“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but . . . life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” ~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

“Mother Playing with Child” (ca 1897)
Mary Cassatt

                   

“Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight.  Families are webs.  Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating.  Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.”  ~ Diane Setterfield, from The Thirteenth Tale

Friday afternoon. High 90’s, heat index over 100.

Sitting here in the labor and delivery with Alexis, Mike, and Corey. My mother has wandered off to find some food. So far, we’re going on 25 hours. Lex and Mike got her around 2 yesterday afternoon, and Corey and I came around 4:30 after picking up Brett from campus.

I know that I predicted the 8th, but this is good too. Actually, for a while, she had her doctor, who was on call. Now, the next doctor is on call. So this is what’s going on so far: Her water broke around 10 yesterday morning, but she wasn’t sure if that was what was happening, so she called her friend Katie (who has two daughters), and Katie came over, confirmed the broken water, and helped to calm her enough to focus on getting ready for the hospital.

I told Lex that she had time to take a shower and pack her bag. The same thing happened when I was pregnant with her—my water broke at 11 at night, but I didn’t start having real contractions until 7 in the morning.

Anyway, she wasn’t really progressing, so the decision was made to give her pitocin early this morning to try to get things moving.

“It’s a secondhand world we’re born into. What is novel to us is only so because we’re newborn, and what we cannot see, that has come before—what our parents have seen and been and done—are the hand-me-downs we begin to wear as swaddling clothes, even as we ourselves are naked. The flaw runs through us, implicating us in its imperfection even as it separates us, delivers us onto opposite sides of a chasm. It is both terribly beautiful and terribly sad, but it is, finally, the fault in the universe that gives birth to us all.” ~ Katherine Min, from Secondhand World

I had planned to spend the night here so that I wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and drive should the need arise, but I found out (after Corey had left for home) that only one person can spend the night in the room with the patient, and the waiting room chairs were impossible to get into any comfortable position.

I called Corey (my ever-patient, every-accommodating spouse), and asked him to come and get me around 1:30 a.m.. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I fell sound asleep in the car on the short ride home. Got home and crawled into bed without washing my face or anything. Got up at 6 a.m. and hit McD’s on the way back to the hospital.

When I walked into the room, I could tell that Alexis was definitely feeling worse, so I suggested that she ask for her epidural, but when the nurse asked her what her pain level was, Lex replied about a 3 or 4. I knew that she wasn’t sure how to gauge her pain level, so she looked at the smiley-face chart, and realized that she was at a level 6, at least.

Okee dokee. Time for that epidural.

“One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it or not: what is the purpose of life? From the moment of birth every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affects this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness” ~ The Dalai Lama

I know that she was a bit apprehensive about someone sticking something in her spinal column (who wouldn’t be?), but the nurse anesthetist was really good, and the epidural was inserted without any problems.

She began to feel much better, and her contractions were coming about two minutes apart. Then they stopped the pitocin . . . not so good. Contractions decreased to a snail’s crawl, and progress halted.

On and off there were naps. Mike went home this morning, and Lex and I tried to nap, but my mother called and woke me up just as I was drifting off. So much for sleep for me.

Anyway, the last few hours have crawled by. Lex’s friend Jennifer dropped in to say hello (she had been in the ER for some unexplained pain), and then my mother showed up. I had kept her at bay for as long as I could, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold her off forever. Since everything has slowed down again, I’m trying to convince mom to go home and rest while Mike and Lex take naps. So far, it’s not working . . .

“There is divine beauty in learning . . . To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth.  Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.  The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.  I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests.  And so are you.” ~ Elie Wiesel

So here we all sit. I’m on Mike’s laptop. I just had a little cleaning spree in the room, getting everything into place, organizing the few things that I can organize.

Actually, after the 4th of July, I should have suspected that Alexis might go into labor. We both spent the day doing lots of things: laundry, making lists, working on the Rodeo (that would be Mike there), and other stuff. Lots of nesting going on.

I really felt bad because I had thought that I had everything all set for the work on the Rodeo. I had ordered all of the parts, had them in a box, and told Mike that he could do as little or as much as he wanted to do on the Rodeo. Turns out, I had bought rear shocks but not front shocks. I bought the wrong kind of brakes for the rear. And I ordered spark plug wires for a vehicle that does not use wires but uses some exorbitantly pricey tube thingies (the precise term escapes me at the moment as my mother is talking to me while eating Fritos as I try to type).

