‘Tis the season to be jolly – I needed some help in the jolly department. Things – big and little – have been getting to me. LIFE! In all it’s glory has been doing its number on me. I have to throw an extra lump of yeast in my health drink to simply face the morning paper. And then to get through that madness of lies and injustices, cop-outs, put-ons – ‘the whole reflection of pollution I feel and see hitting us daily – I’ve got to grab another handful of Vitamin C’s!
It’s seeing my boys. Loving them more as I know them more. Being overwhelmed by this great sense of hopelessness that the world we brought them into is nothing but a charade. Ethan’s joyous “It’s morning in my room!” And Jesse’s ritual categorizing of the day and night that fascinates him so: “Sky! Dark! Moon! Nighttime! Cold!” (the list is endless) – their great exuberance for everything their senses touch only makes it harder for me when I replay it late at night when the whole house is sleeping and I can feel my pulse quietly keeping time.
I needed an upper in the tra-la-la swing of things. I called up Madge. I asked her about hopelessness. How can you feel ‘up’ after knowing what you know surrounds you? Madge understood my despair. She answered in a voice that was rich with Hungarian vibrato. “Wars? Violence? Cara, I cannot stop them. I don’t like to picket. What I do, what I like to do most is help parents and infants not make that much violence. When I am depressed all the world’s sad things get to me. And when my spirit gets high, I suddenly see all the many goods. My feelings are my prism. The world is exactly the same, but when I feel high – feel good about myself, then I can cope with it. I try not to be overly upset by things I cannot change. Look, Cara, it is much easier to give to the world, but to give to one person is harder yet.”
It was like a shot in the arm. I felt a little like Atlas putting his burden on the shelf. I knew I couldn’t carry that load alone and damn if I wasn’t cursing myself for not trying. I put the receiver to my other ear. What about our system, Madge? You’ve got to admit the horror in it. It’s not working. It doesn’t work. Old people. Young people. Poor people. Animals. They are destroyed daily by the machinations of our government.”
Madge sighed deeply: “Capitalism. Communism. It’s not the systems. It’s the people! Greed, drives for more power and wealth. If we people would be different all would change. Cara, you just can’t change any system without first changing the people. Oh, I have so many wishes. So many dreams.”
Like what, Madge? What kind of wishes do you have for us — for children – for parents?
Okay. First, my wishes for babies. I wish they could grow according to their natural pace: sleep when sleepy, eat when hungry, cry when upset, play-explore without being unnecessarily interrupted. To be allowed to grow and blossom as each was meant to be and not molded or shoved into some mode of faddism that confines like a violin case. And I wish children would NOT have to:
1. Perform for their parents; sit up when ready for rolling; walk when ready for crawling. You know a child can be pushed to do these things, but physiologically may not be really ready. In our culture, we push to attain these states faster than they should be reached.
2. I wish children would not have to reassure parents of their effectiveness: smile when frustrated, clap hands when sleepy – “If my child smiles at me this shows I am a good parent.”
3. Not be ping-pong balls between parents.
4. Not be experimental subjects of toy manufacturers, cereal-makers, new fads, and theories in child care. Please, parents, this holiday season don’t succumb to the pressure of buying expensive, complex toys designed to be used in certain ways. They rarely give children opportunities to explore and use them in their own way. Toys designed to entertain create passive on-lookers, future TV addicts, rather than curious, actively learning children. Pressures from commercials are especially strong now. So think. Think of the many children who are lost, bored unless entertained, and keep asking, “What shall I do now?’
5. And my last wish to children would be that they could communicate to their parents this poem (author anonymous):
A CHILD’S BILL OF RIGHTS
Please let me grow as I be,
And try to understand why I want to grow like me,
Not like my mother wants me to be,
Nor like my father hopes I’ll be,
Or like my teacher thinks I should be,
Please understand and help me grow
Just like me!
And for parents, Madge?
For parents, I wish a lot of things, too. I wish they would:
1. Feel secure, but not rigid
2. Feel accepting, but set limits
3. Be available, but not intruding
4. Be patient, but “true to thine ownself.”
5. Be realistic, but consistent in their expectations,
6. Have the wisdom to resist new fads
7. Achieve a balance in giving quality time to their children and to themselves
8. Achieve a state of self-respect and equal respect for their children.
And I have a special wish for fathers, too, Cara. I wish that fathers could assume a new role of fatherhood based on human relationships rather than believing that being warm and gentle is not “manly’ – or that a father is expected to be rough – throw the child into the air – blow cigarette smoke in their faces (yes, I have seen this done “playfully”!). Rough-housing not only scares babies but sometimes causes brain damage. What I’m saying is that playful pummeling is okay as long as it’s not forced by the father and hard on the child. I would like fathers to not be afraid to be their own drummer – to be themselves – to know that just because they are men that being “macho” is not really expected of them. They can be tender and soothing and quiet and still be manly.
And you know what I wish above all else? That we each don’t lose sight of laughter. That through all of the pain we might see and feel around us – we maintain our sense of humor. People who take life too seriously are terrible to live with!
Well, the talk was good for me. I share Madge’s thoughts with you because I feel they might uplift you as they did me. Madge had a special wish that I especially liked. She wished to all of you she has had contact with throughout the years – that you may become satellites in helping other parents and children to make their lives more pleasurable. A good wish. And my wish is that it might come true. That’s one of the main reasons I work on this column with Madge. I can’t get over the gnawing hope that our future generation would be more caring, more loving, have more respect – for themselves and for everyone they touched – that they wouldn’t be afraid to dream wondrous dreams and feel good enough about themselves to make those dreams come true – if they were raised with the sense of respect and love that Madge Gerber believes in.
Look, we can’t start all over with what we’ve done. But we can begin today and make it better. The front page will still hit us each morning. The anger, destruction, pain, dying – it won’t go away. But, through it all, if we just only cared enough about each other – called each other on impulse and not tomorrow – took care of each other’s children when we saw the need in each other’s eyes – stopped running away from our children, immersing ourselves in constant, heady dreams of fulfillment while our children’s lives are a turmoil of babysitters and confusion – if we would simply stop being so hard on ourselves, hating ourselves so much for being the thing we really are: human – maybe then would the greatest war of all subside: the war against ourselves. End of “l-wishes.”
Madge would like you to send in your favorite anecdotes that best illustrate how respect for your child and you worked. She and I both thank and embrace Cappie and Sylvia for their strength – their unselfish spirits – their creative energy – and lots of sweat to put out this newsletter month after month. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this monthly soapbox. Maybe THE WORLD (tah-dah!) won’t listen to me, but you and me – we got a thing going… Happy Holidays, dear friends. Give yourselves a hug from me ‘n Madge.
Copyright@Magda Gerber and Cara Wilson-Granat