Changing My Name

When Spouse and I were planning our wedding and marriage, I spent copious time on what to do with my last name.

A rose by any other name might be a sunflower.

A rose by any other name might be a sunflower.

Not on the actual “to change or not the change” debate that most women engage in. I did that relatively briefly. I didn’t mind ditching my last name as long as my partner would, too. I refused to be chattel, I would not change my name to his. Period.

And asking a man to change his last name to a new family name was exactly the litmus test I wanted, anyway. I needed a high stakes kind of guy. And I found him on the first try.

I highly prioritized having the same last name as my children. I had this irrational image in my head as I thought of marriage and of retaining my birth name, of my child’s school rifling through emergency contacts, doubting that I was the mother because I had a different last name. That’s crazy, of course, especially given that I live in the “Fly Your Freak Flag High” capital of the world, in which I’d guess at least a third of mothers (and most of my friends) have a different last name than their children (many families here hyphenate, or create a blended name for their child(ren), so that when Ms. Brown and Mr. Jones marry, their children are Brones. Poor things.) But I wholeheartedly rejected the tradition of semantically abandoning my family to join a husband’s family. We were starting something new, and as a family we would honor the tribes from which we came but not in conventional ways.

So most of my name machinations before the wedding centered on creating the new last name both Spouse and I would take. I engaged the process like any naming project for a client: we had a strategy session to determine our core values. We detailed a voice for our family and carefully drew a target for our new name’s sustainability, euphony, credibility, readability, and, instead of URL availability, overall lack of serial killers with the same name.

It wasn’t as cold and corporate as it sounds. The strategic phase took less time than it does with clients because we had no competitive audit to complete. And because we’re not branding a conglomerate. It’s a little family, for heaven’s sake.

We coined and triple checked Harkin based on its resonance with the ideas we wanted encapsulated in our name: haven, hearth, heart, family, warmth. As a bonus, Harkin is a homophone for hearken, which means to listen.

Also, there were no serial killers named Harkin.

So there we had it: a new family, a new name, a defiant cry against patriarchy. (And murder? That’s both strategically and temperamentally consistent. Bonus.)

Fast forward eleven years, and I have a very simple answer to those who ask if I’m changing my name back to my birth name once Spouse and I process paperwork to become Not-Spouses.

No way.

We created this name to represent a haven from the world: our family insulated and cozy against all onslaughts. And that’s what I still want our family to be, regardless of how many houses we live in. I changed my name so my children and I would share the clearest linguistic tie available to families: surname. Regardless of our marital status, Spouse and I both lay claim to being founders of the Harkin clan. We both deserve this name. Neither of us gave it to the other. We earned it. We made a family. We will now put some solid distance between two members of the family. But that doesn’t change our core values as a family. We’re still hearkening to heart and hearth and kinship.

And we’re all going to keep our name.

three years into the name someone else earned it, too.

three years into the name someone else earned it, too.

On calling a spade a spade

This morning, I was trying to find my lightbox. It’s finally raining in California, praise Neptune, and moisture is so welcome I have to hide my fear of all things dark and cloudy.

But I really can’t make it through winter, even winters that are overcast only 10% of the time. I have biochemical needs, y’all, and bread can’t fill all of my seratonin gaps.

And as I pulled all the sheets down to look in the linen closet, my first thought was, “Seriously, woman, why don’t you fold your sheets?”

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My second thought was, “I should really learn how to fold fitted sheets. My grandma can do it, and I’m pretty sure it’s what defines civilized people from uncivilized.”

My third was, “What a bunch of hooey! There is no correlation between civilization and fitted sheets. None. There is no reason I have to fold anything in this linen closet. I am a good person and I absolutely reject the notion that my worth and my family’s happiness revolve around the status of my stupid effing sheets!”

The lies we tell about “should” are increasingly unraveling my thin hold on propriety.

Because here’s the thing. For a long time women were expected to keep house. And there were no floors, but they swept dirt floors. And there was one set of sheets and they washed in the tub (or creek) and scrubbed on the washboard, and they wrung out sheets and banged them against rocks. And they hung their clothes to dry.

And I have no idea what that was like. Maybe I would have folded my sheets.

But now I have an electronic box into which I type my ideas, and buttons to push to get those words sent places, and sometimes someone pays me for those words. And from that box come tales of others in desperate need, forsaken by their government or their employer or their family and pushed into small corners by violence or racism or hatred or hunger or disease.

So you can take your folded fitted sheets and shove them in your linen closet, but I’m fresh out of fucks to give.

I refuse to buy into the bullshit of what I should do. I have never folded my sheets, and though there is something dark inside me telling me I’m wrong and bad and weak for not folding sheets, I absolutely refuse to start now. No way. Folded sheets don’t make me grown up. Making tough choices and doing the best I can and remembering all of every day that I am not the only human trying to make my way on this planet, and that, in fact, many of the rest need help seventeen levels beyond folded goddamned sheets…those are the things that make me a grownup. Holding up friends as they die and bringing dinner to a family whose child is dreadfully ill, that is what makes me a grown-ass, don’t you dare tell me about fitted sheets, woman.

