Saturday, May 28, 2011

Patience, A Virtue That Saves Lives?

According to this article by Bonnie Rochman, our thinking about a “full-term” pregnancy isn’t exactly accurate.

Right now, anything prior to 37 weeks is considered “pre-term” and anything beyond that is considered “full-term,” but new studies suggest that there can be a world (or a life) of difference between 37 and 40 weeks: “babies born at 37 weeks had twice the risk of death as 40-weekers, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

And if that isn’t compelling enough, Rochman cites the March of Dimes’ research on the medical cost of early delivery: “Even babies delivered at 37 to 38 weeks can end up costing 10 times as much as a full-term newborn.”

And the pressure to deliver before 40 weeks is huge (pun slightly intended because, yes, when your ankles are as big as your neck or maybe your thighs, but you can’t tell because you haven’t seen your legs beyond the bulging belly in two months, you aren’t really primed for patience). But aside from the physical pressures on an expectant mother, there are social and psychological ones.

I went into labor on my due date—exactly 40 weeks. I had been offered the chance to induce almost three weeks before that and turned it down. (I had slightly elevated blood pressure, but it was a one-time spike and it stayed at healthy levels after some monitoring and the baby was measuring big.)

The day I went into labor I had a doctor’s appointment where I had to be monitored for about an hour to make sure my baby was doing okay. They said this was routine with all “overdue” babies. But she wasn’t overdue. She was right on time.

Friends told me I should just convince the doctor to break my water. I had been in pre-labor for two weeks at that point; I was frustrated, exhausted, and incredibly impatient. But I forced myself not to ask the doctor. I knew that my best chance at a med-free delivery would happen on my body’s schedule.

So it makes sense to me that the best chance for a healthy baby would also happen on that schedule. I know there are exceptions to this—true medical emergencies where a baby has to be delivered early—but I know many, many women who have been induced prior to their due dates, and society is quick to blame them for their impatience. But in my experience, the medical community seemed so on board with an early induction that it’s hard to fight the chance to meet your baby a little earlier.

Hopefully research like this will make early inductions dependent upon medical necessity.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Does the “Breast is Best” campaign alienate fathers?

“Breast is best.” The message is simple, rhetorically effective, and aesthetically pleasing (it's alliterative, short, and rhyming). The message, or some variation of it, was also largely responsible for the swing back towards a breastfeeding norm in America. And that, in turn, has given way for research on the benefits of breastfeeding, laws supporting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, greater acceptance of public nursing, and even a call-to-action from the Surgeon General promoting breastfeeding. (Though we all know that none of these things is without problems: there’s a backlash against the benefits of breastfeeding, working mothers still struggle against discrimination, and public nursing doesn’t sit well with everyone).
Overall, the message seems to be working, and—as a fulltime working, nursing mother of a six-month-old—I think that’s a great thing.


But I also wonder if the message that “breast is best” might be damaging to another parenting cause that is equally important to me: equally shared parenting and the freedom for men to assume caregiver roles.

Picture from babble

In absolutely no way am I suggesting that women shouldn’t breastfeed because men can’t breastfeed. And I’m also not suggesting that breastfeeding and its necessary mother-centeredness is a threat to a man’s ability to father. But I do think that the bombardment of images and messages that tout breastfeeding as one of the most important parts of parent-bonding can be damaging.

Consider this Time article that summarizes a study showing breastfeeding mothers bond with their children better than formula feeding mothers.

I’m not arguing the veracity of the study (though the sample size is pretty small for any broadsweeping conclusions), but what does publishing it say to men about their ability to bond? And can it be setting men up for an excuse for not bonding?

Another example—one that bothers me the most—is an image advertising Medela breastpump supplies. I can’t find a picture I can embed, but you can see it on their website here.
In it, a man cradles an infant in one arm and feeds the baby from a bottle. He’s sitting cross-legged and the floor below him shows a reflection—a mirror image of a mother nursing the same infant. I’ve seen this picture in Medela ads on websites with a tagline that says something like “Be there, even when you can’t be.”

What. The. Hell. No. You’re not there. The baby’s (presumable) father is. And, you know what, that’s fine. No, wait. That’s better than fine. It’s great. How wonderful that a baby has two supportive parents to love, cuddle, and feed him/her. We do not need to diminish the father’s role as some pseudo fill-in for the absent mother.

There’s also less abstract evidence for the phenomenon I fear might arise from this rhetoric. Take a look at this Slate article by Michael Thomsen about his attempts to stimulate his breasts to produce milk through a fenugreek binge and a rigorous pumping schedule.  (To be fair, I had a hard time taking much of the article seriously after I read the line “My nipples aren't accustomed to regular stimulation, and though I felt like I was defying the natural order, pumping was surprisingly pleasant. Nipples are filled with nerve endings, after all, and the gentle upward tug of the pump was both comforting and erotic.” Erotic? This machine of hard plastic and tubing? What pump are you using? But I digress.)

I don’t think this would be an article at all if there weren’t some truth to my fear. Obviously, some men are driven to contemplate their inability to breastfeed, and some are even driven to try to rectify it. Though I find that attempt a little odd, I think that the motivation is a great one: to bond with your child.

Thomsen ends his article with this reflection:

“Maybe one day I'll try again to climb over the gender wall, this time risking the mortification of a swollen breast and the ominous side effects of hormone-boosting pharmaceuticals. It would be nice to have a better reason than curiosity, I think. Perhaps a little baby—someone in need of sustenance and intimacy, searching for a breast to nuzzle. Yours or mine could do.”

Thomsen also mentions how breastfeeding has been used as a pawn against gay marriage and gay couples adopting children. This New Yorker article by Margaret Talbot looks at the court case where an attorney declared “We can also agree that men can’t breastfeed, and breastfeeding clearly has benefits for children in that it provides sources of immunity that are beneficial to children.”

But that line of reasoning is not just damaging to gay rights. It is also, in my mind, damaging to feminism.

See, for me, feminism cannot just mean that women are free to break from gender roles and step into previously male-dominated roles. Do you know why? Someone still has to feed the children. Someone still has to do the dishes. Someone still has to do all of that work. So feminism also means that men are able to step outside of their traditional roles and pick up some of those tasks.

And I wish we could find a way to support and promote breastfeeding without risking alienating fathers. Breast may be the “best” food for infants, but it’s surely not better than having a great dad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stopping, Looking, and Not Thinking: How I'm Learning to Love The Present

“How’s she sleeping?”

“Oh, you know, okay. She wakes up quite a few times to eat, but she goes back to sleep pretty easily.”

“Well, just you wait. When they’re two it’s so much harder. You have no idea.”

Thanks. That’s encouraging.

