Skip to content

Infant

Going beyond "strong female characters" in children's books

One of you dreamy readers, specifically Elisabeth M., left a comment that really got me thinking last month. She was responding to this post where I put a call out to children’s book readers near and far to help me find some stories with good, strong female characters in them.

Here’s what she had to say:

I don’t just want books with “strong female characters.” I want books with “varied female characters.”  And, I want female SECONDARY characters. In other words, I don’t want one strong propaganda-piece for female empowerment leading a show that’s populated by and all-male supporting cast, over and over and over. The thing is, as long as we’re stuck with “strong female characters,” we’re still putting females in a box—a propaganda box—and we’re still making the story about “femaleness” to some extent. People say boys don’t want to read books about female characters; I think the answer to that is to make the stories big, to include (in addition) a healthy number of female-led stories whose scope goes beyond patriarchy, stories that deal with issues other than gender identity. How about neutral female characters? How about “regular people” female characters? Until we have balance in the stories – by which I mean, an undeniable female presence that isn’t calling attention to itself—we’re going to be raising girls and boys to look at “female” as “other.”

So here’s my mission (and I have NO idea how to find this) – books that have a variety of female types—not just “strong,” and not just “stereotypical,” but varied—and which include a neutral cast of 50/50 male/female secondary characters. (Why do all the friendly insects on the pages need to be male?)

Well yowza. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Elisabeth M., for this killer distinction. I’ve been sorting through my list to see if any books fit the bill: having a balanced number of females in them without being about “femaleness.” The best I can come up with right now are the Katie Morag books. They’re written for the 5-9 set, but J has been really into them as the fairly verbal 3 year old that he is.

Katie Morag is supported by a nice balanced cast of characters, including feisty Granny Island who is often on her tractor, Granny Mainland, the ferryman, Katie’s brother Liam and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. McColl.

katie1

The books really aren’t about “femaleness” at all, but rather life on the Isle of Struay, a hearty little island off the coast of Scotland.

katie2

There are also the Mrs. Armitage books which I already reviewed here.

I don’t have a great recommendation for 1-4 year olds. But I did love Sally and the Limpet. It isn’t about “femaleness” per se, though I think most of the other characters are male.

sallylimpet

So now, I have to pass Elisabeth’s question on—do you know of any children’s picture books with a variety of female types and a balanced male/female cast of characters? Do tell.

An Honest Mom's top 3 breastfeeding tips

Since breastfeeding (“Giving C some boo boos” as J likes to say) is something that I am once again doing, say, 10-15 times a day, I figured I’d share a few of the tips and resources that have helped me navigate my cumulative total of 3.5 years of boo boo feeding.

1.  The “laid back” breastfeeding position. I discovered this when I visited Janaki at East Bay Lactation Associates in the midst of the breastfeeding crisis I had a few years ago with J. I was worried about my milk supply and we’d been supplementing with formula and J just seemed, in general, unwell. In the hour I spent with Janaki, her kindness, wisdom and humor sunk into my tired self like a salve. And she showed me the “laid back” position. It changed everything for J and me. I’ve been using it with C from the beginning. It magically turns breastfeeding into the relaxing break it was meant to be. Here’s me, a few days ago, all laid back in our front yard. Yes, I breastfeed in our front yard.

Image
Yes. We have a wheelbarrow in our front yard. And yes. Those are A’s feet in the bottom of the picture. He was going the extra mile and taking pictures from multiple angles after I said, “Quick, go get the camera–I want a picture of this breastfeeding position!”

The great thing about this position is how easy it is. You…uh…lay back. Wherever you happen to be. Couch, chair, bed. Prop yourself up with as many blankets and pillows as you need to be 100% comfortable relaxing every muscle in your body. Really. Every muscle. Janaki told me that you’ve done it right if you could fall asleep in that position. Then drape your babe across your abdomen diagonally, so that you’re belly to belly. I like to position C so he has one leg on either side of my leg, sort of horsey ride style. Then you just support the baby’s upper back, where their shoulder blades are, with your hand. When you support them like this with firm pressure, babies gain some leverage and are able to move their heads more freely to initiate the latch. (The same way that sit ups are easier when you brace your feet under the couch.) Then you sit back and relax. That’s it, folks.

And a side angle...just so you can see how laid back I am.

