“Whoever’s in charge up there had better take the elevator down and put more than change in our cup…”

Aside

I learned about the filibuster in the Texas state senate late Tuesday afternoon. I was generally aware of the abortion bill making its way through the Texas legislature.  I had the impression that it was largely similar to bills that have passed in many states where the Republicans held both executive and legislative control.  These bills, firstly, try to ban abortion outright after some arbitrary point in gestation, usually 20ish weeks.  They also impose onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions in the name of “protecting women’s health” which are really intended to create insurmountable obstacles for women seeking abortions to do so in a timely fashion, as well as forcing smaller clinics to close due to the financial impossibility of meeting the new requirements.

Texas has already passed plenty of obnoxious anti-abortion bills, including one that requires mandatory sonograms — the one thing that gets me more tiled up than anything else that shows up regularly in this type of legislation.  Given that most abortions will be performed early in the first trimester, before a heartbeat is detectable by an abdominal ultrasound, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound.  and yes, transvaginal ultrasounds are exactly what they sound like, even if the people legislating them refuse to say the word or hear the word.  So essentially the state is forcing doctors, against their will, to perform acts of penetrative sexual assault on women.  I know I’ve digressed a bit here, but seriously, I could write a whole post on how angry I get about mandatory ultrasound laws and the condescending arguments legislators have the gall to make in their defense.  But I won’t.  I’ll talk more about what was being proposed in Texas the other night.

The bill in question was called Senate Bill 5, or #SB5 if you wanna tweet about it.  SB5, a version of which had already passed through the Texas House of Representatives, would:

  • Outlaw all abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization, with no exception for rape or incest victims
  • Require all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of where they practice.
  • Require women to have TWO in-person visits to a doctor before she gets an abortion
  • Require every abortion provider to be licensed as an ambulatory surgery center, at a cost of approximately $1 million per clinic, effectively guaranteeing the closure of all but 5 clinics in the state, clinics that provide many services above and beyond abortion.  That would leave vast swaths of the second largest state in the nation not only far removed from any abortion services, but much harder up for other health care, like pap smears, mammograms and contraception.

(verbiage taken mainly from the rundown on this site)

This bill would make it virtually impossible for the majority of Texas women to exercise what the Supreme Court ruled 40 years ago was a constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion.  This was the bill that finally sent Senator Wendy Davis into filibuster mode.  Wendy Davis, who was once a teen mom living in a trailer park who worked her way up to Harvard Law.  Wendy Davis, whose district was almost gerrymandered such that she would surely lose her seat but was saved by the oversight imposed by Sections 4 & 5 of the Voting Rights Act — sections that were essentially deemed void by the Supreme Court the same morning that SB5 was set to pass the Texas State Senate.  Mere hours after the Supreme Court decision came down in Shelby County v. Holder, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the ruling would allow him to institute the redistricting maps in question. This was Wendy Davis’s last stand, and, as many reporters were quick to note, she was making it in a pair of very sassy shoes, looking like Tami Taylor.  Hi y’all!  Someone call Connie Britton; her Oscar winning role is waiting for her!

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When I first heard about the filibuster, I decided I wasn’t going to watch it or follow it on Twitter.  I had gotten exactly, no lie, 45 minutes of sleep the night before; I was home with my kids; and I just didn’t have the emotional strength needed to deal with what I was sure would be a crushing defeat.  Her first “strike” was for being off topic, but her second was for receiving assistance from a fellow senator in putting on a back brace.  (Side note here: apparently Senator Ellis wasn’t allowed to help Davis put on a back brace, but during the longest filibuster in Texas history, Republican senators brought their colleague a trashcan and then formed a human circle around him so he could take a dump in private.  OK. Sure.) I was positive the third strike would be for some infuriating momentary lapse.  She would shift her weight enough that her hip would rest momentarily on a desk, say.  Or she would sneeze really hard and put her hand out reflexively to steady herself because she was exhausted and dizzy.  Something stupid.  Basically the floor of the Texas senate had become one giant game of Operation and Wendy Davis was a shaky pair of tweezers.