I have some version of this conversation often. It always ends with a “just you wait” and a horror story of some impending misery waiting just around the corner. “Just you wait until she starts cutting that tooth—then she won’t sleep at all!” “Just you wait until she can walk—then you won’t get to sit down!” “Just you wait until she learns to talk back—then you won’t think she’s so cute!”

The other side of the “just-you-waits” is the “you’ll-wish-you-had-this-backs.” It goes a little something like this:

“How are you?”

“Pretty exhausted. The baby kept me up all night.”

“Oh, well, enjoy it while you can. You’ll miss this time when she was so little and cuddly. They get big so fast.”
And I catch myself participating in this to various degrees. When I want to just have a margarita, for God’s sake, and she ate an hour ago so I know she’ll need to nurse in another hour, and I don’t have enough milk to spare for a bottle so I have to turn down the drink, I’ll think to myself, “When she’s a little older, this will be easier.” Or when she was a newborn and couldn’t hold her head up, I’d be carrying her cradled carefully in my arms as I walked around the house looking at the heaps of laundry and dishes, thinking to myself, “When she can hold her head up, I’ll have a free hand, and this’ll be easier.”

Or when I pick up my favorite outfit, a blue and brown onesie that she looked so adorable in, and find out it’s way, way too small, I’ll feel a wave of melancholic nostalgia that nearly knocks me down.

Between the just-you-waits and the you’ll-wish-you-had-this-backs, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out on the right-nows.

And the right-nows are pretty amazing.

Right now, my daughter giggles at pretty much everything: her feet, the cats, the dog, silly faces, peek-a-boo, tickles, toys. Right now, she can scoot on her belly like a little lizard, and she uses this newfound skill to snuggle up next to my leg when we’re sitting on the bed together. Right now, we can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon cuddled up as a family for a late-day nap, and our baby will wake up babbling between us as she ponders or imagines or whatever it is she’s doing.

So, I’ve made a pact to be more present-focused—at least about this, at least as much as I can.

I won’t wish her stages away, and I won’t mourn the time that’s passed. I won’t hold up tiny little outfits she can’t fit in anymore and cry. I won’t watch her throw the mushy carrot across the dining room and wish she was old enough to eat without making a mess. I will donate the clothes; I will clean up the carrot. Above all, I will enjoy this while it’s here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Can You Raise a "Genderless" Child? Should You?

This story  seems to be a hot topic. It’s a question of debate over at Good Enough Mother and The Bump message boards.

The story is about a couple who have chosen to keep the gender of their third child, Storm, a secret. This isn’t entirely new territory, as a pair of Swedish parents made the same decision a few years ago about their child, Pop, which I blogged about here.

And concern over gender roles in childhood is certainly not new. It’s something I started thinking about myself during pregnancy (as you can see from some earlier blog posts here and here), and I'm sure that it's something a lot of parents consider when making decisions on parenting methods.

Storm’s parents mention in the article traveling and flipping a coin to decide if they would present Storm as a boy or a girl during the trip. The coin landed on “boy” and they noted that “The language changed immediately. ‘What a big, strong boy,’ people said.”

I’ve noticed this phenomenon myself. Though I do not try to hide my daughter’s female identity, I do dress her in some gender-neutral clothes (often greens and yellows, which I prefer to pink for aesthetic reasons more than anything else), and she’s been mistaken for a boy in public. It doesn’t bother me, but it clearly embarrasses others when they realize their mistake: “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Then they usually immediately overcompensate by making sure to point out her girly-ness to me: “Just look at those eyelashes!” “She’s so pretty!” And when you thought she was a boy? Those eyelashes weren’t there? Was she “handsome” before?

And I know, absolutely know, that language shapes our reality. So I understand these parents’ motivations (even if the vast majority of the people commenting on The Bump do not—most of the comments point out how ridiculous and silly the parents are being). However, I can’t say that I condone this choice.

This is not because I think the parents’ urge to break out of gender norms is wrong; in fact, I celebrate it, but I can’t see this being a successful way to do it.

Diane Ehrensaft is a psychologist who wrote Gender Born, Gender Made (yet another book added to my ever-growing list of to-reads), and she’s interviewed for the article:
“But she worries by not divulging Storm’s sex, the parents are denying the child a way to position himself or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between. In effect they have created another category: Other than other. And that could marginalize the child”

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? We can’t have a non-category. There is no category outside of the dichotomy society has created. There is female, there is male, and there is other. To be “other than other” is to be not just marginalized, but doubly so.

And I also worry that it might deny the child the opportunity to learn the language and the nuances of gender that are necessary to break down gender norms. Just as the confines of racial discrimination cannot be broken down unless the stereotypes that define them are tackled head on, gender identities cannot, in my opinion, be freed without understanding the confines surrounding them. And that’s a kind of understanding that comes with lived experience.

So, what do you think? Is it enough to allow children free gender expression in the clothes they wear and the toys they play with? Or do you need to go to these types of extremes? What’s the responsible thing to do as far as the child is concerned? And is that different from the responsible thing to do when it comes to progressing societal norms?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sophie the Giraffe, the Division of Labor, and Economic Independence

I bought a Sophie the Giraffe teether today. In short, I gave in to peer pressure. I can give you some of my rationale behind this purchase--my daughter is teething and chews on everything, I read excellent reviews (seriously, go read the Amazon reviews; people are in love with Sophie), it was cute, etc. But the real reason I spent 20 dollars on a little rubber giraffe is because I gave into the hype. What with Slate articles and an entire week devoted to Sophie-worship on the Bump message boards, I was curious. 

For what it's worth, my daughter seems to love her, but that's not what I'm writing about.

See, Sophie got me thinking. Some of the Sophie-related messages on the Bump  contained confessions. Some of the women had snuck around to buy Sophie, hiding their purchase from their husbands. These women confessed to wrapping Sophie up and pretending she'd been a gift. They were hiding receipts. Lying. To their husbands. About a rubber giraffe.

It reminded me of a childhood memory. I was in Walmart with my mom and aunt, and my aunt was buying River Rapid sandals for my cousins. My mom wanted to get me and my sister some, but she was terrified of what would happen if she spent over her weekly allowance and my dad found out. She ended up buying the shoes, but I remember being coached to not point them out and to not mention the price under any circumstances (and this was at Walmart, remember, so it's not like she'd just blown the mortgage payment on some child-sized Jimmy Choo's).

My mom left the workforce when I was born, and she didn't return until she divorced my dad twelve years later. By the time she had any economic independence, the budget of raising three kids by herself was almost as much of a restraint as my dad's rules ever were.

Maybe part of my drive to work is a reaction against watching this play out as a child, but I really don't understand the cultural norm of women as the "spenders." Of course, this is set against the backdrop of men as the "earners," and that's clearly engrained in the traditional division of labor. But it just seems to cut so deep.