Anyway, Mike ended up working over eight hours on the Rodeo, with breaks in between while Corey switched the parts for the right parts, bought new brake cylinders to replace the ones that blew when Mike put on the new pads . . . of course, would expect nothing less.

“We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another’s vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away. Come . . . dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.” ~ Alan Moore, from Watchmen

So, here we are. Last check, Alexis is ready to go—doctor says she should be ready to push soon. So waiting, but productive waiting. I managed to get mom to go home for a couple of hours, and the atmosphere in the room calmed. It’s probably mostly me and how she sets me off without even trying.

Sorry. I try, really I do, but it just never works.

We’re as ready as we’re going to be, all of us. Corey and I took the cradle over yesterday and put it in the apartment. Mike has the car seat in Alexis’s car. I brought a cotton robe that Lex’s grandmother made for me when I was in the hospital with Brett. I thought that she might want to wear it post partum while she’s in the hospital (which will only be about 24 hours after delivery).

The puppy is having a sleep over at Aunt Ann’s with all of her dogs and cats and various other animals. Mike went out and bought a beautiful baby book today, and Alexis and I made some notes about the last 24 hours to add to the book later, better now while everything was still fresh in our minds.

Like I said, as ready as we’ll ever be.

I know that today’s quotes are quite long, but I thought that they were appropriate, and I liked them, and didn’t really want to shorten them.

I’ll report tomorrow on how this evening goes. Keep a good thought.

More later. Peace.

*Sorry. No poem today and only one image. We’re connected to the hospital Internet, and it doesn’t like visits to image sites, might be cruising for porn or something.

Music by Ben Harper, “Happily Ever After In Your Eyes,” the lullaby that he wrote especially for Heath Ledger’s daughter:

                   

Late addition:

Training

I’m thinking of living forever.
I think that way I might finally
get my gig straight and solve the crosswords.
I’m considering outlasting everyone
although I know I’d have a hard time
explaining not having read Ulysses
past the first chapter.
I don’t care if death smells like nutmeg.
I don’t buy the plotline on eternal rest.
By staying alive someday
I might manage to hail a taxi,
and fulfill my father’s wish
of reaching town without a red light.
I couldn’t expect to avoid anger or brooding
or to make the journey with my beasts appeased.
But I might walk vast expanses
of earth and always be beginning
and I love beginning
or could learn
to love it.

~ Sarah J. Sloat

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“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” ~ Wayne Dyer

 

                   

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” ~ Elie Wiesel 

Republican Kansas state legislator Connie O’Brien (Tonganoxie) really stuck her foot in it at a hearing last week when speaking against the subject of in-state tuition being granted to illegal immigrants who had met Kansas state residency requirements, which has been the state’s policy since 2004.

REP. O’BRIEN: My son who’s a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Yet this girl was going to get financial aid. My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn’t think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country. […]

REP. GATEWOOD: Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?

REP. O’BRIEN: Well she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.

According to an article in ljworld.com. this is, in fact, what happened:

The dispute was over testimony O’Brien gave last week to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in support of a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for certain undocumented students.

O’Brien told the committee about an incident last year when she accompanied her son to enroll at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

A woman near them in line was requesting her scholarship money, but when the clerk asked for her photo identification, the woman said she had none, O’Brien said.

The woman then asked for someone else to help her, O’Brien said. O’Brien told the committee that the woman was going to get financial assistance, and her son, who was born and raised in Kansas, wasn’t.

“We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was. We didn’t think that was proper but we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said.

Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, had asked O’Brien how she could tell, and O’Brien replied, “She wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.” O’Brien said she had a son-in-law from Afghanistan, who had olive complexion, so the woman could have been from Afghanistan.

Another committee member, Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, told O’Brien during the committee hearing that the woman O’Brien had been speaking about, if she was an undocumented student, could not have received any federal or state scholarship funds.

“To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.” ~ Amos Bronson Alcott

I’m so fricking angry that I’m spitting, and there exists a real possibility that I may kill my keyboard from typing too hard. And it’s not over the illegal immigrants thing (which is a whole other issue), but over the blatant racism: “She had the olive complexion.” (emphasis mine: the, as in there is only one kind of olive complexion?)

