Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This Time Around

A little over five years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. As my daughter grew inside me, I thought about that pregnancy what felt like every moment of every day. Sure, I was working and living and doing all of the things that life requires, but the pregnancy was always there, at most one layer beneath the surface of my mind, prodding at me with every move I made.

My mind: "Oh, you just wanted to enjoy some scrambled eggs? You know what else was an egg? Your baby.
Let's think about that for a while. What? You're not hungry anymore?
That's probably for the best, as you're going to be too nauseous to open your eyes in about ten minutes anyway."
I remember being in bed at night unable to sleep, but it wasn't because I was consumed with worry (at least not most of the time). Though there were dashes of fear or anxiety, most of the time it was just the work of thinking through the sheer newness of it all. What would it be like to give birth? What would it be like to hold a baby for the first time? I'd never held a baby that new to the world. What would it be like to come home with her? Did we have everything? Where would the changing table be most strategically placed? What would the dog think of her? If I had to have a c-section, how would I climb all those steps in my house? What would her eyes look like? Would she have a lot of hair? When would she be old enough to take to the City Museum? What would my husband be like as a father? How often would she see her cousins? Where would I pump at work?

The questions ranged from the big and philosophical to the daily and mundane, but one thing was consistent: the questions came in a constant internal monologue. I had to push them to the back of my mind to get through the daily tasks of work, school, and socializing. It was like someone had a radio playing inside my head.

This time around, however, I've managed to forget that I'm even pregnant for days at a time. I am about halfway through this pregnancy, and I've found myself suddenly nauseated and confused. Did I eat something bad? Am I getting the flu? No, fool. You're pregnant. Remember?

This wasn't true at the beginning of the pregnancy. Since I'd had a miscarriage just six weeks before getting pregnant, early pregnancy was a time full of questions, but none of them were peaceful or philosophical. They were all practical and full of fear. What were the odds of miscarrying once I'd made it to six weeks? Six weeks and three days? Was that a cramp? It was made even worse by the fact that this pregnancy, like my first one, was accompanied by a hematoma that caused some bleeding. Every day I wavered between delight over having another baby to sheer terror over suffering another loss. Those first few weeks were full of attention, but it was pained, terror-filled attention void of any joy.

At first, I thought my nonchalance was a kind of defense mechanism. Maybe I had fallen into not thinking about the pregnancy as much because it was easier than being terrified. But now I don't think so. Several doctor's visits have confirmed that all is well. The statistics are well on my side. I'm not terrified any more.

So the difference is me.

I'm five years older, for one thing. My life is much more stable in a lot of ways than it was during that first pregnancy. I'm not wondering what my career will look like. I'm not newly moved into a house that's falling apart. My PhD is finished. I'm eight years into my marriage instead of three. Perhaps all of those realities have turned down the volume on that radio show in my head.

But it's also just that parenting isn't new. And that doesn't mean that I think I've gotten it all figured out and that it will be easy this time around. Not at all.

If parenting my "spirited" daughter has taught me anything, it's that I can't prepare for parenting another human being no matter how hard I try. Not really. It also taught me that it doesn't really matter where the changing table goes (I'll use the bed or the couch more often anyway) or where I pump at work (I've pumped in rooms dedicated to that purpose, in my car, in a bathroom, sitting in a corner of an airport). I still have no idea what this baby's eyes or hair will look like, and we've decided to not even find out if it's a girl or a boy, so there are even more questions I could be asking myself. But I'm not asking them because this time around, I know that I can't be prepared.

I saw this video the other day of a mother duck trying to march with her ducklings in a row when the high wind blows her babies all over the place and she scrambles to get them back together. She ends up heading in a completely different direction.

And that, I think, is the perfect metaphor for what these early years of parenting have felt like for me. That first pregnancy, I spent all that time plotting how to keep those ducklings in a row. I spent all that time thinking about what the perfect tempo would be for our march. I spent all that time imagining the direction we would head and the path we would take. But I didn't account for the wind. 

This time around, you could say that I've taken a fatalist attitude toward the wind. Come what may, I can't stop it anyway. But I think a more optimistic take is that I know now what I didn't know then. There is some direction you can go, and we'll get there in time.

Photo: Hamburger Helper

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Free Speech Confusion: Of Coddled College Students and Profane Professors

The future of free speech is making headlines as we try to parse out what this "new generation" of coddled college students who just can't stand to be offended means for our cultural value of being able to say whatever the hell you want to whoever the hell you want without consequence.

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center released poll data showing that 40% of Millennials think that the government should be able to prevent offensive speech against minorities (as opposed to 27% of Gen Xers, 24% of Boomers, and just a measly 12% of those epithet-loving Silents).

Since then, I have seen a whole lot of people (in social media, news outlets, and in real life) wringing their hands about what this means for the future of America. Are today's kids going to hand over the land of the free to authoritarian dictatorships because we're afraid of getting our feelings hurt? (Though, I'm a Millennial, and I'm 30, so pretty soon we're going to have to stop with the "kids today" narrative when it comes to Millennials, right? Don't we ever get to grow up?!)

Since then, there's been some walking back of the initial fears. Even people who were initially part of the hype are revisiting the context of their fears. For example, Jesse Singal of New York Magazine originally reported the Pew results as being extremely high, but later wrote a follow-up piece where he examines the wording of the poll and compares it to historical data to demonstrate things really aren't that different