But as time ticked by I grew more and more intrigued by this lady who never leaned, who never sneezed, who never did anything but adjust her glasses slightly as she flipped through pages and pages of material — first person stories of abortions that had been submitted on her website, descriptions of the procedures in question, and finally, after I eventually realized that something epic was under way, that this woman was in it to win it, after the kids had gone to bed and I was flipping back and forth on my phone between Facebook, Twitter, and the Texas Tribune live camera…finally, she began to talk about how the different restrictions on abortion would combine together to create a circumstance that took far too much time and money for almost any woman to overcome.

At 9:38 CT, I posted on Facebook, almost delirious with excitement and anticipation:

I was in labor with D for 20 hours.  My sister was in labor for 40 with her son.  Underestimate the strength and stamina of women at your own peril.  We are made of sinew, bone, and steel.  10.5 hours down. 2.5 hours to go.  Stand.  With.  Wendy.

Shortly after that, the sound on the live feed was cut.

*

I didn’t see what happened immediately before the sound went out; I turned the live feed back on after a short break and it was already silent.  Having read earlier that no sound meant there was some sort of off-the-record debate happening, I scour the #sb5 tag on Twitter to try and discern what they are talking about.  Apparently a Republican senator had tried to call a third strike, claimed that something Senator Davis had said was “not germane” to the bill as is stipulated by the filibuster rules.  Someone tweets that she’d mentioned RU-486 and been deemed off topic.  I scoff. No way could anyone with half a brain say that discussions of abortions aren’t germane to a bill about abortions.  Next someone says that she was called out for discussing the sonogram bill that had already passed last year.  Again, totally germane.  You tell women they have to do two visits and a sonogram and the only clinics available to them are hundreds of miles from home, that clearly adds up to an undue burden.  No way could they shut her down for that.  No way.  No way.

Facebook 10:06 pm:

THAT IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS.  THAT IS FUCKING…THOSE DISINGENUOUS MOTHERFUCKERS.

 

(Sometimes, when I’m mad, I use long words like “disingenuous”.  Sometimes, when I’m REEEEEEEALLY mad, I use even longer words like “motherfuckers”.)

They were never going to let this happen.  That much is clear now.  They were always planning to torture this woman, to make her waste her time and energy in a task that they would find a way to thwart in the end anyway. Hm.  Sounds surprisingly similar to how they approach another relevant issue, affecting not just one women but all women.  But THIS one woman, this woman that they had planned to crush all along, keeps standing as Twitter and Facebook erupts along with the crowd watching from above in the senate gallery.

And then, as Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst banged the gavel to silence the boos and the “shame!”s and one absolutely livid cry of “BULLSHIT!” a middle-aged white-haired man stands up, looking and sounding like he’s just apparated there from the set of “Inherit the Wind”, and says, “Parliamentary Inquiry: Is your decision appealable?” This terrifying wraith in a white wool suit at Dewhurst’s elbow whispers in his ear; he reluctantly answers that it is. Kirk Watson (D-Austin): “Point of Order: I move to overturn the motion and begin debate.”

Facebook 10:12 pm:

OH SHIT IS WHAT I THINK IS HAPPENING ACTUALLY ABOUT TO HAPPEN? Is this guy about to start debate on this motion and essentially start a new filibuster? Please tell me yes.  Please.  Please.

Reply from my super smart lawyer friend Abby 10:13 pm:

WATSON IS ON IT

Facebook 10:13 pm:

OH SHIT WHO CAN WE CAST AS WATSON IN THE MOVIE NOW?

Facebook 10:15 pm:

OH SNAP WHO IS THIS NEW LADY UP IN HERE MAKING HIM RE-EXPLAIN EVERYTHING? I suddenly love all the Democrats in the Texas state senate.

