TIME Parenting

Problems With Breastfeeding Triggered My Postpartum Depression

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I really felt that my inability to exclusively breastfeed my son was a complete personal failure that would affect him for the rest of his life

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This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I was pregnant, I was all about breastfeeding. I knew it was the best, healthiest, smartest way to feed my unborn baby. I read “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” and I was convinced that my baby and I would be naturals at it. I scoffed at the price of formula in the pharmacy. I wondered who would choose to buy it when you have perfectly good, milk-producing boobs attached to you, giving out baby food for FREE.

I planned to nurse my baby wherever I was if he or she needed to eat and I DARED anyone to say anything nasty or ignorant. I even looked up the damn laws regarding public breastfeeding in NYC and whether anyone could legally ask you to cover up. I was just so sure that breastfeeding would come so easily to us; I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that it might not work out.

Then my son was born. The blissful, drug-free birth I hoped for turned into an elective C-section when my OB demonstrated for me exactly how small the opening between my hip bones was during a painful pelvic exam. Basically, there was little chance my 8lb 13oz baby was going to come out without significant trauma to both of us.

I went past my due date with my cervix still high, closed and tight. My doctor advised that we could induce (which I was not a good candidate for given the state of my cervix) where I would go through painful, drug-induced contractions for up to three days. If my big baby didn’t come out by then, I would have to get a cesarean. Or, we could just cut to the chase (pun intended) and I could have the C-section without the three days of hell prior to it. It was a no-brainer — I scheduled the surgery for the next day.

The C-section was successful and my beautiful, healthy boy was born kicking and screaming. In fact, he gave a brilliant demonstration of how well his kidneys were functioning by peeing on the doctor seconds after he took his first breath. We did skin-to-skin contact to stimulate milk production and he latched on like a champ as soon as we hit the recovery room. He nursed contentedly and everything was going just as I hoped it would, until our first night home from the hospital.

He nursed for close to two hours before we went to bed. Being the naive first-time parents that we were, we assumed he would sleep for HOURS after eating that much. We were quickly proved wrong when he woke up screaming 20 minutes later. After diapering him, burping him, rocking him, swaddling him, and trying every other trick the nurses in the hospital taught us to soothe his cries, we realized he must be hungry. I put him to the breast and he popped off, screaming.

After trying this for close to an hour with no success, and both my husband and I nearing exhaustion, we fed him a bottle of the ready-to-feed formula gifted to us by the hospital “just in case” he had trouble nursing when we got home. He sucked it down as if he hadn’t eaten in days and slept peacefully for hours, but I lay awake guiltily crying at how I had failed my son.

Things didn’t get easier as time passed. Even if he would nurse, he would scream minutes after finishing. It was clear he wasn’t getting the nourishment he needed from me. I used a breast pump round the clock since he continued to refuse my breast but had no trouble drinking from a bottle. Every mommy-blog I read said to withhold bottle feedings so he would take the breast but it broke my heart every time I heard his hungry cries and I would give in and feed him either pumped breast milk or formula. I became totally exhausted because the only time I could pump was when he slept, going against the age-old “sleep when baby sleeps” maxim.

When I wasn’t pumping, I was poring over articles about how to increase milk supply and drinking teas designed to increase production.

Exhaustion is one of the main contributing factors to postpartum depression and before I knew it I was crying multiple times a day about my perceived failings as a mother. I felt so much guilt every time I gave him a bottle that wasn’t breast milk, but pumping doesn’t maintain a milk supply the way that a baby nursing directly from the breast does.

In addition to my guilt, I felt rejected since my son wouldn’t nurse from me. I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t master breastfeeding, which I foolishly thought would be the most natural thing in the world. The blogs stressed that I should just continue to offer the breast and pump every two hours. I felt weak when I would choose a short nap over pumping. I hated myself whenever I allowed someone else to give him a bottle so I could get a few hours of sleep.

I constantly second guessed myself and my abilities as a mother. In my darkest moments, I wondered if it was a mistake to have a baby in the first place. I wondered where I got off thinking I was capable of caring for another human being. I wept for my poor son who was stuck with a mother who was so woefully unable to give him the care he deserved. It felt like a cruel joke. I felt miserable during the time in my life that should have been the most joyful.

I saw a lactation consultant and she confirmed that my baby was only getting a fraction of the milk that he needed by nursing. My milk supply was plentiful at that time as a result of my round the clock pumping, my baby’s latch was perfect, and his sucking reflex was strong. We just couldn’t find a reason why nursing was unsuccessful.

I felt some relief that my problems with breastfeeding weren’t entirely my fault. But I couldn’t get over the idea that maybe if I just tried a little harder or read a few more articles that I could get it right. I really felt that my inability to exclusively breastfeed my son was a complete personal failure that would affect him for the rest of his life. Every time he refused the breast and I had to give him formula, I was devastated.