This somewhat upright position makes it easier for babies to feed, instead of having them in those perfectly horizontal positions that breastfeeding pillows encourage. (Would you rather guzzle down a big glass of water laying flat or propped up?) It also has the extra added benefits of giving your tired mommy arms a break, giving tired mommy a break, and making it more pleasant for your baby to breastfeed, since you’re a relaxed mommy.  So throw your breastfeeding pillows out the window, ladies, cause all you need is to lean back!

2.  Kelly Mom. By far the best online breastfeeding resource out there. If you have a question, they have a helpful, well-resourced article on it. Like this one that helped us navigate our first bottle feedings with both C and J. Or this one that helped me through a painful bout of mastitis that I had when J was 2.

3.  If you have a partner (or a really generous friend) and a baby who will take a bottle, and you want help with night feedings to get more uninterrupted sleep, consider how your Crock-Pot could help.

Here’s a how-to on how to duplicate our life-saving, DIY, middle-of-the-night, on-demand bottle warmer:

 

As a parting shot, I have to share this sketch. A year(ish) ago, I audited a birth class for my doula training and gaped over the shoulder of one of the dads in the class as he whisked his pencil ever so lightly across the page and created this gem in a couple minutes.

barbaby

When you’re breastfeeding, think of it like your baby is at a bar. You don’t want her to just occupy a stool at the bar, you want her to get drunk.

So go forth, lay back and get ’em drunk, ladies.
Cheers.

My triumph over post-partum trauma and a giveaway

I’ve mentioned a few times that this pregnancy with baby #2 has been emotionally challenging.

And sometime during the blur of activity since moving into our new house, the grip of fear and dread I had about this second baby all but vanished in a single day, and I’m left with a healthy sense that yes, this will be hard and also, that I can do it.

Here’s how that happened.

At a pre-natal appointment, I cried while telling one of my midwives about how hard it’s been to feel burdened and emotionally flat about being pregnant this time around. What did it mean about the baby? About me? About our future relationship? About whether this was a good decision in the first place.

My wise and wonderful midwife had this to say:

You might try connecting with and talking to the baby when you’re feeling that way. You could say, ‘I’m having a lot of difficult feelings right now. And you’re also welcome here.’

The reminder that both my crap feelings and the baby could co-exist and that they are separate entities was radically helpful, especially in battling my whole freak out about the fetal origins thing.

I also talked with my midwife about how afraid I was of those first few months with a baby—since they had been so difficult with J.

She recommended that I sign up for a post-partum/birth trauma workshop with Gena McCarthy, a local nurse and therapist who specializes in supporting women through the challenges of birth, post-partum and motherhood.

I signed myself up and a couple weeks later, spent 3 and a half hours in a room with 6 other women who had difficult birth or post-partum experiences that they wanted help working through.

I have to admit, during the workshop, I kept thinking there would be some sort of magical moment—some radical revelation that would swoop down and save me. The radical revelation never came, but I did feel relieved to know I wasn’t alone—other moms were still struggling with a difficult time in early motherhood that had long since passed.

It was helpful to hear Gena’s explanation of how these types of fears we have—the ones that feel deeply lodged and almost irrational in their strength and persistence—are often the result of trauma. And trauma lives in a part of our brain that is non-verbal. So rational and verbal approaches to healing trauma aren’t usually very effective. What is effective, she said, are approaches that tap into our limbic system—a region of our brain that we share with other mammals and reptiles that is largely concerned with things like emotion, memory and our instinctive fight or flight response.

Apparently, the workshop was supposed to help us tap into this part of our brains, where we could begin to move through some of the fears that were lodged there.

During the workshop, we talked, we did a guided visualization, we journaled, we made collages, and I walked away from the workshop thinking, “That was nice, but I doubt it helped much.”

Later that night, my partner, A asked me how it went. As I recounted what I had talked and thought about, I noticed that there was none of the background fear and anxiety lurking like it normally did. I was talking about how hard those first few months were with J, and I had this understanding of why, and this healthy compassion for myself, and I didn’t feel overcome with dread about what was coming. It was a simple and radical release.

That’s how it is now—I know I’m going to have to go through all of that post-partum time with a new baby again. And surely it will be lovely. And surely it will be hard. But I’m not irrationally afraid of it anymore. I hadn’t realized how much my fears were keeping me from settling into the whole idea of baby #2 and being pregnant, but since they lifted, I touched down. Here I am. 35 weeks pregnant. I’m tired and excited and hopeful and swollen and everything is going to be okay, except for when it’s not, and then we’ll just figure it out.

