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A Tempest in a Teacup (or Baby Bottle)

I recently came across a Web log written by a woman who went through elaborate and probably uncomfortable and painful measures in order to get pregnant. Now successful and the mother of a baby boy, she carries on a conversation with the world through her Web log about her parenting experiences. In a recent post, she wails that she made a mistake with her child, and asks for others to post their mistakes too.

Although I have made mistakes with my daughter, I had never done any of the things the other mothers posted: Dropping their children, feeding them soap for medicine, leaving them unattended with sleeping people who had no idea that the baby was in the house, and so on. This is because I was careful and cared about what happened to my child and was horrifically aware of the possible dire consequences if I wasn't careful.

As I read the confessions, I realized that not a single one of these women seemed to be aware that the majority of these "accidents" were due to their own negligence. Instead, there was a lot of smug, self-congratulatory talk going around about how it was all okay and how "everyone" does it. Drop the baby on its head? Fine, fine, we're here together in solidarity with you, sister. Leave the kid locked in the car while you go grocery shopping? Hey, we all make mistakes! Feed them soap, ignoring their screams because you just "know" that they don't have a legitimate reason to complain? Sure, sure, the physical discomfort only lasted a few days, and no one can see the scar that not being trusted or listened to or validated left on his soul.

The Pit of Vipers

I once worked on an archaeological dig, long, long ago while working on my bachelor's degree in sociology/anthrolopology. Each "hole" we were digging was assigned a crew. There was one crew that was so collectively bitchy with each other and toward everyone else that everyone started to call that hole The Pit of Vipers. Mind you, there was a great deal of affectionate amusement in that label, and even the putative vipers themselves took pride in upholding their end of the need to entertain people by their antics. And truthfully, there was no real sting to their bitchiness, but instead a great deal of humor, so that even the targets of their tongues would laugh. At least, that's how I remember it, but that was close to 30 years ago, so it is possible that time has softened the edges.

Still, the point is that sometimes a pit of vipers isn't so benign, and I should have remembered that. I should have just shrugged and moved on when I read these posts. I do know that there are many people who ignore the fact that their children are not inanimate objects, but are instead human beings in their own right who deserve the very best a person can give them in terms of honor, respect, love, and care--includng carefulness. I also know that saying something to that type of person is futile. They just aren't ready yet to take that next step.

I also should have paid attention to my own intuition about the tone of the posters, which was that I had stumbled into a nest of a certain kind of female, and that I had best run far and run fast and not let them know I even saw them.

But I didn't. And that's where I made a big mistake. I found these women lacking in the carefulness department, and then made the unfortunate mistake of posting a comment in which I said so. This was bad enough, but I came across as smug about the fact that I myself had been so careful and conscious and aware of my surroundings and my daughter's whereabouts and so on as to have managed to avoid those kinds of "accidents." The subtext of my message was, "what the hell were you all thinking?!?"

The Vipers Grow Enraged!

My entry touched a number of nerves. Subsequent posters rose up en masse to villify me. Not surprisingly, what they focused on was not whether it is, in fact, possible to be careful enough with your child that "accidents" of the sort they relayed didn't have to happen. I chalk this up to the possibility that perhaps they are not yet capable of accepting enough responsibility for themselves, nor are they strong enough in themselves, to be able to bear the thought that maybe they could be better mothers than they already feel themselves to be.

So instead they focused on the tone of my post, saying that, because I had come across as smug and self-satisfied (and I did), that of course nothing I said had any validity (this is a fallacious argument on their part) and, furthermore, I deserved to have horrible things to happen to my daughter and myself. A pit of vipers indeed. Rational debate took one look at their faces and ran for cover, like I should have.

So, I posted an apology for having come across so badly, but I didn't apologize for feeling good about myself for having done all right so far, and I didn't let myself get browbeaten into retracting my original post, which said that it is, after all, possible to be careful enough with your child.

Then I made what they saw as another mistake, but to those of you who know my stance on self-defense, it will come as no surprise: I had the gall to actually stand up on my hind legs and respond to my attackers--without, mind you, responding in kind by calling names or wishing nastiness upon them, but instead by responding to the attacks with rationality. I also said that ad hominem attacks do not a valid argument make. I should have remembered that it is never a good thing to put your finger right on people's insecurities or on their points of blindness about themselves (their areas of denial) simply by being different from them.

The tar, feathers, and torches came out in earnest then.

The Monopoly on the Smug Franchise is Broken

Ironically, while the names rained down on my head, with "smug," "self-satisfied," and much, much worse being frantically thrown my way in desperately abusive attempts to shout me down and make me feel bad about myself and make me crawl back into the hole they apparently think I came from, I couldn't help but notice that the tone in each of those posts was, not to put to fine a point on it, smug and self-satisfied.

Not that it would have done any good to point that out--these females had blood in their eyes, and that would have played right into their hands by seeming to be name-calling on my part. Of course, all the name-calling they did was okay and apparently justified in their eyes because of my attitude.

But if I had resorted to name-calling, then I would have wrong from my point of view. I deeply disapprove of name-calling as a way of settling anything. And alhough naming a behavior isn't name-calling, it would have been seen that way by these particular females.

Luck Has Nothing To Do With It

I have no wish to repeat the vile things that were said, but I do want to address one thing that was said several times, because it is pertinent to parenting.

Most of the things that people confessed doing to their children were from just not being vigilant enough or careful enough to prevent harm coming to their child. Yet several women said that I hadn't experienced the things the others had, not because I had been more careful, but because I "got lucky."

This, of course, is just another way to invalidate a person, so I at first ignored it, but then I got to thinking--perhaps those women who said that really and truly believe that luck is all that is involved. In other words, in their mind, my daughter didn't suffer any of the things their children did because of anything I consciously did; no, not at all. To think that was true would have called into question their own carefulness, or lack thereof. So instead, to those people, I just got lucky.

But luck has nothing to do with being careful. Carefulness is a conscious choice. Luck is beyond one's control. Either a person is careful or they are careless to some degree in any given situation; either they are more or they are less conscious and aware of their surroundings and responsibilities at any given time. That degree of consciousness and awareness isn't luck; that's choice.

We all have choices in this world and we make them daily. If we make a choice whose results we don't like, we can learn from those choices and make different choices the next time.

However, if a person doesn't recognize that they have choices, but instead believes it is all a matter of luck, then they are going to be less vigilant about things. They won't, by definition and by accepting the belief in luck, think that they are themselves responsible to as great a degree as they truly are. They may feel some responsibility, but they can easily wash away the feelings of guilt and remorse for making a mistake by calling it "bad luck." Yet how can they learn from their mistakes if they don't think they genuinely made a mistake in the first place, but instead think that it was all just a matter of luck?

I would like to think that eventually these women will look back on their behavior in this instance and think, "Wow, maybe I was a bit over the top. And what, after all, was the real issue there? What was Marina mirroring back to me about myself that I truly, deeply hate about myself, and that I am afraid to confront? What can I learn from that in order to make myself a better person?"

I am just idealistic and optimistic enough to believe that it is truly possible that such a thought might occur to them sooner or later, though I am realistic enough to know that it might be a long, long while, if ever, before it happens in this lifetime. I remind myself, though, that they are all very likely to be much younger than I am, too, so I also make allowances for their age and lack of life experience.

But after all, one of the most important jobs in the world is to be good parents to our children, and in order to be good parents, we must practice a large degree of self-examination and dedicate ourselves to making ourselves better persons so that we are better parents. We can't wait until a child is 20 to decide to be better, more conscious, more careful, and more aware. By then it is too late to have much of a positive effect on our children.

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