By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s a crazy world, that of IVF. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it does one heck of a job on your body, not to mention the toll it takes on your mental and emotional health. But it’s a useful means to a great end- that of building a family. Friends of mine are taking up the IVF journey soon, and are figuring out how much they have to learn. The process of becoming a family could be really easy for them, two women with a known donor chosen and agreed to the process, but they want to go the extra step to involve both moms- one as egg donor, one as egg recipient. They’ve recently passed the first hurdle in this whole process, getting one of them a job in a company that provides domestic partner benefits to same sex couples. I’ve been assigned the role of “surrogate worry-wart” in winding their way through this maze, in an effort to let them relax a bit.
Another of my friends are finally pregnant after years of intermittently trying (when they had funds available) while fostering children in hopes of the chance to foster-to-adopt. Still others finally had a surrogate give birth to beautiful little boy. Another is recently pregnant with an unexpected (and unwanted) sixth child, one recently lost a pregnancy at 11 weeks, and one is dealing with pre-eclampsia and an early birth. Lots of babies happening around here.
In biology, I teach my students about the seven classic requirements for an organism to be considered alive:
- Response to stimuli
Most of these are really automatic for humans, we maintain our body temperature and water balance without thinking about it, except when something goes wrong. It’s the same with our cellular organization, use of energy to fuel body processes, increasing our size (we’re maybe a little too good at that now, says my belly pudge), and so on. But that last characteristic- reproduction- can cause enough headache to make up for all the easy parts of being a living organism.
In the larger sense, family building is also the thing that makes all the rest of it worth doing. We’ll put ourselves on diets, through hormone therapies, have surgeries, and try to give and respond all the right signals to bring the next generation about. It’s really quite impressive, that desire for a family.
Obviously, “family” means something a little different to humans than it does to, say, a slug, even if our own family may have members that more resemble a slug than a human some days. But the drive is still there to have others like you in the world, either by choice or by blood, and to have that opportunity to influence the future of the world in some minor way. That influence on the world is one way of making ourselves “live” a little longer, and maybe be immortal in a sense, and it’s an extremely fulfilling endeavor in and of itself. Given all that, is it any wonder we go through so much to create a family?
A given all the hurdles that couples or individuals have to face on the road to parenthood already, why on earth would we want to make it harder for families to be created and supported, through the means that most fit their needs. We don’t tell groups of people that they can not grow past five feet tall, and enact legislation to prevent them from growing to that height. None of the other traits are subject to such regulations as making a family. How about we stop acting like there’s a good reason to do so?
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I was in Florida over the holiday weekend, visiting my mom and step-dad, and had a great time. While we were there, mom and I walked the John Ringling Causeway, just the two of us. I’m not sure why it was so important to her, but we did it and it was a nice walk. While we were walking and talking, my writing came up, in part because I have deadlines for projects that I did not finish before we left. She asked me a question that really struck me in that discussion, “You write a lot, did you ever write memorials for Dad and Kim?”
I really wasn’t sure what to respond to that, because what exactly is a written memorial? My dad’s good friend and I put together the music for Dad’s memorial service, and that was all I was asked to do when he died in 1995. For my sister, the memorial and funeral were two giant cluster____s spread across different weekends and different places and different people. So, no, I did not write a memorial service or any portion of it for either Dad or Kim.
But is that really all a memorial is? Or does writing a memorial require naming something for the person being memorialized? I did not have an easy answer for her. Sure, I have written plenty of things- poetry and prose- about the two missing members of our family; I guess that means I have written lots of memorials to them? A large chunk of the problem lies in defining what represents a memorial for my mom and I. I tend to fixate on processes, she is more interested in the product. In a way, my dissertation is a memorial to Dad, because without him teaching me inquisitiveness and tenacity, I never would have made it as far as I have. And my venturing back into poetry lately is very much a memorial of sorts to Kim, as she and I wrote heavily when we were younger and often our first reader was the other sister.
