Category Archives: parenting

TGIF y’all.

It’s been one hell of a shitastic week. A very dear friend of mine lost her pregnancy, and another was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a mere 10 days after delivering her second baby.

And then there’s all the political bullshit that’s been flying out of the Virginia State Assembly: if you’d like an abortion in VA you’ll need to have an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure can be performed. Of course, that assumes there will be anyone left to perform them in the state, AND it assumes that it will be legal to obtain one at all. Virginia sure has been busy these last 4 weeks, gunning for the most anti-choice state award. Sadly, it looks like they’ve got first place pretty well locked up.

BUT, while all this has been flying around, I’ve had this on repeat.

Tell me what was good in your week?

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Filed under parenting, toddler

Invasion of the body snatchers – toddler edition

Oh dear friends of mine on the inter webs, I’m losing my mind. I’m tired, and I’m frustrated, and I’m feeling like a lousy parent. Apparently, we’ve entered the fabled ‘terrible twos.’

Up until 2 weeks ago, give or take, kidlet was a joyful and amenable child. He happily (for the most part, nothing is ever perfect) got undressed for bath time, and into his jammies for bed. And he’d pick out his clothes in the morning without much fuss. He might have wanted a little extra time at the playground, or one more book at bedtime, but really, where’s the rush in life? I could deal with that.

We went to California on vacation over Christmas, and he had a great time. No bedtime, haphazard naps, tons of stimulation, more tv than I’ve watched in 15 years…it was his own personal amusement park. So when we got home and started to bring back the routine, there was resistance. I understand that, no one likes to come back from all that fun and have to get up in the morning. The time change from West to East is a killer. It takes me days to adjust. So I figured after a few days, he’d adjust and be back to ‘himself.’

And then he stayed up one night with a croupy cough. And then a few days later spiked a pretty good fever. So he stayed home from daycare with me. And we lounged around in our pjs, and routine was relaxed. And then one morning he didn’t want to get dressed, or go outside, or have his diaper changed. Any of the stuff one must do with a toddler on a regular basis. But I chalked it up to still adjusting from vacation, and then not feeling well because he was sick.

It’s been two weeks y’all. EVERY.SINGLE. diaper change, wardrobe change, bath time, and change of scenery (inside to outside, outside to inside) has been met with fervent, “No, I don’t wanna…” and tears.

And I don’t know what to do. At first I stepped back. Figured it would work itself out. It used to be that if he didn’t want to do something, and I walked away from it, in a minute or two he’d decide to do whatever it was on his own, and we could go on our merry way. Well, that failed miserably. That approach got me 2 hours of trying to get my kid dressed and out the door before finding success. I’m sure I’m not the first person this has happened to, but damn…I’m unequipped.

I didn’t want to hold him down to get him dressed, or undressed. I don’t want to parent him that way. I don’t want to restrain him, or raise my voice to him, or let my frustration with the situation get the best of me. But I couldn’t figure anything else out. So, for nearly 2 weeks, I’ve been pulling clothes off a screaming, crying, kicking two year old. AND I HATE IT. I hate it. It makes me want to cry. And, I think it’s become it’s own reward.

I’m afraid that the dynamic of conflict has become a reinforcement of the behavior. And, dear Maude, does that worry me.

WHAT DO I DO? How do I fix this? How do I change this? How do I peacefully guide my kid into a much needed diaper change?

Sometimes I think, well…does he have to get dressed? What’s the harm in him going out in his pjs? It’s cold out, but we have shoes that fit over them, and a coat is a coat is a coat. College kids everywhere have adopted pjs as a sort-of uniform, why can’t my kid? Stop fighting this battle. But then I think, I can’t send my kid to daycare every day in his jammies. It’s not their job to get him dressed. And why should I abdicate responsibility for something that I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to do because it’s easier for me. If he wants to sleep in the clothes that we somehow managed to get him into that morning, so what? Dirt washes off sheets just as easily as it does clothes and bodies. No big deal. How many days would he go in the same clothes?

There’s the diaper thing though. We flirted with potty learning a few weeks ago, but it was short lived. He started to fight it, so we decided to wait and try again later. He’s still not expressing any interest in using the potty – so he HAS to have his diaper changed about 4 times a day. It’s not really negotiable. And I hold him down. MOAR BATTLE PLEASE.

We’ve tried distracting him – it used to work like a champ. “Look! Shiny object! Ooohhh!” but now, he’s pretty much on to us. A friend of mine suggested some Yo Gabba Gabba segments that are available on You Tube, and those have helped a great deal the last 2 days. And I might be willing to use those until he moves out, if I have to. But I also feel like I should (I loathe that word, but it’s exactly how I feel) be doing something differently. I guess I feel that way mostly because I don’t like how I do feel. Which is frustrated, and tired, and sort of like a crappy parent.

