Thursday, August 17, 2017

My Last Year in My Twenties


   That tattoo was my birthday present to myself this year. The Velveteen Rabbit has always been one of my favorite books; mostly just due to the raw emotion portrayed in the story. I remember being a child and feeling the sadness and the worry the little rabbit felt on the dump heap. It always made me cry. But the older I got, it wasn't the discarded rabbit that brought on the tears, it was this passage: 


   I'm still not even sure I can put into words why that passage is so powerful. I suspect it's slightly different for each person who reads that. It's particularly applicable to motherhood, but that's not where I usually go with it. I think, in a lot of ways, I was "people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept."

    Look, I don't really know what the point of life is. I don't know what the point of my life is. I have no clear sense of direction- no calling, no vocational predilections, no sense of purpose that I could readily identify. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And that can be hard- especially because I'm a high anxiety, Type A kind of gal. 

   I think in someways, to compensate for all the above, I just wanted to be there. To arrive. To be finished. To have all my goddamn ducks in a row. And I wanted (or thought that it had to be?) neat and pretty. Clean and linear and tidy. I thought my purpose in life (or the best way to deal with a lack there of), was to get my life in order with as little mess as possible, and keep it carefully and neatly arranged. Then my anxiety would be gone and the reverberant feeling that there was something there in the ether I needed to accomplish would dissipate. 

   But it didn't. If anything, it felt worse. It felt like I had squandered whatever chance there had been at the thing that I was supposed to do, but didn't know about yet. And then, despite all my effort to be neat and tidy, life kept happening. And I got dinged and scratched. And at some point, there were enough dings and scratches that I said screw it, and stopped being so careful. I started to give up being carefully kept. 

   And this feeling is still evolving. I'm still oh so terrified to make mistakes. But regardless, I keep making them, because I'm human, and with each once I can feel the seams getting a little looser. And that's okay. Because what I realized was so wrong with my perspective, with my furious scramble for whatever I thought I was accomplishing, is that it was always going to be a dead end street. It was entirely ends focused; goal oriented. You chose your path in the woods, you get to the end, and then what? 

   The Skin Horse said "You become." It's a process; not a result. Real isn't something that has a before and after. It creeps in through the cracks overtime. It is the Becoming that makes you Real. It's the bruises and the tears and the heartache and the scars. I used to think it looked ugly. I didn't understand. 

    I don't know what my goal is. I don't know what my calling is. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the time between now and death. But when you get to be Real, you don't have to worry about it quite so much. You get to enjoy Becoming. 

   I don't really like to make resolutions. New Years isn't my thing, and I've never really waxed sentimental over birthdays. But as I close out this decade, I want to remind myself to try a little harder to not try so hard. I want to do things even if I'm bad at them. I want to try things and fail. And I want to be okay existing without purpose for a bit. Because I'm starting to think the purpose is existing. 

I become.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Adding to Our Family

     I realize I'm averaging two posts a year now, but the three jobs and a Perrin thing is kind of a time suck. I have lots of things I've wanted to put out there, but we have recent big news. We're getting a dog!

    For those of you who don't know the back story, our dog Fender passed away a few months ago. I had had him since he was 11 weeks old. I raised him, trained him, and he was the best dog imaginable. He moved around with me countless times. We had tons of adventures at the Shelby Farms dog park. He loved playing with possums and chasing deer. He was the sweetest 150 lbs. you could ask for. During my labor, he was by my side the entire time. He walked the neighborhood with me and slept next to the birth tub and ate jellybeans out of the midwives' hands. Once Perrin got here, Fender became the ideal big brother. He guarded Perrin from the ever scary vacuum cleaner. He shook whenever Perrin cried. He snuggled with all of us in our bed. And even though he was generally a little too eager on the leash for Joey and I, he walked slow and gentle whenever Perrin was the one walking him. 

    He started having trouble using the bathroom, so we took him to the vet and they discovered that he had a huge mass blocking his GI tract and putting pressure on his hip. Surgery would be incredibly expensive and he, being an 8 year old giant breed, was unlikely to survive. We thought we were going in to the vet to get some dog laxative, and we ended up not getting to take our dog home. We were all so heartbroken. 

