Friday, January 29, 2016

What I'm Reading

I'm still in process with a few things that I pick up and put down.  On the side of more serious reading on race, history, and ethnicity I'm also reading some kinds of pop psych books on the brain or the emotions.  I'm having a hard time reading some books in public, in the age of Trump, because I feel like anyone seeing me will think I'm reading things like "The Rise and Fall of the White Republic" or "Whiteness of a Different Color" because I'm a proponent of white supremacism.  On the other hand the pop psych books I've been buying have caused Amazon (the only artificial intelligence that actually knows what I'm buying and reading) to think that I'm an abused child who needs a divorce.  Right now I'm reading In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People which is surprisingly thought provoking, Lundy's Why Does He Do That which is a really famous book about abusive relationships, and He Wins/She Wins which is a thin, shallow, book about negotiations within marriage.  These are all issues which come up in the baby group or when you are talking to new parents or even when you are talking to your teenagers and thinking about how to help them understand other people's motivations.  Oh, I'm also reading a book "Difficult Conversations" by the Harvard Negotiating Project, the people who brought us "Getting To Yes."  I don't have much to say about that right now except that I think the very premise that discussions between business or contract partners can be understood in the same terms as discussions between family members is absurd.  They just don't belong in the same book because the moral terms that apply between the parties are so very different.

Today in Babeez 1

I have been co-facilitator of a drop in New Parents Group for about four years.  This is a surprisingly interesting thing to be doing and is the catalyst for my decision to apply to Social Work school.  Recently I've noticed that things that I've said to our parents, as they are wrestling with some classic new parent issues, have really resonated and I decided I should start marking them down in case I need them again.  Feel free to skip these posts if they are not your thing.

A week or so ago we were having a discussion of breast feeding and baby led weaning.  This is a remarkably stressful process for some people because you are sometimes just getting the hang of nursing when society, or the baby, or both, start pushing you to substitute solid foods.  Sometimes this is before you are ready, and sometimes this is after you are really ready to drop the whole breast feeding on demand thing.  But its a very difficult moment for a lot of parents because there is so much emotion attached to this new relationship of dependence and interdependence.  Usually we let the other parents take the lead in discussing these things but I decided to throw in my two cents which was this.  Its all about weaning. Its always about weaning.  From the moment the child is born right up through their adolescence and, indeed, all the way up to your own senescence.  We think its all about feeding and caring for the child, and it is largely about that. But almost from the middle of the first year it also becomes about weaning.  In the Kabbalah there is a midrash about how the world comes to be. Before the world was created there was only the creator, filling every corner and every available space with its own divine being.  In order to bring the world into existence the creator had to withdraw into itself and create an empty space, a womb, in which a new kind of creation could come into being.  Just the way we have to create a space for the baby to grow.  And once the new being comes into existence we have to keep up this process of encircling and withdrawing, protecting while creating space, so that this new being can grow and thrive apart from us.  This was an enormous hit with all the mommies and we all had a good cry.

This week we were talking about one woman's struggle with her spouse over breast feeding--there is definitely a theme here.  She had just mastered it when they went out to dinner and had spicy food. The next two days the baby has fought the breast and been very uncomfortable and unhappy when nursing.  What had been a very joyful, intimate, experience has suddenly become fraught with anxiety for her.  When she told her husband she was worried about breast feeding, concerned about the baby, she said he became "very logical" and instantly explained to her that "in the worst case scenario" they would "just switch the baby to formula" and the baby would be "just fine." Inexplicably she was both furious with him (since it was a perfectly reasonable thing to say) and also very discomfited and embarrassed.  She kept excusing herself to us saying he "was so logical" and "rational" and her concerns were so "emotional" and came from "inside" somewhere "deep" and (perhaps) beyond words or irrational.  Since she divided things up in this way she was at a loss in how to address the issue.  I'm pretty familiar with this dynamic and we see it very frequently in this parents group where many of the women are married to engineers or scientists who self identify as (supposedly) relentlessly "logical" and "rational" which leaves the women (who are often themselves scientists, mathematicians, and engineers) somehow left holding the short end of a binary stick.  Its also a discussion I have had with my own spouse (blessed be his name) when he tries to problem solve for me.  In fact we just had this discussion when he remarked to me that his own mother had rejected his perfectly reasonable suggestions for how to deal with a knotty problem.  "Why," he said, somewhat wonderingly "she said the same things you always say to me...if it were that easy I would have solved it already myself!"

Its harder than you think when you start writing these things, by the way, to capture the back and forth--I told the woman in our group that it was not accurate to label her position as "emotional" and his as "rational" or logical. And not correct for her to self label her position as responding emotionally or inappropriately to a logical problem.  Nor was it correct to say that he had a rational/logical response to the same problem.   They have each diagnosed a different problem: he sees the problem as purely nutritional and it can be "fixed" (he thinks) with formula. She sees the problem as one of a relationship between herself, the breast milk, and the feeding of the infant.  There's a possibility that there is something wrong with the baby that the discomfort and discontinuing of the breastfeeding relationship is a sign of.  To "fix" this problem you don't just switch the kid to formula (breaking off the breast feeding relationship and possibly damaging the supply).  You'd need to investigate different aspects of feeding first.  

Its not correct to divide these two arguments into rational/irrational, non emotional/emotional, or logical/illogical.  Both parents are afraid that the child is sick or the feeding situation is untenable.  One member, the father, is trying to handle his fears by retreating behind a simulacrum of "logic and rationality" and the other, the mother, was using a different but perfectly logical and rational approach to resolving her problem (the feeding situation in totality).