This went on for two weeks, although it felt much longer. I didn’t know if I would ever feel happy again. I went to my OB to have my stitches removed and when she asked me how I was feeling, I completely broke down. Somehow she convinced me that giving my son formula didn’t make me a bad mother while dabbing my tears away with gauze.

She reminded me that motherhood didn’t equal martyr-hood and that I needed to take care of myself in order to give my sweet baby the best care possible.

Once I took that to heart, and allowed myself to sleep without feeling guilty that I wasn’t pumping, I felt better within days. I felt like my pre-baby self again and for the first time since we got home from the hospital, I really enjoyed being a mom.

My son just turned three months old and he is thriving. I still pump, and I still feel guilty sometimes. But my baby is happy and healthy and I know I’m doing the very best I can, for both of us.

My copious middle of the night research on formula vs. breast milk lead to me recent studies which suggest that maybe breast milk isn’t that superior to formula after all. I know that every time I heard “breast is best,” a little piece of my heart broke that I had to give my baby less than the best.

So much of the literature on baby care completely ignores self-care for mothers. Maybe instead of pushing something that is unattainable for so many mothers, we as a society should just advocate whatever is best for baby AND mom — even if that means formula feeding.

Kaity Garcia is an executive assistant working for an international investment bank in New York.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

The Cult of Kiddie Danger

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We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.

The Richland, WA, school district is phasing out swings on its playgrounds. As the district’s spokesman recently told KEPR TV: “It’s just really a safety issue. Swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground.”

Ah yes, those dangling doom machines. All they sow is death and despair.

But while this sounds like yet another example of how liability concerns are killing childhood (seen a see-saw anywhere in the last 20 years? A slide higher than your neck?), it’s deeper than that. Insurance underwriters are merely the high priests of what has become our new American religion: the Cult of Kiddie Danger. It is founded on the unshakable belief that our kids are in constant danger from everyone and everything.

The devout pray like this: “Oh Lord, show me the way my child is in deathly danger from __________, that I may cast it out.” And then they fill in the blank with anything we might have hitherto considered allowing our children to eat, watch, visit, touch, or do, e.g., “Sleep over at a friend’s,” “Microwave the macaroni in a plastic dish,” or even, “Play outside, unsupervised.”

The Cult’s dogma is taught diligently unto our children who are not allowed to use Chapstick unless it is administered by the school nurse, nor sunscreen, lest they quaff it and die of poisoning, nor, for the same reason, soft soap in pre-k. It doesn’t matter that these fears are wildly at odds with reality. They are religious beliefs, not rational ones.

What’s more, this is a state religion, so the teachings are enforced by the cops and courts. Those who step outside the orthodoxy face punishment swift and merciless.

You can’t step outside at all, in fact. Americans are not allowed to believe any public place is safe for their children, ever, without constant supervision. Trust is taboo.

The logical under-current is illogical, as it’s based on a hapless understanding of basic statistics. How many children are kidnapped by strangers in a year? About one in 1.5 million — those are incredibly great odds. But odds don’t matter when we’re evangelizing about a vision of death and destruction.

That’s why, last winter, when a New Jersey mom left her sleeping 18-month-old in the car for 5-10 minutes while she ran an errand at an upscale shopping mall, she returned to find herself under arrest. Though the child was completely fine — he seems to have slept through the whole “incident” — the mom was found guilty of abuse or negligence. An appeals court of three judges upheld this conviction with the comment, “We need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended [the child’s] neglect.”

In other words: The judges need not spell out their Boschian fantasies. If an authority can envision something “horrible” happening — and even turn that adjective into a noun — it doesn’t matter how farfetched any actual scenario is. (In fact, the danger of dragging your child across the parking lot is larger than letting him wait in the car a few minutes.) Anyone doubting constant danger is a heretic. The mom is now excommunicated — that is, she’s on the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry. Good luck to her if she hoped to work with kids, at least while the case makes its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

And if you can stand to hear another one of these, a similar case concerns a Chicagoland mom who let her young son wait in the car for less than five minutes this September while she, too, ran an errand. An onlooker alerted the authorities, which brought not only the police but also the paramedics, who proceeded to examine the child as if he had been in grave danger. Sure, it’s the same grave danger any of us face when sitting in traffic — four minutes in an unmoving car. But magically, because the mom was not directly supervising the child, it transmogrified into a near-death experience.

Zero Tolerance laws are another code of the Cult, stemming from the same belief that while the danger to a child might seem minimal to the point of non-existent, to true believers it looms large and immediate. And so children have been suspended around the country for a plastic gun the size of a toothpick, a Lego gun the size of a quarter, and the infamous “gun” made out of a Pop Tart. And by “made” I mean “bitten into the shape of, by a 7 year old.”

