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Archives for 9/11/2001

9/11: Close to Homes


When I worked for a wire service in Madrid in the ’90s, I had a particular dread with taking the morning shift. That’s when the Basque terrorist group ETA liked to set off its bombs. That was their M.O. in those days, an early morning explosion that would take few lives but show what could happen.

Those were hideous terrorist acts, and they transmitted horror, and it could really hit home when I passed a bomb site, or saw the security measures authorities took in government buildings or airports. We’ve since become used to metal detectors in every doorway in the U.S., but that wasn’t the case then and seeing them around Madrid could still give you pause. Like being struck by the lack of trash cans in London – where the IRA was once very active. And I certainly wasn’t callous, but despite the fact that Madrid gave me my first-ever urban village to call home, I was still an outsider. My most direct personal concern was whether I’d have to go from sleep to a 120 percent adrenaline rush of work.

But waking up concerned about reporting was nothing like the shock of waking up on Sept. 11, 2001. I was living in San Diego, and like many on the West Coast I got up after the planes had struck, waking to a, at first, sleep-fogged and literally incomprehensible horror.

When Spain felt its own shock of 9/11 directly, the attack on the Madrid trains in March 2004, it pierced me more than the many ETA bombings had. The train line bombed was one my husband rode regularly when we lived in Madrid, and one his sister took almost daily then, although no one we knew was killed. That’s of course lucky for us, but there were many others mourning.

These days it feels like we’re way too accustomed to the post-disaster drill of checking in with people far away to make sure they’re OK. Since 9/11 taught us disaster can come anywhere, the world has felt physically smaller; Americans, in particular, lost the feeling of a protective, distancing border.

But the world also feels smaller now because some layer of emotional separateness has been harshly stripped away – if we remember 9/11, we can understand better what others’ sorrow feels like. (Although I’ll do my remembering while trying not to see the still too painful images of the day again.)

In some ways, being a parent, for me, helps with that emotional understanding. Seeing mothers and fathers experiencing the same joy and concern and oh yes, frustration, even in very different cultures, is a glimpse of feelings that seem like human universals.

San Diego County has a huge military presence, including the Marine’s Camp Pendleton, a major training site. As a mom at home with young sons, I used to watch as – yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s nonetheless true – other mothers’ sons and daughters were shipped off to their deaths, and to places where many other families are mourning too. The war they’re dying in now is only nominally related to fighting terrorism, but nevertheless they’ve been caught up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

And the aftermath came in and caught many of these folks who are marching off while they were going about their regular lives. Rather than the shock of a draft notice, those already in the military and the reservists were simply carrying on with their jobs when all of a sudden the terms changed.

It’s much harder to feel like an untouched outsider these days, no matter where you are. We are all vulnerable, we are all struggling, we are all somebody’s child. Tragedy is a horrible way to be united, but it can remind us of our most profound shared human nature.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:56 AM | Permalink

Back to School


Things have been a bit nutty around here lately, what with getting back into school routines and all, so I’ve asked Moral Certainty Mommy to help out with any questions you might have about school.

Q: My children go to three different schools, each of which expects hours of volunteer time plus buying into every week’s new fundraising scheme. I just don’t need any more wrapping paper, and I feel like I’m running a cookie factory. Am I allowed to say “no” every so often?

Moral Certainty Mommy: No. Where would we be if everyone said “no”? Your children’s schools rely on parents to compensate for the items we as a society feel are educational extras, things like gym class, and math books and roofs. Thanks to your fellow parents, your children will be getting a better education than your mere tax dollars would provide. I hope you can come to fully appreciate their efforts. To help you do so, sit down with your children and tell them about the importance of working together and teach them the only way to respond when the PTA volunteer or the room mother asks them how to contact their parents: “I’m an orphan.”

Q: I really hate getting up early, but there’s no school bus and if I don’t get the kid in the car on time or there’s traffic or something and he gets to school late, he has to go to the principal’s office and then I have to go in eventually too and get a lecture. I mean, wtf? I’m a grown-up, right?

