I challenge their assumption that the person riding the motorcycle is male. I consider that all of this is working when Jo and I have an exchange about a silver Toyota passing us on the freeway.
Me: He’s driving waaay too fast!
Jo: Or she!!!
And so it has been that raising my children has made me ever more aware of patriarchy, of sexism, of the million ways that He and Him and His is the universal default for every person or creature seen in the world or shown in a story.
And so it has been that I’ve had the idea to make this for almost exactly 7 years, and finally spent the 10 minutes it took this afternoon.
Not only will you be saved from having to remember to change pronouns on every page, your child will soon set the perfect stage for a conversation about unfairness and and feminism when she asks you why you changed the words in so many of her picture books.
I tore through the first few chapters while trying to help AJ build a new fence for our chickens, a bit of multitasking that did not end well. Not surprisingly, non-fiction reading and power drills do not go hand-in-hand.
In part, I was rapt by the book because I know its author. Ruth reads this blog, and occasionally we get into spirited debates about the direction that feminism is taking or whether Eckhart Tolle is a ray of sunshine or a total sham.
So naturally, I read the book with a mind to the good-natured disagreement that she and I would get to have about what she’d written.
In the first few chapters, she criticized several ways I’ve pursued greater happiness and self-improvement over the years. On the topic of Landmark Education, in particular, I found myself mentally defending what I’d found helpful about it, even though I usually bash the rabid evangelistic tone of Landmark in other company.
There’s also a highly provocative chapter on parenting that will be sure to crack you up or leave you bristling depending on your views on attachment parenting.
Ruth is British, and that remove gives her a unique and dispassionate view of our American obsession with happiness. Her observations are shrewd, well researched and cut to the quick. As much as I feel the pull to educate Ruth on the finer points of mindfulness and why it’s not just another attempt to bypass reality and head straight for Happiness-ville USA, I want to focus here on the brilliance of her overall argument and how she changed my mind.
It was her chapter on positive psychology that really slayed me. She lays out how the positive psychology movement is funded almost entirely by some rich guy with a right wing agenda. It turns out that certain folks with lots of money think it’s a good political strategy to convince people that their happiness has more to do with their mental attitude than the circumstances of their lives. In other words, if we are good students of positive psychology, then our happiness or lack thereof is our own damn fault, and has little to do with structural causes like access to education or a decent-paying job or healthcare or a safe neighborhood.
Thank you for writing this smart, funny, thought-provoking book, Ruth. I now agree with you that various strategies for self-improvement can distract us from the most significant structural causes of unhappiness. No matter how much I learn to boost my confidence as a woman or think positive, the fact is that I live in a country that has created structures that make it harder for me to be happy. So I’m re-focussing my energy on efforts to topple those damn structures. I’m talking to you, America, and your parental leave policies and lack of affordable childcare that rank us among the worst in the world.
As an American with an inclination towards self-improvement, this is an uncomfortable book to read. But it’s that productive kind of discomfort, like a long, hard look in the mirror. You’ll walk away from this book humbled, sober, and a bit more awake.
Perhaps you remember my rant-of-a-post last year about gratitude, and those little clementine oranges I drew on with a sharpie to drive the point home.
Well, I’m still sick and tired of gratitude, and how it’s routinely prescribed as a way to avoid tricky, socially-unacceptable feelings. And I know lots of you are over it too. Well, I have good news. We are not alone!
Woa! Look at me now—feeling gratitude spontaneously, as nature intended.
I am so damn grateful that I am An Honest Mom in the company of so damn many Honest Yous.
May we boldly move through the world feeling our feelings even if they’re painful or embarrassing. And may we have the courage to share the messy details of our lives, since that will make more room for all of us to be whole.
I wrote a picture book, y’all, and I want to give it to you.
I wrote it in a deep, dark night of insomnia, thereby kicking insomnia’s ass. I wrote it because I was weary of 7 years of changing pronouns in the picture books I read to my little boys. If you happen to be a female sheep, caterpillar, dump truck or farmer, let me give you some advice. Don’t waste your time auditioning for a children’s picture book. You’ve got a snowballs chance in hell of getting a call back.
So now’s the part when I give the book to you. If you subscribe to the blog, I’ll send you an email with a printable link to the book at the cheapest online printer I could find (they print and mail the book for 10 bucks). And if you’re already a subscriber, THANK YOU one million times. Just leave me a comment on this post, and I’ll email the link to you.
Once you get Truck and Bunny into the grubby, little mitts of your beloved 2-4 year olds, let me know what they think. Perhaps I can feature their review in an upcoming edition.