   Joey and I had always said that after Fender we would take a break from dogs for a while. Fender was expensive to board, racked up huge vet bills, and we weren't sure we wanted to tackle all of that again anytime soon. But after a few dogless months, we realized we really missed having a dog in our family. Fender was such a good dog; he really made us realize how much a dog added to our family. Perrin is about to be four and is old enough to really be interested in the idea of training and caring for a dog. (Not that we expect him to do much of it, but it's nice that he wants to be involved). So we decided to start testing the waters of dog adoption. We had no idea how complicated it would be. 
     For anyone who doesn't know, we feel very strongly about adopting animals from shelters and rescues. So we started with the local animal shelter, PACC. They have so many amazing dogs that need homes and are often at capacity. We did some searching online and narrowed down a list of about 10 dogs that seemed like they'd be a good fit age and breed wise. We went in and spent some time checking them out and playing with a couple. We found one awesome pit mix who snuggled right up into Joey's lap. We decided to take the day to discuss it. After coming to the conclusion that we thought she would be a good fit for our family, Joey went back to the shelter the next day. Unfortunately (for us anyway) she had been adopted as well as the other dogs we had looked at. We were glad they found homes, but a little bummed since she seemed like such a good fit for our family. We decided to get our house ready and get all the necessary dog supplies (we had donated all of Fender's stuff after he died) so that once we found "the one" we cold bring them home immediately if necessary. 
     A friend of mine who fosters through a local rescue generously offered one of her kennels to us. When I went to pick it up, she mentioned a litter of puppies that were in her rescue that were out for adoption day at a local pet store. I didn't think much of it because Joey had always shown preference for adult dogs, but after mentioning it to him we decided that one of the puppies might actually be right for us. So I raced over to the pet store, only to find out that the entire litter had already been adopted. Once again, we were happy for their forever homes, but a little sad that we had missed what seemed like another great opportunity. 
    A few other puppies and dogs were also at the pet store, so I chatted with the foster workers about them for a bit. One very young puppy was labeled as an American Bulldog mix, a breed I had always been interested in. I snapped some pictures of her and the other puppies and sent them to Joey and chatted a little bit longer. That night, Joey and I decided to fill out an adoption application for her. But over the next few days, after speaking with my friend from the foster group and our roommate who is a vet tech, we started to doubt if she was really the dog we were looking for. Being so young, it was hard to tell exactly what kind of mix she was or how big she would be. She was only 9 pounds at ten weeks, so there was a very real chance she could have some terrier or other small breed in her and may not even reach 30 pounds. While she still looked beautiful and seemed to have an excellent personality, we were looking for a slightly larger dog with a less ambiguous make up. 
    That led us to look more into one of the other puppies ta the foster- a lab/shepherd mix. She was 4 1/2 months, so here features were more developed and there was less of question about what her breeds may be. She was also already 30 lbs, and obviously wasn't getting any smaller, so we knew she would be a larger sized dog. I spoke with a woman from the rescue and after discussing it, we decided that this puppy would probably be the best fit for our family. So last Saturday we were able to go spend some time with her, sign the paperwork, and bring her home! 
    Joey and I decided to make it a sort of early birthday present for Perrin, so I came home with her and surprised him. He got to take her to Pet Smart to make her tag and pick out a few toys. We're excited for her to get acclimated to our home, cats, and chickens, and to begin the process of training and socializing. Joey has never had to train a dog, and we want Perrin to feel involved in the process, so we are going to sign up for formal classes. Her foster family had named her Quinn, but after going back and forth about a handful full of names, we decided to let Perrin name her. His pick was Icky! We decided on Iki, to make it a little less weird. So here she is, our Iki. 





Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Purge

No, not the kind looming ominously in our imminent future. Like, purging stuff. My stuff. I know it's been a while since I have posted anything about our lives, but this whole having three jobs and there not being a single day when Joey and I are both off and we can spend time as a family thing is pretty harsh. But with Joey's semester ending and me being off or four weeks straight, we've begun our regular purging process and I thought I may share some of my "method" as it were. It feels slightly hypocritical considering the whole Marie Kondo thing ('commodified mindfulness' was a description I found particularly apt), but I'm not charging money for this or anything so here goes.


These are just some basic tips that I have developed over the years after a lot of trial and error. I have a feeling a lot of what "works" is dependent on individual personalities, which I'll try to explain more as I go along. It's also important to note that a certain amount of privilege goes into some of these tips. A lot of what I do would be considerably less feasible if I was renting my home or furniture, if I had a more limited income, or a number of other factors.

Tip #1: Move a lot.
      Ok, so this one is mostly joking. But seriously, it did work for me for a while. Until we bought our current house, I was moving at least once a year, and actually moved over 10 times in 8 years. Each time I would move, I would decide which stuff just wasn't worth moving and make a trip to a thrift store or two. So this in and of itself kept clutter down for me for a while. Now, obviously this was more of a side effect than a strategy and I don't really recommend uprooting your family every 12 months, but I'm just throwing it out there because I think it shaped my perspective on what kinds of stuff is 'worth' keeping.

Tip #2: Less space; less stuff.
      It may seem kind of obvious, but the less space you have to store shit, the less shit you tend to accumulate. I get that people have different needs for space depending on family size and what not, but trying to minimize the amount of space you need goes a long way to help minimize the amount of stuff you have. Our house doesn't have any usable attic space. We have a one car garage that is Joey's home gym and my tool storage, a linen closet, a coat closet, and a closet in each of the three bedrooms. There's not a lot of space to store extra stuff. So we don't keep anything we don't use regularly. Seasonal items are pared down to what can fit in two Rubbermaid totes. Things like craft supplies, media, and computer stuff all share a space in our third bedroom. All of our clothes are out year round, so there's not much room for excess in our closets or dressers.  We have really enjoyed the ways that our small home has forced us to get creative and to prioritize.