I'm not talking about people with shopping addictions who go out and spend hundreds of dollars on credit every weekend. I'm not talking about major purchases that clearly ought to be discussed as a couple no matter who's earning the money. I'm talking about $20--the price of a few fancy coffees or a haircut. If you can't spend $20 without feeling you have to hide it from your spouse, I feel like that's an indicator of a serious power deficit.

And money is powerful, but often in the wrong ways. This whole discussion makes me think of the idea (constantly portrayed in pop culture) that men must show women their value through material purchases. If you love a woman, the message tells you, you need to show her with cash. Buy that sparkly bracelet, the most expensive bouquet of flowers.  Entire industries are built on this concept.

And it's a message that's particularly prevalent in contemporary music.

Consider Mary J. Blige's lyrics from "We Ride":
"Now fellas if you got a girl and she treats you right/ain't you gonna spend every dollar, every cent/Ain't you gonna make sure she stay fly"
Which is at least, you know, positive I guess. But there's a very dark flip-side to this kind of valuing, and I think we see it really well in Pusha T's lyrics from Kanye's song "Runaway":
"Split and go where? Back to wearin' knockoffs? Ha, Knock it off/Neiman, shop it off/Let's talk over mai tais, waitress, top it off/Hoes like vultures, wanna fly in your Freddy loafers/You can't blame 'em, they ain't never seen Versace sofas/Every bag, every blouse, every bracelet, comes with a price tag, baby face it/You should leave if you can't accept the basics/Plenty hoes in a baller nigga's matrix"
See, if your value becomes represented by things, then your value is easily transferable and easily diminished.

And if you have to ask for permission to make a purchase (which again, is different from making a joint decision on a purchase), then you are not an equal player in your household. You're just not.

I know that stay-at-home mother's are perfectly capable of having equitable economic arrangements, but I do think that one of my motivator's for working is knowing that I have the economic independence to make purchases without calling into question who controls the cash flow.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"To Each His Own": Charles Barkley on Homophobia, Individualism, and Difference

On yesterday's ESPN B.S. Report, Chuck Klosterman and Charles Barkley have an interesting conversation that I think illuminates a lot about the rhetoric of difference. (It starts around the 11:40 mark if you'd like to listen).

Klosterman asks Barkley about recent comments he made saying that he knew he had played with gay teammates. He wonders if these teammates disclosed that information to Barkley (or the team as a whole) or if this was assumed knowledge. His response: "Let me tell you something, I don't think people assume people are gay. I think you really know when a person's gay. . . I think their interactions with people, who they hang out with, where they hang out at, because I think everybody knows certain parts of town or, uh, areas are certain ways. I think their interaction with you as a teammate you're like, 'wow, that's weird,' uh, not weird just different"

Barkley goes on to talk about homophobia in America in general: "America has always been homophobic."
Klosterman says that he thinks "the climate is ready" for a professional athlete to come out; he asks Barkley if he agrees. Barkley notes that "Bible thumpers" are the "most judgmental" and he thinks it will be "interesting from a team standpoint as far as sponsors." But he uses this to get back into a discussion of his personal view on homophobia in the NBA and how the NBA players would not likely respond to such a disclosure with the discrimination the media thinks they would: "I actually got a great text from one of my coworkers, 'Listen, I think what you did [making statements supporting gay marriage]. . . it was really cool, but I gotta tell you something. It made me think it's not my thing, but to each his own.' . . . and that's my point . . . man, that's all gay people want."

There's more about race, homosexuality, and discrimination, but these quotes highlight something I'd like to look at a little closer.

You can hear Barkley struggling with the terms of difference and discrimination even as he talks. There's a strong sense of defense on behalf of the NBA players--we wouldn't react homophobically--that comes with the recognition that a homophobic reaction is wrong. But look carefully at that first quote; he just 'knew' some players were gay, and he would think to himself "that's weird." But then he catches his own rhetoric and backtracks "not weird, just different."

The problem with difference is that you can't have it without a norm, and it is the heteronormative narrative that allows homophobia to exist in the first place. If there is no normative expectation, there is no difference. And if there is a normative expectation there must, necessarily, be difference. These things define one another. You can only identify what is normal by identifying what is different, and you can only define what is different by defining what is normal.

Barkley is struggling with trying to maintain a norm while simultaneously removing the stigma from deviating from that norm, but even in doing so, he inadvertly falls into stigmatizing himself ("that's weird").

Furthermore, the deviation from the norm (in this case, identifying as homosexual) is not based on the individual's self-identification or self-disclosure. Instead, it's based on arbitrary and external factors that the rest of the team witnessed and extrapolated meaning from: "their interactions with people, who they hang out with, where they hang out at, because I think everybody knows certain parts of town or, uh, areas are certain ways." (We use similar external markers to identify someone, without his/her self-identity taken into consideration, as a certain race. Skin tone, hair texture, and other phenotypical markers fit here as well as things like speech patterns, clothing style, etc.)

Finally, Barkley comments on his friend's text message. "To each his own," the friend writes, and Barkley is relieved. "That's all gay people want."

Well, probably not. See, this comment is getting to the heart of how we establish difference to begin with. Any difference categorization (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) only makes sense from a collectivist point of view. If we were to look at each person as a true individual, we wouldn't need any of these markers or categories because each and every person would stand alone. We don't work like that, though. We're social creatures. We need labels to make sense of the world, so we categorize and label people because it's easier and it's important for making meaning.

"To each his own" suggests that we have to move to a wholly individual view in order to accept difference into the norm, but that won't work because we're still setting it outside of the dominant narrative. We're still saying, "Hey, you go stand over there, alone, and the rest of us will stand over here, together."

I really like that Barkley is sparking these conversations. If we don't talk about these issues, we will never, ever move beyond the labeling and stereotyping that has become so comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that even people who recognize the problems (as I think Barkley does) are unable to break them down without falling into the same language that built them in the first place.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

She's Costing Me How Much?!

According to this Yahoo article, this child sleeping on my lap right now is not fiscally worth it. The article's about a study showing that women who have children earn less overall than their childless counterparts, even when looking at identical work experience (so this isn't because of time women take off after having a baby). "Low skilled" women earn 6% less overall when they have babies, and "high skilled" women are sacrificing a whopping 24%.

I suppose statistics like this should upset me (and I do think that there are prejudices in the workforce that account for at least some of that difference), but it really doesn't. I've never really cared about seeing how much money I could make in a lifetime. I'm much more concerned with having enough money to live comfortably and be able to have the experiences that I want. And I think that, while societal prejudice against mothers is most likely at play in these factors (especially since the study found no impact on father's salaries), some of it probably has to do with a shift in priorities for the women as well.

