Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Kitchenmates

Just so you don't read that last post and think my hometown is filled with people who peddle antique racist propaganda, I'd like to show you these:

I bought these at a booth at the same festival. It was filled with such creatures: an ostrich made out of a lamp, a dragon made out of mufflers, etc. Now, these live in my kitchen. 

Book 3: Nurtureshock--Where did Po Bronson find a non-racist world? Can I go, too?

Nurtureshock, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman,  is another one I haven't read all of yet, but I am particularly struck by chapter 3, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race."

There's a pretty thorough recap of this chapter over at Salon, but the bottom line is that studies suggest white parents are uncomfortable talking about race, so much so that they avoid it all together in many cases. This, contrary to their belief that they are raising "colorblind" children, actually works counter to a productive, equalizing message.

I think there's a lot of good work going on in this chapter. I am particularly in agreement with the need to open up dialogue about race and perceived differences at an early age. (The cited studies suggest that there is a narrow window of time to do this, one which potentially closes by third-grade). I whole-heartedly agree with sentiments like this one:

"It's the worst kind of embarrassment when a child blurts out, 'Only brown people can have breakfast at school,' or 'You can't play basketball, you're white, so you have to play baseball.' But shushing them only sends the message that this topic is unspeakable, which makes race more loaded, more intimidating"
However, I feel that this analysis lacks some nuance, particularly when it comes to the recounting of the author's observations about his own child's race-based preference of a white basketball player. Up to this point, the author had taken the approach that not mentioning anyone's skin color would provide his child with the colorblind perspective best suited for viewing all people as equal. When he realized this method wasn't working, he remarked:
"I'd always thought racism was taught. If a child grows up in a non-racist world, why was he spontaneously showing race-based preferences?"
Excuse me, but what non-racist world did he think this child was in? Certainly not the one I live in. I do think that racism is taught, but that doesn't mean it has to be beaten over kids' heads through overtly racist messages. We "teach" racism everyday. Unless this child was a complete recluse (and he wasn't because the author notes that he "never once mentioned the color of anyone's skin--not at school or while watching television"), then he was getting race-driven and subtly racist messages, even when parents are doing their best to keep their child from exposure to these messages.

This is why, I think, (as the title of this chapter suggests) that white parents are afraid to talk about race. Many of them don't know how to handle the subverted racism that plagues our society today. Overt messages of racism are easy to dismantle. Of course the signs that used to hang over "Whites Only" water fountains were wrong. And this is not only from a historical point of view; we (myself included, as you can see from this blog post) are quick to rip apart the school that was segragating it's student body elections by race. These are clear violations of the message of equality.

But what about the magazine covers that lighten the skin of black actresses? What about racial disparity in the way schools suspend students? What about caricatures of racial stereotypes masquerading as cartoon characters?

Or, what about this story? I went back to my hometown this past weekend to go to a very rural festival that involves threshing wheat and giant, decades-old tractors. I was there with my mom, a woman who has lived in one of two neighboring rural Midwest counties her entire life. Her exposure to diversity has been narrow, but she is a good person who believes in the message of equality and accepts my interracial marriage completely. At this festival, many people gather to sell random things flea-market style. At one of these tables, I came across these:

My mom did not understand why I was upset.

"What's wrong with Aunt Jemima?" she asked me, with all sincerity.

In response I gawked and gestured with frustration at the blackface salt and pepper shakers. Her confusion deepened. "Those are just antiques!"

I explained to her that I saw in these "just antiques" vestiges of a narrative all too common. These pieces were turning an entire race of people into exaggerated physical attributes and sending messages of servitude. She said, "I guess I see what you're saying." I hope she did.

So, all that to say that when Bronson and Merryman suggest that their research concludes that raising a child in a "non-racist world" is not enough to combat racial self-segregation and race-based judgments, I'm perplexed. Surely this theory cannot be put to the test anytime soon. When we find (or make!) a non-racist world, then we can reconvene.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book 2: Halving It All

So, the second book on my list that has prompted me to write is Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works by Francine Deutsch.
This book takes a look at equally shared parenting, the splitting of all facets of raising children 50/50 between both parents. Deutsch explains that this can mean each partner takes turns doing each thing or that the two devise some way to split up the different tasks between them. But, in the end, both must agree that the overall workload is split 50/50.

I'm only about one-third of the way through this book, so I can't comment on it as a whole just yet. What I did want to comment on was something that Deutsch talks about in Chapter 5: "Friends and Foes."

"Equal sharers seek out social circles that support their nontraditional lifestyles and avoid those that don't."
"Equal sharers do not simply find themselves in egalitarian social circles that now shape their everyday family life. Instead, they actively work to create this alternative world. For example, when considering to whom to compare themselves, they intentionally choose their more progressive peers."

