Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A nighttime visitor

Look what my husband managed to trap under a salad bowl a couple of nights ago.

It's one of the sub-species of Vipera Palaestinae - the most dangerous venomous snake in our area. I believe this was the culprit behind some unexplained chick disappearances that happened in the previous days. We actually found it inside a nesting box. 

Unfortunately, while we were thinking about what to do and whom to call (these snakes are protected animals, one isn't allowed to kill them), it managed to squeeze under the bowl's rim and escape. 

I'm pretty sure it's still somewhere around, though. The pull of fresh eggs and young chicks must be strong. 

Naturally, now I wear socks and shoes with thick soles when I make my evening round of the chicken coop. I also make sure all the chickens and chicks are on their roosts, or in their nests, before dusk. And naturally, no going barefoot outside for the girls after the sun has set. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No more summer? The sad fate of childhood

I opened the local newspaper this week and blinked. "Summer school is about to open", it said. Well, I must have been out of the loop for a good long while, because I have only just learned that our Ministry of Education is running a pilot program, in the course of which schools are required to provide something like "school lite" for the first three weeks of the summer. Participation is voluntary and the payment depends on the family's income - low-income families are supposed to get this lovely program for free. 

I turned to my husband and asked, "don't the kids get enough school as it is?"; my sentiment was echoed in many comments on the web made by students, who all basically say, "give us our summer vacation and let us rest after the hard work we pull in school all year."

I realize that in families where both parents work (or, at least, both parents work outside the home), the question of What To Do With The Kids is a major one. No matter how much parents and women's rights organizations clamor to have an ever longer government-funded school day, kindergarten or daycare program, to this day a family cannot rely on government-funded programs alone. So people sign up for private afternoon programs, hire babysitters, beg grandparents for some help, and register their children in a multitude of summer camps. Having a government-organized, government-funded program for a large part of the summer vacation can seem like manna sent from heaven.

I understand and sympathize, but I still don't think it's good for the children. 

When the children are young and parents send them to a daycare or preschool, they basically turn the daycare provider or the preschool teacher into the most influential person in this child's life. In the current reality, the child spends more time with the daycare provider or preschool teacher than he does with his parents. And you know what really gets to me? Often, the parents don't even have much conscious choice regarding the identity of the person who cares for their child. Their choice of daycare or preschool is simply determined by where they live or work. 

I'm not saying the actual time spent together is the only thing that matters; after all, in most traditional families where the children stay home, they usually see their father far less than their mother. It doesn't mean that the father is less important, or less loved. But it does mean that the mother is responsible for the practical realities of bringing up the child. If the daycare worker is the one who spends the most time with the child, then this responsibility is shifted on to her.

I will never forget how a little girl of about three years told me, "my preschool teacher's name is Ruthie." "That's nice," I said, "and what is your Mom's name?"... she shrugged. "My preschool teacher's name is Ruthie," she repeated. She continued to talk about Ruthie for a while, but didn't say a word about her mother. Somehow, this made me incredibly sad. 

Most preschool teachers and daycare workers are decent people who care about the general well-being of their charges, but they don't individually care about each child the way his or her parents do. The essence of what preschool teachers do all day is group management. Their job is to get the kids during the day reasonably content so that they don't get bored and start fighting. This requires constant entertainment. Also, naturally, many preschool teachers are nicer than the child's parents. They don't need to address the core issues of bad behavior, which turns us into the Bad Guys in the little child's eyes. They don't give out punishments. They just need to keep everybody happy until everybody goes home - and it would be unreasonable to expect anything else.  

In school, things are a little different because there isn't one teacher that spends the entire school day with the class, but rather, each subject is taught by a different teacher. This gives more influence to the peer group - an even less desirable situation, because though all the kids in a class may be good, they are spoiled by the effect of a large group of children that is cooped up together for long hours.

If that is not enough, there is incessant demand to make school hours even longer, to fund afternoon programs (which will probably soon turn into evening programs), to shorten vacations, to thin out the summer holidays, and so on and so forth. There are also extra-curricular activities, youth movements, and more. The overall trend means the children spend less and less time with their parents - or even on their own. This isn't much better than the despised children's houses of the old kibbutz movement. 

