controversies, dogs, ethics, healthcare

The surprising judgment that comes with seeking advanced veterinary care…

The featured photo is of Arran and Bill, just a few days ago… As you can see, they love each other very much. Arran is glad to be here with his favorite person. I’m glad we can afford to treat his cancer and keep him comfortable for a little while longer. And I’m grateful that living in Germany allows this outcome for us.

A month ago, I wrote a post about our decision to treat our dog, Arran, for B-cell lymphoma. I was inspired to write that post after reading an article in the Washington Post about the cost of treating major diseases in pets. The article in the WaPo was written by Kim Kavin, whose dog, Blue, was diagnosed with cancer. She decided to pull out all the stops to treat Blue, and it cost a lot of money. Blue initially responded to the treatment, but then suffered a relapse when the cancer came roaring back with a vengeance. Kavin’s piece ran in the paper, and lots of people had negative opinions about it. I felt badly that she was getting so many brutal comments, so I wrote my own post about our decision to treat Arran.

At this writing, Arran has had six chemo treatments. If we hadn’t done these treatments, I feel pretty sure he would have died by now. When we started the chemotherapy on October 13th, he was starting to get sick. He wasn’t eating much, and looked very sad. He spent a lot of time sleeping, and could barely manage a short walk around the block. Now, he eats, sleeps, takes walks, jumps on the furniture, and tears things up. The chemotherapy hasn’t made him feel sick. The only thing I’ve noticed is that he sleeps a bit after he gets Vincristine and/or Endoxan. But he doesn’t have diarrhea or issues with vomiting. He hasn’t lost his fur. He doesn’t even have to take medication every day. And you’d never know he has cancer.

What has his treatment cost us so far? So far, we’ve paid for six weeks of treatment, which consists of weekly IV pushes of Vinistrine, a chemo drug. He takes two Endoxan pills per week– on Thursdays and Saturdays. Every other day, he takes three 5 milligram tablets of Prednisolone. This regime will continue for another two weeks, and then it will change to one that is less extreme. Total cost here in Germany? Still less than 1000 euros. And he feels much better with a great quality of life, while we’ve been able to enjoy his company for a little bit longer. I think he’ll make it to his tenth anniversary with us. That’s all we could have ever hoped for.

This was Arran’s first chemo bill. It covers two treatments. As you can see, it’s very reasonable. The following week, we were billed another 445 euros for four more treatments.

A couple of days ago, The Atlantic ran a story titled “How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Cat’s Life?”, by Sarah Zhang. The story was about the veterinary hospitals in the United States that give cats kidney transplants to save their lives. Their owners shell out $15,000 for the surgery, which involves using a donor cat’s kidney, implanting it in an often elderly cat. Many times, the owners end up adopting the donor cats, too, as they are typically young and healthy and in need of a home. As it is for most humans, cats can get by just fine with one kidney. In one case, the prospective donor got adopted anyway, when the cat that needed a kidney passed from heart failure before the surgery could be done.

It was noted in the article that kidney transplants are the only transplant surgeries available to cats. The donors are not killed. Apparently, transplants are not yet available for dogs, because “the canine immune system is unusually reactive, leading to kidney rejection.”

Zhang wrote about a 16 year old cat named Strawberry who got a new kidney. Strawberry’s owner did not want to be identified, as she feared backlash from people about the cost. The surgery alone costs $15,000, but with travel, follow-up care, and other costs, it can end up being twice as expensive. And Strawberry’s owner didn’t want to deal with a bunch of negativity about her choice to spend that money. Zhang writes that she interviewed a dozen cat owners who had opted for the surgery and also wanted to remain anonymous. One person quipped, “I wouldn’t think of saying to somebody, ‘Wow, that’s an expensive car,’  But people seem pretty free to say, ‘Wow, you spent a lot of money on a cat.’ ”

I remember the very negative and judgmental comments on Kavin’s article in the Washington Post. I expected to see similar comments on The Atlantic’s article. Much to my surprise and delight, The Atlantic’s readers seem to be a lot more open-minded. Or, at least they aren’t as full of judgmental bile about what people will spend their money on, as well as the mistaken belief that cancer treatment is always unpleasant and leads to sickness, as it often does in humans. And one person wrote a very astute comment, which I think really highlights why people tend to have strong reactions to other people’s choices to treat illnesses like cancer in their pets. Facebook user Isaac Suárez wrote:

The issue is not “is a cat’s life worth saving.” A cat is a companion, to be loved and cared for. There is no shame in wanting to preserve this bond and prevent unnecessary suffering.

Rather, the judgement comes from the fact that some have $15k to burn on pet care while the vast majority of people don’t. I know many people who’d happily pay the price to help a friend; I know very few who have the money to do so.

Sadly, a cat with kidney failure is just one of innumerable occasions where the stark class divide of our country manifests. Instead of talking about “are cats worth the price” we should be asking “why is the price so high” and “why do some people have the freedom to make this choice when the vast majority don’t?” As with many topics covered by Atlantic, the question is misframed and a valuable opportunity to address a visceral and important issue is sidestepped.