Naturally, I’ve become a big fan of Gena and her work, so I wanted to share it with you. And, ws luck would have it, she has another workshop just like the one I described coming up on April 28 in Berkeley. She also does private sessions in person or on the phone, so you can connect with her regardless of where you live.
Healing Birth Mother Renewal eFlyer_4-13
Now that you’ve read my story of post-partum trauma triumph, I’d like a drumroll please. Because today I’m joining the ranks of bloggers everywhere who offer tantalizing giveaways!

Gena has extended the generous offer to you, fabulous readers: $15 off of her upcoming workshop or $30 off a private session, which can be in person if you live in the Bay Area or over the phone if you live anywhere! The workshop is $75 and private sessions are $130, so you’ll get a good solid discount. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address in the section of the comment form that asks for it. And for those of you that are particularly keen to win, if you’re a subscriber to the blog (just enter your email address in the handy form in the upper right hand corner of this blog page) or if you “like” my Facebook page, those actions will enter you into the drawing a second or third time! I’ll select one lucky An Honest Mom reader at random next week and then email you with the good news.

And please, share this post with anyone who you think might benefit from Gena’s stellar work. Here’s to unburdening moms of birth and post-partum trauma everywhere!

Feminism, pronouns and arts and crafts

We had a tragic accident at our house recently.

Train engineers the size of wine corks (where is my mind?!) tend to escape my 1st pass of throw-various-toys-into-various-boxes-so-I-can-walk-on-level-ground-in-my-own-home. So J’s esteemed engineer was marooned on our floor, only to be crunched under one of our giant feet. It was a grisly injury to be sure, but I felt confident in my skills once I found where the head had rolled off to.

As I was holding the head in place for the 3rd time, cursing myself for not having the patience to let the glue set, I had an idea. And as I tried unsuccessfully to peel the ripply crust of superglue off of my fingers, I decided that this was the best idea I had ever conceived.

You see, I’ve been having a daily battle in my mind, since J was very young. It is a battle with pronouns. I started to resent his children’s books, which were so casually saturated with male characters. Male humans. Male trucks. Male ducks. I decided that I could provide some strategic revisions to his stories, replacing the “he” and “his” with “she” and “hers.” And any resistance I got in the form of, “But that’s a boy, Momma,” I would just quash with my explanation of how some boys have long hair and wear dresses and some girls have short hair and wear dungarees.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I started to hear my own thoughts, and how dominant and automatic the “he” was. So I started “she-ing” birds we saw, and garbage collectors and worms.

Naturally, I had to “she” the engineer.

I had some internal criticism with myself over whether the haircut was too girly, but ultimately decided that I wanted anyone else playing with the toy to see that it was an engineer lady, so I went with the fringe-y bangs and bob.

I must say, the result has thrilled me. Every time J is padding through our house saying “My engineer, where is she?” I feel a warm, relaxing tingle in my belly.  Because more than wanting J to know that women can be engineers and that girls can play trucks, I want him to just see those things as a casual matter of fact.

And I make sure of it by giving human action figures the Sharpie treatment the moment they cross our threshold.

The revolution continues: more of your honest photos

Well, fabulous readers, you definitely stepped up to my recent photographic challenge. Here are more regular, everyday, un-gussied-up moments from your lives. Thank you, thank you for sharing them.

can’t decide if i love the pose or the soft vignette more…
“What is the torture we’re applying to the young lady? We’re washing her hair – oh no!!!”

Laura Turbow shared these next three photos. She’s an honest mom who happens to also be an awesome photographer.

“For just a second, i wish you could press a button and hear the sound of this photo, but maybe it is not necessary.”
“This photo is part of a series that i took of my champion vomit child.”
“Here is one more ‘grab the camera before I grab a towel shot'”
“Too tired from two jobs to even move the belt off the bed. i just had to lay down and stare into space for awhile.”
Life is so hard for redheads.

If you’d like to see more revolutionary photos like these, here’s the first batch I posted. And if you’re inspired, I would be tickled pink if you’d share your photo with me and my fabulous readers at my facebook page.

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

***

If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What I thought motherhood would look like

Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”

Also, here’s a link to the “Becoming a Mother” video series I’m producing.

On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?