Excuse me . . . what? Olive complexion? You mean like mine? You mean like my sons? That olive complexion? The one that we got from my father who fought in three wars for this country? That olive complexion?

Oh, you know what? You, Connie O’Brien, and those of your ilk aren’t worth my dying from an aneurism from high blood pressure. Do all of us a favor and just sit down and shut up. Your extreme ignorance and racism are showing.

“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” ~ Margaret Mead

As recently as Monday, O’Brien wasn’t certain that she was going to apologize, saying she needed “time to think.” O’Brien said that she thought that “the Democrats were making a big deal out of nothing ‘like they did with Bill Otto.’ Otto, a Republican state legislator from LeRoy, was criticized for making a video in 2009 in which he criticized President Obama in a ‘RedNeck Rap,’ while wearing a hat that said ‘OPOSSUM the other Dark Meat.’ Otto said he didn’t mean for his video to have any racial overtones.”

O’Brien’s apology today? “I misspoke and apologize to those I offended. I have learned from this situation and will be more careful with my choice of words in the future.”

I love that word—misspoke. It’s the ultimate in back-peddling: I said something, but actually, I misspoke, because I meant to say something less offensive, you know, something that wouldn’t cause a backlash, but as to my original sentiment, well, what can I say?

Misspoke/misspeak is so 1984: If you don’t like history, rewrite it, say that you misspoke. Or just use 1984‘s duckspeak, to speak without thinking, or as is the case with so many politicians who misspeak, they seem to get their singular brand of truth from Minitrue (the Ministry of Truth). I could go on, but really, you probably understand fullwise the day order of political doublethink.

But I digress . . .

I mean, certainly Bill Otto certainly didn’t mean anything offensive about “the other Dark Meat.” How could anyone with a brain believe otherwise?

Oh, wait. Operative phrase being with a brain, which, apparently, too many people in positions of power seem to be without.

Entertainer Josephine Baker said in 1963, “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

Obviously, that day has yet to arrive.

More later. Peace.

Music by 30 Seconds to Mars, “Hurricane (This is War)”

                   

The following is one of my favorite Langston Hughes’ poems, and I taught it in every literature class that I had. I did not pick this poem to go with this post because Hughes was a black writer. I chose it because I believe that this is the kind of message that all mothers should pass on to their children: Life isn’t always easy, and it may not always seem to be fair; life isn’t always beautiful, and sometimes, you might seem to be stumbling around in the dark, but that doesn’t mean that you give up or that you quit trying. And by the way, Rep. O’Brien, you could learn a thing or two from Hughes.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (Warning: graphic content)

The photograph that went round the world. The Guardian tracked down the child with the bottle, two-year-old Reza Khan, and spoke with his mother about her family’s struggles.
Photograph: Mohammad Sajjad/AP
                   
“The next question had to be, why go on? If memory continually brought us back to this, why build a home? Why bring children into a world in which God and man betrayed their trust in one another?” ~ Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Speech

Despite your initial reaction, do not turn away. Force yourself to take all of the time necessary to see the face of human tragedy unfolding in real life.

I realize that what I am asking is hard, painful, that it would be so much easier to click off and move on to something else: an innocuous joke in your inbox, a comedy during primetime television. But you are better than that. At least, I hope that you are.

I know that when this image appeared on my screen, my first reaction was to scroll down, to move beyond the image to the words, but then I realized that ignoring the image would not make the reality of what is depicted any less palpable, that it would not put milk in that child’s empty bottle, that the flies that cover their bodies would continue to torture their skin relentlessly, no matter how much I wished it all away.

So I forced myself to look. I forced myself to see what was before me. Yes, you already know that I am a bleeding heart, that my empathic nature only compounds the wounds to my psyche. But I refuse to pretend that this isn’t real, just as I refused to look away when images of bloated bodies filled the blood-stained waters of Rwanda. Just as I have carried with me from office to office, bulletin board to bulletin board a faded, yellow newspaper image of a man carrying his skeletal son atop his shoulder during the Ethiopian famine.

