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Archive for August, 2010

Material World

Monday, August 30th, 2010

If we’re going to get right down to brass tacks about it, I’m materialistic.  It’s certainly not my best quality, but we all have traits that rank below the 50th percentile.  It’s true, I love they way a nice leather handbag feels on my shoulder.  I love the way the mattes on the watercolors over my living room mantel match the wall color perfectly, setting off both the frames and the paintings.  I love having 15 lipstick color choices when I open the makeup case in my purse each morning, allowing me to select a shade that matches both my mood and outfit.  I like these things, and countless other things in a similar vein. 

I don’t admit this easily because it carries with it all kinds of implications.  There is a common belief – and not altogether erroneous – that materialism is bad.  Period.  Materialistic people are shallow and vain and inconsiderate.  Right?  Maybe not.  I think that materialism isn’t as big a sin as we might be inclined to believe.

In an interesting (and somewhat biologically-based) article on The Huffington Post last week Dylan Kendall wrote an article about whether or not objects can make us happy.  She aptly notes that, “… objects have stories and the best ones we carry with us our whole lives. Like our grandmother’s table lamp or the baseball with which we hit our first home run, objects have the power to become more than just ‘things.’”

We can all relate to the significance of these kinds of objects.  Like most people I have objects of varying value that are priceless to me because of what they represent.  But for the purposes of this discussion I’m more intrigued by the objects that have no particular emotional underpinning, but which we enjoy.  Take my handbags as an example.  I have close to a dozen and they were all moderately expensive.  Do I need nearly a dozen handbags?  Absolutely not.  But I use and enjoy each one.  I switch bags several times each week.  I choose one based on my clothing and take pleasure in the way they are functional and stylish at the same time.

This leads me to wonder about the line that we all want not to cross – the line between caring about our belongings and caring only about our belongings.  To what extent is it acceptable to have and enjoy our possessions even if they lack a higher level of sentimental meaning?  And when do we enter the territory of wanting things just to have them, rather than for their value via form or function?  Further still, how does the collector (of stamps, tiny commemorative spoons, or even cars) factor into this moral landscape?

I suppose I would draw that line in the form of a pie chart.  I have and enjoy all kinds of objects.  Some of those objects are practical, like my food processor or a nice pen.  Others are less practical, like artwork or lipstick, but still bring me pleasure.  But my enjoyment of these kinds of things should only take up a certain portion of my life and my focus – a relatively narrow sliver of my pie chart.  I should also spend time focusing on mental and spiritual growth, maintaining relationships, helping other people, and behaving charitably.  As long as those things are bigger priorities in my life then I’m comfortable that my enjoyment from material possessions is not overblown.  But the moment that my little equilibrium tips in the direction of objects over everything else is the moment I need to reevaluate my priorities.

The Long Arm of the Coconut Macaroon

Friday, August 27th, 2010

This is the story of two blogs and a cookie. 

A couple of weeks ago fellow blogger Jane reposted a piece she wrote last winter about a Random Act of Kindness.  The second time around WordPress picked it up and featured it, driving huge numbers of readers to Jane’s site and leaving their own RAOK stories.  It was really inspiring.

I wanted desperately to jump on this do-gooder bandwagon, but the deck seemed stacked against me.  I simply couldn’t find the right opportunity to inject my goodness into the world.  I saw an old woman walking home from the grocery store on an especially hot day and offered her a ride.  She gave me the sign of the cross and said, “Bless you” in heavily accented English, but turned me down.  I rarely go through drive-thru windows where I might pay for someone’s order.  I didn’t see elderly people needing help crossing the street.  I was striking out left and right.  I decided to stop obsessing.

Then last week my sister Anne wrote an impassioned post about how a simple coconut macaroon helped her through an especially difficult year of graduate school.  I was moved by her post and decided that I needed to make my own batch of macaroons.  Later that day I got an e-mail from Anne which was a forwarded message from my 90-year-old grandfather.  A reader of her blog, he thought her macaroons sounded delicious and asked for the recipe.  Having made them myself I recognized that this was slightly more complicated than your average cookie recipe and potentially out of the culinary reach of a man who has probably never cooked anything more complicated than a bowl of oatmeal.

And then it hit me!

The recipe made nearly 30 cookies.  GAP is not a coconut lover and had no interest in the macaroons.  I have no business eating 30 cookies by myself.  And I could only in good conscience allow IEP (who, it turns out, is a coconut lover) to eat little bites here and there.  The answer?  A care package.