Tip #3: Multifunctionality is a must.
       I may have just made up that word, and there may be an existing word that is escaping me right now, but we're just going to go with it. Because of #2, this one is more of a necessity than a tip, but it still works even if you have excess space. Why have two different items if there is one item that does both things? We got an Instapot and LOVE it because it has several functions that many people have completely separate appliances for (steamer, rice cooker, crock pot, etc.). Things like this are really awesome for paring down the clutter. Our "office" is our office, media room, craft room, and a good bit of our storage. Making this space function for multiple purposes keeps each of those activities in check. Instead of buying  thin table for our hallway nook, we got a credenza that works as even more storage. Perrin's bed has drawers underneath. Our kitchen island also serves as our table. These kind of things help us reduce the amount of things (especially furniture) we need.

Tip #4: Do It in Increments.
     For the longest time I would try and clean up and organize and purge my entire house all at once. And I would get super overwhelmed and cranky and then procrastinate about doing it the next time because it was so miserable. Do one room at a time. Or one closet. Or one bookshelf. Do something you can do in one sitting so that you don't have to leave a huge anxiety inducing mess lying around for an extended period of time. It may seem like you end up moving the same pile of stuff from one spot to the next, but eventually you will have been through the whole house. Bonus tip: whatever is in that migrating pile is usually a prime candidate for getting rid of.

Tip #5: Do It Often.
     This was another big game changer for me. I would usually only try to go through stuff once a year or so. That made the project feel a lot bigger and it also meant that whatever mood I was in that day dictated how productive the purge would be. Now I try and go through things every 3-6 months. That's not to say the whole house, but a little bit every couple months. A lot of times I find that something I kept the last go around hasn't been touched since, so it ends up making it out the door in the next round. It also becomes more of a lifestyle than a project. I find I'm constantly brainstorming ways to make things more functional and streamline.

Tip #6: Know Thyself
     Like I said in the beginning, a lot of this has to do with your personality and goals. Are you a sentimental person or do you move on from things easily? Are you pretty laid back or do you tend to get stressed out by your environment? Are you motivated by a particular aesthetic result or are you trying to downsize out of environmental consciousness? Considering things like these will dictate how you go about decluttering and what you focus on. Personally, I'm not too sentimental and I hate cleaning. A lot of my energy is getting rid of things and making sure things are put away (or can be put away easily) to reduce the time and energy we spend cleaning our house. I also like reducing our material possessions from a more philosophical standpoint and reducing our waste output and environmental footprint.

Tip #7: Don't Get Rid of What Doesn't Belong to You
      As frustrating as it may be to have different opinions about clutter and house keeping, you don't get to make decisions about other people's things, at least not without permission. I'd be pretty pissed if I came home and Joey had decided which of my belongings were excessive. So I don't do it to him. And I don't do it to Perrin. Everyone gets to decide about their own belongings. I knew that this was my stance from an ethical standpoint, but when Perrin was an infant I worried about how practical that outlook would be. However, it's actually been quite easy. Since Perrin was old enough to point to things, I've involved him in going through his toys. Every few months, we go through stuff and he picks out what to purge and what to keep. Sometimes he picks a lot of things, sometimes it's only one or two items. But we do it often, so I'm not relying on this one go around to solve all of our organizational issues. I explain to Perrin that because he gets new things for his birthday and holidays, we have to make room for them by donating some of our old things. He also understands that other kids are getting a turn with his toys, and I think that's more helpful than his stuff just being "gone". I like that he is learning to not become too attached to material objects and that the coming and going of possessions is being normalized for him. I hope it makes it easier on him as an adult.

Tip #8: Be Conscious About Where Your Stuff Goes
     While getting it out of your house is usually the immediate goal, it's worth considering what to do with your stuff after that point. Items in good condition can be sold or donated to charities, but what about the rest? You can try repurposing items, recycling some of them, listing them on pages like Freecycle, or donating to art or crafting co-ops. Try and think of the trash can as a last resort. Joey's t-shirts that are too gross and sweaty to donate get cut up and become cleaning rags. Random scraps and crafting left overs get donated to a local Upcycle store. Most of our clothing and homegoods goes to a local charity thrift store. Furniture gets sold on garage sale pages. If we have things we can't sell but think someone else may be able to use, we either list it on Freecycle or put it on the curb with sign designating it as free and describing it's condition. Someone almost always picks it up.

Bonus Tip:
     This one isn't mine (it may even be Marie whats-her-name, I can't remember where I read about it), but I like it. Go and turn all your hangers in your closet backwards, then as you wear clothes and hang them back up just put the hangers in normal, after the season or the year or whatever, you can tell what you haven't touched and know what to get rid of. I found this helpful since I have a bad memory for things like clothing. Another thing I like to do is use websites like ThredUp for party dresses and other items I know I'll only where once or twice. I spend less on them and can always try to sell them back later on.

So there you have it. That's our basic method for keeping our house in decent shape so that we don't end up on an episode of Hoarders. It's a task that is never "finished" for us, it's more of something we do regularly through out the year as part of our basic housekeeping. Framing it this way has made it much less stressful for me and helped keep my goals in mind, rather than trying to achieve a particular one time result. Hope something in here is helpful!