Another Facebook user liked Isaac’s comment, and responded thusly:

Brilliant and eloquent response! Its heartbreaking that so many must choose to have their beloved pet euthanized because the treatment cannot be afforded or people take on a hideous amount if debt in order to save their pet. Either way, there is a great deal of needless pain.

I also really related to Isaac’s comment, especially as an American who lives in a country where healthcare and veterinary treatments are much more reasonably priced than they are in the United States. If Bill and I were living in the United States, Arran’s treatment would no doubt cost a whole lot more. It would probably be undertaken at a high speed referral center, rather than at our local vet’s office. And we would be paying much more for his medications, as well as every single thing that would be done for him. We love Arran very much, but we’re practical people. He’s already an old guy. I can’t see us spending many thousands of dollars to keep him going. But in Germany, we can easily afford the treatment, and it makes him feel better. So he gets this comfort care at the end of his life, which will allow him more time with us, and give the vet more valuable experience treating lymphoma. It’s a win-win.

Arran and Noyzi welcome us home two weeks ago. You’d never know Arran has cancer, thanks to canine chemo. Isn’t this a result worth paying for? Especially when it’s pretty reasonably priced?

Many Americans resent how some people can afford to provide such advanced care for a pet, while human beings are going without care because they can’t afford it. And yet, so many people continue to vote for the same leaders, who do nothing about this problem. The United States is among the richest countries in the world, yet so many Americans lack the ability to pay for their own healthcare, let alone that of their pet’s. But a lot of us would never bat an eye at buying the latest iPad or tennis shoes. We don’t roll our eyes when a neighbor takes a trip to Hawaii or buys a Tesla. A pet can give a family intangible things that an iPad or a Tesla never can. Why should anyone be ashamed to spend money on their best friends? And why should anyone feel the need to judge someone negatively for making that choice? It’s not as if that person who can afford the advanced veterinary treatment for their dog or cat is going to be paying for their neighbor’s treatment.

I am probably not one of those people who would opt for a kitty kidney transplant, especially on a cat who is 16 years old. But now that I’ve experienced giving a dog chemo, I might opt to do it again for another dog… if I think the dog is well enough to be treated and wants to fight. I would probably pay a fair amount for that option, even if I’m living in the United States, where it will undoubtedly cost a lot more. Here in Germany, it’s a no brainer to give chemo a chance, although not all dogs respond the way Arran has. The response depends a lot on the animal and the type of disease. In Arran’s case, he is resilient, and he has a type of lymphoma that responds to treatment. We have the money. Why not treat it? What makes it any different than treating him for heartworms or diabetes or any other disease that people don’t think twice about treating in their pets? And if someone else has the ability and the desire to pay for advanced treatment for their cat, who am I to judge them? I’m not involved in the aftermath of that decision, and it’s really none of my business.

Anyway… I found Sarah Zhang’s article thought provoking on many levels, especially since we’re dealing with a pet who has cancer now. Arran is our fourth dog to get cancer, but he’s the first one we’ve been able to do anything for… and it really does feel good to do something. I can see, every day, that Arran is glad to be here. No, it’s not fun for him to get intravenous medications every week, but that’s only for about a half an hour. In a couple of weeks, he’ll be getting the IV meds less frequently. We’ll see how long he can make it before it’s time to let him go. I’m just glad we have the luxury of being able to prepare for the end, and enjoying every minute with our beloved Arran. If we weren’t in Germany, I’m not sure we’d have that. This shouldn’t be something that other people judge us negatively for doing, simply because our healthcare system is so fucked up and prices for humans and animals needing medical care are so ridiculously high. It seems to me that Americans ought to be demanding lower healthcare costs. I know that’s the way I’m going to be voting from now on.

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communication, complaints, humor, rants

It’s a messy morning for me…

If you’re squeamish about sickness, you might want to skip the first few paragraphs of this post.

So, I think I brought home a souvenir from Belgium. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent yesterday. I had a sore throat and a runny nose. I was sneezing, too. It all culminated last night. I had been really hungry, because we didn’t have much food in the house after our brief trip. I didn’t have much of a lunch. So when Bill made bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, I was all for it.

Just as I finished my burger, my body erupted into a violent coughing fit that nauseated me. I froze, looking horrified, and Bill asked me what was wrong. I said I felt like I was going to vomit. I got up and made a move toward the bathroom.

I didn’t quite make it to the toilet and, let’s just say, it was quite the Technicolor yawn. I spewed puke all over the bathroom and the rug outside the door. It took some time to clean everything up, because everything got doused– the floor, the toilet, the walls, and any items that were in the strike zone. Since this house doesn’t have closets, that meant a few things got sprayed. Bill had to go to the grocery store to buy more sponges and I had to do a sudden load of laundry.

Then, after I got most all of the surfaces cleaned, I got out my steam mop and started to give the floors a once over to get the last residue from my sickness. In the process of doing that, I scalded the fuck out of my toe. Naturally, that led to a lot of cursing and an urge to burst into tears, which I somehow managed to avoid doing.