J.F. Sargent, writing for Cracked, initially lamented the generation of people who are just looking for a reason to be offended, but just this week wrote a very interesting post about what we're missing when it comes to college students and free speech. His conclusion, much like Singal's is that the college student crisis is not nearly as dire as we're making it out to be. And he also points to several very serious free speech issues that we're conveniently ignoring (or at least not turning into memes and collectively shaking our heads about as we mourn the death of freedom). A prime example is at Mizzou (the very campus that has been held up as free speech hating activists run amok even though the professor who blocked the journalists was removed from her position and apologized for her actions). While we had a collective freakout over that story, another Mizzou-related free speech violation flew largely under the radar. A Missouri state senator has been trying to intimidate and force a Mizzou grad student from completing her dissertation on abortion and the impact of Missouri's 72-hour waiting period. As Sargent writes: 
This happened at literally the exact same school as the protests, and it's a way more cut-and-dry threat to free speech. The government is literally telling a grad student what they're allowed to study, which is precisely what the first amendment is meant to prevent.
Still, it does seem true that my generation is more sensitive to offensive speech, and that's largely thanks to the way that information is disseminated today. We have global platforms and the ability to share both our offensive thoughts and our offended reactions in a matter of seconds. The impact of hateful speech cannot be ignored as easily as the buffers of privilege have been partially pierced by social media. It's a lot harder to think that your blackface Halloween costume is "just a joke" when you see social media campaigns and the reactions of actual minorities telling you that's not the case. It's much harder to think that catcalling a woman on the street is just harmless fun when women are taking to social media en masse to share their fear and disgust.

And people who bemoan my generation's threat to free speech because of our sensitivity to the pervasive nature of racism, sexism, homophobia, and class disparities would be wise to remember that these campaigns are free speech, too. Publicly shaming someone for their Halloween costume is not a violation of the costume wearers rights; it's a practice of the rights of those who witness it.

When I shared the link to the Pew poll, someone asked me if I was sharing it because I thought it was a good thing. The answer is no. I shared it because I thought it was interesting, and now after doing more research into the actual context of the polling, I think that the reaction is even more interesting than the data.

But I think what the question was getting at was whether or not I myself thought that offensive speech should be legally regulated. The answer to that is also no. I'm among the 60% of Millennials who think that speech (even when offensive) should remain free of government restriction.

I did pause for a while and try to think through the implications of my answer. And my response has to start with the recognition that I am white. I don't experience the horrors of much of this hate speech the way that, say, Mizzou's student body president did. There isn't a racial slur that I have to fear being lobbed at me when I'm trying to walk around my own community. I recognize that and admit that this buffer of racial privilege keeps me from speaking from a place of complete understanding when it comes to the legality of hate speech.

I do, though, have plenty of firsthand experience with street harassment. I've also been the victim of plenty of horrendous internet harassment, including death and rape threats (a common occurrence for women who dare to be active in online spaces). It is really unpleasant to be running down a street and hearing someone you don't even know shout out sexually suggestive things and then call you a "bitch" or "whore" when you don't respond the way they want. It's scary. It has ruined my day, made me afraid to run outside, and made me angry at myself for not knowing how to respond or for being too afraid of what those men might do to me to actually stand up for myself.

I can admit that in those moments, I've wished for a law that bans their words. But when I stop to think about how that law would be enacted, I still side with free speech.

What would we ban? The words? I don't ever believe in banning words. If some man isn't allowed to yell "bitch" at me when I'm running down the street, does that mean a woman could be arrested for referring playfully to her best friend as a "bitch"?

In the FCC v. Pacifica ruling (a major case for free speech in which the FCC was granted very broad oversight into protecting the public from "indecent" speech on the airwaves), George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" skit was upheld as unfit for public airwaves.

Justice Brennan dissented in this case, and within his dissent, he says this (I know, I know. My quote is long. I tried to make it shorter, but it's just so good): 
It is quite evident that I find the Court's attempt to unstitch the warp and woof of First Amendment law in an effort to reshape its fabric to cover the patently wrong result the Court reaches in this case dangerous as well as lamentable. Yet there runs throughout the opinions of my Brothers POWELL and STEVENS another vein I find equally disturbing: a depressing inability to appreciate that in our land of cultural pluralism, there are many who think, act, and talk differently from the Members of this Court, and who do not share their fragile sensibilities. It is only an acute ethnocentric myopia that enables the Court to approve the censorship of communications solely because of the words they contain. 
"A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used." Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418, 425 (1918) (Holmes, J.). The words that the Court and the Commission find so unpalatable may be the stuff of everyday conversations in some, if not many, of the innumerable subcultures that compose this Nation. Academic research indicates that this is indeed the case. See B. Jackson, "Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me" (1974); J. Dillard, Black English (1972); W. Labov, Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular (1972). As one researcher concluded, "[w]ords generally considered obscene like `bullshit' and `fuck' are considered neither obscene nor derogatory in the [black] vernacular except in particular contextual situations and when used with certain intonations." C. Bins, "Toward an Ethnography of Contemporary African American Oral Poetry," Language and Linguistics Working Papers No. 5, p. 82 (Georgetown Univ. Press 1972). Cf. Keefe v. Geanakos, 418 F.2d 359, 361 (CA1 1969) (finding the use of the word "motherfucker" commonplace among young radicals and protesters). 
Today's decision will thus have its greatest impact on broadcasters desiring to reach, and listening audiences composed of, persons who do not share the Court's view as to which words or expressions are acceptable and who, for a variety of reasons, including a conscious desire to flout majoritarian conventions, express themselves using words that may be regarded as offensive by those from different socio-economic backgrounds.[fn8] In this context, the Court's decision may be seen for what, in the broader perspective, it really is: another of the dominant culture's inevitable efforts to force those groups who do not share its mores to conform to its way of thinking, acting, and speaking. See Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 506-511 (1977) (BRENNAN, J., concurring).
I agree with Brennan. If we start trying to ban individual words, we're essentially demanding that all subcultures and minority groups acquiesce to one dominant definition of those words, and that's unacceptable. Words that are offensive in one context can be empowering in another. I'm thinking here of having chanted "cunt" at a showing of the Vagina Monologues. That's a word that I certainly don't want screamed at me on the street, but in that moment, surrounded by allies against gender oppression, it was a word full of power.

So instead of trying to ban the speech, many anti-catcalling activists have taken to free speech tools of their own. They're releasing videos documenting the violations of their safety and peace as they walk down the street. They've started hanging "No Catcalling" signs on city streets. And these tactics have started many serious conversations that are demanding changes to the culture.

