Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years Out

Yesterday was the five year anniversary of hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, and of the levees breaking in New Orleans.  It's been called the worst engineering catastrophe in US history by some.  I was a fat, pregnant, recently graduated baccalaureate relaxing at the Studio in the Woods in Hocking Hills, Ohio.  My, how times change while staying the same.

Katrina wasn't a natural disaster, it was man-made.  The winds and rain that hit NOLA were only a category 3, and would not have been a problem for the infrastructure to protect the city had it been properly constructed and kept up.  What wrought huge amounts of damage was the failure of that infrastructure, and the systemic failure of the Army Corps of Engineers (among others) has been documented by Harry Shearer in a new documentary, The Big Uneasy.  The breaking of the levees in the ninth ward lead to horrendous devastation of property and the loss of many lives.  Many of the residents themselves compounded the problem by staying after a mandatory evacuation was issued earlier in the storm.  After the rupture, the ensuing rescue attempts were fraught with complications, lack of funds and man power, ill-planned, mishandled, poorly targeted and slow.  Even during the continued rebuilding, there have been serious issues with which to contend.  The entire fiasco has been heart-breaking and maddening.

Personally, I am now the mama to a crazy four and a half year old boy, in the midst of graduate studies and research, not quite as fat, and living in Gertrude-Hyacinth House; Kent, Ohio.  Socially, there are fewer differences.  NOLA always has and possibly always will be the best and worst of the US.  Unfortunately, in NOLA it seems the slowest things to come back, and those that get the least attention, are the best parts.  The music, the culture, the arts, and the historical context.  Maybe it's a correct analogy for our nation as well?  I wish I knew.

Speaking of the US for the rest of this, because the tragedy of NOLA was a tragedy for the whole country.  We still value lives of the well to do more than those of the lower class.  We still feel entitled to do as we please, and entitled to rescuing when things go wrong with our plans.  We still want cheap and easy instead of done right, more expensive and taking longer.  We still find it necessary to vilify the other.  We still see white and think "good" and see black and think "bad".  We still punish merciful acts.  We still hurt each other. 

I can't help but think of the song Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger.  The refrain begs the question "When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?"  On a positive note, our troops are finally out of Iraq and stationed in Kuwait.  We can have peace, if we want to.  Maybe we are starting to learn.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rights and Interests

Specifically here, I'm thinking of children' rights and interests, but also the broader sense of both.  We talk quite a bit about children' rights, although ironically the US is one of the few developed nations that has yet to sign the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child (but you can help change that here), and some groups have even started talking about the rights of the unborn lately.  I don't think that's a healthy place to go, personally, to consider the "rights" of the unborn, because they are dependent on another person at that point, so you'd have two competing sets of rights and you would essentially have to place a value on one over the other- and valuing people in a hierarchical way leads to bad things. 

We can however speak of the interests of children before they are born, in part because interests don't have the same moral imperative- generally speaking- as rights.  It is in the best interests of a child that they be taken care of by someone with whom they have a close relationship already and not to be sent to a stranger for eight hours a day, but a child simply has a right to be cared for by competent adult(s) who will not be negligent of the child while they are watching them, for one example.  Rights are inalienable, interests are not. 

Approximately half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned, so I'm willing to bet that in about half of all US pregnancies no one has considered the best interests of a child until the pregnancy is underway.  It's not a question tons of people think about before they have kids- "Is bringing a child into this situation in the child's best interest?"  Often, the question is framed from the parents' point of view- "Is now a good time to have a child?"  Maybe it's a subtle difference, but it is a difference, and there are definitely times when this distinction could lead to very different answers. 

Specifically, in the case of balancing time and money.  When one has the time for children, one may not have the money for children, and vice versa.  Children need both, and a lot of each.  As a society, we tend to say that the first scenario (time but not money) is a bad thing.  We talk about children having more children to more greatly benefit from social services, or that a financially strapped couple "should have waited" and so on.  The second case (money but not time), we tend to brush off as not a problem.  The parent will hire a nanny, take extended leave, whatever, but the presence of money makes the scenario perfectly alright.  As a society, we ignore the fact that both scenarios lead to stress.  Financial stress in the first case, but time stress in the second.  In either case, the child is being brought into the life of a parent or parents who are going to be under stress before the child is born.  Is that in the best interests of any child? 

And more importantly, is it in the best interests of our society to essentially value the lives and families of the rich more than the poor?  If children of lower class families are worthy of our scrutiny concerning whether or not their parents made the right choice, aren't the children of the upper class worthy of the same scrutiny?  Conversely, aren't both families equally worthy of us butting out of their parent's business so long as the children are happy, healthy and well-loved?  In the US, money most definitely buys added rights, it seems.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Generalizing Specifics

Earlier this week, I got into a rather heated argument with someone whom I had considered a friend.  We knew that we had very different religious views, mine being still in flux in the agnostic/atheist range, and hers being very much settled on fundamentalist Christian.  She believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible and the unchanging nature of faith.  I believe in correcting position as data indicates and in religious texts as wonderfully symbolic stories.  I trust Ocham's Razor, she trusts her prayers.  And in the end, she decided that I was anti-god and anti religion and called me thus.  I offer my deepest apologies for coming across this way if anyone else has taken that meaning- it is not my intent, and I will do my best to not be like that.