The article concludes by asking "Why would high-skilled women pay such big economic price for having children, especially if they return to full-time work immediately afterward?" which would insult me if it didn't seem so obviously designed to be insulting. 

I give it my all at work. I really do, but it's more important to me to be in a position that allows me to give it my all at work and at home than it is for me to climb the ladder. My definition of success is not primarily status or salary driven. My workplace success is defined by the meaningfulness of the work that I do and the competency I feel I bring to it.

What did interest me about this article, however, is the vitriolic nature of some of the comments. There's the stay-at-home moms outraged that their choices are being attacked. There's the career women who say that whining mothers are making all women look bad. There are also the comments attacking those who choose to have children without figuring out all of the costs as drags on the collective economy. These seem expected to me. Then there's some from men and defenders of a man's position who complain that the article isn't taking their sacrifices into account. Consider these:

bo: "i see a lot of women putting men down . just so you know i gave up just as much as my wife if not more. so all of you women that had kids by sorry !@# men don't blame it on all the other men. so shout up with all the man stuff. if you want kids have them if not leave everyone else alone"

Nicole: "A man's lifestyle doesn't change? That is BS. It's the men who have to work more hours because the women get to go home early because apparently giving birth means that their life is now 100% more important than anyone else. It's the men who work more so their spouse can stay home or work less. They are the ones who miss out on raising their kids because of their work and so many mommys are too afraid to leave their children alone with the man they apparently love for more than two seconds because "something may happen". Yea, if anything, men get the short end of the stick and the swift kick in the junk."

There are others (including a multiple comment rant about paternity fraud and the costs of fatherhood), but I wonder about the pulse of these comments.

In my definition of feminism, there must be room for gender equality to move from both ends of the spectrum. So, to me, the feminist ideal requires that men be given the space to step outside of constricting masculine constructs just as I need to be given the space to step outside of restricting female constructs.

The rhetorical positioning of articles like this one deny that kind of mobility for men. These statistics (which are somewhat shocking and definitely indicative of a larger issue about the way society values working mothers) are framed in a purely female point of view. The article asks why a woman would choose to make this sacrifice. It does not take into account alternative paths that might have a couple balancing out the sacrifice between them. It also does not look at the labor division in these couples. Is it purely giving birth that causes this salary disparity? Or is it giving birth and then providing a majority of the care? Are these women who have to take off every time their child is sick, or do they have a partner who shares that burden? Are these women who turn down training opportunities because they have no one to watch their child for three days, or do they have someone who can?

Studies like this one look only at motherhood instead of teasing out the complexities of parenthood. In doing so, they further normalize the stereotypical roles of parents. Showing that mothers are disadvantaged without exploring possible means to escape that disadvantage (without having to give up the role of mother) is depressing and unhelpful--and I don't believe it's the full picture.

The Young Professor

Due to a series of chaotic events (involving Vegas, copper thieves, and hectic mornings(intrigued?), my daughter had to come to a class I taught on Thursday.

It was the final class of the semester, and I was using the time to ask these freshmen, finishing the final week of their first year in college, what they learned and what they felt they needed to change to be successful.

I suppose the cadence of my voice changes when I am in "lecture mode," and it must have inspired my daughter because, perched on my lap in the front of the room, she looked seriously from face to face in front of her and began a series of babbles like none I've heard before.

She is normally quick to smile, especially when others are smiling at her. Her long series of "bah-blah-la-ba-la-la" produced a roomful of grins, but she did not reciprocate. She had something to say. I got louder to try to speak over her, but she just got louder in response. This advice would not wait. She was guiding these young minds.

I told them that she had the secret to their college success and she was sharing it, but, like most secrets to success, it would require a lot of personal interpretation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shocking, Ain't It?

I am a regular reader of both Cracked and Love Isn't Enough. I read them for very different purposes because they are very different types of writing. Cracked (as I'm assuming you probably know) is a witty and sometimes mildly-inappropriate humor website that comments on everything from movies and songs to psychology and ancient history. Love Isn't Enough is a wonderfully written blog "on raising a family in a colorstruck world" with a writing style that (appropriately) runs much more serious in tone than Cracked's.

I turn to Cracked when I need a good laugh and am searching out a photoshop contest on "If Textbooks Were Written by the Students." Love Isn't Enough is where I turn as the white mother of a biracial child when I want thoughtful commentary on race issues and child-rearing, like this article on black girls and teasing over hair. And never the twain shall meet.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find the two talking about almost identical topics a mere one day apart.

On May 8, Cracked writer Kathy Benjamin posted "5 Shocking Ways You Overestimate Yourself." Number five explains how we are more racist than we think we are. She discusses this serious issue through a humor-tinted lens, but that doesn't detract from the serious implications of the studies she cites. The one that I found most interesting/disturbing was a study that showed participants videos of someone being poked in the hand with a needle excruciatingly slowly. They found that white participants felt much less empathetic pain for black hands and vice versa. Even more disturbing, the participants felt the same level of empathy for a purple hand as they did for a hand of their respective race. As Benjamin put it "That's right -- the subjects couldn't muster empathy for a fellow human of another race but cringed at the thought of somebody hurting a fucking Night Elf."
Or Barney. Image from ranesbluesky

So, basically, the Cracked article examined studies that suggest that survey results (which very rarely show participants willing to admit they're racist, no matter how anonymous they are) are at odds with the way that we react in everyday situations.

On May 9, Julia at Love Isn't Enough posted "Stop Being 'Shocked' by 'Isms'" where she expresses her disgust at the media's portrayal of the racist UCLA student's YouTube video (you know, the one that just can't stand the fact that the Asian students come to the library and have help with their laundry) as a "shocking" occurrence.

I think it's interesting that both of these articles discuss the subverted racism imbedded in our society as "shocking." Julia explains why this portrayal is problematic:
Words have meaning. And I think the repeated framing of modern racism and other “isms” as surprising reflects a mainstream belief that these things really don’t exist anymore.
 So, here we have two very different media outlets discussing the same issue: our communal disregard of the very real phenomenon of institutionalized racism.

And I agree with Lisa that this portrayal of racism as surprising is problematic. I've seen it play out, particularly in the freshmen college students I teach.

See, I am not that old (25 years), but I can remember a time when it wasn't nearly as socially unacceptable to act out in overtly racist ways as it is today (though these were usually shielded under the guise of playfulness).

My students, on the other hand, have most likely always been submerged in a much more neatly maintained paradigm. They have been drilled on the right messages: everyone is equal, racism is bad. And they have seen outward signs that these things are true: Obama's election, lip service diversity sprinkled into their day-to-day lives and the media they consume.

