I generally steer clear of political discussions. They don’t interest me very much, and, as a psychologist practicing in DC where I see people from both sides of the aisle, I don’t want to risk alienating anyone. But a story that ran in the Post a few days ago just begs for comment.
An American University anthropology professor, Adrienne Pine, brought her sick baby to class. While she gave her lecture, the child crawled around on the floor, putting a paper clip in her mouth and exploring the electrical outlets. After a while, she began to fuss. So Pine picked her baby up and, in full view of forty students, nursed her and kept on lecturing without, apparently, missing a beat.
More than capable of finding their own distractions apart from the ones provided by Professor Pine, the students went on Twitter to relay the story.
Sidestepping the issue, the university administration chastised the professor for putting the students’ health at risk by bringing a sick child to class. They also chided her for her vitriolic response to a student journalist (whom she accused of an “anti-woman” tone) who interviewed her in an attempt to write about the incident for the school newspaper. (The professor subsequently issued an apology to the reporter.)
Another breastfeeding flap that made the news recently occurred when a restaurant owner discretely approached a patron who was nursing her baby, breasts fully exposed, and offered to provide a privacy screen for the table. Other diners, it seems, were uncomfortable. The “lactivist” mother was incensed and took her outrage to the media.
I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of the working mother. I’ve been there myself. During my oldest child’s first two years, we went through a succession of bad baby sitters before we found the lovely, devoted woman who ended up caring for my children for a decade and always remembered their birthdays every year with a card even after we moved to Maryland. But before she came into our lives, we had our share of childcare crises.
Once I had to dash home, retrieve my baby, and order the locks changed when the sitter quit abruptly in the middle of a workday. I had told her I didn’t want her taking my daughter out on a 20˚ below zero Chicago winter afternoon. She was angry at me for ruining her plans to tote my child along for a lunch she had arranged with her boyfriend to celebrate his winning an assault case. (No, he wasn’t a lawyer.)
Another time, with a different sitter, I discovered my infant had been left to the care of my sitter’s relatives in the waiting room of the hospital maternity ward where the sitter’s daughter was giving birth.
And yet a third babysitter called me to come home from work after she had lost her temper and shaken my eighteen-month-old, hard, for not picking up her toys. I was relieved she’d had the sense to be frightened by her loss of control and resign her post. But she left me in the lurch nevertheless.
I’m also not opposed to breastfeeding. I nursed my three kids cumulatively for about seven years. How old were they when they gave up the breast? Well, let’s just say one of them weaned herself by telling me, “Mommy, it doesn’t taste good anymore.” (Granted, she was an exceptionally verbal toddler).
So please don’t tell me I’m anti-woman or anti-breastfeeding. Or, as another AU professor suggested, that the lecture hall lactation display upset students because they prefer to view faculty as “walking brains” without lives and bodies.
I just don’t buy that explanation. I’m a faculty member, and I have bodily needs. But I would never decide to silence a rumbling stomach in the middle of a class by eating a sandwich. That would be rude. Or if I were, say, diabetic and needed my insulin, I’d most certainly excuse myself to inject myself in private no matter how precarious my blood sugar level was. There are professional and personal boundaries to maintain.
As for the charge of sexism, I doubt it would go unnoticed if a male professor were suddenly to strip off his shirt and continue teaching bare-chested because he felt too hot.
Since when do we have the right to do whatever we please, wherever, for our own convenience, without regard for the effect our conduct has on others?
The professor’s and diner’s In-your-face attitude about breastfeeding has much more to do with their outsized sense of entitlement than with gender politics.
I’m writing this at 7:00 am, in my office. I left for work this morning in an autopilot haze, thinking I had a 7:00 am appointment as I usually do on Fridays, and not bothering to check my schedule.
My first reaction was annoyance at myself. OK, maybe a little more than annoyance. I felt myself sinking into a full-blown funk. Being an experienced cognitive-behavioral therapist, I had no trouble capturing the negative thoughts fueling the feelings:
“That was really stupid!”
“You could have slept for another half hour.”
“Or you could have gotten up and walked the dogs. It’ll be too hot for a long walk when you get home, and you won’t get any exercise.”
“You don’t get enough exercise. You’re really out of shape.”
“Now you’ll be really tired all day when you could have felt rested.”
“You should always look at your calendar.”
If you’re familiar with the CBT model and its concept of thinking errors—characteristic patterns of distorted thinking associated with negative moods—you’ll recognize a few in my litany of self-flagellating thoughts: labeling, fortune-telling, all-or-nothing thinking, should statements.
Fortunately, I saw immediately that I had a choice. I could either allow myself to wallow, which would undoubtedly make the rest of my day difficult, or I could do something about it.
I chose action.
Now it’s only 7:30 am, and I’m just about done writing a long-overdue blog post. And my mood has taken a 180. I’m no longer upset. Instead, I feel pleased with myself for seizing an opportunity to be productive.
One of the complaints I often hear about CBT thought-challenging techniques (uncovering distorted thoughts and replacing them with more rational ones) is that “just thinking” differently isn’t enough to produce a change in mood. And that certainly is true. Rewriting your thoughts won’t have much impact unless you also change your behavior
It’s 7:50 am, and I’m still tired. But a little more coffee should take care of the brain fog. And now I can look forward to a relaxing holiday weekend with no pressure to write!
My dog Baxter is at it again. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s crazy for vegetables, and he’ll do anything to get to the few gnarled green tomatoes and warty cucumbers in my pathetic garden. Given the opportunity, he’ll even go after the jalapeños. Nothing deters him—not the triple-reinforced plastic fencing, not the gates and makeshift barricades, not even the noxious sprays guaranteed to repel deer and other wildlife.
We could all take a page from Baxter’s book. I’d call it The Little Dog that Could. Watching him case the perimeter in search of a breach in the fortifications, I imagine him saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I KNOW I can!” until he breaks through, triumphant, and scarfs as much produce as he can before I drag him out by the collar.
Even when he snatches the only ripening tomato off the vine, I can’t help but admire his tenacity. Call it the unbridled optimism of the simple-minded, if you will, but I choose to see it as sheer determination. He never gives up.
Unlike Baxter, many of us humans tend to get discouraged when obstacles stand in our way. I’ve seen lots of recent college graduates (my own daughter included) who want to throw in the towel after ten, twenty, or fifty job applications meet with rejection—or worse, get no response at all. Of course it’s profoundly disheartening for a former academic superstar to find herself unemployed with no clear prospects for the future. But summoning the wherewithal to keep plugging away with no immediate rewards in sight is a life skill worth cultivating—and one with the potential to yield a far greater payoff than any entry-level job.
Being a dog has its advantages. I doubt Baxter has to deal with a running stream of self-defeating thoughts telling him he’s not smart enough or strong enough or young enough or canine enough to break through the fence. He’s surely not predicting he’ll never eat another tomato again. He just keeps digging and scratching away. Even getting his head stuck in the plastic netting hasn’t scared him off. He was back at it the very next day.
Yesterday I harvested the first tomatoes from my garden. I’m planning to enjoy them tonight with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a handful of my own homegrown basil.
And I’ll be sharing a few bites with Baxter.
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