At the same time, how can a few mere words ever be fitting to remember two of the three people who most helped me shape my early identity? My memorial to them is not some fixed thing or point in time, but my very life- how I live, and what I do. It’s only in something as big as an ongoing series of actions that I feel I can really express the full extent of their influence on me. That’s not at all to say that there’s a right way or a wrong way to any of this, just different points of view and different ways of thinking about the subject. Loss is one of the few universal human experiences, but with such vastly different ways to react to that experience. It’s intriguing to me to see all the ways there are to approach the same emotion, and that variety highlights our individuality and all each person has to offer to the world.
OK, come to think of it, there are wrong ways to memorialize people, like harming others in their name, or actively working against what they held dear, but I tend to think those are exceedingly rare in how we see humans reacting to the death of a loved one. What are your thoughts? How do you memorialize those you have loved and lost? And how did you celebrate Memorial Day earlier this week?
By Lisa Regula Meyer
We’re a week into the foster cat experiment and things are going well. Our cat has finally made peace with the foster cat, Chowda seems comfortable, and the kittens are growing well. Kenny thinks the kittens are the best thing ever, and the kittens aren’t nearly as afraid of him as they once were, in large part because he’s gotten much better at not being a scary rambunctious giant. Having two mamas in the house for mothers’ day was interesting and gave lots of food for thought.
Possibly the most insightful bit has been looking at “mothering” and how it differs across species. I was having a conversation with a family member about how natural being a parent is, and that everyone knows how to do it instinctively. That sentiment right there set off some questions in my head, because we all know people for whom parenting is anything but natural- think of all the stories that make the news of parents doing utterly stupid things with their kids. And really, parenting doesn’t really seem so natural for Chowda, either. She frequently will lie down on top of the kittens, drop them from the bed, and do other seemingly less-than-kind things to the kittens. But she hasn’t killed one yet, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
For us human parents, the list of things to do for our kids is even longer than “keep kids alive” and includes some extremely unnatural items, like “help with homework,” “put together toys,” “fashion coach,” and “taxi them around town.” Sure, those are things that most of us have done ourselves, but hardly makes them come naturally to us. Really, almost everything above basic survival is learned and pretty impressive that we have figured all this out.
From my viewpoint, it’s the unnaturalness of parenting in the twenty-first century that makes it worth celebrating. We’re in uncharted waters here as a species, and we’re doing OK. Even well, in many cases! We’ve managed to learn an extraordinary amount, and found ways to pass on that knowledge so other generations could build upon that base. We do so much more than simply maintain life, but to enhance and improve it for our kids. We have expanded the family beyond blood ties to chosen families and nurturing our friends and neighbors. We don’t just create life, but ideas, organizations, and art. To all those who “mother”, those who nurture, create, and sustain things other than themselves- thank you, and congratulations; you’ve made a difference in the world.
Now to make sure that the kittens are all safe and where they’re supposed to be…
By Lisa Regula Meyer
Kenny has always been a compassionate little dude, caring for all sorts of things and never holding back love. I have plenty of pictures of him “nursing” and otherwise taking care of stuffed friends going way back, and he’s spoken for a few years now about growing up and being a parent, or getting a new pet. Kids mimic what they see around them, and we’ve been lucky to have some very loving people surround our family since he’s been alive.
All during grad school- which is most of his life- we have avoided adding to our little clan to keep things as simple as they can be kept in our crazy house. We have a wonderful cat to go along with a great kid, so why push our luck in those departments, right? Our “one-child rule” was expanded to a “one pet rule” and life was good. Until recently.
I might have lost my mind. My biological clock might be ticking (HA! Who am I kidding?). Kenny might be doing better with chores, listening, and generally growing up. Maybe I’ve just gotten sick of the begging. Or I could blame all of my friends’ Facebook posts of new additions to their families, both furred and human.
Whatever it is, we have decided to take a crack at “expanding our family.” Not humans, that would be too much of a commitment for any of our tastes right now. And not permanently, because- again- commitment issues run rampant in our house. So we put in our application to a local pet shelter and are hoping to foster a cat or two.
