Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Happy Birthday, Son!

I remember once asking my mother, "How does it feel to have a forty-year-old daughter, Ma?" I'm turning seventy this year and my mother passed nineteen years ago. My son is about to turn forty-nine, and I am asking myself the same question I asked my mother all those years ago. "I feel fine" was my mother's response then, and is also mine now.

Raising my son alone was difficult. I had a good support system to help me, but ultimately, full responsibility for his general welfare was mine alone. I still have some guilt about decisions I made during that time, because I feel a bit of shame or guilt associated with them. But, I keep reminding myself that I was a conscientious mother. I read parenting advice books, I took classes about parenting well, and I always sought advice when I needed it. I spent a lot of time in psychotherapy, and I had my son in therapy much of his young years as well. I didn't want to screw up. I was an unwed mother when being one was not acceptable. I wanted to prove to the world that I could do it right.

Well, I don't know if I did it right, and I certainly made mistakes. But, when I look at my handsome son now, all I see is success. I did it right. For me and for what our lives were while he was growing up. I succeeded in raising a relatively happy, successful, productive member of society. He is a professional architect, a homeowner, happily married to a wonderful woman, and together they bore a beautiful, funny and happy little boy. I couldn't be more proud of my son and who he has become.

We certainly are different people with different views of the world, but I am different from my parents too. I think that's what is supposed to happen. Children grow in their own way on their own terms into their own people. That's why little birdies leave the nest, right?

I spent my forty-nineth year worrying about turning fifty. I don't think my son is wasting his time worrying about that. Thank goodness. I look forward to singing the birthday song to him once again. This time, his son is aware enough to sing along and help his Dad blow out the candles. I am proud of myself and of the son I raised alone. I did a good job. The biggest favor I can do myself now is to let go of whatever guilt I still cling to and just enjoy the ride going forward. Happy Birthday, Son! I love you with all my heart.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

For this Mother's Day, I asked my son to take me shooting. I know he has guns, and I learned he belongs to a gun club. I had a boyfriend in North Haven, Maine, who showed me how much fun shooting rifles is. When Chris was seven, we lived with a man in Shreveport, Louisiana, who taught us to shoot and all about gun safety. So, in a way, I introduced him to guns long ago. I find this amusing, since I tried very hard when he was little to avoid introducing him to violence at any level. I never bought him toy guns or let him watch cowboy or war movies. But, I also learned, that when I wasn't looking, he made guns out of sticks all on his own. I think testosterone is to blame.

Anyway, now that he is an adult, I have been trying to think of ways to spend time with my son that will remind us both that we can still have fun together. Life does not have to just be about discussing feelings or relationships; sitting around eating and drinking. I wanted to do something this year. Something fun; just me and my only son. So he took me shooting.

I was so impressed with his knowledge of guns and gun safety. He is totally a safety guy. I was so happy about this. I assumed it, but saw him step back as he constantly had to remind me to, "take your finger off the trigger when you're not shooting!" What I was reminded about was that I did grow up seeing guns on television. I always watched cowboy and World War II movies. I loved them! But, killings never included blood. Today's TV and movie shows need blood to sell tickets or improve ratings. I hate that, but I have become numb to it. I can tolerate it as part of a good story. I expect it now.

But, when shooting real guns, one has to really concentrate very hard on the fact that the gun in my hand is a weapon not a toy. I waved it around like a little kid, not thinking. My son constantly reminded me to point it away. I knew that; I just forgot. After several times reminding me about keeping my finger away from the trigger when not shooting, I finally got it and stopped doing that on my own. But, I was reminded once again, just like those days in Maine, that it is easy to forget that the firearm in my hand can kill if I'm not careful. It is really not a toy.

I then became, once again, sensitive to the fact that young people who think guns are cool or gang members who find power in owning a gun, must logically know that guns are weapons that can kill, mame or severely injure a living being. But, what is required to fully respect the power associated with owning or carrying a firearm is respect for it. Respect for its power and respect for life. Many people who seek to use guns as a form of power because they feel powerless, have little respect for life, in general. Therein lies the real problem. Guns are cool. They are fun to shoot. I really like it. But I respect life. So does my son. As we collected all the brass spent shells to dispose of in the white bucket for recycling, I was also reminded of the times I made my son help me clean up the trash left by inconsiderate visitors around trash cans at the duck-feeding pond when he was little, and to recycle. He hated it, but here he was guiding me to do just that with the shells. I felt proud once more.