 

The new lady is Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who poses another “Parliamentary Inquiry”, this time to Senator Robert Duncan, who has taken over for the Lt. Governor on the dais: “Since I was not able to be here on the floor because of my father’s funeral (!!!), I ask that you tell me the three points of order so that I may understand even in the most basic way the debate about to begin.”

weekendupdate

Duncan rolls his eyes,  The scary elbow lady looks like she’s about to throttle someone.

My Super Smart Lawyer Friend Abby 10:19 pm

To whom can we submit ideas for stupid parliamentary order questions they can ask for the next 1.5 hours?

 

And then all hell breaks loose. Someone named Senator Estes moves to table Watson’s appeal.  Someone named Senator West claims Duncan was out of order for recognizing Estes. I can’t make heads or tails of any of it, so I get down to the brass tacks of fancasting Connie Britton’s Oscar-winning movie.

Facebook 10:24 pm

OK, Randy Jackson gets to cameo as Senator West.

Facebook 10:28 pm

Senator Estes will be played by the Slurm Monster from Futurama

 

Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) says they should take a break to review the parliamentary procedure that has gotten them to this point and see whether Estes should have been allowed to make a motion or whether Watson still had the floor.  “Just review the tape,” he says in a silky smooth baritone, gesturing with the slightest shrug.  “That’s all I’m asking.” I suddenly get a little hot under the collar and mentally recast the role of Senator West with Idris Elba. (THAT IS SERIOUSLY MY HIGHEST POSSIBLE COMPLIMENT SENATOR ROYCE WEST D-DALLAS JUST SO YOU KNOW IF YOU EVER READ THIS.)

The floor becomes a kerfuffle of incomprehensible “point of order” and “parliamentary inquiry” requests.

Facebook 10:30 pm

SIT DOWN SENATOR TANKERBELL YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. SENATOR WATSON HAS NOT YIELDED THE FLOOR.

 

I actually begin to fear that scary elbow lady might start shooting death rays out of her eyes to pick off cranky Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), who is clearly attempting to debate the ruling on “germaneness” and “aid” technicalities even though she’s claiming she simply has a “parliamentary inquiry”.  Duncan finally puts his foot down and orders Watson to give his closing statement.  Watson, speaking as slooooowly as possible, basically starts in with an abortion-themed “I’m just a simple country lawyer” monologue.  I give up.  There’s no way they’ll be able to drag this out.  I turn off the feed.

But I can’t stay away.  Despite my lack of sleep, I am somehow hyper-awake.  Ten minutes before midnight, I turn my phone back on, and everyone on Twitter is going apeshit over something Senator Van de Putte has said.

 

“Did the President hear me or did the President hear me and refuse to recognize me?” state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte asked.

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” she asked as the chamber erupted in cheers. (Huffington Post)

I turn on the live feed.  The room is in chaos.  Senators and staffers are wandering around, looking bewildered.  The crowd in the gallery is screaming so loud no one knows what’s going on.  They are drowning out Dewhurst’s attempt to hold a roll-call vote, and it’s one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.  The leadership finally trued to gather everyone into a scrum to vote, but it’s too late.

Facebook 12:00 am

NO VOTE NO VOTE MY PHONE SAYS MIDNIGHT

 

On the floor, in the middle of the huddled legislators, Senator West thrusts his phone into the air, looks up into the crowing gallery, and shouts, “It’s midnight! It’s midnight!”

Facebook 12:02 am

RANDY JACKSON’S IPHONE SAYS IT’S MIDNIGHT TOO

 

Suddenly you can distantly hear names being called and responded to.

My Super Smart Lawyer Friend Abby 12:02 am

they are voting. they are voting.

*

In the aftermath, some of the senators said they didn’t even know what they were voting on.  Was it the motion to end the filibuster? Was it the bill itself? The Republicans dutifully hollered “support!” and the Democrats who were close enough to hear shouted “oppose!” and Senator Van de Putte paced in agitation around the dais.  But we were all watching.  There were over 150K of us watching.  We’d seen with our own eyes that the vote came after midnight.  The senators began to leave the floor, the cameras were pushed back to the perimeter, the state troopers came to clear the gallery.