I transferred several macaroons to a Ziplock bag, wrote an accompanying note, and went to the UPS Store.  A couple of days later a truck pulled up in front of Granddaddy’s house and handed him a box that he was not at all expecting. 

That evening I received an e-mail from my grandfather which said, in part, “I couldn’t imagine what it could be as it wasn’t Xmas or my birthday and I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon.” (As an aside, I just love that my 90-year-old grandfather e-mails and shops online.) “Imagine my surprise to open it and find it was a macaroon package from my oldest grandchild.  I had one for dessert and it was delicious.  In fact I had to make a big decision whether to eat another or not – so they would last a little longer.  Thank you so much.  I think this is the nicest ‘unexpected’ present I have ever received.”

It wasn’t anonymous.  It wasn’t for a stranger.  It wasn’t even entirely random.  But I think it captured the spirit of the little movement that Jane started.  Thanks, Jane, for providing me with such inspiration.  And thanks, Anne, for speaking directly to my sweet tooth.  You were both unwitting accomplices in making an old man very happy.

Alpha Parenting – Preschool Edition

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

About a month ago I did something that scared the bejeezus out of me: I started researching preschools.  Yes, I know, IEP is not even two yet.  Mostly I just had no idea at what age kids start going to preschool and didn’t want to miss the boat because I was lost in a state of denial thinking, “But my baby is only nine years old.  Surely he isn’t old enough to start school yet, right?”

The comforting answer to the question spurring my research was that we have two full years before we start taking first-day-of-school photos on the front porch.  The not-so-comforting follow-up information came when I started clicking into tuition pages and discovered that many of the preschools we’re considering cost more than my high school did.  This is one of the few moments when I’m glad I don’t live in Manhattan and haven’t felt pressured to start the application process every day since my second trimester.  But I digress…

As an interesting parallel to our own preschool-filled horizon I happened across this NYT article about “The Littlest Redshirts.”  Apparently it is now de rigueur to hold your child back a year in some sort of Darwinian power play to make sure that he is among the smartest, tallest, and strongest in his class.**  Not surprisingly, I am ambivalent about this.

As a September baby I always enjoyed being among the oldest in my class.  I was one of the first to drive and vote and drink (legally, at least).  Whether or not I actually did, I perceived myself as having a bit of a leg up.  And all of these things factored somewhat into our decision to shoot for an autumn baby before I got pregnant with IEP.  But in spite of our own “strategery” I have an adverse response to the idea of holding a child back to stack the deck in this way. 

Perhaps I have visions of aggressive stage parents jockeying their children for position at the top of the toddler heap.  (I certainly have visions of the scene in Baby Boom where Diane Keaton sits dejected at the playground as other alpha mommies decry her parenting techniques and shun her for not having little Elizabeth on the Dalton waiting list.)  Such visions are off-putting enough.  But I think my real objection here is the effect that this “my child is the exception” mentality has on the kids who follow the rules.

For example, say IEP was born in April.  If I enroll him in preschool the year after he turns three (as is customary, I have learned) he will be among the younger members of his class.  Kids will be up to eight months older or four months younger than my son.  Now, say I don’t like the idea of IEP being on the young end.  Say I am heavily invested in my son’s success and I want him to have every advantage.  So I hold him back a year.  Now he starts preschool as a four-year-old.  He is older, smarter, and stronger than he was a year ago and than most other kids in his class.  IEP wins!

But who loses in this scenario?  What about the child who was born in mid-August and just barely made the September 1st cutoff?  Now that child (and lots of other summer babies) are not just being stacked up against to kids who are 10 and 11 months older, but to kids who are up to a year and a half older.  By comparison they will be significantly less developed on many levels.  And I’m certainly no expert in early childhood development, but I can’t imagine that this does wonderful things for self-esteem (not to mention standardized test results which are scored in percentiles…). 

As a parent I totally understand the desire for your child to have every advantage you can hand him in this big bad world of ours.  But what does it say to your child about your confidence in him if you choose to cheat the system to give him a leg up?  And what does it teach him about how to succeed in the world if you’re willing to leave others to flounder for your own benefit?  I think the answer is: nothing good.

**Note – I’m not talking about kids who are held back for legitimate developmental reasons.  Many kids are held back because they simply aren’t ready and that is a bird of a different feather.