The problem is being addressed with more speech, not less. The true power of free speech is that it can be claimed and filled with power by the most marginalized. Free speech is the tool that allows us to stand up to the dominant narratives and make our voices heard.

I don't think today's college students are going to give that up. I believe, instead, that they're trying to untangle the particularly tricky work of navigating speech rights in an unprecedented time of public accountability. And I believe, perhaps naively but fully, that the American tradition of free speech will prevail--perhaps more powerfully than those who've benefited from oppression would like.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

Here are the things that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious) this week. What have you been reading (or writing)?

The Good

The Bustle has a list of feminist songs.

I'm really enjoying Master of None, and I enjoyed this reflection from Kelvin Yu on how this show finally allowed him to play someone he recognized in himself:
So for years I played nerds, and then for a long time I played jilted Asian men who were angry because they'd been dishonored. I would like murder my sister or my wife on CSI: New York or Without a Trace or NCIS. I just would kill my wife because I was so mad because I'd been dishonored. The problem with that is there's some well-intended writer whose probably not Asian-American back there doing his or her best to write an episode of their show that involves Asians, but they don't have any primary or even secondary interactions with Asians to go off of. So they end up falling into a little bit of low-hanging fruit and they don't realize how many times I've had to kill my wife and my sister because she was like, dating a white guy and I couldn't take it. And then you walk around New York and there's guys like Alan and girls like Lena walking around, so this is the first time it was like, "Hey dude, just be you. We're going to put you in great boots. You're going to walk down Elizabeth [Street] and say some funny things."
I love this list of female-centric revisions of "Hotline Bling" (side note: he clearly means "blink," right?! It drives me crazy that it is "bling.") My favorite is Ceresia's:

The everyday and beautiful reality of breastfeeding, captured in this photo project.

Roller derby continues to serve as a welcoming space for transgendered athletes.

The Bad

Locally, the temperature dropped suddenly and deeply. This morning, three children died in a house fire started by a space heater, and it breaks my heart. 

Did faulty response by WHO make the Ebola outbreak worse

Donald Trump.

The Curious 

Do the socialist-leaning youth suggest a trending change in the landscape of American politics?

I want to grow fruit trees in my house, but I'm kind of bad at growing things. I'll let this idea marinate for a bit.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christmas Birthday Shopping Extravaganza!

My daughter's birthday is December 1, so Christmas and birthday shopping all blur together into one big whirlwind. And since I really don't like shopping (especially in a physical store), that can have some drawbacks.

She's turning five this year, and I think this is the first year where I've felt like I was buying her things genuinely attuned to her personality rather than just generally applicable to pretty much any kid (I mean, who doesn't like blocks?)

I can remember being a kid surrounded by buckets and buckets of plastic toys. We had popcorn tins full of Polly Pocket, The Littlest Pet Shop, Barbies, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My mom was especially fond of finding an entire bag full of these goodies at yard sales. Our cups runneth over.

But why did we have so many popcorn tins?! Mom, if you're reading this, I need to know. 
Maybe at this young age our kiddo's "likes" are really just an extension of their parents' shopping habits, and my shelves full of tiny toys reflected my mother's obsession with a good bargain. If that's the case, I suppose I could be hoisting my own dislike of shopping onto my daughter's preferences, but it truly seems that she's not all that into most toys.

For a while, I was naive enough to think that this meant that (since my house wouldn't be full of minuscule toy pieces that had to constantly be sought, reorganized, catalogued, and remembered) I would escape some of the mess of parenthood. Alas, my daughter's primary interest appears to be art. If she had her way, she would spend every waking minute with either a crayon or a paint brush in her hand. Her other favorite thing to do is play in a box of sand or water beads. So instead of being covered in Polly Pocket pieces and Barbie shoes, my house is filled with dehydrating water beads and paint smears. All of life's a trade off.

Anyway, I digress. I'm excited about the gifts she'll be getting for her birthday and Christmas this year, and I think they'll bring ongoing joy and exploration to her little artistic, inquisitive self.

I got her the Osmo game system for the iPad, and I maybe had to open it up and give it a try just to, you know, "make sure" it was a good fit. I'm so excited to see her play with this. It really is as amazing as it looks in the ads.

I also finally ordered a subscription to Kiwi Crate, which I've been eyeing since she was 2 but finally feel she's old enough to use and appreciate. 

(Side note: if you are planning to order a Kiwi Crate subscription for Christmas, too, you can use this link and we'll each get $10 in store credit). 

I am particularly excited that the Kiwi Crate subscription is an ongoing gift. Especially since her birthday and Christmas are in the same month, it seems like she gets all the new things in one swoop and the newness rubs off quickly. With a monthly package of artsy goodness, she'll have intermittent bursts of surprise. 

Those are the gifts I'm most excited about watching her get excited about. What are your favorite gifts to give this year? 

Photo: Nina Helmer

Friday, November 20, 2015

Recycled: Who Profits From The Mom Wars

The following post originally appeared on this blog on April 18, 2012. I wrote it when my daughter was two years old after spending an evening conversing with two other women I'd just met, both of whom had two-year-olds of their own. Between the three of us, we'd managed to represent all three primary methods of managing childcare in a two-parent household: stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home dad, and two working parents who rely on childcare (that last one was me and my husband). I had spent some time reflecting on how pitting women against one other in the "Mommy Wars" was a profitable way for companies because certain products get associated with certain lifestyle choices.

This has become even more obvious in the subsequent three years, something that I'm recognizing now that I'm pregnant again. Facebook now has targeted ads that use things like geographic information and your shared posts to attempt to match users directly to the products that speak to their particular identity.

This means that I (with my friend feed full of wonderful baby wearing, cloth diapering, crunchy mamas) get a lot of ads for the markers of a particular kind of mommy lifestyle that include cloth diapers, baby carriers, and boho chic diaper bags.

You can see how those products become identity markers through the hyperbolic presentation in this Similac ad:

The slings, the strollers, the bags, the bottles: all of them are used to denote a particular kind of philosophy, a particular kind of parenting identity. And yes, the point of this video is that in a moment of crisis all of those corporate-driven markers fall away and we are, at the core, just parents trying to do our best to love and raise our children well. 

