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Monday, May 21, 2012

The anti-bully bullies

Bullying is the hot topic on everyone's lips lately. Most people seem to connect it only with teens - mostly homosexual teens who are struggling to find their place in society and gain acceptance. While this is true, it's to a point: I've said before that it's a teen issue, a girl issue, a boy issue - an everyone issue. Probably everyone has been bullied, and I dare say probably everyone, in some way, bullies other people. They just don't realize it.

Speaking of gay bullying, there's this one:

Wait a minute. We're countering bullying with... more bullying? And when it comes to bullying gay people, I've noticed something, especially when it concerns celebrity homosexuals (or rumored homosexuals) - they are bullied. By people in the gay community. I feel sorry for gay people who feel forced to come out of the closet (if they really even are in it in the first place) by someone - maybe an entire group of someones - who just can't handle it if someone isn't ready to talk about it openly, isn't ready to make an announcement for the entire world to hear, or are endlessly pressured to view their gayness the same way everyone else does. And then, those bullies justify it - because, really, everyone being out and open about it is almost perceived as a greater good kind of thing. If you are quietly leading your life, happily gay behind the scenes, how dare you?! 

Have you ever noticed that?

Then there's this one:

Seriously? This is basically saying, "I am going to say and do whatever I want. If you don't like it, you are the one with the problem."

I'm not saying I never swear, but mostly it's not within earshot of my grandmother, children or anyone else. I've heard young people spout out every curse word known to man in the middle of the checkout line at a convenience store, for no reason other than it's just a thought in their heads that they think needs to be expressed right now, and honestly - they sounded like idiots. We've gone from a culture who (mostly) uses profanity sparingly - and at one point would face strict fines and punishment because of obscenity laws - to one who drops the F bomb at every turn. Mild profanity has long been part of our regular television viewing, and every few years you'll hear an increasing arsenal of words that get past the censors.

A few years ago we went to a local farm to pick out pumpkins for Halloween. While sipping our cider and enjoying our family time, another family - with kids in tow- was openly using the F word in public, in front of their kids (and within earshot of mine). What do you do? What do you say? Surely someone is going to get ticked because their "freedom of speech" has been infringed upon. Surely you stand a good chance of getting into a fist fight because some idiot decides his right to say whatever he wants, whenever, is more important than your right to not hear it.

Oh yeah, speaking of the First Amendment and your "right" to "free" speech: there are exceptions to that free speech. They include:
Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections.
In other words, you are not within your rights to assume that you can speak freely - obscenely - wherever you please. But somehow, I am the one that's wrong because I'm offended. Say what? And I'm sure few people will challenge you on it, because that's just how far down the toilet bowl our culture has sunk. If Grandma Betty doesn't want to hear you use the F word every other sentence, then Grandma Betty can just @(%&* (!&. Right? Because she is the one with the problem, not you (and your total lack of respect for others).

A few years ago my husband stopped at a gas station and after we left, he thought the cashier had mistakenly given him the wrong change. He went back and told the guy what he thought had happened, in a polite, non-confrontational manner, because he wasn't completely certain it wasn't his error. We walked in together, and the cashier - a young man - opened up with both barrels on us: I'm fairly certain the F word was used no fewer than half a dozen times, I was called a 'fat cow,' and we were told to "Get the f--k out of 'his' store," or something to that effect. I was beyond shocked, for two reasons: that a simple inquiry could be met with such fury, and that no one - not one single person - spoke up in our defense. I remember looking around, seeing several customers who barely registered a reaction, and wondered, "Surely they are going to hear him - that's really unprofessional!" When I wrote a letter to Exxon, they offered little, if any, response, and the store owner basically denied the incident.

Surely not everyone in that store that day used profanity like this guy did - but, because hey, it's your "freedom of speech!" I guess it's perfectly okay for your "rights" to run right over mine, 'kay?

Another thing I've noticed are the peaceful, loving memes about respect, tolerance, acceptance, and the usual sunny happy daisies stuff. Usually there's a quote that's got Gandhi's name on it, which somehow elevates it to near-holy status and must mean that it's unquestionably good, right and true. That's great - everyone should feel love for one another. But I think the love only extends so far - and usually stops at the first person who expresses an opinion different than yours. Suddenly that 'peace, love, and tolerance' flies out the window. And usually when there's a disagreement, the word 'hate' is used: because we all know people who disagree are "haters," right?