So, those of you who have come before me – what advice do you have for this struggling mama?

I hear there are boarding schools for toddlers in Europe….

(Also, I’m quite confident I’m not a lousy parent. I just feel…ill equipped to deal with this new challenge so it makes me feel all crappy and sucktastic.)

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Kill your television

I don’t like media aimed at children. I don’t like the absence of women, and people of color in most movies. I don’t like the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. I don’t like the emphasis placed on heteronormative relationships. I don’t like that girl characters, or POC characters, or disabled characters are often relegated to supporting roles. And I don’t like that movies that are considered to have broad appeal are really movies that are aimed at boys (through a gender stereotyped construct).

Kidlet watches a few tv shows on Netflix. Thomas, and Kipper notably. He asks to watch the movie Cars, and Nemo, and sometimes Toy Story. We’re not a TV free house, but I wouldn’t be upset if we were. Instead I just get anxious, and hate it.  I hate it because these shows and movies remind me how marginalized women are in the world. And my kid will be influenced by this.

From Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in the Media

…in family films, there is only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. The repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that these negative stereotypes are ingrained and imprinted over and over.

It’s not just about negative portrayal, it’s the influence of women and girls being almost entirely absent.

The vocabulary that we use to communicate with children (really, with all people) will say a great deal about the things we feel are important. And if we absence women from movies, we affirm the idea that the contributions of women aren’t important.

I have the same feelings about major league sports. Turn on your TV on the weekend and try to find a sports event showcasing women. You might get lucky and find a televised gymnastics, or maybe an ice skating competition, or beach volleyball, but more likely you’ll find golf, football, basketball, hockey, or baseball, all being played by men. (If you’re on the West Coast, you might be able to watch some Pac-12 women’s volleyball.) You’re not likely to find a WNBA game, or a WPS  game. Based on a sampling of televised sports, you certainly would think that women don’t actually play them.

I even got pissed at a PBS show the other day. Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe follows a nature photographer wherever he goes to take pictures. Last week he travelled to New Zealand and in the 30 minute show he talked with half a dozen people, and photographed a few more, and in the entire show – only one photograph, composed of 5 Maori faces, included a woman. Lesson? There are no women in New Zealand.

Bluemilk linked to this post from Reel Girl the other day; “Questions to ask when considering a movie for your kids.” I think the questions are great because they challenge us to think critically about what our children are seeing.

Is the movie titled for a male star?

Is the movie centered around the quest of a male?

How many lines do the female characters have?

How many of the females’ lines have to do with what they’re wearing, what they look like, romantic relationships, or shopping?

How many of the males refer to the females only in reference to romance and how they look?

The questions also provide a great place to start for conversations with your kids about what they see in movies. (Or, I imagine they would be good questions for a kid who could answer them instead of running around shrieking, “Race cars go fast! Race cars go fast!” (Though that does illustrate what he takes away from the movie at this point in his life.))

I can’t opt out entirely, kidlet’s dad enjoys professional sports a great deal, and there are times when we put him in front of a movie, or the tv so we can have 30 minutes (or 6 hours – hello road trips and cross country plane rides!) of time to eat, or cry from exhaustion. (It’s hypocritical I guess, though I have little patience for calling out hypocrisy, we’re all guilty of it.) But I want things to be different. I want him to see that women and people with disabilities, and people of color ARE important, and influential. So I have to work harder to find those representations. And if I can’t find those representations, I’ll have to work to create a critical dialogue about what he does see.

Do you have any favorite kids shows that you think do a good job of illustrating positive female, or disabled, or POC role models?

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Filed under feminism, parenting

Not that gender neutral nonsense again.

Gender neutral parenting. It’s a big buzz word these days. Parents who want to give their children the freedom to explore gender constructs on their own terms and without shame. Shocking!

It gets a bad rap sometimes. It seems a great number of parents are perfectly  happy telling their sons that pink, and dolls are for girls, and teaching their daughters that firefighting costumes, and trucks are for boys. I can’t blame them exactly, consciously counteracting the prevailing social norms is exhausting, and confusing, and often leads to alcohol consumption to combat the never-ending feelings of frustration with the world. Walk into any major toy store (and even an independent one) and you’ll be assaulted with the “toy section” and the “pink section.” It’s nearly impossible (nearly? It might BE impossible) to avoid the influence that gender stereotypes have on our children.

I’m gonna wade in with two of my own experiences, one that’s cute and satisfies me perversely, and the other that makes my little feminist heart sing.

