The Big Sister Solution

A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.

“One of them is always crying, and Bernie isn’t home, and then when he is, he’s ‘tired’ or wants to do things off of the napping schedule. He wants to sleep when they’re awake and have sex when they’re asleep, and these wailing succubae that look exactly like him are attached to me all day and all I want to do at 8pm is drink wine without anyone touching me.”

“Jesus, Britt. You need some mommy friends.”

Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.

I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.

Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than her husband I already was.

What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.

Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:

Recommend you withdraw this blog. Can talk details later—- Love, Mom

I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.

This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:

“Fuck your husband.”

However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.

GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.

Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.

This was ridiculously useful to me back in those days that seemed like 54 hours apiece.

This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.

The Data Set of Me, by Steve Safran

Stevie has a bee in his bonnet, and I quite agree with him. As an immunologist, it’s difficult for me to find common ground with those who eschew science. However, I’ve always maintained that we cannot judge the well-meaning parents of children who suffer from autism or other disorders (wrongfully) attributed to vaccines. I cannot sit here on the Throne of Science and proclaim that I wouldn’t fall into the Data Set of Me if something awful befell my child. However, those feelings–given the political power of a movement of healthy, smart people– can be murderous.

You are a great person. You’re smart, you’re educated, healthy, and, if I may say, damn fine looking. Hell, you’re one of the best people I know.

But you, fabulous you, are not a data set.

“Who is this guy to tell me I am not a sufficient collection of statistically reliable information gathered by appropriate methods in order to reach or disprove a conclusion?”

Of course, to most of you, that sounds silly, right? (You are smart and good-looking, after all.) But there are people who make important decisions according to this very mindset: “It happened to me, therefore it must be so.” Examples? Sure.

“I got a flu vaccine and then I got the flu. Therefore flu vaccines are ineffective.”

“Some former Playboy model’s kid had a shot and now he has autism. Therefore, shots cause autism.”

“My daughter isn’t having sex, so she doesn’t need to worry about HPV or cervical cancer.”

“I believe in my God, my religion, and those rules. Therefore, yours are wrong.”

Of these, the one I actually find acceptable is the one about God. At least it’s an opinion. You have yours, I have mine: we’re cool… at least around these parts where we’re unlikely to kill each other about our differences.

What is worrying me–what is literally killing us– is the Data Set of Me. This is the mindset of the anti-vaccination crowd. Vaccines are not a faith, but a tool. Immunity is not a religion, but a biological reaction. Life-threatening infections cannot be staved off with kale. And the medical establishment is not willfully denying you alternative options to avoid whooping cough. And yet, the Hot New Fad for 2014 is the “Anti-Vaxxer” Movement. Quack science has found its ducklings.

Like many avid Internet users, I have grown apathetic to the sharing of misinformation by the misinformed with the misguided. Except this stupid sharing is really, really dangerous. And no oddball theories about GMOs or drug company profits or doctors who want to keep you sick (or endorsement of anti-vaccine chiropractors) are deemed too oddball to “post” and “like.”

We live in a generation that has never seen smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, or polio take the life of a child we know. There are hundreds of thousands of people alive right now because of the miracle of inoculations. Maybe that’s the power of fervent prayer, incredible quinoa consumption, and wild coincidence. Or, just possibly, vaccines prevent disease. The bee in my bonnet is that statistically-proven, medically sound information can be unintelligently debunked with blogposts from people who cite The Data Set of Me, and scare others into giving in to their basic fears of shots (they’re ouchy!) by suggesting the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. When there is no, none, ziltch, zero, nada proof that this is so.

The Anti-vaxxers hurt more than our logical sensibilities. They’re killing our children. If your kid isn’t vaccinated, the “herd immunity” is compromised, and we’ll fall like cows at the hands of drunken high schoolers. Our family docs, our pediatricians, and our CDC are urging you to search for information that is true, and reminds us:

Perhaps the greatest success story in public health is the reduction of infectious diseases resulting from the use of vaccines.”

Let’s consider that statement from the CDC with at least as much weight as Tammy’s Facebook post about not being anti-vaccine, per se, but pro-safety. (Those who deny their children shots consider the Anti-Vaxxer epithet derogatory). Recently, a Dutch group studied why Tammy is so insistent her kids don’t need shots. And because here at East Meets Breast, we aim for understanding, let’s find out what makes Tammy tick… so we can stop that clock.