I do this because I am human, and because sometimes I forget to place things in their proper context, and I carp too much about the difficulties of my life, forgetting just how little so many individuals in this world actually have to call their own, how the things that I and those like me take for granted that we can turn on a faucet and have clean drinking water, that we can close a door and use indoor facilities that carry away our bodily waste so that we do not have to dwell on the smells. I complain when there is no more Pepsi in the house, and I bemoan that fact that a carton of Breyer’s ice cream isn’t sitting in my freezer.

I am human, but when confronted with the face of unimaginable suffering, I feel that I am the alien, the being from another world, a world that takes what it wants and leaves little for those most in need. I hate feeling this way, but I hate more that we still inhabit a world that tolerates and ignores large-scale suffering—not just in countries far away, but in our own country.

So please don’t turn away. I am appealing to that side of you that it is easier to tuck away beneath the veneer of civilization and creature comforts. Look at the picture. Read the story in its entirety below. And then, if you can, do something.

Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan’s deadly flood
Rania Abouzeid in Azakhel
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 September 2010

It was an image that conveyed the human cost of the Pakistani floods – and the failure to deliver aid to those affected –more powerfully than any statistic: four young children lying on a filthy patchwork quilt, one of them sucking on an empty yellow bottle, all of them covered by flies.

The photograph by Associated Press’s Mohammad Sajjad went around the world and featured in the Guardian’s Eyewitness slot last week. The Guardian identified the child with the bottle as two-year-old Reza Khan and tracked him down to a makeshift camp at a roadside in Azakhel, some 19 miles from Peshawar, the capital of the insurgency-plagued province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan.

The camp is a hotchpotch of about two dozen tents donated by various aid organisations, but it is run by none. Its residents must fend for themselves, and rely on the charity of passersby. There are 19 families here, all of them Afghan refugees: people who were displaced once by conflict in their homeland have now been displaced again by the month-long deluge.

Reza’s family is from Butkhak, near the Afghan capital, Kabul. His father fled the area as a young boy, some 30 years ago, to escape the cycle of foreign occupation and internecine battles plaguing his homeland.

When we found him, Reza was in a tent with his mother, Fatima, who, like most Afghans, has only one name, and six of his seven siblings, all huddled on a blue blanket extended over the muddy floor. He was still clutching the same bottle. It was still empty.

Fatima tried to calm the boy, who cries in a constant, low whimper, as well as his twin brother, Mahmoud. She covered three of her other children–she has eight, all under the age of nine–with a dirty mosquito net somebody in a passing car gave her, but it has several gaping holes. Her eldest child, a nine-year-old girl called Sayma, is mute and seems dissociated from her surroundings. Her green eyes stare blankly ahead, seemingly oblivious to her brothers’ wails. Flies carpet the few blankets arranged on the floor, and swarm all over the children. There is precious little in the tent–one cooking pot, a few cushions and two or three items of children’s clothing. The stench of human and animal waste is overwhelming in the hot, humid air. There is no sanitation, just shallow, open ditches of raw sewage that attract flies and mosquitoes.

“They have had nothing to eat today. I have no food,” Fatima says as she tries to swat the flies away from her children with a bamboo fan. “He’s crying with hunger,” she says, pointing to Reza. “It’s been a month since he had any milk.”

Pakistan floods: Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima

Two-year-old twins Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima and six other siblings in a roadside tent. Photograph: Jason Tanner for the Guardian

On this day, Reza’s father, Aslam, was in a nearby hospital with his seven-year-old daughter, who has a skin infection caused by the unsanitary living conditions. Reza and several of his siblings also bear red spots, and appear malnourished. Their thin hair is coming out in clumps, their mother says. “We have been here for a month, a month!” Fatima says. “We are tired of these flies and of being without food. Before the waters came, my husband worked. We were poor before, but we had full stomachs.”

The family of 10 used to live among the 23,000 residents of the Azakhel Afghan refugee camp, about 20 minutes’ walk from their current roadside location. Aslam sold chickens for a living, travelling from door to door on a rickety bicycle, one of the family’s prized possessions. He made about $2 a day.

Their mud-brick home was small, Fatima says, but it was enough for her. They lived among her husband’s clan, about six families in all. “I had a kitchen, and there was a water tap close by,” she says as her youngest child, one-year-old Ayad, tugs on her lilac dupatta, the scarf Pakistani women drape over their heads, arms and chest, pulling it away from her hair. She quickly readjusts the worn, holed fabric. “These clothes are all that we have now,” she says, almost apologetically.

