Archive for the ‘sophilosophical’ Category

anthropology of parenting

June 27, 2012

Ok, did anybody else see this article from the New Yorker? A friend from college posted it on FB and I was riveted. I love how anthropology helps me make sense of my life. I knew of the Machigenka growing up because we knew missionaries working with them. We lived in Quechua villages, where we similarly saw toddlers using machetes and 7-year-olds fishing for crayfish by themselves. Injuries and accidents were actually very rare.

I’m working very hard to try to shift the way I see my daughter, especially. I am so quick to jump in and help anytime she is frustrated but I need to realize that helping can be, in the long run, hurting her sense of confidence and autonomy.

A quote I heard last week really, really stuck with me: “children are hard-wired for struggle.” It astonished me, but it makes so much sense when I think about it. I dimly recall something about baby chicks – that if you help them break out of their eggs, you actually damage them. They have to struggle through that themselves in order to live and thrive.

I was also astonished last week to receive three – three! – compliments on my parenting. Out of the blue, people went out of their way to tell me they’d noticed how I interact with my children and communicate their approval. I know I’m way too dependent on external validation – but I have to say that it felt really, really good.


Biting the hand that feeds me

April 6, 2012

Is this biting the hand that feeds me?

Probably, yes.

I’ve been reading all these posts about bloggers using “social media for social good,” and while I applaud this endeavor, it also makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a case of knowing too much.


Here’s a conclusion I’ve come to: relief/aid/development veterans need the fresh eyes of newbie idealists, who dwell profoundly on the human worth of the “single starfish,” because it doesn’t take long to become a crusty, cynical, and bitter veteran of the field.

Because the development/aide industry is… well, it’s an industry (this link is satirical). I’ve also come to the conclusion that this industry exists largely for the benefit of those it employs. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing, right? I mean, where else are altruistically-inclined young professionals going to be spending their time and energy? This is the question Zana asked me once, when I was waxing cynical about the agency she and my husband work for. She used to run her own business, but it began to feel meaningless and self-serving to her. She wanted to do something more, for her country, for children, something that would have meaning and lasting value. So now she works to promote child protection in her own country.

And who could possibly be against child protection? Right?


Here’s a fact I’ve been contemplating sharing with you, and hesitated, for a number of complicated reasons, and then decided to tell you anyway: my husband makes eight times the salary of his Albanian colleagues working in the same organization. (I know that telling you this breaks all kinds of taboos.)

This is enough money for us to support two families at a modest level – ourselves, and our nanny. She’s the sole wage-earner in her family, and what we pay her (which is above the average market wage here) is putting food on the table for a family of four, buying school supplies for her two kids, and taking care of the assorted medical needs of her extended family.

But it still boggles my mind, how much money there is in aid work, and how it’s distributed. Apparently eight times the local salary is what it takes to attract foreigners to work here – and they need the foreign expertise for certain specific things, to run the organization. Which works for child protection.


So, am I saying that the purported beneficiaries of these aide and development projects aren’t actually helped? Well, yes and no.

Here’s a story.

Many of the children in the village where I lived and worked in Bolivia had sponsors, but not all of them. Sometimes only two or three of the kids (out of six to eight) in a family had sponsors. It was very well known which kids had “good” sponsors and which ones had duds – the ones who regularly sent large gifts (clothing, books, flashlights, toys) versus those who sent their monthly check to the organization and never thought about it again. There was intense jealousy in the families where only one child received gifts, and the mother was put in a position of having to divide these gifts somehow among all her children. There was often suspicion that the agency staff were stealing money or toys from the packages, when really it was about what was lost in translation – for instance, a mom once asked me to translate a letter written in English that her child had received from his sponsor. She recognized the words “toys” and “cars” in the letter, and wanted to know if the sponsor had sent toy cars to her child? Because he hadn’t received any. I read the letter and translated it for her into Spanish. It said, “what toys do you like to play with? My grandson likes to play with cars.”

Another day, I was visiting a mom – who had a plastic bottle cut in half wired to the side of her bamboo hut, filled with toothbrushes and toothpaste – when her children returned from their weight-and-height monitoring meeting, each with a “hygiene package” in hand. Each package contained a small hand towel, a bar of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush – and she said as they unwrapped their gifts, “Wow, someone must think you are a bunch of stinky dirty kids if they gave you this!” She was joking, teasing them, but it made me think about the meta-messages involved. I’m sure she was glad not to have to buy soap for a few weeks, nonetheless.

And I know, first-hand, that WV is working to mitigate some of these tangled issues that can result from the way sponsorship has been done in the past – working at the level of the whole school, the whole village, the whole neighborhood – while trying to maintain the humanizing individual connections between sponsors and registered children –  and I’m not going to tell you not to sponsor a child – just know that it’s not necessarily as simple as throwing a starfish back in the sea (because what happens when the next wave comes, and washes it back out again?)


