Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tools I Use: What Technology Makes Your Life Easier?

Sometimes, like when I'm just about to go to sleep and I suddenly remember that I have an email to respond to, and now, no matter how much I tell myself it can wait until morning, I won't sleep unless I get up and take care of it, I get frustrated by all of the technology around me. But, all in all, I think that there's a lot of technology tools that I use that really do make my life easier to manage. Here are my favorite tools:

    1. The ZipList iPhone App- This app (and its accompanying website) allows me to clip recipes from different internet sites (or type in my own) and then click on the meals I want to make and add the ingredients to a master grocery list. That list is shared with my husband, so we never again have to end up with two gallons of milk and no eggs. It is also much less likely that we will both forget our phones on joint grocery ventures than it is that we will both forget a handwritten list. Plus, the list is organized by store section, so I've done much less sprinting to the back to pick up something we forgot.
    2. PDF X-Change- This is a free program that allows me to make notes on PDF's. It's invaluable when I'm doing research for a paper. I am a very active reader, and I have to be able to underline, highlight, and make notes in the margins in order to fully engage with what I'm reading. This makes it easy to save everything in an electronic format. It saves paper, takes up less space, and I can still read my typed notes six months later (which isn't always true of stuff I've sprawled sideways in the margins of printed articles).
    3. XMind- This is another free download. I've started using this mind mapping program as my default for planning projects or brainstorming for papers. I take notes from books in it, complete with page numbers, so that I can just copy and paste it directly into the paper as I compose later. It allows you to make connections between ideas, add notes and symbols, and work in a less linear format.
    4. Google Calendar- Though this is certainly no secret, I don't know how I would function without it, so I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention it. I use it for home, work, and class, and I have created different individual calendars for each role so that I can see all, some, or just one of them at a time.
What about you? What technology keeps your world running (relatively) smoothly?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Fatal Distraction": Could You Forget Your Child in the Car?

As we round the corner on the second week of continuous heat advisories, I've noticed some stories about parents leaving their children in cars. Some are atrocious acts of purposeful neglect: children left so their caregivers could go shopping or eat fast food. But there are also incidents that are much more accidental and much less black and white when it comes to blame and punishment.

About a month ago, I stopped carrying the car seat into daycare and started carrying my daughter in my arms instead. It's less cumbersome and she enjoys getting to look around on our way into the building.

A few days into this new routine, I was walking to the parking garage after work, laden with my usual collection of bags and gear. As I approached the car, I saw the handle of the car seat in the back window. My heart stopped beating. I simultaneously moved as fast as I could and slower than I thought humanly possible. In the one, maybe two, seconds it took to get a full view of the window, my mind was a blank slate of white light. Had I forgotten my daughter? Did I really go to daycare this morning? I'd said hello to the teacher, I was sure. But maybe that was yesterday. Could I have driven right past the daycare and down the few blocks to my work without noticing? What kind of monster was I?

Then I got to the window, saw the empty car seat, and knew everything was fine. But what if it hadn't been?

Time has a recent article on the subject, and one of the comments linked to Gene Weingarten's 2009 Washington Post article (Warning: This is a tough read with some graphic descriptions about children left in cars) "Fatal Distraction."

Maybe it was the memory of those few seconds of panic I had, but I cried as I read this article, parts of which detail the agony and terror of several parents who inadvertently killed their children:

What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
The article goes on to describe the perfect storm of conditions that most often surrounds a forgotten child: stress, distraction, lack of sleep, a deviation from a normal routine. Things, I thought to myself as I read, that working parents face often if not everyday. Things I face constantly.

Blog posts like this one from Mommy Words give tips on how to make sure you avoid this mental lapse--things like leaving your purse and cell phone in the back seat, having your calendar send you reminders asking you if you remembered to drop your child off, and placing a large stuffed animal in the front seat whenever there is a child in the back.