It’s not much, and it’s probably temporary, but I guess it seemed like a good way to see how it goes. Kenny understands the concept of fostering, we explained it as akin to being a “cat-surrogate-family” and he says he’s fine with this first step. I’m fine with seeing where this new journey takes us. Dwight’s just happy to feed his crazy-cat-guy genetics. We were all getting a little too comfortable in our post-graduate lives, anyway, and needed to mix things up a bit.
First things first, our interview and home visit is this week, so we’re hoping that goes well and we can move on to the next step. Who knew that fostering a pet would be such an involved process? It definitely gives me a new respect for our local foster and adoption groups who help find critters find a home, and the dedication they have to their mostly volunteer jobs. Whoever first said that the only constant in life is change sure wasn’t kidding…
By Lisa Regala
I missed a deadline over here, and yeesh, is that hard for me to reconcile. I pride myself on being as organized as possible, and on top of as much as I can be. I have to if there’s going to be any possibility of getting everything done that I need and want to in a given day. I’m OK with that, and it’s how I prefer to work like this, and usually it works. But everybody’s human, and sometimes I screw up. It’s spring and there’s more to do with the garden, lawn, house, work, and sports than I had anticipated this year. My husband on the other hand, is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, piles instead of files, disorganized ball of spontaneity. And yeah, this occasionally makes things difficult in our marriage, but it also helps us complement each other pretty darn well.
Lately, we’ve been a great complement to each other as it seems like things outside of our house go crazy. External demands on our time at the last minute, other people forgetting about deadlines and needing help, the fun type of thing that goes along with being a part of a group of people larger than your household. The nice thing is that we’ve both been learning and growing in the process, and improving our respective weak points. One place where this is very true is budgeting. There’s plenty of talk of budgeting in the news right now, and much of it effects people we know and love. The sequester, cuts to funding, possibly more cuts coming, and all that jazz really is weighing on friends who work on projects funded by federal money, from research to education to public service.
What seems to keep popping up through much of this talk is that 1) writing and following a budget, along with plain old financial literacy, is not as common sense as I had thought, and 2) unintended consequences, indirect effects, and “the butterfly effect” are all too often overlooked. I don’t know what the answers to any of the fiscal issues are, and I don’t know how to solve any of the world’s problems, but I have faith that in a relationship- including our relationships with each other, with society, and with our government- if we work together, talk together, and respect each other, we can find a solution and grow as a nation from this challenge. It’s what people do, face difficulties and grow in the process.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s spring time, and for us this year, that means that it’s time to register the youngling for his first year of youth soccer. He loves to be outside, he enjoys being active, and all his friends are doing it, so I’m becoming a soccer mom. If you know me, you know this is hilarious, and probably just spat coffee on your computer screen.
I am not a fan of sports. I realize that they have value- physical activity, socialization, learning teamwork, better coordination and reflexes, and all that other jazz. Team sports also have a lot of traits that I don’t tend to like- competition (and often fierce), distracting from academics and family, and in the bigger sports, a bizarre sort of hero worship that I don’t find appealing. I also happen to know my kiddo’s temperament, and how when he finds something he likes, it can become an obsession. I can’t figure where he got that from, it’s not like he has a mother that use to buy puzzle books and work through them cover-to-cover like one would read a book…
I realize my shortcomings, and am trying to work on them, and want him to be in a place developmentally where he can handle the pressures, expectations, and temptations of a thing before he’s thrown into it. For the kind of self-control that is required in sports, I’m not sure he’s there yet, but we’re about to find out.
For context purposes, I’m writing all this after getting his team assignment, and after hearing the verdict of the Steubenville, Ohio case which charged two 16-year old football players with the rape of a 16-year old girl. Repeatedly. While being videoed. And seemingly without remorse. If you’ve followed the case, then you’ve heard about the perfect storm of kids, alcohol, and social media that surround this case set in a Midwest town that treats football as god, and the star players as kings. Really, this isn’t an uncommon thing in the Midwest, deifying a sport in this way. Look at State College, Pennsylvania, and think of all of the fandom around Friday night lights, March Madness, and spring training. I would love for sports to be all the beneficial skills, and without the sometimes cult-like following. But it’s not.