Kidlet wears a ponytail. For the last month or so, nearly every morning he says, “Mama, put mah hair in ponytail!” We sit down on the floor together while I comb his hair, and he holds the rubber band. Then he spends the rest of the day checking to make sure it’s still there. Apparently ponytails are the major gender indicator for toddlers, as everywhere we go, people refer to him as “she.” He’s often dressed in clothes from the boy section, though I try very consciously to not buy him clothes that have construction equipment or sports motifs on it, and I know he has a penis, so to ME he looks like a boy. But I guess because of the ponytail, people assume he’s a girl. I’m cool with that. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But, HOOO WHEEE does it bother other people. I don’t bother to correct people unless I’m asked a direct question like, “How old is she?” then I’ll reply, “He’s…” Here it is – boys don’t have to have short hair, and girls don’t have to have long hair. It’s really that simple. So, my piece of performing masculinity subversion, acted out through my son. Yeah, yeah, I’m using my kid to further my own agenda. Know what? I’m ok with it.

The second piece is significantly more important to me. This toy is pretty popular in our house these days:

Kidlet calls this toy his FIREFIGHTER. YES!!! A thousand yesses! Instead of calling it a fireman, my kid has picked up on the efforts of his dad and I to speak in gender neutral terms whenever we are given the opportunity and now speaks in them too! I love this. This is so important to me because so many professions represented to children are represented as male, which winds up creating a subliminal understanding that boys have certain opportunities that girls don’t. I think the language we choose to speak in, with it’s ageist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and violent  roots teaches our children VOLUMES more than we think it does. So, to hear his little 2year old mouth speaking to me in gender neutral terms…well, it just makes my day.

How do you support your children in their gender exploration?

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Filed under culture, feminism, O, parenting

Potty Learning. Or: My parenting Waterloo

I think the time has come. I do. And it’s got me flummoxed and over thinking and wanting to stick my head in the sand. Oh yes. It’s time to teach the kid to use the potty.

EGADS. This cannot be. Can’t I wait another year? Can’t I pay someone else to teach this lesson? I mean, I’m going to pay someone to teach him to do long division, surely someone can be paid to teach him to poop in the potty.

Sigh.

Up until this point we’ve been really relaxed about the potty. About a year ago he got a little potty, and a kid’s seat for the big potty, and we’ve let him explore them on his own. No pressure, no stress. And he’s peed several times. YAY FOR THE POTTY. Yesterday, in fact, we were out and he asked to use it, and then did. In public. THIS IS AMAZING. But we really haven’t emphasized it, beyond offering. And I think that needs to change.

More and more frequently, he’s waking up in the morning with a dry diaper. And he’s been coming home from daycare in different clothes than he went in, because he’s been leaking through. (Now, I know this could also be rectified by changing him more often, but he’s definitely holding it, and then going a LOT at once. Because I’ll check him and he’ll be dry as a bone after 4 hours and then 15 minutes later, his diaper is bursting.) So I think he’s ready.

Sadly, I’m not sure WE are. And why aren’t we ready? Because of POOP. He doesn’t have any sort of regular poop schedule. And he often has very loose, almost watery poop. Sometimes he’ll tell us he’s pooped with a “Me no have poop Mama!” declaration, but we’ve never caught a poop on the potty. And if I take him out of diapers and put him in underwear, and we don’t catch those watery poops…we’re gonna be in for a mess of disgusting proportions. And I’m not sure I can handle that. I’m also not sure I can send him to daycare with that potential in good conscience.

Now, I’ve devoured information on the internet. Some advice says, “Go ahead and leave them in diapers, but offer regularly.” Some says, “Into underwear! And let the messes fall where they fall! They’ll figure it out!” Some says, “Spend 3 days at home with a naked kid and everything will be peachy at the end!” Like all parenting endeavors, there’s no one size fits all approach, and I’m having trouble sorting out which one is going to fit us best.

Training pants? This is a route I’d like to go. Something that he can pull up and down himself, but with a little more absorbency than underwear. I’m pretty confident that he will pick up peeing in the potty pretty quickly. So it just comes back to poop. Do I just need to resign myself to the possibility of poop all over my life? In his carseat? On my carpet? All over the aisle in the grocery store? I mean, I’m a pretty easy going parent – my kid has barfed in a lot of places and I’ve managed to stay cool and not worry too much about any mess I’m creating, but poop? Unnnnnnnhhhhh.

So, for those of you that have done this – I beg you – share your wisdom, and experiences with me. Not the stuff you’ve heard, but the stuff you did and how it went for you. Let me learn from your success. I don’t want to send him to kindergarten in diapers. (I know! I know! They won’t let him into kindergarten unless he’s using the potty. I don’t want my kid left behind because he doesn’t like the potty! Why didn’t Bush create a policy for THIS problem?!)