Many news story commenters and judgmental passers-by will scoff at these techniques and dismiss them with a groan: "Who would need all of that? What kind of person forgets a child?" And though I don't want to become obsessive over the what-if's in life, I have to disagree. Busy people have busy brains, and those brains can malfunction. I have driven past my exit on the way home from work because I was busy worrying about something that happened in the office. I have left my cell phone in the car. My husband came home from work half an hour after me the other day and found my keys still dangling in the lock outside. I don't think that I would ever leave my child in the car, and I have taken many steps not to. I always check twice. I keep the diaper bag in the front seat when I'm driving to work, I have a mirror so that I can see into the car seat from the front, etc. But I cannot imagine the horror and guilt these parents face, and though I do think it is negligence--absolutely--I also think it's a complex issue that can't be so easily dismissed as awful parents doing awful things.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Someone, Please, Think of the Children! Also, Boobs.

Boobs are in the news again. They're terribly exciting, it seems, and also the focal point of a discussion about children's sensitive moral compasses.

Bebe Gloton Breastfeeding DollThis Salon article by Mary Elizabeth Williams looks at a doll that is about to become available and marketed in the United States, Bebe Gloton.  This doll (which sells for a rather ridiculous $118) comes with a special halter that allows a child to mimic breastfeeding. The doll latches on to the halter and makes sucking noises.

People, as you can probably imagine, are not happy. Their concern focuses on the children, of course, who must be protected from breastfeeding and breasts. Fox and Friends' Dr. Keith Ablow says that it is "beyond ridiculous. It's destructive . . . this is another way of turning little girls into adults. It blurs the boundary between children and adults . . . it contributes to the sexualization of children. . . it's a terrible, terrible idea."

When asked why he saw it as sexual, he responded with a typical fallacy of aversion and suggests hyperbolically that  "little girls, three and four, have an OB/GYN suite where they deliver their babies!" (Seriously, just watch the video. If I keep quoting all of the ridiculous things he says, I won't have space for any commentary.)


He finishes by ignoring blogger Jennifer Gotlieb's reasoned response that children will mimic the actions they see adults doing, so children with younger siblings are likely to mimic breastfeeding with or without a doll. Instead he looks confused and says "that's the craziest thing" he's ever heard. Obviously he doesn't watch his own network (or any other) very often.

This debate is not isolated to baby dolls. As this blog post from Her Bad Mother illustrates, people think that the real thing is damaging the little ones among us as well. The author of this post was breastfeeding in a public library and had a brief moment of exposure. Another patron coughed disapprovingly and raised her eyebrows towards some young boys sitting at a computer nearby. The implication was clear: put your breast away before you destroy these young boys.

Toysmith Doll Care SetSo, what's so damaging about the idea of letting little girls (or boys) pretend to breastfeed their baby dolls? As Williams points out "children play at adult roles all the time. They play at being soldiers and cops and fashion models and moms. Pretending to nurture a baby isn't inherently any more sexual than any of those acts." And there are plenty of dolls that come equipped with bottles. And baby dolls that "pee" and "poop." Aren't feeding babies from bottles and changing diapers jobs usually done by adults?

Fisher-Price Medical KitThe product description for Baby Gloton declares "the idea is to educate and familiarize children with the process of breastfeeding so hopefully when they grow up they are more in tune with the process and inclined to choose breastfeeding instead of the bottle." And that makes sense, right? Part of play is to demonstrate activities and choices that will be made in adulthood, and we want children to be equipped to make the right ones. It's why we have play doctor sets but not play drug dealer sets.  

None of these get to the heart of the real issue people have with a breastfeeding baby doll. The fact of the matter is that breastfeeding is stigmatized in America, and many people want to maintain that stigma. Declaring a breastfeeding doll as wrong sends the message to little girls that breastfeeding is wrong, and it is part of a larger narrative that keeps breastfeeding difficult and sometimes shameful for women, despite countless public health campaigns touting its benefits.

For comparison, I invite Keith Ablow to take a look at this Cracked article by Dawn Morrow: "8 Weirdly Sexual Products You Won't Believe are for Kids."