You know what I thought as I defiantly rolled up the sheets and shoved them in the closet after I found my lightbox? I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt sure as hell wouldn’t want me folding fitted sheets.” What has stuck with me most over the past few days since I finished the biography examining the personal lives of those in the White House during World War II, are two relatively simple concepts: 1) women’s role in society is almost always circumscribed for her by others and 2) really great thinking requires taking long and frequent breaks.

Doris Kearns Goodwin makes very clear that Rosie the Riveter was persona non grata after the war. “Yeah, thanks for the help, but we were kidding about you being important.” Once all the efforts of women on the homefront helped secure peace, years of begging women to sacrifice for the country, of asking them to work as hard as they could, had produced results beyond anyone’s hopes. Women kicked ass in the factories. They owned their work. And they loved doing it. According to Goodwin, 79% of women said after the war that they preferred work to being at home, and 70% of those were married with kids. They preferred being with others doing something meaningful to ironing and folding fitted sheets. Of course they did. So the women wanted to continue to work. But factories fired them without a second thought, telling the women who made the American war effort possible that they weren’t wanted.

And that’s when the propaganda morphed from Rosie the Riveter to Suzy Homemaker. This is the part ringing in my ears a week later…the ads that for years promised automatic dishwashing and automated clothes drying to enable working women were all of a sudden ads for intricate recipes that took all day to prepare. Magazine articles that had urged women to help their men by helping the military-industrial complex became articles about how children whose mothers work grow up to be delinquents and criminals. (All of this is paraphrased, from my faulty memory that is boiling in rage against linen closet manners. This is not my thesis, it represents the tea leaves left in the bottom of my cup by Ms. Goodwin. If you want the exact wording from No Ordinary Time, get it from your library and read for yourself. For now, all you have is me and my seething indignation to go on, so roll with it.)

And so what is the propaganda telling us now, I’ve been mulling this week? Be thin and pretty and submissive, paint yourself perfectly, write the code but don’t criticize what the code depicts or enables, be there for your kids all the time unless you’re a CEO, buy lots of things, have a bucket list, spend time in nature, care about those in need, meditate, do yoga, put away your phone, buy another phone, be fully present every moment of the day, promise to sleep a lot but cheat and barely sleep so you can play the ‘I’m more tired than you are’ game of personal success, and eat only what you’ve grown yourself and spent 48 hours sprouting and 12 hours preparing but then god help you if it’s not raw and exactly as it was hunted by cave people.

Because pancreas. Or something. Spleen? Spleens that you need if you’re freediving, for that burst of oxygen just before you die? Save your freediving spleen with the paleo love of coconut and dates!

Geezus Cheeses on a Cracker. What else are we supposed to do? Please, do give me another list. I’m sure you can tax the limits of human endurance further.

So I see balled up sheets, I begin to tell myself to fold them, and I rage against post-war misogynist propaganda for a while.

Easy enough, right?

Nope. Because the other thing that stuck with me about No Ordinary Time is how much time FDR spent relaxing. And I’m not making any allowances here for his physical pain and exhaustion, and I note that. But I’m not mocking his leisure, so I feel rather free to recap the man’s daily schedule, which included a lot of sleep and entertainment. I’m reiterating what I understood from the book: that his leisure, including copious time spent with good friends over good food and good wine and good games, was integral to his ability to create. That without nightly card games and trips to the islands, he never would have come up with lend-lease. The guy woke late, ate, read, worked a bit, ate, relaxed, worked a bit, and held court in the library every evening. He played cards and spoke with friends and took some time to stare across the yard now and then. And he was a war-time President. I’m guessing he had quite a few things to do. I mean, he didn’t have to submit FSA receipts by the end of this month, or anything, but still.

Still.

He managed to take a break several times a day. We don’t do that. As a culture, we don’t do that enough. There are now articles telling you that it’s important to let your brain rest. To do some dishes and let information sink in so you can really process it. The are gorgeous, moving diatribes against productivity that render me incoherent with longing and sadness and a renewed refusal to fold my sheets.

So what is this bullshit about doing everything and having everything? I can’t do or have or be everything. Can’t. Won’t.

I will not fold my fitted sheets.
I will not do yoga retreats.
I will not make my nutty spreads.
I will not make my family’s beds.
I will not mop the stupid floor.
I will not scrub my muddy door.
I will not put my dear self last.
I will not eat my food so fast.
I will not say yes anymore.
I will not take on tasks galore.

I will not keep a crazy pace.
I will not join your insane race.

