“Amy, can you meet us at the hospital in an hour?” my doula client asks. “We are trying to decide what to do.”
“Of course. I’ll be there soon Meredith.” I hang up my phone and take a deep breath.
What is a tantrum?
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, a tantrum occurs when a young child, usually between the ages of 1-1/2 to 4, experiences a mixture of anger and sadness to the point where he or she loses control. A child doesn’t consciously choose to have a tantrum. A tantrum is an overwhelming expression of feeling that is frightening for a child to experience. It’s also hard to watch as a parent.
In 2011, two researchers at the University of Minnesota collected a large amount of data on tantrums. "We have the most quantitative theory on tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind," remarked Professor Michael Potegal in a National Public Radio interview. By placing small microphones in the clothing of toddlers, hundreds of tantrums were recorded. The recordings were compiled and the vocalizations characteristic of tantrums were charted according to angry and sad tones. While these tones overlapped, it was clear that after the angry tones peaked, the sad tones dominated.
“My penis was cut without my consent and without good reason. This will not happen to our son.” My husband speaks with clarity and conviction.
Long before we became parents, my husband carefully researched the subject of male genital cutting, commonly called circumcision. His opposition to the practice is two-fold. First, there is the question of consent. Small children -- let alone infants -- have no capacity to consent to the surgical removal of sound body parts. Secondly, there is no compelling medical need to cut off healthy genital tissue. The cutting of male or female genitals is a socially constructed practice often linked to group identity or religious doctrine.
“He doesn’t need to look like me,” he continued. “I want him to remain as nature intended.”
Attached to my left hip and resting snuggly in his carrier, Taber spent the afternoon with me exploring downtown Philadelphia. At one point, we took refuge from the winter chill in a Catholic church. The golden tones of stained glass portraits added to the sweetness of carrying my little one throughout the day. We rested there. He nursed. I prayed for everyone to know such peace. On the way back to the train, we stopped to watch a crew of skateboarders perform cement-defying tricks. The free spirited, longhaired boys made my tired little one laugh. We were both weary after a full day. I looked forward to going home, putting Taber down for a nap, and meditating.
While waiting on the platform for our train, a young woman approached us. Dark roots and poorly applied red dye marked her greasy hair. Her long fingernails were painted with fading rainbows of mismatched colors. She smiled at us. I focused my gaze on her eyes. They were friendly, sad, and sought connection. Taber snuggled in closer to me. I could have found a skillful way to ignore her, but I didn’t. I looked at Taber. He trusted me with every cell of his tender goodness. My task was to navigate life’s beautiful and treacherous waters with his well being foremost in my consciousness. I placed a reassuring hand on Taber’s back, and I chose to connect to her.
I set aside my own agenda to daydream on the way home and focused on the life story unfolding in front of me. At one point, the young woman described the drama leading up to her losing her job as a restaurant cook. Fired when a new owner took over, she lamented her unemployed status. “It’s been really hard,” she said. Currently, she could afford to eat only one meal a day. I offered her a banana from my backpack and continued to listen.
It’s a quiet day in the hospital. My footsteps echo down the cold, clean corridor. I pass the gift shop and notice red and green tinsel decorations signifying the season of celebration and light.
As a chaplain, I witness people grieve, love, heal, and die. How to wrestle with the reality of the body’s fragility – of the body’s inevitable date with death – at a time when so much of the world celebrates a joyful birth? The juxtaposition between the lights of communal cheer and each individual patient’s pain weighs heavy.
“Cancer at Christmas,” I say softly as I turn the corner and enter the oncology floor. “Many blessings to all with cancer at Christmas.”
Oh, you who radiate life A blessing
May your pregnancy unfold with ease May gentleness surround you
Joy for precious days Days of two hearts beating in one body
You radiate wonder Inspiring poetry, art, worship of ancients
Trust your body This process and your unique pregnancy path
Soon to emerge as mother May kindness guide your hands
Oh, you who radiate life Birth blessings
May you move with the wisdom of breath Of your animal form
Of your gorgeous heart Courage be yours
Radiating mother-to-be I marvel at your light
For I remember those days Holy days of goddess awe And gratitude beyond measure fills me
May it be so for you And even more
As we move into the Thanksgiving season, the vibrant energy of loving-kindness offers true sustenance. The importance of delicious holiday food pales in comparison to the love of family and friends. The presence of loving-kindness constitutes what matters most around the Thanksgiving table.
However, some of us arrive at Thanksgiving celebrations with trepidation in our hearts. Family discord, addictions, secrets, anger, or sadness often turn the potential beauty of this holiday into an unhappily attended obligatory event. Can the experience of such difficulty be transformed?
Relationships with emotionally unhealthy people are challenging. Their difficulty is compounded by the fact that no matter how much we may wish to transform another, we can only change ourselves. While difficult people may remain unaltered, we can choose to strengthen our capacity of extending positive and loving energy towards them. In doing so, we transform.
I pull my 22-month-old son along in the hand-made red, wooden wagon my husband built last Christmas. We enjoy our familiar “wagon rides” to our local Walgreens. The cashier with wildly adorned, seasonally inspired hats greets us with a smile. I pull my son through the aisles picking up his favorite Pirate Booty “puffs” and a few odds and ends.
As we move through the checkout line, I catch the headline news. For the first time in over 30 years, the president of the United States and the president of Iran communicate via phone. Hope for the eventual thawing of a cold political stalemate fills my heart. I look closely at the photo of President Obama on the phone. Instantly, I am transported to another time and place
“That will be $6.85,” the cashier says.