No, Keithy (what's a condescending nickname here, Keithkins?), your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a stripper pole toyset complete with garter belt and fake cash marketed on the package to children "11 and upwards."

But that's comparing apples to oranges, you say? A doll is nothing like a stripper pole? Oh, well, perhaps this will convince you that there is definitely a sexualization problem among our toys, and normalizing breastfeeding just isn't it.

Bratz Large Babyz Twinz
Sure, they're wearing nothing but panties and leather jackets. But they're drinking out of bottles, so it's okay. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Feminist Mother's Hopes to Mother a Feminist: One Year Later

A year ago today I published a post answering a series of questions about feminism and mothering from blue milk.

It was a great exercise, and it sparked a lot of thought that led to parenting practices and the still-developing philosophy that I frequently write about on this blog. At the time, I was still pregnant, and I couldn't answer all of the questions yet.

While I'm sure that my response to these questions will be ever-evolving, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit them and see how my early experiences with parenting an infant have shaped my views on feminist parenting.

1.How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
In the earlier post, I defined feminism as striving "for a world where women and men are viewed as equals and a person's individual talents, passions, and abilities determine his/her role(s) in life, not gender." I think that's still accurate.
I've believed in that all of my life. I always saw myself as having a career, even as a young child (as a kindergartner I declared that I would be a marine biologist).

I didn't use the label "feminist" until college, but that's just because I hadn't been exposed to it.

2.What has surprised you most about motherhood?
The love. I'm not a baby gusher. I like kids and I enjoy playing with and talking to other people's. But I've never been one of those people who can't wait to hold a new baby or who gushes over children. I worried that this meant I wouldn't be as affectionate or attached to my own child, but I was wrong.

I know it sounds sentimental and cheesy, but I am in awe of how much I love my daughter. I especially love watching her grow into personality traits that I think are forming the person she will become. It's amazing to watch each development. Seeing her discover the world is helping me discover it all over again.

3.How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
My feminism used to be much more timid. When I first learned of the feminist label, I used to equivocate about how I believed those things but didn't like to label myself. What I meant was I didn't want to argue with people who didn't see gender equality as an important goal. Now I don't mind a little confrontation. Part of that is because I've gotten more confident in my own ability to articulate ideas because of my education, research, and life experiences. But part of that is directly related to motherhood.

I know that the world is a better place for women now than it was for the women of my mother's generation. I feel that it is my responsibility to make sure the world is more equal for my daughter's (and any future children--son's or daughter's) generation as well.

4.What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
My goals of equally shared parenting are rooted heavily in feminism. My husband and I strive to divvy up the day-to-day tasks based on equitable grounds and skill sets, not gender or tradition. This is not always easy, and that's primarily because most of the models we have (from our own upbringings and from many contemporary sources) are not negotiated this way.

5.Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?
Every day, in ways little and big.

When strangers stop me in the store to tell me how beautiful my daughter is and then comment on her eyelashes and those dimples and say how "pretty" and "gorgeous" she is, I am torn. She is, in my perfectly biased opinion, beautiful and pretty and gorgeous. And of course I love her eyelashes and dimples and everything else. But would they say those same things about my child if I had a boy? Is that language doing something to harm her? In the back of my mind I'm thinking about things like Lisa Bloom's "How to Talk to Little Girls" and Kate Makkai's "Pretty."

And then I start a mini panic. Am I failing my daughter? Myself? Feminism? Women? Humanity? Do I have to take this stranger to task? What do I say?

And what do I say? After all, I tell my daughter she's pretty. I also tell her she's smart. I also tell her she's a whiny little cranky pants. This stranger isn't trying to damage her psyche. She (or more rarely, but not unheard of, he) is just trying to be nice, make conversation, pass the time in the grocery line. So what do I say? "Thank you!" Then smile. And wonder.

6.Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?
Identifying as anything is difficult. It almost inevitably comes with a checklist of implicit requirements, and I'm never going to meet all of them.

