Heavy Parcel

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela

Late this afternoon a car pulls in the drive, a woman leaps out with a package, my husband steps from the garage to take it. He sees she has a small child strapped in the backseat. She sees him seeing, says with a shrug, “No daycare, no other choice.”

When he tells me, my first response is guilt. We try (not always successfully) to order directly from companies, organizations, and makers rather than the Monolith Named After A Rainforest River. But still, that means delivery. Which brought this mother out today. This is how she earns enough to feed her family in a country that has zero assured benefits for parents.

I think about the choices our system (more specifically, our system of rapacious capitalism) forces parents to make right now.

Human babies need to be held and nurtured on their own schedules. The importance of secure attachment to parents/caregivers cannot be understated. As Bethany Saltman writes in The Cut, secure attachment in the first year has been shown to be:

“…more important than temperament, IQ, social class, and parenting style to a person’s development. A boom in attachment research now links adult attachment insecurity with a host of problems, from sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety to a decreased concern with moral injustice…

Beyond all the research linking secure attachments to everything good, attachment is connected to something so profound it’s hard to describe. The literature calls it ‘mentalization:’ UCLA psychiatrist Dan Siegel refers to it as ‘mindsight.’ Basically, it’s the experience of knowing you have a mind and that everyone else has one, too. Then it’s one small step to see that others have feelings, too.” 

Twenty-five percent of new mothers in the U.S. return to work only two weeks after giving birth. Less than 10 percent of fathers have any paid leave available through their employers at all, although few fathers with this option take more than a week off due to concerns their employers will view them as less committed to the job. Research shows parental leave results in long-standing benefits for children and their parents. For example, each week of paid leave reduces the risk of postpartum depression for mothers. It also statistically reduces infant mortality. Fathers who take at least two weeks of paternity leave are more likely to be more involved in parenting, stay married, and have children who feel close to their fathers over the next ten years.  Sweden assures parents 56 weeks, Estonia 84 weeks with up to 166 weeks at lower pay, Japan 52 weeks or more, the U.S., zero.

Today I also read a tweet by Siyanda Mohutsiwa, who grew up in Botswana quite naturally helping out women and their newborns for weeks at a time. She writes,

One of western modernity’s greatest cruelties is the fact that couples are expected to raise newborns alone. I’ll never understand it and it really is an impossible thing… What I’m trying to say is this is not normal. Humans have been giving birth for millennia and nobody was expected to do it alone. It’s not normal to expect someone/a couple to raise an infant alone.

I don’t know who’s to blame. Obviously capitalism and its insistence that you can replace the functions of the extended family/community with products, gadgets, and sheer willpower. The lie that everything is a competition, and that “good mothers” don’t need help.

Humans are herd animals because we need lots of help. It’s not just because we’re social and it’s fun to banter and joke. It’s because we literally need help to make it through this life cycle called being human…

When I lived in a European city, I used to hear my neighbor sobbing alone with her baby. I thought to myself, if this is “civilization” then I don’t want any part of it.  

I wish I could have said to that delivery woman as I’ve said many times to friends, “Leave your kids here for the rest of your shift. It’s no problem at all –my house is full of books and toys and healthy food and comfy places to relax, come on back when you’re done working,” but of course, I couldn’t. We’re instructed nonstop to trust no one. Entire segments of the media have their viewers/listeners convinced they can’t even walk into a coffee shop without high power weaponry slung on their hips.

I used to carry extra board books, snacks, and toys in the diaper bag I continually toted. That’s because I encountered parents everywhere who were stuck in store lines or at the clinic who hadn’t found the time or mental energy or money to throw some child amusements into their bags. I’d hand something to the parent saying, “I have an extra, I don’t need it back” while their newly happy baby was gumming wooden keys or their no-longer-screaming toddler was carefully turning the thick pages of Rainbow Fish.

The box delivered today was heavy with cat food. I’m glad our cats have supplies on hand but can’t help but think how much I’d rather that mother’s child was running around, reading, and playing instead of being than stuck immobile in a car seat out of a system-created necessity for his mom to work all day delivering things so much less essential than mothering.