I would definitely feel better if Bill did this nurse’s routine…

This morning, I woke up after a reasonably decent sleep, but my nose is running and I’m sneezing… This could be my allergies, or it could be a cold. Either way, I don’t feel well. However, I still have my senses of smell and taste, and I don’t feel overly tired or achy. So whatever this is, I’m sure it will pass. I’m still horrified about last night’s vomit fest, though I know it could have been worse. At least I didn’t also have diarrhea. I just have a very sensitive gag reflex and will hurl at the slightest provocation, just like the Maggie Blackamoor on Little Britain.

I relate.

And now that I’ve brought up Little Britain, it’s time to move on to today’s topic… because Little Britain offers a fine segue into what’s on my mind this morning.

A little while ago, I ran across an article in The Atlantic about comedy and comedians. The article, titled “When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Joke”, was written by Conor Friedersdorf, is partly about the comedian Dave Chappelle. Mr. Chappelle is no stranger to making jokes that sometimes go over like turds in proverbial punch bowls, as my Aunt Gayle would put it. Personally, I think Chappelle is often funny, but I’m not a super fan of his work. I never saw the Netflix special that got him into hot water, during which he made fun of trans people. Chappelle’s special was pulled from Netflix, and many people were talking about how insensitive and “bullying” he was toward a marginalized group. Some people tried to take it even further, attacking his career, trying to ruin him.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m not a fan of “cancel culture”, especially when it comes to comedians. I may not like every joke I hear, but I am a big proponent of free speech and letting people vote with their wallets and consciences. Also, I like provocative content that makes people think. Sometimes so-called “offensive” humor is thought provoking. Even if a joke is cruel, if it gets people talking, it’s not all bad, in my opinion. Moreover, I enjoy being able to make decisions for myself about what is, and what is not, acceptable humor. I don’t need “help” from the masses.

In his article, Conor Friedersdorf begins by writing about Chappelle, and the performing arts theater at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Mr. Chappelle is a former student at the school and has donated a lot of money to it, so the theater was going to be named after him. But then Chappelle got into trouble for his jokes about trans people. The renaming ceremony was postponed, and Chappelle eventually told everyone “that for now, the venue will be named the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”

Friedersdorf wrote that his colleague, David Frum, had attended the event and offered an interpretation of what happened.

In sophisticated comedy, comedians play with the tension between formal and informal beliefs, and Chappelle’s is very sophisticated comedy. The function of humor as a release from the forbidden thought explains why some of the most productive sources of jokes are authoritarian societies, because they forbid so much. In the squares of Moscow today, protesters physically reenact an old Soviet joke, demonstrating with blank signs because “Everybody already knows everything I want to say.” That same function of comedy explains why “woke America” is the target of so much satirical humor today, because so much of wokeness aspires to forbid.

When Chappelle deferred adding his name to the theater of the school to which he’d given so much of himself—not only checks, but return appearances—he was not yielding or apologizing. He was challenging the in-school critics: You don’t understand what I do—not my right to do it, but the reason it matters that I exercise that right. Until you do understand, you cannot have my name. Someday you will understand. You may have it then.

The article continued with Friedersdorf’s thoughts on modern comedy and what the role of a comedian is supposed to be. Comedians make jokes and offer humorous positions on any given topic. The great George Carlin once did a bit called “Rape Can Be Funny”. In it, he talked about how comedians run into backlash over “tasteless” jokes all the time, with people who try to tell them what is or isn’t funny, and what can or can’t be joked about. Back in 1990, Carlin said:

I believe you can joke about anything.

It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is. What the exaggeration is.

Because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.

Now… I want to state right away that, on many occasions, I’ve heard Carlin’s routine about how rape can be funny. I own a copy of the CD it comes from, and have listened to it enough that I can recite it from memory. Personally, I don’t think “Rape Can Be Funny” is Carlin’s best work. He makes some very tone deaf jokes about rape that, to me, just plain miss the mark. Carlin’s rape jokes aren’t funny to me, though, because he seemed to think rape is about sex and sexual attraction. In my view, rape is about people who want to take power over another person. It doesn’t have to be a man who does it, either. Women are capable of raping men. I know this because it happened to my husband during his first marriage. He trusted his ex wife, and she rewarded him by violently assaulting him when he was not capable of defending himself. I don’t think she did it because she was turned on, or wanting to turn him on. She did it because she wanted to hurt him, and show him who was in control. That had nothing to do with love, sex, or bonding. It was an act of violence and, to me, it was definitely NOT funny.

However– even though I don’t agree with Carlin’s opinions about rape, I will admit that he made a very good point in his routine about how anything can be funny to certain people. The most skillful comics can make the most horrifying topics funny. I think Carlin was one of the best comics ever, but sometimes even he flubbed things. I didn’t find his rape routine that funny, but I appreciated the one pearl of wisdom within it, in which his main point is that comedians should be free to tackle all topics. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to laugh. We don’t have to watch the show or buy the album. That would be a fitting consequence of not being funny. Trying to ruin comedians’ careers over one or two bad or offensive jokes may not be a fitting consequence– especially when a certain community presumes to make that decision for everyone.