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In Defense of Participation Trophies

    To be completely honest, this is a bit of a procrastination post. I'm trying to get through a book I just don't want to read. But I have been meaning to write this up for a while; it just wasn't high up on my priority list. So, participation trophies. I didn't realize they had somehow become symbolic of all that is wrong with children today, but judging my the memes and jokes about them they are somehow indicative of supposed modern day entitlement.






 So yeah, apparently people have some strong feelings about participation trophies. But I have equally strong feelings in the other direction. First, I would like to suggest that what many of these attitudes are calling "entitlement" are actually mislabeled recognition. Is your son entitled to first place because he tried his best? No. Does your son deserve recognition for his effort? Yes. One of the best ways I can think to frame it is with an interaction I had with a child last week. I recently started teaching swimming lessons, and when I was training with a new class, the first thing a child said to me after I introduced myself was "Yeah....I'm not the best swimmer." He said this with a dejected tone as he looked down at his feet, as if warning me of his lack of ability. And I felt sad. These are swim lessons. If you were awesome at swimming you wouldn't be here. But also, and this is what I told the child, by definition there can be only one best swimmer. We collectively as as class determined it was probably Michael Phelps. And the child perked right up. And he tried his best and got better at skills he will continue to work on.

This is my problem main with hating on participation trophies- the inherent lesson is that effort is only worth anything if you are the best. There are 7 billion people on this planet- chances are you aren't going to be the best at anything. And while as an adult we can understand more nuance, to a child that is an extreme lesson to learn. Because some kids will use that as motivation to try harder, but others will give up entirely, because if you are never going to be the best, what's the point? Or some kids will be the best for a while, then someone will surpass them and they will realize that their self-worth was tied up in their first place ribbon. It also places an emphasis on competition over cooperation. Rather than see peers as collaborators and sources of help and support, they are the enemy, the opposition. You can read more about competition in childhood here.

The other issue is that it devalues supportive roles that are necessary to a functioning society. That number one team wouldn't be number one if there weren't other teams to play against. The MVP wouldn't have a game to play without the other members of the team, etc. A CEO still needs employees to do some of the work. I absolutely hate myself for doing this, but remember that god awful movie, Talladega Nights? The winner of the race can't win without the support from the other racer. This is how society functions, and the  supportive roles are just as necessary, arguably more so, than the flashy super star first place spots. Devaluing those roles leads to the same kind of mindset that says people in certain low-skill jobs don't deserve to make a living wage, that stay at home moms aren't contributing to the family, and that people's worth is linked to their job title, salary, or other rank.

When we say that only first place, or second place or whatever, is deserving of recognition, we are telling kids that their efforts, skills, and contributions are valuable only through comparison. And that is a very unhealthy perspective for anyone to have, but especially children who are internalizing these lessons as they are developing self-esteem. No one is saying that every single child should be thrown a party or given a scholarship. But recognizing that they tried hard, worked to improve themselves, tried something new, helped out a team, encouraged their friends, or even failed at something and learned a valuable lesson- that reinforces the kind of perspective and framework that allows people to grow up to be empathetic, cooperative members of society. And call me crazy, but I think that is more important than being the best in the community T-ball league.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Weaning Post

    It's been about a month and a half since Perrin last nursed. He did ask a few days ago, and I responded with "I didn't think we were doing that anymore; you haven't nursed in a long time." He immediately started talking about something else. I think we are done. While it is a little weird and little sad that I am done breastfeeding, I am really excited. I was so ready to be done. Our nursing relationship was everything I could have hoped it would be, save the trouble in the beginning. I made it to my goal of a minimum of two years and letting Perrin decide when he was done. Perrin was fed completely from my body for his nine months in utero, and 7 months on the outside, and continued to receive nourishment from me until exactly three years old. And I was able to donate somewhere around 2,500 ounces of milk to other babies. So in honor of me being officially done with breastfeeding for the rest of my life, I want to do a quick review of our journey with some major highlights and favorite moments.

In The Beginning

Photo credit: Audria Abney Photography

    Perrin was born; he came to my chest. He wasn't much interested in nursing at that exact moment, and I needed some additional medical attention, so he went straight to Joey for about a half hour after he was born, then came back to me. We snuggled into bed, he latched, and nursed for about a half hour. Thus began our nursing journey. Within two days I was in a lot of pain and by the state of my nipples it was obvious something was wrong. Perrin was gaining extremely well, only losing 4 ounces and being back up over his birth weight by one week. We saw midwives and doctors and lactation consultants. Everyone had a lot of good ideas, but there was no silver bullet. But Perrin was gaining, breastfeeding was "working" in that sense, and I new if we figured it out, we'd be golden. So we kept trying. We used pumps, an SNS, compresses, gel pads, and all number of apparatuses in the beginning trying to get a handle on the problem. We slept in 45 minute increments for a few weeks, staying up 30-60 minutes in between trying to get a good feed. In the mean time, I was diagnosed with PPD. As part of my treatment we started going to parent and baby groups as well as La Leche League meet ups, and it all helped immensely. We struggled with two bouts of mastitis, a raging case of oversupply and an extremely forceful letdown. And at 9 weeks, the pain was gone, the night feeds were done lying in bed, and we found our groove.