MCM: Yes, but you’re obviously a grown-up whose education was flawed. If you kept up with current events, you’d know the current administration has an educational program called “No Child Left Behind.” Some might say this is simply a poorly thought out imposition requiring schools to further “teach to the test,” but really one must only exercise a little reading comprehension. Obviously if no child will be left behind, then all children will be brought to school. Leave your son out on the front porch. A school bus from Washington will surely come along to get him to class on time.

Q: My teenager only gets about three hours of sleep a night because of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, sports and keeping her grades up in advanced classes. I worry about her, but she says she needs to do it all to get into a good college. So do I need to be concerned about all the weird soft drink cans in her trash, because, I don’t know, coffee seems more natural?

MCM: Children seem to prefer energy drinks to coffee these days. The only area of concern I can see is if they make her so jittery she kicks the waste basket by mistake and rattles the cans, thus disturbing your sleep. Because while she is young and can recover from a touch of overdoing it, sleep is a more vital commodity for us, the older generation.

Q: Yes, and I do need to get my sleep so I can get to work, because how else can I pay for the college?

MCM: Oh dear. I’m afraid if paying for school is a concern, perhaps your daughter had best get her sleep. Schools receive many applications from the overachieving middle class; applicants who tend to really stand out are those whose parents can send a donation for a new building to campus along with their freshman. But try not to be preoccupied about school. Bill Gates, for example, dropped out of college, and his is a common success story.

Moral Certainty Mommy is off now to make some lunches, so I’ll just thank her for her help until next time.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:17 AM | Permalink

Baby Ways


The hottest topic in this Sunday’s magazine of the leading Spanish daily newspaper was – childbirth. The entire letters section, all three pages, was devoted to responses to a column in El Pais’ Sunday magazine a few weeks ago, entitled “The Disaster of Giving Birth” (here in Spanish).
Writer Rosa Montero’s column basically said that Spanish procedures for giving birth are behind the times compared with other parts of the E.U. or even with what’s recommended by the World Health Organization, like avoiding giving episiotomies or drugs that intensify labor. The reigning medical view of childbirth is still “pathological, interventionist and hierarchical.” (My rough translations here.) Giving birth doesn’t have “to carry with it the trauma, nightmare and feeling of mistreatment that are often experienced in Spain….” In other parts of Europe, women aren’t routinely shaved, given enemas or have their waters broken; they can move around during labor, and try different techniques like massage or baths or sitting on big rubber balls to handle the contractions, she wrote.
Obviously she struck a nerve. The letters, roughly, were divided between currently and formerly pregnant women saying, “Oh yes! Time for some R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and doctors saying, “Hey, nobody dies in childbirth anymore. What are you complaining about?” There was some crossover support, and of course doctor and pregnant woman are not mutually exclusive categories.
Perhaps in part because Spaniards are in the early stages of moving away from an old-fashioned, purely medicalized birth, you can see a wide gap between opinions. And that’s a shame, because the current approach is clearly one many other countries have moved away from.
This debate, and the move to give women more options in childbirth, is several decades along in the States. Not that we’ve figured it out. Certainly women have more choices, like birth centers and midwives and baths and balls, but that doesn’t mean all women get great treatment, or that we can predict what we’ll want or need, or that any of that matters a bit in the heat of the moment if a doctor’s recommending one path.
And plenty of other countries are ahead of the U.S. in consistently incorporating the procedures some women have been calling for to get support, not unnecessary intrusions, while having babies. In my small and informal survey, so far New Zealand sounds like a great place to have babies: how about free, home midwife visits after the birth? (For legal residents at least; sorry, pregnancy tourism will cost you.)
Although in New Zealand, as in the U.S., C-section rates are high and rising. Which is also supposed to be a bad thing, although not to the increasing numbers of women who are asking for cesareans just as an option.
This birth thing has been going on for quite a while now – you’d think we’d have it figured out.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:21 AM | Permalink

No More Take a Number, For Now


I am feeling just like a pedigreed Chihuahua these days. Why? I’ve got my papers, my residence permit, my Spanish equivalent of a U.S. green card.