This is the best part of the routine, in my opinion. The rest of it, not so much. But it would have been a tragedy if George had been canceled for saying this. Because most of the other stuff he said was genius!

As is my habit, I went to the Facebook comment section, just to see what people thought of Conor Friedersdorf’s article. As usual, plenty of people who didn’t read it were chiming in. There were also some virtue signalers in there– mostly white guys– trying very hard to prove to everyone how sensitive and “woke” they are, by calling Chappelle a “bully”.

First off, I don’t think that merely joking about someone or something makes them a bully. In my mind, the term “bullying” connotes abuse and harassment that include threats and intimidation, not merely insults or ridicule. When I think of bullies, I think of people who use their positions of power to control or coerce others. Simply joking about a group, tasteless and mean as the joke may be, isn’t really acting like a bully. Now, if Dave was also trying to force trans people to give him money or property, or threatened to beat them up after the show, that would be more like bullying, in my view.

Secondly, the main virtue signaling offender in the comment section was being very insulting himself. Anyone who disagreed with him was labeled an “asshole”, among other derogatory terms. It seems to me that if one believes comedians should be kinder and gentler, one should be the change they want to see. Name calling those who have a differing viewpoint, especially when you’re pushing the view that people should be pressured/forced into being politically correct, is quite hypocritical. Below are just a few comments made by this guy. I thought about pointing it out to him that his habit of name calling isn’t very PC, but decided I’d rather frost my bush than argue with him.

…life would be better people were nicer to each other and didn’t try to fill the empty voids in their miserable lives by punching down at people more vulnerable than themselves. And it’s okay to call people who do that assholes and say you don’t want to be associated with them.

We’re having that conversation, and a lot of it is “wow, Chapelle really seems to be an asshole who delights in saying hurtful things about marginalized people from atom his giant pile of Netflix money”. But the Atlantic doesn’t like that conversation so they’re trying to shut it down. Fuck that.

…you say “that’s not the world we live in” like this is some divinely ordained state. But it’s a choice. Powerful assholes get away with attacking marginalized communities because others choose to accept it (as long as it’s happening to other people). But we could chose not to just brush off this kind of hate. We could be better.

There was one very sensible woman commenting who brought up that if people in the trans community want to be recognized as “mainstream”, they should be “tough enough” to be made fun of on occasion. One can’t ask to be treated like everyone else, and also demand “special” treatment or membership in a protected class. I totally agree with that notion.

I don’t find all attempts at humor successful, and some jokes really are tasteless, offensive, and too close to the bone, in my opinion. But it’s just MY opinion. Other people have different opinions, and personally I prefer having the right to speak freely over being threatened with being canceled if I express the “wrong” thing or have the “wrong” opinion. And to be clear, I don’t consider refusing to attend a show or buy a DVD to be “canceling” someone. Canceling someone is when a person or group tries to shut someone up or punish them by attempting to ruin their lives. That goes too far, in my view. Especially in a society that is supposed to be “free”, allowing freedom of expression and open exchanges of ideas.

ETA: I had to comment to the virtue signaling guy who was insulting everyone with name calling, as he also called for kindness. I wrote:

“Does it not strike you as slightly hypocritical that you keep labeling people ‘assholes’, as you preach about how we should all be more sensitive and kinder to others? Shouldn’t you start by being the change you want to see? Name calling isn’t the best look if you want to convince people that you’re a good person.”

I just had to do it. This guy seems to think that he should be the one who decides what is– and what is not– appropriate humor, and what jokes we should find acceptable. To quote him, I say “fuck that.” I can make up my own mind about what I find funny, and I can also vote with my wallet, and my feet. Moreover, I don’t respect someone demanding that we treat everyone with kindness and decency as he dehumanizes those who disagree with him by calling them “assholes”. He’ll probably come at me hours from now. Hopefully, I’ll be in an antihistamine induced coma by then.

I will hasten to add that I know I use the word “asshole” a lot myself. The difference is, I try really hard not to presume to “set an example”. I try not to tell people what they should be saying, thinking, or finding funny… or, at least I hope I don’t. I definitely don’t think anyone should necessarily look up to me, or value my opinions… I just like to express myself sometimes. I usually confine my expression to this blog, though, because otherwise, I’ll find myself engaged in a dialogue with someone preaching about being kind to the marginalized, as he calls me an “asshole”. Moreover, simply finding a joke funny– even if it’s vulgar, tasteless, or crass– doesn’t equate to “hate”. I can still laugh at Avenue Q or South Park, after all…

I saw this show in England a few years ago, and was crying at the end of it, it was SO good… it was basically about MY life as a Gen Xer! Should I not have found this funny? Some people might think that. Why don’t I get a vote, too?

As someone who loves humor, I don’t want to see comedians being canceled. I want them to be free to come up with jokes on any topic. I’m smart enough to decide for myself if I think something is funny or not, and I can choose for myself if I want to consume what they’re selling. I don’t need guys like the woke dude above, calling Dave Chappelle an “asshole”, as he condemns his comedy for being too “mean” and marginalizing groups that he deems “at risk”. I want everyone to have a vote, and I want them to be allowed to choose for themselves. That’s freedom, to me. And dammit, I love irreverent humor, even if it sometimes hurts.