CBS News tweeted that the bill had passed.  Their source was an unnamed Republican legislator.

The people I follow on Twitter went absolutely nanners.  I was actually a little concerned that Wil Wheaton was going to have a stroke.

I retired to bed at that point, resigned to the idea of a lengthy court battle.  So I missed all the fun drama around 1 am when screenshots surfaced showing that the Texas legislature website originally logged the vote as happening on the 26th, until someone apparently manually changed it to 11:59 pm on the 25th.  I can only assume that SOMEONE raised serious hell about that backstage, because around 3 am it was changed back and Dewhurst grudgingly acknowledged that the vote had not happened within the time limits of the special session.

In the end, this was all mostly symbolic.  Clearly Governor Perry would just call another special session to pass the bill. But the Republicans in the senate were so determined to deny Wendy Davis even that small symbolic victory that they made an absolute mockery of the whole process.  They took what was already a parliamentary farce and decided that the rules they had been so determined to enforce all day with regards to Senator Davis didn’t apply to themselves.  (I would like to sidebar here for a moment and point you to a document that shows how this is not an isolated incident. It is called “The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion” and it seems more than germane to the topic at hand.)

I have read comments saying that the so-called “citizen’s filibuster” that happened in the last ten minutes of the session was less democracy in action and more the rioting of a mob.  But what really happened was a realization that this game was rigged from the start; that our democracy is filled with tricks and traps, like gerrymandering and filibustering and parliamentary rigamarole and court packing and straight-up fucking vote fraud.  These things are built into the system.  And a whole bunch of people, mostly women, sat in that gallery and watched their democratically elected representatives play a game that would directly affect their lives, their bodies, the lives and bodies of the people they love.  They watched people of principle make a stand on their behalf: Senator Van de Putte cared enough to leave her father’s funeral to come back to vote.  Senator West and Senator Ellis woke up that morning and basically heard the Supreme Court rule that there was no more racism in Texas; I’m guessing that might well have galvanized their resolve a bit.  And Senator Davis saw, in that very same ruling, the Supreme Court eviscerating any chance she had of re-election.  So she was going to stand. And Van de Putte, West, Watson, Ellis, Zaffirini: they were all going to stand with her.  And so were the people in that gallery, and so were the people in the rotunda, and so were Wil Wheaton and my Super Smart Lawyer Friend Abby and me and the thousands upon thousands of us glued to the live feed of a tiny local media company that had barely gotten any hits before this.

You can call it a mob.  But the only weapons any of us had were our feet (so we stood) and our voices (so we shouted).  And CBS and the AP were taking the word of the lieutenant governor that the bill passed, no questions asked. And CNN was literally talking about blueberry muffins.  Maybe even more people would stand and shout, if only we had a national news media that would ACTUALLY COVER NEWS.

There was a tweet from a Jill Biden parody account floating around that evening that said, “At 12:01 AM, CT, I predict Wendy Davis will give us the best mic drop the world has ever seen.” We were cheated out of a mic drop, but we got a phone thrust — those of us who were watching knew the exact moment a line had been crossed.  And we refused to let them cheat.

It will only be for a moment.  The bill will be back, and it will pass.

I don’t have a good ending for this post.

We stood with Wendy.

That’ll have to do for now.

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“There are things not in your book. There are paths outside this garden.”