Anonymity vs. Privacy

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A year ago I would have cared very little about the ensuing battle over “net neutrality.”  I would have been content to let the big players fight it out either in the court of public opinion or, more likely, actual court, and wait for the verdict to be handed down.  As it is, that is still what will happen (I am not even a two-bit player on the World Wide Web) but I have a dog in the fight these days.

The moment I launched this little blog such issues suddenly mattered to me (even if I didn’t realize it at the time).  This site is exactly the type of site that would not get priority treatment in the new internet landscape that is being floated.  If I care that I can easily post and you can easily read, then I want to make sure that the web facilitates that transaction.

At any rate, net neutrality is not really my point today.  Rather, in all of my observation of the coverage of the net neutrality battle, I came across this interview with Eric Scmidt, the CEO of Google.

In it, Schmidt talks about the dangers of online anonymity.  Specifically he says, “In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you.”  This freaked me out a little at first.  There are all sorts of things that I wouldn’t want made public.  What if I Google an old boyfriend?  What if I look up the procedure for declaring bankruptcy?  What if I look up the symptoms of some horrible disease?  (All of the above are hypothetical, by the way.)

Then I read Schmidt’s follow up comment: 

“Privacy is incredibly important,” he said, adding, “Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It’s very important that Google and everyone else respects people’s privacy. People have a right to privacy; it’s natural; it’s normal. It’s the right way to do things.”

And this commentary struck a chord with me.  As I thought about it I realized that many of us (at least myself, for sure) have long equated online anonymity with online privacy.  I can go just about anywhere on the web and unless my computer is hacked no one will ever know.  While that is a monumental comfort to many internet users who are up to no good (What, there are people online other than touchy-feely bloggers?  No.  Couldn’t be…) as Schmidt says, it’s dangerous.

There is a lot of private information about me out in the world.  It resides in places like my doctors’ offices, my HR department’s personnel files, my tax returns, even my fingerprints.  This is not data that I want made public, but it is data that I am comfortable residing in the hands of trusted keepers.  The strange thing about the internet is that we inadvertently make lots of different parties keepers of our private information.  Google.  Amazon.  Yahoo.  These major sites are some of the biggest players.  But any site where you’ve made an online purchase has data about you on file as well. 

In the pre-internet world I could walk into a bookstore and make a purchase without anyone logging that purchase into a catalog of previous purchases that is constantly evolving into a user profile designed to predict my preferences.  I still can.  But if I order my books online (more likely) I have to be comfortable with the knowledge that Amazon.com is amassing volumes of data about my shopping and purchasing habits.  They are one of my keepers now. 

While I think Eric Schmidt raised some eyebrows with his comments about online anonymity, I actually think he’s on the right track.  Online anonymity has facilitated all kinds of atrocities in the real world (look up some back episodes of Dateline if you’re curious…).  Online privacy, on the other hand, will protect those of us who are harmless yet don’t care to have our affairs made public.  The tricky part is deciding whom to make our keepers.  It’s hard to trust someone you’ve never met.  And yet we do it here in cyberspace every single day.

Diversity Dilemma

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The Midwest is neither Manhattan nor San Francisco nor Phoenix.  Most of the people I see on a daily basis look an awful lot like me (minus the freckles, usually).  Because of this GAP and I feel that we have a pretty strong imperative to make sure that we raise our family in a way that exposes them to different races, religions, backgrounds, and customs.  Not everyone is a white, Midwestern, Episcopalian, with a graduate degree.  In fact, the sweeping majority are none of those things. 

So we talk a lot about how to accomplish this.  How do you expose your children to a broad range of experiences without treating that exposure like a museum trip?  How do you maintain a variety of relationships without treading down that dangerous path of filling quotas?  And perhaps most importantly in the early years, how do you talk to your kids about diversity in a way that they can understand yet doesn’t make you cringe.

As adults we speak about diversity in the most politically correct terms.  There are times when such phrasing is helpful in navigating what can be a minefield of potential faux pas.  However, there are also times when diluting our language to placate the broadest range of listeners renders it impotent.  We find that we simply cannot say the thing we mean to say.  This pitfall is apparently (and not surprisingly, when you think about it) quite treacherous when talking to children. 