When my daughter crawls through her pink, sparkly tunnel in her bright pink dress, I fear that someone is going to jump out of the shadows and demand that I hand over my feminist ID card for immediate incineration. "But she's carrying the plastic hammer that said 'For a Little Boy' on the package! That counts for something, doesn't it?!"

It's the same feeling I get when I label myself as health conscious and then eat some KFC. Or question how "green" I am every time I toss out a disposable diaper.

In the end, though, I am a feminist because those principles are key to my philosophical underpinnings--and most of the time I'm health conscious and environmentally concerned and a whole host of other things that I can't uphold all of the time.
7.Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
I don't see the sacrifices I make as a mother as a threat to my individual feminism or femininity or feminism as a whole. I have been careful to make sure that my sacrifices enable me to continue functioning in multiple spheres. My career is still a priority for me, and I see my work as fulfilling and contributing to greater societal goals.

The biggest sacrifice is in time. I don't get to spend as much time with friends as I want, and I regret that. I also let a lot of housework and general chores slide, which can become overwhelming, but I rarely--if ever--make sacrifices out of my roles as mother, wife, or educator, and these are the facets of my identity I most readily identify with.
8.If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
I have an amazing husband who challenges me and builds me up. He is a fantastic father, and his support in our views of gender equality are key to our relationship and our parenting.

9.If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
Attachment parent is another one of those labels that I shy away from because it feels like I don't meet enough of the checkmarks to identify myself that way. Sometimes I'm a baby-wearer, but sometimes I'm not. It depends on what makes the most sense for whatever the situation is. We usually co-sleep. . .the second half of the night. I believe in a lot of the principles behind attachment parenting, but I guess I don't feel knowledgeable enough about the method to defend it when challenged (much like my early fear of labeling myself a "feminist"). I have been doing a lot of reading about attachment parenting, and maybe some day I will feel informed enough to discuss it with people who hear the term and picture someone like Maggie Gyllenhaal's character in Away We Go.

10.Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
Feminism and gender equality (which are nearly synonymous to me) have given mothers the opportunity to be successful in our complex modern world. Bending the rigid gender roles from both sides of the spectrum is a necessary component of creating flexible environments where men and women can be productive in all of the roles they fill. It gives people the social freedom to navigate the work of living in ways that make sense for them and their families.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In Defense of Food: On Science and Natural Movements

I am reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. As I've mentioned before, becoming pregnant and subsequently breastfeeding has made me much more aware of what I put into my body. I grew up in a lower-class home and subsisted largely (in more ways than one) on pre-packaged, high-fat foods.

Once I was an adult in charge of my own eating, those habits were hard to break. I have struggled with weight control since early adolescence, so my relationship with food has often been tumultuous. I am probably happier with the way that I look and feel than I have ever been in my life, and that's largely because of the shift in the way that I eat and think about eating, a shift that has been ongoing, but has recently undergone some pretty major changes. Pollan's book is part of that transformation.

Once I became pregnant, I could no longer get angry at myself for gaining weight and punish myself by not eating enough for days at a time. I had a baby to feed. I hope that I will never "diet" again because recognizing food as nourishment and (yes, God forbid) enjoyment was a breakthrough for me. I have been much kinder to myself and that has made it much easier to make healthy choices.

Pollan (who also wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma), takes a look at the cultural practices that attribute to the way the Western diet shapes how we eat and live. He makes a very convincing argument that the scientific modification and study of food has not made us healthier, largely because food is not just the sum of its micro-parts (various nutrients, antioxidants, etc.) but a whole thing that exists as a system. In addition, science hasn't historically been all that good at figuring out what nutrients are most important to human development anyway, often focusing too much on the ones they've mastered and not enough on the ones they haven't (or haven't even identified).