My husband expressed some reservations about my recent posts about my daughter. He worries that someday D will be able to read this and will be hurt by things I have said. So I think I need to clarify the point I wanted to make. D is difficult to handle a lot of the time. So are all small children, but her particular set of clinical peculiarities makes her slightly more challenging than most. But I love her wholeheartedly, for who she is and always has been. The therapies D does are not an attempt to “cure” her. I understand why other parents of autistic children (or “children with autism”, as some parents prefer; I don’t, for reasons I hope will soon be made clear) choose a different path. It would be unfair for me, as someone who is able to have a relatively linear conversation with my daughter, to judge parents with non-verbal kids, or kids who had a distinct regression, for seeing autism as far more insidious than I do, and for thus taking a more aggressive approach to helping their children. Parents who try different diets, different vitamin supplements, even things like hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments — these things aren’t harmful, and if they help certain children make gains in social communication or reducing the frequency and duration of meltdowns, that’s awesome. We have dabbled in a few supplements, and I try to pay close attention to any dietary triggers D might have…but overall we have chosen a behavioral approach rather than a biomedical one, because I don’t see any evidence, in D’s case at least, that autism is a “disease” that needs curing.

We wanted to give D treatments that would help her adapt better to a world that isn’t made for people whose brains work the way hers does. We do a ton of play-based therapy, which, among other things, has helped her learn how to play in a way that looks familiar to other kids, so she doesn’t become isolated due to her more esoteric interests. We have done occupational therapy, to help her learn fine motor skills that are important both in academic/social environments and in self-care. We have done speech therapy that focused mainly on pragmatic speech, so that she would become more confident in her ability to express her own thoughts rather than recite scripts, and so she could begin to communicate in a reciprocal way with her family and her peers. All of those things simultaneously help her better regulate her moods, identify her emotions, and cope with frustration. She does a lot. Play is her work, and she works hard.

Many people would look at that paragraph and ask how we can possibly say we aren’t trying to change our child if we’re making her do all that. But the thing is, D herself, who she is and how she works and what she loves, is fundamental and unchangeable. And that fundamental, unchangeable part of her is inherently autistic. It’s not something that can be separated out and cured. She has been so clearly and entirely herself since the day she was born that it is impossible for me to imagine a D who is not autistic. We do these therapies as an early intervention so that she learns the skills she needs to integrate herself into society. But there is an even larger part of this equation that is about learning, as parents, how to nurture this particular “square peg”. Probably the best possible example of how these two aspects come together happened yesterday: We went strawberry picking.

*

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Almost exactly two years ago, I took D strawberry picking for the first time. She was two years and three months old. I was about 6 months pregnant, maybe 7. I had been looking at adorable pictures on various friends’ Facebook pages of their two-year-olds strawberry picking for the previous couple weeks, and I was totally psyched for this field trip. We were planning to meet some other kids there. We read Blueberries For Sal that morning, and D walked around the house throwing a variety of foodstuffs into a beach pail and announcing, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!” We were ready.

We got to the farm and almost immediately the whole thing started to collapse like a shoddy toothpick castle. D refused to pick any strawberries. She refused to even try any that I picked, declaring, and I quote, “Strawberries are yucky.”

“What are you even TALKING about, strawberries are yucky??” I spluttered. “You LOVE strawberries.”

She ignored me. I looked around, desperately, to see if any of my friends had arrived and missed me, wandered off to a separate patch. If only she could see other kids picking strawberries, I thought, she would see how much fun it could be. There was no one. At a farm 15 miles from our apartment, I had suddenly never felt more alone in my life.

D pulled heaping handfuls of soil from under the strawberry plants and let it float to the ground through her fingertips. I ignored her and merrily trilled, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!” through gritted teeth. Modeling behavior. Modeling behavior.

She jabbered in the nonsense language she often lapsed into as she sprinkled the dirt onto her head. “Honey, no,” I said, sternly.

“Honey, noooooo,” she repeated as she began to rip up the leaves of the strawberry plants.

“Seriously, I mean it. Do NOT rip the plants. NO.” And then she threw dirt over my head. As it settled on my eyelashes, I stood up, dusted myself off, and said, “OK. That’s it. We’re done.”

That’s when she ran.