First plane trip around 3 months

Adventures Nursing in Public

     One of my earliest vivid nursing memories is the first time I tried to nurse in public. I was averse to the idea of using a cover, as normalizing breastfeeding was very important to me. But Perrin was only about 6 days old, I was engorged and leaking, and it took a lot of work to get him on the breast. So when I sat down on the bench at the mall to nurse, I threw a blanket over my shoulder. He wouldn't latch. I was spraying milk everywhere, I couldn't get him positioned right, random employees from a nail salon were asking questions about his name and age and whatnot. And I couldn't deal. So I cried, and I went to the nursing room. And there I sat, under bright fluorescent lights, in an uncomfortable chair, in a tiny closet sized room all by myself. And I cried. This was supposed to be a village. This knowledge was supposed to be passed down through generations, perfected by women all around me who had done it all before. And I was in a room by myself. That was the one and only time I used a cover or a nursing room.

Upside down yoga snack

#NOL #nurseoutlout
     After that, we got more coordinated and got more practice in and became NIP pros. We nursed while hiking, while shopping, while doing housework. We nursed walking the dog, watching movies, chatting with friends and family. We've nursed at rock concerts (even back stage at Slipknot), Cons, and sporting events. We've nursed while swimming, while relaxing on the beach, and at grad student parties. I loved not having to pack a bag to go somewhere. The food went with us no matter what; we just had to jump in the car and go. Being able to feed Perrin anytime, anywhere with no fuss or preparation was one of my favorite things about nursing.



Beach snack

Watching Godsmack at KFMA Day


Park Snack


Zoo snack

Nursing Goten at Tucson Comicon

Waiting to meet Corey Taylor with all the other metal heads. 

Reaping the Rewards
     My other favorite thing about nursing was the health and comfort benefits it afforded us.  For me, nursing lowers my risks of different types of cancers and some later chronic illness. It also delayed my cycle for 17 months, which I consider a hella win! For Perrin, it gave him an awesome immune boost, provided tons of excellent nutrients that he needed, got him through illness and oral surgery and numerous bumps and scrapes. It was an instant comfort for him in times of fear and stress. He has a lower risk of obesity, asthma, gastro-intestinal illness, some childhood cancers, and food allergies because he was breastfeed. He's only been sick twice in his three years- one upper respiratory infection and one stomach bug. And of course, it was amazing to see that I could feed all 9lb 14 oz of him and watch him gain so well. He was in the 90th percentiles for his entire first year.


A Word About Support
     It's damn near crucial. I'm sure some people can make it work on their own, but I know I couldn't have. Joey is the sole reason I was able to successfully nurse. He was on the phone calling doctors and lactation counselors, he was on the computer reading articles and watching videos. He stayed up with me for every feeding. He went to the baby groups and La Leche Leagues. He shooed people off when they mentioned giving up, and he never for one second seemed to doubt that we were going to do this. I joke that he would make a wonderful IBCLC because he has so much knowledge and can troubleshoot a latch with the best of them!

   If it wasn't for him and all the mom groups we went to where I was able to see other women nursing and ask for tips and advice and experiences, I wouldn't have been able to do it. I cannot stress enough how important having support is, and that begins in pregnancy! This is coming from someone who swore they would never breastfeed, until of course I actually did my research preparing for having a baby. I read books and blogs and watched documentaries and spent way too much time on the internet. But having that knowledge and semi-realistic expectations was what allowed me to prepare for and deal with the problems we did end up having.



The End
    It was my goal to make until at least 2 years old (the recommended age by the AAP) and then allow Perrin to decide when he was done. I ended up being a little more hands on with the weaning process than I intended to be, but overall we met our goals. After a one year, he was still nursing much more than I had expected, but I knew that it was still within the realm of normal and I really didn't want to make any adjustments. While some kids handle limits on nursing fine, for others it initiates weaning and I didn't want to compromise our two year goal. But after two years, I developed a nursing aversion- where you have a negative physiological and/or psychological reaction to nursing. I'm not sure if it was because I had reached my goal and felt "done" or if it was just coincidence, but around 26 months we began toying around with some adjustments to our nursing.
     I was hoping to reduce frequency and night wean (no longer nurse him during the night), but he wasn't very receptive to either. However, I found reducing the length of our nursing sessions went over well, so we went with that. I'd allow him to nurse whenever he wanted, but we generally nursed for less than a minute, except at nap and before bed. Then around 28 months, he slept though the night for the first time. He didn't do it consistently, but I used that as a cue to move on with the weaning process.
    By 30 months, he was more receptive to me reducing the number of nursing sessions. We began nursing only before and after nap and before and after night sleep, making exceptions for boo-boos or other stressful situations. He still asked to nurse during the night, but less often and it was about 50/50 whether or not I could get him to go to back to sleep without. From then on, he completely took over the weaning process.
18 months
   He started dropping our nursing sessions- first the morning, then before and after nap so by the end he was only nursing before bed. He also began sleeping through the night more consistently and not asking to nurse even when he did wake. By about 34 months, he would sometimes go several days in between nursing. We took family pictures before his birthday and I realized half way through it was the first time we wouldn't be taking nursing pictures. I thought about asking him if he wanted to try only to realize it would have been impossible for me to nurse in my dress. We were already at the point where it wasn't part of our everyday. He asked to nurse about two days before his third birthday and I managed to get a quick picture. At this point he was averaging about a week in between, so I was surprised when asked again just two days later. But it was his birthday, so I didn't mind. That was the last time he nursed.