There were lots of visits to government offices and waiting in lines, but the whole process wasn’t terrible; it was, however, confusing, annoying and full of minor inconveniences. Little if no thought is given to the convenience or the concerns of the immigrant, the new resident.

Still, I imagine the process I went through was one of the easiest you’ll find in the immigration world. As the spouse of an E.U. citizen the reason for granting the permit is clear and the documentation needed is not excessively burdensome. I’m also going into the whole thing as a middle-class, white woman who’s a citizen of a rich, powerful country. So by a small degree, the sometimes tricky balance of power that exists in that moment of civil servant/petitioner relationships is leveled for me. But even being somewhat sheltered (empire helps; the Romans got into Spain pretty easily too), you still go into each interaction wondering what will be dished out.

One part of the mess involved several visits to a police station, where you give fingerprints and show you’ve paid the card’s fee, and then eventually pick up your card; the station covering where I live happens to be very difficult to get to by public transportation (a nice touch for immigrants who might not have a car). The line there, with a waiting time averaging a little over an hour, is outside, with a shed-like roof for coverage. I don’t know if it moves inside in the winter. It’s apparently much better than Madrid though, where a Mexican friend who has to renew his permit every two years says lines can be multi-hour waits, and the police supervising the line are consistently rude.

At the station in Valencia, the police officer supervising the lines was unfailingly kind to everyone and did his best to be helpful. There are mothers with babies and fathers with kids and families and young men and women on their own or in groups, many from African or Latin American. Most of us are annoyed or nervous or confused or some combination, because doing the paperwork for even the most straightforward of immigrations is an annoying, uncertain and confusing process.

The good cop wasn’t around later one day when the line had shortened while some of us were still hoping to get in before the office closed for the day at 2 p.m. (no afternoon hours in August). The pregnant woman in front of me told me she had heard that they were at least going to finish out the line before closing, and everyone was hopefully pressed in a bit closer.

I was 10 or 15 people back from making it inside – it was less a line than a tired, hot huddle at this point, but still pretty respectful of positions – when a five-man or so police squad suddenly took up positions in front of the door. One officer sharply announced that that was it for the day. No one else is going in, he said – backed up by his squad – so if I were you I wouldn’t hang around.

We were all a bit taken aback, because the police attitude seemed to indicate our smallish group was supposed to riot or something; but it was awfully hot, so after a moment’s milling uncertainty we all put away our papers and rolled away our strollers and took our friends and milled off to come back and wait another day.

People go through hell to illegally immigrate to rich countries, a phenomenon caused in part by the countries’ ambivalence toward immigration. Immigrants are needed but they’re still “the other.” But even legal immigrants (not such a clear-cut division of course; overstay your visa one day, and bam, you’re illegal) see that ambivalence in the grudging treatment – like the ridiculousness of the cops that day – they face as they’re allowed in. Papers or not, no one likes to be barked at.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:41 PM | Permalink

The Beach Is OK Too, But It’s Missing One Thing


Why the gym has been my favorite spot this summer:
1. It has child care.
2. It has special programs for kids in the summer. So the cost of a membership can be mentally chalked up to guilt-free “child enrichment.”
3. It has air conditioning. And child care.
4. It has a café. With Internet access and good coffee. And child care.
5. We’ve had lots of houseguests this summer. I like guests. But I don’t have an outside office to go to to get in that important, daily “me” time. (I know, I know, you work hard at the office. But I’m betting you do get a few moments of down time. Look what you’re doing now, after all.)
6. I can catch up on current underwear fashions in the locker room. That’s helpful, although mostly academic, after several years of only paying attention to nursing bra styles.
7. I get a dose of the surrealism of contemporary life. There are five TV screens I can watch while I trot on the treadmill. One has sports – athletes giving their all. One has music videos – which look ridiculous without the sound. One has tragedy-filled news. One has ads for cheesy exercise machines. One has a talk program with an in-depth examination of what contestants on some reality show did. I can watch them all at the same time, without sound but with the gym music blaring, when I look up from reading about how we’re all supposedly doomed by the end of oil supplies (sorry, just the headline here, and yup, I do have a paper copy thanks to kindergarten magazine sales fundraising).
8. They don’t always play the music too loudly.
9. Did I mention the child care?