Here's another one that kind of grates on me, even though it's from everyone's favorite author, Dr. Seuss:

I'm guessing this one is often taken out of context, especially considering Dr. Seuss' equally famous line, "A person's a person, no matter how small." Somehow the meaning has been derailed: "No one else matters but me and those people who agree with me." I don't think that's where Dr. Seuss was going with this. The next time you get pulled over for speeding, try using this one on the officer.

Who "matters," exactly? And who are you to determine this? How can we teach our children not to expect everyone to agree with them, and how to get along with those who don't? How to learn from them, perhaps even change our perspective, because they have something to offer - despite disagreeing? Children are "color blind," so to speak, in that their rose-colored glasses are often tainted with age, experience, and the complete ass-hattery of adults in the world around them. And as much as adults like to say they think bullying is horrible and we should accept everyone, they don't seem to realize they're part of the problem.

Another thing we often hear is "If you don't like it, don't look/listen," etc. As if it's your fault for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the fact that you've actually had the audacity to let something offend you. But if the shoe is on the other foot - if you're the minority in the group who expresses an unpopular opinion - well, then there should be Congressional hearings on it to get you banned, right? How is that not bullying someone to see your point of view, to agree with you even though they don't want to, and to just get over it already? I wish that street ran both ways.

The reality is, that more often it turns into something like this:

Everyone that disagrees with me is a "hater" and "stupid." Problem solved! I don't think Dr. Seuss would approve...

In looking back over these images, there is one thing they seem to say: that we are a selfish society that thinks the opinions of certain people matter more than others. That because it's your idea and it came from you, that you should put it - and yourself - above everything else. If we teach our children anything, the first thing we should learn ourselves is humility. Be humble enough to realize that you're not always right, no matter what side of the fence you're on, and if you know you are (as opposed to only thinking you are), approach others with love and respect - it's a lot more effective than harsh words, criticism and hateful talk. If that doesn't work, at least you'll have taught your children an important lesson about truly loving others, instead of demonstrating hypocrisy. As the saying goes, 'be the change you wish to see in the world,' instead of doing more to perpetuate it, only through a different lens.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Are you mom enough?

"The strength of
motherhood is greater
than natural laws."
- Barbara Kingsolver. 
Time magazine's latest cover - as one other blogger put it, "I was going to write a post about Time's cover and then realized everyone and her sister already had." True that. I don't have much to add except my disgust over their screaming headline, more than anything, and how my version of "Are you mom enough?" has little if anything to do with extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting.

My version came to me in a vision the other night when I was clipping my son's toenails, of all things: thinking, I am mom enough because I can do this without throwing up into the trashcan. I'm sure Time wasn't thinking about how gross and sometimes downright odd 8-year-old boys can be.

If only their article read something like this instead: "You'll know you're mom enough when you can..."

• hold a vomiting toddler whose poor little body is so tired and sick he falls asleep the minute his head hits the pillow...

• you've long traded in your fancy sweaters for the ones that are covered in spit-up and boogers, and you like it...

• you can withstand hearing all of your children whining, crying, screaming and yelling "Mom mom mom mom mom" 800 times in a row without losing your mind...

• you keep your cool despite your toddler going into full-blown meltdown mode in the grocery store over a single grape...

• you aren't phased when your child comes to you and says, "Mom, I found this booger," extending a finger for you to see the evidence...

• still return to church even after your newborn had a noisy blowout during a silent part of the service...

• endure watching the same Thomas the Train episode on auto play for an entire 800-mile car ride...

• and, as one person put it, "Get a baby out of your uterus and then take care of it." Yep, pretty much!

We need to remember that we can be friends with people who think differently than we do, that we should be friends with people who have a different mindset, instead of sealing ourselves inside a bubble. We can learn from each other, from our mistakes, and get - and receive - support from people who have been there. As moms, we will probably always judge each other's choices, but Time's headline doesn't help - and only adds gasoline to the blaze. Don't buy into it, ladies - don't let them, or anyone else, polarize us like that - because in the end, no matter what our choices are or how much they differ, ultimately some things will always be the same.

Friday, May 11, 2012

State nutrition regulations are out of control

Photo: Jason Antony.
Yet another article is circulating on how public schools are banning bake sales during school hours and even birthday treats because of nutrition concerns. This comes on the heels of an alarming story of a preschooler who, when confronted by state health officials about the contents of her lunch - turkey sandwich, banana, apple juice and potato chips - was offered another alternative instead: chicken nuggets.