Aid and development can be done in ways that respect the dignity, worth, self-determination, and self-respect of those living in poverty and dire need (and, for the record, I believe the bloggers I linked above are approaching it in this respectful way), but it can also be done in a way that undermines those very things. There can be a hidden cruelty in charity that puts the receiver in a one-down position, and keeps her there. Aid and development can be done in a way that promotes the very colonial power structures that created the poverty in the first place.

So yes, sponsor a child, put her picture on the fridge, remind yourself to be thankful for the excesses and distractions that fill your life. But please don’t stop there. Educate yourself about global poverty and injustice. Reduce your carbon footprint. Don’t waste food. Buy local. VOTE!!!!! “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Above all – and I think this is the most important thing, and this is what aid blogging can do for us – remember that it’s about human beings.


p.s. I’m really nervous about posting this – I’ve seen some ugly controversy emerge before on these very topics, and I want to go on record here saying that this is not a criticism of Eden, nor a blanket criticism of bloggers who use their platform to highlight social issues, nor criticism of the humanism and love and compassion that move people to want to help others. All I want to say is that “helping” can be very complicated, difficult, opaque, and have unintended consequences down the road. So we, who are privileged and powerful, need to remember to tread carefully in these matters.

Right now

October 10, 2011

I feel the shift of the earth in its orbit: the seasons have changed, and the first bite of winter came this weekend. It feels like one day we were sweating and hiding from the sun, and the next day shivering and seeking it out. This weekend I raised the awning over our balcony to let in more light, and dressed Oscar in his winter pajamas.

The turning of the seasons makes me contemplative all the more because it marks our first year in Albania. We moved here at Solstice last year, and we’ve now gone a full turn around the sun in this place. The coming of the cold usually makes me a little sad, but there’s a funny gladness in me this year as the angle of the light and the smell of roasting chestnuts evokes the memories of last year. It feels like we have come so far as a family in one year, in so many good ways – Illyria talking and engaging in pretend play, learning to use the potty, overcoming so much of her anxiety and fears from the first few months. And Oscar – wow. Transformed from an infant into a toddler. All those milestones – rolling over, sitting up, teething, eating solids, standing, walking – if only he would SLEEEEEEP! Ah well.

I find that the same things that bothered me a year ago about Albania still bother me – the litter, the second-hand smoke – and the same things I enjoyed a year ago are still my favorite things about living here – the kindness and generosity of the people, learning the language, the plentiful fresh produce (which I’m told is de facto mostly organic, not so much from an ideological motive but more just because farmers can’t afford a lot of agrochemicals).

As we took another interminable bus ride through southern Albania last week (accompanying my husband on yet another work trip) I was struck with a feeling I have not felt since 1998 – a feeling of rightness, a feeling that this is where we are supposed to be right now. I don’t think I could give a reason or explanation; I just know, somehow. Over the past decade Gimli and I have made a lot of big life-decisions – changing jobs, buying a house, going back to school, trying for and then having kids – and in each case those decisions felt more or less arbitrary; there wasn’t a right or wrong choice (which in its own way was a big agonizing), just a choice. The decisions we made never felt like part of a master plan, just stuff we decided to do, for better or for worse. This feels… just a little bit different. At the time we decided to move here, it really did feel like just another thing we decided to do, because what the heck, why not. But now, for whatever reason, it just feels right.

And that’s a good feeling.

It could just be where I am in my cycle, or some function of neurophysiology, or a natural result of having acclimated enough to feel at home here, but it feels good.


Recently people here have begun asking me if we’re going to be staying on after next year. The first time someone asked me this I was completely taken aback; the thought that we might stay beyond two years had literally never occurred to me. But when I mentioned it to Gimli, in a sort of “what a weird question someone asked me today!” he just sort of nodded and said “Yeah, I’ve sort of decided not to think about that until January or February,” and that surprised me even more than the original question – that he’d even thought about it as well.

I still can’t quite envision it. Just because this feels like where we’re supposed to be right now doesn’t mean we’re, like, married to Albania. We’d have to really think about the implications for our careers, our kids, our relationships. So I don’t know. I like to have a plan and then stick to that plan. Gimli likes to wing it. In our years together, I’ve come to learn that sometimes “we’ll decide at the last minute what we’re going to do” can actually work as a plan… but I don’t think this is one of those times. So we’ll see.

Ridiculous Packaging

May 7, 2008

I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past several days, but the thoughts felt too big to get down in short bursts of time and I was trying to finish grading papers.


I think it was on Thursday, or so, when the Doc (there are 3 different doctors that rotate, but I just refer to them collectively as the Doc) came by and said, among other things, “you’re really handling all of this very well.” I was somewhat astounded because it sure didn’t feel like that from the inside. But for the whole rest of the day, I felt this tremendous sense of peace and confidence. And it lasted. And I thought about how powerful her words were, that she could just say “you’re doing a good job” and I believed it.