I don’t know your family. Or your many well-thought-out reasons why you don’t want to hang out with them and their crazy opinions, especially after this election. Or maybe you’re super stoked for Thanksgiving with The Fam.
Either way and regardless of your politics, I’m guessing that it’s pretty tempting right now to hole up and talk with people who agree with you. Let’s face it, that’s what most of us did in the lead up to November 8th, and probably long before that too.
I know this divide well, since mine is a family made up of liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, Muslims and Christians.
Before the election, we didn’t talk politics at all. But since November 9th, it’s been our main topic of conversation in texts, over the phone and on Skype. I’m shocked to report that the result of all this talking across political divides has not been debilitating waves of fear, anger and dread. In fact, I feel closer to my family than I have since I was a kid. This is not because everyone suddenly agrees. It’s because somehow, we’ve found a way to talk about our widely ranging opinions that leaves me wanting to call back or follow up with a text question rather than run far far away. We’ve stumbled upon a rare, cultural occurrence in this day and age; ours is the dodo bird of political conversations.
I’m working on an essay about this whole experience that I hope will get published on a larger platform, since I think our conversations can offer some hope and a way forward for families and friends who are feeling more divided than ever.
For now, let me share what has been helpful to all of us so far.
Stop trying to convert each other.
We all know what it’s like to have a crappy political conversation. It gets sweaty and fast, brows are furrowed, voices get tense, and talking points get volleyed back and forth. The whole thing lurches to a close with everyone feeling dissatisfied and trying to patch things up with inane sports or weather talk.
I suspect that these types of discussions suck because we walk into them with the goal of converting each other. Turns out that talking to people who are trying to change us feels patronizing as hell. It feels like they’re assuming we’re idiots or that they know better or both. And if you’re the one on a crusade, well, it gets lonely up there on your know-it-all high horse.
Stop assuming that people are their labels, and that you are yours.
As the dreamy Walt Whitman once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Damn straight, Walt. Everyone you know is a person first and a liberal or a conservative or [insert political label] second. Since my family stopped assuming what we each think based on who we voted for, we’re discovering that few (if any) of us adhere to a strict party line on everything. So we actually have a few things—gasp!—on which we agree.
Start asking questions and actually listening.
It’s been awkward to try to understand each other without making assumptions, because it means we’ve been asking very basic and sometimes embarrassing questions, like “Has anyone ever been racist to you?” or “What’s actually so bad about the national debt? I remember reading something about why it isn’t so bad.” When you stop assuming, it means you actually have to ask questions to discover things. And the space that all those assumptions took up starts being replaced by good, old-fashioned curiosity.
Start sharing personal experiences.
Pretty much everyone I know would rather listen to a story about someone’s life rather than some list of bullet points about why they support some political ideology. When you dig deep into why you believe the stuff you do, I bet you’ll find some stories. Tell those. Ask others about theirs.
This other type of conversation I’m describing—this non-converting, non-assuming, curious, personal type of conversation—tends to not suck. You walk away thoughtful. Sure, maybe you’re still pissed or freaked out, even betrayed by Aunt Edna’s politics, but you learned a couple things you didn’t know about her, and maybe even started to question what you actually do think about the national debt.
This little list of Dos and Don’ts is essentially a recipe for openness, learning and respect, three things I want as the starting point for any family or nation of mine.
If we all had more practice having conversations across party lines in this way, I think we’d find ourselves in a different America.
That’s the America I want.
I know I’m not the only one having these conversations. If you have tips or tricks or revelations of your own in talking across the political divide, please share them in a comment below.
An aside: Some would argue that even categorizing a dishwasher as a woman-liberating machine is sexist. Isn’t it equally liberating to the droves of men elbow deep in dish suds? Well, no. It isn’t. Because the vast majority of dishes are done by women. What a load of crap! Down with the patriarchy! And, for the time being, this particular consumer took the easy way out and used her distinct privilege to buy a machine that creates an illusion of gender equality in her own home. And the oppressive wheels of sexism roll on.
On the dazzling day I walked home to see this beauty in our kitchen, I walked in a stupor around the house muttering, “Oh my Goooohhhhhd, Oh my Goohhhhhhhd.” That first night, after we’d put the kids to bed, AJ and I loaded her up, pushed the “On” button and just sat on the floor and watched. “It’s washing our dishes right now.” AJ said, rapt. “It’s a storage container where we get to put our dirty dishes, and then it cleans them,” I replied, awestruck.
But wait! Feminist Home Improvement #2 is even more revolutionary.