Now, if I could only free myself from this runny nose, headache, fatigue, and sneezing, I’d be batting 500…

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dogs, social media

The Atlantic just reran their article about spaying and neutering dogs… naturally, it brought out the outrage…

Two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, I subscribed to The Atlantic. I did so because I kept finding myself trying to read their articles, which I noticed were often controversial. There have been a few times, in the past two years, when I have regretted subscribing. It’s usually when I see that they’re rerunning, for the umpteenth time, an article that is a few years old. This morning, they happened to rerun an article they published about how the consensus regarding spaying and neutering dogs is “quietly changing”. In 2019, writer Sarah Zhang (or her editor) wrote:

A growing body of research has documented the health risks of getting certain breeds fixed early—so why aren’t shelters changing their policies?

You can almost bet on the comments that appeared, just from people who read the tagline. There was statement after statement from people who do dog rescues, hysterically crying foul about how “irresponsible” this article is. Many dramatic diatribes were about how full the shelters are, and how so many dogs are euthanized, because not everyone spays or neuters. And because of those “irresponsible” people, everyone should be forced, locked step, into “fixing” their animals before the first heat or at six months of age, potential health risks or concerns be damned.

Bill and I have gotten all of our dogs from rescue organizations or people who do dog rescue (in Noyzi’s case). Of course we agree with spaying and neutering. BUT… I think Sarah Zhang’s article makes a lot of sense. Nowhere did she write that spaying and neutering should be abolished. What she did write was that research “suggests that spaying and neutering—especially in some large breeds when very young—are linked to certain disorders later in life.” Veterinarians are starting to question whether or not spaying and neutering every pet when they are very young is the right thing to do for animals, from a health standpoint.

However, many rescue groups and shelters are stubbornly clinging to the idea that every animal must be sterilized as young as possible. Animal welfare groups usually don’t give adopters a choice as to when or whether they will spay or neuter. And yes, before anyone comes at me, I do understand why they have that rule. They are trying to control the pet population, which is not a bad goal at all. My issue is when anyone has an objection or takes a contrary position to that idea, things get uncivilized in a hurry. And if you read the Facebook comments on this story, many of which come from people who didn’t bother to read the article, you find that people can be downright nasty and rigid about this subject. There are very few topics in which total rigidity works. Early animal castration, in my view, is a topic that might benefit from further reflection.

I live in Germany, and vets in Germany don’t spay or neuter animals until they’re about a year old. I am in Italy right now, and I have seen many, many dogs who are still intact. Yes, there are animal shelters and rescue groups in Europe, but there isn’t the huge problem, at least in western Europe, of stray dogs that we have in the United States. And so, mindsets are different here. In Norway, spaying and neutering is not even allowed unless there is a medical reason to do it. Or, at least that was the rule until very recently. Norway is hardly a barbarian country. Of course, life is different there than it is in the U.S. People tend to be less selfish and more community minded, which I think is common across the continent. There are also fewer people and fewer pets as a whole. But anyway, my point is, the American viewpoint isn’t the only one worth considering. Sometimes, it does make sense to listen to other voices from different places.

But, just as face masks have become a political issue, so has the idea of getting an animal spayed or neutered… or not. And God forbid an American admit to wanting to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder, even if the breeder is “responsible” and knowledgable. Some Americans will judge people mercilessly for that, too. Again, in Europe, many people purchase dogs from breeders. There is nothing wrong with it. Of course, breeders in Europe tend to know what they are doing and have to show their competence. I know that’s not true in the United States. What I think is a shame, though, is that so many people feel that they have to force their views on other people, claiming that if someone’s opinion doesn’t follow the status quo, the opinion is “wrong”. Opinions are just that–opinions. Everybody has them, and it might do us some good to hear those other opinions sometimes.

I guess what really struck me about the comments on The Atlantic’s article is that so many of them were downright abusive. There was sarcasm aplenty, and just rude, uncalled for, uncivilized statements made that served no purpose whatsoever. It makes me think that most people are assholes. No wonder I’ve become such a recluse.

I do think it would be a good thing if people were allowed more flexibility as to when they get their animals neutered. I do think some animals shouldn’t be “fixed”, or they should have hormone sparing procedures, such as vasectomies or ovary sparing spays. But most of all, I think more people should take a deep breath before commenting to strangers online. The world is an ugly enough place right now. There’s no need to add to the nastiness, which usually won’t be responded to constructively, anyway. There are good reasons why some people would rather wait before they get their pets snipped. It’s time more people got out of the rigid thinking about this subject, and others, and considered other perspectives and viewpoints. Maybe they might learn something new.

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Bill, family, love, marriage

Few people manage to “come see the softer side of me…”

Some years ago, before its recent financial woes, the retail store Sears had a catchy jingle that went, “Come see the softer side of Sears.” It was about how the store, known for its hardware, heavy mechanical goods, and power tools, also sold things like fuzzy sweaters and silky nightgowns. Potential customers were invited to “come see the softer side” of the retailer and maybe go home having bought new sheets or a fluffy bathrobe.

