Surrogate Mothers

My mum was extraordinarily energetic and not only worked full time as a teacher but took on a long list of extracurricular projects like coaching cheerleading and volleyball, running a recreation program for our community in the summer months, and being the chaperone for the local beauty pageant queen in her quest to become Miss Pennsylvania.  She became sick in September 1973.  Her brief illness forced her to slow down somewhat and take time off from teaching, and for the first time, my mum was home all day.

Back then that was called a housewife.

Not content to sit around and watch her “stories” or suddenly take up baking, my mother found and befriended another housewife—our neighbor down the road Mrs. Ferraino.  They became daytime BFFs, and soon, my mum was drinking coffee, learning to bake, talking about kids, and running around (literally) with Mrs. Ferraino—the one member of the duo who didn’t have leukemia. (Mrs. Ferraino admits today that she had trouble keeping up.)

Mum died in May 1974.

The summer that followed (and for countless summers and winters thereafter), Mrs. Ferraino, along with Mr. Ferraino and their four kids—David, Mary Ann, Annette, and Deanna—took us in.  When I say they “took us in”, it wasn’t “taken in” in the sense that we moved in with them or that they became our parents.  They took us in when we needed taken in—rides to practices, rides to the emergency room (on several occasions), and rides to church.  Or, one of the family members would call our house and announce that it was bread baking day (Friday) and did we want some bread?  (Uh, yes, please.) We also would pile into their yellow station wagon on trips to down to their hometown of Kittanning to see their extended family and even started calling their grandparents and aunts and uncles by the same names used by their family.  We camped out in their backyard in tents, hiked with them in the woods surrounding our respective houses, begged anyone nearby who had a horse to let us ride it, and went sledding and ice skating in the winter.

Another family who took me in were the Byers’.  I was the same age as Deedee and because she was nothing but a big ball of fun, I fell in easily with her and her five siblings.  My mother’s maiden name was also ‘Byers’, so we secretly agreed that we must be cousins.  (We aren’t.)  There were (and still are) six Byers kids—Donny, Deedee, Dougie, Davey, Danielle, and Denny, then one more:  me.  Their mom Rosie (who refused to allow me to call her ‘Mrs. Byers’) worked as a hairdresser and worked hard, owned her own shop, and yet kept an immaculate and well-run household.  Again, this family always had room for me—we went camping, swimming all the time, rode the Stewarts’ pony whenever we had a chance, and because they lived “in town”, we made a little bit of mischief along the way.

Rosie and Mrs. Ferraino with ten of their own kids among them always had room for me.  I was subject to their family rules, took my share of the blame when our shenanigans went south, but was always welcomed at their homes.

I did appreciate being a part of their families, such as it was, but I appreciate it now even more since I’ve raised three of my own children.  Sometimes you just want your own kids running around your house, not an extra neighbor kid (or two or three).  If they minded an extra kid, they never, ever, let on.

All I wanted after my mum’s death was normal.  Mrs. Ferraino and Rosie gave me normal and then some.  I will be forever grateful to each of them and to their kids who put up with an extra sibling—kids who are now grown with kids and grandkids of their own—and on this Mother’s Day, I want to thank all of them.

But I especially want to thank the two women who knew exactly what I needed at a very lonely time in my life.  Thank you, Mrs. Ferraino.  Thank you, Rosie.  I don’t think you’ll ever realize how much you did for me.

I love you both very much.

An Inconvenient Analogy

The most egregious form of oppression known to mankind …

Female genital mutilation has lately been in the forefront of the mainstream media. In Detroit, a second doctor has been arrested for allegedly performing genital mutilations on minor girls; the first doctor, a female, was arrested in April for the same thing.  Female genital mutilation is considered a felony in the U.S.; internationally, it is recognized as a human rights violation, considered torture, and at the very least, is an extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

I won’t go into the sad and appalling details of FGM—feel free to Google it for yourselves.  Suffice it to say that it is an abomination, one of those sickeningly despicable acts that defies all that is decent and right in this world.  If adult women choose this for themselves, that’s one thing.  But mutilating a child for some perceived religious or cultural objective is nothing short of barbaric.

We can all agree on this, am I right?

Another practice that continues to dominate the media—mainstream and otherwise—is fetal mutilation.  This is when a human fetus is viciously dismembered (causing the demise of the fetus) and is removed from its mother’s womb.  Suffice it to say that this, too, is an abomination. If adults choose this for themselves—and I’ve yet to learn of any adult choosing to dismember himself or herself—that’s one thing.  But mutilating a child for some perceived cultural objective, just like FGM, is nothing short of barbaric.

The difference here is that when human fetal mutilation (resulting not only in the fetus’ dismemberment but also its death) is performed, no one is arrested.  In fact, the very organization that provides the service—the mutilation and death of a fetus—is funded by the federal government!  And get this:  There are actually men and women—seemingly intelligent, rational citizens—who will fall on their metaphorical swords defending the rights of women when it comes to fetal mutilation and death.  To them, anything that would prohibit a woman from having this procedure (that being the brutal mutilation and death of an unborn child) is considered the most egregious form of oppression known to mankind.

Here’s another way the pro-fetal mutilation and death contingent choose to spin the issue:  Human fetal mutilation and death is part of that (non-pejorative) thing called “women’s healthcare”.  Because, you see, when framed within the robust and sanguine, it sounds as if fetal mutilation and death is a healthy thing, like getting your teeth cleaned every six months or having a mammogram once a year.

I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree with me when I assert that female genital mutilation is an abomination, but you can be damn sure there are plenty of folks who are sanctimoniously outraged that anyone would deny a woman the right to allow her own fetus to fall victim to the act of fetal mutilation and death.

Why is it okay to mutilate and kill a baby but not okay to mutilate the genitals of a young girl?  Both are sickeningly despicable.  But not equally.

Only one kills.