Where there was once a changing table and later a crib in our bedroom, there is now this wondrous thing:
Take it in. Because what you just saw was a radical feminist photo of a radical feminist desk. I’ll tell you why. I did not try to make everything in my picture look tidy and perfect. I even left the overflowing laundry basket out and the new desk chair in my closet, where I usually keep it, since our bedroom is too small for the desk and chair to just sit and hang out. At first, I wanted to make the picture perfect, because I like pretty pictures just as much as the next person, but I held myself back to prove a point to me and to you. It’s the point none of us can get enough of these days: all of our lives are messy no matter how many pretty pictures we post online.
This radical feminist desk is taking up space that was once devoted to caring for babies and little children, and now, it’s devoted only to me. A desk of one’s own. Eat your heart out, Virginia Wolf. It’s the first space I’ve had in my home that is only for me and completely under my control since Jo was born over 7 years ago. We are talking revolution here, people.
I choose what goes in it and sits on it, and my kids are not allowed to touch or turn any of those things into weapons. It’s the fixed place in my house where I get to do whatever damn thing I want. I sat there and wrote an effing letter to a friend yesterday. On paper. With a pencil. And today, here I am writing this to all of you. Taking up space in my house and in the hours of my day and in the world to share my stories about being a woman and a mother.
“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.”
― Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
Sometimes you’re lucky enough to read something that opens up a place inside you that was tight and closed before. You walk away from those words to a world with a bit more spirit and texture.
That’s how I felt after I read this piece by Frieda Kipar Bay, an herbalist, mother, artist and educator who I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with a time or two. She also happens to make wild-crafted, herbal syrups that the boys and I happily guzzle down when our bodies need them. So do yourself a favor, read this transporting story that Frieda is letting me share here, and then take some moments to check out Taproot Medicine, which is, like all things Frieda creates, a thing of raw, elemental beauty.
what happens when we watch
i happened to have put a bench in the middle of a robust little hummingbird’s territory (calypte anna for you latin geeks). i’ve been visiting that bench in the overgrown wild garden for some time now – many seasons – watching him spin around me from tree to tree, singing at the top of his tiny lungs and fearlessly dive bombing anyone who dares to enter his home. but today something new happened. this funny little creature flew way up above me, so far!, and just when i thought he’d never come back he swooped down towards the horizon, disappeared, then reappeared on the other side of me with a loud warrior cry, and went back up towards the sky to do it again. he circled around and around, at first i actually thought another hummingbird was chasing him he was so fast to rebound, but no. it was just this one tiny being ferociously enjoying his very own roller coaster. i was completely exhilarated. then, he was done. back on the oak branch, chewing out his ballad of a song.
it’s not often i’ve had the opportunity in my adult life to be somewhere long enough to watch another animal’s nuances unfold. it makes me feel at home. when i began learning about the plants in sonoma county, my relationship to them solidified my sense of homecoming, that i belong here, that i’m even needed here. and my hunch is that knowing a place is what has the capacity to heal an entire generation of wandering children. (which is just what we are.)
so when i go on a little hike to tend the mugwort patch, thin the hemlock, or prune the elderberry it’s not just a pleasure stroll, or a harvesting trip, but a collecting of the medicine of belonging. if you don’t know it, kat anderson’s book tending the wild is a lovely informative read, as is braiding sweetgrass, by robin wall kimmerer.
from wherever you are on the earth right now, i wish you homecoming.
If you’ve ever read a board book to a toddler, you may have encountered this one:
After 5 pages, or maybe the the thirteenth time it’s toddled up to your lap, you start omitting large swaths of story. Why would anyone in their right mind put this damn many words in a board book? It’s like performing an interpretive dance for a telephone pole. When it’s over, you’re exhausted and quite certain it missed the point.
Or maybe you’ve read this one:It cajoles you into making embarrassing sounds or singing strange little songs and when all is said and done, you feel like an idiot.
And of course, there’s this old classic:
It may not make you sing, quack or read until you’re blue in the face, but this damn book is misery in disguise. It insults, it bores. It can turn a warm, soft, snuggle fest into Dissociation-ville USA.
Fear not, you listless, embarrassed board book reader. There is hope.
Between you and me, books don’t even matter yet.
For the first couple years, most humans tend to be into things like light and faces and fresh air and anything that happens to be on the ground. So if you just hang out near your kid and go outside once in a while, you’re probably good.
If you want to get all fancy by throwing a board book into the mix, then it might as well be something you find highly amusing. Or something that will entertain your kid while you go have a cocktail.
These are “teeming picture books,” meaning that they have full-spread detailed pictures on every page. And a few characters who continue their story from page to page. Delightfully, unlike their Richard Scary counterparts, they have No Words.