It’s not lost on me that, especially online, sometimes I come off as a really cantankerous person. There are a number of reasons why I’m like this. A lot has to do with my own personal baggage and traumas from my childhood. A lot of those damages were caused by my family of origin. Some were caused by people outside of the family. I’m not necessarily trying to blame anyone for this, by the way. I think everybody has the potential to unintentionally damage other people. We all have baggage, don’t we? Sometimes, that baggage causes pain to others.

For instance, I know that my father wasn’t an evil man. Most people who knew him would never think that about him. He was outwardly a very nice guy– at least to those who didn’t have to live with him. They saw him as a “peach”– soft, sweet, and fuzzy on the outside. But the truth is, he had a lot of personal problems that were brought on by his own upbringing and situations he was forced to face in his lifetime. Like, for example, his time in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. He went over there and came home with PTSD. But he was also the eldest son of a violent alcoholic who was abusive. He never dealt with that issue adequately, so he passed that crap along to others. I was one of the recipients of his crap, and sometimes I pass it along in the form of being cranky online.

I don’t necessarily blame my grandfather for my dad’s crap. Like my father, my grandfather wasn’t an evil man. But he did have problems, and sometimes his problems became problems for other people. I know that my grandfather caused his family significant pain. I also know that he was a very funny man, and according to my Granny, he was a very kind person… when he wasn’t drinking. He was, in part, a product of his environment, just like we all are. He didn’t come of age in an enlightened time. I’m sure our strong Celtic heritage didn’t help matters much.

So anyway, this morning, I noticed that one of my sisters went on Facebook last night. She is a “friend”, but she almost never visits Facebook, and comments and “likes” by her are even rarer than that. I was surprised and amused to see comments and reactions by my sister. Then I looked at my Facebook feed and realized that an average person looking at it might come away with the idea that I’m kind of a bitch. I mean, seriously… it’s like looking at The Atlantic’s feed, which lately mostly consists of “doom porn”. A lot of my status updates are cranky. My blog posts, which I share on my personal page, often have cranky titles. I often share “bad news”. On the other hand, I do try to share “cute” stuff, too… like funny animal videos. But, by and large, my feed is kind of pessimistic and crotchety.

While we were eating breakfast, I looked over at Bill and said, as objectively as I could muster, “I see that Becky has left me a few comments and reactions. Looking at my my latest posts, I must come off as kind of a bitch.”

And Bill deadpanned, “I don’t think that’s ALWAYS true…”

I had a good laugh at that, and took a picture of Bill, who laughed with me. He knows I’m not always as cranky as I seem. Over our twenty years together, he’s had long talks with me. He’s seen me cry when I listen to especially beautiful or moving music. He’s heard me laugh when he says something funny, which is pretty often. I am easily amused, so offline I laugh a lot, even if I seem like a crab to people who have never met me in person. He’s heard me say loving things to him, and especially our dogs, who accept us the way we are. He knows that there’s a lot more beneath my prickly, bristly exterior. I can be kind and generous and very soft and emotional. But if you don’t actually know me, you might never see that side. Instead, I sometimes look like a jerk to other people. I’m kind of hard, rough, and coarse… kind of like a coconut. But beneath the shell is sweetness.

Bill has a good laugh with me after his observation that I’m not ALWAYS a bitch… Actually, he would never call me a bitch. Compared to Ex, I am an angel.

Maybe it’s not always a bad thing to look like a jerk, though. It’s kind of a defense mechanism, isn’t it? If I manage to turn someone off before they ever get to know me, maybe they aren’t actually worthy of knowing that softer side of my personality. It’s said that real friends are true rarities. Most people want to know you when you’re doing okay. It’s the ones that hang around when things are bad– and don’t have any ulterior motives for hanging around– that are real friends. I mean, a person could be dying of a terrible disease. If they are very wealthy or they have something of value to others, maybe others would hang around in hopes of being named in a will or something. But it’s the people who care for those who can’t give them anything that are real friends. In my experience, those types of people can indeed be rare.

So, when someone is good to me even when I’m feeling cranky or irritable, I pay attention. I give double points to those who make me laugh when I’m feeling like that. And I give triple points to people who don’t mind my many idiosyncrasies. For instance, yesterday I was trying (and failing) to finish my latest jigsaw puzzle, while listening to my HomePod. A karaoke version of the song “Hello Young Lovers” came on. I like that song, so I joined in… Bill complimented my “performance”.

I said, “Thank you. You are a very tolerant man.”

And Bill said, “And you are very talented woman. It would be different if my ex tried it.” Then he gave me a grin, Stanley Roper style.