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Eleanor Roosevelt

I just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book No Ordinary Time, about the effect on WWII America of the interpersonal relationships in the White House and throughout the homefront.

It’s an amazing book that has me all exited. Because I often forget, if I’m not reminded by Pulitzer-Prize-winning authors, that mothers who’ve changed the world rarely do so in one, long, eighty-year push. That women often phase their efforts, stringing together impressive lives that include long breaks we don’t talk about in most history lessons. Spells of insecurity, years of depression, a decade or two of childrearing.

I had always assumed, ridiculous child that I am, that Eleanor Roosevelt had spent her entire adult life changing the course of feminist history.

And she did significantly and impressively change American history. But not in one unwavering straight line toward advocacy and activism.

So, bolstered by the reminder that we do all that we can when we can, and that, as Ann Marie Slaughter has said, we have investment intervals in any number of efforts, projects, and careers, I still have time to change the world.

I might even have separate bedrooms and a marriage that acts like a partnership rather than a marriage.

Maybe.

For now I’m just happy that Neil Kramer’s mom has boldly staked her claim for feminism.

Craftsman

My eight-year-old son walked through the garage the other day, and stopped in front of the silver toolbox.

“Craftsman?” he asked. “Shouldn’t it be Craftsperson?”

I’m working to raise feminists. And that means, to me, getting them to see injustice and call it out. See labels that limit and call them out. Change them.

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So in some ways I smirked and thought, “Well, I’m done. I won at parenting.”

But feminism doesn’t end with noticing. The question isn’t much without some attempts at an answer.

So I asked him, “Why do you think?”

“Maybe it’s really old and it’s from when people thought women didn’t do things as well as men.”

“Some things,” I suggested.

“Some things,” he said.

“Maybe. Why else?”

He thought for a while and couldn’t come up with anything.

“The interesting thing,” I said, “is that it’s pretty new. It’s from right before you were born, so long after Americans decided that women hace the right to vote, read, have jobs outside the home, have jobs inside the home, and be the bosses of companies. That box is from after people all noticed that women are just as human as men.”

“Oh. [beat] So do they sell a Craftswoman box?”

“Nope. They sell Craftsman. And after all these years, their company name hasn’t changed. Either they don’t notice how women might feel about being excluded, or they don’t care.”

He didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything.

The Craftsman name was registered in 1927. For a long time they had incentive to change the name, since Craftsman was associated with quality. But that reputation is in freefall. Craftsman is facing extinction, but also faces massive brand equity losses if they change the name.

So Craftsperson becomes a strategic talk I don’t need to have with an eight-year-old. (Didn’t keep me from having that discussion, though, later. Over dinner. Because I’m fun mom and brand-naming mom, all rolled into one.)

I’m glad my son can call out gender conservatism. I hope he will be able to call out cis- and hetero-normativity, too. And rail against them. And I’m glad we talked about it. But sometimes, it feels as though nothing is going to change. Not with just noticing and talking.

Teachable moment about “gay”

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The phone rang and I hit dismiss because I didn’t recognize the number. A few minutes later I  listened to the message.

“Can you please meet me after school with your child,” said my seven-year-old’s teacher, “because he has been acting out today in ways that are just not like him. There were a few incidents in the classroom, and then he was calling kids names, including calling someone gay.”

Needle across the record: He WHAT?

We are a relatively progressive family. We talk openly about equality and tolerance and people being accepted for who they are. Heck, today, when I couldn’t find shoes to match my pants, he sighed and told me, in his most bored pre-pre-teen voice, “It doesn’t matter what you look like, Mom. It matters how you treat people.”

So when I heard that my son had teased other kids, including calling someone gay, I prepared to give an epic lecture. We will not make people feel bad for who they are.

And that is the righteous banner I held aloft as I marched to my child’s school. The doors swung open and I prepared for an epic lecture on historical repression with…my small, tired, slumping little guy with the too-big backpack and the bedraggled hair.

Oh, pumpkin. I think I’m doing this wrong. This isn’t a battle. This is a talk about kindness.

Reboot parent mode. I climbed off my high horse and sat in a tiny chair at a tiny desk so I could listen to my sweet, sensitive, wonderful little guy.

What happened?

Teacher: I was at the sink when I heard voices saying, “Quinn is gay. Quinn is gay.” When I turned around, Peanut was one of the kids saying it.

Me: Why did you say that Quinn is gay?

P: What? He is gay.

M: What makes you say that?

P: Jason told me he’s gay.

M: I see. Um…what do you think gay means?

P: I don’t know.

M: Oh. Well, gay is when a grownup wants to start a family with someone of the same gender. So our friends M and K are gay, J and N are gay, and G and L are gay.

P: Oh. [beat] But G and L don’t have kids.