This over-organizing, over-scheduling works to create passive adults that require close management and constant entertainment in order not to become restless, dissatisfied and bored. This also makes teenagers who have dropped out of school into such a disaster. If these teenagers had been given the right tools at the right age, they could find a place for themselves even if they don't fit (and not everybody can fit) in an increasingly academic-oriented world. As it is, many of them are lost because it's either strict school regime or total anarchy; self-management is a foreign concept.

Children need time. Time to grow, to mature, to learn, to dream... on their own. There is time for the positive, educational, organized experiences... but there must also be time for the "doing nothing". For gentle, spontaneous learning, which can never happen if all our waking hours are strictly regulated. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blogging, privacy and ethics

I love blog comments and emails from readers. I love it when people share their thoughts and opinions, and often those give me inspiration to write more in response to what people write to me. Often, I include other people's thoughts in my posts, but I have a pretty strict policy regarding this. 

If someone leaves a comment and I decide to address it in a separate post, I allow myself to re-post the comment without asking the original author's permission because, after all, the comment was public to begin with and I'm only copying it for reference. 

If someone sends me a personal email, I can sometimes extract a thought, question or idea from said email and address it on my blog - without giving details of the person in question, or publishing the full email. For example, if someone tells me about her life journey and her family, and concludes by asking, "do you think I could manage if I got a part-time job while the children are in school?", I might convert this into a theoretical question - "what do you think about part-time jobs for mothers whose children are in school?" - and post it on my blog without giving personal details. 

If someone sends me a personal email which I find especially interesting, and I want to publish it on my blog, I will only do so after asking permission. I will email the person in question and ask for their authorization to publish what they wrote. If they have a blog too, I will also ask them whether they want their email to be published anonymously or with a reference to their blog/website. 

I have always done things this way, and I assumed everybody else did the same. 

That's why I was so shocked and angry when the contents of my personal email, complete with my name and reference to my blog, were published without permission some days ago. 

The lady in question is a blogger whose writing I respect, though not always agree with. Now, it's OK to disagree, but this lady allowed herself to make a public statement which was, in my opinion, bigoted, unjust and hurtful. I sent her a long and heartfelt email, explaining why I thought it was so. To illustrate my points, I gave her some rather personal information about my family background. 

I will not post a link to that blog because I do not wish to give it more traffic, but I will tell you that she is a well-established blogger with intelligent, respectable content. She is also pretty sensitive about the subject of ethics and morals. Therefore, it never occured to me I'm putting my privacy at risk by emailing her. 

So... I waited for a personal response, but it never came. Instead, I got a link to a post, where I was horrified to see my email published, almost in its entirety, and my identity given as the author of this blog (which can be easily Googled). There it was, all of it - private thoughts and information which I never intended to share in public, bandied about between the blog author and her readers, with some very hateful comments generated in between. 

There is no excuse to such conduct. It would have taken her about a minute to email me and ask, "can I re-post what you wrote on my blog?" - which she never did. She just went ahead and published. It is dishonest, immoral and unethical. It is also illegal, though I do not see myself attempting to take legal action against her at the moment. 

I emailed her at once, demanding to remove what I wrote to her privately from the public space of her blog. I also asked her to remove other reader's comments on what they were never supposed to read in the first place. Also, for the first time in my life, I demanded a public apology. Not anything too profuse. Just something along the lines of, "I have taken down my last post because it contained a private email I mistakenly published without the writer's permission. I am sorry about what happened and promise to do all I can to prevent such mistakes in the future."

Of course, even if she does what I asked, some damage has already been done. Hateful people have read what I wrote and know to reference it to this blog, which also contains my email. I do not want them to know who I am and I do not want to get hate mail. 

So what is my advice to you, bloggers and readers of blogs? If you write a personal email to a blogger, do not assume they know the difference between a private conversation and a public discussion. If you don't want your thoughts to be published, say so in your first email. If you only allow them to publish your email anonymously, specify that. 

