Someone responded to my blog Just How Big Is A Billion with the question, “Why do you even care?” The post in question focused on explaining how (insanely) huge a billion is, and then, building upon that talked about wealth inequity in America. I won’t rehash the post here, but I do hope you’ll read it.
Why do I even care? The question stuck with me. It bothered me. So I carried it around, thinking about it. Chewing on it. Examining it. And finally, I settled on a single moment in my life that brings it all together for me. What you read next is my “why.”
Our twin daughters were born seven years ago on a crisp September day. After more than six weeks of hospital bedrest (miserable), I’d made it as far as I was going to with the pregnancy- the girls would be delivered at 34 weeks and 5 days. Pretty good for twins. They were delivered via c-section and both arrived healthy with energetic cries that made tears of joy stream down my face. After the loss of an earlier pregnancy and a struggle to become pregnant again- our baby daughters had arrived healthy.
But they were a little early, so they needed to stay in the NICU for a short while- just to get going on feeding. Sofia was a petite 4 lbs, 11oz, and both needed a little extra attention. In the NICU at Overlake, we were situated right by the nurses station- primarily because the suite (bay?) across from the nurses station was just fractionally larger than the other bays in there, so could hold all the equipment for two babies.
While there, another baby was born and admitted to the NICU. The nurses did their best to be discrete, but given our proximity to the nurses station we inevitably overhead things. This other baby was intersexed (you may be more familiar with the term hermaphrodite, but I believe intersexed is the preferred term now). In addition, the baby was born prematurely to a teenage mother who had been a methamphetamine drug user throughout her pregnancy. It was clear immediately that this child was going to have a lot of challenges to overcome from the beginning.
Then we saw the family. But we didn’t see them in the NICU, we saw them in the halls of the regular maternity ward. In fact, we never saw them at all in the NICU. The baby’s mother and her family never visited the baby. It’s fair to say from observation that they were not a nice family. The family looked like they were straight out of Deliverance and it was apparent that even under the best of circumstances it was not a family you would want to see a child born into; to say nothing of a child with a host of challenges, including one that can carry a huge amount of lifelong stigma.
The nurses were on the phone with social workers, CPS, doctors, and specialists of all kinds constantly about this child- there were just so many things going on. And of course, on top of all this, the family had no insurance- so even getting the care needed was difficult.
And yet, this baby was just one day old. I could see the baby swaddled in the crib just 20 feet away and even with the various tubes and clothes and the little tiny hat that all newborns wear in the hospital, I could see a sweet face. She didn’t look any different from our daughters. When the nurses picked her up to feed her (I’m just picking a pronoun- I’m not sure), she could suckle a bottle. The nurses were obviously taking extra time to ensure she had human interaction and touch.
As we sat across the way, doing Kangaroo care, snuggling our little girls bare-skinned against our chests, I could see the lonely crib across the way. My heart ached for her thinking of the world she was born into.
There was a moment when I was laying one of our girls down in their shared crib and gazing at them with all the awe and love that a new mother has when looking at her baby. As I heard a nurse on yet another call with a social worker- trying desperately to arrange some service or another for this baby, this wave of despair hit me, and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.
This wave of despair hit me and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.
I couldn’t stand the profound unfairness of it all. Our girls, through no fault or result of their own had the very best possible road ahead. Not that we would be perfect parents, but the girls were born into a loving, happy, stable family. They were healthy and above all wanted and joyously welcomed into our lives. And yet, I didn’t really “know” them. Yes, they were from my body, but had one of our girls been born intersexed or with some other challenge or disability, it may have been a shock, but we would have rallied every available resource at our disposal to immediately begin to address the issues.
Obviously, I didn’t wish this had happened to one of our daughters, but that moment showed how so many of your cards are dealt AT BIRTH. It’s not about effort or worthiness or merit- for the child it is pure dumb luck. Yes- you can say a lot things about the young mother or her family or her choices, but to that brand-new day old child, it’s nothing more that an incredibly raw deal. It’s like she was born to a different world altogether.
Each of us, has experienced a watershed moment that defines our perspective- it may have been something you experienced personally, or observed, or read about, or watched in a movie. Truly, there are hundreds or thousands of moments that shape our worldview. More than any other experience, that moment, wrapped up in the joy of my own children’s birth and yet crying tears of sorrow and frustration for an anonymous and truly innocent child, sums up why I even care.
The hand of fate that defines the start of our lives was revealed for what it was- a crapshoot. Babies are not blank slates at birth- in fact, they are just the opposite, so many of the cards have been dealt the moment you take your first breath. It is precisely because of this fact, that it is our duty as humans, as a community, as a society, to do our best to give each person, each baby, a fair shot at life.
I still think about that little girl and the direction her life has taken. Obviously, I have no idea whether she even identifies as a girl or a boy. Whether things have gone her way or gone horribly against her. I was unable to help in that moment, but I do hope that the choices I make, the words I write, the things that I speak up for will in some way make the tiniest difference in her favor, wherever she is.
Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate your time and support!
The last four months have been an education, as if I have been conducting and taking my own master’s class in Life. It has been a journey punishing, joy-filled, and above all, eye-opening. One of the greatest lessons I have learned may sound like a cliche but bear with me. Life is not about the “time” we have but what we DO with it.
When you are working, you believe that “not working” will give you a tremendous amount of time, but that oasis turns out to be a shimmering mirage. Similar to the adage about how people always spend what they earn, likewise, none of the time you have turns out to be “extra”. Entire days have gone by and I haven’t found time to respond to email. I get to the end of the day and feel as exhausted as I did putting in a full day’s “work”. Aristotle was right- Nature abhors a vacuum.
I want to share an idea that may especially resonate with parents but holds true for all. Everyone has an equation that looks something like this:
Parenting + spouse + work – crazy (from the previous 3 things) + self care/ TIME – (bills * laundry * school lunches * gym * sleep) = _______?
What’s the answer? Balance, Happiness, Perfection? Sorry- you think String Theory is hard? It has nothing on solving the equation of Your Life.
What variable can we tweak to get it right? The stark truth is, you’ll never solve it completely. EVER. Hate to break it to you, but go ahead and write this down in pen. The problem is, you will not get all the time you want. If you had no kids, no spouse, no job, no obligations- you’d still find your time card punched, even if it was watching utterly worthless reality television all day. You’d still be worn out at the end of each day (and perhaps suicidal, given THAT much Real Housewives or Honey Boo-Boo).
As I prepare to “graduate” from this self-imposed master’s class and look ahead to my next work challenge, I am faced with an array of choices- contract work, part-time work, full-time work, big company, startup, low pay, high pay, mentally-stimulating, dull but easy, sure thing, high risk- you name it. Regardless of the choice I make, I will trade-off or sacrifice something. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every choice, there is a consequence.
When I wrote about giving up my superpower, it was the beginning of understanding that trying to “do it all” is a fool’s errand- there is no such thing as “ALL”. You finally figured out how to manage work, kids, and your spouse… Great, how about adding a puppy? Or working out? Or healthy meals? You don’t want to add anything? Guess what- you’ve lost your job. You are getting a divorce. Your kid was expelled. Whatever. The variables go on forever. You will never reach “the end” until THE END.
Life is so immense and beautiful because of the endless possibilities, and yet, it those endless possibilities that make it brutally sadistic. Ha, ha, ha, the joke is on us!
I clearly remember in my teens, realizing that I would *never* be able to read all the best books in the world- not all books, even reading just the best ones would be beyond my reach. It felt like something died within me. I was defeated by the ABC’s- something I thought I had mastered at five.
Our time on this magical blue-green rock is limited, whether you think your life is cut from a cosmic cloth of fixed length or that you control your destiny. There is a point at which the fabric no longer stretches but snaps and that will be the end of it. Even if you believe in an afterlife, you are only getting one turn on THIS ride, with THESE people you love, and these FINITE minutes to spend.
So the question comes back to what we choose to do with our time. Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to humbly suggest a few ways to make the most of it:
1. Know what MATTERS to you. Is it family, friends, success, invention, creation, inner peace, exploration, leaving a legacy? Take the time to understand what you care about. This one is hard… put some effort into it. Write it down and check your actions against your list.
2. Laugh. Often. Loud. At yourself. With your friends. With your kids. From the gut. Use your whole body. Laugh ’til you cry.
3. Strive. If you are one of the lucky few given the chance to reflect upon your life at the end of many long years, there will be a moment when you account for your time, when you measure what you’ve done against what you have been given. Don’t let the tally of your effort come up short.
4. Forgive easily and forget quickly. Whatever baggage you carry, it isn’t helping. You have been through it, gnashed your teeth at it, survived it, triumphed over it- let it go. All it’s doing now, is weighing you DOWN. Travel light.
5. Hold your own hand. Treat yourself as you would your own child. Remember that we all screw up. We learn as we go. We will let ourselves and others down- A LOT. Give that kid inside you a break. Give yourself a bear hug. Babies and Yogis know the magic of holding yourself- you will be surprised how good it feels. <Now, would be a good time to try it- even just a little squeeze of your hands. C’mon, no one is looking.>
6. Flow. The river of life is no tame kiddie pool. There are rapids, eddies, whirlpools, stretches as smooth as glass, and cruel white waters that threaten to pull you into the river’s black depths- you have to flow through it all. Float or swim, cling to the river bank or strike out for the middle- whatever you choose, close your eyes and feel the flow.
That’s all I have. But I’d appreciate YOUR thoughts and feedback! If this helped you, made you smile, or made you think- I’d sure appreciate you sharing! Tweet! Post! Discuss! Blog!