Sunday, November 30, 2014

How About Horses?

Now that we've dispensed with the Mama Bear nonsense, how about proposing an alternative? (See previous post if you didn't already read it.)


I spent a few seasons observing horses on a thoroughbred farm in Central PA. And I got paid for it! Best job ever - me and about 100 horses, not another human to see for 8 hours at a time, most times. That gives one a lot of time to think and to just plain experience the animals. I learned a lot from being with them and talking to them and getting to know them. I was pretty ignorant about them at first. I don't ride well and I am useless when it comes to putting a saddle on them. But I was accepted by them and they taught me a lot. I didn't know that when horses feel safe and comfortable that they will lie down to sleep. When I peeked into a stall to check and the mare was on her side, I panicked. This was before smart phones so I couldn't look it up, After about the 4th horse, I figured it was OK. Even though they wheeze like you wouldn't believe.

I learned that horses are very farty. One of my duties was to lead the younger guys out to the indoor ring so they could frisk about and play and run around and get some exercise for about an hour. When they jump around, they fart. A lot. It's OK, horse farts aren't that bad. Horse poop is fine too. I learned that stallions can tell when a woman is on her period and they can get frisky about it - be careful! I learned that a skunk is a perfectly acceptable pet for a gelding. And I definitely confirmed the  validity of phrases, "Hung like a horse" and "Piss like a racehorse."

The best was when the babies came. I was privileged enough to assist in a birth. What an experience. This was a breeding farm, so there were lots and lots of babies. We had a scare that spring - a sickness swept through the babies and a few did not make it. One of my duties became to walk up to every single little colt in the fields to check them, and to do a head count to make sure all mares and babies matched. Having to be in such extreme close contact with 50 or so mare moms taught me a lot about what kind of moms they are. These are my observations, I am not a horse expert or a veterinarian or a horse farmer - I just observe very closely and think a lot.

They are very protective. No one messes with a baby horse and gets away with it. These gals watch over their babies like nothing else. And they ALL watch over ALL the babies and keep them in line. Frequently, as I had to trudge through the large field to get close enough to inspect their health, the herd of moms and babies would decide they liked the other side of the field better, and wouldn't it be fun to make the human walk even further? I stood stock-still while they ran head-long at me and broke around me like a wave. It wasn't scary but was it ever a rush! Or the entire herd would simply decide it was time to move before I got there (so much better) and through some communication I couldn't catch, they all moved as one. Except one day. One sunny day, I counted as I approached, while they mingled around the water and shade. One more mare than baby. Crap. Count again. Crap. I picked up my pace. Did she sense my alarm at just that moment? Because one of the mares all of the sudden realized her baby was not with the rest of them. I headed out into the open field to look for the little one. She sounded her concern, and all the mares immediately went on alert. She called out and they all began what I felt was a count of their own. Suddenly from the tall grass in front of me, a little head popped up. He had fallen asleep in the field and did not notice when everyone else moved away. He called out to his mom! She called back! And there it was, again I stood still as the entire herd swept by me to get to him! Everyone was fine, of course, but I marveled at how all the mares shared in the reunion. There was no "I got mine right here, if yours is missing that's your problem" going on. They all watched over all. One missing little one was a problem for all of them together.

They don't condone misbehavior. Colts were a frisky little bunch. Mom horses were pretty tough on them. If they started to act up or get too rowdy, you can bet Mom was right there to give a little correction, and those guys listen. When I would enter the field, the colts would seem to think I was something new and interesting with which to play. Even at a few months old, they were capable of some serious damage. But I never had to worry, because if they came running over to me in their cute but very clumsy way and distinct possibility of slamming me right down, Mom was watching, and a neigh from her was enough to stop them in their tracks or continue harmlessly past me. One came up to knock me about and hit me on my shoulder. It could have gotten bad but Mom called it off. Just the tiniest noise from the moms and those little guys fell right in line. All of them. All were watched over and could be corrected by anyone at any time.

They make a difference. One baby was orphaned. There was no mare to give him to as foster, or the decision was made to keep him apart, something. I don't know why, but he was to be fed by hand and kept in a stall alone. That little guy became the biggest asshole colt I ever encountered. He would get out of his stall when I went in to feed him and it was nearly impossible to get him back in. He acted up, he was a complete brat. I had to chalk it up to the fact that his mom was no longer there to correct him and he did not have the herd to keep him in line. There was another baby whose mom was almost completely blind. Some greedy owner thought she was good enough to pop out one more possible money-maker and was likely going to put her down after the baby was weaned. Since she couldn't see, they were kept in a separate area. We had to lead him and she would follow, when usually we lead the mare and the baby would follow - without fail because that's how the moms were. Follow mom or else. One evening I could hear her fretting. A lot. I went out to see, and discovered she could not find her baby and was very upset. The little jerk was playing keep-away. He would stay just far enough away from her that she couldn't get to him and be assured that he was there. They were separate from the lessons and protection of the herd. Colts on the other side of the fence actually watched in amazement.

