Sarah Palin & Me, Part II~ Choice & Healthcare Reform

Earlier this fall I was surprised to find that one of my readers was referred by the Sarah Palin Information blog.  But then I discovered that this link of her conservative voice to my own (progressive one) was a simple slip of the Net–joining two voices on health care–albeit opposing ones.

This time, however, it is me who is initiating the link,

and here’s why…

I just found out, on the family grapevine, that my grandmother had two illegal abortions in the late 1940s (after giving birth to four children.)

My uncle (a fundamentalist pastor), was her fifth child (following the abortions) and it was he who shared this information with me on Facebook after a flurry of posts in which I attempted to solicit an understanding of the infuriating connection between healthcare reform and abortion.

This shocking news about my grandmother, followed my reading of:  Sarah Palin: Abortion Is So Bogus.

According to Salon,”The former Alaska governor gave a speech to Wisconsin Right to Life this past Friday, where she relied on words like “bogus” and “awesome” to make points about healthcare reform and abortion.”

Said the ex-governor, “It is so bogus that society is sending a message right now and has been for probably the last 40 years that a woman isn’t strong enough or smart enough to be able to pursue an education, a career and her rights and still let her baby live.”

It must have been 60 years ago that my grandmother had her illegal abortions (which she and many other entitled women referred to as their “miscarriages.”)

The first time she found herself pregnant was at the age 19, after which she dropped out of college to become a mother to my father (and a wife to my grandfather,)  giving birth to three more children before she choosing abortion as a means of birth control.

My grandmother never returned to her education or embarked on a career, although she had always dreamed of serving at the United Nations as a translator.  All those hours spent working with me on my French at her kitchen table now make even more sense.

I wish I had known about her abortions. It would have softened the harsh solitude of my own choice, 40 years later. Discovering this link now, opens a million doors in my understanding of women, and I feel a renewed connection to those who have come before me, and to the challenge of our choices-or lack of them.

My own mother was sent to live in a home for unwed mothers when she became pregnant with my older sister who she gave up for adoption.  The following year she met my father and became pregnant with me, resulting in a sudden marriage.

Raised Catholic, my mother gave birth to 9 children and never chose abortion, though she accepted my choice with understanding, and often said, “If you ever get pregnant, don’t make a second mistake. You don’t have to get married.”

Both she and my grandmother became alcoholics who never fully claimed their education, their careers or their rights despite their shared and differing choices.

My uncle (who is a fundamentalist preacher) explains to me on Facebook that he was my grandmother’s 7th pregnancy–the one she didn’t tell my physician grandfather about until the second trimester– when he wouldn’t have allowed her to have another abortion.

This implies that perhaps she hadn’t wanted any of the abortions. But whether she did or not, I have compassion for the choices she faced.

I tell my uncle that I’m happy he wasn’t aborted, that I love all babies–and I do.  I love the ones who have come into my life and the ones who haven’t– including the grievous loss of two early pregnancies in my  thirties before I became a mother of two wonderful sons.

This contradiction of love doesn’t take away my understanding of a women’s desire to choose when she brings another child into the world. And it isn’t always as simple as a decision about education, or career or even rights, as Sarah Palin exclaims.

Whether Christian, Jew or Muslim, Pro-Life or Choice, Conservative or Progressive, a mother of many or of none, the choices that we face as women are unique to us.  And when we sit across from each other at the kitchen table, our separations fall away, and what remains is what is also unique to women–compassion, understanding and acceptance.

In this spirit of understanding, I have compassion for how it is that Sarah Palin chooses her career over caring for her children full time, how she leaves her tiny baby in another’s arms while she runs a state, or a national campaign, or embarks on “rogue” book tour–While I, on the other hand have given up everything to be at home in these vital years when my children need me most–particularly my teenage son, who will soon be making decisions about his own sexuality, as Sarah Palin’s daughter did.

What I don’t understand is how Sarah Palin, the politician, works to protect unborn children, while preventing legislation that would support them once they are born.

What I can’t accept is that she and others take this so-called “moral” stance for the sanctity of life without wanting to provide for it and without taking responsibility for many of the harsh choices that many women face.

Framing the provision of health care reform around the issue of abortion is the most immoral act of all.

If Sarah Palin is “America’s Conservative Conscience,” as the t-shirts worn at the Right to Life Rally proclaimed, it’s time we go shopping for a new look!

Kelly Salasin

The 48 Hour Christmas

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played–for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2006

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