Many of them (even the minority students) are quick to tell me that I'm overthinking things when I suggest that a song, movie, commercial, etc. sends subtly racist messages. They also are quick to denounce affirmative action as unfair. They have been raised to know that racism is bad, and I highly doubt many (if any) of them would consider themselves racists. (And I mean this genuinely; most of these are very good students who see themselves as advocates for social justice, and I believe they will do great things with that drive).

But until they can see themselves as participants in the racism that still exists, it will continue to exist. As long as we can point racism (and all the other ism's) out as "shocking," we get to feel like we're outside of the problem. We also get to feel like the problem is isolated, maybe even not really a problem at all.

As the studies in the Cracked article and the data on everything from health stats to incarceration rates tell us, it is definitely a problem, a problem we are all a part of and all responsible for fixing. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meta Decisions

Lately I've been contemplating the process I use to make decisions. I've found that the process is similar no matter the scope of the decision. Whether I am deciding if I should buy a different kind of trash bag or determining how I plan to approach parenting, I go through the same basic steps.
I can't think of a better illustration of how I approach new things than the path I took to create my birth plan. I started my pregnancy out assuming without much thought that I would get an epidural. I ended up, as many of you know, with a planned non-medicated birth.
The decision was a slow one, which is probably unfortunate because babies do not stop growing in utero while you make decisions about their arrival. Getting pregnant was the catalyst for further exploration. Ideally, I wish I'd done this exploration before getting pregnant, but it's just not practical to research every thing that I may encounter in the future, so I don't typically put much thought into a thing until I'm experiencing it. But what I lack in foresight, I like to think I make up for with obsessive fervor.
Once I realized I might want to put a little more thought into the whole giving birth thing, I read and read and read all kinds of books. Some I agreed with; some I didn't. Some seemed redundant and unhelpful; some were eye-opening. I catalogued some of the most impactful ones on this blog.
Even once I agreed with the research behind the preference for a non-medicated birth, I didn't make a firm decision for myself. I started talking. I talked tentatively at first, saying to friends and family things like "I'm thinking about maybe trying it without the epidural, if everything goes okay." I slowly dropped equivocators, morphing the phrase. "I'm thinking about trying it without the epidural if everything goes okay" "I'm going to try it without the epidural."  I didn't drop the "try" until I was actively in labor, repeating "I can do this" to myself like a deranged cheerleader.
I am quick to open up to new possibilities, but slow to commit myself to any of them. I think this is because I am pretty loyal to decisions once I've made them. I've never been a job hopper, and I agonized over the decision to switch from being a biology major to an English major freshman year (and, as you can see, I stuck with that one for quite some time). Even in high school my romantic relationships tended to be (relatively) long.
The reason I'm thinking about this now is because I'm starting to explore (a little late, I know) some different theories of parenting. The start of this formal exploration comes with reading Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small.
The book, which I'm only a few chapters into, was published in 1998 (and it is interesting to see how the culture of parenting has already shifted) and, purportedly, "hope[s]--by presenting the natural history and biology of human babyhood and by offering a global perspective on parenting practices--to be able to give some parents, and any other adults who are interested in human society, more ways to think about childrearing."
"More ways to think?" Yes, please! Decisions make me anxious, and the only thing that calms that anxiety is information.
But this, too, comes with complications. There is much too much information to consume it all, so we are left to make decisions about the information we will use to make decisions. It has the potential to be a deadly loop. Do I let my child sleep in the bed with me? If I try to read everything there is to read, talk to everyone there is to talk to, get all of the opinions and make a really sound decision, she'll be in college, and she'll probably have her own bed there.
So, my question to you is two-fold
General:  How do you decide? What influences your life decisions, big and small?
Specific:  If you're a parent (or versed in theories of parenting), what sources of information do you recommend to help make decisions about parenting?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I don’t need to use this space to praise Donoghue’s writing in Room; plenty of others have done that already (including Aimee Bender at The New York Times  and Nicola Barr at the Guardian).

A quick summary: Room is a story told through the eyes of five-year-old jack, a precocious and inquisitive child born within the confines of a windowless shed. This shed has been used by his young mother’s abductor/rapist to hold them both captive for his entire life (and the last seven years of hers. Jack knows no life beyond this one, and has been told by his mother that everything they see on the television is pretend. Reality is that one room. When he gets old enough to start questioning what happens beyond, his mother (identified only as Ma) explains the truth of their situation. Bouncing from acceptance, to anger, to fear, Jack and Ma set out a plan to escape.

The book has hauntingly effective prose. Jack’s voice draws you in and sometimes makes you forget how heartbreaking the actual events surrounding the narrative really are.

Digging a little deeper into commentary on the book, I found articles suggesting that it is a call for attachment parenting. (For example, this one at Becoming Mamas). Then I found Donoghue’s response  to those inquiries, which basically ends with a plea to stop judging one another’s parenting approaches and a vow to put this non-judgment into practice herself:

“Yesterday in Toys R Us (where I went, most unwillingly, to buy the three-year-old the purple ZhuZhu Pet she craves for her birthday) there was a little girl – no older than three – in high heels. In fact, in a complete copy of her mother's outfit. My teeth clamped together. I was within an inch of saying, "Excuse me, do you realize you're crippling your child because you're a narcissist?" Only the awareness that it would lead to a strained silence at best, a trashy catfight in the aisles at worst, kept my mouth shut. I talked myself down: she's not beating the little girl's soles with a thorny branch. Probably the kid spends most of the day in trainers and this is just a special dress-up moment. But I was judging, all right. And what annoyed me most was that the little girl looked as happy as Larry.”

There are a lot of aspects of the book I found interesting (including the positive view on breastfeeding, which blue milk talks about here), but the one I’m most drawn to is a larger discussion on media dealing with child-trauma.

This has been on my mind because someone on a message board I visited posted to urge new mothers not to watch Rabbit Hole. She said that it was too difficult to think of a child dying in a car accident and that she’d wished she hadn’t seen it.

Interestingly enough, I had just watched the movie 21 Grams, which also involves the death of children in a car accident. It was difficult to think about the pain the mother (who also lost her husband) must have been feeling.

The reviewer from Becoming Mamas admits that she “was hesitant to review and recommend this book because it really affected me, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to recommend that others go through those same feelings.”

My last post talked about the “damage” of motherhood, and I think this fear of traumatic media is related. Being so responsible for someone else’s life shifts the center of empathy a little. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Should we avoid books and movies that evoke that response?