How can we explain any of this hysteria if not by religious fervor? To see danger where there is none is no longer considered crazy, it’s a mission. Many authorities seem to believe the more danger they can imagine, the holier they are. In a letter home to parents, the principal at the Pop-Tart school wrote, “While no physical threats were made and no one [was] harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.”

Had to? Because…he had a Pop Tart? Or because the boy with the pastry pistol was magically dangerous, like a witch with her cat?

In a society that believes children are in constant danger, the Good Samaritans are often terrible people. So, recently, when a woman in Austin noticed a 6-year-old playing outside, she asked him where he lived, walked him home (it was just down the hill), and chastised the mom — Kari Anne Roy — for not being careful enough.

Then this Samaritan called the Inquisitors. Er…cops.

An officer showed up at Roy’s doorstep and despite the fact that the crime rate today is at a 50-year low, a CPS investigator was also dispatched to interview all three of Roy’s children. She asked Roy’s 8-year-old if her parents had ever shown her movies with people’s private parts. “So my daughter, who didn’t know that things like that exist, does now,” says Roy. “Thank you, CPS.”

It was almost seven years ago that I let my nine-year-old ride the subway alone and wrote a newspaper column about it. The result? A media firestorm. Back then I thought my crime, in the eyes of the public, was putting my child in danger.

But gradually I’ve come to realize my real crime was that I publicly disavowed the state religion. Talk show host after talk show host tried to get me to recant, asking: “How would you have felt if he didn’t come home?”

I could have sobbed and fainted, claiming it had been only a momentary lapse when I’d trusted my son in the world. Instead I said, “I wasn’t thinking that way. If I did, I could never let him do anything.”

Today it is a sin — and sometimes a crime — NOT to imagine your children dead the moment we take your eyes off them. The moment they skip to school with a Chapstick, wait in the car a minute, or play at the park.

We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids completely safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.

If we want the right to raise our kids rationally, even optimistically, it’s time to call the Cult of Kiddie Danger what it is: mass hysteria aided and abetted by the authorities. But as earlier holy books so succinctly instructed us, there is a better way to live.

“Fear not.”

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range kids. Her show “World’s Worst Mom” airs on Discovery/TLC international. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

Parents Should Try Being Present Instead of Perfect

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When it comes to feeding and caring for our families

For a lot of American families today, the dinner table can feel a minefield, haunted by the ghosts of Leave It To Beavers past and the present-day social and economic pressures to serve up from-scratch meals. The pressure for mealtime perfection can get overwhelming, even for a professional like Cat Cora, the first female Iron Chef.

“It’s a work in progress every day,” said Cora, who emphasized that even someone like her isn’t immune to the worries many parents have about the food they put on the table or send to school or practice with their kids. She shares a household with a wife and four sons, and is a representative of an emerging new modern family– a structure whose makeup is increasingly diverse and “becoming the majority in this country.” For Cora, this shift in family structures is creating a “place where parents both have a role in raising and nurturing the kids.” Yet, no matter how much parental roles have evolved, the pressures to be perfect haven’t followed suit. That’s something we need to change, suggested panelists who joined Cora at a recent New America event, underwritten by Betty Crocker.

“The Internet makes me cry some days,” said Frederick Goodall, the founder of the popular blog MochaDad, who condemned the shaming of parents on social media. “I always have to tell my wife — please do not look at Pinterest. Do not let that make you feel bad about yourself — just think of it as a fantasy land.” Social media, he suggested, perpetuates stereotypes about “homemaking” with little basis in fact.

And what are the facts, exactly? “Only about one-fifth of U.S. families have the structure of one parent staying home,” said Latifa Lyles, the Director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. “It’s just not a reality anymore. And what that means is that families have less time.” For her, time is the focal point of good parenting, even if that means making PB&J more and visiting the farmers’ market less.

“Because time is so valuable, how we spend that time [with our children] is more critical than anything else,” she said. “When we get into being the perfect homemaker, we lose ourselves.”

We may also be missing the larger point: When it comes to feeding our families, being present matters more than being perfect. “Kids don’t care,” as Cora put it. “They just want to see you. They want to hear your voice. They want to be told they’re loved.”

Critically, this struggle between presence and perfection is one faced by parents from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Sarah Bowen, associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University, described a recent study in which she and her colleagues interviewed North Carolina moms from low-income and middle-class families over a five-year period about how they feed their kids and the challenges they confront in the process. They found that middle-class moms are cooking 4-5 nights a week but are discouraged by media messages that their meals should be organic and from scratch. Poorer moms are cooking at home too, but since unpredictable work schedules are increasingly the norm in low-wage jobs, they, too, worry that they’re not measuring up.

Both the shame and lack of time may be the structural results of a conflict between policy progress on nutrition and policy stagnation on other family-related policies. Liza Mundy, director of New America’s Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, noted that neither policy debates nor media narratives about childcare and parental leave have kept pace with those about food and nutrition, where a hard-won consensus now exists in favor of cooking healthy and eating well. Promoting healthy eating is important. But the failure to generate policy support for childcare and paid caregiving leave has obscured the lack of real choices available to American families.

