Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reflections of a New Mom

This service was presented on Sunday, September 18, 2016, by Rachel Alvarez. 

301 Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky!
338 I Seek the Spirit of a Child

Responsive Readings
Generation To Generation
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Give Us the Spirit of the Child
by Sarah Moores Campbell

Reflections of a New Mom
by Rachel Alvarez

I have been a mother for almost 6 months now.  I can't believe how quickly the time has passed already, and I know it will continue to fly by as Natalie grows.  By no means do I consider myself an expert on motherhood.  In fact, there are days I feel lost and confused. 

Watching her has prompted me to consider human nature and societal issues.  I have been reflecting a lot. I've been reflecting in the middle of the night during feedings, while I am scrolling through her pictures during my lunch, and while driving, with her cries ringing out from the back seat.  She has not yet realized the joy of road trips, which her dad and I love.

So, today I’d like to share some of my musings from this first half-year.  I apologize if some of my thoughts are a bit disjointed.  It has been rare for me to have more than a few minutes at a time to really focus on any single task.  I have lots of questions, and not as many answers, but here we go.

Observation #1:  Babies are born ready to love.  At this time in her life, Natalie's list of needs is relatively short.  As long as she is fed, clean, and comfortable, she is generally satisfied.  She loves to be held, and if she can stare into a smiling face, she's happy.  Bonus points for swaying to some music in her dad's arms.  She has no grudges, no self-doubt, no ill will toward anyone.  She is open, confident, and friendly.  She does not yet know of the discrimination and hatred that some people hold toward others.  Hopefully she will continue loving all types of people throughout her life.

In a scientific study I recently read about, children have been found to be naturally helpful and giving.  According to Adam Gorlick in “For kids, altruism comes naturally, psychologist says”

“kids are quite altruistic... They gesture to communicate that something is out of place. They empathize with those they sense have been wronged. They have an almost reflexive desire to help, inform and share. And they do so without expectation or desire for reward.

“But as they grow, children's spirit of cooperation is shaped by how they judge their surroundings and perceive what others think of them. They become more aware of what's around them, and worry more about what it's like and what it means to be a member of a group. They arrive at the process with a predisposition for helpfulness and cooperation...But then they learn to be selective about whom to help, inform and share with, and they also learn to manage the impression they are making on others—their public reputation and self—as a way of influencing the actions of those others toward themselves."

How can we continue to encourage that spirit of generosity?  I think in part, it is making an effort as a parent to model positive behavior.  I will try not to express negativity or ill-will that Natalie might be influenced by.  In fact, I will try to let her young sense of positivity influence me in my relationships with others.  That sense of love and beauty in a child’s world is truly inspiring to me.

In the words of comedian Denis Leary, “Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” In Natalie's case, her list is comprised of only car rides.

This brings me to my next observation...

2) Babies are born ready to learn. Natalie is learning.  All day.  Every hour, every minute, every second.  In the past six months, she has had to learn to breathe, to eat, to vocalize, to smile, to laugh, to grab, to roll over, to sit up....  When I see her clear, bright eyes focusing on Mark's facial expressions, on our cat walking by, on the pictures in her story books, on the ceiling fan blades turning... I am reminded of how she is a sponge.  She is constantly observing, learning, and growing. I admire this, and rather than spend mindless hours on my smart phone, my goal is to observe the world around me more and soak up as much as I can, the way Natalie does. She is just interested in everything!  I want to feel that spark of curiosity again and realize how much I can continue learning myself each day.

Now, my little sponge is soaking up lots of love, laughter, and new lessons.  But, how long can I shield her from the ugliness and hatred of the world?  At what point might she start to learn about the tragedies of the world?

In Natalie's short life, so many tragic and horrifying events have already taken place: the Orlando night club massacre, a long list of shocking Trump comments, various instances of police brutality and the sometimes violent backlash, the mishandling of rape cases,  Islamophobia, Internet trolling, deadly forest fires, floods, earthquakes... the list goes on. 