I’ve never been so happy that Kenny wanted to try for soccer in my life; at least he didn’t say “football.” I had tried encouraging swim, or running- he loved being in a triathlon last year and is doing the same one again this year- but the social sport won out, so we’re going to give it a try. My husband, a former student athlete in multiple sports, thinks this is great. I hope he’s right, but he doesn’t have such a good track record lately (he also thought a little video gaming wouldn’t lead to the current battle field that is Ratchet and Clank).
Really, though, a lot of parenting is about pushing our limits, isn’t it? Becoming a family, no matter how it’s done, is stressful and painful and heart-wrenching. Why should the rest challenge us any less? So I’m accepting my discomfort on this point, and we’ll work through the minefields together, and hopefully all come out the other side relatively unscathed, but assuredly changed. All I can do is promise myself and my kid to do my best not to let him value sports in a negative way, to teach him to see both sides of every coin, and to respect other people as he would like to be respected. With lots of teachable moments on the horizon, we took the time yesterday to talk about consequences of actions and what to do if he sees someone else doing something which he knows is horribly wrong. Of course, at seven, he has different ideas of “horribly wrong” than I do- making him stop playing video games really is not akin to murder, I swear- but that’s a challenge that we can keep working on, together.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
Yes, once again I’m talking about education (please feel free to yell at me if you get sick of this topic). This is not the usual “union” written about here; in this case, I’m talking about labor unions, thanks to a recent strike by the Strongsville teachers, a first strike in Ohio in recent memory. The strike represents a loss of 383 teachers from classrooms and is due to a breakdown in contract negotiations between the union and the administration, and a filing of unfair labor practices by the teachers’ union. Within the last few years, this particular district has lost around 100 teachers, or about 20% of the teaching staff, due to budget cuts. The classes will continue at Strongsville, with substitute teachers and a picket line outside.
Obviously, the quality of education will be changed due to the lack of full-time, permanent teachers and students seeing their teachers picketing. The sight of a picket line is a very teachable moment to discuss labor relations, conflict resolution, and many other valuable lessons in a frame of reference that is not often seen. Many places across the US, “essential” employees of the state, local, and federal government are not allowed to strike because their jobs are considered vital to the good of the community. Think of the air controllers’ strike, and the common ban on police and fire fighters from striking.
Besides the lessons I mentioned above, what are these kids learning from this strike? Since the teachers were legally allowed to strike, they might be learning that education is not essential to the good of the community. This lesson is reinforced by the heavy cutting of teaching staff recently in their schools, and the subsequent increased class sizes and loss of some classes.
They might learn that teachers are easily replaceable by contingent staff, possibly with a lower skill level. They might learn that teachers aren’t skilled workers, since they are so easily replaced, and maybe that they don’t deserve the respect that we afford other professional skilled workers like doctors or dentists. That lesson could also be gained by a quick look at the pay of various professionals.
They could be learning that workers and employers are not on equal footing at the negotiating table. I’m sure some of them will be learning from their parents and the larger discussion to that either unions are bad or that employers are bad, depending on the household. Maybe some students will learn a bit of the history of labor relations in the US, and the history of unions here.
No matter what combination of the above lessons that a child will take away from this situation, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll get the message once again that they aren’t that important, that their welfare is not a top priority. Whether it’s from the taxpayers and legislators who won’t fund education, the teachers who couldn’t stay in the classroom, or the administrators who pay themselves far more than the teaching staff, the message coming across is that there’s something more important than giving kids a quality education. And that message really sucks, for our kids and for us.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I’ll admit to a feeling of consternation ever since last week, when the reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union Address started to come out. The speech itself didn’t really strike much of a cord in me. There were plenty of ideas that I agreed with, but the plans didn’t seem very solid, and there was less talk of current situations than I had expected; overall it seemed more like a campaign speech than a State of the Union.