In a fearful world where we humans are taught that we require protection from unknown enemies foreign and domestic, that fear forces some of us to seek the comfort of owning and/or carrying a gun. I personally don't share that fear, and frankly, refuse to allow our government or the news media to force that fear into my own psyche. But I know my son has that fear, and it is real. He feels the need to protect himself, while enjoying the satisfaction that comes from hitting the target and knocking it down, hitting the bull's eye in the center, or shredding it like I did. There is real satisfaction in that accomplishment, and it is fun.

I am not afraid of guns. But their loud noises, and powerful kicks when shot remind me that they are weapons and not toys. If I have to be reminded of this, then I can't be the only one. Who reminds those young people of this fact? Maybe some of them just don't care. Therein lies the real problem. It's not owning the gun that is a concern, it's how you view its use. Target shooting is really fun. But the target should always be paper or steel. I do not believe in war, and pray that someday love will win out. I am a believer in Peace and Love. But I understand the fear that requires some to need to get, have or own a gun. It's that fear we need to address.

Addressing the fear that drives human behavior is very complicated, and cannot be legislated. But in the end, someone has to positively guide that testosterone into more healthy forms of dealing with fear than war and killing. Females have testosterone in our systems too. It's not just about male behavior. It's about fear controlling that behavior. It really does "take a village" to raise a child, to have compassion for the fearful, and to work together as a human society to figure out how to reverse the hold fear has on us. This re-sublimation of our fearful behaviors and tendencies is complicated, requiring as complicated solutions as the problems are complicated. And, change does not happen over night.

I had a great time with my son this Mother's Day. I learned he is extremely knowledgeable about guns and gun safety. He taught me a lot. I am so proud of the good man he has become. As a mother, I will continue to gently reinforce his inner strength which has no need for guns. That inner strength is the source of all personal power. Maybe if I am successful in getting my son to believe this truth someday, he will have no further need to carry a pistol on his hip. I hope he will take me more often to the gun club. Next time he said he'd bring his rifle. I really like shooting rifles.

Monday, November 19, 2012

When they're all grown up.

I was an unwed mother forty-two years ago. I raised a healthy, productive, sensitive, communicative, successful son. He is married now with his own home and is happy. What else could a parent want for her child? I did it. I had help, but I did it alone. I made lots of mistakes and choices that hindsight would change. All in all, though, I am proud of my son and of what I accomplished.

I feel twinges of guilt now and again when I remember some of the choices I made while raising him. But, what parent doesn't have that? What conscious parent doesn't? I had my son when I was twenty years old. I was the oldest of twelve, and it seemed I was a parent all of my life. The only difference in raising a son of my own was that all the responsibility was mine, and mine alone. That reality was very scary. But when I needed help I sought it out. I joined parenting groups, got therapy, read books and asked anyone who seemed more knowledgeable than I for information, advice or assistance. I knew I couldn't raise him all alone, because without help, that job would have been too hard.

My parents raised me to be independent, so I raised my son to be the same way. I see some parents of adult children who raise theirs to be dependent on them, seemingly for the rest of their lives. Why would anyone want their child to remain dependent on them into adulthood? The only answer I can surmise is those parents cannot find lives of their own once their child is grown up. Or, the guilt they feel about choices they made cause them to try to make up for them to that child forever; as if it is even possible to make up for past decisions.

Children are supposed to "leave the nest". Parents are suppose to move onto something else in their lives. So, when I see a person whose child is in constant need of financial and other support as an adult (as a lifestyle), I feel sorrier for that parent who can't let go. Not letting go of a "baby bird" does both parent and child an injustice. The child never gets to make mistakes, and thereby never learns its own lessons or is allowed to grow. Without the ability to learn on its own, the child become stunted in some way, unable to think for itself or make decisions. How is allowing a child to remain stunted a good parenting decision?

I see this behavior in loved ones close to me. Sometimes those families appear closer, emotionally and psychologically, than my son and I. This appearance causes me to doubt my decisions to raise an independent being. I am sometimes made to feel selfish for not giving up my entire life for my child, even after they are grown up. I questioned this logic more than once, because when one takes a risk, one is never sure the decisions they make are correct. But, I also check in with my son regularly to make sure "we are good". He insists we are, and that has to be enough. My son loves me. What else do I need to know? He has a life. He has a good life. That's a good thing. I also have a life. I also have a good life. I should be able to live my life without guilt, right?