That means you can create a whole elaborate narrative if you feel like it (?!) or you can do absolutely nothing while your small, pudgy friend “does some reading.”
If you’ve stayed with me this far, then my favorite board book will come as no surprise.
Ever find yourself fantasizing about what you might write someday, if you just had the space or time?
If you answered a remote yes to this question, and you happen to live in the Bay Area, then I have a gift to give you.
My friend Susie Meserve, who also happens to be a riveting writer, is co-teaching a writing and movement workshop in Oakland on March 19th.
In this three-hour workshop, through movement, meditation, writing prompts, and group discussion, we’ll explore how creativity gets trapped in the body–and learn how to release it.
If you happen to feel like I did when I read that, (“Ummm. Yes, please.”) then you should sign the eff up!
Here’s more details to whet your appetite in flyer form:
And if you really wanna go, but just can’t swing the $75 right now, keep reading.
A very kind and very anonymous benefactor has offered to sponsor one writer who would like to attend, but can’t afford it.
How are we going to find this lucky writer?
I’m so glad you asked. All you have to do is write a brief comment below explaining what really gets you revved up about going to this workshop. We’ll choose one winner who will get to attend for free, and two others who will get $15 off.
It’s that simple.
So get on the horn, start making plans, stacking the particular house of cards required for you to get away on a Saturday afternoon, and share this with your friends!
And if money is an issue, than comment it up! We’ll sift through your comments and pick 3 winners on Monday night.
Some pretty mind blowing stuff went down for me in September that I’m only just beginning to articulate. I went to this rad women and kids communing with nature power weekend with Jo. We ate and sang and played and learned and gathered around the fire together. And once Jo got his bearings, and he and a friend were absorbed in scratching at the dirt with sticks, I took a class about energetic boundaries. Which is to say that for a couple of hours one morning, I sat in a circle of women on the ground near a big fallen tree I wish I knew the name of, and listened to this woman share her wisdom about the ways we habitually do and ideally can choose to create boundaries that protect or reveal ourselves.
I still don’t understand exactly what it was about that class that changed things for me, but it did.
Here’s the best I’ve got:
It helped me understand the fundamental way I align myself with other people. In short, I’ve got some pretty loosey goosey boundaries. And I always track the people around me. I take in what I think their needs and feelings are. I’m like an octopus with hyper extended tentacles, constantly scanning in all directions for what my people are feeling, thinking, wanting.
It. Is. Exhausting.
And obliterating. Cause where do my thoughts and needs and feelings come in, given the OCD tentacles? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. My needs and feelings are stifled at the bottom of the heap. They play second (or third or fourth) fiddle. Those suckers languish deep inside the proverbial haystack.
But somehow, in a circle of women sitting on the ground of a crisp fall morning, I gathered my tentacles in. I chose to create some boundaries. Now I look more like this.
I deliberately chose to disengage with the endless stream of
Jo is happy and absorbed (sigh of relief) . Cal wants water and needs to put his pants on. Where are his pants? . That guy on the sidewalk seems really desperate . AJ is still mad at me after last night, but I don’t want to say I’m sorry . Jamie wishes I visited her more . Cybil called me three days ago and I haven’t gotten back to her . Ryan seems pissed, is it something I did? . This person wants . This person needs . This . Person . Feels . . .
Reeling in the tentacles made me lighter, buoyant even.
I started to float.
I could see and hear and feel things that hadn’t gotten in for a long time because there was so much noise and obstruction, and so little of my attention left over.
Here’s what I saw:
Everything is a game.
Every relationship, project, chore, obligation.
Some games have higher stakes than others, but at the core, there is a lightness, a playfulness in the atmosphere around all the heavy stuff.
The playfulness is this: in every game, you get to choose your move. Every time. And you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Then the other people get to choose their moves. Now it’s back to you. And the game plays on.
For years and years, I’ve gotten stuck trying to play other people’s moves for them, while my piece languishes in one damn square not very far from START.
That hyper focus outwards, on other people, has been crippling. It’s been deafening.
It has weighed me down, drowned me out, and left me listless on the couch because I’ve quite literally forgotten myself.
It was part of the reason for my post-partum depression with both kids–in that first year, rarely was I able to see and act on my own feelings and needs in the snow-storm of everyone else’s.
Well, I found my way out of that bullshit.
I have a new sense for where I end and everyone else begins.
And I wanna play.
For now, while I’m still learning these new moves, and how to keep my own needs and feelings at the core, I try to keep the tentacles for me. I use that super scanning empathetic power on myself first, because then I know the most key intelligence about the game: where I’m starting from. If I don’t know that, I can’t really play.