Then the reactions began. Marco Rubio, citing his own benefit from government spending on education while decrying federal spending. And Fox News calling universal preschool education “immoral.” In my own state, education budgets are coming under fire, and local school levies have a track record resembling that of a Model T in a Nascar race. Teachers and researchers are turning to crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter to get classroom materials, and similar sites are cropping up with the sole purpose of funding education and research (Petri Dish for science research, and Donors Choose for classrooms, just as a couple of examples). Fundraising attempts by parent-teacher associations seem unending, and the number of requests to save labels, receipts, and box tops keep increasing.
At the same time, I’ve heard at least three news stories within as many days talking about how critical it is that the defense budget not see any cuts from sequestration measures or other avenues. What is wrong with this picture?!
I’ll admit my own bias as an educator, but I’ll also be the first to say that formal education is not always the best route, especially in this age of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. There are immense benefits to learning in non-traditional ways, through service learning, as self-directed studies, and in ways beyond the conventional lecture, lab, and recitation. I’ll also gladly grant that not everyone needs a college degree; there are apprenticeship programs, certificates, on-the-job-training, and entering the job market after high school graduation, not to mention the fact that more and more students are entering college unprepared to succeed, even with rising SAT and ACT scores and GPAs.
While we’re selling more and more students on the need for an education, we’re not actually funding that education to the extent that we once did, and higher education is less of a “sure bet” to a well-paying job and financial security. These factors added together with the anti-science rhetoric coming from the far-right work together to create a culture that does not teach the value of education. Typically, things that are less valued in a society don’t flourish as well in younger generations without active reinforcement and investment, so forgive me for being skeptical of the outlook for the US staying a driver of innovation and technological advancement that we currently are.
Obviously, some portion of society will always have access to high quality education, but if only a portion of our children is being well educated, then only a portion of the next generation is going to be equipped to become the innovators and leaders of tomorrow. I have strong doubts that this well-educated portion of the society of tomorrow is going to be representative of the diversity that exists in the US.
Therein lies the rub- without a well-educated population, how are we to elect the best representatives to make our democracy work? And if there’s a difference between the lived experiences of our representatives and their constituents, how are they to represent the people that elected them? There’s no telling who might come up with the next major breakthrough in any field, so why not make sure that as many minds are equipped to deal with the problems of tomorrow as possible?
As I look at my son and his classmates, I wonder which of them will be an inventor, or doctor, or teacher, or judge, or composer, and as I look around, I wonder if we adults have the will to make sure that all kids have those opportunities to become the best that they can be.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I make no bones about the fact that I’m an atheist. I was raised in the United Church of Christ, and was pretty actively involved in my childhood church. I started questioning when I was a teen, like a lot of teens do, and especially after my dad’s death. I kept questioning when I learned more about other religions. Eventually, I concluded that there just wasn’t enough evidence in favor of some sort of divine being for me to put stock in it. Yes, part of my decision was based on science and evidence in the natural world, but mostly it was an opinion that I didn’t feel the need for some form of divinity that required so much suspension of disbelief and interpretation. I realize, too, that plenty of people are OK with loose interpretations and that’s fine; so long as any person’s religion doesn’t interfere with other people’s lives, then they can believe whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a personal matter and none of my business.
It’s not that I don’t understand the draw of divinity, the idea that something is in control, miracles happen, and there’s something bigger out there; it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m the type of person that makes sure my kid understands that his holiday gifts come from me and my hard work, instead of a fantasy Santa, so maybe I’m just a broken person. I don’t get the idea that only religion brings about a sense of wonder and awe, either, and from my experience and that of many of my friends and colleagues in the sciences, there will always be enough that we don’t understand to keep us intrigued, and frankly, knowing statistics has instilled more of a sense of amazement than I ever had before.
So many events in life have such improbable odds, and yet do happen all the time, and that’s where my sense of wonderment comes from. The birth of a healthy child takes extraordinarily long odds, and if they knew all the odds against it happening when one considers the rate of infertility, birth defects, miscarriages, and everything else that can go wrong, no reasonable person would place a bet on a couple having a healthy baby within a year- yet it happens every single day. Whether there’s any form of divine intervention or not, that makes a miracle, in my book. The odds that a given person will find their soul mate, fall in love, and stay together for a significant time are similar, and just as much a miracle.