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:29 AM | Permalink

In Which the Heat Reduces Us To Juvenile Interests


When I was mentioning foods that help Spaniards make it through the hot summer (and it has been a bit cooler here in the past few days, and I hope near you too), I forgot to include a drink that’s a Valencian specialty – horchata.
It’s a sweet, milky-looking, oddly addictive drink (it looks like the Mexican horchata you can find in parts of the U.S. but is made and tastes differently). Served nice and cold, it is a treat in the summer, but one of the best parts is explaining it to visitors. I almost always mention the drink to people who are passing through town, in case they’re interested in trying a local specialty. And then if they do try it, the conversation usually goes something like this:
“Mmm, pretty good. What’d you say it’s made of?”
“What’s that?”
“Tiger nuts.”
I was able to have this amusing (to me) conversation twice with my mother, as she apparently didn’t quite take it in the first time, so you can see how I have a lot of reasons to enjoy horchata. And I did the search thing and tiger nut apparently is the proper translation for chufa, and not just some small joke at the foreigners’ expense.
I had to wonder, because the typical accompaniment to a glass of horchata is a farton (pronounced far-tone) to dip in it. Fartones are, as my brother described them, like breadsticks made out of sweet hot dog bun bread. They don’t have the same addictiveness as horchata, but the name is a very juvenile giggle for English speakers.
There’s also a local fish called the fartet (endangered, unfortunately). You can see it at the big, new aquarium here.
So, OK, I am being juvenile. But there’s a parental responsibility side to this too – really. The other day I was cutting cheese with my kids, and we were talking about cutting the cheese, and I wondered if I should explain the cruder meaning of the cutting the cheese phrase. Because living here they’ll miss out on some of the common currency of a U.S. childhood. (If children do indeed still use that phrase.)
Is English-language bathroom humor one area my kids will be less learned about? Does it matter? Will they feel confused and left out one day when some pre-adolescent gang is laughing at who cut the cheese? Is there some TV show all their American peers are watching now, with a theme song they’ll all be singing drunkenly one day in a boozy cementing of friendship, while my sons shrug their shoulders and go get some more dip?
So maybe it’s not so bad. And in any case, any childhood lore I could pass on is sadly out of date. But while we’re on the subject, any other Saturday morning TV hounds out there want to sing the preamble to the Constitution?

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:18 AM | Permalink

Whatever Suits


We went to the beach the other day, and I was reminded of one of the first differences Americans can’t help but notice between U.S. and European beaches: naked breasts.
Spanish beaches don’t segregate out topless sunbathers. Nude sunning and swimming usually is on a different beach, but going halfway is simply the bather’s choice on any regular beach.
So yes, you will see women’s naked breasts on Spanish or many other European beaches. Let’s just accept it and move on. Europeans’ more relaxed attitude to nudity is nothing new (except maybe to one of you youths who landed here mistakenly on a “naked breasts” search).
But it does mean that one thing you won’t get over here is the brouhaha there was in the U.S. over a parents’ magazine cover showing a baby breastfeeding from a naked breast. A good portion of the magazine’s readers were appalled. My favorite bit from this article about it is the woman who shredded the cover so her 13-year-old son wouldn’t see it. (Hang in there kid, study hard, and I’ve got three words of advice for you: junior year abroad.)
Now, Europeans being more accepting of nudity doesn’t necessarily translate into higher breastfeeding rates. (In some European countries of course – think Nordic among the likely suspects – mothers do breastfeed at much higher rates than in the U.S.) There’s a lot more affecting breastfeeding than whether you’re comfortable seeing breasts, especially because there’s nothing to see with breastfeeding. But lots of naked boobs around still might mean they’re considered too sexual to be utilitarian. Work situations especially and other attitudes towards nursing are among further factors affecting breastfeeding.
Anyway, this talk of breasts is of course partly provoked by the current World Breastfeeding Week. Or, as I’d like to rename it: “buy that (current or former) nursing mom a smoothie” week. Cheers.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:12 AM | Permalink