I came across this article earlier in the week and was both surprised and comforted by its message.  Based on some of the key takeaways listed I can tell that we might well be misguided by our best intentions.  Abstract and politically correct language is hard to interpret and understand.  And silence isn’t silent at all.  To quote the author:

  • Children’s minds start categorizing the world as early as they can identify pictures on a page and if we avoid discussing racial differences when they become evident, it becomes something they learn should not be spoken about — that it is taboo.
  • As parents to young children, we should talk about race the same way that we discuss gender. In other words, comparable to how we say, “Both boys and girls can be doctors,” so should we speak about racial differences.
  • We also need to be specific in how we speak with our children about race. For example, to say, “Everyone should be treated equally,” is not clear enough to children about what we are referring to.

I’m confident that I will find some way to fumble this issue; probably many ways.  So I am grateful for tactical guidance like this.  I’m inclined to believe that we complicate many things that needn’t be.  Diversity is complex enough without the added layers of my own baggage and insecurity.  Anything that can assuage those fears will always be a welcome addition to my parenting toolkit.

The Generation Gap

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I am 32 years old.  A spry young thing in the greater landscape of the human experience, right?    I’m still younger than most of my coworkers.  I’ve only had to pluck one grey hair.  And on most days I have the energy to keep up with my one-and-a-half-year-old son.  Nevertheless, I don’t always feel so young.  Sometimes I feel downright old.

Some of my favorite examples:

  • My brother-in-law (10 years my junior) didn’t know what a rotary phone was.
  • In a meeting a few weeks ago we were somehow talking about how we learned of the Challenger shuttle explosion and an intern mentioned he hadn’t been born yet.
  • During the opening credits of Marley and Me as REM’s “Shiny Happy People” began to play I leaned over to my brother-in-law (same BIL, he makes me feel old a lot…) and said, “I haven’t heard this song in years,” to which he responded, “I have no idea what it is.”

Moments like these make me grumble a little bit.  I remember asking my mother about “the olden days” of her childhood and naively thinking that my kids would never view my childhood era as “olden.”  We had microwaves, and Nintendo, and Swatches.  Really, how much more modern could things ever get?  Right?

Wrong.

My son will never look up a movie show time in the newspaper.  He will never have to search for a blank VHS tape.  He will never load a roll of film into a camera.  He will never mail a postcard from a vacation spot.  He will never carry an atlas in his car.  He will never wait for a friend or relative at the gate in the airport.    He will not buy new music on CDs.  He will never know a world without cell phones.  He will never even know the crackling sounds of dial-up internet service connecting.

And while it is a cathartic cliché to reflect on the ways in which the world has changed around us, these changes don’t create that large a cultural divide between us and those around us who are a generation older or younger.  My grandfather has learned how to e-mail and my mother has learned how to program her Tivo.  I have learned how to use Facebook.  And someday IEP will adopt something that hadn’t been conceived of during his childhood.  We all learn.

But in scanning headlines yesterday I came across this article which discusses how college mindsets are trending with time.  Beloit College has tracked these changes for the past 13 years in an effort to help college professors continue to relate to students whose cultural markers are vastly different from their own.  Some examples from the list:

For students starting college this year…

  • Fergie is a pop star, not a princess
  • Have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg has always been on the Supreme Court
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than Dirty Harry

How fascinating and challenging it must be to spend your days trying to mold young minds using cultural reference points that draw blank stares.  How frustrating it must be not to speak their language.  The college years are at their best when book knowledge is augmented by personal experience; when someone who is older can hearken back to your own age and convey a sense of sameness based on shared experience.  Yet how do we convey the essence of a shared experience when the external trappings of that experience are so different?

Higher education is an imperfect institution on many levels.  But when it’s done right it’s a perfectly beautiful thing.  I admire Beloit College for taking these steps to bridge a generational gap.  Maybe some 19-year-old kid will walk out of a Modern American History class later this fall and feel like his professor isn’t so out of touch after all.

Crazy Genius

Monday, August 16th, 2010

In honor of Eat, Pray, Love having come out this past weekend, and because this kind of content is right up the alley of those of us who have a passion for writing, today I am offering up Liz Gilbert’s TED talk from 2009.  I first saw it sometime last year, but it sprang to mind again in the wake of all the movie publicity. 

Gilbert speaks so eloquently herself that I won’t elaborate further (besides, my grey matter is still a bit mushy from all the discussion on Friday) except to say that whatever your creative process is, embrace it.  It is no weirder than any of the other artists’ processes that she cites.  Nor is it more banal than Gilbert’s own work-a-day process.  It is yours, so own it and use it. 

PS - Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the video.  Apparently I don’t have the correct WordPress plugin.  Will have to look into that.  You should be able to reach the video from the link above without any trouble.