Basically, Deutsch points out that equal sharers like to surround themselves by other equal sharers. There are discussions in the book as to why this is true, and most of them boil down to people being able to better justify their lifestyle choices when they are surrounded by other people who agree with them.

This, of course, makes sense, but it also seems problematic to me on a larger level.

I am, in my studies, very interested in the dichotomy of individuality/community, especially the role that it plays in shaping American identity. I firmly believe that Americans (and probably people in general, but all of my work has dealt with American examples), are forced into a paradox of having to stand alone and belong. American media and myths are filled with messages of self-reliance, individuality, and finding one's self. At the same time, our ethic is largely based on group identity as Americans (in the melting pot or the patchwork quilt) and our willingness to help others in need.

Before looking at the discussion of these self-created communities in Deutsch's study, I also want to consider what surrounding ourselves with like-minded people means on a rhetorical level. It's very easy to fully subscribe to an idea when everyone else around you confirms it. It is also really easy to fall into groupthink. I think that we see this happening a lot on our social and political fields at the moment. Everything is very polarized, and some argue that this is because people now have more control over what kind of information they take in. We can choose from a wide variety of news sources, television channels, YouTube videos, etc. Rather than making us more informed, however, sometimes this ability to choose creates a very insular worldview: we consciously choose media that reaffirms what we already believe, making it unnecessary to confrot opposing viewpoints with any level of scrutiny or analysis.

Okay, so, thinking about the community/individuality divide and the fact that we are rhetorically strongest when we are able to articulate and understand ideas counter to ours, what does it mean for equally shared parents who seek to surround themselves only with other equally sharing parents?

I, for one, am not going to have this option without cutting out a vast majority of my close friends, something I am not willing to do.

I also do not feel that my equal sharing is a "correct" moral choice. I think that it is the right choice for me and my family. In fact, I have never thought of doing it any other way. Neither has my husband. We've both known from the moment we entered our relationship that we both wanted careers. We've both participated in the day-to-day running of the household since the minute we started sharing one. Granted, we don't share every single task, but we do split all the tasks up evenly. Does that mean it always works perfectly? Of course not, but we always get back to the norm with a discussion and some tweaking.

I have encountered some people who seem to take my plan to equally share as an attack on their plan (or already enacted model). It's not. I find these personal choices just that, personal. There is no way for someone else looking in from the outside to understand the complexity with which a home is managed. There is no way that one method could work for all of the different types of people even in one community, let alone a whole country (or the whole world). I understand that having a sympathetic community who experiences similar challenges and rewards is important for everyone, but I don't think that isolation is an answer to anything.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wishing for a Shower-free Shower

My mom and close friends are throwing me a shower on Saturday, and I'm really excited about it. We're having a co-ed BBQ in a local park. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is a little grim. The last time I checked, the thunder storms were supposed to be over by Saturday, but I'm still a little nervous. Here's hoping for no showers at the shower. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


So, I read Pushed, I'd already been thinking about trying a natural birth, and now I'm feeling more committed to it than before. I also read "Why would anyone want to have an unmedicated birth?" over at First the Egg as suggested in the comments on the Pushed entry.

This is the part that struck me:
"A woman may simply not fear pain, or she may fear pain a lot less than the other forms of suffering. . . If she is less worried about pain than about loss of control over her body or her experience. . .being stuck in one place or connected to machines (a sense of being trapped or tied down), or another issue, she may choose to avoid any interventions that might bring it into her birth experience. I think it’s important to remember that pain is not the worst possible thing for most people, even if our medical system often implies that it is."
This helped me articulate why I want an unmedicated birth. It's not because I think that women are making a selfish choice by choosing pain relief. It's not even that I'm terrified of the possible complications (though those are concerns that have weighed in my choice). If I'm being completely honest, it's because I am terrified of being immobile for hours on end.

I know that once I say yes to an epidural, my motion is limited. I've been told that once I get to that point in the labor, I won't care, but I can't really imagine a time in my life when I won't care about immobility.

I also am scared of the side effects of the medication, especially feeling groggy and out of touch with reality in the first moments of my child's life. I stopped taking my pain meds following a bad car accident after one dose. I much prefered the pain to the feeling the pills gave me.

My problem now is that I feel myself hedging. I say things like, "Well, I'll go in and try for as long as I can" and "I won't beat myself up if I end up asking for the epidural."

I know why I'm saying these things (I don't want to put so much pressure on having the "perfect" birth, because I know that's unrealistic and probably not possible), but I also know that words have power. I know that I am going to have to sound a lot more confident about it if I'm going to feel more confident.

I am also going to continue reading and studying so that I can get more prepared. Preparation and positive rhetoric sound like important steps to me right now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book 1: Pushed

So, as a follow-up to my post about the books I've added to my to do list, I've decided that I ought to include some sort of summary or discussion about each one. Today's is for Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block.