Goodall, who used to work in construction, recalled his former boss insisting that he keep his Blackberry turned on while he was in the delivery room with his wife, who was giving birth to their third child. He resigned six months later to start MochaDad, where he has encountered a number of dads who stay at home because of persistent unemployment post-recession, not because they want to. Citing the White House Summit on Working Families this past June and the more recent viral #LeadonLeave campaign (which highlights the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world with no paid family leave), Lyles also criticized American’s limited choices and the gendered double standard around taking parental leave.

When women do it, employers question their commitment. Most men don’t take leave even when it’s offered, and those who do either face Goodall’s fate or get excessive praise for being dedicated fathers.

Still, there’s at least one national bright spot that could illuminate a path forward for the rest of the country. Lyles and Mundy both pointed to the example of California, which offers six weeks of paid leave to parents funded by the state’s payroll tax. Ten years of data show increased rates of fathers and mothers alike taking leave and reflect support from the business community. These results demystify the dissonance, according to Lyles, and show that having paid leave can become a norm. Mundy echoed this message of hope: “What you want is people making choices in a landscape where they have real options and where they have support.”

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. She holds a PhD from NYU, where she has been a lecturer and done research at the intersections between U.S. literary and cultural history and social and political activism. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Raising a Deaf Child Makes the World Sound Different

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When I found out my son couldn’t hear, I figured out that I wasn’t really listening, either

Just before my youngest son Alex turned two, we discovered that he had significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. A few weeks later, I found myself in the gym at the school my two older boys attended. I was there for the regular Friday morning assembly. I’d been in that gym dozens of times for such events—dutifully clapping and cheering, chatting with other parents, and then moving on with my day.

On this morning, my routine was upended. The noise of the kids filing in echoed through the bleachers; the PA system squealed once or twice. When quiet kids took the microphone it was hard to hear them. All of that was normal, yet I hadn’t really noticed it before. Now, I was hearing the world differently, imagining it through the ears—and the hearing aids—of Alex, who might someday be a student here. Having a deaf child, I realized, was going to teach me to listen.

Once I started listening, I started to learn. Research came naturally—I am a journalist—and became my coping mechanism. Through books, conferences, and conversations with as many experts as possible, I began to understand the power of sound—how the speech of parents and caregivers and teachers shapes a child’s spoken language; and then, how a child’s own spoken language—the rhythm and the rate of it—helps that child learn to read. I also saw and heard more clearly the troublesome effects of sound’s alter ego, noise—the unwanted, unlovely cacophony of our industrial world, or the magnified, amplified effect of too many people talking, or music that’s too loud or intrusive.

What struck me most was that sound doesn’t matter any less for hearing children like my older boys. From the minute a child is born, every experience that child has is being etched into his or her brain. Sound, or its absence, is part of that experience. Neurons make connections with each other, or don’t; the auditory system develops or doesn’t, based on experience. Sound is essential for anyone learning to speak and to listen—and that includes every hearing child, as well as every deaf and hard of hearing child using hearing aids or cochlear implants, which send sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.

Before we figured out that Alex couldn’t hear, he was using every visual cue available—smiles and frowns, waving hands, pointing fingers—in order to make sense of his world. For a time, he compensated well enough to fool us into thinking he could hear, but he couldn’t keep up once his peers started talking.

Both the quantity and the quality of the words children hear in their first years affect language development. Over time, as kids have more experience listening, the auditory processing in their brains speeds up and becomes more efficient. The repetition, rhythm, and rhyme in nursery rhymes, poetry, music and even Dr. Seuss help children learn language by getting them to listen for patterns. That listening practice then forges the neural networks necessary for reading because an ability to make sense of what you hear and break speech into syllables and phonemes is the foundation of reading. How a child reacts to sound—meaning how efficiently his or her brain processes it—on the first day of kindergarten correlates to how many words per minute that child will read in fourth grade. It turns out that problems with processing sound are at the heart of the majority of reading problems. On the other hand, children who read well have built strong brain circuits connecting hearing, vision, and language.

It’s important to note that if a deaf child is going to grow up using sign language, he does not need sound in order to develop that language because his world is visual. Sign language, if it’s a first language, gets laid down in the brain in the same areas as spoken language does in those who learn to speak. Reading, however, is another question. Native signers must learn to read in what to them is a second language, and deaf students have historically struggled with reading in numbers far greater than their hearing peers.