He uses baby formula as one of the places this is evident:
The entire history of baby formula has been the history of one overlooked nutrient after another: Liebig missed the vitamins and amino acids, and his successors missed the omega-3s, and still to this day babies fed on the most "nutritonally complete" formula fail to do as well as babies fed human milk.
This should not be a revelation to me. Really, nothing in this book should have been news to me, but something about the way it's presented struck me. I had put so much blind trust that "they" were making food better with their tinkering that I hadn't thought about food from a natural perspective in a long time.

That made me think about the process I went through while deciding to have a natural childbirth. Just like I had a hard time believing "they"--the scientists and researchers--might not create better alternatives to real, natural food, I also had a hard time believing that "they" hadn't improved upon the process of giving birth. As Pollan explains:
most of us unthinkingly place the authority of science above culture in all matters having to do with our health, that prejudice should at least be examined. The question we need to ask is, Are we better off with these new authorities telling us how to eat than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? 
Now, I do not want to demonize science. Scientific advances in food have been remarkable and are probably necessary to prevent starvation. It's important research to determine what nutrients are in which foods and how they work within the body.

At the same time, it's important research to figure out how labor works. Determining the hormones released during labor and what they do allows us to know more about our own bodies as well as know how to intervene when something goes wrong.

But instead of using these miraculous natural functions as primary examples to understand, we use them as base models in need of improvement. We found that laboring women produce oxtocin, so we figured out how to make pitocin to do it "better." We found out that leafy green vegetables give you folic acid, so we extract it and put it in a pill.

The goal should not be to create replacements for these natural processes (and eating, digesting, and thriving off of food is a very complex process, indeed). Instead, we should learn how to use the useful scientific knowledge we have to become better at using the natural skills of our bodies and the natural resources of the world around us.

And much like the medical birthing process, these advancements in food science are complicated by the capitalist forces surrounding them:
diet pills, heart bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But though fast food may be good business for the health care industry, the cost to society--an estimated $250 billion a year in diet-related health care costs and rising rapidly--cannot be sustained indefinitely.
All that aside, it's much easier said than done. Marketing and demand from the American palate has made it incredibly difficult (and expensive) to avoid what Michael Pollan calls artificial food without a lot of research.

I've decided to go about it in small steps. I cut out artificial sweeteners last month (and since I primarily drank diet soda, I've pretty much cut out caffeine and upped my water intake as well). This month, I'm focusing on replacing canned vegetables with fresh (organic, if possible) ones.

I highly recommend the book. I think that it's an interesting look at how our bodies and the food we eat operate in a complex dance. I'm ready to learn a few new (or old, depending on how you look at it) steps.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buying Baby Things Part 2: Stuff I'm Glad I Bought

As a follow-up to Part 1 (Things I Shouldn't Have Bought), I'd like to highlight some things I'm glad I did buy (or got as gifts), even though I resisted some of them in the beginning.

1. The Boppy-
Boppy Pillow with Slipcover, Lots O DotsI knew I wanted to breastfeed, and the Boppy was a nearly ubiquitous presence on every list of necessary products for breastfeeding mothers.  Despite it's constant praise, I didn't give in easily. My husband and I slowly picked up baby stuff while grocery shopping or running errands during the final months of pregnancy--a pack of diapers here, a couple outfits there. On four separate occasions, I picked up the Boppy, examined the package, sighed, and put it back on the shelf, usually proclaiming something like "It's a thirty five dollar pillow! It's just ridiculous." Once I even had it in the cart and turned around and took it back. I can't remember exactly what finally tipped me over the edge, but I'm sure it was fueled by anxiety about not being able to breastfeed successfully. I picked up that horseshoe of fluff and carried it to the register like a sacred talisman, trying to ignore the fact that it felt overpriced.

