Thursday, February 26, 2009

Your Dogma Peed on My Karma

Upon my arrival in NYC over a decade ago, I began to look for my theatrical home. I was a graduate from a small, liberal arts college in Kentucky (Centre College, to be precise), and I really wanted to put my French/Drama double major to good use. (That's a really practical one for all you success-oriented high schoolers.)

I was looking for something edgy. I had written my thesis on feminist theater in the 20th century (keep your eyerolling to yourself, please), and I needed to find a place to house the expletive-laden plays about women straining against societal constraints just itching to be written.

Finally, after about 3 months of searching -- I found it! A feminist, anarchist collective of women in the East Village who met once a week and was happy to let you produce your play/one-woman show/performance art/happening there, so long as you put in a certain amount of time running lights or sound or what have you for others' shows.

I fell madly in love with this theater fairly quickly. It didn't matter one bit to me one bit that this "women's" theater was really more of a lesbian theater. As an anarchist collective, the population shifted and changed continually, and I happened to be in the minority at the time of my arrival. It was wonderful for a small-town girl like me to be thrust into such a situation because, for all my liberal ideals, I was still very green and naive. Making such warm, interesting, brilliant friends whose sexuality was different than mine grew me up quite a bit and helped me understand why such actions as Proposition 8 in California are so hateful. (Oops -- I think I might have hurt myself on the fall off my soapbox.)

However, as an anarchist collective, the population continued to change. I was at this theater (which I'm keeping nameless for some reason) for about three years, and in that time many of my close friends left, replaced by a younger, more dogmatic crew. It became very clear very quickly that we weren't going to see eye-to-eye on much.

For example, the plays I wrote had both male and female roles. Because my plays are blatantly autobiographical, they contained my various love interests who happened to be male. I was asked on many occasions by the new regime if I could change those characters to female, but I refused. When told my plays weren't queer enough, I gently reminded them that I, myself, wasn't queer, but that my latest play had a gay male character. That wasn't enough.

The final straw for me came when I was called out for having too many men attend my shows. Men who were my friends. Men who paid money. Men who supported the theater and, in some ways, were my main target audience. How could we expect to advance as a gender, I wondered, if we didn't have the other 49% on our side?

It was then that I realized these ladies' dogma eclipsed their common sense. I left the theater, never to return. In fact, I left the theater world altogether. I became a teacher, albeit one who does plays with her kids every year and approaches every read aloud as if it is my Tony-winning opportunity. (As a postscript, I hear the theater has returned to its former self, and if I had more time I'd love to go back on work on plays. I miss my old friends there and I miss that world. Alas, mommyhood...)

Since that time, I've been aware of the harmful effects of dogma in many areas of life. One of the most obvious examples, at least to me in my current life, is parenting dogma.

It makes sense that people would cling to dogmas when their babies are born. On that fateful day when your little one takes his first glimpse of the world, he isn't the only one who's vulnerable and naked. Procreating, carrying to term, and successfully pushing out (or having extracted) an infant does not make you an expert in babies. When I first heard Stella's cry, my own eyes spilled over with tears. Sure, most of that was intense joy and relief. But some of that was that inner voice that said, "How can I do this? I don't know anything about being a mom!"

So if a parenting philosophy can give you all the answers, it only makes sense to grab onto it for dear life, like a buoy in the high seas. To illustrate, I will now list some stressful baby situations followed by the appropriate response according to different philosophies:

Your baby doesn't sleep well.
Attachment Parenting tells you to cosleep, nurse, and give your baby gentle loving kindness through this turbulent time.
Traditional Parenting tells you to let your baby cry it out so she will learn to self-soothe and won't manipulate you into holding her during the night.

Your baby is hungry.
La Leche League tells you to breastfeed. Mother's milk is best and with some tenacity and support, most any woman can do it.
Whoopie Goldberg on the View tells you that formula was good enough for her kids, so why whip out your boobies all over the place?

Your child hits another kid.
New Schoolers say have a "time in," discussing how each kid feels, what emotion caused the outburst, and how the child might handle that emotion in a more positive way next time.
Old Schoolers say have a "time out," possibly even a spanking, so the kid will know her actions are wrong and won't do them again.