On what planet are chicken nuggets healthy? (unless you make them yourself) I'm sure food service outlets who provide this stuff to schools aren't using all natural, vegan ingredients. Heck, they might not even be using real chicken for all we know. And the school thinks her turkey sandwich is a threat? I'm guessing they took one look at the potato chips and that was the end of it.

And now, in the same school, a second mom has come forward to say that her four-year-old was also approached by officials because of her cheese and salami sandwich - on wheat! - with apple juice. She was sent to the cafeteria and given the ubiquitous chicken nuggets again.

I'm not sure which is more alarming: that health officials think chicken nuggets are an acceptable alternative, or that they take such a stance on the matter to the point of overriding a parent's authority. It's becoming an alarming trend in schools - we've been hearing more stories about California schools introducing "age-appropriate" sex education to students regardless of the parent's objections, and vaccinating kids without parental consent. There is a growing presence in the private lives of families by school entities who say they have your child's best interests at heart - but are they taking it too far?

In cases of true neglect, I would hope someone would intervene. Moldy sandwiches (or no lunch at all), bruises and other forms of negligent parenting should raise flags with school officials. But I think this is going to extremes, and makes you wonder what kinds of guidelines the state uses to determine what's healthy and what isn't.

And now on to the birthday treats - this one is kind of sad. Right up there with "holiday" celebrations instead of "Christmas," it sounds like they're trying to take every last ounce of fun out of elementary school and turn it into some kind of boot camp.

Thankfully my son's school hasn't gone this far yet, and I would argue that for the most part parents can exercise common sense in this department. It's hard, though, when so many kids have peanut allergies - peanut products are banned in the classroom because they have snack there, but allergic kids are at their own lunchtime table, which makes things a bit easier. It's also hard, though, when one kid will eat something and the other won't, and you begin to run out of healthy ideas after awhile that comply with everyone's needs. If the state were coming in to complain I'm not sure what I'd do - tell them to do the grocery shopping, maybe...

Although I will say this: because my children's school doesn't have regular cafeteria staff, they serve a "hot lunch" to the kids once a month - with parent volunteers making and serving the food. The person that coordinates the menu does a great job, but when it comes to the dessert portion that parents bring in themselves, it's pretty disgusting. Again, it's hard to find something that is reasonable and yet something they will actually eat - my banana muffins usually go untouched, I'm sure. But cupcakes laden with frosting three inches high is not my idea of healthy. On one hand, you have to let them have their fun, and figure it's one cupcake - it won't kill them. If they eat like that all the time at home, though, that's their business - what are you going to do about it? Surely the school could make suggestions and guidelines - reasonable ones - that help everyone without making it sound like the Food Police is going to show up and arrest you.

One friend has said her daughter's school has already banned birthday treats in favor of toys - which could get ridiculously expensive depending on how many kids are in your child's class. In order to cut costs, the Dollar Store is a great option - for cheap, frustrating toys that break before the bell rings and thus are a complete waste of money. Wonderful - more crap they don't need that breaks easily. I'd rather they have the cupcake!

What next? Will they decide you're an unfit parent because of the lunch you pack, following you home and inspecting your residence? What if you refuse vaccines - will they report you to CPS? You may think home schooling is an option, which many people do in response to things like this - but what if it no longer is? In a handful of countries around the globe, homeschooling is illegal - with "rare exceptions." Can you see how we could be heading down a slippery slope? Are we simply going where they've already been?

Some parents don't know any better - some don't care, and some think that in moderation, it's perfectly acceptable. And it's hard to know what to buy when things that are labeled "healthy" and "natural" are anything but. What do you do?

Another scary trend is to ban recess - which sounds unreal to me. Trapped in a classroom all day, with no chance for exercise - even adult employees are entitled to two 15-minute breaks during the day, depending on the length of their shift. Why not kids? Do we really expect them to sit quietly all day and diligently perform with no breaks, just so we can improve test scores? Or because we're afraid of lawsuits when kids get hurt on the playground?
Running at recess was banned last year in Broward County, Fla. In October, officials at an elementary school south of Boston banned tag and touch football. Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane banned tag during recess. And this past summer, Portland public schools eliminated swings from their playgrounds, along with merry-go-rounds, tube slides, track rides, arch climbers and teeter-totters.
How else are you going to work off all those chicken nuggets the school is serving?