But there are a lot of moments where we're not in crisis. And there are a lot of pressures coming at us from all sides (including those ubiquitous Facebook ads) that teach us that parenting is something you armor yourself for, and the only way to do it properly is through the proper gadgets. 


I just read Mary Elizabeth Williams' Salon piece calling to end the mom wars. Since she works part-time from home, she calls herself a "spy in two houses," able to sit in with groups of stay-at-home moms as they ripped apart their working counterparts for not really loving their children and with groups of working moms who tore apart their stay-at-home counterparts for not having real lives.

With the political hijacking of the mommy wars, these problems are fresh on my mind. I know that Williams is absolutely right. Women are often terrible to one another, and motherhood seems to be a battleground filled with the horrendous potential to judge and dismember. I also agree that this kind of bickering "stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities." The easiest way to prove to ourselves that we're doing it right is often to make sure everyone knows those other women are doing it wrong.

From tamdotcom
But I know it doesn't have to be this way. I truly believe that we are capable of better. At the conference I attended last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with two other mothers who were presenting (if either of you are reading this, hi!). We all had babies born within a month of one another, so we had a lot in common. But we also had some pretty different approaches to how we handled this juggling act of parenting and the rest of life. One of the women had brought her baby to the conference with her. She also stays at home. The other woman works full-time and has a husband who stays home to care for their two children. My husband and I, on the other hand, both work full-time and use daycare for our daughter.

So, there we were. Enemies. Or so the media would have us believe. Unable to find even a sliver of common ground.

But that wasn't the case at all. We had plenty to talk about, plenty to share, and plenty to learn from one another. Parenting, as it turns out, isn't particularly easy no matter how you do it, but it's also full of joy and rewards. Those are the things we should focus on: helping each other out through the difficulties and celebrating each other's happiness. You can't tell me that's not enough to break down essentialist barriers.

During this conversation, we also began to talk about who really benefits from tearing mothers apart. I posited that this kind of divisive rhetoric is a tool that keeps women from attaining equality in all spheres. We could target things like pay gaps, leave policies, health care (like why we have nearly double the infant mortality rate of countries like Sweden and Iceland), and inadequate or stereotypical media representations. If we're busy tearing each other apart over every parenting decision, we're not very likely to come together and recognize these more pervasive influences.

But something that I hadn't put a lot of thought in came up in that conversation as well. One of the women mentioned how much businesses profit from the niche markets created by in-group fighting in mothers. After all, if you're going to belong to a particular club, you have to have a way to show it. Everything from the stroller you push (or the carrier you use so you don't have to push the stroller) to the baby food you buy (or the baby food maker you buy so that you don't have to buy baby food) to the bath products you use to the toys our children play with have been marketed as making a statement about who you are and what you believe.

I'm not saying that none of these statements have a real-world basis. I'm not saying that there's no difference between Johnson and Johnson's baby shampoo and Angel Baby's or between carrying your baby in a sling and using a stroller. I'm also not saying that you shouldn't care about those differences. I'm just saying that what appears to be an informed decision based on ethics and ideals is also a way for companies to make money.

Just as in high school wearing Vans meant something different than wearing Nikes, buying Fisher Price means something different than buying Oompa. And all of those companies have a bottom line to worry about. The mommy wars create lovely little niche markets where advertising can be targeted.

And, as this infograph from Frugal Dads points out, that makes for a very bolstered industry. Note that statistic at the bottom: "37% of new mothers surveyed express guilt over not being able to afford a certain baby product." Is that because we're letting these products mean more to us than they should?

Babies Infographic
Source: frugaldad.com

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Metablogging: Why Am I Doing NaBloPoMo (No, Really. Why Am I Doing This?)

This is my 19th post this month. If you count back 19 posts before November, it takes you all the way back to the end of March. So, I've blogged as much in the past three weeks as I did the previous six months.

At the core, that's why I'm doing National Blog Post Month, but I'm also starting to see blogging as a chore rather than the escape that it typically is for me, and that's why this NaBloPoMo post is going to be an examination of why I'm doing NaBloPoMo in the first place and whether or not (slightly over halfway in) I think it's worthwhile.

Let's start with the positive.


  • I've written. A lot. There are some posts that were kind of insightful for me personally that I don't think I would have written at all if it weren't for that pressure of having to fulfill my promise to write every day. 
  • I remembered that I really like blogging. Prior to NaBloPoMo, I hadn't been blogging very often for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I was finishing my dissertation, and it took literally every spare second of my life. Secondly, I'd sort of fallen off of the blogging chart, feeling like I had overstayed my welcome in the "mommy blogging" camp when a lot of my mommy blogger friends vanished from the blogosphere. Thirdly, blogging has changed. I've been in the game for just about six years, and it's a different landscape. The rise of other sharing platforms and commenting tools (everyone comments on shared Facebook posts rather than the blog post itself these days) and the demise of other platforms (RIP, Google Reader) have changed how blogging is done, shared, and intertwined. Any one of those things alone wouldn't have been enough to have me questioning whether I should still blog, but all three of them together definitely did. But NaBloPoMo has taught me that I do, truly, still like it, and it still serves a scholarly, professional, and personal purpose in my life. 
  • I've set up some structure. I normally blog whenever I feel like it and can carve out the time. At the height of my blogging days, that was sometimes multiple times a day. At the lull of it, that was once a month. But those posts came sporadically and without any thematic planning or real consideration of audience. Doing things like Wordless Wednesday (which I really kind of love) and thinking about possible features like Teaching Tuesday or even just subtly trying to make a post with a specifically feminist bent once a week made me think about how much more intentional I could be with my writing. 
  • I've declared my existence again. I know I lost a lot of regular readers during my long hiatus and months of sporadic posting (that was mainly about my dissertation). I completely understand, but I think that posting every day this month and sharing the posts on my blog's Facebook page (which I did manage to keep up this whole time) reminded potential and former readers that I really do exist. 
And then the negative. 