One of our second time around mom's then pitched in to the discussion to point out that breastfeeding has a kind of urgent quality to it--as you get more and more engorged you become frantic and finding some way to relieve that feeling through feeding or pumping becomes necessary.  I pointed out that it was more like a ticking time bomb scenario than a purely cut and dried restaurant situation.  Which goes back to the difference in the original husband/wife approaches to breastfeeding problems.  Only one of the two experiences a sense of physical urgency and relief during the feeding process.  Although they can both, of course, be anxious and fearful about how its going.

So many women came up to tell me how great these analogies were after group that I thought I'd better write them down before I forgot them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Where I've Been

Well, I've been very busy. In a slow, almost catatonic way.  Imagine a pacarana slowly lumbering up to near running speed.  Recently my youngest child has been diagnosed with both anxiety and depression as well as a specific phobia for bugs.  Managing her anxiety, and my anxiety over her anxiety,  has become almost a full time job.  And at the same time the iron has entered my soul and I have realized that I need to get a move on, as a post maternal person, and begin life outside the house and outside my role as parent.  So today I have all but completed and submitted my application to an MSW program.  This has revealed a huge rift between Mr. Aimai and myself on an important subject: commas.  The poor guy has been editing my work, and falling asleep over it, since graduate school when I found him passed out on the couch having tried to read and edit my 540 page dissertation.  This time around he only had to read an eight page "personal statement" and he was kind enough to actually look up the rules on commas.  He painstakingly put them in only to have me reject about a quarter of them as just wrong. Even though, presumably, he is correct.  So if I don't get into the SW program of my choice I will have no one but myself to blame.  However, I intend to blame him. And his commas.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Oh Frabjous Day! I'm back in my own account.

This doesn't mean anything to anyone but me but thank the google gods and I am back in my blog account and can start blogging again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Picked up a beautiful little book the other day: Songs of Kabir, Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra with a preface by Wendy Doniger.  I bought it for my daughter, who dances and teaches classical Indian Dance but who does not have any real background in Indian Culture. We wound up reading it aloud yesterday.  The brief discussion of nir-guna and guna, which my daughter knows through chance references in dances about various deities and their avatars, was illuminating.

I highly recommend it. Doniger's intro is worth it, alone, but the poems, in this punchy translation, are also wonderful.

Here's one poem, but really they were all great:

O pundit, your hairsplitting's
So much bullshit. I'm surprised
You still get away with it.

If parroting the name
Of Rama brought salvation,
Then saying sugarcane
Should sweeten the mouth,
Saying fire burn the feet,
Saying water slake thirst,
And saying food
Would be as good as a belch.

If saying Money made everyone rich,
There'd be no beggars it he streets.

My back is turned on the world
You hear me singing of Rama and you smile.
One day, Kabir says,
All bundled up,
You'll be delivered to Deathville. (KG179)

Here's another

Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Speech diminishes you.
Speak with a wise man, there'll be
Much to learn; speak with a fool,
All you get is prattle.
Strike a half-empty pot, and it'll make
A loud sound; strike one that is full,
Says Kabir, and hear the silence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sex and Death

I just found out that someone whose spouse I know died, a few months ago.  I didn't hear of the death and found out about it in a roundabout way.  Looking for a poem to send her I stumbled on this one and was on the verge of writing it out when I realized that it was actually about sex. So I'm not sending it to her, although I think she'd enjoy it on both levels.  Oh, how I love John Donne!

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No;

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined
That our selves know not what it is,
Inte -assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin comapasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th'other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must run
Like th'other foot, obliquely run
They firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
--John Donne (1572-1631)

From a lovely collection called Enduring Ties, Poems of Family and Relationships, Edited by Grant Hardy.

Friday, July 31, 2015


 Today while my co-facilitator and I were refereeing about 15 new parents and their babies, all in assorted stages of undress and adorableness--babies and mothers--and stress and wails (babies and mothers), Boobs aflutter (one of the new fathers said, somewhat pompously that "we are having problems with breast feeding" and everyone just cracked up.  But he was very good about sitting there while milk was literally jetting from everyone else so yay him!

Meanwhile, a mother of a toddler who had been in the group two years ago came back to see us.  She walked in with her toddler, pregnant with her next child, and burst into tears.  Her own mother had just died two days ago, she'd come back from that deathbed, and she just didn't know where to turn for comfort.  We took turns just sitting with her and talking about the toddler, the baby, her mother, and her grief.  First me, and then my partner who is more familiar with local therapeutic options.    Our returned mother apologized for coming to us for help, she cried while telling me that she had tried to write us an email to ask for help but that she had been so ashamed she had never sent it, and then became so desperate that she just turned up at the group.  I told her "It would have been an honor to have received that email."  I feel very lucky that she felt she could come to us and I was there to see something truly beautiful--her little toddler, who had had some fairly serious developmental delays when she was coming as a new mother, is walking and talking now. When he saw that she was crying he said "Mamma sad? I give hug" and came over to her and gave her a big hug.  She's such a perfectionist, and she's so upset that she is upset, that she didn't even give herself enough credit for having been the mother her son has needed, all this time, bringing him along to this stage of empathy and generosity.  She's a very determined and skillful parent, who is grieving the loss of  her own parent while trying to be completely perfect with her own child.  Its difficult enough for these new parents to find the time and emotional strength to be the best parent they can be to their own babies. Its even harder when they are wrestling with needing to give themselves compassion and care as well.  We are talking about trying to set up a drop in group for mothers who are also caregiving their own parents, or grieving for their own parents.  At least four women in our current group are simultaneously juggling new babies, work, and dying parents or in-laws.  There's no money, of course, but if we could find a time to do it I think the city would let us use the space and we would just do it for free.