Monday, May 7, 2012

I can has cheezburger? Rethinking the "nothing by mouth" rule

I can has cheezburger (in labor)?
For decades it's been common hospital practice to restrict women from eating or drinking during labor. The ubiquitous cup of ice chips has probably been featured in every movie and sitcom featuring birth, but do we really know why - or even when - this "rule" came about?

In 1946, Dr. Curtis Mendelson studied the medical records of over 44,000 women and found that 66 of them experienced pulmonary aspiration - the process of taking food, fluids or secretions into the lungs, essentially. Forty of those women aspirated liquids; only five aspirated food. Only two of the women died.

One of the risk factors for aspiration is anesthesia - which causes the normal protective reflexes such as swallowing or coughing to be diminished. Therefore, Mendelson surmised that because that danger is there, common practice should simply be to cut off all food and fluids to a laboring woman, just in case. Another risk factor is the lithotomy position, the manner in which probably every laboring woman during Mendelson's stint in obstetrics gave birth.

In Dr. Mendelson's day, general anesthesia was widely used in childbirth, even in vaginal deliveries. Therefore there was greater risk - but as you can see from his study of the 44,000 women, the risk even then was still quite low. Today, few women receive general anesthesia during birth - somewhere between 3 to 13 percent of women undergo it for a cesarean section - and it's much safer and used with greater knowledge and skill today than 65 years ago. So why do we still follow this outdated rule?

Studies have recently shown that prohibiting food and drink in labor serves little if any benefit. What it can do is practically starve the laboring woman, especially if her labor is a long one, during a time when her body needs crucial energy. Maternal exhaustion can be a factor in many long labors that end in cesarean.

In other countries, such as the UK and The Netherlands, many care providers leave the decision to eat and drink up to the mother. A majority of hospitals in both countries do allow the woman to drink, and about a third allow both fluids and food. In US hospitals, it's more commonplace to be restricted to just ice chips, although things are changing - slowly.

The common alternative to the "nothing by mouth" rule is to administer fluids intravenously, which has it's own set of disadvantages. Being hooked up to an IV pole can severely curtail movement, which limits your ability to cope with pain and probably means you'll want an epidural if you're confined to bed. Although it's possible to just trek around the hospital hallways with your IV pole in tow, I think in my childbirth experiences I've only ever seen one woman do it. Some that I talked to said they basically weren't allowed to walk the hallways at all. Excess fluids can pose problems, including fluid overload. It can also impact what is perceived to be newborn weight loss if a mother has received lots of IV fluids, which might hamper breastfeeding relationships if care providers fail to take this into account.

Some studies show no difference in outcomes between the groups who were allowed to eat and drink freely and those who weren't. Other studies show that it shortens labor and reduces the need for Pitocin. And still other studies found that among those who drank large amounts of fluid, they actually experienced failure to progress more frequently (no word on whether they were allowed to empty their bladders, though, which can make a difference in some women).

Other concerns that some obstetricians have is that eating and drinking can cause nausea, even though at least one study showed that none of the participants experienced nausea (all women drank fluids and 85 percent of them ate food). It's also common for women to experience nausea and vomiting anyway because of transition, which is a totally normal process of labor.

While many women might not want to eat anything, the choice should still be left up to them. I personally made sure to eat something simple - a piece of bread with butter on it and a glass of orange juice - before leaving the house to head to the hospital. In my VBAC labor, I drank bottled water but didn't feel hungry, even though I gave birth close to lunchtime. I ate the same thing prior to my last birth, which ended in cesarean, and the anesthesiologist was excessively worried about the lone piece of bread I ingested over an hour before. It wasn't a problem, but ironically I had a bad reaction to the Reglan they gave me for nausea. We have to ask ourselves: what about risks among the general non-pregnant population? Should we make everyone eat nothing for six to eight hours prior to getting in their car simply because they might get into an accident and need surgery? Of course not!

It will be interesting to see if more OB's, hospitals and even patients get on board with this idea - and realize the notion of limiting oral intake for every woman, regardless of risk, is more outdated obstetrics than "modern."

More reading:
Should we eat or drink in labor? - by Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE
Mendelson's Syndrome
Oral Intake During Labor: A Review of the Evidence