Why I Love It: Was it a magic talisman? Well, no. Probably not. But it did help preserve my sanity, and that's definitely worth 35 bucks. In the first month or so, my daughter ate what seemed like constantly. Some days she ate for 45 minutes every hour and a half. That's forty-five minutes between feedings for anyone keeping track. And this was around the clock. Neither her neck muscles nor my feeding dexterity were developed enough to allow for much variation in the pose. So every forty-five minutes I curled up cross-legged in my bed, propped my daughter on my lap, and sat there. At first I felt successful for being able to feed my daughter, but then I felt a little trapped, and I felt more than a little bored. But with the Boppy I could gain a little freedom. Soon I was adept enough to read with one hand while feeding. Then I could browse websites. I tried to do it with a regular pillow, but it was much harder. The Boppy worked. Later, I used it to prop my daughter upright while I read her first stories to her. Even now it is one of her favorite obstacles in the neverending jungle of things to be climbed.

Sassy Teething Feeder, Blue2. Sassy Mesh Feeders: Before having a baby, I had never heard of these, which led me to the initial conclusion that they weren't necessary. Surely someone would have been talking about them if they were important, right? But as I begin to adopt some of the principles of baby-led weaning, I realized that the little mesh bags might just be the answer to my terror over letting my daughter--who seemed intent on determining the absolute maximum amount of food she could fit in her mouth at any one time--taste food independently.

Why I Love Them: They're incredibly versatile and great at providing peace of mind. Bananas, mashed potatoes, green beans, pretty much anything we're eating can be put in these and enjoyed without the fear of choking. It's also just easier for some foods. Things like bananas are hard to pick up without squashing, and these help contain the mess.
Note: I first bought a Munchkin brand mesh feeder that doesn't come apart. After a couple of uses, it was too hard to clean. The Sassy brand has removable mesh bags that are easier to clean and they can be replaced without buying a new handle.

KidCo PeaPod Portable Self-Inflating Travel Bed - Lime3. KidCo PeaPod Travel Bed- I received this as a gift, and I never would have thought to buy it for myself. It's an extremely lightweight, small travel bed with a self-inflating mattress. It can be used for children up to three years or so, and it is easy to fold and store.

Why I Love It: We do quite a bit of short-distance traveling. My in-laws are four hours away, and we like to do weekend getaways pretty often. We have a Pack n' Play, but it's pretty impractical for a lot of the traveling we do. It's hard to fit in the car and a pain to move around. We just took the PeaPod on a four-day trip, and it took up almost no room. We used it outside so that my daughter would have a safe place to play while we sat around a picnic table, at night as a crib in our friend's guest room, and during the day in the living room as a place to have toys and act as a barrier to the kitchen. It has mesh windows on all sides, making it easy to see the baby inside. We'll definitely be using it again.

Magic Bullet MBR-1701 17-Piece Express Mixing Set4. Magic Bullet Blender- I didn't get this right away. I thought that it was unnecessary because I already have a food processor. Truth be told, I could definitely make do with the food processor, but the Magic Bullet does make making baby food a lot easier. The food processor was so much bigger, and it didn't work very well when I wanted to make a small batch of food.

Why I Love It: It works. It's easy to clean and turns pretty much anything into baby-friendly mush in a few seconds. I've also taken to using it for less baby-related things, like raspberry sauce. Mmm. There's allegedly some technique that allows you to chop vegetables with it, but it's a skill I don't possess, leaving me with onion paste. Despite that, it's compact enough to keep on the counter, making me much more likely to use it (because really, digging out all those food processor parts isn't much fun), and that's led to some more adventerous baby food.

What's on your list?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This Made Me Smile

They Might Be Giants covers Chumbawamba

The Mixed-Race Perspective

Yesterday's New York Times article "Pushing Boundaries, Mixed-Race Artists Gain Notice" brings up some interesting points about the acceptance of multiracial perspectives.

One of the featured artists is novelist Heidi Durrow whose book The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was rejected several times because editors thought "readers couldn’t relate to a protagonist who was part black and part Danish." Her best-selling success suggests otherwise.

Art has always been a place where individuals pool the various facets of their unique perspectives into a source of creative fuel. While readers always have to have a point of access, it is very short-sighted to think that they have to share the exact same identity in order to relate to a protagonist or the content of a novel.

