Throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

If you don’t know the meaning of that expression, a very brief explanation: sometime in the 1500s in Germany, an illustrator depicted a woman emptying a tub and a baby nearly falling out of it.  One possible (and popular) explanation states that, in those days when indoor plumbing wasn’t yet a thing either for removing sewage or for daily use, whole families would bathe in the same water.  The last person to get bathed, supposedly, was the youngest; when it was time to dispose of the water, it wouldn’t be difficult to not notice a baby in it.  This has long been the accepted explanation.

Later, in the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle used the expression in an essay on slavery.  His use of this proverb has been interpreted in two ways, one less kind to the user than the other.

Either way, the expression refers to remembering what is important when getting rid of what is useless or noxious.  Keep that context in mind as you read what follows.

I am a feminist.  Perhaps not enough of one to suit modern sensibilities and requirements, but a feminist nonetheless.

Now, dear readers, I will get to the point: FEMINISM (in CAPS, Bold and Italics!) is all well and good, but often the baby gets thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

On Sunday, Donald Sylvester won an Oscar for his work editing sound for the film Ford v Ferrari.  During his acceptance speech, Mr. Sylvester thanked his wife, Penny Shaw Sylvester, as follows: “So I want to thank my wonderful wife of 34 years, who gave up her editing career for me to pursue my career. But she raised our kids, and she did a great job because neither one of them are politicians.”

Apparently, Mr. Sylvester made the whole auditorium fall silent with this statement.

He thanked his wife for her support.

People (women mostly, actually) decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater…  Without even looking at the expression on Ms. Shaw Sylvester’s face, they attacked Mr. Sylvester for…being grateful that he can do what he does because his wife encouraged him?  (You should see the smile on her face…she was positively proud and happy…you can tell just by looking at her.  She made ME smile!)

From Deseret News:

…Penny Shaw Sylvester did much more than raise the couple’s children. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she also suggested her husband go into sound editing when he was considering a career change.

And she was unaware that her husband’s remarks were controversial until a Deseret News reporter reached out and shared some of the comments, which she called “ridiculous.”

“For anybody to criticize makes me extremely angry, because they know nothing about my life or my family and the choices we’ve had to make,” she said.

The couple, who live near Los Angeles, have two children, now ages 30 and 25, and Penny Shaw Sylvester decided to quit working full time when it became clear that one of the children had special needs and would require extra care.

“I was paying someone to take care of my special-needs child and I realized they couldn’t do it as well as I could. Nobody knows a child as well as the parents do,” she said.

In addition to caring for the couple’s children, she became active in the local school district, where she worked with special education, ran a summer-school program and is now involved with fundraising. “To say that I don’t work is absolutely ludicrous, but what I did do is leave the entertainment industry,” she said.

Peggy Shaw Sylvester’s work isn’t what (Lord help me…I choke on this as I type this) “feminists” think it should be.  Peggy Shaw Sylvester’s work, the work she CHOSE when she could have just as easily NOT chosen it, isn’t enough for feminists.  They are not satisfied with what she has chosen: they think she chose poorly, under duress and to her disadvantage.

That, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem the current iteration of feminism has.  That is the bug in its code.  That is the pebble in its shoe; the baby in its bathwater.

Unless a woman chooses what this new brand of “feminism” calls for, the woman’s choice is invalid.  “Choice” is limited by what “feminism” approves.  My understanding, as I argued with my mother about the validity of my desire to do this or that but not that or the other, was that it was about self-determination.  “No, I don’t want to be a computer programmer” (I could be making a lot of money now?) and “I want to stay home and actually enjoy my children’s childhood” (which, in hindsight, allowed me to be more present and proactive for J) were bad decisions for my mother, but they are good decisions for me.  They are MY decisions, and I had the right to make them…and that’s what feminism should be about.

Ms. Shaw Sylvester was not commanded by her husband to stay home and raise their children.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester didn’t JUST raise her children.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester was as much a participant in her husband’s honing of his craft as he was.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester doesn’t regret her choice nor does she think it was a step down from what she could have been.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester has done what SHE wanted/chose/decided/opted to do.

I say this because I explain this, ad nauseam, to people who think raising J has been the equivalent of wasting my God-given talents.  “You could’ve done so much more…”

Could I have?  Would I have wanted to?  I don’t know.  All I know is that the older I get, the less I look back with any shred of regret.  I regret things like cutting my bangs too short in the 8th grade or not auditioning for school plays, but then I give it a second thought and I don’t regret those things either.

I don’t have daughters, but I have grand-daughters.  The one message I would give them is the same message my aunts conveyed to me: whatever you do, make it your choice to do it.  Even when life throws at us something that is completely out of our control, something unimagined, something we’re not prepared for, we can choose.

What Donald Sylvester did on Sunday wasn’t aggrandize himself at the expense of his wife; he actually said: “I couldn’t have done this without you, and look at the work you’ve done.”  Penny Shaw Sylvester was beaming.  She was proud of her husband and of her role in his life.  And he is proud of what he has become with her by his side.

Tearing down a woman’s choice, whether it is to focus on career or family or try both, is as unfair as denying her a choice.  Taking Mr. Sylvester to task for assumptions being made about his wife’s decisions is muzzling a woman who, I’m sure, has had more than plenty to say and do and contribute throughout her life.

If we are going to be feminists, let’s not assume the only way to further the cause of women is by stomping on the choices we make, whether we agree with them or not.  I am not less of a feminist because I’ve fought my battles in the way I have.  I am, in fact, kind of a badass, and even without her husband’s declaration of the fact on Sunday night at the Oscars, I know Peggy Shaw Sylvester is a badass, too.