  • I was writing anyway. I know a lot of people turn to blogging as a kind of daily writing exercise for the sake of writing. I don't need that. I write all the time. I have no worries that I'm going to suddenly stop writing and lose my craft. What I don't always get the chance to do is write freely and about topics that I thoroughly enjoy. But writing every day doesn't ensure either of those things since it becomes more of a chore and less of an exploration. 
  • My posts aren't as good. My forte is (for better or worse) long form pieces that combine personal experience with research and analysis of broader cultural phenomenon. This is where I feel most alive as a writer and, at least according to the feedback and commentary I get, it's why most of my audience reads my work. I can't do that every day, and that's a good thing. If I felt those kind of bursts of passion often enough to write a post like that on a daily basis, I wouldn't have any time to do my dishes or feed my kid. 
  • Existence does not community equal. Maybe it's because of those aforementioned changes to the blogosphere or maybe it's simply that I have a lot more work to do to re-establish myself within that sphere or maybe it's even that I really am washed up as a "mommy blogger" and have no more to give, but I miss the community that used to exist here. I miss the frequent commentary (but not the death threats) and exchange of ideas between readers. I haven't seen much sign that NaBloPoMo is helping that resurface. (But I'll hold out hope that I'm just being impatient). 
Overall, I can say that I definitely will not try to keep up blogging every day once this challenge ends (and I have even toyed with the idea of declaring the challenge a failure and calling it quits midway). However, I do think that this process has made me rethink what it is I am doing here. I do want to blog, and I do want to do so purposefully and regularly. I plan to commit to at least 2-3 posts a week from this point forward, and I will hopefully implement some of the structure that I've enjoyed finding in response to the task of writing daily. 

That's enough to make this task, however frustrating it may feel, worthwhile in the end. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Commuting

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Guess the Babymoon is Over

I’m just barely out of my first trimester, but I guess the idealistic dreamland of early pregnancy (what pieces of it weren’t clouded with dry heaving and exhaustion) are over. Today I tried calling HR to figure out my options for maternity leave, and (without going into too many details) they’re not good. Basically, because I am due at the end of May and outside of my 9-month academic contract, by the time I return to work in late August, I will have exhausted my entire eligibility for sick leave. In other words, I get no maternity leave.

This post isn’t really about my woes, though, because I know I am among the luckiest. I am a full-time employee with benefits dealing with a planned pregnancy. And I work in academia, so (even though I am not eligible to use any of my accrued sick time to do so), I can take the entire summer losing only the extra money I usually earn by teaching some extra classes during this time.

But isn’t it messed up that my scenario is the “lucky” one?

For comparison, here’s a look at maternity leave policies around the world. You’ll notice that the United States is lagging behind similarly developed nations by quite a bit.

This also happens just as Amber Scorah’s heart-breaking story about her three-month-old son dying on the first day of daycare.

Meanwhile, legislators around the nation work tirelessly to ensure that any woman who becomes pregnant has to give birth. Please explain to me how “pro-life” our policies can really be if we can’t even make sure that people are allowed to use their earned, accrued leave time to parent those lives?

The hypocrisy is sickening, and so are the twisted scenarios families go through every day to negotiate an unwinnable game of money, time, and care.

We have to do better than this.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Best Laid Plans: What I'm Doing NEXT Semester

It's the time of year for reflections, both personal and professional. I reflect gratefully on all I have to be thankful for, which is an abundance. It's interesting that this time of reflection coincides with the point in the semester when all of the things that could have been done better seem to be staring me in the face.

Final papers are being written, final projects are underway, and final grades are being tallied. I take every success and failure to heart, and I'm proud to report that the successes have grown with my experience and collaboration with colleagues. But, of course, there's always something you can change.

And now is the time that the change seems easiest. The next semester is still months away, and declaring these changes doesn't feel like a commitment just yet. Next semester is a mirage, one that I can cast idealistic visions onto until I get closer and have to grapple with the messy reality of it all. But that's later. Today, I can plan.

Is that you next semester? So full of promise! 
I read this post from James M. Lang about small changes in the classroom, and the planning feels even easier. Lang writes about using the few minutes before class begins more productively, and he has good ideas, including posting an image or phrase to get students talking about the class topic informally before the formal class begins.

With this time of reflection and Lang's suggestions in mind, I've thought of three things I want to do differently next semester, and they're all small enough that they just might actually happen. Sometimes you can make the mirage match reality, if only for a moment.

1) Fix Syllabus Day
I have a pretty snazzy syllabus, if I do say so myself. I've updated it using visual rhetoric design concepts and made it very visually appealing with a much clearer daily schedule than the old table design I used to use.

But it's still a syllabus.

And listening to me talk about it for an hour the very first time we meet is still boring.

I've switched to using a single, full-length nonfiction text instead of a traditional composition textbook in all of my classes, so I'm going to use the beginning of the first day to dive head-first into the theme of the class rather than straight into the syllabus.

Honestly, while the information on the syllabus is important, there's no reason we can't go over it in stages over the first week. We really don't need to use up the prime real estate of first impressions on it.

2) Implement One-Minute Note Cards

I read this post from Tom Sura after this semester was underway and toyed with the idea of implementing it anyway, but I decided to hold off and make it part of a fresh start so that I could be more intentional with it.

Sura uses a one-minute reflection in which he asks students to turn in a notecard with 1) the most important thing they learned and 2) a question they still have after each day's discussion. He says it makes the class more focused with a stronger conclusion and ensures that the last minute of class is reflective and quiet.

I can see how cards like this could be used as a participation tool, particularly for students who are hesitant to speak up.

3) Find Ways for My Students to Share More

I teach developmental writing, and most of my students do not see themselves as real college students, let alone as scholars. It's often hard to get them to share their own perspectives in either discussion or in their papers. Most of them want me to tell them answers I want to hear so that they can repeat them, a practice that has served them well in the past.