Baby Boom

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Every Sunday at noon I walk into a Level 3 NICU and hold babies.  I am not a doctor or a nurse.  I have no medical training at all.  But I am a NICU volunteer, and in that capacity I have learned how to keep feeding tubes, central lines, IVs, and heart monitors untangled.  I have learned which babies like to be rocked and which like to be patted.  And I have sat silently out of the way when someone’s heart rate spiked or breathing slowed. 

I tell you this not to applaud myself.  (I do what I do because I need to; because my son started his life in that very NICU and because it healed him.)  I tell you this because one result of my time in the NICU is a collection of strong opinions about prenatal care and newborn health.  I care deeply for the babies I visit each week.  And because of that deep concern and affection I feel compelled to speak on their behalf.  So it is that I am about to do something that I have disavowed in the past.  I am about to judge. 

I read earlier this week that the Duggars are ready to have another baby.

[In the event that you are not familiar with the Duggars, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:  They are an Arkansas-based family with 19 children ranging in age from eight months to 22 years.  Their youngest daughter, Josie, was born three months prematurely last December after Michelle Duggar developed preeclampsia.  Josie weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth and remained hospitalized for more than six months before being permanently discharged.  The family stars in a TLC television series called “19 Kids and Counting” and has written a book about their life.]

My struggles with this news are many.  The biggest one, though, is a total lack of comprehension.  I just do. not. get it.  I don’t understand how 19 children aren’t enough.  I don’t understand how the rewards of a 20th child could outweigh the risks at this point.  And I really don’t understand the convictions that Jim Bob Duggar cites when he talks about their reasons for having so many children.  As the article I read states:

Similarly daunting [to the concerns about finally having Josie at home] are the very real medical risks Michelle could face with another pregnancy – particularly a return of preeclampsia, which can lead to a stroke or prove fatal. But despite the risk – and intense criticism – the pair vow to stick to their beliefs.

“People think we are overpopulating the world,” says Jim Bob. “We are following our convictions.”

What convictions? 

After doing a bit of online sleuthing I have learned that the Duggars ascribe to the Quiverfull movement, which eschews all forms of birth control (including NFP), believes that children are blessings from God, and that having many children is the most efficient means of spreading God’s word.  (For a 2009 Newsweek article on the movement, click here.) 

I should state here that it is not the premise of a large family that bothers me.  Nor am I bothered by the religious doctrine behind it.  (I should clarify: I don’t agree with the Quiverfull movement at all, but I’m fine with the idea of developing a family around your own beliefs.)  The Duggars are entitled to their choices and they seem to manage those choices well.  They are a happy (and debt-free) family each of whose children had been born healthy until Josie arrived.  If they can follow their convictions, choose this life, and make it work then I say bravo.  But it seems to me that these convictions and choices aren’t working anymore.

According to Quiverfull doctrine, barrenness is God’s decision and something to be accepted and dealt with through prayer.  And while Michelle Duggar obviously doesn’t have any problems conceiving a child, I wonder if her inability to carry Josie to term should also be interpreted as God’s way of communicating that she should not bear more children.  (Again, these are not my beliefs; I’m just trying to apply the Quiverfull doctrine consistently.)  The Duggars, however, do not seem to think so.  They are ready for #20, and I am aghast. 

I hear this news and I think about the babies I see each week.  I think about their discomfort.  I think about how many of them struggle for months just to learn simple reflexes like swallowing.  And I think about the constant hums, dings, and flashing lights of the NICU and how it is nothing like being at home.

As I think about these things, all of which the Duggars almost certainly experienced during Josie’s six months in the NICU, I wonder how they could consider another pregnancy.  How could they possibly be willing to put another child (not to mention the rest of the family) through that experience again?  When will they say, “We have been blessed enough”?  At what point does the accumulation of God’s blessings stop being holy and start being greedy?  As far as I’m concerned, the Duggars are treading precipitously close to that line.

Setting Sail

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

What do you value more in your life: Experiences or belongings?  Adventures or routine?  New and different or known quantities? 

When we’re speaking abstractly it’s easy to say that we care more about having great experiences in life; that we aren’t attached to our belongings; and that we are always up for something new.  It’s quite another thing to live out those statements for seven years on a sailboat with your family. 

That’s right.  I said seven years on a sailboat with your family. 

