About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting My Goat; Having a Cow

A lot has been on my mind this week, much of it related to comments on my last blog, or to a conversation with a friend (in person) about the blog prior to that. I'm going to address each here. As such, this is a meandering thought piece. It's a blog, people, not an editorial. :)

My last blog ("Points of View") prompted a few responses -- most of them positive, but one of them from somebody who took some offense at what she interpreted was my doing nothing more than complaining about the predicament of parents needing childcare for those noisome half-days, no school days, furlough days, etc. In her response, she said two things (in particular) that really got my goat:

1) "Your friend may not be a parent, but as a teacher, has more experience with children than you do."
2) "When I became a parent, I accepted the reality that I was giving up any and all free time." This commentator then went on to say that she's sick of parents expecting the schools to raise their kids...

OK, so you probably do not have to have read my blog, or even know me in the least, to guess why those two statements might get under my skin. Let's examine each, shall we?

First, my blog was never about whether parents or teachers have more experience with children. Honestly, I don't have to say more than that. I could go into details about my background, however. For instance, I could tell her that I was RAISED in a house where a parent did in-home daycare; I've babysat more than any human being I know; I've taught Sunday School, Children's Choirs, and Church Youth Groups; I've been a godparent since I was 19; I studied Human Development in college and worked in a rehab center for disabled kids; I stayed home with my kids (using only part-time daycare) for over a decade; I even considered elementary school teaching as a career and was in an M.Ed. program for awhile before deciding it wasn't the career for me; I've struggled with a kid who has a mild disability and have worked with IEP committees, therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, vision therapists, and tutors, among other specialists. I've even chosen a career that IS part-time (I said as much in the blog). But, saying all that makes me appear just a wee bit defensive, and in no way says anything about the considerable experience with kids that my friend also has as a teacher.

The POINT IS that comment was nothing more than a gratuitous low blow, completely irrelevant to the issue I had written about and it assumed a whole lot about me that she had no way of knowing was accurate. Bugged the hell out of me.

The second comment: does parenting really mean that parents give up all free time? Hmmm...boy, that is NOT the paradigm of parenthood that I've EVER worked with. In fact, I think it's terribly important that kids know that their parents' lives do NOT always revolve around them. I think it's important for kids to see that their parents enjoy their jobs (or at least feel very committed to them). I think it's important that parents have hobbies, friends, and interests that don't involve the kids. I'm all for saying, "I'm busy now, please go find something to do." My mother used to refer to proper parenting as involving (her words) "some benign neglect". We could debate the proper amounts of such neglect -- the point is, parents have lives separate from their children's, or at least that's the paradigm of parenthood I'm working with. After reading the comment on the blog, however, it makes me wonder if there's a dramatically different paradigm of parenthood that is assumed by the schools and/or some or most teachers. Is there? It would help if I knew that up front.

But, how does benign neglect -- or the opposite, no free time for parents whatsoever -- relate to the need for parents to have affordable and easy-to-access care for kids (particularly older kids) on no school days? I think, in my commentator's mind, parents aren't SUPPOSED to have free time -- or, apparently, a job that conflicts with kids' school schedules. Such parents would not "complain" about the no school days, because if they did, it must indicate that they expect the schools to "raise their kids." For the record, I've never heard a parent say that they expect that -- or even WANT that. But I've heard many parents express frustration over what schools appear to expect from parents in terms of job flexibility.

Enough on that blog. The previous blog (about the dairy industry, rumors and the internet) has also been on my mind. I had dinner the other night with a friend who was raised on a dairy farm. I asked him about his knowledge about cows. I learned a few things about cows, and these facts raise some interesting issues concerning our responsibility toward cows, regardless of whether or not we choose to consume dairy or beef.

1. Holsteins have been bred for the QUANTITY of their milk. By their nature, they are big milk producers, and since farmers keep careful records, they keep breeding the "good producers" such that now, the average Holstein produces enough milk a day to feed something like eight calves. All of Jon and Kate's kids, fed exclusively from Kate.

Now that you have that image in your mind...

2. Jerseys have been bred for the QUALITY of their milk. By their nature, they produce very rich milk. Over time, they have been bred in such a way that their milk is actually TOO RICH FOR THEIR OWN CALVES. How sick is this: a Jersey calf will die if it nurses from its own mother; the milk is literally too rich for it. So, to keep a Jersey calf alive, a farmer has to milk the mother, mix the milk with water, and then feed it to the calf.

I find that fact sickening, but no more than the well-publicized fact that most turkeys no longer know how to reproduce because farmers have been doing it for them for so long. Yes, you read that right. Turkeys no longer know how to have turkey sex. Don't you feel sorry for them? I do.

Seriously, these two facts about Holsteins and Jerseys make me consider the issue that's been nagging me for several months: EVEN IF PEOPLE STOP EATING MEAT AND DAIRY, most farm animals still depend on people for survival. It's part of the reality of being a domesticated animal. The cows NEED TO BE MILKED. Or, in the case of the Jerseys, the calves need to be hand-fed. So, what is the logical thing that vegans -- who care so much about animals, the environment and health -- should advocate be done with cows? If we don't milk them, they'll suffer (ever had mastitis?) and could die from infection. If we don't feed their calves, the calves will die. It's naive and terribly uninformed to think that the cows could all just be put out to pasture. What stand, logically, should vegans take on taking care of cows (or turkeys or goats or hens or other domesticated animals)?

I don't know the answer; I just know that human greed for milk has created animals that now depend on us for survival. Cows need us for their survival, even if, in reality, we need neither their milk, their meat, nor their hides for ours. Poor cows.

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