Because all meaning must be filtered through a lens of personal experience, it’s nearly impossible to read Room and not imagine yourself in the place of one of the characters at least a little bit. But literature often calls on us to metaphorically step into places we wouldn’t want to step into literally. (Kafka’s Gregor Samsa calls on us to imagine complete isolation; Steinbeck repeatedly asks us to view the world through troubled eyes, and I know that I enjoyed reading The Road primarily because of the emotions it calls forth). And I think it is only natural for a parent reading Room to feel compelled to look at the fictional world through Ma’s eyes.

One of the quotes praising Room on the book jacket is from Audrey Niffenegger. She says of the book “When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.”

I think the feeling she talks of is intense empathy, and that is a valuable thing. Literature, when it is at it’s best, pushes us to limits of experience that we cannot (and should not, God willing) reach in our actual, tangible lives.

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Love and Damage

Anne Lamott, whose book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year should be required reading for every mother and mother-to-be, was interviewed by Meredith Maran at Salon.

Since I find pretty much everything Lamott says to be brilliant (except for her thoughts on pitbulls, which I think are rubbish), I was excited to see this interview. It's all very good, but I was particularly interested in this part:

The thing is, we all -- parents -- went wrong so many times, in so many ways big and small. It has been important for me to understand that we are ultimately powerless over how our kids turn out -- how, as adults, they choose to live, and whether they want to be close to us once they are adults.
I know parents who seemed perfect -- who ARE great people, who did it right -- whose kids are extremely damaged. And fantastic grown-up kids with integrity and humor whose parents were scary, abusive, nonexistent.

She talks about focusing on the things that she knows she did right instead of driving herself crazy over the things she may have done wrong. Later she says:

So -- I kind of think it is a miracle that motherhood didn't do even deeper damage to my life and psyche. Also, both of us are alive; many of his friends and my friends didn't make it. Some days I think that as Dylan sang in "Idiot Wind," it's a wonder we can even feed ourselves. Some days just thinking of my son, I could still die of love for him.
 I've bolded the part that was the most striking to me. I paused when I read it. Then I re-read it and paused again.

Aside from the physical birthing part, we very rarely talk about motherhood as damaging. In fact, we tend to talk about it as restorative, even life-affirming. After my pauses, I kept reading, and when I got to the part about dying of love for him, I decided I understood.

I know I'm saying nothing new when I say that being a parent washes you in love in a way that you've never known. Time and time again, people say of their children, "I loved you the moment I saw you." Sure, it's cliche, but for a reason. It's true. The love is intense and primal. Free from logic, equivocation, and the time it normally takes to determine that a relationship is that important to you. It's truly amazing.

But of course, there's a flip side, and I think that's where the idea that motherhood can be damaging comes in. If you give someone that much of yourself, you are completely unequipped to deflect the pain of disappointment. If that child you love so much gets hurt, you will hurt, too. If that child you love so much becomes an adult who makes bad decisions, you can try all you want to depersonalize it and reason through, but that love has left a void that makes you vulnerable.

And as much as we want parenthood to magically change us into perfect beings who do no wrong, it doesn't. As Lamott says in her interview that she came "to motherhood SO screwed up myself -- by my parents, by this world, by the institutionalized contempt for mothers." And, of course, to varying degrees, we all have. Because the role feels so intense, we turn every bump in the road back onto ourselves, back onto those insecurities, back onto that imperfection. And we wonder. Did I do this? Could I have prevented it?

Maybe that's why the mommy wars are so pervasive and start so early. How dare you start your child on solids at 4 months! How could you possibly let her sleep in your bed! How could you not let her sleep in your bed! If you don't breastfeed him, you're a failure! If you had a c-section, you didn't try hard enough! And on, and on, and on. Sometimes it's enough to make you want to shut yourself off from the judging world, left only to judge yourself.

But Lamott ends on a positive call for community:

you do the best you can and you try to be nicer to yourself about the past, including that very morning; and most important, you talk as often as possible to the smartest, funniest, most REAL mothers you know. Otherwise, without other mothers, we are completely doomed.
And maybe we can all live a little less damaged.

Subtle, eh?

Maybe you looked at my previous post on Mother's Day t-shirts and said to yourself, "Well, she's just nitpicking. This is fun and lighthearted. It's not like we're actually saying moms are better than dads." If so, I would like for you to take a look at this:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Balancing Mothers on the Big Screen: A Mother's Day Tribute

In honor of Mother's Day, I would like to highlight five lovely leading ladies who have embodied the balancing mother on the silver screen. These are women who have juggled babies, careers, challenges, and everything else that comes their way.

1. Ruth Jamison and Idgie Threadgood from Fried Green Tomatoes

This film presents us with a pair of women who navigate motherhood in some of the most tumultuous of times: escaping Ruth's abusive husband, starting their own business, grieving, illness, and even being placed on trial for murder. Through it all, they are heartwarming and inspiring.

Bonus Parenting Tip: When Buddy Jr. loses his arm in a train accident, Idgie insists that they start calling him "Stump" since everyone else is surely going to do it anyway. She teaches us the best way to protect our children from the, sometimes cruel, realities of social interactions is to be aware of them.

2. Novalee Nation from Where the Heart Is

You can mock my love of Where the Heart Is if you’d like; you wouldn’t be the first, but I stand firm in my stance that it’s fantastic (though the corniness of that tornado scene is probably unforgivable). Anyway, in addition to being one of my favorite movies to watch on a rainy day (the others being Pulp Fiction and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to keep things balanced), it also features another juggling mother: Novalee Nation. Novalee starts her motherhood at the age of 17 by giving birth to her daughter in the Wal-Mart she’s been living in. She overcomes the adversity of illiteracy, poverty, and an unstable upbringing to balance motherhood, taking courses in photography, starting her own career, and remaining a supportive friend to all around her.

Bonus Parenting Tip: Though Novalee is yet another woman on this list who raises her child without the help of the father, she is absolutely destitute until she reaches out to others. The movie centers around her relationships with the nurse on duty when she recovers from delivery, the local librarian who delivers her child, and the kindly recovering alcoholic (Rizzo!) who takes her in so she doesn’t have to sleep under that creepy Wal-Mart Smiley Face. She teaches us that you can’t raise a child without a good support system, whatever form it might take.

3. Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill

Talk about having a lot to balance! Beatrix's day job as assassin has her traveling a lot, and that's never an easy feat to fit into motherhood. In addition, her near-death experience leaves her in a coma for the first four years of her daughter's life, also a challenge, but it's an absence that she intends to make up for. So, in addition to recovering from a gunshot to the head and reentering the workforce, Beatrix also maintains an intense workout regiment. She is a balancing mother, indeed.

Bonus Parenting Tip: When Beatrix finds out that she's pregnant, she disappears, faking her own death and escaping the life of an assassin to give her little girl a shot at a normal life. It all catches up with her eventually, showing us that being a mother is an important facet of who we are, but we cannot let it consume our full identities, and we cannot pretend to be something we are not.