I've tried to choose themes (money and protest songs for next semester) that are broad enough to have room for personal insights and experiences. These come up informally in class discussion, but I want to find ways to make student-provided examples a much more concrete part of the class.

NaBloPoMo November 2015I'm hoping to use something like Lang's image at the beginning of class but combine it with asking for contributions. I think that it would be very affirming for students to see their selections shared as the discussion piece, and I hope that it would make them look at the world around them more critically as they consider everything they encounter as a possible shareable moment.

If you teach (or are a student or have been a student) what small changes have made an impact in your classrooms? 

Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

Here's what I've been reading that made me smile (the Good), cry (the Bad), and think (the Curious).

The Good

Check out this cool brain hack (h/t IFLS).

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

The Bad

The national news is full of heartbreaking footage on the Paris attacks and heartbreaking silence on the attacks in Kenya and Beirut. My local news is full of heartbreaking footage of threats against Mizzou students trying to ensure their college campus is a space in which they can learn and racist rants aimed at them. 

I decided that was enough of "the bad" for this week. 

The Curious

There's an interesting back and forth about activism for racial equality and the issue of free speech (particularly on college campuses) between Conor Friedersdorf and Jelani Cobb. Friedersdorf published an article on the intolerance of the Yale student activists angry about racist Halloween costumes. Cobb responds to his piece with one of his own about the free speech "diversion." Friedersdorf responds to Cobb with a piece about how intertwined free speech and the activism of marginal groups truly are

Here's a list of 10 things feminist mothers do.

Is emotional labor the site of the next feminist battle? (And the link that got me to this article also linked me to a very interesting post about the common thread between prostitution, nursing, and nannying).

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Debate Night!

I'm totally cheating for this NaBloPoMo post, but I'm still posting, so it counts!

I'll be watching the Democratic debates in about an hour, and I've been thinking about how social media changes the way we participate in democracy.

I'll be watching the debate with my Twitter feed open, and I'll probably also follow this Slate mash-up of left-leaning tweets laid side-by-side with right-leaning tweets displayed live.

What about you? Are you watching the debates tonight? Will you be using any social media while you do it? If so, does it enhance your critical engagement or is it just more entertaining? 

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Friday, November 13, 2015

Workaholic or Perfect Job? How Can You Tell?

I promised to write a blog post every day for National Blog Post Month, but I was stumped for something to write about today. Luckily, BlogHer is kind enough to provide writing prompts for just such a block.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Interestingly, today's prompt is this: 
Describe your ideal day off. What would you do with your time?
I feel like the universe might be conspiring against me (or, perhaps more accurately, conspiring for me). I wrote yesterday about how a meditation attempt sent me into a panic when the guiding voice told me to imagine that I had nowhere to be.

To then turn unknowingly to today's prompt and be faced with this question feels like a very personal challenge.

Honestly, I haven't had a whole lot of days "off" in my life. School alone has provided me a very steady stream of responsibilities. I went straight from high school to college, college to my master's, and my master's to my doctorate. Though I officially defended my dissertation a few weeks ago, I've still been consumed with the technical tasks of submitting it to the school's database and getting the format approved. I have been solidly in student mode for 25 years.

Of course, students get days off. They get spring breaks and winter breaks and summer breaks. They get weekends and holidays and random school closings.

But since turning 15, I have very rarely been just a student. I worked two and sometimes three jobs throughout high school and undergrad, and for most of graduate school I was employed full-time in career-related positions.

A true day "off," a day in which I have nothing to do for either school or work, has been a very rare day indeed. But since becoming a parent, I've had to carve them out more often. The weekends, in particular, are sometimes work/school-free, even if not by my choice.

But here's the thing, those can feel less like days off than work does. The weekends are consumed by all the tiny tasks that have accumulated over the week: grocery shopping, house cleaning, car washing, dog bathing, junk sorting, bill paying, calendar syncing.

When I really do take a day off from all responsibilities, I usually feel terrible about it. I don't feel terrible that I shirked duties. I think I have a fairly healthy sense of work-life balance and make a lot of time for enjoyable activities with my family, friends, and self. I feel terrible because a weekend not spent doing all of those annoying tasks that pile up means the pile grows higher, the work grows heavier, and the sense of being able to relax gets further away.

I realized yesterday that my post about meditating probably made me sound like a workaholic.

It's true that I work a lot. If I can't sleep in the middle of the night, I'll get up and work on one of the many projects I have going at any given time. But I don't do it out of a sense of obligation. I do it because I genuinely (probably even annoyingly) love the work I do.

This has not always been the case. I've worked retail and fast food, and I certainly wasn't getting up in the middle of the night to figure out the best method for arranging the canned good as Walmart or how to make a faster DQ blizzard. I find myself drawn to my work because it is a vocation. The lines between work and just living blur not because someone is placing unrealistic expectations on my time but because I was doing this work even before I had a job that paid me to do it.

I feel incredibly lucky to do something I love for a living. And the thought of having nowhere to be is essentially the thought of having that taken away from me.

Of course, the meditation guide didn't mean that. And, as I revealed yesterday, he didn't even say most of the things I remembered hearing. That was my subconscious. But I've been thinking all day about why the thought of time off sent me into a spiral of panic so deep it caused auditory hallucinations.

I think the answer is simply this: I really love what I do. Not just at work, but at home, too. I am genuinely happy, and that happiness is the result of a particular architecture that I worked to build, one with a fragility of which I am highly aware. If I have nowhere to be, something has gone wrong.

So what would my ideal day off look like? It would come after a series of days "off" that I spent doing all the annoying things I don't like to do. My house would be clean, my refrigerator would be stocked, and my laundry would be folded and put away. And then I would spend the day on the beach, playing with my family and reading books that I don't have to write about.

And then I would go right back to the life I lead every day. I would go right back to the hustle and busyness and stress. I would go right back to the papers to grade, the research, the trips to gymnastics, and the reading of bedtime stories.

But if someone else wants to keep the refrigerator stocked and the dishes done, I won't object. Can someone make me a guided meditation about that?