The NYT article cites Stanford English professor Michele Elam on the shifting attitudes toward multiracial people:
The national images of racially mixed people have dramatically changed just within the last few years, from ‘mulattoes’ as psychically divided, racially impure outcasts to being hip new millennials who attractively embody the resolution of America’s race problem
Elam goes on to explain that both of these characterizations are "wrongheaded and reductive." They're wrong-headed and reductive because works of art should not be made accessible by the "hip-ness" of their  biracial and multiracial creators, but by the richness of voices and perspective that draw us to any great work of art.

As a recent blog post on Yes We're Together reminded me, difference is created by a lot more than racial identity. As the author reflects on the differences that interracial couples face, she remarks that "The reality is that in any marriage, you have two people--who if even from of the same race--are from two completely different worlds, and this makes me think that in a way, every marriage is (kinda) interracial."

Durrow's book is also featured on NPR's Summer Blend Book Club, a reading club that features works by mixed race writers. Durrow's work is joined by You Are Free: Stories by Danzy Senna, The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Take One Candle Light a Room: A novel by Susan Straight, and Pym: A Novel by Mat Johnson.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Buying Baby Things Part 1: Stuff I Shouldn't Have Bought

I was in no hurry when I found out I was pregnant to purchase a ton of things. I was almost embarrassingly late on buying essential items like diapers and clothes, and I was of the firm belief that most of the stuff placed on "essential" lists from parenting magazines and websites  were just clever marketing ploys. Still, babies (especially first babies) are pretty big environmental changes to a household, and that comes with some necessary adjustments in the surrounding--adjustments that are most easily seen in the sheer amount of things you end up buying.

Now that I've had some time to reflect (and see all that stuff in use) I've found that most of the things I've bought fall into one of two categories 1) things I shouldn't have bought or 2) things I almost didn't buy (or were given to me as gifts that I wouldn't have purchased myself) but am so glad to have.

To aid anyone else who might be walking into Babies R Us for the first time and gawking open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the swirl of pastel colors in utter confusion, I share my hindsight, starting with:

Things I Shouldn't Have Bought

Infantino Flip Carrier1. Infantino Flip Carrier- Now, I liked this carrier for a while, and I did use it right away. I gave birth on December 1, and grades were due for the spring classes I was teaching on December 16. I stuck my infant daughter in this carrier against my chest and graded away while she slept. It was wonderful. And at first I was a little smug. "I spent 30 bucks on this thing, and it's fine. What's wrong with those people who shell out hundreds for the same thing? Elitists!" What's wrong with them? Their children, like mine, did not remain tiny and still for very long. Now that my daughter weighs nearly 20 pounds and moves a ton, the weight distribution in the Infantino is not so great.

What I should have bought instead:

Well, I haven't quite decided yet. At first I thought I'd just use the Infantino one and suck it up, but we walk a lot. We're urban parents, and trips to the zoo, Sunday morning breakfast, and sometimes even the grocery store are often done on foot. Even when my daughter starts walking, some of these trips will be too long for her to walk the whole time, and a stroller isn't always practical.
Boba Classic Baby Carrier 2G - Dusk
Boba Classic

I've looked at Ergo and Baby Bjorn, both of which are popular brands that boast a better weight distribution and more comfortable experience.

But my research has me leaning towards a Boba Carrier that has a pretty high weight limit, wide waist belt, and foot straps for older children to take some of the weight off of the shoulders. I'd love comments from anyone who has advice on which one is best.

2. Graco Flip It Travel System-
Graco Alano Flip It Travel System, Strata To  be fair, there's nothing wrong with this product; it's just the wrong fit for my lifestyle. The stroller is too big to be practical at almost any of the places we usually go. It's a pain to manuever through crowds and nearly impossible to deal with in a store. It's nice to have a system where the car seat snaps into the stroller, but we literally only used it like four times, and now that our daughter's old enough to sit up on her own, we use a much smaller stroller and leave the carseat in the car.