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Filed under diapers, parenting, toddler

More thoughts on harassment and silencing

As soon as I published last week’s post on my experience with harassment, I was flooded with doubt. I worried I was telling a story that didn’t have enough “oomph.” Here we are, in the middle of a convergence of stories about big cases of assault, and rape, and harassment, and I chime in with my story. My experience was so very minor compared to some of the truly horrifying experiences other people have faced in their lives, that I wondered if sharing my story would look like I was hoping for a seat on the bandwagon of victimization.

The doubt quickly passed. My experience was minor when compared with the experiences of other people, but I think it’s the perfect story to use when illustrating how systemic, and ingrained this expectation of silence is. I was intimidated, and told to deal with it. The bully/intimidator/asshole who was perpetrating the behavior was given a pass. Par for the course.

I know I’m not alone in these experiences. From the comments on the post:

Rachel said, “I was just starting 8th grade and there was this guy in my grade who would regularly try to hold my hand, wink at me in the halls, and other types of unwelcome behavior. I was really uncomfortable but I really didn’t know what to do…”

Ashleyvanessa added, “I was sexually harassed in high school…I told my friends. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents or any authority figure. It led to months of self harming…”

It’s been my experience that if you talk to 10 women, you will hear 10 slightly different, but essentially the same stories (my experience with this conversation, as is related to sexual harassment, is limited to women, but I suspect men and trans people will share some variation of the same story). As mistressofboogie (side note – if you all aren’t reading her blog Adventures in Boogieville you should be. Her cultural commentaries make me jump up in agreement) points out,

“It’s just awful, isn’t it? This thing we all go through?…that we all go through it only makes each individual experience more important, more worthy of note. I don’t know about you, but this was sold to me – and every other girl I grew up with – as just what boys do! You know, and it means they like you and that’s good because whatever they do to you it is not as bad as what they’ll do if they don’t ‘like’ you.”

And she’s so.fucking.right. We are sold this bullshit. As girls, we are told that this attention: the comments, the gestures, the touching, these things are how boys behave. (Actually, we start getting sold on the “boys will be boys” trope when they come out of the womb. I’ve been hearing it applied to my son for a hundred different things since he was a 2 day old infant.) Which, of course, serves to normalize the bullshit. So when we are uncomfortable with the bullshit, and we ask for the bullshit to stop, either directly to the perpetrator, or to an ostensibly protective authority figure we slam straight into this cultural conditioning. If we dislike being touched in the hallway, we are reminded that our bodies are not ours to define, “He’s just trying to be friendly!” or “You know you like it when I do that.” If we dislike a sexual gesture made across a room we’re told that our discomfort is OUR problem, “He’s just being stupid, ignore him.” If we ask for someone to help us feel safe, we’re admonished to protect ourselves because, “You could have walked a different route.” All of these responses, all of these excuses, serve one purpose. To teach and remind women that we are NOT ENTITLED TO FEEL SAFE. Fuck that noise.

I don’t think of this experience I wrote about as being particularly large in my life. It’s stuck with me for 20 years because it’s such a clear case of silencing. But Jay commented, “You referred to this incident in a comment at my blog over a year ago,” which gave me pause. (I’m about to start digging through her archives to see what I said.) For a week I’ve been wondering why it’s the story I bring up whenever I talk about bullying, or silencing, or harassment. And I think it’s what I use to remind me, and anyone who is listening, that the stories we read about in the paper, or hear about on the news, are the big stories. But the big stories don’t do justice to the whole picture. Harassment can, and does, happen to nearly everyone. It’s not isolated to certain areas of the country, or specific socio-economic classes, or some schools but not others. It is EVERYWHERE.

And I hope to Maude that I can create an environment of safety and respect for my son so that he never has a story to tell, and so that if he witnesses his friends engaging in bullying behavior he will have the confidence to stand up and ask for it to stop.

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Filed under culture, feminism, I get pissed, parenting, politics

Harassment and speaking up, only to be silenced.

Earlier this week The New York Times Motherlode column ran a piece, Handling Sexual Harassment In Schools. In the piece KJ Dellantonia asks,

“What would you tell a daughter who said she was being “sexually harassed” at school?”

(Sidenote: The scare quotes around sexually harassed piss me off. Seems to me if  teenage girl tells us she’s being sexually harassed at school, we oughta believe her. The quotes seem to offer the idea that maybe her poor female mind doesn’t understand what sexual harassment is, and maybe she’s just being flirted with.)