The last nursing picture ever taken, his second to last nursing session. 
    So while it is a little sad to realize that that part of my life is over, it makes it so much easier knowing how much all of our hard work and dedication paid off and what a huge part it was in Perrin's infancy and toddlerhood. Nursing is by far the hardest thing I have ever done and I am damn proud to have done it.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Perrin is 3!!!!

   

     We have a three year old! The past year was certainly a little challenging as Perrin has become much better at self-advocating, but it has been so fun! His personality is best described as a whole lot of sass with a side of sarcasm, and a heap of goofiness. He went from barely stringing words together to having entire conversations, making up stories, and telling jokes. We've had a lot of adventures over the past year and he's definitely hit a lot of milestones, but here are the highlights:

- He has continued his swim lessons and is now in the "big kid class", where the 3 year olds start going to class without parents. He loves swimming and has just recently become incredibly comfortable in the water.

- This year we got to see Slipknot, Disturbed, and Shinedown in concert. At Slipknot he got to go back stage and meet the band and get an epic picture with Corey Taylor. We have tickets to Rage Against the Machine in September and are considering Blink 182 as well.



-Speaking of music, he still loves Slipknot and Taylor Swift, but he is also now really into Beyonce, Katy Perry, Disturbed, and Shinedown.

-He nursed today, on his third birthday. He has gone up to 13 days without. I'm pretty sure this is the beginning of the end, but I don't know when the "last" time will be. I intend to write a whole post about our weaning experience in the future.

-He is still one molar shy of a full mouth. Poor kid has been dealing with teething for 28 months and still going.

-He's about 39 inches tall and 34 1/2 pounds, if the vet scale at the children's museum is accurate.

-He loves to go hiking and go to the desert musuem. He knows a lot about different kinds of animals, plants, and rocks. He's also REALLY into picking up litter right now.



-He's still in our bed with us, although he does go back and forth between his little bed in our room.

- He loves to read and right now really likes And Tango Makes Three, the Eric Carle books, Caillou books, and one's with a little mouse named Maisie.

-He started at a nursery school in January and goes 2 days a week. He loves it and talks a lot about his friends there and sings songs he learns.

-His favorite color is blue.

-He loves to eat pizza, broccoli, croissants from Starbucks, and sushi.

-He really enjoys his animals and helps to feed them and let Fender in and out and look for chicken eggs.

-This year he got to visit Memphis twice, went to Phoenix twice, and vacationed in Seattle, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. He seemed to enjoy Seattle the most and talks about living and working there.



- He has lots of fun playing with his friends Isaac, David, Taeo, and Luna.

- He is having a construction themed birthday party.

-He went to his first two sporting events this year- U of A Football and U of A baseball. Bear Down!



-We had a rough patch around 26 months where he was getting physically agressive with other kids, and then at around 34 months where he started having some intense tantrums. Now we are just in the whiney phase!

-He loves building with blocks, playing with his toy farm house, doing puzzles, and playing with his cars and trucks.

-His favorite places to go are Playformance, the Desert Museum, Pump It Up, and the zoo.

-For his birthday, we had Starbucks for breakfast, went to Pump It Up with his bestie, stopped by Target so he could use his birthday money to buy a toy he's had his eye on, looked at his baby pictures together and went through his birth story, and later we will open presents and eat his requested dinner of artichokes and toast.

   I'm sure there are so many more things I could tell you about Perrin, but you might as well just come visit us and talk to him yourself! He loves to chat and meet new people and will definitely give you a way better impression than anything I could say. I've heard three year olds are quite the handful, so we are entering this year with a bit of apprehenshion. But knowing Perrin, I'm sure he'll at least keep things interesting!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Big, Bad Book Review


    As promised, I reviewed the children's books we own based on gender representation. Why, you ask? Because media literacy is important to me. Because the types of media kids are exposed to shape their perception of what the world is "supposed" to be like and how people look and act. Because when that perception is limited to very strict gender roles and ideas, children don't get to experience the full range of their personalities. Because children learn to see anything outside their experience as "other" and if this isn't challenged as they grow up, can lead to some very problematic ideas and assumptions. That's why.  I ended up including 86 books in all after the rest failed to meet my initial criteria that we'll go over in a second. I'll first go over my inclusion criteria, methods, and variables and then move on to the results. Finally I'll discuss what this means in terms of parenting and strategies for mitigating some of my findings. I'll also include some recommendations for some of our favorite gender inclusive books.

    But first let's address the limitations of the information. I'm sure there are more than I'll mention explicitly, but let's at least talk about some major ones. I make some assumptions about the intent of the authors. For example, when I talk about gendered illustrations, I assume that the people in pink dresses were intended to be female. It is possible that the author was being very inclusive and actually intended those children to be male or transgender or some other expression, but given the overall tone of the books and the gender representation, I felt safe in my assumptions. Second, our book collection is not representative of all the books that exists. I get that. Furthermore, since Perrin is male, the books we were given may be skewed towards male characters due to the underlying gender assumptions of the people who bought them. Third, there is a lot of gray area in some of the variables. For instance, I don't include all the background characters, only the ones that either speak or have names. But we will get more into that in the discussion of variables....So let's get started!