So that got me thinking about all the other things she’s said, and the potential power of her words to become reality. Specifically, her daily repetition that “you will develop pre-eclampsia, you will get sicker,” etc. And I felt defiant. I felt a new kind of energy.

You Have To Want the One You’re Going to Get

In my favorite novel (The Brothers K by David James Duncan), a baseball player reflects on the “no-think” zone that batters must find in order to make contact with the pitch. He is asked what kind of pitch he likes to hit, and his answer is: you have to want the pitch you’re going to get.

As I may have mentioned before, it’s the uncertainty of everything that gets to me as much as anything else. I feel like I was putting a lot of energy into preparing mentally and emotionally for labor, and having that rug yanked out from under me was really upsetting. Now, in this gray area (on the one hand I have a date with the scalpel, on the other hand there still exists the possibility of induction and labor) I find myself thinking, “I have to want the birth experience that I’m going to get.”


And suddenly, this whole experience felt like (not to sound too cliche)… an opportunity. An space opening up within which to find my way into the most positive birth experience possible, cesarean notwithstanding.

And an opportunity to move into the experience, rather than letting things happen to me. I felt ready to move towards a place where I could try some of the recommended methods for getting the baby to turn head-down, without that paralyzing fear of failure gripping me.

It wasn’t until we actually met with our doula yesterday and she helped me sort out a schedule of sorts for doing inverted poses that I actually started doing them. But I have started doing them now. And I turned upside-down a picture of a baby that’s on my wall. And started wearing the Willendorf Venus again.


I know it sounds cheesy and whatnot, but I am looking for that balance: allowing myself to feel what I’m feeling without become overwhelmed by my emotions; between the will to move with mindfulness and intention into the future and the surrender into what I cannot change.

As the doula said (quoting Dar), “sometimes life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging.”

So as I hit another high in the BP today (162/111), I had to take deep breaths and close my eyes and just be still. My mantra is just one word: Love.

Didn’t realize I was such a wimp

April 30, 2008

Didn’t sleep so well last night, but woke up feeling calm and accepting of the current situation. It seems to be a matter of just staying in the moment, and not thinking too much about the past or the future. The sun is out, and my sister brought yellow flowers to brighten the room. I have clean sheets and my own pyjamas. This is also where celebrity gossip TV becomes indispensible – mindless, inconsequential froth. And when that starts to become annoying, there’s always the mystery novels I’ve read before (the suspense involved in reading a new one feels like it would be too much at this point). The key is not to think too much. About anything.

Sober thoughts

March 10, 2008

Why, as spring approaches, do I find myself thinking so much about death? The recent late-term losses that several bloggers have experienced had me crying over the keyboard, even though I wasn’t even a regular reader. I think it’s natural that reading these stories should evoke our own memories of loss and grief, though they be of a different nature. I hope I’m not being terribly self-centered in turning the reflections inward here.

When a friend of mine died in a bus accident in 1998, her husband said at the memorial service that we should all cover our loved ones with death – that we should always be mindful of their mortality, so that we would live in such a way that if they did die we’d have no regrets. I was 25 and in the early swirl of romance with T.; these words have stayed with me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this event was the first in a series that would, by the end of the year, unmoor me from the dock of my faith and set me adrift for the foreseeable future. The thing with drifting is that you don’t even notice it at first; when finally you do look up and measure the distance, it has become to far to paddle back. I’m still watching for a promising place to dock. But maye the point is actually to flow with the river.

The Potluck

February 3, 2008

A week ago today I attended a department potluck, where I reflected on how differently I would have experienced the event if a) I had never experienced infertility, or b) I wasn’t currently knocked up.

One of my profs is expecting twins in May.

Someone asked me if I’d seen “The Waitress” and commented on a line from the movie, to the effect that “you can’t be ‘a little pregnant.'” (I would think that anthropologists, of all people, especially in the 21st century, would know better than to make propositional statements that reflect absolute dichotomies.)

There was a charming 2-year-old present who greeted the 13-year-old girls with a floppy-handed wave and the words, “Hi babies!”

I felt a now-familiar admixture of melancholy and contentment in response to all these things. I don’t envy my professor’s pregnancy, now, but I know how hard it would have been to be around her if things hadn’t turned out the way they did for me last fall. I know from being a part of this online community how false the statement from the movie is. And the toddler charmed me rather than broke my heart, although I couldn’t help but think that had I conceived when I wanted to, I’d have a child that age already.

Potluck. You never know what you’re going to end up with.


January 11, 2008

Ever since the BFP, I’ve been thinking about how differently you are handled when pg from when ttc/if. And I still think it’s really not fair. I know, I know, life isn’t fair, and infertility is even more not fair, but there’s nothing to rub salt in the wounds like being made to feel like you’re at the bottom of the priority list at the place you go for help.