The loose mud bricks of their home were no match for the raging waters of the nearby swollen Kabul River. The floodwaters gushed into the house in the morning. She and her husband snatched several of the children in their arms, while extended family members helped bundle the others out of the house.

The clan of some 60 people walked toward the main road linking the town of Nowshera to Peshawar. They spent five days out in an open field, eating whatever scraps they could forage.

Aslam’s older brother, Taykadar, set out on foot to find help, stopping at several of the dozen or so organized relief camps nearby. “They would ask us for our Pakistani identification cards in order to register us, but we are Afghans,” he says. “And we are too many, that’s the problem. We don’t want to be split from each other. We’ve already lost our homes, we don’t want to lose our families.”

The men managed to obtain several tents from various organisations. Fatima’s, for example, was donated by the Saudi government while others bear the logos of UNHCR. The Afghans say they have nothing to return to. Taykadar says they haven’t received any help from a government he knows is overwhelmed by the destitution of its own people. The busy road that they have camped alongside is now their lifeline. Men, women and children rush out towards any car that appears to slow down alongside them. Hundreds of hands stretch out, hoping for food, water or clothing.

“We have to run after the food, it isn’t given by some organisation in the tents,” Fatima says bitterly. Her children eat once a day, usually in the evenings, thanks to charity organisations that provide iftar meals during Ramadan. But Ramadan ends this week. “I just want to say to the world, isn’t there any way they can get us food?” she pleads. “Look,” she says, pointing to the twins in her lap. “Please, our children are dying of hunger.”

Click here to find a list of organizations helping with the relief effort as well as a list of donations that can be made via text.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

“I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” ~ Elie Wiesel

Woman Looking at Wreckage after Haiti Earthquake, photo by Gregory Bull/AP

“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.” ~ Haitian President Jean Preval on Tuesday’s earthquake.

Homes Affected by Earthquake, image by Jorge Cruz/AP

I could not write my regular post today as I cannot get out of my mind the heart-wrenching images of the Haitian quake victims: building totally demolished, the dead lining the streets of Port-au-Prince, some draped with bloody sheets, others left open to be victimized yet again by scavengers; an injured father standing with the body of his dead infant daughter in his arms, tears streaming down his face; hundreds of ramshackle houses flattened; even the Presidential Palace sits in ruins. The U.N. headquarters was decimated; fourteen bodies have been pulled from the building’s rubble, but another 150 are unaccounted.

The news coming out of Haiti continues to be horrendous. So far, tens of thousands have perished died as a result of the massive earthquake and the dozen aftershocks that struck on Tuesday, the worst earthquake to hit Haiti in over 200 years. The brutal magnitude-7 quake demolished structures, trapping many beneath the rubble. The real toll will not be known for days.

Haiti, a greatly impoverished nation of approximately 9 million people, has no infrastructure and is ill-equipped to handle a natural disaster of such proportions. President Jean Preval told CNN, “A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in the street dead . . . I’m still looking to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage.” In another interview, Preval stated that “he had been stepping over dead bodies and hearing the cries of those trapped under the rubble of the national Parliament building, describing the scene as ‘unimaginable.'”

According to the MSNBC article (link above), “The quake struck at 4:53 p.m. on Tuesday, centered 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of only 5 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since 1770 in what is now Haiti.”

“As we struggle to make sense of things, life looks on in repose. ” ~ Author Unknown

World-wide aid efforts are underway, but of course, there are those out there who would take advantage of the suffering of others: Looting began in Haiti’s capital almost as soon as the quake subsided, and several news sources warn those who want to make donations to help in the recovery effort to be careful of scammers, those claiming to collect money for a charitable organization that does not exist. When in doubt, the Red Cross is always a good bet.

For those of you who need to take your mind of the immensity of the unfolding tragedy, click on the link below to watch Lorenzo Fonda’s “Ten Things I Have Learned About the Sea.” The video is about 10 minutes long, but it is incredibly soothing. (http://www.cerberoleso.it/videos/personal/ten-things-i-have-learned-about-the-sea).

More later. Peace.

Eric Clapton (unplugged), “Tears in Heaven.” Seems appropriate.