When Alex did eventually attend school with his brothers, he was using a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. It turned out that small strategies designed to improve the classroom environment for him benefitted everyone. After we taught Alex to politely ask his friends to speak up or repeat themselves, circle time was suddenly full of children using their manners to do the same because no one else could hear the shy kids who mostly whispered. None of the children in his first grade classroom heard the math assignment because the air conditioner sounded like a standing mixer. Swapping out the old equipment helped 20 kids, not one. Ditto for adding carpeting and curtains, and covering the metal legs of chairs. According to the Acoustical Society of America, noise levels in many classrooms are loud enough that those with normal hearing can hear only 75 percent of words read from a list.

Something else happened, too. Alex’s needs subtly shifted some of the group dynamics, encouraging a new level of attention. Hearing people don’t have to look at someone who’s talking to take in what they say, but deaf people do. Although Alex’s hearing equipment does allow him to hear without looking, he still benefits from visual cues, and in his classes we applied a lesson from American Sign Language about the need for eye contact. The lovely thing about looking at someone when that person is speaking is that instead of just appearing to pay attention, you probably actually are.

Paying attention matters on a deeper level. Children’s ability to pay attention matures over time just as their language does. And like language, selective attention—the kind kids need in the classroom—is affected by experience. Practice and you get better at it. Neuroscientists have shown that when children pay attention they learn. Focusing on something specific—one voice over another or your book instead of your friend—results in a bigger response in the brain measured in electrical activity even in children as young as three. That bigger response helps build networks between neurons and trains the brain to learn.

Alex is now in sixth grade at that same school. I can’t change the acoustics of the cafeteria, but in the classroom, we still begin every school year reminding his teachers to stop and listen. We encourage them to amplify sound by, for instance, remembering to face students instead of the board and to damp down noise by consistently keeping hallway doors shut and the like.

At home, the boys used to do homework at the kitchen table while I cooked dinner and occasionally stepped in to quiz them or offer suggestions, often without leaving whatever was simmering on the stove. I no longer do it that way. I turn off the radio and hush my older sons then I sit next to Alex (or whichever boy needs help) and give him my full attention. He learns the material better, and I learn more about him. I wish I had never done it any other way.

Lydia Denworth is the author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and contributes to Scientific American Mind, Parents, and many other publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

How To Acknowlege Native Americans this Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving, you might vaguely remember from elementary school, celebrates a feast shared by the Wampanoag tribe and European settlers the tribe had saved from starvation. It turned out, of course, that the presence of Europeans was tragic for the Native Americans who had welcomed them.
With such a troubled history, how can we talk with our kids about Thanksgiving in a way that recognizes both sides of the tradition? Here are some tips from Dr. Randy Woodley, a Keetoowah Cherokee descendent, Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox University, and author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.
For young kids, “It’s important to understand that the ‘first Thanksgiving’ was not really the first,” Woodley says. “Native Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving feasts for thousands of years prior to the European arrival. And those celebrations took place many times throughout the year.”
Middle school aged kids can understand their role in the occasion a bit more clearly. “Native Americans were the hosts of Thanksgiving,” says Woodley. “It’s part of our values, to welcome people.” Thanksgiving is still a celebration of hospitality. But Woodley also believes it’s a good time to think about what kind of guests we want to be, either at a feast, or as visitors to a new country.
By high school, the lens can be widened. “Feasts, and the hospitality of the Native Americans, can serve as a lesson for inter-cultural hospitality in America,” says Woodley. To him, it’s a natural time “to encourage reconciliation between your family and those who share a different history.” What does it mean to be a host, to extend yourself? This also might be the time to talk about how many Native Americans do not celebrate the holiday because of the painful history that followed. “Eventually the story did not end well for the Native Americans,” Woodley says. “We are still waiting for justice and reconciliation to take place. Perhaps over another feast in the future.”

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TIME Culture

Thanksgiving: Grandma and the Baby Would Forget—But Mom and I Would Remember

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During this get-together of four generations speaking three languages, we all take turns playing caretaker and taken-care-of

I think back to the first Thanksgiving I spent with my infant daughter three years ago, which was also the last one I spent with my grandmother. The multigenerational gathering at my childhood home in Alhambra, mixing Chinese, Vietnamese, and American traditions, is not only etched in my memory, it’s immortalized in a digital photograph.

In the photo, my mom is holding my nearly four-month-old daughter in her arms, while my arms rest by my 84-year-old grandma, whom we all called Popo (the Chinese word for grandmother).

The entire family doesn’t get together like this often — but Thanksgiving is a holiday when 20 or more relatives cram into my mom’s modest townhouse to eat, drink, laugh — and annoy each other. For an evening, our lives touch and intertwine, and like an infinity mirror, we can see the past and future stretched out around us. In our lives, we have alternated between the roles of caretaker and taken-care-of, sometimes a bit of both.

A few months before that Thanksgiving, Popo had moved to an assisted living facility in San Gabriel. She had deteriorating kidneys and Alzheimer’s. When she was in better health, she had cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner that included slow-roasted, soy sauce-basted turkey, and hearty fish maw with shark fin soup.