I never went to an RE, although at least one IF friend counseled bypassing all ob/gyn farting around to go straight to the experts. I dont’ really want to go into all the reasons why I didn’t do that, but in any case I suspect that with an RE I wouldn’t have experience the particular frustration I felt at the ob/gyn I did go to first. It was incredibly frustrating to have so much trouble getting hold of the nurse who was supposed to be helping me at the first practice I went to, usually because she was out on call. Talking to pregnant women.

I can be all olympian and understanding at one level (well of course, there’s two human lives at stake for those women, there’s an actual baby, and that has to take priority) but at another level I was tremendously hurt and enraged. I felt the stigma of barrenness weighing oh so heavily – unworthiness, shame … and resentment. And then guilt for feeling resentment.

One thing I really, really appreciate about the practice I go to now is that they never made me feel like I was second-class or less important. When I needed to see the nurse at awkward times, they would work me into the schedule – sometimes over her lunch break. When I phoned, I’d get a call back usually within an hour (sometimes ten minutes!!!) instead of playing phone tage for three or four days like at the other place. This place sees women for everything – in the waiting room, there are couples with anxious and worried faces, women with big bellies, teenagers, post-menopausal women, and one time I’m very certain that a girl was there for an abortion. But it feels to me like everyone is given equal consideration, and I really appreciate that.

Still, now that I’m pg, I noticed that the co-pays for appointments have disappeared… I asked about that, and the receptionist told me “pregnancy is considered like one big appointment.” That’s so weird to me. Why can’t a course of treatment for infertility be considered like one big appointment? Because there’s no baby yet? But why should trying to create a baby be treated as insignificant or unimportant?

I guess for us the trying becomes all-important; I read this post on the creme de la creme: “Is there any kind of personal pain that is so little understood by those not experiencing it?” I count myself lucky in having friends so compassionate that they actually do get it, but the wider world at large is pretty clueless. I don’t think I really got it until I experienced it. But still. You’d think that a clinic that includes infertility treatment on its menu should have a clue.


November 24, 2007

I love national holidays. You can sleep until noon, and still get so much work done! Not that I’m a workaholic*, I’m just behind.

My in-laws were here yesterday; the first thing my MIL said as she came in the door was “how’s my grandbaby doing?” It’s amusing now, but I suspect it’s going to get old quickly. One advantage of being among the last of your friends to spawn is that you hear all these stories and cautionary tales ahead of time. So the proprietory nature of the comment came as no surprise. I didn’t really know how to answer so I just thrust the latest u/s pictures at her.

The last thing she said as they headed out the door was “take good care of my grandbaby!” while patting my belly (which I HATE – but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was actually patting my guts, as the uterus is a lot lower down at this point …) Um… ok! I was planning to smoke crack all weekend, but since it’s your grandbaby, I guess I won’t, after all.

Actually, I really do get it. I haven’t been reading kinship studies up the wazoo all semester for nothing. A grandchild is not only an acquisition, it also causes a change in status for the nascent grandparents – but one that is bestowed upon them, rather than one they can achieve for themselves. Therefore, they find it all the more necessary to verbalize the claim in order to reinforce it since it is otherwise somewhat immaterial.

It’s a little annoying. Suddenly I’m just the passive vessel for the family spawn. And really, though, I am thankful for that, too.

*As my sister is fond of asking, what the heck is “workahol”? (If an alcaholic is someone addicted to alcohol, then a workaholic must be addicted to workahol…)

Run Away! Run Away!

October 12, 2007

This is all very weird. Tonight I was walking home and thinking about when to tell my mom, and I started crying. I was running the conversation in my head, and said to the mom-in-my-head, “you know, this doesn’t mean I’m having a baby. It just means that a necessary (but not sufficient) condition has been fulfilled.”

There’s something about trying and failing for this long that can start to make a person think that it must be for some profound and intrinsic reason – perhaps God doesn’t want me to have children. In that case, I certainly won’t be able to keep this . . . this whatever it is that could potentially turn into a child. He’s going to take it away, just like he took A (my BIL) away. And my cousin M. And my friend K.

Farmwrench (you know who you are) recently reminded me that in 2005 we nearly lost another cousin, but his cancer was discovered and removed just in time. He’s now living cancer free, and for that we are very thankful (but to whom? or to what?).

Obviously, attributing every little thing – even the big things – to the direct, conscious, and intentional hand of God is pretty crazy-making. I can’t really reconcile these things, which is why it’s hard for me to go to church anymore. But at the gut-level of belief, which seems to be beyond my cognitive control, it feels like I’m being punished for something. It feels hard to believe that this could be for real.

Hence my shyness about celebrating. But I know that at least for now, I can at least pretend that there is something there, something that’s hanging on for dear life, and might even make it. So far.