And if someone writes to you, please be mindful of people's private messages. Do not turn them public without explicit permission.

Update: I'm glad to say the blogger has removed my never-meant-to-be-public comments and apologized. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Never a dull day

First bread baked after Pesach is always an exciting event, after such a long break in baking. These came out good, but a little too crisp at the bottom. Made with extra virgin olive oil, our home-grown eggs and some za'atar on top. 
I was thinking that perhaps I should make stuffed grape leaves, too, while I have some fresh ones - and before the chickens demolish them all! 
 An interesting-looking (and very thorny) plant found on one of our walks. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Inductions help avoid C-sections? Really?!

My wanderings around the web led me to this website, run by a doctor (and Jewish mother) who basically takes a stance that is entirely against home births. I will admit that some of her writings have a point, even to someone like me. You might know that I previously had two completely natural births (in a hospital). The experience of my hospital stay wasn't wholly pleasant, but I am no longer sorry that I didn't have a home birth. 

Quite apart from the fact that I could not afford it - in Israel, hospital births are government-funded and 100% free, while home births with a midwife cost quite a bit of money - I've re-thought my entire attitude towards the matter ever since a family that lives near us tragically lost their baby. It is true that in their particular case, the tragedy was probably unavoidable - so, at the very least, they are not burdened with guilt for not going to the hospital earlier - but it made me aware of the fact that bad things happen. Well, of course we all know bad things happen, but it's different when it's happening to someone you know. And should anything go wrong, I want to have doctors and all the necessary medical equipment down the hall -not always hovering near me. Not if I don't need it. But 30 seconds away, if something should happen. Not a 10-minute car ride away, because the difference between 30 seconds and 10 minutes can be the difference between life and death. 

Having said that, I do find myself raising an eyebrow while reading the following post, based on a study that claims inductions actually lower the risk of C-sections (contrary to other studies). I can imagine a scenario when an induction is medically necessary, but the mother refuses to have one, or wants to wait, until there is fetal distress and a C-section is needed. However, isn't it a bit too much to say, "So it seems that if you want to reduce your risk of C-section, one of the most effective things that you can do is to have an induction of labor"? I don't know about you, but to me this sort of implies you shouldn't even try to birth naturally! 

Medical intervention without clear-cut indication is simply unethical. When I showed up at the hospital, only 1.5 cm dilated, only 5 days past my due date, with my amniotic fluid intact and fetal heart rate and all parameters absolutely normal, and was told I "need" an induction because "you can't be here indefinitely", that was unethical. True, if I had been induced, we would probably have, by and large, the same outcome (vaginal birth, healthy mom, healthy baby). True, perhaps in the large scheme of things my natural birth plan wasn't that important. I'm sure my friend, the one who lost her baby, would much rather have a C-section and a live baby. But in my case it wasn't a clash between natural birth and the baby's safety. It was a clash between natural birth and the hospital staff's convenience.  

By the way, I consider excessive cervical examinations, or any other procedure that is potentially distressing to the mother, and can be avoided (like having too many people in the room), an unnecessary intervention, because stress can (and did, for me) make the process of labor stop, especially in the beginning. Why would a mother in a normal birth process need 2 cervical examinations in an hour?! 

I remember at Tehilla's birth, the midwife walked in to check on us, smiled and said, "oooh, I see this baby is coming really soon!" - and I was flabbergasted. I mean, how could she know just by looking at me? I thought she was kidding. It wasn't like I was on all fours, rocking my pelvis and grunting. My husband and I were lounging around, and I was nibbling on some fruit dipped in honey (it was Rosh Ha-Shana night). I actually thought I'm having a break between contractions and that there's still time. Turns out many women have this "quiet spell" just before transition. The midwife didn't need to poke and prode; she had seen enough births to know we were progressing well. 

I'm very glad we live in an age of advanced medical technology. I'm glad we have options. I'm very, very happy mothers in developed countries no longer bleed to death because of placenta previa. But I still maintain that all interventions should be left as a stand-by, to be used when necessary