The premise of this book is at once simple, terrifying, and profound:
"Women are even beginning to deny normal birth to themselves: If 'normal' means being induced, immobilized by wires and tubes, sped up with drugs, all the while knowing that there's a good chance of surgery, well, might as well just cut to the chase, so to speak. 'Just give me a cesarean,' some are saying. And who can blame them?"

Block's goal is to get women to be their own advocates and to be informed about how labor should progress. She blames the medical industry's penchant for turning medical advancements aimed at "treatment of abnormality" into "speeding up an ordering an unpredictable, at times tedious, process" for women being pushed into too-soon deliveries. She says that women are too often offered inductions, Pitocin to speed up in-progress labor, artificial rupture of the membranes, and even c-sections for convenience. She sees these practices as directly related to more tearing during delivery, a higher rate of c-sections (whether the patient wants one or not), and overall rushed, unhealthy deliveries.

Clearly, Block is a natural birth advocate. She goes so far as to frequently cite sources who believe no "normal" (complication-free) pregnancy should end in a hospital. She also has a large section of the book devoted to cataloging the daily activities of midwives, some of whom practice underground because the states they are in have made their careers illegal.

I enjoyed the read and agree (at least intellectually) with a lot of the conclusions and evidence.

As for what I took from it to personally apply to my pregnancy and intended birth, I'm less clear.

I like the idea of a natural birth, but I like a lot of ideas. I was in the room with my sister as her labor progressed (naturally, without any medication to speed it up), and she looked positively worn out before she asked for the epidural. (I left shortly after that, but I was there long enough to see her become much calmer). Even though the epidural provided her a much-needed relief, it also made her very--for lack of a better word--dopey. She also tore pretty badly during delivery, though I have no idea if that's connected to epidural use or not.

At first, I thought for sure I'd get the epidural. Then, I did research and decided that I would try to do it without one. The thing that made me change my mind was reading about how delivering flat on one's back is about the least logical way to do it. This made a lot of sense to me. I grew up in the country and watched a lot of animals give birth; I've never seen one do it with their legs straight up in the air. As I read about walking around to help with labor pains, different positions to push, birthing balls, and water therapy, it sounded good. Plus, I really, really don't want to feel drugged out.

But then I remembered my sister's face before the epidural, and she was only dialated to a 4 at the time.

So, I'm still on the fence.

As for Block's other concerns, I feel somewhat (perhaps naively) confident that I can be my own advocate in preventing early intervention. My doctor and the hospital I am using both strongly advocate natural birth. They provide birthing balls and two-person showers for laboring mothers. The hospital itself provided me a birth plan to fill out that included options about how much movement and control I wanted during the process. This could all, of course, be smoke and mirrors, but I feel comfortable there. In addition, my doctor's office is a combined practice, and the doctors share weekend and late night shifts. This means that I might not have my individual doctor present at delivery, but I feel like it also means that I'm less likely to be pressured to speed up a delivery to accommodate her schedule.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Latest Weight Loss Craze: Breastfeeding Your Way to a Slimmer You!

Over at Work It, Mom!, there's a link to this ad from the NYC WIC program:

This woman, in the standard, annoying, ultra-upbeat weight loss voice, discusses how she became "40 pounds thinner!" She holds up a pair of (obviously) maternity pants and tells us, "Yep. These were my pants." (So maybe squeezing a child out had something to do with that 40-pound loss. . .) But this woman didn't starve herself or use a fad diet. No. This woman lost her weight simply by breastfeeding her baby!

I know that the speedy loss of pregnancy weight is one of the benefits of breastfeeding, but I've always thought of it as an afterthough benefit. Certainly not as a primary motivation.

I'm curious about the motivation behind this ad, and I'm even more curious about its effectiveness. Maybe I'm idealizing, but breastfeeding seems like it should be a very giving act, one that is not mired in the overtones of vanity and selfishness that this ad promotes.

Now, don't get me wrong, wanting to be healthy isn't inherently vain or selfish, but this ad doesn't seem to focus on breastfeeding as a way for the mother to get healthy. It's a way for her to get beautiful, to get--above all--thin.

In the promotional voice over, the narrator even says "So while it's good for your baby, it's also great for your body!" So, providing life-sustaining sustenance and nutrious growth for your baby is merely "good." Getting thin, however, is "great."

Sunday, September 12, 2010


So, for several weeks I've been promising myself that I will clean the nursery. For several weeks, I didn't do it. The nursery is a room that joins to our bedroom, and since we moved in a year ago, it's been a collector of random things: ironing boards, boxes of clothes to donate, random cords for computer equipment we no longer have, etc. It was also a room that my cats claimed as their own, and they had made this clear by leaving copius amounts of their fur on every physical surface. So, this last week, we finally got to work.

