Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Mother's Intuition

Carl Sandburg once said that, "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." I love that saying, and, once again, hearing it has made me smile.
I am the kind of person who cheers for triumph over tragedy; I always hope for happy endings; I expect it to take a lot of patience and practice to get things right, but, I am comforted in knowing that it almost always works out in the end. However, the last couple of years has even tested the true optimist in me.....until I had children.
They have made me want to believe in the world, and, what is right with it, all over again. Having them in my life and under my care, has given me a renewed strength that failure is not an option, sadness and fear is not welcome, and life may get difficult but not impossible.
So, when I started to notice that there was something wrong with my youngest child, I no longer cared about the recession, the turmoils developing at work, my own long and painful recovery from my own ailments. Nope, none of it had a stronger bearing on me than trusting my intuition and staying focused on listening to the words he was not able, yet, to say.
There are many challenges in interpreting babies, for obvious reasons. Their only outlet of frustration is to cry and it is our job to translate their emotions in order to fix the problem. In every other respect, it was normal issues. Wet diapers, teething, crankiness, but, hunger....that became the tricky one.
By six months, he did not want food. He did not want me to change the size or flow of his bottle's nipple. I immediately brought it to his pediatrician's attention, and, was reminded that each child develops differently. There was no reason to overreact. My mind told me to listen to the doctors but my heart told me to listen to my child, and, I knew deep down, that it was not a typical rejection.
His little eyes, kind and innocent, would quickly change to torment and fear if I approached the subject of eating. He would panic and gag and cry. So, we compromised. I watered down the cereal, I didn't force anything than wasn't pureed and I kept insisting at every check up that there was a problem with his feeding skills.
It was not until he reached his first birthday, that I had actually allowed myself to have my only real breakdown over this ongoing situation. It occurred after the party was over and the guests had gone. About an hour beforehand, when the ceremonial first candle was lit, and, the adorable Winnie the Pooh cake was sat in front of him, the crowd of family and friends sang and anxiously awaited for him to smash his cake. I'm sure most of you know the importance of this moment which is proudly caught on camera and video at every first birthday. I admit it. I too, had sat my own feelings aside, in hopes that my baby would somehow get caught up in the moment and please the crowd with a smeared mess of icing in has hands and across his face. Then, one eager guest grew impatient and helped him along by physically encouraging him to touch his cake. He cried. It was that same unconsoled cry that only I knew. It fell on a roomful of sympathetic ears, but, I crumbled. I wanted to rush to soothe him and end the uncomfortableness of it all. I tried to put on a good face, but, secretly, my heart sank and I shook inside because I knew, at that moment, that enough was enough. I had to make someone listen to me and save my child from whatever THIS was........

Image Credit: Mother and Child - Mary Cassatt

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Beginning of Another Great Depression?

Every time I see this photo, it has the exact same effect on me. I see this tired woman, draped by her urchin children, obviously aged beyond her years from, what I'm guessing, is an unfortunate turn of events that has unfairly led her and her young family to this unfair point in their already difficult lives. I'm sure she was unaware at that moment that her perplexed face was being captured on film as a symbol of poverty and the inevitable effects from hopelessness. Her honest expression humbles me and reminds me that my own life can always be worse than it has ever been.
This poignant photo of a 32 year old destitute migrant worker and mother of seven, Florence Owens Thompson, entitled Migrant Mother, was taken in 1936. It is the most recognized out of a series of photographs, by Dorothea Lange, depicting the reality and despair of America's poorest and most forgotten during the height of the Great Depression.
Despite her hardships, Florence lived to be 80 years old. It saddens me that her daughter, Katherine, pictured on the left, was quoted in 2008 as saying the photo's fame made her family feel "shame of their poverty." I wish she could see how that emotional image of her struggling mother helped humanize the tragic consequences of the economy to the rest of us. It commands empathy, not pity, and, triggers me to encourage her to persevere. That sentiment is something that will forever be immortalized thanks to Florence, and, we will always be able to relate to it, no matter what generation gazes upon it.
I have viewed many other moving images from this era, varying from the huge crowds gathering on Wall Street right after the 1929 crash, the faces of the unemployed men picketing in the streets for work and food, the growing numbers of women forced into the workforce as men were drafted into the armed forces, and the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl.
Photographers documented history in the making, and, in turn, their unforgettable images will forever serve as proof a crucial time in America where the nation, and its people, were tested like no other time, until now.
Many decades later, our prosperous world, full of greedy undertones, came crashing down upon all of us right around the time I re-entered the workforce after the birth of my second child. It was 2006 and I was in the middle of the housing bubble as it began to burst in my unprepared section of Southwest Florida.
I was working for a home construction company that had gone through many changes since I first walked through its welcoming doors in 2000. Back then, it was a much smaller and humbler version of the ravenous beast it had grown into. Our reputation as one of the area's best home builders quickly transformed us into a champion in the competitive world of seducing clients into hiring us to build their elaborate dream homes in our piece of tropical paradise.
So, we steadily drew them in and took their gorgeous money and reaped the benefits for several years. However, in the spirit of Sir Isaac Newton and his concept of "what goes up must come down," those self indulgent days of upper management's hefty bonuses and frivolous spending, fuelled by our overwhelming number of dramatically increased home sales, came to a screeching halt, and, our company, like so many other home builders, were caught with its pants down, so to say, as we had not prepared financially when we should have, for that kind of halt in home construction.
The jovial and close knit environment I had grown to love was sucked out and replaced with a hollow and untrustworthy version I could not relate to. The so called "survivors"of the lay offs and pay cuts were constantly reminded to feel lucky that they still had their jobs, but, the trade off was somewhat unbearable.
My salary was frozen, my workload had tripled, and we were quickly taught to feel guilty if we were caught socializing, or, even worse, laughing during work hours. The somberness of the effects from the collapsing housing and credit markets with the lurking probability of a nationwide recession had numbed our society and crippled our sense of stability.
We knew we had become a nation driven by money and the pleasures that came with it. The bank loosened its qualifications and funded us for houses and other luxuries that most of us knew we couldn't afford. It was a "take it and worry about it later" kind of approach which America is still heavily paying for now.
So, where did we go wrong? It took a long time for our world to recuperate from the Great Depression, but, we did. We even went on to establish a united dream, which we gloriously entitled, The American Dream, and life was good for many decades.
So, fast forward to 2006 again, and the beginning of our generation's version of another Great Depression. We all knew there was a risk in getting our hands caught in that tempting cookie jar, and, yet, it never bothered us when it should have. Sure, we could blame the government, or the banks, greed, or ourselves, but, we were, undoubtedly, headed for another economic decline.
The unemployment rate rose, the foreclosures began and the ridiculous lending stopped. It was not a good time to be in Florida and employed in the construction field. I did not expect my life to end up like Florence's, but, I knew troubled times were unavoidable for me as well.
Was it the beginning of another Great Depression? I don't know if it is even fair to make that comparison. I think about those faces from back then and wonder what they would say to all of us now. Maybe their world was simpler than ours, but, why is it that they still seemed to practice a much more controlled approach to life and prosperity than we do now? Also, although, there was severe hardship and suffering in their photos, you can also see plenty of hope and determination to rebound, that I haven't seen this time around.
Maybe we should have realized when this started in 2006 that it was not going to simply go away by putting our halfhearted faith in the government and time to correct our unsightly ways. It will be interesting to see how, many years from now, our economic crisis is portrayed and if there is anyone that stands out, like Florence, who hit rock bottom, but, rose again, as a result of perseverance instead of waiting for that infamous and unseen bailout.

Image Credit: Migrant Mother, Circa 1936, by American Photographer Dorothea Lange