Bwahahahaha… I’m a Three’s Company super fan.
Kinda like Stanley…

To put this into context, Ex once serenaded Bill with her version of Juice Newton’s 80s era song, “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”. Because he’s a very good man, he listened to it with a straight face. For all I know, it really was a sweet moment between them. Ex reportedly wanted to study music, but was told she needed lessons before she could major in music at a local college. But now, Bill can’t bear to listen to “The Sweetest Thing” anymore. Ex actually ruined a lot of songs for Bill. Some of them are good songs, too. Like, he doesn’t like “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because Ex used it in one of her object lessons. And he doesn’t like “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams for the same reason. For the longest time, he didn’t want me to play Kenny Loggins’ children’s album, Return to Pooh Corner, because of Ex. Ditto to anything by Sesame Street or The Muppets. But he doesn’t mind when I burst into random song… or when I redo songs, replacing their words with silly, profane, or disgusting lyrics. At least when I sing, I do it with feeling and on key. 😉

Bill has proven to me time and again that he’s a real friend. So he gets to see the softer side of me whenever he wants. Or, at least he sees it after I’ve calmed down and had some dip.

The coconut vs. peach idea isn’t one I came up with. I’ve often heard certain cultures described that way. A lot of people think of certain southerners like peaches. They’re sweet, juicy, fuzzy, and warm on the outside. But beneath that sweetness, there’s a stone pit of a heart in some people. Those sweet “honey lippin'” types who are nice to people’s faces can sometimes be, deep down, hardhearted people who would disown their own family members for being gay or marrying someone who isn’t the same religion or race. And some people think of people from New York City as being more like coconuts. They’re gruff, cold, and hard on the exterior… but when something really terrible happens, they are compassionate and kind. Of course, neither of these stereotypes always apply to every situation. Some people from up north are mean. And some southerners are extremely kind and loving. But you get the idea, I hope…

Toodles!

Anyway, Mr. Bill wants to go to Wiesbaden and get a Swiss “vignette” for our car. We need one because we will be passing through Switzerland on our vacation, which starts next weekend. So I will close today’s post and get on with the day. I hope you all have a good Saturday. I’m really not as irritable as I seem… and contrary to some people’s opinions, I can be quite introspective. I just have some baggage full of peaches and coconuts.

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family, lessons learned, love, modern problems, sex, slut shamers, social media

Kids don’t owe their parents anything… do they?

This morning’s post comes courtesy of a recycled article on The Atlantic’s Web site. Therapist Lori Gottlieb, who once wrote a very entertaining book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa, has an advice column. Because I read her book about anorexia, and because I’m a sucker for advice columns, I read Lori Gottlieb’s advice somewhat often. The article I’m writing about today has appeared several times on Facebook, as The Atlantic has an annoying habit of recycling its content, even when it’s woefully outdated, as it often is during the COVID era.

The Atlantic also attracts a lot of obnoxious commenters, one of whom is prompting me to write today. I ran into one of them after reading the 2019 era letter Gottlieb responded to in June of that year. Have a look at this letter from Lynne, of Oakland, California.

Dear Therapist,

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Lori Gottlieb points out that perhaps Lynne’s daughter hasn’t thought long enough about why the baby girl she gave up in 1994 might not want to meet her birth mother. Gottlieb reminds her that children who are given up for adoption don’t have a choice in the matter; those life altering decisions are made for them by adults. They also don’t have any say in who gets to adopt them. Sometimes the adoptive families turn out to be wonderful people. And sadly, sometimes adoptive families are abusive or worse.

When those adopted children become adults themselves, they must have the right to make decisions for themselves. Self-determination is something that all kids should grow up to expect for themselves. It’s probably even more important for adopted children, who often have to listen to other people opine about how they should handle their experiences with being adopted. Sometimes, people tell them they should find their birth families. Other times, they are told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, since that will presumably be “hurtful” to the adoptive parents. I wasn’t adopted myself, but I do know several adoptees. I’ve learned that every story is unique. Most of the adopted people I know have found their birth families and satisfied their curiosity about what led to their being given up for another family to raise. But I know there are some adoptees who would rather not know any family other than the one that raised them. That should be okay. They don’t owe their birth families anything.

But really, if you think about it, that should be true for all children. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. They had no choice about being born. While it may be very hurtful for parents to understand this, not everyone is happy to be alive. I know there have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve wished my mom hadn’t had me. It’s not so much because I’ve had a terrible life. In my case, it’s because depression is a constant companion that has left me feeling worthless, no matter what I do. When I was a child, I was told that I was neither wanted nor expected. I was frequently told I was an inconvenience, as if it was my fault my parents made me. I know that my parents came to appreciate me, but I was told enough times that I was a pain in their asses that it made me feel very rejected. And that has made me wish abortion had been an option for my mother and she would have considered it, even though I know some people are glad I’m around. Of course, I doubt my mom would have had an abortion, even though I “crashed her party” and made her life more complicated. Many people don’t realize it, but treating kids like they aren’t loved or wanted is often how personality disorders and neuroses are born.

Adopted children probably have a different kind of trauma inflicted on them. I think of the super toxic line in the campy 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, reminds her daughter, Christina, that adopted children are the “luckiest”, because they were “chosen”. Then, Joan makes Christina give up her birthday gifts to all of the “poor orphans” who don’t have parents. Meanwhile, a lot of them wonder why they were given up. What were the circumstances? Was it a case of a teenaged mom who couldn’t afford a child to raise? A sad situation involving parents who were killed in a freak accident? Or was it a more sinister situation involving extramarital affairs, rape, or incest? I can understand why some adopted children might not want to know. Or maybe some of them are simply not looking for the baggage that can come with discovering one’s origins.

