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Collisions with Reality » Family Life

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Fighting against the mommy wars

When people ask me for parenting advice — oh, don’t look at me like that, expectant parents go around asking everyone for advice — the first thing I always say is, “Even if you don’t know anything about babies, you will know your baby better than anyone else will.”

When the Time cover and article made the rounds yesterday, I was disappointed by much of the reaction I saw to it. I don’t have a problem with the picture on the cover. I don’t have a problem with extended breastfeeding or attachment parenting. What I do have a problem with is the notion that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. I’m not even naive enough to think that what worked for my son (now 2.5 years) is what will work for the next one.

The article came out just in time for Mother’s Day in the U.S. Maybe for Mother’s Day we could all stop judging each others’ parenting styles?


05 2012

International Women and Pregnancy

There have been so many frustrating things about the ongoing contraception debate in the U.S. Unfortunately, one of the things that has been lost in the debate — perhaps because it’s been dominated by men — is the basic, basic reasoning behind the contraception mandate in the first place.

Contraception is preventative health care.

I have been pregnant. It was, as these things go, a very easy pregnancy, and now I have a delightful two-year-old to show for it. Yet pregnancy absolutely affected my day-to-day health and activity. Recovering from childbirth affected my day-to-day health and activity. And have I mentioned the two-year-old? He started out as a helpless baby who nursed round-the-clock every 2-3 hours for months.

At the same time, I had every advantage possible: health care, health insurance, breastfeeding guidance, you name it. I was in excellent physical shape when I became pregnant. My husband is (and has always been) an equal partner in housework and child-minding. We were able to take advantage of all that because we were able to plan the pregnancy — we had the resources to make sure that we could wait until we were ready.

On International Women’s Day, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that while pregnancy and childbearing takes a toll on even those of us who are privileged, most women in this world do not have every advantage that I do. It is not a coincidence that contraception is financially out of reach for many women, and half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Internationally, the picture is even bleaker. Women under the age of twenty who have children are more likely to suffer birth injuries, more likely to die in childbirth, and more likely to become stuck in a cycle of poverty. Family planning gives women personal autonomy when it comes to their health, their careers, and their lives.

Contraception is preventative health care.


03 2012

The Trouble with T-shirts

I tweeted about this earlier, but I’m still mad about the t-shirt I saw FOR TODDLERS that said, “Lock up your daughters!”

"lock up your daughters" t-shirt

Available starting at size 12M! No thank you.

I am aware that it is supposed to be funny. The supposed humor behind the shirt rests on at least one of the following two premises:

  1. There is a double standard wherein it is okay for men to be sexually active, but not for women.
  2. The implied sexual contact is not consensual.

I am not about to support either of those premises, nor am I ready or able to explain any of this to MY TWO-YEAR-OLD. I kind of can’t believe this shirt exists — who really thinks that a kid needs a shirt with this kind of message? (The same people who buy the princess shirts for their daughters? But I think this is a step worse than the preponderance of princess stuff for girls.)

I’m working on another post about how hyper-gendered toys hurts boys, too, but clearly there are some pretty vile messages aimed at boys from a very young age.

(Huh, still mad. Looks like it’s time to shoot off a letter to Hybrid Tees.)


01 2012

A one-sided balance is no balance at all

I’m always delighted to see studies showing that men do an ever-increasing share of housework and childcare. My husband and I do equal amounts of both in our household nowadays, and it’s nice to know that we’re not an anomaly in this way. (We perhaps are anomalies in our lack of multitasking — in particular, I am completely incapable of it — and so our time spent multitasking is far, far below the average.) However, two recent events at work have reminded me that we still have a long way to go when it comes to the work-family balance:

  1. At work, there is a long-running speaker series called Women We Admire, “in which women […] share their insights about career, workplace challenges and work-life balance.” These are all accomplished women who are at the tops of their fields. Yet at the recent talk I went to, the audience was at most 10% male.

  2. I am also starting an affinity group at work for other parents — there aren’t a ton of people at work with young kids (let alone in the Bay Area), and I thought there could be a lot of interesting, focused meetings. What schedule flexibility do we have? How are the labor and delivery departments at the various hospitals in our different health care plans? What on earth do you do with school-aged kids in the summertime? The sign-ups are finally starting to roll in, and so far only two men have signed up. TWO.

To be fair, the majority of my co-workers are women. But men are underrepresented in both cases above. Apparently, when a woman works outside of the home, there’s a work-life balance she has to achieve. When a man works out of the home, it’s business as usual!

How can this be changed? Is the framing language the problem? Or is it another symptom of the bigger problem — that women’s issues are considered to be “special issues”, and not issues faced by, you know, HALF THE DAMN POPULATION?


12 2011

Unbalanced Books on the Shelf

My son’s obsession with specific books comes in waves, and right now one of the books he loves is The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats. It’s a lovely book on many levels, and I like the small details in it — like the “friend from across the hall.” What’s that? A character that does not live in a single-family dwelling?

It seems like most children’s books, even if not explicitly set in the suburbs or on a farm, have an implicitly rural or suburban setting — single-family dwellings, traveling by car instead of on foot or via transit, etc. (Yes, there are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Harriet the Spy, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but they are many years down the road from us.) Most of my son’s books feature animals, not humans, which obviously increases the fraction of books with rural settings. Even if I only include books with anthropomorphized animals (i.e. the Li’l Critter books), here are my son’s books sorted by setting: rural and suburban on the left, and urban on the right. Read the rest of this entry →


03 2011

A mere mention of natural birth

Celebrities are having kids left and right nowadays, and every once in a while, one of them has a natural birth and mentions it in an interview. The response online then ranges from cheers to indifference to disbelief to scorn. (Most recently with Miranda Kerr, but see also Gisele Bundchen.) The questions that frequently come up in the comments generally boil down to “Why is it worth mentioning?” So as someone who had a mostly-natural birth — and without painkillers — here’s why I think it’s important to talk about natural birth.