4. Alison Scott from Knocked Up

The most normalized narrative about motherhood tells us that we fall in love, get married, and have a baby. Thanks to the hard work of feminists everywhere, that narrative is shifting a little to something like work hard, get a career, find stability, fall in love, get married, and have a baby. Alison is in the early stages of this modern path when a one night stand leads her to unplanned motherhood. She has moments where she has to test her new balance, but she manages to get a promotion in her career, navigate the complexity of a budding relationship, and handle pregnancy. 

Bonus Parenting Tip: Even though her pregnancy is a shock, Alison reacts to it by consuming as much information as she can. She reads lots of books about pregnancy and goes through a series of doctors to find the right fit. These actions lead her to decide a natural birth is right for her (and she gets it, though not quite how she planned). She shows us that the best way to handle the unknowns of parenthood is to become informed and make decisions that make sense to us.

5. Erin Brockovich from Erin Brockovich

I include Erin on this list because the film often portrays her struggling to balance. Her role as mother is often sidelined while she follows her passion as an advocate for those wronged by PG&E's greed. Over the course of the film, we see her miss her youngest daughter's first words, enrage her son because she's not available to take him to play with his friends, and fight the guilt of feeling like she's neglecting her kids. To me, this film illustrates that the balance is not always, well, balanced. Sometimes the scales tip, but always with the understanding that they will even out in the long run. Erin made the sacrifice because she wanted a better life for her and her children and because she wanted to use her skills to make a difference in the world.

Bonus Parenting Tip: Erin oringinally leaves her children with an in-home daycare provider who totally flakes and drops the kids off at home alone. Stuck without childcare, she gives in to the neighbor who offers to help: a long-haired, motorcycle-riding man. This decision surely raised some eyebrows, but her kids were in an immensely safer environment. She teaches us that sometimes we have to trust what we know is best for our children, regardless of how the outside world might view it.

Lest you think Hollywood itself is unbalanced in its portrayal of mothers with multiple roles, there are plenty of films where the balancing act doesn't go over so well. To illustrate, I give you the following examples:

1. Samantha Caine/Charly Baltimore from The Long Kiss Goodnight-

If you haven't seen this movie, you should. Not because it's good. It's not. But it's hilarious. Samantha Caine washed up on shore pregnant with no memory. She falls into the life of a sterotypical housewife, baking cookies and waving from the town's parade float. Then she gets involved in a ridiculously entertaining series of events that leave her piecing together her prior identity (as a spy) while being pursued by her ex-enemies who thought her dead. Now, admittedly, this would be an unorthodox amount of stuff to balance, but that doesn't excuse the fact that, at one point, she blows a hole through the wall with a bazooka and launches her daughter into a nearby tree house. Or that her tenderest mothering moment is taunting her whimpering daughter after she falls on the ice.

2. Ginger from Casino

I think Ginger gets a bad rap. She clearly explains that she's not wife material, but she gets married anyway. When we meet her at the beginning of the movie, she is gorgeous, self-possessed, and successful (if not always ethical). By the end, she's a trainwreck drug addict who has pretty much single-handedly ruined the lives of everyone around her. In between, she ties her daughter to a bed so that she can go out for a drink without the hassel of finding a babysitter and uses her as a bargaining chip so that her husband will let her back in the house to get the one thing she really cares about: her jewelry.

So, Happy Mother's Day! And if you ever feel like it's all crashing down around you, just remember, you've probably never thrown your kid through a hole you just blew in the wall!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ladies, Let's Not Do This

I found this shirt hanging among the Mother's Day apparel at Wal-Mart.(It says, in case you can't see it, "Moms do the hardwork/Dads do the yardwork"). I know, I know. It's supposed to be cute and funny. But it casually perpetuates so many stereotypes: fathers are incompetent, mothers have it so hard, women belong in the house, and so on and so on.

Mother's Day does not have to equal Anti-Father's Day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Children, Privacy, and New Media

I once posted a link to an amazing blog called Mila’s Daydreams. On it, the author posted photos of artistically-crafted scenes around her napping daughter. Unfortunately, the creator of this blog had to remove the photos because they were being stolen and used without permission by advertisers.
I had posted a couple of the photos on this blog and linked back to her site, but I’ve since removed those photos to ensure that I don’t unwittingly put them in the hands of someone who will misuse them. You can see thumbnails of all of them here

Mila’s Daydreams will be showcased in a forthcoming book.

This incident has me thinking about new media and the effects it will have on our children. I’ve posted very few pictures of my daughter on this blog simply because I don’t know who’s reading it. Most of you are wonderful people who I want to share my experiences with. But what happens if an advertiser wants to take my picture and suddenly my daughter is the poster child for some product I’ve never seen. Or maybe she’ll be the poster child for something I have qualms about (like advertisements for formula given to new moms).
But I have posted many pictures of my daughter on Facebook, and it feels safer because the photos are limited to my friends. I recognize that this is mostly the illusion of security, however, as internet content is easily manipulated by those who know what they’re doing. 

In the (slightly dated) New York Times article “Guardian of their Smiles,” this issue is tackled head-on.
Of course, like all the parenting topics, there is heated debate over the ethics of posting children’s photos on the web. Some say it’s never safe. Others say that we have to learn to navigate these new realities of our technologically-advanced world. 

As the NYT article puts it:

It’s not always easy to know what’s the right thing to do. "I feel conflicted about it," she said. "People have said to me, ‘Oh, you’re exploiting your kids.’ But the medium is so new, none of us know what is going to happen."

The article also mentions that people create rules and limits: no names, post only on sites with a password, etc.

The worst fear of all fueling this debate is that some will use these pictures for predatory aims. But the article cites Stephen Balkan from the Family Online Safety Institute as saying the fear is “techno-panic.” There is “virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online.”

At the heart of this debate is how we handle new forms of media as they arise. Plato warned against the dangers of written text. There were fears that the telephone would make us isolated. We are warned about the way that text-speak is degrading the minds of our youth.

No matter how progressive we want to see ourselves (and how progressive we are to make such technological advances), we’re still, at heart, creatures of habit. Media is so tied up to the way we communicate and communication is so close to how we establish our identities that it makes sense we would get nervous about anything that rocks the boat.

Of course, I am entering this conversation with a stake in this fight. I blog about my daughter and my life. I do have some rules that are based entirely off of my gut-instinct and not hard facts. I recognize that they are arbitrary and probably don’t make much difference.