Once, I pointed out that perhaps we ought to forgo the shark fin because of cruel commercial harvesting practices, and that the low heat she used to cook the turkey might not comply with modern health codes. But Popo was going to cook her turkey as she saw fit. In Vietnam, she had supported a husband and six kids by running her own stall at the market selling fabrics, and she had escaped communist Vietnam with her family by paying in gold bars for their exit as boat people.

But that Thanksgiving, Popo was no longer feeding us. Instead, my uncle tried his hand at the soy sauce-basted turkey; my mom made turkey curry with lemongrass and bay leaf.

As we sat down at the table, Popo had already eaten. She was on a liquid diet, fed directly into her stomach via a feeding tube. When Popo did manage a few spoonfuls of food, mom gently wiped her lips and cheeks.

This was something Mom did all the time. Mom was retired, but she always woke early, cooked meals for her sister and herself, and was off to Popo’s assisted living facility before 9 a.m. She washed Popo’s face in the morning, combed her hair to cover the bald patch, and rallied aides to help Popo to the bathroom so she could avoid sitting in excrement. Mom knew a mountain of dignity could be granted with a wipe of a napkin, comfort given with socks that she continually put back on Popo’s feet.

At Thanksgiving dinner, my daughter Hazel looked around her at all the new faces. She stared at the food we put it in our mouths. At the moment, she was relying on me for her milk and gaining critical pounds.

As Hazel drank, milk drops flowed down her cheeks and settled into the folds of her double chin. I grabbed a burp cloth and wiped her lips and cheeks.

Someone else was taking care of my baby while I worked during the day, and I fretted. I worried that she was sitting in excrement. That she wasn’t being adequately stimulated. I wondered if her blankets were kicked off, whether her socks had stayed on.

On that Thanksgiving evening, though, there was no assisted living, no daycare. Just time and those growing into life sharing an evening with those growing out of it. By the next day, Popo would have forgotten and so would have Hazel. But Mom and I would remember that moment, as would the camera.

Kim Luu is an environmental sustainability professional and lives in Alhambra, California, with her husband and two kids. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Ferguson’s Emotional Aftermath

Vanessa DeLuca
Vanessa DeLuca Courtesy of Essence

Vanessa DeLuca is the Editor in Chief of ESSENCE.

As a Black mother, it frightens me that I have come to expect this verdict, writes the editor of ESSENCE

I am tired of sighing. And crying. And “why oh why-ing” to anyone who will listen.

We know why this decision in Ferguson happened. The hurt is so deep, and the pain has gone on for so long.

And so we mothers of Black sons wake up to another injustice hangover, our heads heavy with the weight of absorbing too many messages that tell us, SHOW us, daily, that our loved ones have no worth in the eyes of those who are supposed to protect us. We understand the pain. We understand the anger. But we know that violence only reinforces what many already believe about us.

As a Black mother, it frightens me that I have come to expect this verdict. Because it means that I have allowed myself to give up the ability to feel hope when unarmed young Black men are murdered by police officers.

But like you, I will not allow this hurt to destroy me. And I will not allow it to erase the hope I still see in my son’s eyes.

Oppression is fueled by helplessness. We can’t stay in that space. None of us can afford to hibernate there.

So I will try to summon up the energy to fight back in ways that matter. Because yesterday I was able to sit across the table from my son, over lunch, and spend some time bonding. And this next fight has to be for the mothers who can no longer say that.

I hope you will join with me in fighting for legislation to protect our children’s rights.

This article originally appeared on Essence.com.

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TIME

When One Twin is More Academically Gifted

My son tested into the gifted program at school, but my daughter didn't. Should I split them up?

Splitting up twins in school is never easy. But splitting up twins so that one goes on the advanced learning track and the other follows the regular program is one of the most agonizing decisions a parent can face. And no amount of Internet searches will give you helpful advice. The consensus: Figure it out, parents. That’s what you’re (not) paid for.

As you may have guessed, I have twins, a boy and a girl, and they’re in the first grade. I happen to be a fraternal twin myself, so I’m sensitive to always being compared to a sibling. My son is like his engineer father —completely committed to being a lovable nerd. The other day he found a book of math problems at Barnes and Noble and was so excited it was as if Santa arrived, handed him a gift, and then let him ride a reindeer. My daughter is like her freelance writer mother – studying is not really her thing. She reminds me of the prince in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who is to inherit a large amount of land and says, “But I don’t want any of that. I’d rather sing!” That’s my girl.

We were first introduced to our school’s Spectrum (advanced learning) program last year in Seattle, Washington at the beginning of kindergarten. The kids could be tested that year and would enter the program—or not—in first grade. I hadn’t really thought about whether to have my kids tested. Other parents apparently had. One asked: “Should we have our child practice at home with the same kind of mouse they’re going to use in the test?”