The general perception of childbirth, at least in the U.S., is that it’s the most horrible and agonizing physical pain that a woman can experience. This perception is so pervasive that people will dismiss women’s stories of natural childbirth to their faces. My son is only fifteen months old, and people have said that I just didn’t remember how bad it was, or I just remembered the endorphin rush from afterwards, or that humans have an amazing ability to forget traumatic events. No. It wasn’t traumatic, and it wasn’t even that painful. Yes, it was long and strenuous, and like any physical activity, required physical and mental preparation by me beforehand (mostly prenatal yoga). But it wasn’t much worse than a day of downhill skiing in the Rocky Mountains. (I hate skiing.)

For those who have not given birth, where does this perception come from? Not from talking to other women, but from pop culture in general. From the way that childbirth is portrayed on television and in the movies — ER, Knocked Up, LOST, and so on. What do these shows and movies all have in common? They were all written by men. But they feed into a public perception that is so strong that people dismiss my experience in favor of holding on to the idea that childbirth involves hours of agonizing pain. They say that there’s no need to be a martyr, but I never said that I felt like one. (Do people say similar things to marathoners? Because that’s the best analogy for childbirth that I can think of.)

In short, women who talk about natural childbirth aren’t doing it to be smug or superior or judgmental. We’re talking about it because we’re trying to reclaim the story of childbirth from the way it’s portrayed by male-dominated culture.


01 2011

Friday Core Dump: January 7, 2011

I wasn’t blogging over the holidays, so here are some of the interesting things I’ve seen in the last few weeks:

  • I adore this picture of New York City from 1907 (via Shorpy, go there to see larger version). View of Manhattan in 1907
    It’s such a familiar perspective, looking at Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s something about the faintness of the buildings — it’s almost as if you could see today’s skyline if you could peer through the haze.

  • The A.V. Club has a list of some of the crazy swag they received in 2010, with their recommendations for improvement. I can’t decide what my favorite is — the Russian nesting dolls depicting Kirstie Alley? Or the visor that looks like a brain?
  • I was really excited to see this study that shows that treatments can have a placebo effect even if you know it’s a placebo (via @mskyle). I have a cold that is just not going away, and I’ve reached the point of scrubbing the house and doing all the laundry in hopes of thwarting it. Next up today: buying out the entire cold remedy section at CVS in hopes that something kills it.

Happy Friday!


01 2011

New Year’s Resolutions: 2011

The most successful resolution I ever made was to go to the beach more often, for 2009. It worked because it was a fun resolution, and it forced me to manage my time better. I never would have succeeded at just resolving to manage my time better. On the photography side, in 2010 I learned that I’m much better at project-based goals, not deadline-based goals. (In other words, no Project 365 for me.) With that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2011:

  1. Learn one new thing every day. This could be anything — a Python trick, an interesting spot in the neighborhood, a weird factoid about the state of Delaware, you name it. This is a fun resolution that i think will help me combat some of the inertia I get stuck in.
  2. Go to the dentist. I have good health insurance, and haven’t been to the dentist in about five years.
  3. Do physical therapy or yoga at least once per week. I’m having some neck and shoulder issues that, if not preventable, should at least be more manageable.
  4. Create photograph collections. I haven’t decided exactly what projects I’d like to do. But what I want to focus on in 2011 is on creating cohesive series of photographs. I’m stuck in a mode of wanting each picture I upload to Flickr to be able to stand alone. But sometimes, a picture is more interesting in a series, and that’s okay. Of course that’s okay. So I want to work on seeing the big picture more often in my photography. (No puns in this resolution intentional. Sigh.)

I think that’s a reasonable and fun list. Happy New Year, everyone!


01 2011

What did I do in 2010?

There are some things that didn’t quite pan out for me in 2010, but I want to focus on the positive. My family moved to the Bay Area, and we’re having a good time. My son is at a fun age — 14 months — and doing something new every day.

I even accomplished many of my revised goals for 2010. I didn’t manage to take my camera on the family strolls very often — for a variety of logistical reasons — but I finished nearly everything else. Admittedly, I only went carefully through my backlog of photos because I was running out of hard drive space, and needed to archive things. But if I took a picture before December 24, 2010, and I liked it, it’s online. Woo-hoo!

Tomorrow I’ll post my resolutions for 2011. Today I’m just going to enjoy the startling realization that my life is actually pretty well balanced right now.


12 2010

Books and Bad Astronomy

Recently I complained about books that haven’t aged well for me, due to a mix of sensibilities and my sense of humor. Today I have a more specific complaint: the bad astronomy in children’s books, particularly in dealing with the phases of the moon. The culprits include, but by no means are limited to:

  • Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown. Yes, I’ve seen the astrophysics of Goodnight Moon. And while the moon rises in the book, it still implies that a full moon is low in the sky and rising at bedtime, every night.
  • Grandfather Twilight is another full moon rising around sunset every night.
  • The Going to Bed Book, by Sandra Boynton. I adore Sandra Boynton, but in this book we have a crescent moon rising every night.

I am particularly harsh on the bedtime books, because those are books that get re-read over and over and over. The Going to Bed Book and Goodnight Moon are certainly part of our bedtime routine, and my son has started pointing to the moon in The Going to Bed Book. Yet I am on the hunt for something better. Read the rest of this entry →


12 2010