Time Changes


How can you not love a country where people apologize for calling you before noon?
That was just on the weekends, but still. When I lived in Madrid in the nineties, and compared those calls with the perky voice I might get from a friend in the States at 10 a.m. on a Saturday saying, “You mean you’re still not up yet?”, I knew I had found a place that matched my personal time clock. Or more importantly, respected personal differences.
Spain is a country for night owls. Madrid has traffic jams at 2 a.m. But it’s not just urban life that is set later. You might have heard a traveler complaining about Spain’s famously late meals: lunch at 2 p.m., dinner out hard to find before 10 p.m. (I know, it makes your tummy rumble just to read it, but it’s not that bad. You’ve got morning snackies and afternoon snackies, and tapas are from Spain of course, so there’s really no need to go hungry.)
There’s a geographical factor contributing to the late hours: Spain is misplaced in its time zone. Poor thing. Look at a map of Europe. See how Spain falls under the U.K.? And some of Spain’s on the same longitude as Portugal. But both the U.K. and Portugal are an hour earlier. While Spain’s on the same time zone as Poland, for example, all the way over there to the East. Which means the sun comes up late and sets late here. (I know, these things confuse me too, but think about it.)
The newspapers here occasionally run stories with statistics on how much Europeans sleep; Spaniards are always among those who get the least amount of shut-eye.
And then there are articles about how Americans need to get more sleep, and especially how kids do. Which is probably true, even though it’s another guilt-inducing campaign.
So what about the kids here? Well, they seem to sleep less too.
Dinner at home doesn’t necessarily wait until 10 p.m., and kids can be fed even earlier, but a 9 p.m. bedtime for the littlest ones sounds very responsible here, the way 8 p.m. sounded reasonable back in California. And the reality is naturally often later. You certainly wouldn’t get the “what a bad parent” stares you might get in the U.S. if you had a kid in a (child-friendly) restaurant at 11 p.m. here.
And in summer, forget it. Kids are running around playing outside near my home these days easily until 9 or 10 or even later, and you can certainly catch them later at outdoor cafes with their parents. And no one thinks twice about it.
The English-speaking moms I know are mostly trying to stick to their guns on bedtimes. It complicates dinner somewhat – school and work hours are later; and if you want to eat out, finding restaurants open is tougher. My household leans toward Spanish hours, so there’s even a twist to after-school play dates with English speakers: are we having a snack or supper?
The flip side to early bedtimes and evening peace is…early wakeups. Keep your kids up, you do get to sleep in a bit more. I don’t think anyone believes I’m sleeping until noon these days though.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:05 AM | Permalink

Standing By Your Son


There’s one thing for sure in the current doping controversy surrounding Tour de France winner Floyd Landis–he’s got an unusual mother.
Landis won the cycling competition this month with a great back story: a comeback victory, carrying on despite pain from a hip problem. And then there’s his family; Landis comes from a conservative Mennonite background he left behind to pursue cycling, with parents who eventually came around to support him. (This Spanish profile notes Landis finds two weeks a year to return to the fold and visit his parents and five siblings.)
And then, he tested positive for high levels of testosterone. If a repeat test gives the same results, Landis will likely have the victory taken away.
So what about the mother? Well, her quotes here to the Associated Press look like standard boilerplate stand-by-your-son speech.