Inclusion Criteria
    My inclusion criteria was pretty simple- it had to be a young children's book (so no chapter books) that had some kind of narrative. I did not include simple books that were only pictures or named objects. There had to be some degree of dialogue or interaction between characters. Like I stated before, that ended up being 86 books. There were definitely elements to some of the excluded books that were gendered and offered up discussions of representation, but for the purpose of comparing them to the rest of the books, it didn't make sense to include them.

Variables

# of Female and Male Characters Named- Pretty self-explanatory. Because these are children's books, I was fairly liberal with what I considered to be a name. For example, I counted "Mommy" and "Bunny" as being a name if it was referring to a specific character. For this and the next variable, I cut off the count at 3. So if there were 5 named males, it was still recorded as 3. I did this because the only books where this occurred were in a select few where a group of characters was acting together. The higher counts weren't really affecting the gender representation and I didn't want the large numbers to skew the results.

# of Female and Male Characters Speaking- Simple and I used the same count method as above. There was a lot of overlap between these two categories but because I was not including background characters, I wanted a fairly general criteria for which characters I did include.

#of Ambiguous Characters- I also included a count for characters that were not expressly identified as male or female. In some cases the look of the character was overtly feminine or masculine, but if they were not directly identified through gendered pronouns I counted them as ambiguous. The most interesting example was Green Eggs and Ham. Neither character is ever referred to as a specific gender, although most people I know refer to them as male. One is named Sam, but that's a fairly gender neutral name.

Gendered Illustrations- I used a simple dichotomous variable to identify which books relied on gendered illustrations. Examples include all female characters wearing bows and dresses or only female characters having eyelashes.

Franchised Character- I made a note if the character was previously established from something like a movie or parent story. For example, the Cat and the Hat was not, because the extensions of the character came after the book being reviewed. However, Clifford was, because it was also a character from a TV show. This went into to how I determined the next variable.

Gender Swapping Possible?- I determined whether or not it was possible to change the gender of the characters without it affecting the plot line of the story. If the cow in the story needed help getting milked, it wasn't gender swappable. Or if the character was previously established as a specific gender in some other genre, it was not gender swappable.

Bedschel Test- The Bedschel test was originally used to rate movies for gender diversity and representation. A movie (or in my case, book) passes if there is more than one female character, the female characters speak to one another, and they speak about something other than a male character. There is also an additional criteria of the female characters having to be named, but I used the less strict version for my purposes. I noted if the book passed outright, but if one of the characters was ambiguous and you could make the assumption they were female and it met the other criteria, I gave it a provisional pass.

Main Character Sex- I also noted the sex of the main character. Some books had two main characters of different genders, and some had a main character with an ambiguous gender, so there ended up being 4 different categories.

Non-human Character- This was more for curiosity's sake, but I noted how many of the books featured some non-human character (Animals, monsters, muppets, e.g.) This goes back to the idea of gender swapping and the choices made by authors.

Father/Mother- Finally I noted which books featured either a mother character, a father character, or both. If there were illustrations with a mother or father figure in the background, but they didn't meet my initial character criteria (named or speaking), I did not count them.

Results
     Ok, here is the good stuff. Most of it was pretty expected and also a little depressing. For starters, only 4 books passed the straight up Bedschel test. That's only 5%. If I included the ones that past provisionally, it only bumped it up to 9%. In addition, only 10% of the books had a female main character. Thirty percent had either an ambiguously gendered character or both, meaning 60% of the books featured a solo male character. Which is kind of odd considering that 73% of the books were gender swappable, meaning that the story wasn't dependent on the main character being male. Heck, 83% of the books featured non-human characters which I would assume leaves a lot of wiggle room gender wise.
     When we look at the characters in general, only 34% of named characters were female and 34% of speaking characters were female. In addition, 31 books featured a mother while only 16 featured fathers. If we looked only at those books that featured a sole parent, 25% of the fathers were the only parent while 61% of mothers were the sole parent.
     Finally, 40% of the books featured gendered illustrations in which characters were drawn to display gender over realistic depictions.

Discussion
    Let's start with the good news- 22% of the books have ambiguous main characters, meaning there isn't really any focus on gender, which is nice. In addition, 73% of the books were gender swappable, so even though there seems to be a tendency to default characters as male, it's easy to read the characters as female to balance things out.
    However, when we talk about representation of female characters, it's a little more bleak. The fact that there were only 9 books with female main characters was a little depressing. Even more so that in the books that did have female characters, those characters were in more supportive roles, thus resulting in the lack of Bedschel Test passes. And average occurrence of female characters was only 34%, period. I was surprised to find that one of the biggest perpetrators of female exclusion was none other than the beloved Dr. Suess. Despite most of his characters being made up fantasy creatures, the pronouns were almost always male. Even when they weren't, they were left as ambiguous. There was extremely little female representation.

