Like everyone else, I have down days. The baby has me up at an ungodly hour (though this is blessedly rare), the news has me deeply depressed, I miss my family and friends in the U.S., I lie awake thinking about how much I have to do the next day, or an interaction with one of the girls that didn’t go well, or how I can get Banana to stop tantrumming every afternoon after gan.
But even on my worst days, I find myself thinking how lucky I am to live in this particular time in history. Yes, the economy looks rather bleak, Iran is plotting my nuclear demise as we speak, and the whole world seems to have it in for the Jews. But consider these things:
1) Immunizations. Despite how hard it is to see pain inflicted on my children, I am grateful that there are vaccines for the worst illnesses that plagued prior generations. I can have a baby nowadays in the almost certain knowledge that it will live to age 5, where a few generations ago the odds might have been 50/50.
2) Birth control. For parents to be able to plan their families removes much of the dread that I imagine came from married life. Psychologically, economically, and biologically, people have more power to choose for themselves the family make-up they want.
3) Feminism. This has become “the other f-word” to some, but I think that’s unfair. Rather than putting pressure on women to achieve and set aside their personal lives (which is how many people interpret feminism), I think it’s about choices. Women should be able to choose career, motherhood, and personal relationships at the time they deem appropriate in their lives. They should be free to move about in society without fear of censure, discrimination, or rape. While the work of the women’s movement may not be finished, it’s come a long way, baby.
4) Suffrage. In the biography I’m reading about John Marshall, I learned that voting in the U.S. was originally not done by secret ballot. Tables would be set up on the village green, candidates and election officials would sit behind the tables, and white, male property owners of age would line up, step forward, and say out loud who had their vote. It would be recorded, the lucky candidate would stand up and shake the man’s hand and say, “I appreciate your vote.” On a small scale, this made for tense social situations in small communities, and on a large scale, didn’t take into account the will of the majority of people in the country. A few centuries later, there is universal suffrage in the U.S. and most of the rest of the Western world (including Israel, but not including its neighbors). People may fret about election fraud and a politicized Supreme Court deciding the winner of an election, but it is still better than what was. Those who stay home on their keysters and refuse to vote on principle (Joseph Heller was one) are letting everyone else make their choices for them. Not me.
5) Careers and education. We no longer live in a time when what our father did for a living determines what we do. Universal education is a battleground for people who want to thrash out the details of how it should be done, where the money should come from, and what the curriculum should include, but still it exists. When made accessible to all, education and the openness of the working world to those with talent and interest rather than those born into a profession makes for a society of freedom, innovation and mobility.
6) Technology. Just the thought of hand-washing cloth diapers for Bill gives me the screaming mimis. The Cap’n and I hand-washed dishes for two years before buying a dishwasher here in Israel. (Now when we turn it on we close our eyes, smile, and say, “I love this dishwasher.”) And the Internet. People used to have to go to the library, own encyclopedias, and simply go without information. Now we research vaccines for the kids, download dosages for medications (Israeli pharmaceutical companies don’t print them on the package, but enclose them in the box which invariably gets thrown out), listen to songs we’ve long forgotten about, buy stuff, and look up an actor who appears on West Wing whose face we recognize but can’t remember where we’ve seen him. All with a few clicks of the mouse. Absolutely amazing.
We have all this stuff now, which allows us to choose. The Amish can still ride around in their horse-drawn buggies, people can do without dishwashers, and some parents choose not to have their children vaccinated. Having choices doesn’t eliminate risk, but it does increase personal freedom. I ask myself nearly every day, How did people manage without this stuff? I don’t know, but we’re blessed not to have to.