How lucky was Christina Crawford?
Narcissism is not a family value.

So… while I can understand why Lynne is distressed that her daughter’s biological daughter doesn’t want to meet with her bio mother, I can also see why the now adult child isn’t interested. I agree that Lynne and her daughter should respect the young woman’s wishes. There may come a day when she changes her mind, but Lynne and her daughter should probably resign themselves to the idea that she might not come around. Sometimes this also happens to bio parents who didn’t give their children up for adoption. My husband’s older daughter hasn’t spoken to him since 2004. It’s been the source of tremendous pain for him. Frankly, I think older daughter is very stupid for throwing away her father, who is a kind and decent man. But it’s her life, and when it comes down to it, she doesn’t owe him anything. And since she’s a grown woman now, he doesn’t owe her anything, either.

As is my habit, I looked at the comments left on the Facebook post for this article. Naturally, some of them were terrible. Reading one of them made me realize that people who give up babies for adoption are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. A number of people felt that the bio grandmother and mother had a lot of “nerve”, expecting to meet the now grown bio daughter. It seems that many people lose sight of what a tremendously painful decision giving a baby up for adoption is for many birth mothers. Does it not occur to them that the birth mom might wonder about her long, lost offspring? Do they forget that a lot of women would prefer to have an abortion rather than give up their baby? As awful as abortion may seem to the pro-life crowd, a lot of people who unintentionally get pregnant would rather not have to wonder about where the baby is and how the baby is doing. Being pregnant is a burden that has the potential to be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

But there was one commenter who was especially horrible. In case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not the original poster. I just noticed how “Richard”, who really should go by the name, “Dick”, was taking her on in an abusive way.

Why does “Richard”, who claims to have voted for Jill Stein, have this idea that “women can’t control themselves”? While it’s definitely possible for women to be sex offenders, it’s mostly men in that contemptible role of not being in control. It’s a fact that sometimes women do get pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Generally speaking, it’s not the women who are out of control. When a woman does get pregnant and keeps the pregnancy, she’s not going to get pregnant again until those nine months are up. But the men who are out there fertilizing those fertile wombs can theoretically get hundreds of women pregnant every year. So I really think Richard should STFU… but I also wonder where he got such a hateful attitude. It sounds to me like he had an unhappy childhood or something. Or maybe he has an unhappy adulthood. I wonder how much fucking he’s doing. However much it is, he’s probably doing it alone. That would account for his mean spirited comments.

One other thing I notice from the above exchange is that both people seem to be hurting. Why else would their responses be so vitriolic? And why do people feel the need to get into fights with strangers in comment sections? Is Richard really as big of a dick as he seems to be? Why is he “slut shaming”? Makes me think that there’s a woman in his life who made him pay for something he doesn’t think he should have to pay for.

I think Lynne’s daughter can take some solace in knowing that she made a couple happy when she gave up her daughter for them to raise. That was ultimately a selfless decision, in spite of the many comments people are leaving that indicate that she was “selfish” for not raising the girl herself. The alternative could have been for her to have an abortion. Of course, personally, I happen to agree with “Richard” that people shouldn’t have casual sex if they aren’t prepared to be parents, even if I think his actual comments are extremely rude and insulting. But that’s just me, and that’s what worked for me.

Sometimes I do regret that I never had children, but then I realize that I would have wanted Bill to be the father of my children. I didn’t meet him until after he’d had a vasectomy at his ex wife’s behest, so pregnancy wasn’t destined to happen without significant medical intervention and expense. When the timing was optimal for an intervention, life got in the way. Bill went to Iraq, and we had significant debt. I have never wanted to adopt a child, and one of the reasons I haven’t wanted to adopt is because of the very special problems and issues that often come up due to adoption. But again, that’s just me. I understand why some people think adoption is wonderful. I don’t think they’re wrong; it just wasn’t for me. Neither was medical intervention to get pregnant. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me that motherhood isn’t for me.

My heart goes out to Lynne’s daughter. Not just because she wants to meet her now grown bio daughter, but because so many people apparently think she was terrible to give the baby up for adoption in the first place. It’s the same kind of disdainful attitude people have toward sperm donors– guys who give up their sperm so that people can have birth families. I have often pointed out that I don’t agree with labeling irresponsible fathers as “sperm donors”. Actual sperm donors provide a valuable service for which they are paid. Guys who knock up women and leave them high and dry are not in the same category. And women who decide to give up their babies instead of aborting them presumably offer something of value to other people. They should be treated with compassion, instead of contempt. Giving up a baby is not an easy or painless decision for most people. At the same time, I agree that the birth daughter doesn’t owe her bio mom anything. But then, that’s really true for every child, when it comes down to it. That feeling of obligation toward one’s parent is a construct of civilization, not a biological one.

I hope Lynne and her daughter find peace and comfort.

Here’s a link to Stick Figure, the book by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you make a purchase through this link, I get a small commission from Amazon.

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