The delightful Dutch, with real surveys and statistics, found that Tammy believes her healthy lifestyle is sufficient to prevent diseases. She delivers organic meals to breast-fed, hand-washing children and believes that these are adequate “preventive” measures. Tammy also is an amateur immunologist and worries the host defenses of her newborn will be incompetent to handle a barrage of antigens. Well, she’ll say it this way,

“A baby’s immune system has built up thanks to the mother, and it is not desirable in my eyes to give the child all kinds of substances that can disrupt the whole immune system.”

Tammy thinks that the risks associated with the vaccines (and she still supports discredited evidence linking them to autism) certainly outweigh the benefits because the diseases her healthy kids might contract could then be, quite easily, treated with antibiotics. Also, Tammy deems “natural” immunity superior to vaccinated immunity and would rather her child contract the (potentially fatal) disease and combat it with his own, uneducated battery of T- and B- cells than risk exposure to dangerous aluminum and mercury. More than one study has also shown that Tammy’s fears are supported by her community and usually at least one alternative care provider who disparages the use of vaccines.

To be fair, a certain proportion of the whooping cough cases from the Pacific Northwest in 2012 can be attributed to decreased efficacy of the vaccine. However, the dramatic increase in its incidence (and preventable deaths of children) has doctors pointing fingers at the Anti-Vaxxers. The anti-HPV crowd baffles me even more than people who can drink gallons of liquefied vegetables. Here is a vaccine that can prevent cancer. CANCER. Unfortunately, Tammy doesn’t believe that, either, and places her trust in cauliflower and the chiropractor.

Right now in California, where vaccination is falling out of favor more quickly than Duck Dynasty, people are dying from the H1N1 flu: 28 humans… dying. And across the world, vaccine-preventable outbreaks will astound you. To be reasonable, some of these can be chalked up to non-compliance or access rather than political Anti-Vaxxer beliefs. Also, recent media scares that (European) H1N1 vaccines may cause narcolepsy in young children (notably, so does contracting actual swine flu), give less thoughtful people an excuse to skip their appointment at CVS.

Ultimately, this plea is to champion science above fear, and to encourage a more thorough browsing of the Internet for medical information if your family doctor or pediatrician isn’t reassuring you with statistics backed by the keenest minds in medicine. There is simply no legitimacy to people spouting opinions that are anti-science. Prior to the vaccine, every year whooping cough was like having three 9/11’s. Worse, actually: three 9/11’s with children as the primary casualties. Can you even imagine the panic if that were to happen today? If something were killing thousands of our children yearly, what would you risk to stop it?

You are a fine person, and a reasonable one too. Engage Tammy in a dialogue apart from her kale-crunching crowd and acupuncturist. Spread good information.

Get the shots.

Stevie and I summed up all of the evidence for you...

Stevie and I summarized all of the evidence for you…

Implant Birthday

To avoid dwelling on this anniversary of body mutilating surgery, I’ve decided that today is my Implant Birthday. Yay, cake time! They’re two year olds now, this pair of perky pals who fill out my sweaters and precede my arrival into rooms. Because they share this birthdate with some snazzy ladies, tagging my ta-ta toddlers Betty and Michelle puts a silly spin on an otherwise morbid memory. As an early Implant Birthday gift, I brought these gals to Hawaii, where they enjoyed a weeklong vacation from the sub-zero temps that transform them into ribcage-anchored icepacks. Fruity, rum-laced cocktails and palm tree panoramas aside, the silicone sisters and I were just happy to warm up.

Kauai was a lovely distraction. With views like this, I hardly thought of Cancer at all:

Makes you want to grab a ukelele and sing its praises.

Makes you want to strum a ukelele and sing multi-vowel-ed words.

And with an entire population in an eternal good mood, mahalo-ing me at every turn, it was no place to be morose. I pinned a flower in my hair, shimmied into sunset-colored dresses, and began drinking at lunchtime. Bernie and I use plastic surgery conferences as an excuse to exchange frosty New England for tropical paradises. At this meeting, our fellow luau-ers included the best and brightest micro-surgeons in the world, and drunken evenings with these types lead to bizarre, fuzzy memories. I avoided anyone toting offspring, schooled a Polish face-transplanter in air hockey, and name-called a smug, young doctor who didn’t appreciate me monopolizing the attention of his Chief. He was much nicer when we played air hockey, so I’m hoping his colleagues don’t make Asshole Khaki Pants stick. (Yup, that. And air hockey.)