After the room was clean, it got a little exciting to think about decorating. So we did. My husband painted. My mom and sister came over and helped me assemble the crib and put up decals. The result looks like this:

Now I just have to find some bedding that matches. I found a few sets, but they're overwhelmingly pink. I'll keep looking.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Advice from the Princesses

My wonderful friend, who I miss very much because she is across the pond blowing people's minds with her amazing art history skills, sent me these videos after reading my Disney princesses posts:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading List

Two things happened pretty much simultaneously today.

After I made my last post, I started reading the "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" article in prepartion for the class I'm teaching tomorrow.

Around the same time, reader Ioana commented on the post about the role of fatherhood to suggest that I read the book Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.

Now, in the Google article, I came across this statement:

My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
 The author, Nicholas Carr, suspects that he's experiencing this struggle because the way he is consuming media (primarily online) is literally changing the way his mind works. I've read enough Ong and McLuhan to buy the argument, but I still feel the urge to personally resist the phenomenon. I love books. I love prose. I want to be lost in it.

So, right after reading this article, I read Ioana's comment suggesting a book for me to read. How convenient. I realize that a lot of the intellectual work I've been doing in prepartion for parenting has been through short works: blog posts, articles, conversations, etc. No books yet.

You should know that I tend to overdo the reading thing. I hardly ever have one book at a time (on top of the fact that I'm also reading for the one PhD English class I'm taking this semester, which is about 20th century black culture).

So, I went to the library and got the suggested book as well as one about parenting biracial children. I then ordered a few more through inter-library loan. I probably won't read all of these books cover-to-cover, but I like the physicality of a book much more than an online review, so I will at least give them all a thorough look-through to determine which ones I want to read in their entirety.

The list:
Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works by Francine Deutsch
Partnership Parenting : How Men and Women Parent Differently--Why it Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Kyle Pruett, Marsha Kline Pruett
NurtureShock : New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Is That Your Child? : Mothers Talk About Rearing Biracial Children by Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla : Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-conscious World by Marguerite A. Wright 

The Role of Fatherhood?

In a lesson on how the spheres of my life continue to overlap, I found this article, "Are Fathers Necessary?", over at The Atlantic while searching for completely unrelated material for the class I'm teaching (namely, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?")

For the record, I feel much more professionally trained to answer the Google question than the father question, but that didn't stop me from reacting pretty strongly to the questioning the necessity of fathers.

The author, Pamela Paul, takes issue with the way that information has been gathered about father's roles in parenting, particularly the fact that:
Most of the data fail to distinguish between a father and the income a father provides, or between the presence of a father and the presence of a second parent, regardless of gender.
She goes on to cite another study, one that suggests that two women do a "better" job of parenting than a man and a woman:
According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”
That "traditional division of family labor" part is what caught my eye. I envision this "traditional" breakdown to be something like the complete black-and-white division that takes place in the Mad Men-era.

This division is of course magnified in retrospect (and art), but it also makes a lot of assumptions about the situation of the family. In order for the man to participate in the "traditional" roles, he must be finacially successful, since the majority of his role revolves around providing income. He must also conform to other masculine stereotypes, namely a cool detachment from the personal side of parenting. Don Draper is little concerned with a scraped knee or a lost stuffed animal.

I suppose if you're using this model as your yardstick, it would be pretty reasonable to assume that two parents who are paying attention to their kids as people and who are both involved in the day-to-day management of a household would be more effective than one parent doing all of this. In this model, of course, the money has to come from somewhere, so that's either a shared responsibility, a non-issue, or something that one of the parents provides in addition to the caregiving.

Furthermore, Paul provides this quote in her article:
“'Even women who want their husbands to help more with the kids don’t want to give up their traditional authority,' says Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families."
It's at this point where I begin to lose the thread. Paul's ultimate conclusion (which rings true but not particulary satisfactory or earth-shattering) is that "we still live in a culture with a deeply embedded notion of what a father is."

But my interest is in who is working so hard to maintain that embedded notion. Coontz's claim that women don't want to give up their "authority" suggests that it is those same women who are trying to maintain the traditional gender roles. If so, I would argue that the attempts to maintain authority over the household and caregiving are pitting women into dualistic identities: they must adopt a defensive, perhaps even aggressive, (masculine?) role in order to maintain a more passive, nurturing (feminine?) one. And what motivation do women have for doing this? Are they afraid that the "power" lost from this role will not be balanced out in other ways? I guess what I took from this article is a deep-seated hypocrisy: women who are crying out that they want a more equal partnership while also working to make sure they are really in control of all of their "traditional" aspects of that partnership.