Close your eyes. Imagine the sink. It is bare and shiny. The refrigerator is full of fresh vegetables, chopped and labeled for a range of dinners. Breathe in and smell nothing, not a litter box needing cleaning or a trash can needing emptying. Breathe out and stretch your hands behind your head without hitting piles of clothes to be put away and a forgotten homework assignment about the letter K. Just breathe.

Photos: manfred majer, Taber Andrew Bain

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meditation Follow-Up (In Which I Meditate Myself into Panic)

This is a follow-up to my post about trying to meditate and not being very good at it.

In that post, I made a plan to take five minutes before picking up my daughter from school to do some guided meditations. I've been doing a pretty good job of keeping up the habit with varied degrees of success in the actual "clearing my mind and meditating" part, but hey, I'm making an effort.

I've just been randomly picking five-minute meditation videos on YouTube to see what sticks. Some I've liked. Some I haven't, but then I got to this one:

It starts out fine. I'm supposed to imagine myself lying in soft green grass being warmed by the sun. There are even the sounds of birds chirping to help me imagine this peaceful outdoor haven. And I was on board.

It continues, and everything is fine.

feel how good the air is for you . . . you'll notice that every breath is really refreshing for your body

Yes. Yes it is. Those breaths feel great!

staring at the blue sky and the drifting clouds. . . 

Yes! Beautiful!

there is nothing you have to do. 

Whoa. Wait a minute. With that line, I felt that "refreshing" breath catch in my throat. I started to feel a little restricted. I was being instructed to wash out the "old, stressful energy," but all I could think about what how much I would hate a world where there was nothing I had to do. I truly felt panicked at the implication.

There was some more great instruction and peaceful music, and I was trying to get myself back on track. There's a lull in the verbal instructions, and I got lost in the singing birds. Okay. Calm again. This is okay.

But I remember something odd. I remember hearing the voice tell me that no one is waiting on me and that I don't have any responsibilities, and I remember feeling intense panic about that thought. The thought of having no responsibilities and no one waiting on me didn't make me feel at peace. It made me feel alone, disconnected. Suddenly I envisioned that grassy hillside not as a peaceful escape but as a prison of openness, a wasteland void of the connections that make me feel whole. I couldn't get myself back to a place of calm.

I just listened to the whole thing again to write this post, and guess what? He doesn't say those things! He says that there is nothing I have to do. That's it. My mind filled in all the rest. And I truly, honestly remember them being there. I was that freaked out at the thought of having nothing I had to do and nowhere I had to be.

What does this mean? Do I just need a vacation? Do I need to do some soul searching on whether I'm too dependent on the things I do to keep me busy? Is this just a side effect of having spent the last two years writing a dissertation and feeling constant pressure to be working? And, if so, how long does that last? Am I just that bad at meditation? AM I BROKEN?

At the suggestion of a friend, I tried to spend my five minutes without a guided meditation today. I found a video that was just peaceful music and did breathing exercises instead. It went really well, but since I didn't have the video to time me, it was only about three minutes instead of five. Still, I didn't leave having a panic attack, so I think I'll keep trying that for the next few weeks. Maybe eventually I can ease into listening to other people's directions without having auditory hallucinations of them taunting me with freedom.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Photo: messycupcakes

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A Shopping Trip

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Starbucks Red Cup Outrage! (Are You Aiming Your Outrage at the Right Place?)

Let me start off with this: I am unconvinced that a single, breathing real live person is genuinely "outraged" that Starbucks is using solid red cups for the holidays. You might be surprised at this assertion because the internet has turned into a full on blaze of headlines proclaiming the opposite.

They, much like the tasty (so I hear; I don't actually drink coffee) beverages these trouble making cups will be holding, come in many flavors:

The Christians Are Outraged variety:

US Weekly: "Starbucks' Plan Red Holiday Cups are Causing Outrage Among Christians"
Mirror: "Outraged Christians boycott Starbucks over 'politically correct' Christmas red cup design"
Buzzfeed: "Some Christians Are Super Offended By The New Starbucks Red Cup Design"

The Liberals Started this to Make Christians Look Bad variety:

Rawstory: "Bristol Palin: Starbucks cups ‘are an attempt by the left to make Christians look stupid’"

The Starbucks Started this to Sell Coffee variety:

Forbes: "Here's Why The Drama Over Red Holiday Cups Is A Win For Starbucks"

No matter which article type you find yourself scrolling through, though, you're left with the impression that this is an actual thing and that real, live people care about it.

I'm just not convinced.

This Washington Post article titled "Most Christians Don't Care Actually Care About Starbucks Cups" uses this image to aptly summarize what I'm seeing in my own social media feeds:

Literally. LITERALLY.
Posted by Danae Ashley Hudlow on Monday, November 9, 2015

It appears that this "controversy" can be traced back to a Breitbart post that reads as pretty obviously satirical to me. From there, it was latched onto by evangelical internet sensation Joshua Feuerstein who went on one of his wildly popular rants filled with fast talking and odd intonation. He challenges his users to "start a movement" by having Starbucks write their names as "Merry Christmas" and take a selfie using the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks. He also brags about carrying his gun into the store.

Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus ... SO I PRANKED THEM ... and they HATE IT!!!! #shareUse #MERRYCHRISTMASSTARBUCKSFollow --> Joshua Feuerstein
Posted by Joshua Feuerstein on Thursday, November 5, 2015

I scrolled through tons of posts to get to that video, and many of them were posts promoting the "movement" against Starbucks, bragging about the rise of the #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag, and otherwise egging on his followers (which, to be fair, do amount to almost 2 million).

My point here is that if anyone had a PR stunt in mind with the red cup "controversy," my money's on Mr. Feuerstein. A closer look at his website indicates that people can become "partners" in his mission by donating money to him. He's got an immediate motive for getting some extra eyeballs to stray his way.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea. I don't think anyone* is genuinely upset about Starbucks' holiday cup selection, though. Maybe we just like being outraged so much about others' "outrage" that we're willing to throw critical thinking to the side to join in on the fun.