In the book "The Day the Crayons Quit", all of the crayons are left genderless (which makes sense) except Orange and Yellow, which are defaulted as male. 
Another ridiculous example I found was in the Chick N Pug book. Despite referring to a future of egg laying, the baby chick was given male pronouns. Sorry, but male chickens don't lay eggs. I ended up redacting this book.

This chick is male in the book. Female erasure, plus a jab at domestic labor?
    The other trend that I noticed and had to go back and recode later on was the depiction of parents. Going through the books, there was obviously way more mothers included than fathers. But after coding what I realized was that when fathers were included, it was usually in combination with mothers. In contrast, mothers were more often portrayed as the sole parent. This is troublesome because this creates a situation where fathers are seen as part of the family unit while mothers are seen as the default caregiver. That shafts both the role of the father as parent and the role of the mother as literally anything else.
The "Bunny Book" is one of the few books that recognizes male parents and actually presents it as the career choice of this bunny. 

     So the big takeaway from all this was that there is a huge gender discrepancy in these books. Despite it being unnecessary, a huge emphasis is put on gender in children's book, but that emphasis steadfastly favors male characters over female. Children reading these books are getting exposed to the idea the males drive story lines, go on adventures, and do a large number of things while the females do very little at all. It also means female children are having to learn to identify and empathize with the opposite sex, which is a good thing. However, male children are not getting that lesson in reverse and are instead seeing themselves as the norm, the default, and the standard.

    So what can we as parents do? Well a good start is seeking out books with female main characters or characters that don't fit into traditional gender roles. You can also look for the books with gender ambiguous characters, since that seems to be somehow easier (Is it really easier for a character to be genderless than to be female? Is the feminine side of the spectrum that low down on the list?) Once again, I include gender ambiguous to be any character that is not expressly identified as male or female. I do not include style of dress and hair. I don't want Perrin to think you can assume someone's gender by their appearance or that there is one way to be a boy and one way to be a girl. Another thing you can do is to simply swap the gender of the characters. There are lots of books we have that have male characters but I simply change the pronouns as I read the books. Sometimes I even switch them back and forth each time I read the same story. Or you can take the emphasis off gender by using neutral terms like "child" and "person" rather than "boy/girl" or "man/woman".

This is an example of where I use "child" instead of "girl" or "boy" when I read. 
   Another idea that works a little better as the kids get older is to engage them in critiquing. Asking "Why do you think only the girls have eyelashes? All people have eyelashes!" or "Why do all the boys have short hair in this book?", "Why do you think books never have boys wearing pink?". Just opening up these kinds of questions and conversations can help children to see these books as being non-representative of the world around them and are a great introduction to media literacy.

Some gendered language in Dr. Suess. Despite few female characters and almost none that are named or speak, he still manages to use hyperfeminine tropes. 

This book read "with the heart of a dinosaur, he shouldn't cry" which is bullshit, so I changed it. 



Books We Love

   Here are some of our favorite books. They are by no means perfect, but they do help give a little balance.

Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein: This book features Dinah, a female dinosaur. She tries to learn how to kiss, but instead ends up stomping and whomping and chomping everyone. It's a simple board book, but it's nice to see a female character portrayed as being physical, clumsy, and rambunctious.

Rawr by Todd Doodler: Ok, so we like dinosaur books. This dinosaur book uses no gendered language at all, although the illustrations are gendered (all the girls in dresses, all the boys with short hair). The main character is a dinosaur that is bigger than everyone else. However, we learn that even though the dinosaur is big, they can still be gentle, helpful, and kind.


Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe: This book features a family of pirates, so that's always cool. Charlotte is the child and she decides that going to sleep is for land lubbers, so she decides to stay up all night. She is described as "hearty" and having "formidable oomph", which is a nice change of pace from the usual adjectives describing girls.

Baby Badger's Wonderful Night by Karen Saunders: This is a father and son story; the father badger takes his baby into the forest at night to show him all of the sights. It's nice to see a father as the parent of focus, especially in a story that is tender and sweet.

Why Won't the Dragon Roar? by Rosalyn Rosenbluth and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf:
Both of these books challenge the hypermasculine norm. In these stories, the main character is a male dragon and bull, respectively. But he doesn't like to engage in the typical male behaviors of those around him. The dragon doesn't like to roar and Ferdinand doesn't like to fight. Instead they like to spend time with their friends and smell flowers.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson: This book is based on a true story. It follows two penguins in a same sex relationship and how they hatch an egg to have their own baby that they raise together. It is a little hit or miss in that it definitely seems to portray opposite sex relationships as normal and the two penguins as "different", however it's a good conversation starter and a really sweet story.

Green Start Books (various authors): These books are some of our favorites. Many of them were left out of my analysis as they weren't narrative based, but we love them all the same. They are introductions to different aspects of environmentalism- gardening, animal habitats, recycling, etc. The illustrations are bit gendered, but otherwise gender isn't addressed at all. The illustrations are very cute and the simple sentences make these concepts accessible for even young kiddos. They are also made from recycled materials and include a back section with tips for activities and life style changes.