Betty and Michelle were happy to note warmer temps on our return yesterday, and frankly had grown a bit tired of being mahalo-ed at every turn. The part of me that (after fourteen drinks) can call someone Asshole Khaki Pants wonders if “aloha” essentially translates to “up yours, jerk-face tourist” with certain inflections. Also, a girl can drink only so many Mount Waialeale Coolers.

Today was always going to be unavoidable, whether it arrived under a rainbow atop whale-watching bluffs, or here with my laptop at the kitchen table. Maybe I’ll always distract myself with drinks and silly social diversions in the days preceding, and then take a teetotaling breather in the aftermath. Or maybe…someday… I’ll forget all about Betty and Michelle birthdays. What remains with me… forever… are the sweet words so many of you delivered two years ago, starting with Drew’s:

“We will love you most on January 17th… until January 18th, when we will love you more.”

I re-read those today, and made it through without a single umbrella drink. Betty, Michelle, and I are so lucky to have you…  my very own “randy bunch of sailor-mouthed, porn-peddling, anti-Cancer warriors.” Not an Asshole Khaki Pants amongst the lot of you.


Michelle on the left... natch.

Michelle on the left… natch.

Pathetically ignorant

Have you ever talked to a nun? Spare me your thwacked-with-ruler stories from Catholic schoolrooms of yesteryear. No, what I’m asking is if, as an adult, you’ve had any sort of meaningful interaction with a woman in a habit. It’s not commonplace, since their numbers are dwindling, and while we’re busy checking Twitter and making our own seltzer, they’re squirreled away feeding the poor and praying for us. However, if you had ever, say, shared a moment with a nun, I think you’d be unlikely to post something like this.

Put your personal beliefs in your back pocket for a second. Toss out your partisan reactions (for good, because they’re bullying propaganda and you’re better than that). Understand that most thoughtful people think a woman’s use of contraceptive drugs, abortifacients, and essentially all things concerning her baby-making innards is between her, her doctor, and (for some) her God. Lord, how I wish this was never made a political issue, and left to the good sense of our well-trained doctors and the informed women they have the privilege to treat. I’m also not thrilled with how it’s been hijacked as a moral issue, because, well, I don’t think anyone deserves that sort of judgment apart from her Maker. And though not entirely relevant to this collection of paragraphs, these choices need to remain available to all women, because political people have no medical chops and should never be given this sort of power over our baby-making innards.

And now that you know where this writer (and many good, non-Catholics) stand on things related to women and their attendant bells and whistles, and that this discussion isn’t to shout at you about right and wrong, then let’s go back to those sweet ladies in the convent, those Brides of Jesus, the women devoted to their Faith and service in a manner that should garner your respect, if not floor you with awe. Certainly, if you had spent an afternoon with a nun, you couldn’t possibly think something like this—much less post it on Facebook:

“This is a frivolous damn suit and the sooner they are smacked upside the head by Sotomayor, the better and cheaper for all of us! How ridiculously stupid this suit is and a giant waste of time!!!! The lawyers for these pathetically ignorant people should be run into one of those old Colorado mineshafts…”

And that was one of the calmer comments on Rachel Maddow’s site. These “pathetically ignorant people” are our society’s defenders of Faith. Their complete dismissal as Republican pawns pains me physically. These are nuns, who apart from some ancient ruler-thwacking stories of old, are kind-hearted ladies committed to a life of prayer and good deeds. Let’s give them a moment, shall we?

Imagine your most deeply held belief: that all humans should have enough to eat, or that we must be responsible custodians of the planet, or that all children deserve protection. Whatever unshakable right you imagined, whatever I-will-stand-up-to-Goliath issue has you sandwich boarding all over town, or just quietly championing in your thoughts, then imagine the passion a nun would bring to the cause. Nuns devote their entire lives to these issues… and lately their most public concern is the protection of all children. Inconveniently, they include potential babies in that category. Please allow them this deeply held philosophical and religious belief. And instead of making arguments against them—just for one moment– aim for understanding.

What if you believed this to your very core: that small clusters of potential-people cells were sentient, God-given gifts of Life, sacred and defenseless? Try it on for a second. If you cannot entertain this notion for even the slimmest moment, then click back over to Rachel Maddow and join the fray. But if you could place yourself in those gum-soled shoes for a second, then imagine if you could then take a pen to paper and potentially sign away The Life of a Child, no matter how indirectly. Would it matter one little smidge that the form is… short? They are championing the weakest amongst us in the name of God. It’s their job, their calling, their conviction, their passion. They are unable to back down because they cannot endorse death. That’s how it feels to them.