*Okay. There's probably someone who is upset because there is someone upset about literally every thing. But I definitely don't think there's some kind of mass outrage that warrants this many legitimate news sources writing stories.

Photo: makipapa

Monday, November 9, 2015

Are the Ills of Gym Class the Same Today?

I read this Unpopular Opinion post by Stephanie Sylverne today. In it, she proposes to abolish the physical education requirement in schools. Her support for this argument is her own personal misery over having to change in the locker room, a task that left her anxious and emotionally distraught as she was battling with body image issues. She explains her views: 
If I had to get into that bathing suit today, I wouldn’t like it, but I could probably do it. I can change in a locker room without worrying about someone seeing my thighs or that my stomach isn’t perfectly flat like a runway model, though I still tend to avoid it.

But teenagers are not adults with fully-developed brains and control over their environments. And the psychological distress of being forced into embarrassing, potentially unsafe (whether emotional or physical) situations can have far more serious consequences than missing out on some jumping jacks.
I'm not sure how old Sylverne is, but she refers to these high school experiences as being "years ago," so I'm going to go ahead and venture to guess that we were experiencing a similar culture of gym class, one that was accurately captured in the Daria opening credits.

I hated gym class. There is no way to express this opinion with anything less than the word hatred. Every moment felt pointless. I spent most of the time trying to figure out how to hide so as not to be required to demonstrate how physically uncoordinated I was in front of my entire class. It didn't help that our "coach" had us play basketball about 75% of the time (with volleyball taking up another 20% and a combination of the other team sports making up the rest). In these year-round basketball excursions, she would frequently put all of the athletes on one team and all of the non-athletes on the other. It was ugly. And embarrassing. And completely counter to any goals about fitness. Some days she would excuse the athletes from having to play at all, reasoning that they had a game that night. So all of the athletically gifted individuals would sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of us struggle to function at catching a ball. It was truly educationally pointless and personally traumatizing. 

So part of me was nodding along with Sylverne's rant, but deep down I know that doesn't make sense. Lots of us can recount traumatizing gym class experiences, but I bet that lots of people have been traumatized by biology class or algebra or English. Just because some people bring personal hang-ups (no matter how valid they may be) into the classroom or have individually negative experiences with specific teachers doesn't mean that the curriculum should be abolished. 

And this is what I'm really thinking about: curriculum. 

I believe that gym class has changed. I know some gym teachers, and they are, first and foremost, teachers. They have lesson plans. They have outcome goals. They make a schedule and plan ways to target various skill sets through different methods of engagement. 

And my daughter, who is in a public preschool, comes home raving about her gym class. They are learning positive associations with moving their bodies and connecting this to discussions in the classroom about health choices. 

When I was first thinking about trying out for roller derby, I had a blog post about gym class (in which I also used the Daria reference. Time is a circle). In that post, I lamented that so much of my education about physical activity was rooted in competition. I connected Millennial impulses toward collaboration with friendly, noncompetitive athletic pursuits like the Color Run. 

I think that the trend towards athleticism and physical activity for personal growth rather than for competition is a good one (and competition still has its place). Silverne's call for abolishing gym class seems kind of silly to me anyway, but it seems especially silly when it doesn't consider the way that the gym class curriculum has changed over time. 

Those changes, I think, are reflective of a shift in values and philosophies about physicality. As the body positive movement takes hold and more and more studies show the value of even low-impact exercise, I think those are good things. 

What do you think? Did you like gym class? Have you seen evidence of a change in the way its delivered? 

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

Here's a weekly round-up of things that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious).

The Good 
Here are some great tips on how to read a poem.

Here's a collection of laugh-out-loud funny books (that I might actually get to read because I get read things I want to read for the first time in eight years!)

There are two pop culture bracket playoffs I'm following with great interest. Vulture is trying to determine the best high school-based TV show and The Atlantic is set to determine the #ActualWorst TV character.

The Bad
This story of two police officers shooting into a moving vehicle and killing a six-year-old is too much for me.

My state never makes the news for anything good. Springfield, MO banned breastfeeding because they were afraid it was affecting tourism. Strip clubs, though, are exempt from this indecent exposure law (that is almost certainly not going to hold up since it goes against state law allowing breastfeeding.)

The Curious
Sociological Images has a side-by-side comparison of the vocabulary labels in Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. There were a lot of changes from the 1963 original in the 1991 reprint. I wonder what changes a new update would bring?

This Inside Higher Ed post examines how the humanities must make a more public case for its existence if we are to survive:
There is a different unifying principle for most non-STEM disciplines -- among them English, history, politics and civics, languages and literatures, education, the arts, philosophy, psychology and sociology -- which I call the human disciplines. All of the subjects within human disciplines are fundamentally interested in people and with subjectivity. Our disciplines not only illustrate esoteric questions of the meaning and purpose of life but are also uniquely well suited to explore questions of how to live and work with other people. In practical terms, if the job requires being able to work with and understand people -- particularly those different from yourself -- these degrees can, and should, make you better suited for it. They promote empathy, and require students to regard problems, and people, with complexity and the understanding that no single answer is right.
Everyday Feminism has a great post on how feminists must stop pushing religious people out of the movement:
And yet, while mainstream feminists pine for young stars to pay lip service to feminism, women of faith who are actually doing brave and difficult work are routinely told they cannot be “true” feminists. 
We recognize that many people think it is only a feminist act to leave patriarchal traditions. We contend that it can also be a feminist act to stay, and we look forward to the day when doing so puts neither our faith nor our feminism in question.
"The Evolution of Bitchiness" takes a look at how women judge one another by appearance and use that to form alliances and marginalize others:
He argues that though this and other studies show how important physical appearance is to the way women respond to each other, there’s too much cultural baggage at play to say it all comes from our primate ancestors. The short-skirt-boots combo, for example, is already a “meaning-laden image,” he said.
NaBloPoMo November 2015