M: Family doesn’t mean kids. Family means who you love. But who we love is not all we are. When we go to M and K’s house for dinner, I don’t say “we’re going to our gay friends’ house,” right? I say, “we’re going to our friends’ house.” And when someone is meeting T, I don’t say, “This is my gay friend.” I say, “This is my friend.”

P: I know.

Teacher: If you are kind of teasing, saying “Quinn is gay, Quinn is gay,” he might think there’s something wrong with being gay, and there isn’t. We don’t tease. Just like you don’t say, “Quinn is blond, Quinn is blond.”

M: Right. If you did say that, Quinn would think there might be something wrong with being blond, but he can’t change that. And if you say that he’s gay, he might think there’s something wrong with being gay. And all the people around you in class start to wonder if blond or gay are bad things for them to be. So calling someone blond or gay might not hurt their feelings, but it might teach other people to feel bad about being blond or gay or tall or thin or whatever the tease is. Gay isn’t who someone is. It’s part of them. Like their hair. Brown or blond or gay doesn’t change, so teasing about those things is making someone feel bad. And it’s not okay to do something to make someone feel bad.

P: Okay.

M: May I also point out, really, that the things Jason tells you usually aren’t true. He told you girls aren’t allowed to play soccer. He told you that boys should like dogs because girls like cats. He told you “every single person in Mexico, even the old people and babies have machine guns.” None of those things is true. In fact, they’re pretty ludicrous. So I’d do some serious fact checking before I believed anything Jason said.

P: Okay.

We left the whole discussion at the door. I didn’t bring it up again, which took a lot of restraint. I still had many, many words I wanted to use. But I have to let the poor child breathe.

And I have to breathe, too. I don’t think he was trying to hurt Quinn or to cement hatred against the LGBT community. I think he was trying out a new word. And I think my son just learned that some words are simply unacceptable. I still remember my mom walking me through a whole list of racial slurs I may not ever use, including definitions and an explanation of how horribly each group had suffered under that epithet. Looking back as a parent, I wonder if she unleashed that lecture because I had used one of those names. Or someone said one to me.

So can I maybe relax and realize this is just a rite of passage, just the first step in a long series of conversations about how words have power, and how some people use powerful words to bully other people. A long, evolving conversation about finding your own power rather than taking it from others by devaluing them.

I take really seriously…perhaps too seriously…okay. definitely too seriously…my job of raising people who make the world a better place. I really hope my sons and their peers grow up knowing there’s more to people than their skin color or sexual orientation or gender. Allowing people to be more than the single words we use as labels builds the holy grail of attributes: kindness. Thankfully, that one comes from nurture.

Or lecture. I’m not sure which, nurture or lecture, but I’m going to try both.

Nothing bonds like gas

Every week at our family meeting, we talk about what has worked and what has not worked for the family. (Still a pretty big fan of The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.)

And every week we all agree that time spent together outside makes us feel good about the ways in which we interact. We’re nicer outside. Hiking, running, playing ball, and exploring make us kinder to each other. Kinder makes us all feel warm, fuzzy, and proud. And it begets more kindness. Cycle of goodness, circle of life, and all that.

But tonight trumped even the best hike.

Some second-grader at school taught Peanut and his whole class to use their armpits in the way nature intended: to fake fart.

He was so excited walking home. “Mom! Mom! Did you know this? You can make a toot with your armpit. Watch!”

I was so proud. I recalled my aunt armfarting with her sons, and relished the thrill of finally feeling my role in the tradition of the lone-woman-in-a-family-full-of-males tradition. It is my sworn duty, in this pivotal of all parenting moments, to produce better fake flatulence than my kid.

So I tried. And tried. Nothing.

Peanut didn’t notice my colossal failure. But later in the evening, he produced his new, Harvard-entry skill for the rest of the family. And I renewed my efforts to show him how it’s really done.

I tried so hard, so unsuccessfully that I made the little guy laugh. “What’s wrong with Mommy?” Spouse asked Butterbean, as I flapped my elbow furiously, trying to make my barely audible puffs of air into the best nonverbal noise available to humans.

Nothing.

Peanut rolled his eyes. “It’s so easy, Mom. I’ll bet Dad can do it.”

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Oh, boy did he. We all laughed ourselves teary as Spouse put on an armpit symphony. He grinned, and bowed.

“See, Mom?”

No way. I will not be shown up. I build furniture (sure, from Ikea, but I do it myself and it doesn’t wobble, so it counts), I change lightbulbs, I replace batteries, I splice wires, I build circuit boards. I won’t be bested in the simulated arm-gas competition.

I changed my hand position. I cupped my pit more carefully.

Nothing.

I tried the other side.

Nope.

And I realized why.

There wasn’t a complete seal. Because of my undergarments.

So I shoved Spouse out of the way, for his demonstration was wearing on my patience. I casually employed the quick and easy unhook-and-yank-out-through-a-sleeve.

And I let out four of the most beautifully resonant arm farts you ever did hear.