Are they right? Wrong? Are they “ridiculously stupid” political creatures out to undermine access to health care for the very underprivileged people they devote their lives to help? I was so relieved when Justice Sotomayor called for a breather on this. We are Americans. We do not ask Americans to abandon consistently held religious beliefs, or even require that they skirt around them with semantics. Certainly we can figure out how to provide these drugs and services without involving conscientiously opposing Americans. Maybe we could also figure out how to tolerate, nay honor, each other’s religious beliefs without scorn (or fines).

Are you as terrified as I am that this story is so quiet? Are our media outlets (if not our government leaders) bullying nuns? Or am I a “pathetically ignorant” religious sap who doesn’t see this as an obvious, anti-Obamacare ruse? Is there no place in our society for people genuinely, religiously, and passionately protective of life after conception? Who are we when we say we are American? We should all take a beat to think about a decision that could result in penalizing our fellow citizens for their religious convictions, since this is exactly what we said we’d never, ever do.

I implored Steve, a longtime newsman, to explain why no one is talking about this– why on New Year’s Day, the only thing I could read about was Penny’s pink dress (even if she did look really, really pretty). His answer:

Sensible people have sensible conversations (I’m told) and the media thrives on controversy. So, CNN needs to have a “Pro-Nun” person on and a “Fuck The Nuns” person on. False equivalence rules the day.

I suppose neither makes for must see TV. And it is much more difficult to argue with a nun on national television about her Faith, than to tweet a snarky remark about how nuns (ironically) fill out all sorts of burdensome forms to be tax exempt. Meanwhile, the real issue–that these women cannot, ever, or in any manner, sanction the death of a child—is too unpopular a belief, and certainly too uncomfortable for cocktail conversation.

To be clear, this is neither an endorsement nor indictment of the ACA. This isn’t a thesis on when Life begins, and when we should begin protecting it. This isn’t meant to elicit comparisons with Jehovah’s witnesses who would refuse their shelf-stockers a blood transfusion, or Jews who wouldn’t want their secretaries to eat pork. Ugh, please do better than this, Internet. The nuns aren’t imposing their religious beliefs on anyone. They are only, quite bravely, standing up for Life as they define it. And Justice Sotomayor wants us to discuss that, and consider what precedent it might set to ignore them.

So let’s do that.

Since you can practically trip over free condoms in college, I'm not really sure why we need to force nuns to pay for these.

Women who take these are “pathetically ignorant” of the order of the days, I suppose.

New Year’s confession: I am a thief

Every time I make muffins, I think of Ashlyn. I make muffins more often than most people do laundry, so the fact that I think so often of Ashlyn—who I haven’t seen since the days of Ross and Rachel—may come as a surprise to her. But a lifetime ago when we were grad students, I borrowed Ashlyn’s hand mixer, and I never gave it back. As I whipped up my umpteenth batch of pumpkin spice cornbread last night (impending snow storm necessitates baking), I thought of pretty Ashlyn, marveling at the longevity of an appliance that looks like this,

Apparently, not ALL of the wires are necessary.

Apparently, not ALL of the wires are necessary.

…and wondering if Ashlyn remembers I’m the one who stole it.

Given a bit of thought (and an entire day in jammies), I cataloged an embarrassing list of odd things I’ve poached over the years. I still have Lauren’s prom dress: a flapper fabulous frock of my ex-roommate’s little sister who is, and always was, far too cool to don some taffeta abomination like the rest of us. I probably borrowed it for some ‘20s themed party in the mid ‘90s, never to return it because Lauren and I have never lived in the same city… and, also, the dress is all sorts of awesome.

Wearing Lauren's dress 16 years after I should have returned it.

Wearing Lauren’s dress as a Halloween costume… 16 years after I should have returned it.

I “borrowed” Nicole’s set of caterer’s dishes for a party four years ago. Still have them. My favorite yellow bowl? Stranded by an onion dip-proffering party guest. At a Fourth of July long past, Sharon promised her terrine would set after another hour in my ‘fridge, unaware she’d never see that jello mold again. And during my bald year, nary a Tupperware container was returned to casserole-carting Christians.

I am a shameless, lazy thief.

New Year’s Resolution #2: stop stealing from friends. #1 was nurse champagne hangover while watching Juno, twice. So far, I’m killing it in 2014.