Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blowing Bubbles in the Cold

"It is a great day to go outside and blow bubbles!" my son happily announced one very typical almost-winter day here in Charlottesville. Yes, it was cold, rainy and all my friends posted to their Facebook pages how they planned to stay inside and read under the covers. My knee jerk reaction to his suggestion was pretty predictable, "bubbles? It's raining, it's cold..." and so on. But after I allowed myself those first few replies I then asked, "why do you think it is a good day for bubbles?" It was in true interest of what makes my little guy tick that I asked but I hoped it wouldn't make any sense at all.
"When you blow bubbles on rainy days they stick to the ground and don't pop." Marcus, age 5
Hmmm. He was so right. Off we went. The bubbles looked great sparkling all over the lawn and the little guys had a blast stomping them. I got thinking about how grateful I am that he thinks unique thoughts like this. I am only regaining this ability. My five-year old sees many situations in ways most of us do not...and he doesn't even know it. I got thinking about how this mentality does relate to much of the activism I do lately. I try to look at a "cold environment" and try to blow bubbles in it anyway. I started vowing to myself I would not preach to my children from the default pulpit until after I hear their innovative approaches to situations. I shudder to think I almost didn't ask him his thoughts that day. I hope he always finds an audience for his unique perspective. Part of activism is finding the people that want to listen. Part of activism is also creating the audience.

Another example of bubble blowing happened to me about two years ago. I complained to a friend how much I hated matching socks. I can handle the laundry chore fine but oh the socks. My husband uses two pairs a day, minimum, and the white socks just mock me when I see them in the hamper. My friend quickly replied, "socks? That is my favorite! I just open up the drawer, dump them in, and move on!" I was dumbfounded. Not match socks? My mother not only matched socks but matched similarly-stained socks. I was wrestling with looking at relative styles at this point--already bringing shame to the family name. Well, my husband can affirm that one discussion has changed my life. I had never even considered just letting the socks float around in a drawer. And yes, I do still match the easy socks, the patterns and the boys' easy-to-match Hanes-stripe socks. But adult white male socks now get the stack-and-go approach.

An environment that was cold is now warm. Wow. There is something to thinking like this. Maybe it starts like this: You think of that thing that you don't love and wonder "what if this was my favorite thing, why would that be?" and maybe you find just the approach to change your focus. Sometimes it is really hard to wrestle your mind from all those cultural norms.

This got me thinking about all the things I now think are cultural norms only because I have a bubble of friends who have similar parenting styles as my husband and I do. I started laughing to myself how there are plenty of norms in my household that only 6 years ago I would have thought were completely fringe. They still are--just not to me. I started seeing my lifestyle as one big yard full of bubbles twinkling in a cold, wet environment. Here is a quick list of norms I have in my head that I easily forget many people do not have:
  • Cribs? Oh yeah, those. Toddler beds? Bed frames for children at all?
  • Quinoa? Most adults don't know about this awesome food? Gosh. That was me. (and p.s. Blogger's spellcheck doesn't even recognize "quinoa" as a word!)
  • Breastfeeding a toddler is "out there"? oh yeah, I remember thinking that.
  • Bribing you children with dessert, $1 toys at Target, video games? ate my words there.
  • Cloth diapers with PINS? I totally forget that image is out there.
  • Taking your baby to work is a radical idea? "Radical?" I am...I, I am proud to say that I don't see it as radical at all!
And so on. Realizing my norms that were not my norms ten years ago is my new game. Keeps me grinning.

I also recall how I cracked up a friend when I asked what exactly her smelly spray did for her kitchen table. She was pretty stunned at the question. I admit, I come from a spray-free culture but had never felt comfortable admitting it until then. I was feeling particularly brave and safe that day. I told her I usually go the water and washcloth route. We laughed about it, shared perspectives and...she is still one of my closest friends! Hallelujah! Why can't people ask each other questions like "why do you do this?" more often? I wish somebody asked me why I was matching socks many years ago. I would have realized there is more than one way to go about even the most simple rituals in our day. Is it possible to start evaluating everything we do and decide if the norm even makes sense anymore? I am trying to, especially the things I do not like to do.

Thinking all of this made me so proud to be a member of La Leche League. Here is one organization that knows how to blow bubbles in a cold environment. For instance, we often discuss the benefits of breastfeeding in our meetings. Simply by sharing a personal favorite, you give women extra support to put in their arsenal for doubters' questions. As the holidays creep closer, there will be plenty of people questioning new moms' practices in their families. Now here is a time when people feel very comfortable questioning and even challenging a personal/family norm. I want to stay optimistic and say just maybe these people truly want to understand "why breastfeed?" and do not know how to ask this question. Maybe they feel left out of the culture and judged. It is hard to let yourself be perceived as ignorant. But for some women learning that they are "allowed" more calories a day nursing than pregnant is exciting news, for others the ease of feeding your baby in the night is a huge perk. Health benefits for mother and baby are great pieces of knowledge to share and the list is practically endless. We can compare how the word "ease" is often equated in our society with warming bottles and sterilizing bottle nipples instead of simply holding your baby to your breast with no cleaning necessary.

I am quite excited to hear about ways others have found how to flip cold environments into warm ones and what other new norms you thought were for "crazy people" only a few years back. I think people often don't ask the question "why do you think the way you do?" and just keep their mind mainstream. It is a comfortable place to be. But the more we get used to standing out and illustrating why other points-of-view make sense to the mainstream culture, the closer we are to blending our personal norms into those of society. I'm sure the neighbors thought I was nuts blowing bubbles that chilly day but I think I brought a smile to their faces at the same time. They had to have seen those bubbles too, you couldn't miss them.


Jen said...

Wow, I may steal that sock idea. Tom has been trying to get me to stop sorting for years...I've just refused to open his jumbled drawer.

I have always felt leftout and judged by breastfeeding moms--whether it was real judgement or my own insecurity and guilt I'm not sure and it was probably different in every case. However, I found my own new norms to help me cope...I certainly never would have thought to use a best friend's breastmilk with the first baby...but the second probably had over 50% breastmilk because of donation. Yeah, my family would think I am crazy. me? I think it's wonderful and I wish I was educated enough the first time around.

Cynthia said...

Jen, I am so grateful you shared this new family "norm" with me and our readers. I hope we all hear more stories about donor breastmilk in the future. It comes up at Birth Circle a lot too. I think our country (and of course, the world) could use a lot more education on this topic. I think between PNOC, Nature's Child, LLL and Birth Circle, Charlottesville may be on the cusp of another support group for just this purpose. Yet another project for one of us someday!

Naticia said...

Love the Bubbles! Go Marcus!!!

I used to keep a laundry basket with all the socks in it (unsorted), and now make everyone at least take theirs because I got tired of looking for mine...don't have to match, just get em away from mine :) Also, who says you have to wear matched socks? Our first's norm was and still is, to wear mismatched socks. Very helpful on the playground when all you could see between the play structure and the railing was a bunch of feet, where MY child was. And sure 'nuf my mother who appreciates uniqueness was the one that asked me to please get her to wear matching socks when we went out. I said NO WAY, it is a safety issue.

The other thing she asked me to do was "be modest breastfeeding"--kind of like chewing with your mouth closed in public I guess--my personal norm (unless you are very elderly in which case I will respect you, or maybe from a completely different culture??? maybe not even then) is to become shall we say, more flagrant about it. After all, if you don't want to see the beauty of a child nourishing itself from the purest possible fountain, you probably need the shock of a boob and a nipple. Okay, I will stop, I can go on and on and on about my attitude toward the miracle of breasts.

I miss nursing because I can't make people question their assumptions on that topic nearly as much anymore.