Success.

All I’m saying, is if you’re fighting a fake-flatulence war with Y-chromosome-bearing armpits, ditch the bra. In all other cases I say unto you, “wear what you want to wear, when you want to wear it, if you want to wear it.” It’s your body. Support your Cooper’s ligaments as you see fit.

But if you need to rip a fake one? Remove the interference.

[This post will self-destruct before I apply to law school or run for public office.]

Ballerinos

Before I had children, I believed that gender was a construction and that the ways in which boys and girls relate to the world, design their play, react to stimuli, and spend their growth energies had more to do with nurture than nature.

Boys, I knew, could play with dolls and nurture just as girls could play with trucks and be rough and loud and scatalogically amused. These are equally true of men and women.

My first son bore out this hypothesis, adoring ladybugs and glitter, talking incessantly, and nursing his dolls.

My second son tends toward trucks, physical over verbal games, and enjoys rough play way more than I ever thought possible.

They both like pink, dancing, and music, though. So we spend a fair number of hours leaping around the living room. For science.

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Yesterday both boys had earned new ballet slippers (by growing, not by any particular behavior; I’m trying not to base our family’s existence around rewards and discipline) and put on their leotards for a dance party. After I helped the little guy into his, I went to the kitchen to get something and heard:

“Now that you have your leotard on, try to hit me.”

I reminded everyone that dancing in our house means hands to yourself. (I’m thinking very clearly with every parenting choice about the rules we’ll have in high school, so dancing with hands to yourself starts now, with your brother. Otherwise, Kevin Bacon wins.)

“Okay okay, okay,” my oldest reassured me.
“Butter. Use your ballet slippers to try to kick me.”

I’ve spent a lot of time during my life with a lot of ballerinas, from tiny rec center trainees to honest-to-goodness professional metropolitan company members. And I have heard a lot of sentences begin with “Now that you have your leotard on…” and “Use your ballet slippers to try to…” but these particular hitting and kicking constructions are new to me.

Let me note the obvious caveat about sample size and repeatability of results. None of this is enough for an actual hypothesis yet.

But the evidence is leaning me toward a “ballerinos are an entirely different group of artists” theory.

Oh, HAIL no.

I just got home from volunteering in Peanut’s first grade class. I’ve wanted to do this all  year, but my schedule hasn’t allowed it. Until now. I’m giving his sweet little face and adorable friends an hour of my time every week. They’re reading to me. I could eat them up.

Most of them.

But right now I’m so freaking mad.

Not at the teacher. She’s heaven and perfection wrapped in a package of cuteness. She might actually be the world’s most ideal first-grade teacher, but I don’t want to sway the judges in case she’s actually second or third best.

I’m not mad at the school, though I always have complaints. Shocking, I know. Naptime Complaining is the name wordpress always offers me when mine’s about to expire.

No, it’s not the institution that has riled me. I’m enraged at whoever is raising those two boys who debated with me today in class.

One came right out, apropos of nothing, and told me that girls can’t play soccer.

Um, yes they can. May I introduce you to the tale of the US women and the 1991 World Cup? I’m sorry, what, punk? Did you just say no to me? How about a little thing called the women’s Olympic team? No? Never heard of it? Hmmmm. Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain have a little something to tell you, boy, about the four gold medals the US has won playing against seriously talented female soccer players from all over the world.

His tablemate joined in. “Yeah. Did you know girls can’t play with boys’ toys?”

Ah, hello, 1940. Yes they can. “Well,” I said, “that’s not true. What do you consider boys’ toys?”

“LEGO,” he said.

“Girls play with LEGO,” I said. “I play with LEGO, my nieces play with LEGO, our neighbors play with LEGO. Building is not just for boys.”

“Sure it is, he said. “Girls can only play with LEGO friends.”

I’m assuming those are the asinine pink LEGO sets I railed against when they were introduced…until I found out girls loved them and were introduced to building and physics and architecture and spatial relations due to pink LEGOs. So I shut the hell up and found another cause for my feminist-consumerist rage.

Never once did it occur to me during this classroom bickering, by the way, that they were taunting me just to get my goat. First-graders don’t pick fights just to get a rise out of someone, right? That’s what husbands are for, I’m pretty sure.

Who is raising these little misogynists? I told my son, who was reading a soccer book, that the jerk boys at another table said soccer isn’t for girls. I didn’t say jerk boys, since I’ve told him repeatedly to stop calling those two particular boys jerks, a parenting practice I will now cease.

“Well, here’s one,” he said, pointed to a girl playing soccer in his book. “And C, D, and N and O all play soccer.”

“Right,” I said. “And there are professional women’s soccer players and Olympic women’s soccer players.”

“Yeah,” said one of the friends who has been to our house once and now gets a permanent invitation. “Women play soccer really well. All over the world. The American team was even in the World Cup.”