Cosco Umbrella Stroller, Giraffe
What I should have bought instead: 
Really any inexpensive, simple umbrella stroller. We picked one up at Babies R Us for $15. We've already used it more than the Graco one, and we've only had it a few weeks. It's just so much simpler to put in the car, carry around, and maneuver in stores.
Graco Snugride Infant Car Seat, Lively DotsI love the car seat that came with the Graco travel system. It's a Snugride, and though it doesn't go up to the same weight limits as the bigger car seats in the Graco line, it fits in the car easily, snaps into the base great, and is (relatively) easy to carry around. I should have bought the car seat on its own and held off on the stroller until she was big enough to sit up. Before that,  I could have just set the car seat in the bottom of a shopping cart or worn her in a sling, which is what I ended up doing most of the time anyway. I may still have ended up purchasing a bigger stroller, too, especially for walking in the park or someplace that isn't crowded, but I don't think it was necessary to buy the whole travel system.

3.  Diaper Genie II Elite-
Diaper Genie II Elite Pail SystemI put this on my registry thinking that it would be a necessity. This is one of those purchases driven by the mythos of parenting. "The smell! Oh my God! The diapers smell so bad!" Now, my daughter's only been on solids for a month and a half, so I'm sure I haven't had the full-blown diaper experience, but the Diaper Genie still seems unnecessary. There's only one or two dirty diapers a day. The rest are just wet. I can take the dirty ones and throw them out immediately. But what am I left with? A disposal system that holds next to nothing. In the first few weeks of my daughter's life, she was wetting a diaper about every hour. That's a lot of diapers to cram into a tiny little bin of plastic. So many, that I often ended up stacking them on top until the end of the day when I dumped them all into a trash bag and took them outside. That kind of defeats the purpose. Plus, the refill liners are very expensive, especially considering that they tear pretty easily.

What I should have bought instead:
 A cheap, plastic kitchen trash can with a lid. It serves the same purpose, has more space, and can be used to also throw away the other junk that accumulates upstairs near the nursery.

4. Onesies, Burp Cloths, and Sleep Bundlers-
No, I'm not suggesting that onesies and burp cloths were bad purchases. I just bought way too many of them. When I finally went to buy clothes, I was overwhelmed and figured I should stock up on the basics. She hardly wore any of the plain white 0-3 month onesies. I don't think she ever wore a newborn sized one (she was 9 lbs when she was born). I still use the burp cloths, but I have like twenty of them.

Organic Baby Soy Bundler - Elephant Size: 0-3 MonthsAs for the sleep bundlers, these were the long gowns that were open at the bottom with elastic. In theory, you pull them down over your sleeping child's legs, and she drifts peacefully off to sleep without the risk of a blanket in the crib. In reality, my daughter sleeps like she's running a marathon, and the little elastic bottom ended up around her waist, leaving her with ice-cold legs. It didn't help that she was born in December. 

What I should have bought instead-
For the first few months, my daughter lived in footed one-piece outfits and sleep sacks with zippers. I probably shouldn't have bought any onesies, and one pack of burp cloths would have sufficed.

5. Johnson and Johnson everything
Johnson's Bathtime Essentials Gift SetI purchased quite a few different J and J products: shampoo, lotion, baby oil, etc. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was about to have a baby and hadn't done much to prepare. This seemed like an easy way to start stockpiling necessities. I shouldn't have. First of all, I received a couple of very nice J and J gift sets at my baby shower. These gifts lasted me quite a while, making it unnecessary to tap into my baby lotion reserves. Secondly, my daugther ended up with extremely dry skin, and I couldn't really use the bath soap without her getting dry patches.

What I should have bought instead:
Nothing. I should have waited until after the baby shower and my daughter's birth and used the very nice gifts as a chance to experiment with the different products and see what worked out best. Even if I hadn't gotten any gifts, she was an infant. It's not like she was rolling around in the mud and needing hourly baths. There was no reason for me to stock up on these months in advance.

So what would you add to the list of things you shouldn't have bought? Did you buy too many of something? Buy something you never used at all?