Plan of Happiness.

On a day like today, I think about the Plan of Salvation. I think about our Heavenly Father, who loves his children. I think about our older brother and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we could repent, and return to our heavenly parents. I think about the people who returned home today, when they weren't expecting to, and I weep. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thank you, Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Occasionally, you read something that is such a revelation to you that you feel like an idiot for not knowing it before. Over the past two weeks, I have had that experience in reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.

Maybe other women already know and understand much of the information in this book; that would be awesome. But for ladies like me who somehow missed the boat on an in-depth understanding of the menstrual cycle and how women's fertility really works (despite gobs of knowledge about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and a mother who was very open about body/reproductive knowledge), here are some intellectual hors d'oeuvres.

  • The 28-day cycle is a myth that impacts a variety of women's health care standards. Menstrual cycles are as individual as fingerprints. By keeping track of key fertility signs, you can get to know your own cycle.
  • Women typically release one egg a month, occasionally two. That egg is viable for a very short window of time, about 24 hours. Men produce hundreds of millions of sperm every day. It is entirely possible to know when you are fertile (ie, could become pregnant) and when you are not. 
  • The time between menses and ovulation is variable. It could change every month based on what's going on in your life. If you are sick, stressed, travelling, or exercising vigorously, ovulation could be delayed.
  • The time between ovulation and your next menses, or the luteal phase, is generally not variable month-to-month for a given woman. A luteal phase averages between 12 and 16 days between women generally. If your luteal phase is 13 days, then it may occasionally be 14 or occasionally 12, but will not vary beyond that. 
  • If you are keeping track of your key fertility signs and know when you ovulated and how long your own luteal phase is, then you will actually know if your period is "late" or not. Let's say your period starts on April 1. You get sick a week later, and then you are really stressed out from school. You notice that you don't ovulate till around April 25. You know that your own luteal phase is 15 days. So, you are not surprised when your period doesn't show up until May 10--giving you a 40-day cycle that is completely normal.
Wow. Whether you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy, that knowledge of when your period will come is wonderful. In the example above, a woman who is not keeping track of her fertility signs may have been really excited, expecting that she's achieved a pregnancy she wanted. When her period finally arrives so "late", she and her husband might feel disappointed. Another woman with that same 40-day cycle who is not keeping track of her fertility could have purchased several pregnancy tests in a fit of paranoia that she's become pregnant when she was not quite ready. When her period arrives, she will feel relief--but will be just as susceptible to pregnancy paranoia the next time ovulation is delayed for some reason.

You can only really know when to expect your period if you know when you ovulated and how long your own personal luteal phase is. If you're trying to get pregnant, you can only know when to time your baby-makin' if you know when you're going to ovulate (And guess what? Ovulation predictor kits* don't necessarily help with that). Toni shares stories of couples trying to get pregnant who had been very diligent about making time for love about two weeks after the woman's period (based on the the mythical 28-day cycle), but who had not achieved a pregnancy. If a woman ovulated at day 11, then they would have missed the ball! Or if a woman ovulated frequently at day 20, they would have been too early! Toni points out that a couple could make love twice a week for a year and not get pregnant because they are missing when the woman ovulates every single time. Such a couple might think they have fertility problems, when actually they just don't know enough about the woman's cycle. Toni also talks about how many fertility treatments are timed based on the 28-day cycle and the problems and misfires and expense that can subsequently result.

Oh and speaking of 28-day cycle problems, guess what else is based off of it? PREGNANCY DUE DATES. If a woman's last period started February 1, her due date will be calculated from February 14, according to the 28-day cycle. But if her ovulation was very delayed and she didn't ovulate until February 28, that means her due date is off by two weeks. That means that if her care provider insists she is induced at 40 weeks, she could actually be getting induced at 38 weeks. What if that baby naturally would have gestated till 42 weeks? Then baby has been born a month early, and will suffer for it. Every day in the womb makes a difference. How many "failed" inductions that resulted in C-sections were inductions that didn't work because they were actually happening at 36, 37, or 38 weeks?

Toni also talks at length about the inequality of manufactured birth control, how it is essentially all geared toward the woman; how even though women are the ones who are only fertile a couple days a month, we are the ones expected to live with all of the horrible side effects of birth control. As another incentive for reading the book, let's just say that Toni has a little parody of the IUD called the IPD, and it is so vindicating and hilarious.

Basically, when women are actively keeping track of their fertility signs (waking temp, cervical fluid, and cervical position), and timing unprotected intercourse for when she's infertile (which is the majority of the time), then Fertility Awareness is a completely free method of birth control that is just as reliable as condoms. That is, if you are using the Fertility Awareness Method taught in the book with exactness, you have a 2% chance of getting pregnant. Using condoms with exactness, you also have a 2% chance of getting pregnant.

I ponder at length about lost body-knowledge. I have been aware of our culture's lost knowledge about birth and breastfeeding for a while, and now I realize we have also lost knowledge about the most basic elements of the menstrual cycle. A woman's body is not just this mysterious, unknowable thing that has to be reigned in with drugs and devices! We can and should know our own bodies and our own cycles.

I realize I didn't even attempt to explain what the key fertility signs are or what they indicate (though I was fascinated to learn about how the cervix changes position cyclically with ovulation!) That is because this is a complex topic, and I don't want anyone to be tempted to run off and try to use FAM as birth control with a couple fun facts. These are hors d'oeuvres. Please, go to the library or a bookstore and sit yourself down for the main course. It will give you the most nourishing and delicious self-knowledge you have ever consumed.

*You may view all of this with skepticism, thinking of someone you know who got pregnant unintentionally while using "natural" birth control. Likely, they were using an ovulation predictor kit, which doesn't give enough warning before ovulation; the Rhythm method, which is based off the 28-day cycle and does not require a woman to keep track of her own fertility signs; or the Billings method, which only monitors cervical fluid and is thus incomplete and prone to slip-ups. Toni's Fertility Awareness Method is rigorous, detailed, and very individualized, and again, has the same clinical effectiveness as condoms for contraceptive purposes. Don't knock it till you've tried it.