“Damn skippy,” I totally didn’t say. I probably “Yeah”ed him, but I don’t remember. My affirmative replies are funnier when I write them in Jazz-era-colored hindsight.

I can’t stand it. I want to go fight with those six-year-old boys. I want to call their parents. I want to write a letter and a school-wide presentation and host a sit-in.

Seriously. What the hell? Who still believes women can’t play soccer or play with blocks?

Of course this is coming from their parents. But are they isolated cases of ignorance and small-mindedness or are there whole cultures who still believe this? There were four boys who chimed in about grrl power. There were two boys who insisted girls can’t do what boys can. Aside from knowing whose mom I need to take out for drinks and whose dads and uncles and brothers need schooling, how do we change this? Do we hope the four educated boys talk some sense into the misogynists? Do I make it my goal—instead of going back to work, finishing my books, publishing my academic articles, and learning a few foreign languages so that finishing my doctorate is a real option—to teach all of the school district that boys and girls can both do anything they work hard for? To reassure both genders that they don’t have to compete, but to recognize each other as individuals? To build teams that are gender-blind but that reach to cover the whole gamut of talents, from interpersonal skills to knowledge in hard sciences to sportsmanship to verbal acumen to creativity to mathematic excellence?

Do I need to take up the standard that the Third Wave has shrugged off because they have ten million other things to do (and because seriously with the all-or-nothing guilt, First Wavers). Do we need to have more open talks in this country about race and economics and gender and assumptions and hatred and ignorance and teaching your kids some manners when talking to a delightful school volunteer?

The teacher overheard one boy and asked me what prompted his statement about girls being less than equal. I explained. Her eyes widened. “Oh, we have a new book to read after we get back from the library,” she insisted, promising with her tone that the rest of the day would be about grrl power.

Damn skippy, I say.

You owe them

Stolen wholesale from an email sent to me by a brilliant woman:

“Recall Abigail Adams who gently reminded her husband, John, to ‘remember the ladies,’ as the founders crafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Women in Wyoming, the first state or territory to enfranchise women, won the vote in 1869. One hundred years ago today, women in Oregon secured the vote, and nationwide, suffrage did not occur until 1920.

For almost 240 years, women before you labored to give you this sacred franchise.

Stating that I don’t care how you vote is false; I do. But more importantly I care that you participate in this democracy as your foremothers did. These noble patriots’ sacrifices are innumerable.
Honor their steadfast commitment to the future, equality, and faith in you and your judgement. Vote.”

May your vote not be suppressed. May the lines be short and the volunteers knowledgeable. May your employer or children be patient.

Vote.

Your baby or your life: wilderness edition

The family and I went camping and as we checked in heard the same dire warnings that we’d heard before: our local bear problems mean lock up every single thing that smells like food. Not in your car, because they’ll claw it apart. Not in your tent because that’s like gift wrap to a bear. If your kids spill, change their clothes and store them in the bear locker. If you have a chance, vacuum out the carseats before you enter the park.

On and on. Lip balm will draw them. A closed can of soda in a car will draw them. Referring to your unsightly waistline as a muffin top will draw them…okay, not that last one. But close.

So we always heed the warnings. Spouse and I watch the kids carefully and pick up every crumb they drop. We put dirty clothes and washcloths in the bear box. We store the bug spray and sunscreen and lip balm in the bear box. We even lock up the backpacks that might have at one time had a cracker in them.

And on night three it occurred to me: I’m still lactating.

I think Butter has weaned. He went from nursing before bed every night to several nights a week to a couple of times a week to forgetting for two weeks to forgetting again for…I think it’s been a month now. I’m a child-led weaning sort, and I don’t offer, don’t refuse. And he’s a toddler, so he’s busy and he forgets and…

What if a bear can smell that you make milk for months after weaning? I’m not kidding. Tiny babies can smell if mama is in the room. Bears are about seven billion times better at smelling.

When my first child was born we visited a wonderful friend. My four-months’ pregnant friend held my four-month-old baby, who took about two minutes before he opened wide and went right for her fully clothed breast. Made a hilarious (or mortifying, depending on whom you ask) wet circle on her shirt.

Because he could smell that her milk had just come in (at about 20 weeks).

If my four-month-old can smell milk through several layers of clothes and unused milk-delivery system, I’m guessing that a bear can smell me through the single-layer-mesh tent windows better than that closed soda in that closed car.

And riddle me this, readers: What week of the month do you think we happened to be camping? I was surprised to find (on day three of the trip) that it was the time during which an old myth holds that women are attacked by bears and mountain lions much more frequently. Blah blah blah pheromones…blah blah blah bleeding…blah blah blah unsubstantiated claims that mostly apply to polar bears.*

Whatever. These wee hour machinations did not inspire relaxed appreciation for the scenery: firmament, heavens, flora, nor fauna.