What she didn't realize is that I am not anti-god, I just don't agree with her view of god; I am not anti-religion, just anti-her-religion.  I am perfectly fine accepting all kinds of religious beliefs, until they affect more than the individual believer.  The whole idea of "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose".  Everyone has the right to their religious beliefs, until those beliefs start to affect others or until it leads to the denial of reality.  Then, you've hit some one in the nose instead of stopping your fist.

It's a common mistake for humans- generalizing in inappropriate circumstances.  Generalizing has it's usefulness.  Generalizing lets us have expectations, and gives us an advantage on knowing how to react in a situation.  If our ancestors recognized all large cat-like creatures as dangerous, we don't have to wait for the first person to be mauled before deciding that a new species of large cat should be feared and beginning to run away.  But generalizing our fellow humans, especially in today's globalized world where we interact with so many more people, can be even more dangerous than not generalizing large cats.  False generalities can lead to incorrect expectations, misinterpretations and wrong assumptions. All of this can lead to more difficulty than is necessary as well as strife, conflict and pain.

Dealing in facts instead of Truths tends to have this effect in most cases.  The important truths that Dwight and I are trying to teach Ken are Peace, Love, Honesty, Respect, Work, Humility and Community.  It's not an easy battle.  As a four year old, he grapples constantly with the idea of good and bad guys.  He wants to know along what lines he can divide the world into these simple binomials, when simple binomials are nearly existent in humans.  Even something as simple as sex isn't really neatly divided into male and female.  Humans are filled with continua.  For this reason, we're trying to stress to him that things people are not good or bad- god and bad are reserved for actions.  Everyone has good and bad things that they do, but that doesn't define them.  The same goes for things and ideas- they are not good or bad, they are tools that can be used for good or bad purposes.  It's pointless to be pro- or anti-any THING.  Things, people, ideas all exist, and can not be made to no longer exist, for their being here has changed the world in some way.  Instead, be pro- or anti-harmful actions.  Life is much more simple that way.  And most likely, the pain will be less.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Play the Changes

Tonight was the Yo-yo Ma/Silk Road Ensemble concert for Ken and I at Blossom Music Center.  It was kind of last minute-ish as I only really noticed anything about it this week.  We managed to get lawn tickets, and kids under twelve are free on the lawn for Blossom Festival shows, so it was a great cheap evening and come on- kids need to see great cellists, right? 

I'll admit it was about 180 degrees from what I had expected, but it was spectacular none the less.  Yo-yo Ma- my original reason for wanting to go- was there mainly as a concert master and for one encore piece only.  The show was very much about his Silk Road Ensemble, a group composed of a whole range of ethnicities, cultures, and musical traditions, all sharing the common thread of being somehow associated with the historic Silk Road.  Inspiration for their compositions range from traditional Chinese songs, to Persia, to gypsy to Greek influences.  Lots of traditional instruments like the khaen (or a relative), the gaita, the pipa and the tabla.  Really, it's fusion music to the Nth degree.

There's no hiding the fact that this summer has been difficult for Ken and I.  Two passionate individuals with a healthy dose of obstinance in each, and very different goals for their time together.  To say we butt heads periodically is the understatement of the year.  Lately, with my time even more limited due to teaching, it's been getting worse.  I approached tonight with at least a little trepidation, especially considering how the day started at home.  The start to the day include blatant disobedience and much intentional button-pushing.

Come 7:30 PM, we were settled on the lawn at Blossom and discussing the evenings events.  He had some time to unwind (read- go crazy) and the show started at eight.  As soon as the music started, it was like a switch was flipped.  He was listening intently, and asking questions (quietly, even!), staring in rapt attention at the performers.  He was describing what images the music brought to his mind, and the images tied in to the actual descriptions we had read, showing that he most likely paid attention to our conversation.  It was a magical and Earth-shaking night, and something of which I was in desperate need. 

I never imagined myself as a mother.  My image of motherhood had been so broken after dad died, I was positive that my being in that position as primary care-giver and nurturer would be a disaster.  Now I can't imagine life without the title of "mama" or "parent" being part of my experiences.  Being a parent is a beautiful, horrific, devastating, uplifting series of events.  It's the thrill of discovery and the joy of true love and the humility of an education all wrapped into one day, or even a few moments.  It's the only thing I can think of that is every bit as tortuous as it is ecstatic, with a fair share of flat out disgusting thrown in for good measure. 

That's why I do what I do.  Every person that desires it, deserves to have the experience of parenting.  And I, admittedly selfishly, enjoy being a part of that process.  I like helping others get to that point.  Surrogacy and egg donation are often described as "journeys" and they very much are just that.  Just as a shirpa guides travelers to go where they wish, surrogates and egg donors assist others attain what they want.  It's a struggle for all involved, their are extreme physical demands, and their may be bumps, and the outcome may be less than what was intended, but together all parties involved walk side by side and help each other navigate the path. 

That journey continues into parenthood, with the parent and child taking up the hiking staffs.  Ken has risen to the challenge of me, and I have risen to the challenges that are parenthood.  We have stooped down to pick each other up when we fell.  And together we continue- up and down, right and left, creating a dance that is every bit as creative and destructive and just as important as the dance of Shiva and Kali.  Together, we have grown a hundred feet taller than I ever thought either of us could be.  I would not be the person I am today without him, and he would not be the person he is without me- for better or for worse.  All I can do is fight the human parts of myself and try my best to ensure that there are more notches on the "better" side than the "worse" side of the equation.  All I can do is try my best to help him to be better than me, and to leave the world a little better than we found it.