When I feel guilty now, it's those others around me who cannot move forward with a life of their own who try to make me feel bad for having one and being happy. I admit I am still a bit vulnerable to this manipulation. But, I have no control over their choices. I do, however, have control over how I respond to them. I am happy and my son is happy. That is the greatest wish of any parent: single or married. I succeeded in raising my son. I pat myself on the back and live my life. I am proud of what I accomplished and proud of him. Now, I just have to reread this article and take it to heart. Because I was made to feel badly again recently, and I need to remind myself that I am okay.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Good Book to Consider

This is a book I gave to my son, Chris, when he was ten years old. It is an excellent book explaining bodily changes in both boys and girls. The illustrations are as you see on the cover: detailed but humorous. The explanations are informative and sensitive to young minds.

The information is still relevant today. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teen Pregnancy, Contraception Access and the Presidential Election

Teen Pregnancy

With children, as with teenagers (and adults), repetition of information, lessons, instructions or values is imperative: "Don't touch that, it's hot!", "Do your homework." "Do well on your SATs so you can get into college." "Don't hit!" "Don't use that bad word." "Don't touch that, you'll go blind!" How well do we listen to something told to us once or twice? How quickly do we forget? Is what parents tell their children who are trying to protect them really important in a child's mind? Or does that child, regardless of age, think they already know it all? Are there guarantees that once a child is out of sight, they will have listened to our lessons and incorporated them into their everyday life away from home?

Preggo Barbie
I think back on my childhood and teen-hood, and the memories make me have to admit that I thought I did know it all. When I think about my first "real" kiss at fourteen, I felt grownup. When I think about my "first love" at sixteen, I thought I was grownup. When I talk about getting pregnant at twenty, I was grownup; at least in my own mind. I didn't use condoms. It was the age of  "free love", and nobody did. Did you? Nobody talked about using them either, except as an inconvenience, a disrupter of the moment, or an inhibitor of sensation. It was a boys' responsibility to carry them, and most boys didn't. Do they now? How many girls think about them now? How many actually carry them, just in case? I would venture some do, but I would bet that many do not. How many girls and boys nowadays think about them at all? Have you asked your child if or what they think about using condoms? Do you know if your child has or is experimenting with sex?

Advertising on television, in movies, in magazines and on billboards has become much more sexually explicit than in the promiscuious '60's. How many Victoria's Secret ads have you seen lately? What is your impression of the Calvin Klein underwear ads? I consider the form of advertising used by these two companies, for example, to be "soft porn". The underwear they advertise is fine, its the alluring looks of the models that offends me: the pursed lips, the sultry eyes; the pulsating music. I also resent the poses struck in those ads: the arched backs, the full-frontal "package", the stretching on a bed or recliner that connotes a "come hither" proposal. These ads are aired in prime time, meaning a two-year old can watch them. Does anybody have a problem with their toddler watching young women or men on television flaunt underwear for money: seducing the public to buy those sexy wares of the advertisers who pay big bucks to air, especially during a "big game" or a popular talk show, for example? Maybe you haven't thought about it, or maybe you don't care. Maybe you think I'm old-fashioned or just getting carried away with nonsense.
Latina Stats

Whatever your view, sensory stimulation affects human beings. Babies are affected by stimuli "in utero". There are studies that prove how we are affected. Some parents think it inappropriate for young children to watch the movie, "RoboCop", for example, but some think graphic violence portrayed in that movie or any other has no affect on their child at all. How does a graphically violent or really scary movie make you feel? How does a graphically or incredibly sensual scene played out in a film affect you? Do you think your children are immune to these feelings? I'm sure you don't, but advertisers don't care about that. They only care about making money. It is up to us to protect our children from all predators, including commercial advertisers. Of course, not all advertising promotes ill-feelings. I love those insurance commercial where the dog can't find a safe place to hide his bone, while the song, "Trouble", plays out his angst. The point is, we are affected. But, can we be protected?

How do we protect our children when they are out of sight? We either depend on others we entrust with our children's welfare to do it in our stead, or we trust that we have given our children, especially our teens, all the tools they need to make good choices, and that they will come to us if they need help. What tools do we give our teens to make those good choices? One of them is a healthy conversation about their sexual feelings and how to respond to those feelings. Another, is to educate them about pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, and the prevention of both. For generations, condoms have proven to be highly effective at preventing all of the above. Are they 100% effective? Actually, nothing is. But, they can be 98-99% effective. Nothing in life is guaranteed.

