Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mom in the Swamp

In the wake of our son's 3rd birthday, Halloween and with my own mother's visit imminent, my mind turns to thoughts of motherhood.  I want to emphasize that this is not a mommy blog.  I don't deny that there is ever more to say on the subject of being a mother (it's difficult but rewarding; lonely but joyful; thankless but enriching .. etc.)  I respect the authors of those blogs and honour the information therein.  Without denying the relative weight of the subject of parenting, ayearintheswamp is conveniently (to me) and generously (once again, to me) devoted to all things swampy. Perhaps I don't have the constitution (or the writing chops) to take on such an intense subject full blog-on. In any event, this will be the only post which could be called 'parenting centred'. So, if you don't have kids or you do and are rolling your eyes at the thought of another list of suggestions on how to hide vegetables in your kid's ice cream sundae,  be assured this is a one time effort and there will be no talk of craft time.

I came to realize that here in this moist place by the sea, just as anywhere else in the world, the relationship between the health of social justice and the health of children is as clear as the beach is sandy.  Food, for instance, is an intensely social issue even if we don't immediately see it that way.  Feeding our children is that much more intense.  In Ontario we fight for food education and funded, healthy food options in schools and for access to healthy food for all regardless of economic circumstances.  Here, a fight for surprisingly much more basic rights is fought by a shockingly small group.  I became aware of quite a strong nut free sentiment in the schools and parks of Toronto (having been blacklisted from a couple of playgroups after a few incidents of recklessly allowing an almond granola bar into circle time.  OK, it only happened once but news of nut delinquency travels fast on the cashew vine).  The anti-dairy movement replacing the nut thing here as the chosen nutrition embargo prompted me to do a little research.
 Why nuts there and milk here?  If anything it should be the other way around.  The U.S. has the highest reported incidence of food allergies in children (about 8% vs. Canada's 6%) and the most allergenic foods are nuts.

  Much of the manipulation done to food by agri-business to increase profitability of crops has been rejected by most other governments internationally yet accepted here in the U.S.  The decision of many parents here to live without dairy, it appears, is merely a decision to have their children survive and live life rash, hive and indigestion free. The basic right to food that is not genetically modified and not poisonous eludes the people of the American community.  Take, for example, the whole speech pathology issue: I don't exaggerate when I say that one of every three kids I meet here is in some sort of speech therapy.  In many cases the problem ends up being more about hearing than about speaking.   Most ear infections are erroneously attributed to organic bacteria which means more antibiotics are prescribed to treat them. How awesome! Further excavation of the carefully robed issues unearths that, in fact the real cause is allergy and sensitivity to milk-thought to be aggravated if not actually caused  by the antibiotics that policy shapers in the US have decided is OK to keep putting in the food! So as folks get wise they stop putting tubes in their kids' ears, cool it on the speech therapy and simply eliminate milk until such time as it can be legislated to be, well,  less toxic.  So what appears, on the surface, to headline, 'Florida Kids Talk Late' is really not about the kids at all but about the poor cows being poisoned.  As for why milk trumps nuts: a paltry 2% difference in cross-border incidence of allergy is not newsworthy in light of the fact that nut allergies over in China are almost non-existent.  Apparently, the Western palate prefers a roasted peanut to the Chinese penchant for the boiled peanut.  Research is suggesting that that process of roasting may be encouraging the growth of the fungus on the nut that is the allergen.  So, do we all start boiling our ballpark snacks and steaming the stuff of our PB & Js? Do we begin to systematically tear down these pillars of cultural context? It's easier just not to talk about it.

The other parent-centred thing that hit me over the head was the issue of education in Florida.  The number of parents I have met who home-school their children is astounding!  There is absolutely no faith in the school system.  Here in the US, there are even charter schools. These schools operate like private schools insofar as they determine their own curricula through a parent-driven process. Listen to this though: these charter schools are funded not by the families of children who attend; not by scholarships and bursaries donated by wealthy advocates of education but by local government and foundations.  A private school you don't pay for.  Wow. This is ostensibly the golden ticket of education as one presumes that the independence charter schools have in determining programming and staffing would mean a high academic standard.  Not so here in Florida.  Apparently it's hit and miss with the charter schools and it's miss and miss with the public system.  So, parents would rather throw out the back-pack and hunker down with the books at home.  Of course, the prevalence of home schooled children indicates a corresponding prevalence of at least one stay-at-home parent in many households.  In this country visibly victimized by the current economic disorder in the world, that is hopeful, indeed.  That parents do have the financial resources to eschew the public system and take it on themselves is encouraging.  It does suggest the emergence of a cottage industry which is less hopeful, however. The whole thing scares me and not because it provides further proof of the deterioration of the social fabric of America.  I don't know where my family will be by the time Luca starts school but what if we're here? Home schooling?  I can barely manage an hour of storytime!  I'll continue but know that, as I write, I tremble in fear of the moment we will inevitably have to install a blackboard in whatever wall space we have left in this walk-in closet of an apartment!