In the end, I think about the fact that my mother entered me into local baby contests when I was an infant. My picture was printed in the small-town newspaper (and, truth be told, is probably available online somewhere by now). Though this blog is definitely a much bigger "newspaper," is the principle really that different?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Here, Let Me Save You $500

I'm not trying to brag, and I'm not trying to say that my marriage is perfect, but I am going to say that the "pre-baby counseling" discussed in "So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage" at The Wall Street Journal seems a little pricey. Couples are shelling out $500 (I'm assuming per couple) to take a 6-session course in how to juggle marriage with a baby.

Does a baby change a marriage? Sure. Can a baby make parts of your marriage more difficult? Absolutely. But the advice this article summarizes isn't advice for prepping for baby; it's advice for treating your spouse like a human being, and I would hope that not that many people need lessons on how to do so.

The participants learn to use "I" statements, a lesson that I teach first-year college students when discussing how to give a constructive peer review. It should shock no one that couching requests in  language that maintains the listener's autonomy gets you further than barking demands.

Because chores can be a place of tension (isn't that the understatement of the year?), "[c]ounselors at Urban Balance have expectant couples make a list of every potential task—from paying bills and cooking dinner to getting up with the baby at 3 a.m.—and decide who is going to be responsible for each one."  Wait. These are pre-baby workshops. And they're writing down the chores. I had no idea what a typical day would look like as a new mother. I had no idea how long it would take to do anything. And there are all kinds of chores I didn't even know existed. Plus, there's no way that kind of schedule could remain in place without jeopardizing everyone's sanity. Maybe it's different for other people, but flexibility is the only thing that keeps this house standing.

They also learn to make a weekly meeting "to sync their calendars," which is good advice, but Google calendar is free, and probably does it a lot more effectively.

"The Bringing Baby Home program suggests that couples spend at least 20 minutes a day talking with each other." Twenty minutes? A day? Seriously? I know (trust me, I know) that schedules get hectic. On many days, there is literally not one minute that I'm not doing at least one required duty, whether that's nursing the baby, doing laundry, reading for class, editing a writing assignment, grading papers, lesson planning, or showering. My husband's schedule is equally hectic. But I cannot think of a time when we've talked less than an hour a day. It may be an hour spent talking while one of us folds clothes and the other one sorts mail. Or while one's cooking dinner and one's playing with the baby. But we always talk. Always.

Our relationship grew out of talking, and it makes no sense to me without that component. We have so many inside jokes after eight years of constant talking that we probably annoy other people. No less than ten times a day I laugh out loud at things I see because I can't wait to tell him later. We text each other what would appear to anyone else to be nonsense throughout the work day. We do crossword puzzles and play Sporcle together (yes, we're total nerds, we even have a pact that we can't look at the Sporcle quizzes unless we're both present--that's cheating).

I recognize that not everyone's relationship looks the same, so it could be that the way our relationship grew just happened to give us some skills that are good for coping with change. I'm not one to advocate my way of life over other's, but I also can't help but feel that our wholehearted attempts at equally sharing parenting responsibilities are truly keeping our relationship on track.

The study cited in the article found that "Mothers' satisfaction in their marriages plummets immediately; for men, the slide is delayed a few months." While the article attributes mothers' woes to physical changes after baby comes, I would argue that it's also related to the cultural pressures of being a mom that start way before the baby is ever born. I don't think men get as many of those pressures beforehand, so it takes some time for them to build up.

I'm not saying that this kind of counseling is useless, but the article admits that even though people who took the courses reported more satisfaction in their marriages, it had no effect on whether or not they would ultimately divorce.

I truly think that learning to communicate with one another has to start way before a baby enters the equation, and it should be as organic as possible. While there are certainly times you're going to fight, you should never forget that your spouse is a friend and, above all, a person worthy of your respect. Save your $500 and go play some Sporcle; it's free!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Checking the Balances (Literally)

My daughter is five months old today. I had given myself a tentative goal of being back at my pre-pregnancy weight by 6 months post-partum. Luckily (and it had to be luck, or pregnancy hormones, or breastfeeding, because at that point it certainly wasn't work), I lost all of it by the time she was a month old.

Since then, though, there's been some work involved. I'm now 15 pounds under my pre-pregnancy weight, and I'm feeling pretty good about it. I went clothes shopping today, and though my post-baby body is definitely different, I was happy in the fitting room.

I still have some weight to lose, but I am not in the constant cycle of disappointment and self-shame that I would fall into over my body before giving birth.

I know that it sounds hokey, and that's probably because it is, but I really feel a responsibility for cultivating a positive body image in my daughter. I know that I can't preach for her to feel positive about her own body if she watches me degrade myself over mine.

That responsibility is two-fold: I must be kind, but I also must be healthy. Being a positive role model for her means showing her that an imperfect body is still a beautiful one, but also that health and physical fitness are important.

As I was thinking about these things, I came across a TIME article titled "5 Ways Parents May Be Sabotaging Their Kids' Health." While I take issue with the fear-mongering title, the content is interesting, and primarily geared at eating habits and physical activity.

The news isn't earth-shattering. We all know that Americans, in general, eat too much junk and don't move enough. But it was sobering to read that "40% of the total calories consumed by 2-to-18-year-olds were 'empty' — devoid of nutrients and derived from fat and sugar." Or that "74% admitted that they spent 'family time' doing sedentary things — like watching TV."

I'm not going to pretend that I'm above crashing on the couch some evenings, but I am conscious of the fact that movement is important. I may only formally work out a few times a week right now (and I try to make those treadmill visits count!), but I sneak in a little activity as much as I can. While my husband's at the gym, I do the "free step" activity on Wii Fit, watching TV while holding my daughter and stepping to the rhythm. I do some crunches before bed. I take the stairs. I walk around the building a couple times a day at work.

I think that the physical activity part will get better over time. Eating more healthful foods happened more rapidly. Again, I'm not going to pretend that I eat nothing but wholesome food (I'm looking at you Milky Way Midnight), but I've definitely changed my eating habits in the recent months.

Breastfeeding has made me much more conscious of what I'm putting into my body. I realized that I wasn't getting a lot of the nutrients that are necessary for my daughter's health. By extension, I wasn't getting the nutrients I needed for my health, either. I added more vegetables, especially green ones. I started cooking fresh as much as possible. Now that we've started solids, I'm planning meals that let me eat some of the fresh foods that I'm smashing up for my daughter. We've pretty much cut out red meat. I've stopped keeping junk food in the house.

This is not how I grew up.My dad was a steak and potatoes man. Vegetables were cooked in cups of butter. We had a constant store of snack cakes and ice cream.

I really feel like the changes we've made are sustainable, and even though we slip up now and then, I think that the culture of our household is much different from the ones we grew up in, and that will be the best thing that I can pass forward to my daughter.