D bolted at top speed through the rows of strawberry plants, crushing fruit beneath her sandals. I tried to chase her, with 25 pounds of extra pregnancy weight hanging off me, under the broiling summer sun, for just a moment, before I gave up. FUCK THIS, I thought to myself. I stomped as quickly as I could in petulant fury across the fields, screeching, “COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE GRAB HER BEFORE SHE HITS THE PARKING LOT??” at all the strawberry farm attendants who were staring, mouths agape, at the spectacle.

Someone did eventually stop her, and I actually managed to bring a partially-filled flat of berries up to the front of the field — I had picked enough that I felt obligated to pay. As we stood at the checkout stand, I held D’s wrist so tightly, I’m ashamed to say, that I’m pretty sure I bruised her, since she was trying to wrench herself, screaming bloody murder, out of my grasp to dart away again. I ran into a friend and her child in the parking lot, but I have literally no recollection of what we said to one another. All I remember is seeing red. Have you ever literally seen red? I think it happens when the rage in your brain pushes all the blood vessels in your eyeballs closer to the surface. That’s how science works, yes? My field of vision was the color of blood. It wasn’t the obstinance, or the destructiveness, or the wanton disregard for her personal safety. It was the unavoidable sensation that she had not even been on the same planet as I was. This was not a fun outing gone wrong. This was simply a set of perpendicular lines. D and I did not intersect, emotionally or functionally, at any point during that entire activity.

In the car I began to yell, but I couldn’t even come up with words to describe how I felt. I simply started wailing, huge heaving sobs. And in the backseat, D began to laugh hysterically. She didn’t realize I was crying. She thought I was laughing.

It was a real low point in our relationship, let’s just say. My friends eventually arrived at the farm long after we left. The pictures they posted on Facebook were adorable and made me want to stab myself in the chest.

Yesterday, I took D strawberry picking. Different farm, brother now extant, and accompanied by the same friends that we had crossed paths with in the parking lot two years ago. We walked up to the patch that the proprietors said would be most bountiful; I figured if D didn’t have to dig too deep to find good berries she might find the process more engaging. She picked about 5 berries, and very calmly said, “OK, I’m done.” I tried momentarily to cajole her back, but she said, “No thanks.” So I let her run off, because we’ve reached a point where I can now actually trust her to stop if I say stop…mostly. There were goats on the farm, and she wanted to pet the goats. It was understandable. I know she prefers fauna to flora, as a rule. I tried a bit harder to get her brother, who is about 6 months younger than she had been on that first outing, to participate in the activity at hand, but he just wanted to eat the berries I picked and tromp through the rows of a muddy cornfield. And then he joined his sister and her friend by the goats. There was also a young calf that they all loved. An older child pointed out that they could feed strawberries from a nearby patch to the animals, so D and her friend proceeded to do just that. My friend and I then moved our picking operation to the opposite side of the same patch. I literally met her halfway.

D is always going to be a little bit in her own world. But we, as a team, have come so far in two years that it makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst some days. My love for her is overflowing. I don’t want her to change who she is. I love who she is. I just wanted to find a way for us to meet halfway.

*

Recently, a boy named Alex Spourdalakis was brutally stabbed to death by his mother. He is only the most recent in a line of similar murders. As I said earlier, my experiences simply cannot compare to those of parents who have non-verbal, non-toilet-trained, violent and unpredictable autistic children. But this woman apparently, based on the support she received prior to the murder from Andrew Wakefield and the anti-vaccine activists from Age of Autism, subscribed to the idea that autism was this THING that afflicted her child, that had somehow stolen her real son from her, that needed to be cured at all costs. I’m willing to bet that at trial we’ll hear about things like chelation and bleach enemas, all these awful treatments that desperate parents try when it is too hard to accept that autism is part of who their child is, down to their very core. Behaviors can be changed, both on the part of the child and the parent. But Alex Spourdalakis was not a “child with autism”. He was an autistic child. And now he is dead. I know his mother was overwhelmed in a way that I couldn’t even presume to imagine. But I truly believe that the only way to keep more awful tragedies like Alex’s from happening is to fight for autism ACCEPTANCE rather than autism AWARENESS. Awareness is the first step. But it’s not enough. Alex Spourdalakis’ mother may have loved her son, but she never accepted him.