I myself feel so desensitized by all the world's violence, that I am ashamed to admit I hardly feel any emotion in response to most tragedies.  I don't want Natalie to be numb, but I also don’t want her to feel debilitated by the world’s sadness.  I hope that she develops confidence, while remaining sensitive and thoughtful.  My friend's daughter, a 2nd grader, was working on a school assignment last week about 9/11.  My friend said that each time her daughter rehearsed the presentation, reciting the number of deaths and detailing a victim’s last phone call to his wife, the little girl would burst into tears, crying, “that's so sad!”  What a heavy assignment for a 7 year old.  And I admire her sensitivity.  I feel embarrassed that I don't feel that emotion when reflecting on 9/11 or other more recent events.  How terrible for someone to have to confront such horrors at such a young age.  I hope Natalie can feel sadness and anger at these events, but that she will also see the good in humanity and look positively toward the future.  If hatred and racism can be taught, so can love and compassion.  What lessons can I teach her to give her a solid foundation so that she can face the ugliness of the world with confidence by the time it reaches her senses?

What about the pressures she will face as a girl growing into a woman?  Will she meekly apologize for everything or undermine her own ideas?  There's a funny, but at the same time too-real sketch by Amy Schumer in which the women are apologizing for every little thing.  In the sketch, a panel of women-- experts in their respective fields-- sit on a stage.   They apologize for interrupting each other, for speaking up, for requesting a glass of water, and, in an exaggerated sequence, for getting injured and bleeding on the stage.   I, too, find myself saying sorry when someone bumps into me, when sharing an opinion at a faculty meeting, and when asking a question of a friend.  I am determined to do everything in my power to help Natalie develop confidence and be proud of herself and her abilities.

Will she start to feel insecure and be uncomfortable in her body?

I hope to instill a positive body image in Natalie as she grows up, but I know how difficult that can be.  I grew up disliking my own body and lacking a lot of confidence as a girl and into my teen years.  How can I avoid passing on my insecurities to her?  Now she is uncorrupted and safe from the photoshopped, glossy magazine covers and the comments of her peers.  In a few years, will negative thoughts begin to seep into her consciousness?  How can I support her?  Can I arm her with the tools to fight those demons of hatred, self-doubt, and insecurity?  I am starting now by being mindful of my own thoughts.  Instead of criticizing my own body, I remind myself of the amazing things it has done for me.  It has run half marathons, traveled the world, and most impressively, created a tiny human which it now supports and nourishes.  When I look at Natalie, instead of referring to her “chunky” thighs, I try to rephrase, calling them strong, instead, so that I will be used to this mindset by the time she can understand and speak.

The following passage is taken from an article called, “Dear Daughter, you are so beautiful” by Chaunie Brusie, published Dec 4, 2015.  Recently I read this and it really resonated.

“The truth is, sometimes I just watch you. I realize that perhaps that might sound a little strange, but I make no apologies because I’m a mother and therefore just a tad clinically insane, because it’s impossible to live with your heart walking around outside of your body in a world that’s basically a ticking time bomb of hate and sorrow without losing your mind just a little bit.

“But I want to bottle up the beauty I see in you, in every careless way you jump and run... in every breath you take while you sleep, in every hug you give me without even thinking about it. I want to scoop your breathtaking beauty up, like piles of sand and hand it to you when you hit that age I know is coming, that age when you start to live not just for yourself and the pure joy of being you, but in comparison to others—to women, in the eyes of boys, against your own harsh standards.

“I want to hoist up the world’s biggest mirror, a mirror that could magically show you what I see, and gesture wildly, begging you to look, just look at what I see in you.

“To see the kindness, the strength, the sensitivity, the intelligence, the kindness, every quirk and flaw and trait, woven together in a tapestry I could never create.

“Because dear daughter, you are so beautiful.

“Even though someday, I know you won’t believe it.”

What will the world be like over the next one hundred years, throughout Natalie's lifetime?  How are we leaving the world for her generation to take over?  How much can I support her while also giving her independence? How much is within my control at all? How can I best support and prepare my daughter for living in this world of ours? This tragic, scary, but also wonderful world of ours.

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