In the beginning, my husband and I laughed at the idea of advanced learning in the first grade. We joked about “Level Two Crayons” and “Expert Alphabet.” But then, as the day to decide about testing came closer, we started hearing from our son’s teacher about how gifted he was. What first grader wants to practice math and reading on his own during the evenings and weekends? My son. And then there was my daughter, who was right on track, but, like most kids her age, was happy to leave school stuff at school. “Let’s just get them both tested and see what happens,” I said.

As far as my kids knew, they were just going to school to talk about what they know and what they don’t. They were never told that the results of the test had any sort of consequences and weren’t the least bit curious. But when we got the results–my son tested into the advanced program and my daughter didn’t–I immediately became anxious. I wanted to let my son move into the advanced program because I knew he would love it and thrive. But I worried for my vibrant, passionate daughter who at the age of six doesn’t think she has any limits. How was I going to separate her from her brother because he could do something better?

As a child I never felt smart enough. Not because of my twin sister, but because of my mother, who was brilliant. She used her intelligence to get off of the Kentucky farm where she grew up and into a New York City law firm. She placed a lot of value on the power of education and what good grades could do. I felt perpetually unable to meet her high expectations. Now I had a daughter who, in kindergarten, was already resistant to doing her reading homework. I was terrified that placing her brother in a higher academic track would affect my daughter’s self-esteem.

I contacted Christina Baglivi Tingloff from the site Talk About Twins. She’s a mother of adult twins and author of six books, including Double Duty and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples. “It’s tough when twins differ in abilities,” she says, “and I’d say that it’s the biggest challenge of parenting multiples. [But] kids take their cues from their parents. If you make this a non-issue in your household, I think your kids will follow suit.”

My husband and I have no lofty goals for our kids besides wanting them to be able to pay their own bills, not hurt themselves or anyone else, and be happy. “So many parents of twins try to even the playing field,” says Tingloff. “In my opinion, that’s a bad course of action because…kids then never develop a strong emotional backbone. Your job as a parent is to help them deal with the disappointments in life.”

We ended up putting our son in the Spectrum program and our daughter in the regular learning track. In the years to come, I will make sure that they understand that advanced or regular doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different. I want both of my children to do the best they can, whether that means taking advanced classes or singing the hell out of the school musical.

When my daughter wanders through the house making up her own songs and singing at the top of her voice, I support her…most of the time. “Really encourage your daughter in the arts,” says Tingloff. “Find her spotlight. At some point her brother will look at her accomplishments and say, ‘Wow, I can’t do that.'” While I had been worrying all this time about my daughter feeling outshined by her brother, I had never considered that he might also feel outperformed by her.

Despite all of my talk about how my daughter’s interests were every bit as valid as her brother’s, I had not been treating them the same. I saw the dance and drama as diversions and hobbies. I never gave those talents the respect that I gave to her brother’s academic interests.

Now that I am more aware of how I have been valuing their different strengths, I’ll be able to give my daughter’s interests the same amount of focus and praise as her brother’s. Hopefully, I can assure them that our only concern is their happiness. Then my husband and son can go do math problems together, and take things apart to see how they work, and my daughter and I will lay on the grass and find shapes in the clouds while we wonder about the world and sing.

The truth is, both my kids are gifted.

 

TIME Family

Old Spice’s Clingy Mom Will Make You Cringe

One small ad, one giant eye roll.

Old Spice sure has a low opinion of poor old mom.

In their new ad, mom has nothing to live for her, but her little baby boy. So when Junior starts hosing himself down in Old Spice-scented masculinity and becomes a man—which, of course, means dating attractive young women—in that straight-out-of-Sophocles way, mom just can’t handle it. She starts weeping and wailing her so-called “Momsong” like a Greek chorus in mom jeans and growing extra-long arms to cling to her precious baby boy.

“Where’s my little boy, I miss him so/Who’s this man living in our home?/My special guy has turned into a man,” she sings, before collapsing on the carpet in a heap of tear-swollen misery. That’s when good old dad comes rolling in on his riding lawnmower, as stereotypical suburban dads are wont to do, singing his ode to the joy that his son isn’t living in a van down by the river and is instead getting some action under the hash-marked tagline “#SmellcomeToManhood.” Hey ad: Gross.

The ad is actually a follow-up to another spot for Old Spice’s line of lady-luring body spray for young men. The first ad, titled “MomSong”, is more of the same, because apparently clingy mothers, wailing over the fact that their sons are developing at an age-appropriate rate, is never not funny. In “MomSong” the beleaguered mothers become creepy stalkers following their sons on dates while sniffing (literally) their former babies who now “smell like a man.” (Note to future self: Please refrain from sniffing grown son.)

It’s unfortunate that Old Spice and Weiden + Kennedy, the agency hired to make the ad, which features music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame, felt the need to peddle in stereotypes that would have been outdated even in the Mad Men era. (It’s also unfortunate that they think people want to “smell manhood.”)

