The line to get into the United Nations for press this morning just before 8 am was a veritable polyglot scrum. People from all over the world, waiting to get into a place where all nations can join together in attempts at harmony. To me, that sounds a hell of a lot like the line for Disneyworld’s It’s A Small World. It’s hard to say which line moves faster.
I got to the security screening tent, where people wearing flak jackets yell at us to turn off our cell phones. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I did so anyway and put my stuff through the scanner. The breast pump got a raised eyebrow from the male security guard, but he let it pass through.
As I picked it up and shouldered my backpack, I walked toward the media center. I was preoccupied by a response to my post yesterday in which I dared say that I feel that breastfeeding, and in particular pumping, can be a real pain in the ass. I find this a noncontroversial point – having to be hooked up to machinery, if I’m not with my baby, every three hours is no picnic and even borders on unpleasant. That would be true even if the machine was something Sarah’s rabbi found in her drawer instead of what I’m talking about… okay, maybe that would be more enjoyable than the nipple-tweaking going on here. But there were still people who responded to that post saying that I was being selfish, that my priorities were in the wrong place — in short, accusing me of bad mommying.
I think parenting’s greatest problem is the sanctimony that can come with it — the feeling, nurtured by the welcoming availability of the Internet, that doing things your way when it comes to parenting gives you free license to openly denigrate what others do.
Look, I get it. Free-range bitchery is an opportunity to vent our darkest insecurities in a more socially-acceptable forum. But all it does in the long run is drag women down. We persecute ourselves, both online and in our own minds.
What we need to do is allow parenting to make us more human, not less. Being a parent means being responsible for another human being, but also means so much more. Parents have the capability to create people — to shape and mold people, to allow them to become the best people they can possibly be. And the act of doing that can transform us as well, if we allow it to do so, with empathy and dignity.
The UN is supposed to be an institution that taps into humanity’s basic human rights — our ability to live freely, as humans born free and equal in dignity. The extent to which the institution accomplishes that goal, of course, is up for debate, and I’ll refrain from politics.
The real reason why there is no peace on earth, of course, is that people of all ethnicities and from all over the world can be assholes. Exhibit A of Why There Is Not Peace On Earth: I come into the huge media hangar, maximum occupancy 593 people. It’s fairly packed, with long tables piled with computer and camera equipment from all over the world, no matter how early you get here.
There are two guys futzing around wtih television equipment, and some empty seats next to them. “Hi,” I say. “May I sit here?”
“No,” Guy One answers.
Taken aback, I say, “How come?”
“Because there are a ton of people walking back and forth here, and so you can’t,” he says — rather rudely, I think.
“But there are chairs here. People aren’t walking over the chairs,” I say.
“Look, if you’re going to sit here anyway, just sit here,” he snaps back. “Don’t give me an argument about it, just fucking do it.”
“Easy, guy,” I say. “I’m just trying to figure out a place to sit and want to make sure it won’t bother you.”
He rolls his eyes at Guy Two. “They’re all the same,” he says.
Hmm. Who is all the same, I wonder to myself? Short women from New Jersey? Breastfeeding moms? Israeli journalists? (which I am not, but working for an Israeli paper, that’s what my press badge says.)
“I’m going to sit somewhere else,” I tell him, “but you need to be a little nicer. You’re being a jerk for no reason. Calm down.” At this point, I move away quickly because I am sure he’s going to slap me. And in the International House of Peace, yet.
I find a spot on the floor between some Senegalese radio reporters and a Japanese television crew. It’s possible they told me I couldn’t sit there, but I couldn’t understand them. Sometimes the language barrier is a good thing.
But still, there is hope for peace in the world. After Obama’s speech and I write my story, I go to find the bathroom to pump, but the area is roped off due to security. A big burly guard stands there.
“Excuse me,” I approach him, and tell him I’m a nursing mom and have to pump. He looks both ways and lets me into a private area with a bathroom. I sit on the floor — not the best, but at least I could get in — and pump away.
When I come out, he says, “You let me know whenever you need me to get you through.” I am surprised, and say thank you. He asks me if I have a girl or a boy. I tell him a girl. He smiles.
I realize one guy letting me into a dingy bathroom to pump in an organization allegedly devoted, at least in part, to health and women’s rights, is not on par with a declaration of peace or of statehood. But it is a declaration of humanity in an imperfect, pockmarked world. Yes, people can be assholes, but people can also just as easily opt to be kind. And in being a parent, we have the opportunity to make those declarations –not from a podium, but from our actions and assertions of kindness and empathy– and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will resonate years after we’ve gone, in the form of the lives of our own children.