When I was young, nobody talked to me about prevention. Would I have used it if they did? I knew about it and didn't use it anyway. I'm not proud of that fact. It's just a fact. After having my baby, I began taking birth-control pills. My healthcare coverage through Welfare paid for those pills. I had no other healthcare coverage to depend on. If this coverage is taken away as a basic right of living in this country, regardless of how and why one becomes dependent on the government, that access should not be withheld. I remained on Welfare Assistance for three years. I think the Massachusetts limit of two years is too short to become independent as a single parent. But, I also believe that Welfare as a lifestyle is unhealthy and should not be encouraged. Nobody benefits from a "free ride". But, while receiving assistance, people should receive training if they have no skill, receive childcare so they have the time to learn that skill, and healthcare to protect both parent and child from environmental and genetic illness. The goal of assistance should be independence. Financial independence promotes a healthy family, a healthy mind and heart, and a healthy society.
Rate Chart

Sticking one's head in the sand is not a solution to preventing teen pregnancy. Addressing the realities of the human body and its response to stimuli as well as emotional reactions to that same stimuli is essential. As a society, we pay the price of unwanted babies, whether we like it or not; overtly or covertly. We either support them or we don't. Teaching prevention is certainly a key way to avoid having to support those children. But learning control over our bodies is not easy. We must do our part as parents and as a human community to support the education of our children about their bodies, minds and their hearts. For many, these types of discussions are too uncomfortable. What then happens to the children of those parents who are incapable of engaging in sexual-educational discussions? They are the children left to educate themselves. Like it was for me all those years ago, much of their education is through talking with friends or experimentation. Much of all of our education in life is experimentation. Taking risks and experimenting with life experiences is highly encouraged; as long as those experiments don't involve sex. Right?

As much as we memorize the theme song for an advertisement because it is repeated over and over again, so should education about our sexuality and responsibility be repeated. And, access to contraception should continue to be a part of normal healthcare coverage, like medication is for those suffering with afflictions because they got fat from over-indulgence over time. Both kinds of healthcare are preventable, and we must have a way to educate and keep repeating that information to humankind, of every age, until those lessons become the lifestyle of wellness. How does this education happen? Hopefully, it begins at home. But, what if it doesn't?

In this presidential election, I did a little research on where our candidates stand with regard to support of contraception access in this country. Here is a little of what I found:

Joe Biden: Voted YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives.
Voted to adopt an amendment to the Senate's 2006 Fiscal Year Budget that allocates $100 million for the prevention of unintended pregnancies. A YES vote would expand access to preventive health care services that reduce unintended pregnancy (including teen pregnancy), reduce the number of abortions, and improve access to women's health care. A YES vote would:

  • Increase funding and access to family planning services
  • Funds legislation that requires equitable prescription coverage for contraceptives under health plans
  • Funds legislation that would create and expand teen pregnancy prevention programs and education   programs concerning emergency contraceptives 

Reference: Appropriation to expand access to preventive health care services; Bill S.Amdt. 244 to S Con Res 18 ; vote number 2005-75 on Mar 17, 2005

Paul Ryan: Like his running mate Mitt Romney, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has not come out with a specific and solid position on contraception. However, as a Catholic he follows the church's teachings and his support of fetal personhood legislation indicates he believes life begins at conception. Therefore it can be assumed that he is opposed to oral contraceptives such as the pill and the morning after pill. As a staunch anti-abortion advocate, he is also critical of Planned Parenthood and has voted repeatedly to defund the organization which provides family planning tools, education, and support to women.

Barack Obama supports a comprehensive approach to sex education that focuses on abstinence but also recognizes the need for age-appropriate education to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. He believes "that contraception has to be part of the education process."

He is an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act. Introduced in January 2007, it proposes to increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods; expand access to contraception; end insurance discrimination against contraception; and improve awareness about emergency contraception.

Mitt Romney said he would expand a Bush-era rule that allows doctors to deny women access to contraceptives."

"Bush-Era Rule": In the final days of the Bush administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a “conscience rule” permitting federally funded health care providers to opt out of health care services they found objectionable. Then Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt argued that the new rule was necessary to protect the “freedom of expression and action” of medical professionals, even if its supposed beneficiaries disagreed. The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, claimed that “doctors and nurses are already not required to perform abortions or sterilizations” and raised concerns about the rule’s vague definitions of “abortion” and the possibility that the redundant and unnecessary regulation could allow practitioners to deny women access to commonly used methods of birth control like “oral contraceptives, emergency contraception, and the IUD.”