While it’s clear that it’s all meant as one big joke, the whole ad is just a giant eye roll. While it’s clear that moms are not the target demographic for scented body spray with manly names like Bearglove and Lionpride, moms still have to live in a world where mothers are treated like nothing more than overbearing, emotionally unstable, clingy women, instead of, say, human beings wondering why their teenaged son spent his allowance on a male perfume called “Lionpride.” You can do better Old Spice.

Hopefully their own mothers will have a little talk with them over the Thanksgiving dinner table.

[H/T AdWeek.]

TIME Family

Why Your Kids Don’t Thank You for Gifts

images by Tang Ming Tung;Getty Images/Flickr RM

And how to help them develop some gratitude

When we shop for holiday gifts, many of us look for things that will make our children happy. We can’t wait to hear their appreciative cries of “thank you! thank you!” once the wrapping gets ripped off.

But here’s a tip: Don’t count on it.

In this season for thanks and giving, even the most thoughtful children may not offer much gratitude for the gadgets, gizmos, and games they receive. And you’d be wise not expect it.

I’ve spent the last year living more gratefully because of a book I’m writing on the subject, so I’m confident that gratitude can make us happier, healthier, and even fitter. Seeing the world through grateful eyes can lower depression and improve sleep. It creates a pay-it-forward spirit that is good for the world. Encouraging children to write down events that made them grateful—and not just on Thanksgiving—can begin a habit that lasts a lifetime.

Read: What I’m Thankful For, by Nick Offernan, Wendy Davis and others

But gratitude for the endless stuff we buy them? All the research I’ve done has convinced me that it’s not going to happen. And there are several reasons why.

In one study, Yale’s assistant professor of psychology, Yarrow Dunham, found that 4- to 8-year old kids responded differently when given a gift they thought they earned versus one that was granted out of simple generosity. He called the earned gift an “exchange relationship.” The children were happy for the trinket but didn’t experience the deeper resonance of gratitude that might also make them more generous to others. The gift given for no reason, however, had a different emotional impact and the children showed thanks by being more likely to share candies they received in a follow-up game.

As parents, we don’t consider our holiday gifts an “exchange relationship” since we know the time, money, and effort we put in to buying them. But kids have a different view. One mom told me that when she asked her 16-year-old son to thank her for buying him a cellphone, he said, “But that’s what moms do, isn’t it?” He wasn’t being rude—just practical.

From a teenager’s vantage, it’s a parent’s responsibility to take care of the family, and playing Santa is part of the job. According to Dunham, “when teenagers code it that way, a gift is no longer something given freely and voluntarily”—it’s just mom and dad living up to their obligation. And who’s going to be grateful for parents doing what they’re supposed to do?

Read: 40 Inspiring Motivational Quotes About Gratitude

Asking our children to be grateful for gifts is sending the wrong message, anyway. Cornell psychology professor Tom Gilovich has found that people are more likely to be grateful for experiences than for material possessions. A family dinner, a songfest around the fireplace, or even a hike in the woods creates a spirit of gratitude that outlasts even the nicest Nintendo.

Parents may get exasperated when a teenager tosses a new cashmere sweater on the floor, and gratitude aside, and we do have the right to demand good manners. Children should know to say thank you (profusely) to every parent, child, aunt, and uncle who gives them something.

But kids can’t know how blessed they are unless they have a basis for comparison. And they don’t learn that by a parent complaining that they’re ungrateful. We need to give our children the gift of a wider world view. Take them to a soup kitchen instead of to the mall. Become the secret Santa for a needy family. Show by example that gratitude isn’t about stuff—which ultimately can’t make any of us happy anyway. It’s about realizing how lucky you are and paying your good fortune forward.

My favorite idea: Collect all the charitable appeals you get this time of year into a big basket and find a night when the whole family can sit down together to go through them. You set the budget for giving and the kids decide how it’s distributed. Going through each request, you have the opportunity to discuss with children and teens (and also your spouse) what it means to need a food bank or to live in a part of the world where there is no clean water. You can talk about teenagers who are caught in war zones or those suffering from disabilities. Then write the checks together or go online and make your contributions.

Once the conversation about gratitude gets started, it’s much easier to continue all year. Set up a family ritual at bedtime where kids describe three things that made them grateful. When kids go off to college, text them a picture each week of something that inspired your appreciation. Whether it’s a friend, a snowflake, or a sunset, the spirit of the photos will help you (and them) see the world differently.

Teaching children to focus on the positive and appreciate the good in their lives is perhaps the greatest gift we can give them. And we can all learn together that the things that really matter aren’t on sale at a department store.

So I hope my kids will thank me for the gifts I buy them this year. But gratitude? That needs more than wrapping paper and a bow.

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