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Jun 21 2011

Finding the best childcare…in the White House

By at 12:08 pm


I’m supposed to have a baby in two weeks, give or take the vagaries of a uterus that on previous occasions has summarily refused to discharge its occupants. Or maybe I’m misreading the situation – maybe the former occupants of said uterus somehow knew that the most organized their mom would ever be would be when they were on the inside rather than out in the cold, harsh world where Mommy forgets to buy diapers.

Either way, the point is that while the baby nurse has been selected and will be here to help us out during the first week or so after the kid’s birth (thank God!), after that, it’s a mystery to me how I’m going to work the whole work-life-other kids-husband-balance schtick. I am thinking I’m going to need to bring in someone from the outside, i.e. some form of child care provider.

Weirdly for me, this decision is fraught with gratuitous angst and guilt. There are lots of reasons for this, though none of them have their roots in my own personal history, oddly enough. My mother got her PhD while raising four children (whoa), and doing so necessitated a
babysitter a few days a week. Those days were when I got to color on the walls with impunity (at least until Mom came home again). When we were all very young, we had live-in helpers on occasion who varied dramatically in quality (I was particularly freaked out by Dorothy, the one who could turn her eyelids inside out).

So I’m not under any illusion that childcare other than one’s self is necessarily a bad thing. My mother’s example illustrates, in fact, that to realize one’s self as a person as well as a mother, one occasionally needs, if possible, to have some time without dealing with other people’s poop. Forget about realizing one’s self – sanity is also good.

But I’m not so great as “the boss.” I’m one of those people who feels, when approached by helpful salespeople in a store, that I wish they would go away and leave me on my own to not find my size in peace. I like my privacy, and I hate confrontation. This is why I was so torn when I found the person I’d hired to help me with kid 2, back in the day, with her hands in the proverbial cookie jar, i.e. busily extricating a few twenty dollar bills from my wallet. I genuinely wanted to believe that she had dropped her earring in there.

Trusting someone else with your kid is no joke. That is why I am relieved to have finally solved my childcare dilemma. I found a great person to take care of my baby. You may know him better as President Barack Obama.

Check out the video above.

Michelle is holding the random baby and the baby is crying its head off. Suddenly, when the President takes the baby, it is mysteriously silenced.

That is good enough credential for me. So since putting the baby down for a nap will be no effort for him at all, I’m counting on the President to teach my other two boys civics and to hold policy debates with them in his free time, so that I can go to do my work guilt-free.

I love this country.

Jan 14 2011

A Parent’s Responsibility: The Tucson Massacre

By at 10:34 am

Jared L. Loughner

It’s hard to remember that he has parents.  It’s hard to imagine him as part of a family.

But Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old man who was recently charged with killing six people and wounding 14 others (including a congresswoman) in Arizona on January 8, does have parents. And based on the brief statement they released to the press, it seems as though Randy and Amy Loughner are just as confused and horrified by their son’s actions as the rest of us.

How do we, as parents, make sense of this senseless violence? It’s certainly tempting to seek out some fault in Loughner’s parents, to create a comforting distance between us and them.  Clearly, they must have failed in ways that we never would, as we would never raise a child who will one day take another life in such a heinous matter.  Right?  Right?

Well, not necessarily.

I’m not going to speculate on the Loughners’ parenting style or their relationship with their son.  Here is what I do know: at some point, our children become independent individuals, beyond our control. Furthermore, the amount of influence we have over who they will become is debatable. It’s easy to lose sight of such obvious truths in the fog of anxiety and hope that clouds the daily life of parenting.  The illusion of control is powerful–if we can’t believe that the right combination of breastmilk, playdates, and affection will guarantee that our child will grow up to be a mensch, then what hope do we have as parents?  And what responsibility do we have for who our child becomes?

Not surprisingly, the Talmud has something to say about this: “A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well” (Kiddushin 29a).

While the language is clearly a relic of the time, the message is useful.  As parents, we must introduce our children to a community, provide religious, intellectual, and vocational training, and give them basic survival skills. Interestingly enough, we are not told that we must raise a good person, presumably because such advice would be useless. We can offer our children the best education, nutrition, resources, and support possible, and they may still grow up to make choices that will bewilder, offend, or even horrify us.

What a terrifying thought.

But parenting is nothing if not a leap of faith. We devote years of our lives to the development of our children in hopes that they will make the world a better place. Yet there is much in this world that is beyond our control, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. As President Obama noted in his speech at the Tucson memorial, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

President Obama’s words echo a familiar quote from the Talmud, which reminds us that while we are not obliged to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it.  Perhaps that idea applies to parenting as well–although we are not responsible for who our children ultimately become, we must raise them each day as though we are.

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