Since Elinor’s birth, I’ve been reading like a maniac, which I love. I read while I nurse, mostly, which is often. When Elinor is finicky and doesn’t want to nurse, I sometimes miss my reading time. But that’s OK.

BUT I just finished a book and it has me all riled up: _Born to Love_ by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. My Goodreads.com review:

“I have a bias toward things that deal with empathy — it’s a very Christian (and generally religious) concept, and I stand by it. This book was great b/c it approaches empathy from a scientific perspective, using biological, sociological, economic, medical, and psychological studies to state that 1) empathy is biologically rooted in our bodies through our stress response (or the mediation of that response) and 2) that empathy must be triggered by our social relationships, most often in early childhood. There is much more to this book, but it is a quick, easy read and it kept making me harangue Chad about all of the interesting, great, and terrifying facts and theories that it brought up. Especially useful for a young parent like myself, but also for anyone who gives a damn. I would compare this to _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell, though it was much more research- and experience-based (Perry is a renowned child psychologist). Highly recommended and it makes me want to work to change the world for better. Huzzah!”

Anyway, I was indeed haranguing Chad about the book, and three things really got to me. I will go in order from least important to me at this time, to most important.

1) Part of the reason I love our neighborhood is because it really is in a zone where a bunch of different classes could interact. We are solidly middle class, but down the block are some skeezy apartments and down the other way are some bona fide mansions. [NB – skeezy is a made-up word for my lower-income neighbors, while bona fide is a fancy foreign word — ohhh, language!] _Born for Love_ advocates more social interaction in our lives, period, as that triggers and allows for empathy. But the authors also stress more social interactions with people not “like” us, be that due to race, economics, political leanings, etc. They advocate this because, though we do biologically benefit from our tendency towards being empathic, we also rely upon our dear old “us versus them” tendency, as well. The more we interact with others who seem to be “them,” the less they will seem like “them” and the more they will seem like “us.” I’ve seen the need for this in the kids I teach, and I see it in my own life. I wish that there were more options for the folks in our neighborhood to interact more.

1b) The polarization of our political scene stems from this, as well. I hang out with more Republicans than most of my fellow Liberal friends, just because of my family ties, but the more we did associate with people from the other party, the less we might be at each other’s throats, which seems to be very important for this country right now …..

Which leads me to:

2) I went to grad school for teaching because of the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) schools, which are charter schools (run by small groups for a purpose, run with public funds, accountable to their own charter, but not to much else). All through grad school I advocated for Choice in schools, which would mean that students have the ability to choose from more schools based upon specific ideas, like ELOB, or Math & Science, or the Arts, instead of just attending their neighborhood school. I thought this was a good idea since people seem to benefit from choice in their lives and control.

But then I taught in a public school, which also happened to be one of the worst public schools in our state. And now Choice to me is scary. Not only does it allow us to self-select into our own safe little groups, but it takes away chances for us to interact with those unlike us. This could easily lead to less empathy, according to Bruce and Szalavitz. And I agree with them. My school’s neighborhood was being gentrified and is probably at least 40% white, but our school, the local neighborhood school, is 95% minority. All of the white families have “choiced” their kids out of the local neighborhood school, which is the modern-day, politically correct equivalent of white flight, in my mind. Have it both ways — live in the city, but benefit from upper-middle-class education since you have the time, resources, and know-how to work the system and get your kid out of there, while the parents who lack the know-how, the transportation to get their kids to other schools, or the ability to even care about their kids’ education, send them to our school, which becomes, quite thoroughly, segregated by class, which so often correlates to race. Choice is segregating our schools by necessity and correlation. No wonder kids are lacking empathy.

I could (and should) say much more about this. Someday. It is complicated greatly in my own life by our own neighborhood, because Choice is an option here and our local elementary school is, truly, the worst elementary school in our district b/c parents like me choice their kids out of it. And Chad’s former boss was eloquent: “I don’t vote with my kids.” I do want to ensure Elinor has a great education. But I also want her to be empathic and exposed to different lives, and I worry about losing that if I choice her outta here. I am torn. And she is only five months old!

Which leads me to:

3) Chad began work at the high-falutin’ law firm this past week, and I was torn apart about it. He’s already working his ass off for me and Elinor, which allows me to stay home with her. I have been incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and staying home with Elinor is not all creamcakes and lollipops — it IS work. But it is work that I am privileged to enjoy. But, needless to say, I was feeling guilty about being able to stay home with her. Most of my friends cannot afford to do so, and I worry whether it make me less committed to my career and the rest of the world to do so. Since I worry so rarely about anything …..

This book actually made me more comfortable with the choice to stay home with Elinor, especially this first year. Empathy is triggered, according to the authors and their impressively noted studies, by consistent attachment to a primary caregiver, be that person a mom, dad, grandparent, or daycare provider, especially during the first year of life. But all babies benefit from as much individual attention as they can get, as their stress responses will be appropriately managed and empathy developed with that consistency and reassurance. I really, really wish I lived in Iceland, where all parents receive NINE MONTHS of parental leave, at 80% of their salaries, to be split however they wish between parents. (Chad: “You really are becoming a little socialist, aren’t you?” And YES — care for new mothers and babies in our capitalist society SUCKS. My school would not be in its current straits if we provided for those kids from the start.) But I live here, where the reality is that either Chad works so I can stay home with her, or we search for day care and spend most of my salary on it. I am really, really glad that I get to stay home with her, and hopefully I don’t stress her out too much.

Whew. I highly recommend this book. I love it when books get me all riled up, staying up late into the night typing up rants on my blog.

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