I love my daughter. I became aware that she is autistic; I accepted that she is autistic. And now I’m on the next stage, which is EMBRACING that my daughter is autistic, recognizing the challenges but still loving every inch of her. She works so hard, but she’s working to change and improve BEHAVIORS, not who she innately is. As a parent, I try to do the same…so we can continue to meet each other halfway.

I don’t have a problem with D reading this someday; I actually hope she does. Because I want her to know that despite any sadness and frustration I have as a parent, it doesn’t affect how I feel about her as my child. She’s the best. I can’t imagine having a different daughter. She’s the best.

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“I know you’re fed up, ladies, but keep ya head up.”

Would I like for there to be fewer abortions? Of course I would. But you know how you could reduce the number of abortions performed in this country? You could give comprehensive sex-ed to adolescents in schools, including ACCURATE information about contraception and the use/effectiveness thereof. You could require insurance companies to cover contraception as part of every health insurance plan. (We’re working on that one, but OH NOES GOD HATES SLUTS!) Or you could institute actual universal health care so that the potential cost of pregnancy and childbirth isn’t completely untenable without decent insurance coverage. (An abortion costs around $500; pregnancy and childbirth will run you $6000 IF you have zero complications. C-sections, the frequency of which continues to rise, can cost up to $25K!) You could also actually attempt to stimulate the damn economy so people have JOBS and can afford to feed and clothe children. You could create stronger penalties against domestic violence, or get rid of laws that discourage women from calling 911 in domestic abuse situations for fear of being arrested for being a public nuisance or deported for being in the country illegally. That would keep women safer and make it less likely for them to desperately need an abortion to prevent bringing a child into an abusive home. You could subsidize child care, extend unemployment benefits, make the tax code more progressive rather than more regressive. Basically every damn plank in the Democratic Party platform would create an environment where fewer women were stuck in situations where the prospect of having a child is unfathomable.

Or, you know, you could pass a bunch of laws that force doctors to lie to women, force doctors to sexually assault women, send women to Crisis Pregnancy Centers where they will be berated and shamed, close clinics and set time limits that leave women with no other choice to flee across state lines into the offices of butchers like Kermit Gosnell. That sounds like a good plan, guys. Thumbs up.

“When the wheels cease to spin, the walls and the fences will grow higher than redwood trees.”

Aside

I came across a post on Tumblr yesterday that was written by a preschool teacher and had gone somewhat viral. The list was great, overall. It had awesome points about respecting your children as autonomous individuals, talking to them with the presumption that they understand you, and not forcing them to do things without explaining why. As someone who has always spoken to my kids as if they understand me, even when they were newborns (because if you’re alone with a baby all day, if you don’t talk to them you’ll probably have a total breakdown), I liked a lot of what she had to say. But there was an item on the list that literally made my body go stiff. “Children will copy you, MODEL FOR THEM.” Suddenly I remembered why I don’t like lists of Things Parents Must Do. It’s because all they really do is make you feel like a failure if a) you are unable to do something on the list (breastfeed, cloth diaper, homemade baby food) or b) you do something on the list and it doesn’t work with your kid (basically anything involving getting your child to eat vegetables/sleep through the night/crap on the can/so on and so forth).