There are some  universal paradigms in parenting - constructs that I am sure exist from the rainforest to the desert. For example, isn't it true that as a mother an entire half hour before departure from home to anywhere has to be devoted to packing up stuff which totals in weight more than the weight of the child that said stuff is meant to support?  Isn't it true also that after we pack the stuff, we are the ones who cart the stuff around.  The stuff may be diapers, wipes and bottles or - later - snacks, sippy cups and extra clothes or - even later - backpacks full of crayons and other distractions intended to stave off tantrums? I know I always feel like I am loaded down and that each foray out of the house starts with a multi-leg journey to the car interrupted with several stops to shift the stuff from one hand to the other or move a strap onto my shoulder as Luca walks joyfully a few steps ahead blissfully unconcerned about the scoliosis that will surely plague his mother in the years to come.  I know: all this is our own fault. None of the stuff we carry around is really essential in the business of child rearing.  We are simply materialistic and use all this as a crutch and a measure of control over the whole process.....and possibly to control our offspring's childhood itself.  Well that may be so. And it is true that among the Yanomami in the rainforests of South America, there is surely no talk of which stroller folds up most easily to fit in the car or of any stuff.  But you can't deny that the weight of the actual Yanomami child must be borne on the back or on the breast of - you guessed it - mom (Yanomommy, in fact).  And here I was thinking that leaving the North and its necessary wooly, lined and waterproofed winter accessories, that I would simply toss a lightweight towel in the back of the car in case of an impromptu swim (LMAO at impromptu anything).  But no, there is never the shedding of the stuff.  I traded the ski jacket and boots for swim floaties and sunscreen.  It is then an inevitable rite of motherhood that is transcendent of geography; that mothers probably end up doubling as sherpas and definitely getting stiffed in tips!

And finally, there are those lessons we keep re-learning.  One we half see and half hear and fully ignore before we are parents; lessons that belabour with trite signs written in calligraphy meant for the entrance way of a suburban semi-detached 'If you love something, set it free...' to classic Sweet Honey in the Rock harmonizing about how our kids 'come through you, but they are not from you'  and one I began to intellectualize from the moment I became pregnant: Our children do not come to us to be created in our own image. One knows conceptually that we are to give our kids the tools to make sound choices and to live rich, emotional lives.  We know that even though we love the arts that he may never be 'dancing' nor 'with the stars'.  We know that long line of analytical brains we inherited through three generations may end with this one.  Heck,  with often casino calibre odds of the genetics game, our kids may not even look like us.  So, if we are after little likenesses of ourselves sprinkled over the earth, we are on the wrong channel. Yet, even though we know this, it's still bittersweet, learning this lesson again.  Because despite how a puppy's wagging tail and 'chase me' games and unconditional love shown through licks and sniffs, make me smile and feel warm all over, that love of dogs did not get passed on.  Yes, I lived this lesson again when the moment came I could avoid the truth no more: my son is - gasp - a cat person.

I want to close by thanking all who have endured this post and to ask that those who are not parents or who turn to the web to get a break from kids to stick with me.  This is the first and last of the ruminations of a stay-at-home (in the swamp) mom.  Next stop: Captain Gav is back.  Stay tuned as I revisit Gavin's journey to helicopter stardom...or at least to a living wage!


  1. nice post..just a comment on nut allergies. In 1977 my toddler son had an angry rash break out on his face. I was fortunate to be studying with the late Hanna Kroeger, so called her. She said to take him OFF peanut butter unless it was organically grown peanuts. Turns out peanuts are grown in rotation with cotton, which as a non-food is even less regulated. So those peanuts can be laced with pesticides, fungicides, soil conditioners, etc. His rash went away when I took him off the commercial peanut butter, never returned, and I pretty much switched to almond butter--alkaline and healthier.

  2. so...then it's the way we grow them and the way we process them. Nice illumination. Thanks, Rebekah