See how easy that is? No thinking required! Just find the parenting philosophy that you like and use it whenever you have a parenting conundrum!

Now, I know I'm being flippant. Guidance is not a bad thing. And, as I've mentioned before, I do find that most of what makes sense for me aligns with the Attachment Parenting Philosophy, so I still sometimes use Dr. Sears's and Elizabeth Pantley's books as references.

But life got a lot sweeter around here when I started throwing down the books and listening to my inner voice more often. In fact, Dr. Sears says it himself in The Fussy Baby Book: if you resent it, don't do it. I looked around and realized I did, in fact, resent some of the parenting choices I made because I thought it was the only right way to do things.

Cosleeping didn't work for us. Every sound we made woke up poor Stella. So into her own room in her own crib she went, no matter what my dogma told me.

Stella sounds very grumpy when she goes down for naps. To someone who doesn't know her well, it would even sound like she's crying as she drifts to sleep on her own. But believe me, those are not tears. I used to go in for every sound she made, waking her up more and more with my efforts to calm her down. Now, although I'd never let Stella scream and cry and carry on, I do know that sometimes she makes a complaining sound when she's sleepy and for her sake, it's best to let her go back to sleep. What dogma does that align with? None, as far as I know.

I'm a huge supporter/advocate for breastfeeding, as you know from this blog. I'm dedicated to nursing Stella as long as we're both happy with it. Wait -- what did I just say? I said as long as we're both happy with it. According to the World Health Organization, two years is a great amount of time to nurse for both the baby's and mama's health. So, I'd love to make it to two years, assuming Stella, Miss Independent, doesn't wean herself before then. (She's also a booby addict, so there's really only a 50/50 chance of that happening). What will happen at two years? I don't know. I really don't. I love nursing at the moment -- it's the highlight of my day -- but I have no clue how I'll feel about it in 13 1/2 months. Maybe I'll want to help the weaning process along, maybe I'll be content to let Stella go at her own pace.

So, you get the idea. Although I'm still figuring this mommy gig out, I'm learning that my inner voice is pretty smart, at least when it comes to my own kid, and I'm better off listening to it than to try to bend my ideals to conform with a dogma that some other parent with some other kid came up with.

I guess what it all boils down to we each have to find what works for us as parents and what works for our kids. As a closet math geek, it reminds me of those logic problems where you have to find all the different combinations of 3 digit numbers you can make using the digits 0-9. There are high-needs babies, easy babies, quiet babies, loud babies, low-key parents, neurotic parents, hippy parents, traditional parents, etc. What works for your family probably won't work for another.

In my opinion, if your kid is safe, healthy, happy and secure -- congratulations! You're an amazing parent! I don't care if you don't do everything the way I do it. But I do care if you want to tell me what to do.

And therein lies the problem. Because people who love dogmas almost always love telling others about their dogmas. Sometimes they even like being bullies about their dogmas. These are the people who are appalled that I haven't let Stella cry it out or gasp in despair if you're not feeding your toddler all organic vegetables from the food coop.

They're also the feminists who don't want men to see a play that might open their minds a bit. My mom likes to describe some people as having "more money than sense." These are people that have more dogma than sense.


Tiffanie said...

i hear you! wanting to do it "correctly" according to someone else's dogma is hard work, and guilt-causing! you are inspiring in listening to your inner wisdom. and ohhhh those people who criticize based on their dogma. grrrrr!
interesting to read a little snippet of your theatre experience, as well. the womyn you spoke of who would have you change your play to fit their view are what i call "closed-minded open-minded" people. there are quite a few of those in the "republic of berkeley", as you might imagine. .
i love reading from you, Randi. : )

alexlady said...

jeez, there you go, using your common sense all over the place. you're so predictable.

xoxoxo :)

Liza Young said...

yay for nonconformity... is that a word :) i'm so glad you are doing what's best for you and your doll and ditching the dogmas, it does make for a happier home doesn't it?! ps loved the title,,, cracks me up