I know from firsthand experience that every list that positions itself as the definitive Way To Parent is going to be completely the WRONG way to parent some children. When this woman said, “Children will copy you, MODEL FOR THEM,” all I could think was, “Well, no.” I modeled for my child. I modeled my ass off. And she didn’t copy me. Because she’s autistic, and I didn’t know it, because autism doesn’t look like what I thought it looked like, even though I considered myself knowledgeable about the topic. I was not. I remember multiple conversations I had with a good friend of mine whose son had a pretty severe speech delay where I said, “Well at least you know he’s not AUTISTIC. He’s so affectionate!” My daughter was perfectly affectionate. And she talked. Talked and talked and talked. Although she’s never had this as part of her official diagnosis, she would seem to fit the criteria for what is called hyperlexia. She talked earlier and more than any of her peers. During one of her first speech and language evaluations, the therapist looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more well-spoken two year old.” And then when she went home to write up her notes, she listened to the tape-recorded speech sample she had taken and heard the same thing that we had recently noticed — all of her language was scripted. She would say the same exact phrase with the same exact intonation every time. That’s called echolalia, and it’s a very important stage in language development, but one that she should have pushed past by then. She should have been using language to communicate in a way that she simply wasn’t. She was a parrot. We had always thought it was so cool and funny that she would hear these long complex phrases once and then be able to spit them back whole; that she could hear us read a book once and recite it back to us the next day. But it was a parlor trick, at best.

Language-wise, she was a perfect mirror. She was an aural xerox machine. But behavior-wise, the kid just didn’t learn things the way I had expected, the way all the other kids did. I was under the impression that you just had to expose kids to things, let them see you do something enough times and pretty soon they would try to do it themselves. I’ve now had that experience with my son. He sees us eating with a fork; he tries to eat with a fork. He sees us brushing our hair; he tries to brush his hair. When he wants to go outside, he grabs his shoes and tries futilely to put them on his feet. D never did any of that stuff, never had any of that “I can do it myself!” mentality. Things that were on all the lists as motivating suggestions were utter failures. Other kids absorbed the world like a sponge. D just ran in circles, watching but not learning. I would see children pretending to cook with play food. D banged the food together to see how loud a sound they would make. Other children would build with Duplo blocks or run trains around tracks. D knocked towers down and scattered the blocks, ripped tracks apart and threw them around the room. Other children would sit and happily color with markers. D would draw a few cursory lines, then suck out the ink and run away with a marker clutched in each hand, like she had power buttons in her palms that revved her engines, and the tighter she squeezed those cylinders the faster her wheels would spin, go go go. You would call her name to no response; the word “stop” made her laugh and run faster. There was a period early on when she thought her name meant “no” because she heard us yell it angrily so often.

I had become the yelling mom. I never wanted to be the yelling mom. I wanted to be the mom in all those “peaceful parenting” blogs who appreciated every moment with her child because they grow up so fast, you know, and before you can even blink this precious time will be gone, etc. etc. etc. But instead of cherishing it, I wanted this time to be gone. I wanted the seconds to disappear. I kept holding out hope that the next day would be better, that something would click, that I would be firm and consistent for the 500th day in a row and it would finally make a difference. I followed all the suggestions on this list, all the suggestions on all the lists, all the suggestions from parents and aunts and uncles and friends and friends of friends, and nothing worked. She just didn’t respond. And I would spend my few free moments in tears, not understanding what I was doing wrong, how I had failed so abjectly at parenting.

Then one day I went to a hastily arranged meeting at D’s new preschool, no more than six weeks into the school year, convinced they were going to inform me that my daughter was no longer welcome there…and instead they handed me a checklist of “red flags” that she was exhibiting. That day changed my life — for the worse, at first, because obviously it felt like a karate kick to the solar plexus to hear that something was “wrong” with my kid. But then, in the long run, for the better, because honestly, part of me already KNEW there was something wrong with my kid; either that or something was seriously wrong with me. What I needed, and what I finally got, was for someone to take my hand and say, “You are not a bad parent. You’re not irreparably fucking this up. Your child needs help. You need help.” I had spent the better part of two years ramming my skull into a brick wall day after day. I needed someone to help me find a way around the wall, because not every child fits into a box that allows for the list of The Definitive Things a parent should do. And every author of every book or article or blog or list like this one who clearly means well, that has the best intentions for advising you, is just another brick in that wall when you’re dealing with an out-of-the-box kid.