Sunday, April 20, 2014

Barbara Almond: The Monster Within

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I must have said on this blog a million times that I'm not having kids. In real life, I've said it 8 billion times, and those who know me are certainly sick of it, or at least know that I feel very strongly about this. I have never wanted them, I don't want them know, don't anticipate wanting them ever and get pretty touchy when people say "oh, you'll change your mind." I feel like it's pretty lame to assume that all women will want kids because all women (or those who have biologically female parts) have uteruses. Are we really that biologically determined? We don't even believe that dogs are that biologically determined in everything they do anymore: dogs hump not just because of sexual drive and not just because of dominance (argh!), but also for other reasons: sometimes they're playing! Sometimes they're trying out new social relationships! If we can see this nuance in dogs, why can't we see this nuance in ourselves? Some women don't want kids. Sometimes a uterus is just a body part. Some women have complex relationships with maternity. Thankfully, I live in a time and place where I can make this decision. I have the economic and social standing to have control over my body to make this decision.

And there's more: some women who have kids don't feel 100% hearts and rainbows about them all the time. Some women go into motherhood with complicated and ambivalent feelings about being mothers in the first place. Some mothers don't want to be mothers, or may only kind of want to be mothers, or may only have kids because they think it's the "right" thing to do, or any other number of circumstances. This seems so obvious, right? But we idealize motherhood and demand everything of mothers, demand and expect perfection. Think of how we collectively dumped on Tiger Mom who wrote a book about her demanding style of mothering and how quick we are to jump on and criticize mothers who do outlandish things like have 8 children or awful things like kill their children (yes, that's a whole blog about it). So we expect a bunch of moms, but we don't even give them that much- the US has crappy maternity leave policies, we don't have accessible child care and now women "get" to be supermoms: they have to work AND be perfect moms.

Enter Barbara Almond and the concept of "maternal ambivalence." "The biological, social, and psychological strains of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are enormous" she writes,
and, I believe, more underrated than we are willing to admit. It doesn't always go as naturally or as easily as we wish. So of course mothers cling to every possibility of doing it right. But trying to do it right is, in itself, less of a problem than feeling that one must love doing it right. Conflict between the needs of the mother and the needs of the infant and child is the major source of maternal ambivalence. And maternal ambivalence is a major source of anxiety and guilt to mothers. And this anxiety and guilt leads to efforts and reparation that further interfere with the satisfying of reasonable maternal needs, needs that are already eroded by the more pressing neediness of infants and children. It would seem to be a vicious cycle, and it certainly leads to a lot of undue suffering (229-230).
Although a little Freudian for me, okay, a lot Freudian for me, Almond argues that ALL women are ambivalent about children. Whether they're ambivalent about having them before hand or during pregnancy or once the kid has been born, every mom has some kind of negative feelings about their kid and about being a mother. Some have the feelings a lot, some resent their children or being a mother all of the time, and some moms just get annoyed once in a while when the snot is too much. But this part of motherhood is routinely ignored, dismissed or worse, portrayed as disgraceful. Almond, an analyst, uses experiences from her practice and literature to show that ambivalence is normal and routine. She argues that normalizing this will help women be better mothers, help children have better childhoods and foster better relationships between mothers and their children. Almond has written a lovely, compassionate and well thought out book heavy with Freudian references that almost kill it in their datedness. Hopefully the message will get out: it's okay, it's normal, it's enshrined in the literature: mom's are people, too.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oscar Martinez: The Beast

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If I hear about a book about the border, I read it. Apparently that even applies to translated books about the border (normally I stay well clear of translated books). When I picked up "The Beast," I realized that almost every book I've read about the border and people crossing the border deals with the border as if it only affected Mexicans. I know better: the US beats up on Mexico and Mexico beats up on Central America, and of course Mexicans aren't the only people crossing the border. But the literature about the border treats the subject like the partners on each side of the wall are the only countries and people involved. They're not. "The Beast" is a book about the travelers from the minute they enter Mexico all the way till they get across the border, and it isn't a pretty sight: a reminder that the mess immigration policies made in the US affect even more people than we normally think about.

"The Beast" refers to a train that runs north/south in Mexico that is one of the ways migrants (Mexicans and Central Americans) are traveling to el Norte. It's a hideously dangerous and painful travel method that I hadn't heard of. Basically, people run/jump/climb/sneak aboard the freight cars and cling to the top of cars as they ride along the spine of Mexico. People fall off and die or lose limbs. They get extorted by pretty much every possible kind of crook from cartels to members of the army to people who have no other source of income than shaking down the migrants for their money or the money of their relatives in other places. When the migrants aren't on the train, they're in towns that may or may not have shelters for them to rest. They might have to rest in ditches while they sleep with one eye open, hoping not to be kidnapped, hoping not to miss the next train. It's hideous.

Oscar Martinez travelled on the Beast with the migrants and documented their stories and the danger. He discusses the pinching effect that the "closing" of the border has had and how, even once the migrants reach the line between Mexico and the United States, it's no given that they've "made it." Once there, it's not just coyotes anymore- it's the coyotes and the cartel, and the border patrol is after the cartels and the migrants in such a way that the cartel are also after the migrants who might piss off the border patrol. It's a lose-lose situation for the migrants: if they screw up, they might get deported or killed. But the push/pull factors are still so great that daily people are riding on the tops and sides of freight trains and crawling through the desert and trying to outsmart heavily armed drug runners. The book is harsh and an important complement to other books dealing with the horrific situation we've created.