I’m sure she did everything possible to make the best of it. They probably sang together, listened to kids’ audiobooks, looked out the windows at cows and horses in our rural township. But still, this package of cat food weighs heavily here. It’s a fraction of the weight of injustice, but I can barely carry it while thinking of the people who bear greater weight every day.

Shoulders

by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

10 thoughts on “Heavy Parcel

  1. Oh, this really got to me today. We are getting ready to split child care duties with our daughter-in-law’s parents to care for our new granddaughter when her mom goes back to work. Our son had very little leave to take and Beka, our daughter-in-law, at least got eight weeks. But not all of that was paid, of course. They are both teachers in alternative high schools, so here they are helping with students who already have a rough time of it, and they have to scramble for their own daughter. I am so grateful we grandparents can step in during this pandemic time – or any time, for that matter. That we all live in the same metro area is a miracle right now. BTW, I love your alternative name for the behemoth online store that shall not be named here either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And yet, the internet is full of the importance of mother, father and newborn needing time alone to bond. So important, the subtle difference between helping and taking over. Hold out a hand to take on a task, not take over the baby. Hold the tired mother for a moment, give her time to figure it out for herself by clearing space and time for her. So important to be gentle, not bossy. And once again, I am grateful I did not have the opportunity to be a mother while I was still able. Now, I am able to view young mothers with respect, instead of thinking I know it all.

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  3. Developmental psychologist Sharon Heller, author of ‘The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact With Your Baby Leads To Happier, Healthier Development’ – says post-partum depression isn’t natural but a result of isolation and lack of support mothers in our society too often suffer. Also relates positive stories from Africa.

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  4. Before there were masks, I saw the agony and dropped depressed face of a Mother twice. Once, she was at the supermarket check-out and her baby was crying. She was totally out of energy and despondent. I was finishing up and she was right behind me ready to check-out. While the store clerk was scanning my items, I took out my keys and shaked them to make noise for the baby’s attention, and then I ducked below the counter and popped up and said “peek-a-boo” and the baby laughed. I was grateful that she was of the right age to appreciate that game. I did silly baby talk while I got my change. The baby was so quiet and apparently startled or amused, and the clerk began to talk to the mother. Once I gathered up my packages and started to leave the baby started to cry again. I was sorry I had to leave, but I was shocked by the Mother’s blank unresponsive face. I’ve seen this dead face a few times. Once a heard a child talking non-stop: “Look Mom, it’s a YELLOW bus and it’s going fast and there’s a tree with yellow leaves and look, look, a squirrel and….”. The Mom had a dead face and said nothing and could barely drag herself along as the child kept talking. I remember with dread about what might have happened. I think there are many tragedies and the death of a child’s enthusiasm for life and curiosity. I think many give up and are lost… One of my Mother’s favorite phrases was: “I can’t give you my undivided attention…” At the time it seemed like one of those adult sophisticated expressions that made no sense to me… But it reminds me of one of those clichés that “children are resilient.” No, they are not. Many are traumatized and never recover to have a purposeful life. I think that basically, I was dead by the time I graduated from High School. I am not at all resilient.

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    • Depression is awful beyond description, especially when it has gotten to the “blank unresponsive face” stage you describe. It’s extremely serious for the person suffering from it, compounded by guilt if that person is a parent. Studies show a parent’s depression can resound in the child’s life for decades with worse physical and mental health as well as poorer cognition. We need regenerative communities where we support one another. We also need to reprioritize government spending toward raising healthy children for a better future.

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      • P.S. About the Rain forest company. My book company distributes to it and a bunch of others. Recently, I did a google search on a portion of my title and found a reference for Barnes & Noble and for Walmart. The thing is that I have rarely sold anything except by the rain forest. So to check if this is working correctly, I bought a copy of my own book from Walmart which is crazy and stupid because it costs more and I’ll have to wait for a royalty payment which is kind of silly. I suppose it’s better than what I used to do which was to buy a copy from the rain forest to make sure that they were operating correctly and my book company was reporting royalties. Silly me, I thought it couldn’t be that there were zero sales and there was some kind of grand conspiracy to withhold royalties. Nope, everything works OK if anyone wants a copy. I’ve given away free all my silly buys in different ways… and sent some to bookstores in Iceland, Uzbekistan, and to a UK boat floating bookstore… Anyway, nothing.

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