So now, wide awake at 3am, surrounded by the most beautiful bear country, after three glorious days with my boys and husband, who do you think felt more small and threatened than any woman should?

I lay there, reeking of honeydew ice cream on one end and of sloughed nutrients on the other, desperately hoping I’d live to plan the next camping trip a little better.

It’s rather unfair, I raged, after I spent an hour *terrified* and flinching at every sound. The two things that give me superpowers, the two things that make me the most vital I will ever be in my biological life…those things should not be a life-threatening liability.

I wouldn’t, even if I could, stuff my breasts and uterus into a bear box. I don’t care if the mountain lions and the bears and the wolverines all planned a hunting party with my photo on their usenet.

I can make a human and feed a human. And that means bears will come from miles around to feed on my superhero flesh?

Oh, hell no.

Except there was no “hell no.”

There was a small creature lying next to me who cried, in his sleep, “No! No! Carry!” And he reached his arms toward the sky lit with more enormous stars than I have ever seen in my life. I silently rolled him closer to me and curled around him. Knowing I couldn’t protect him. Knowing that, if anything, my very existence threatened his.

But he twined his fingers in my hair and settled into the warm, sweet baby sleep of a mammal with its mama.

I wanted to sink into our nest.

But his damned breath was so loud I couldn’t listen for bears. I had to choose whether to take this time to be his mama, in all its painful and scary challenges, or to roll away in the name of vigilance and preparedness.

I woke up exhausted and stiff with his fingers still in my hair, hoping the bear would at least wait until I had my patented campfire coffee and cocoa blend.

Sometimes weakness makes you strong. Sometimes strength makes you weak. And sometimes you gotta hope there’s a bumper crop of blueberries, honey, and salmon several miles away.

*Public service note: the myth about bear attacks on menstruating women is patently false. See this article and this study, to which I did not have access in the wilderness, because apparently a wilderness without cell access seems more attractive to nature snobs like me. Must rethink that position next time I’m awake at 3am.

Okay, break over.

Aside from the fact that I can’t be quiet (like, ever), I found some interesting articles for your consideration while doing my hour of Sunday Internet time. Guess that thought about maybe abandoning the blog was foolish talk. My Internet limit, though, means you’re in for a wild ride this post…

Fascinating article on Trader Joe’s, the highly secretive and mum company that supplies 75% of my family’s food. The LA Magazine piece is quite interesting and revelatory, though the last two paragraphs are almost the lamest conclusion I’ve ever read. And given that I taught freshman level English at a community college, “lamest” is saying a lot.

The controversy swirling about LEGO’s horrific decision to create pink and purple LEGOs for girls in which the characters lounge poolside and drink frothy beverages has me so angry I can barely speak. I’ve already ranted about Melissa and Doug‘s disgusting choice to have career dress up dolls for boys and fashion dress up dolls for girls, the hatefulness and ignorance of which made me stop buying their toys (a decision on which I doubled down when I realized how much of their stuff has PVC in it.)

And, in the interest of public service, a good read on how to affect public policy</a. I found Information Diet searching for a list of which companies support PIPA and SOPA, the terrifying congressional attempts to regulate the Internet that will make American access to information a lot more like so-called access in countries with overt government-sponsored censorship like China and Iran.

So. Learn about Trader Joe’s, debate toy pinkification, and wrangle with your legislative representative about the Internet. These are my contributions to your first day of 2012. What do you think?

Plan B

Hold the phone.

After promising that science would “inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health,” President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services has overriden an FDA recommendation to allow over the counter sales of Plan-B, an emergency contraceptive quick access to which is necessary for efficacy.

Since when did we decide that setting a precedent of overruling the FDA was a good idea? Is that a power you want future Presidents to have, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama? Because believe me, the next Republican President will gladly take your idea and apply it to every FDA recommendation he doesn’t agree with. (Yes, I assume the next Republican President will be male, even if they don’t take the White House for 12 years. That was not a casual lack of gender awareness; that was an intentional choice of gendered pronoun.) Science and math are not something one can disagree with. To paraphrase Ira Flatow today on Talk of the Nation, “Pythagorean Theorum? I don’t believe it. It’s only a theory.”

Since when does politics get to trump science? Didn’t you state as a goal, President Obama, that you wanted:

“To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals — to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

And didn’t you say this:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…. The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.

Sir, you are going to pay for this politically. Severely. You just ruined your relationship with liberal voters and women voters. Really, really dumb move.

Since when does the government get to tell women that they have to wait for the right pharmacist at the right pharmacy at the right time, else be forced to have an abortion? 72 hours is a tight window if you live in a small town and have to find a willing pharmacist during pharmacy hours when the people you can’t trust aren’t watching (for instance the husband who will beat you if he finds out, or the parents who will throw you out if they hear about your need for emergency contraception).