Dellantonia says,

“My memory of late middle school and high school is that sexual comments, jokes and gestures pretty much defined the experience, and quickly became so commonplace that the question of “welcome” was moot. If I had a nickel for every time a classmate made the tongue motion associated with oral sex at me, I could have paid for college. I never told my mother or a teacher. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming out of that conversation.

No matter how much we profess to be against sexual harassment as a society, we’ve never shown ourselves to be particularly supportive of those who blow the whistle on someone who’s inevitably just trying to make a “joke,” and girls know it.”

Dellantionia nails my experience, perfectly. And she’s right women are taught to be quiet. We observe the take-down of sexual women with slurs, and disrespect. We observe the dismantling of women who speak up – Anita Hill, DSK’s accuser, and just this week, Herman Cain’s accuser on the news, around the water cooler, and even in the hallways of our schools. Why would we say anything?

This piece reminded me, all too clearly, of a very specific experience I had in high school. First, I’m not a shy person. I’ve spoken up about unwanted gestures towards me more times than I can count. This was not my first time complaining about behavior. But it was the first time I was really nervous about the power of the boy I was going to complain about. It was the first time I felt like I might be in danger.

Dellantonia says that she adopted a facade of indifference to cope with unwanted gestures in high school. I adopted an attitude of “fuck you.” Most of the time I was very willing to tell boys to knock off the sexual gestures, or the discussion of who was hot or not, and I smacked more than one boy’s arm for getting too close in the hallway. I’m usually pretty assertive. But this case was different.

I was a junior in a math class with juniors and seniors. I have an annoying need for very sharp wooden pencils, but failed to carry a pencil sharpener in my backpack. So a few times a week, during class, I would get out of my seat and walk to the back of the classroom, where there was a pencil sharpener mounted on the wall. I didn’t wear skirts to school often, but on the days that I did, a boy who sat a few seats behind me, would take his pencil (or pen, the details escape me) and run it up my leg, and lift my skirt with it, each time I walked by. After about 8 times I was scared and pissed. This guy was a senior, but he was one of those seniors who needed to shave every day. He played football, so he was physically imposing, and he was a guy I didn’t know at all. We didn’t have (that I knew of) one single ‘friend’ in common. I didn’t see him anywhere on campus except in this class, and I didn’t feel like I could hit him in class, and not have some sort of retaliatory action taken. He was smug, and just gave off that unmistakable air of entitlement.

So I went and talked to the dean of students. I never felt uncomfortable approaching him, though I’d had him as a French teacher, and was pretty sure he was a sexist ass. He was where the rules said to go first, so I did. (The rules tell us to ask for protection from people who we know aren’t likely to offer it. Lovely system.) You know what he told me? (If you were paying attention to the lead in to this, I’ll bet you can guess what he told me to do. I wrote it into what I didn’t do to protect myself.) He told me to 1.) Go buy a $0.50 pencil sharpener to keep in my bag, 2.) Walk a different way to the pencil sharpener on the wall if “it was bothering [me] so much,” and 3.) Make sure none of my behavior could be construed as welcoming his actions.

DEEP BREATH.

I fought back the tears as I left his office. Because I was SO FUCKING PISSED that I was being ignored. That my concerns about MY SAFETY were being dismissed. And I never did anything else about it again. I got a pencil sharpener that I could keep in my backpack, and counted the days until the class was over. I don’t remember if I ever told my dad about it. I don’t think I did, because I bet he would have been in the office the next morning just as pissed off as I was afraid to be.

So, what’s my point? My point is this – girls, women, trans women, boys, men, trans men, anyone who is facing unwanted behavior needs to be able to speak up AND BE HEARD. Telling people to keep quiet will NEVER change this culture of assault.

There’s a great irony here, too. All around me I hear messages exhorting people to speak up (I’m going to echo that message in just a minute) but all too often when we DO speak up, we get shushed. Exactly as Dellantonia points out. More for the “can’t win” column.

Every time I read about a child, or adult, who kept it all in, who was afraid to talk about it, who feared for their safety if they broke the silence…I cry. I cry for the pain they carried. I cry for the lack of support they felt. I cry because we live in a culture of harassment and bullying.

So, Dellantonia’s question – what would I tell my daughter, or my son, who was being harassed at school? I hope to Maude anyone who told me they were being harassed (my kid or otherwise) would be able to find the courage, and the support, to talk to the school, or the institution. I really do. Because the more we DON’T talk about the shit that happens in the hallways of schools, or around the break table at work, or at the bar in a restaurant, the more power we give it, and the more entrenched it becomes.

 

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Filed under culture, feminism, I get pissed, parenting, politics