After a long, drawn-out silence…

Here I am.

Well, here WE are.  Our family unit is intact, and -in fact- there are more grandkids than there were when I last poked my head out of the cozy cavern that is our family life.

J is doing well.  J is very far now from being a teenager.  He is a full-fledged adult having hit his mid-twenties (officially) a mere week ago.  Where has the time gone?  (Hint: it’s settled in my joints and bones and wrinkles and the roots of my now-decidedly-gray hair.)

I would like to tell you that we’ve found balance, but the thing about balance is that it involves hard work.  A small shift and whoops! There it goes!  So on days when we’re all working at it, we’re balanced.  We do, however, tilt occasionally.  This is acceptable.  This is fine. This is the way it’s supposed to be.

Anyone who says they feel centered and balanced 100% of the time is full of shit.  My dad, who was a wise and exasperating man, used to say that absolute happiness is boring; you need to know what unhappiness feels like to fully appreciate when you are happy.

In general, though, all is going well.  We found ourselves at J’s psych appointment being tremendously positive about things like Twelve Days (which were awesome because they were low-key and as stress-free as any holiday can be) and J’s penchant for treating us like annoying room-mates (which we are…what twenty-something human absolutely enjoys the company of his/her parental units?  I certainly didn’t…that’s why I got married and skedaddled as quickly as I could).

After two years of living in this house (which we all love madly) and getting settled into our routines and roles as we all age and find our niche in life as it is now, J is so very comfortable in his rooms and home that he has become a bit of a recluse.

Allow me now to expound what this means (much in the same way I did for J’s psych who looked mildly alarmed but was very open to my explanation):

J is happy.  J is content.  J is in no way sad, bored, depressed, anxious.  J LOVES his rooms. J moves around his rooms with the ease of one who is surveying his kingdom.  J is like a cat who has found that, yes, any container will hold its body in comfort.

When J wants something, he asks for it.  When J needs something, he asks for it.  When J is in the mood to spend time with anyone, he does.  When J is compelled to protest, he does so.  When J doesn’t want something, he declines it.  He is not hesitant and he is not rude; J is simply firm and direct.  He is also patient with our insistence on wanting to check on him because we are concerned he might be lonely.  The only thing missing is J patting us on the head and saying “you poor, silly people…if it makes you happy to check on me, OK, but you’re annoying…”  We have installed a Ring Indoor Camera in his TV room, and he is very happy to be called through there rather than having us walk in and interrupt whatever it is he does.

We have seen him lounging (quite literally) on his futon with his arms behind his head, his shoulders absolutely relaxed, his legs extended and a smirk of absolute “ah, this is the life!” on his face.  We have seen him roll his eyes when we call him only to smile broadly when he realizes we’re offering him something to eat.

It had been building up for a while, this desire to not go out.  We had noticed a certain degree of anxiety and ill-humor when we had to go to J’s usual haunts.  Little by little, we started asking him where he wanted to go, and he started making sure we knew he would rather be home.

Don’t imagine, please, that J sits in a dark basement sulking.  Quite the contrary.  J’s TV room is light and airy, and his view of the street and the green area is quite lovely.  He sees the deer when they come out (sometimes a dozen of them at a time!), the cars as they go by, the people who go for walks.  A multitude of birds fly by and the neighborhood cats promenade in front of our house much to the chagrin of our dog.  J can see when his pizza is being delivered from his favorite pizza place once a week; he bounces down the stairs happily and greets the delivery person…they all know him by now.  So do the grocery delivery people: they know his likes and dislikes, and they even remember his birthday.

When he wants to go out, he asks to go and, once he has done what he wants to do, he is ready to come home.  There is no fear, there is very little anxiety.  Perhaps it is that the world is loud and that people are…self-absorbed?  People looking at their phones, in a hurry, talking loudly into little rectangular boxes they carry around.  He used to be more comfortable around strangers than he is now.  Now he’s more comfortable with people he knows, and people who are familiar with his quirks.

J doesn’t mind going to his medical appointments.  He does beautifully.  He doesn’t mind going shopping as long as he’s not going to have to spend the whole day out and about.  He likes going out for a purpose.  J is like my great-grandfather, my great-aunts, my father and me…going out is nowhere near as much fun as being at home and doing the things he loves to do.

There are days when he’s “in a mood”, and there are days when he’s relaxed.  The same can be said of anyone.  In spite of what can be interpreted at self-imposed isolation, J’s vocabulary and skills are…growing!

The young man who needed help for absolutely everything now needs less and less help for things I wasn’t sure he’d ever master doing.  Anyone who walks past the bathroom as he’s laying out all the things he needs at bathtime will think “ah, there’s a dude!”  If they walk past again when he’s getting ready for his shave they’ll go “ah!  There’s a dude who is in full command of shaving gel!”  The first day he did that it was a disaster: we sometimes take for granted applying things to our face as we look in the mirror, but we don’t know how that looks to a person with Autism.  He got the hang of it two shaves later…now he’s totally in command of the process.  He’s even starting (with supervision and help) to shave.

J is even starting to commune with the dog.  Discreetly.  Hesitantly.  Gingerly.  But he’s starting to commune with the dog.

For his 25th birthday, and taking into consideration that he’s been happier hanging out in his lair than out of it, we kept things appropriately celebratory and yet low-key: he wanted Chinese food and a cake.  He got both…in his loungewear.  Balloons.  Streamers.  Sufficient brouhaha to declare that 25 was the number…and then he sat back on his futon with his favorite blanket, his iPad, and his arms behind his head and a smile on his face.

That’s where we’re at…it’s not a bad place to be.