These recollections are still very clear to me decades later. Those mares left an impression on me. Why aren't we more like that - why do we emulate and applaud the behavior of grizzly bears - solitary animals - and growl and bark and fight, instead of all caring for all? Isn't it easier to help each other instead of competing? And I'm not talking about mothers versus those of us who are childfree, I'm talking about moms with moms. Let's be horses, not bears.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Mama Bear Myth

The Urban Dictionary defines “Mama Bear” as a mom who can be cuddly and lovable but also has a ferocious side when it's necessary to protect her cubs, and suggests “a tough, aggressive, and protective mother, often going to extreme lengths to protect her child, usually her son, and herself.”

There are a number of memes and blogs saying things like, “If you mess with my child, I will unleash my fury and destroy your world” or “I may seem quiet and reserved, but if you mess with my children, I will break out a level of crazy that will make your nightmares seem like a happy place.” And a favorite: “You ain’t seen crazy yet … but you will if you attack my children physically or verbally. Hugs! Love, Mama Bear.”

Yes. All well and good. Sounds bold and protective. Except you don’t really mean it. I don’t believe you. When asked this question, “Is working to try to prevent environmental damage for the future really a part of being a good parent?” ninety-three percent of the public (men and women) agreed in an anthropological poll and study by MIT investigators. Yet, where are you? Where have you been on the great threats of our day?

You will overreact to some perceived slight and call it being Mama Bear. You will get all Mama Bear on those of us who might cast a glance aside if your child is having a public tantrum and we have the nerve to let a touch of annoyance cross our face, as though your child can act up anywhere but we are not allowed to have any feelings about it. Because you’re a Mama Bear. “Don’t mess with my cubs.”

Here is why this doesn’t ring true. You aren’t fighting the most important fights for your children. You are busy insisting you can breastfeed wherever you wish, and your children are allowed to run amuck in a restaurant and we have to tolerate it because they are kids and tough nuts to anyone else in the vicinity. You cheer on a mother who punched another woman for daring to speak about a tantrum the child was having. While you are doing these things, your kid’s real and actual future is in trouble. Your kids and your kids’ kids are in profound trouble, but somehow, this doesn’t bring out the Mama Bear in you. Why is that? Why are there so many moms claiming to be mama bears sitting back and doing nothing when climate catastrophe can be seen on the horizon, or when the chemical industry teams up with bioengineers to alter your children’s food supplies in dangerous ways?

We have the very real threat of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the chemicals they can tolerate on our dinner tables. You can’t be bothered. With all the studies pointing to danger, we ask you to use your mother bear might and vast numbers to help fight, but apparently it’s too much trouble. Your daughter’s reproductive rights are at risk, but you won’t go vote because you can’t or won’t make the time. BPA bleeding from plastics are affecting your kids’ long-term health, reproductive health, your unborn kids’ health and development, but you haven’t taken the time to even know what BPAs are. The research is everywhere, but you don’t know and do not care to educate yourself. Climate Change is here and it is causing widespread disruption to the point where your kid’s future is going to be very tough - full of droughts, famine, intolerable heat and dangerous cold, diseases, shortages. Scientists just warned that the oceans will be completely destroyed by 2048. Where’s Mama Bear on this urgent warning? Too distracted? Too tired?

You are not a Mama Bear. You fall for every convenience out there because you are so busy. You give your kids fast food and chemical-laden plastic-wrapped processed crap, because being a mom is tough and you are tired and don’t have time or energy. You are putting your kids in very real danger. No, it’s not the immediate and very real danger of a bully or a snarky comment in a store. It’s the slow, deadly danger of cancer. Or sterility. Or developmental difficulties. Where is your fury and your crazy here? Where is the Mama Bear now?

This is where I get a lot of “You aren’t a mom, you don’t know.” What I do know is that people like me who don’t have their own kids are fighting for your children. We are fighting on a pretty grand scale, as a matter of fact. We’re trying to make sure your kids have a future here on this planet. We are thinking ahead. I know we’re in trouble here, and I know you brought your kid into this world, but you aren’t really thinking about their kids with your Mama Bear claims. I am. I’m thinking about your kids and their kids and all the kids, everywhere, while you are busy growling about your kid getting a behavior correction from a store employee.

So before you get all Mama Bear and smack me down with a giant paw, why don’t you listen for a moment, and take the time to realize that I am on your side. I’m on your kids’ side. While you are all riled up in the moment, I’m in it for the long haul. Yes, there are some super-awesome moms out there. There are moms out there fighting the big fight, there are some really good Mama Bears out there. They see the whole picture, and this little piece is not aimed at them.

Think about this: actual mama bears raise their cubs then never have anything to do with them after about their second spring. Is short-term parenting what you are modelling for your children? I doubt it. Let’s drop the bear myth and end the misplaced ferocity, or better yet redirect your focus and anger to the real threats by fighting for your children’s future.  Let’s work together for the long-term future of children everywhere.