President Obama condemned the rule and eventually reversed it. But yesterday, in an effort to strengthen his social conservative credentials and new-found pro-life position, Mitt Romney pledged to restore and strengthen the conscience protection:

    Q: Would you restore them and perhaps even strengthen them?

    ROMNEY: Absolutely. We have to allow people to practice their faith and when they have a matter of conscience that they can’t participate in some form of activity which violates their faith, then they should be able to abide by their faith, particularly when there are plenty of opportunities for people to have a service provided.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not Much Has Changed.

A friend recently told me her thirteen-year-old daughter came home very upset. "Another twelve-year-old in school is pregnant," she said. This was the second friend of hers that "got caught". When my friend shared this story with me, I realized that so much has changed in the forty-two years since I became an unwed mother, yet nothing has changed. Girls are just getting pregnant younger and younger. Teenage pregnancies seem to be on the rise instead of diminishing. Why is this?

The other night, I heard John Tesh on his radio show declare that statistics show children who do not attend preschool are more likely to become "teenage parents" or go to jail than those who receive the socialization of the preschool experience. Really? I find it very difficult to believe that attending preschool could determine a fate like getting pregnant at twelve. What else could possibly cause a girl to become pregnant at a young age?

I got pregnant when I was twenty years old. I had a psychic vision at seventeen that I would get pregnant by my "first love", but not marry him. I was a virgin until I was eighteen, and I sought to get rid of it after my high-school graduation trip to New York City with two girlfriends. We met some "hip" people in "the Village" during that trip. They invited us to hang out in their apartment and when I proclaimed I was a virgin, they spat  their feelings of repulsion, condescension and absurdity at me. I left their company feeling ridiculous and immature at thinking that "saving myself for marriage" was still the right way to go for me. The most important thing to me my entire life was to be "accepted", by everyone. My virginal self was clearly not accepted by these smoking, self-absorbed intellectuals. I decided they knew better than I, which was my usual way of viewing the world, so I went to a hotel with a boy who loved me but I didn't love in the same way, and got rid of my virginity. It took me many, many years of self-help study and psycho-therapy to finally accept and love myself.

How many young girls still think this way today? How many girls think that being a virgin, even at age twelve, is acceptable; "hip" (if that is still the term being used)? My self-esteem was tied to what everyone else thought of me. How many girls still feel the same way I did forty-five years ago? I always confused love with sex. How many girls today still confuse the two? I never used condoms. Obviously, young people still don't use them, or the condoms are defective. Otherwise, it is possible there would be fewer pregnancies.

In Newton,, Massachusetts, where my family originated and I, as well as my son, spent our teen years, the "town fathers and mothers" tried to implement a program to distribute free condoms in the schools. Parents were outraged by the thought of the schools interfering with what they believed to be their duty and right: to educate their children about sex. But, in my experience interacting with many of my siblings who became parents, and with people in our community as I became politically involved, adults today still cringe at and avoid talking about sexual matters with their children. It is acceptable to teach sex education using films in school, but distributing a way to prevent pregnancy just went too far.

I didn't attend preschool, and I became an unwed mother. Does that mean John Tesh's quoted statistics are correct? I doubt it. I began having "feelings down there" at age nine. I saw kissing with closed and open mouths on television every day and in most every movie I watched that stimulated those feelings. I desperately wanted a boyfriend at that young age, and my son expressed similar feelings at the same age. He did attend preschool. But he did not get a girl pregnant as a teen or at any age before he married.

I began buying my son books to stimulate discussions about sexual development starting at age five. I paid attention to things he said and behaviors he exhibited that hinted at his sexual interest level at every age. I paid attention, and I asked questions. How many parents pay close attention to their child's sexual development? How many who do notice changes, actually initiate talks with them about those changes or give them books to explain things to them in easy to understand language or pictures? My mother never talked to me about sex or even my period. She let it happen and if I asked questions, she tried to explain things. I learned the technicalities of sexual intercourse and anatomy in middle school: "sex education class", and from my friends. How is this part of education different today? I suspect not much has changed.

Part of the lyrics from "Love Child" by The Supremes, 1968:

                This love we're contemplatin'
                Is worth the pain of waitin'
                We'll only end up hatin'
                The child we may be creatin'

                                                                         Love child,
                                  never meant to be
                   Love child,
                                  scorned by society
                  Love child,
                                  always second best
                 Love child,
                                      different from the rest.