As far as what happens to us after we die, well, I know our bodies get either chucked into the ground with or without various preservation methods, or we go into an incinerator. Other than that, I don’t know. I haven’t seen any evidence of any kind of soul that someone has found, but there’s a big chunk of energy involved in brain waves, the nervous system, and the heart, and that energy has to be dealt with in some way. Considering that, the fact that we are very literally made of the “star stuff” (i.e. atoms), and the power of the human imagination, there are nearly infinite explanations for ghost stories and the like. We’ll probably never stumble on the correct answer, and I for one, am fine with that. The world would be an endlessly boring place if we discovered all the answers to our questions, and a lot of researchers would be out of jobs. If nothing else, the human desire for knowledge is a great jobs initiative, right?
So you’ll imagine my surprise when my husband received a text the other night, accompanying a picture of a blanket like one I had as a child:
Hey Lisa, found this under one of the beds. Wish we could have found it before Dad left. Is he back with you now? Love, Kim
It turns out it was a wrong number and a simple mistake, but all the odds against this exchange left me more than a little shaken. Even the most improbable things happen once in a while, and they definitely make life interesting when all the odds line up just right. Well played, Universal Statistician, well played.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
With Epiphany -which marks the official end of the holiday season- behind us, we find the new year well on its way. I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s, maybe more so than Christmas. Christmas is steeped in tradition, but New Year’s has a wonderful blend of tradition and- well- newness. The new date, the new beginnings, the new resolutions, all as fresh as the driven snow, just waiting for what the year might bring.
I realize this all sounds extremely cheesy, but in the dark of winter and after the decadence of the holidays (or letdown, depending on your feelings), that promise means something to most people. We use the baby to symbolize the new year because each new year is a baby in the beginning. We don’t know what either will bring in the beginning, and that’s not only exciting, but hopeful. Will the baby be an artist, a doctor, a genius, or a gentle soul? Will the year bring an addition to the family, a new home, a new job, or a new relationship? There’s nothing but anticipation this early in the game, and we humans love anticipation.
Unfortunately, as much as we might want the change that is potentially found in each new year, the old year is what formed us, and takes strength to overcome. All change and growth takes effort, and often pain. That baby didn’t arrive out of no where, but out of multiple hours of labor, and twisting and turning through a narrow passage. Those holiday pounds don’t melt off on their own, but only after hours at the gym. The new job isn’t magically ours, but won through diligence, work, and struggle.
Some pre-Christian traditions are thought to have celebrated the beginning of the year in different ways than we’re accustomed. For these groups, the holiday celebration began with the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year. After this point, the days get longer, and on Imbolc, February 2nd, the new year fully begins. Solstice represents the birth of the new year, represented as a baby; Imbolc is the day when the baby (and the mother goddess) finally meet the rest of the world. In between those days is their lying in, when the mother-child dyad rest after the exertions that brought the new life to fruition, enjoy each other, and learn their new roles.
We have to remember that it isn’t just the newness and potential that makes beginnings great, it’s all the work that we had to go through to get to that point. That work deserves celebration, and a bit of recuperation and reflection, as well, and that’s what made the “lying in” period important. This period of rest wasn’t just helpful for the mind to reflect upon what we have done and what we want to do, but also physically for our ancestors, as the cold dark winter was dangerous and energetically expensive, so staying inside was less risky, even if colds did get passed around a bit more in cooped up conditions.
Obviously, in the 21st century we don’t have the same risks facing us by going outside in the driving winter winds, and most of us don’t have the luxury of taking a month off to be with friends, family, and our self. At the same time, the emotional benefits of taking a bit of time to gather our thoughts, celebrate what the previous year brought, and plan for the coming year remain. So what are celebrating and planning? Do you have plans on this year’s horizon, or are you simply open to anything? Whatever the answers, may your year be even better than you wish!