The Crafton family, whom I find simultaneously inspiring and full-throttle bonkers did just that, and apparently they’d do it again.  The nuts and bolts of their story go something like this:

  • Family of five decides to ditch everything (literally – homes, careers, property, cars, etc), buy a boat, and sail the world.
  • Two of the kids had speech delays which were better addressed without typical peer pressure.
  • Everyone got along better without the distractions of material belongings and adolescent angst.
  • They stayed on the water for seven years and only returned when it was time for one of the kids to start college.
  • They don’t regret a moment of it.

As I read the article about their experience a strong sense of ambivalence hovered over me.  I love the idea of giving it all up in favor of a life un-tethered by convention.  Yet in the same moment I felt intensely protective of those same conventions.  However would I survive without Bobbi Brown face wash, or my KitchenAid mixer, or my king size bed?  How would I incorporate some of my favorite things into a life on the open sea?  Could I get satellite internet service?  How many books would I need to pack?  How would I manage to log four workouts per week? 

Then I kicked myself.  I realized that the purpose of a decision like this is absolutely NOT to create a portable version of your existing life.  The purpose of a decision like this is to turn away from your existing life and take on a life that looks entirely different.  And doing that means giving up things that may mean a great deal to you.  Fresh herbs, air conditioning, a social life, and countless creature comforts would be left behind on purpose.  (Also little things like scalloped tomatoes, television reruns, and flirty nightgowns.) 

And that scares the bejeezus out of me.

By why?  Why do I cling to these things so fiercely?  What do I think will happen to me in their absence?  Will I become unhappy?  Do I measure myself in some way against these benchmarks of convention?  Would I completely lose sight of myself and my priorities in the absence of typical guideposts?  And most importantly, if any of these things is true, what on earth does that say about me? 

I know that I am more than my home, car, wardrobe, and hobbies.  But if that is true, then shouldn’t I be willing to let any of them go?  I don’t necessarily think so, but I can’t place my finger on why. 

PS – As a completely unrelated aside, this is my one hundredth post.  I can hardly believe that after just seven months of blogging I’ve reached an actual milestone.  Thanks for reading and commenting and being a part of these little mental exercises of mine.

Doggy Disorder

Monday, August 9th, 2010

If you have a dog (or have in the past) would you say that your dog is tuned into you?  Would you say that she knows when you’re happy or sad or angry?  Would you say that she senses the difference between a threat and a non-threat?

Most people would ascribe these characteristics to their dogs.  (I’m not a cat person, so I can’t speak about the proclivities of the feline persuasion.)  This is due in part to the fact that after thousands years of being bred for working, sporting, and playing alongside humans, they tend to be in touch with us.  It is also because certain highly trained dogs have learned to interpret human situations with incredible accuracy.  (Did you catch this story a few years ago about the dog that dialed 911 and then opened the door for emergency responders?)

Service and assistance dogs astound me.  So do police dogs, drug dogs, and bomb-sniffing dogs.  These animals rise well above the status of “good pets” and help out mankind on another level altogether.  Many of them thrive on it.  However, apparently, such lives of thrill and danger can take their toll on dogs just as much as they can on humans.

From a story that is simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring, I learned that a 2-year-old German shepherd named Gina has returned from a tour in Iraq with PTSD.  I won’t rehash the entire story (it won’t take you but a minute to read on your own), but the gist of it is that she left for Iraq as a highly trained but sweet and happy bomb-sniffing dog.  She returned home “cowering and fearful.”  She was diagnosed by a military veterinarian with canine PTSD which he says can affect dogs just as it affects people.

This is fascinating it its own rite.  But the aspect of the story that most captured my attention was this sentence:

But some veterinarians dislike applying the diagnosis to animals, thinking it demeans servicemen and women.

Demeans them?  Really?  Perhaps it’s because I’m a dog lover.  Perhaps it’s because I recently watched The Hurt Locker and the dangers endured by bomb squads are fresh in my mind.  But I struggle to understand how anyone who is willing to put her life in the hands of a brilliantly trained dog, and put that dog’s life at risk in the same moment, could ever claim to be demeaned by the idea that the dog might suffer the same long term effects of warfare that the soldier herself does. 

If we believe that a dog can understand how to find a bomb, or how to predict a seizure, or how to find drugs hidden inside tires at border checks, then how can we consider that the same dog couldn’t understand the context of risk and danger implicit in many of those situations?  I find it more demeaning to the dog to assert that they couldn’t have PTSD than to the soldier to assert that they could.