In the four years since becoming a mother, I’ve changed in some pretty significant areas. Patience, for example. I have slowly been morphing into a patience machine. Not all the time, of course, and not without slip-ups. But I’m really consciously working on it, and a little surprisingly, it’s actually working. I’m an infinitely more patient mother now than I have ever been.
This is also partly due to having more information, both about babies and myself. Where in the early months of motherhood I was beside myself with sleeplessness and frustration at night, now I look forward to sleeping with my children. I’m grateful and slightly in awe of my power to reassure them just with my presence, and I no longer begrudge their night waking any more than I do their need for food.
In addition, I have a previously inconceivable tolerance around the bodily substances they produce and splatter onto me, and for the noise and chaos at every turn. And when I see a child or a parent acting out on the street, I usually feel no knee-jerk judgment but a wash of sympathy for the tantrum taker, having borne humble witness to my own low points as a mother.
In other ways, though, my ability to endure has simply atrophied. Where once I sought to learn about the world’s cruelties and injustices, in hopes of understanding and participating in efforts to better them, now I can hardly bear to listen anymore. If I see another picture of a polar bear (an ace swimmer) stranded on an ice floe facing death by drowning because climate change is melting away his habitat, I will scream. I can’t even listen to a nostalgic country song without a teary eye.
I remember a conversation I had with my brother-in-law’s parents* a couple of years after 9/11. They couldn’t understand why the world’s weak-willed politicians couldn’t just solve the problem, since “90% of Muslims support the attack”. The solution was so clear: “Just imprison all of their religious leaders worldwide,” they said.
My husband Ben actually tried to engage them in a discussion, in hopes of exposing the flaws of their views and the prejudices that lay beneath. I guess that was a mature, constructive thing to do. I preferred to leave the room and write them out of my social world. Oh, and to vent at Ben afterward: “What do you mean, they’re still nice people? They’re kooks! And they’re kooks who are dangerous! They get to vote! They’re the people who would have burned women at the stake for being witches!!”
It’s this lack of tolerance that’s making it hard for me to meaningfully engage in this week’s proposed discussion of banned books. I’m a research lawyer for the government, and I have actually read legal cases on freedom of expression as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and defined by the Supreme Court of Canada. This could potentially be an interesting angle for this online roundtable. And if we were talking about pornography, or hate speech, or Ernst Zundel (involving litigation I actually worked on), maybe I’d have the will to say something productive about it.
But this list of banned books? Nope. I’ve got nothing. I think about people who would deny not just for themselves but for others the majesty of Toni Morrison’s words, the youthful soul-searching and adventures of Harry Potter, or just the plain comfort that Judy Blume has brought to generations of pre-pubescent readers, especially during the decades before all-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-sex could be found with the click of a mouse. I think about these people and just haven’t got it in me to even try to talk.
I know this isn’t useful, but I can’t help it. I know the constructive thing to do would be to try to meet the book banners in debate, sourcing out the emotional impulse behind the censorship and the values they seek to protect, and then engaging in the art of persuasion. I bet Ben could do it. Maybe Nathalie, Marcelle and Beth-Anne could do it too.
Me? I’m leaving the room. To tend to my babies, doing what I can to be part of kinder times, and to nurture a better future, all the while hoping the book banners’ sphere of influence is small. And that they don’t vote.
* It’s okay. I can write about them with impunity. They’re not reading my articles, trust me.