After speaking with Floyd Landis by telephone, Arlene Landis said she is convinced her 30-year-old son did nothing wrong and blasted cycling’s governing body for “spoiling everything.”
“My opinion is when he comes on top of this, everyone will think so much more of him. So that’s what valleys are for, right?” she said outside her home in a section of rural Lancaster County called Farmersville.

But look at her initial reaction, from an earlier wire report, before she had had a chance to speak by phone with her son:

Arlene Landis, his mother, said Thursday that she wouldn’t blame her son if he was taking medication to treat the pain in his injured hip, but ”if it’s something worse than that, then he doesn’t deserve to win.”
”I didn’t talk to him since that hit the fan, but I’m keeping things even keel until I know what the facts are,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home…. ”I know that this is a temptation to every rider but I’m not going to jump to conclusions … It disappoints me.”

Now there’s a slim but unlikely chance that Mom Landis got media relations coaching in the time between the two interviews, or more likely, that she realized she didn’t sound very supportive of her son the first time around.
But another way to explain the difference in the statements is, maybe she was just being…honest. I don’t normally recommend taking news quotes at face value, but maybe she was just saying, “I don’t know because he hasn’t told me yet, but if he did it, it is wrong.” That’s a woman who maintains her values, no matter what. And then after speaking with him, she really did believe her son. That would be a nice mother.
I assume my first reaction, and I bet yours too, if a reporter called up asking for a response would be to say, “Oh no, not my son.” But of course, and I hate to say this, there’s a very good possibility that I’m not raising Tour de France competitors.
So can we take away any parenting tips here? Do tough competitors need tough-talking moms? First of all you need to decide how much blame or praise any parent should get for how her kids turn out. But, happy endings being popular and all, I think Son Landis would need to keep the title for Mom Landis to have much chance of selling a parenting guide.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:02 AM | Permalink

Friendly Skies?


If there’s anything I can’t resist it’s an airline complaints pile-on.
Unless maybe it’s an insurance company we’re complaining about. Or maybe a bank. I’ll pile on there too. Or any of the other “service” companies you might deal with that can send you screaming into the woods with frustration.
Problems with banks are sort of understandable. I think it’s just too tempting for them: they’ve got access to your money, you’re not touching it, so they figure, why not just pull out a little bit for a “service charge” here and there? And can you blame them? It’s like leaving an open box of chocolates around an overeaters gathering, a toy chest around three-year-olds, a military in the hands of a thoughtless president. And then banks are full of numbers people, so you can’t really expect to find someone who’s into communication when you call to try to correct the problem.
Or there’s my only claim ever with an insurance company, which was only resolved about a year into the process after I wrote a letter invoking Kafka and wondering if the company was acting criminally or simply being completely incompetent. They voted to aim for looking incompetent.
What is it about dealing with the public? Is it so horrible that it creates a crabby, passive-aggressive misanthrope out of an ordinary mild-mannered service worker? Like the Delta flight attendant who kept slamming a drinks cart into the husband’s foot without giving him a chance to move it. Not that all, or most, or probably even many, airline workers are that rude, but whenever I’ve got a problem there’s some degree of possibility that I’ll run across one who’s been trained in the Frank Sinatra school of customer service (my way or the highway, baby). And with all this customer abuse, the airlines still can’t turn a profit. Hmm, maybe there’s a connection? Anyway, it can’t be me, can it? I know I’m always charming.
These customer service problems are made even more annoying because they violate a basic tenet that Americans are brought up to believe in: the customer’s always right. We can let some of the other civics lessons we were brought up with slip away with a wink and a drink–the right to a fair trial, the separation of church and state, the balance of powers, the right to privacy–but darn it, our consumer rights are unassailable. And in defending them, we’re supposed to spend how much time asking to speak to the manager, waiting on hold, writing letters?
We love our customer service, our no-questions-asked returns policies, our 800 numbers. As citizens we might be lost in the wilderness, but as consumers, hey, we know our rights. You gotta believe in something.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:14 AM | Permalink

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