Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Good Fight

I heard a song last night and was transported, as a good song can do, to a moment in time, just a few years ago, that I would never want to relive and yet, given the outcome and where I am now, is not an entirely unpleasant memory. I know that anyone reading this who is still in the throes of it (and indeed some who've had their happy endings) may not understand and in fact may resent my saying this, but sometimes, in the same way that thinking about your angsty college years or a bad breakup can do this, thinking about my infertility experience is sort of, forgive the word, empowering. It was one of those times in my life when all of my emotions lived right on the surface, when every moment felt vital and true, even if every moment also felt painful and difficult. And thinking about how much I survived, the fears that I overcame and the obstacles that I saw but kept going anyway, makes me feel like maybe I am as strong as my friends kept telling me I was at the time.

Motherhood does this too. It is not for the faint of heart. You are tired and spend more than a few moments trying to reconcile your fantasy of motherhood with the real-life, day-to-day of it all -- the poopy diapers and milk-stained shirts that are its hallmarks -- and combating your own guilt for not living up to all those expectations you had for yourself as a mother. You become impatient when the toddler in the backseat is fussing as you sit in traffic, then disappointed with yourself for feeling that impatience. When you have days when you feel capable, when your reality more closely matches those fantasies of motherhood, you feel like you've conquered the world. Or at least the little universe contained within your four walls.

I have lots of pregnant friends right now. Most of them have been through the fire to get there, they've paid their dues. One of those friends is experiencing complications with her hard-fought pregnancy, and I know she's going to be okay, but I'm thinking a lot about her today, thinking about how unfair it is to have to fight so hard and then not have the luxury of breezing through the pregnancy. Remembering what that felt like for me nearly two years ago. Wondering how it is that the pursuit of such amazing, life-giving love can be such a brutal, teeth-gnashing, gut-wrenching fight.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Boob Tube

Okay, following is the requisite mommy-blog post on TV watching. I wasn't really planning on it, but a discussion thread on the topic on my local moms board has me all soapboxy about it. So here goes.

First, here's my take on TV and kids. In the very beginning, before H was old enough to be curious about or interested in TV, I was all for sticking with the AAP's guideline of no TV before age two. I felt sort of smug and self-righteous about it. I was above letting H near anything so mind-numbing as Elmo and his cronies. No thanks.

However, I did turn the TV on for him for one designated purpose: to keep him still while I cut his nails. Nothing else did the trick, and frankly it felt better to let him watch a minute of TV than feel like I was torturing him with the clippers. And initially it was no big deal; I turned it on, he watched for a minute, I clipped, then I turned it off.

Then sometime after his first birthday, he started showing active interest in what he was seeing. He made faces and gestures in response to the characters and what they were saying and doing. He seemed to be getting something out of it, something I recognized and remembered feeling when I myself watched that show: the delight of seeing a lovable character come to life.

So my feelings toward and tolerance of TV have evolved a bit, and H is now allowed to watch a few minutes of Sesame Street here and there. Usually I sit right there with him and comment on the show with him, or I might (horrors) go nearby and take advantage of his stationary position on the couch by washing the morning's dishes or tapping out a quick email. Then we turn it off and we go on to the next thing.

Well. According to some of the sanctimommies on this message board, my son may be illiterate, or have ADHD or have no imagination as a result of the poison I'm feeding him, because I'm taking him away from activities he could be engaged in every waking moment, like reading or playing, or perhaps writing the Great American Novel while composing a symphony.

Sorry, but I don't buy this. If you choose not to let your child watch any TV for any reason -- because the AAP says not to, because you just feel it in your gut, whatever -- I totally respect that. But I reject the notion that the limited amount of watching H is doing is harmful (as does his pediatrician), when we spend the vast majority of our time reading, playing, singing, going to the library, to music class, to play dates, to art class, and to countless other places, adding up to a level of activity and mental stimulation I am certain I never had as a child.

I believe the strict AAP guideline exists to guard against the irresponsible use of TV by irresponsible parents, just like children's equipment and clothing arrive to you with bizarre labels telling you to avoid things like fire when using them. And I just think it's unimaginative to suggest that someone can develop an interest only in TV or reading/activities of a higher intellectual order, mutually exclusively. Clearly they've never seen how I like to unwind: by watching Real Housewives of NYC while reading The New Yorker.

I think overall the thing I reject most is this chorus of women weighing in with holier-than-thou opinions, waving around evidence and data on every minute parenting detail. It makes my mother and her peers smile wryly, and I can understand why. Yes, understanding evolves and we learn things over time and respond to them, improving the way we go about life, including parenting. I mean, obviously I would choose the medical system of today over that of 1970. But I think we run the risk of overintellectualizing parenting too. I'm sure there are studies showing that TV is harmful. But who did they test? Where and when? How much did they watch? What content? Did they figure out how to account for parental involvement, for how many other things the child engaged in all day long? What else influenced the way they learned to see the world?

Sometimes, common sense is just as important to our decision-making as the latest study. As a very good (very smart, TV-watching) friend said, "Please. I watched an hour every day and managed to get my dumb ass into Penn Law."

Enough said.

[Stepping down from my soapbox.]

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