Hillary Clinton said that she believes “in the freedom of women to make their own decisions about the most personal and significant matters affecting their lives.” Once the FDA said Plan B should be sold over the counter, Secretary Clinton fought for three years to implement that recommendation.

Well, I hope she’s reading Obama the riot act tonight. I hope Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama are right this minute telling that man how reprehensible it is to let politics dictate science.

Politics, by the way, that the OTHER SIDE hold dear.

Your supporters, President Obama, DO NOT SUPPORT YOU IN THIS.

Come on Barbie, let’s go party!

We at Naptime are doing our best to raise two feminists. Our boys know that grownups do dishes, laundry, sewing, construction, parenting, policing, fire fighting, paying, cooking, driving, and fixing. Both know men with ponytails, boys who wear pink, girls who like mud and bugs…any gender stereotype our society fosters, we fight. Hard.

And one pervasive social pressure I’ve been working to eliminate since I was pregnant with Peanut (honestly, because I thought he was a girl and didn’t want her buying into “should”s) is the oppressive body image issues that American women, especially, are saddled with. I don’t talk about body size or dissatisfaction.

Peanut pointed to my belly about a month ago and proclaimed that I was probably going to have another baby because my uterus was making my tummy pretty big. I shuttered slightly, then smiled and explained casually that after a baby sometimes it takes a while for tummies to get small again, and that sometimes they never do.

He also came home from year two of preschool and asked what “fat” meant because they heard a story at school where fat didn’t seem to mean part of the fat/protein/carbohydrate triad.

I think it’s important that my boys grow up to be men who see people for who they are and what they do, not what they look like or how they can be labeled.

Well, my chickens came home to roost on a run today. I was pushing ButterBaby in a jogging stroller, and Spouse was behind me, pushing Peanut. Halfway up a moderate hill I hear, “Mommy, it looks like two monsters bonking each other. But it’s just your bottom.”

I laughed. Hard. For about half a mile. He seemed pleased.

Look, I have at least double the rear end I did before gestating two kids. But I don’t know what it looks like from behind. Running. And my self worth is not wrapped up in how my almost-five-year-old describes my ass. Maybe it does look like monsters. I asked him later how the monsters were bonking each other. On the head? Side to side? “Of course not,” he answered. “They were bonking each other on the mouth.”

Honestly, that baffled me a bit. But I went with it. It’s his story, not mine.

Because what I realized pretty quickly, is: this is not about me. This is about Peanut’s storytelling skills. He often spins interesting yarns and interrupts himself halfway through to say, “This is only in my imagination.” He gets the distinction between fiction and non-fiction. And is his version, my bottom is two monsters. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say when he gives them voices.

1950s rap

Toyota has a viral youtube campaign for their minivan that they think is ever so clever.

I think it’s painfully backward.

In the lengthy ads, a very white middle class heterosexual family expounds on how cool they are in their minivan, which Dad has dubbed the Swagger Wagon. In the most recent ad, the family sings a rap about said vehicle.

How delightful, no?

No.

In the song, Dad boasts how he participates and subverts gender stereotypes by having tea parties with his daughter and her dolls. Mom sings about how facile she is with jello and cupcakes, how she tends the kids’ wounds. While Dad mugs and poses in the van, Mom handles the lunch, the school play, and the song’s bridge—a potty break for their eldest.

Is this rap written for a 1950s audience? (The black and white images are a clue.) Why is Dad helping only with the tea party and nothing else? Why is Mom defined by her baking skills, her cheerleading costume, and her self definition as a former “college chick”?

One of the most difficult transitions for progressive couples who become parents is the reality of how even 50/50 marriages become 90/10 marriages when kids are thrown into the mix. The sheer volume of work mothers do, and the fact that it tends to be time sensitive, repetitive work (meals, tidying, errands, school) contrasts with the paucity of work inside the home most fathers do (and the fact that it tends to be ‘get to it when you can’ weekend, one-time, big project work). And the new division of labor causes marital strife.

Is that what you celebrate in your silly minivan ads? That families can fight in the front seat while the wee ones sit with headphones and DVD players in the back, oblivious to the real work of being a family…the day to day bickering over details, like the fact that I’ll be damned if I’m ever defined by how my baked goods perform at the school bake sale or refer to any of the years I busted my ass in higher ed as the days when I was a college chick.

Thanks for the stereotypes, Toyota. Sure makes me think less about your cars driving unintentionally into oncoming traffic.

Quick 2009 primer

Fascinating.

Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2009 this year, as rated by Foreign Policy. Seriously, read it.  It’s relatively short and absolutely worth your time.

A rare even-handed look at the conundrum in Afghanistan.

And, finally, a look at how pink ribbons have completely dumbed down our knowledge of women’s health issues in an article by Barbara Ehrenreich.  Politicians and corporations are still railroading science in this country, alas.