TERRIFYING TOWER OF TOYS

I hate clutter. It honestly is one of the biggest triggers of stress in my life (apart from the whole writing-a-dissertation thing). I get rid of my clothes so much and so often that I sometimes regret it—I am TOO overeager when it comes to throwing things out. This morning, I thought, ‘man, I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of all but two of my earrings.’ Sometimes, you just want to wear a nice gold hoop, ya know? But, apart from those fleeting moments of regret (which really are fleeting—I’m sure I won’t think about gold hoop earrings again for a year), I’m really happy that I’m not a packrat.

What does hating clutter have to do with parenting for social justice though? TOYS and consumerism. They creep in, and YOU CANNOT STOP IT. If you don’t hear from me in the next few weeks, its because I’m drowning in a terrifying tower of toys. My husband loves buying A toys, so it seems like every week, a new Amazon package shows up at our door, adding to the pile of toys in the corner of our family room (not to mention the section of the basement of toys he’s already grown out of). You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when they are in the vault in Gringotts, trying to get one of the horcruxes (Helga Hufflepuff’s cup I think?), but the other objects are magicked so that they multiply every time they are touched, which means that Harry, Ron and Hermione almost drown/get crushed to death by shit?? That’s me, just with toys. Every time I turn around, it’s like they multiply.  (was that Harry Potter reference lost on everyone but me? Lol)

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Look at poor Ron and Hermione, about to get crushed by the ever expanding pile of toys gold.

NOW, if you’ve ever given A a toy or present, THANK YOU. I am not complaining! (though it sounds like I am, doesn’t it? Need to work on the tone of this post…) And if A were old enough to understand, he would say “ANK U’ in the nasal-y way that he says ‘thank you’ right now (its adorable, btw). I am not ungrateful for your gifts or ignorant that my privilege has brought us to this moment. Drowning in a toys is related to our family’s class privilege: we have the means (and our friends and family have the means) to buy presents for A when they want to. Obviously, I am so grateful for that. I am grateful for the enrichment and entertainment the toys provide. I am grateful for the love for A that these gifts represent.

But at the same time, toys are inherently linked to capitalism and consumerism: I don’t want A to think he needs THINGS to be happy and to have fun. Ever since I got pregnant, I have been brainwashed into thinking I need all of these THINGS in order to have a safe pregnancy/be a good mother. The purchasing of things does not define the quality of a childhood. Even apart from toys’ consumerist essence, I think a decluttered space leads to (1) a more appreciative attitude towards what we DO have and (2) a calmer and more mindful outlook. Gratitude and mindfulness are two of the most important mental strategies I want A to cultivate.

For now, though, I’m too tired at the end of the day to deal with all of the awesome, fun, and colorful toys we’ve amassed. Consumerism in a capitalist society is nearly impossible to avoid, so I’ve learned to live with some clutter in my life. I will write in the future on my experiments in cultivating A’s gratitude and mindfulness despite (because of?) consumerism.

Happy wiping (and hopefully decluttering),

Olivia

 

Thanksgiving and Matt Lauer

Ok, there are two pressing—but completely unrelated—topics that I want to tackle this week: Thanksgiving and Matt Lauer. Forgive the disjointedness!

Thanksgiving: I love food. I love being with my family. I love Thanksgiving. I get to enjoy the company of my cousins, who I only get to see once or twice a year. I get to carbo-load HEAVY (gimme that stuffing, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, please). Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. For those of you who don’t obsessively read social justice family blogs like me (lol), you may not realize that Thanksgiving—despite the warm and cozy and family-centered associations that I have with it—is not the most culturally sensitive (word choice—anti-oppressive? anti-racist?) holiday. It comes with a host of culturally appropriative and problematic narratives of pilgrims and ‘Indians.’ At only 16 months, A is too young to have gotten any messages about the ‘first Thanksgiving’, where ‘Indians’ and pilgrims came together to eat in peaceful harmony. Next year—or maybe the year after that—A is going to start hearing this narrative and being exposed to stereotypic and antiquated perceptions of Native Americans. And I need to think of a strategy to talk with him about that narrative that doesn’t engage in stereotyping or romanticizing or other-izing Native Americans.

How do we ditch the stereotyping of ‘Indians’ and erasure of Native American genocide that goes along with Thanksgiving, but still maintain the celebration of family and gratitude?

 

Matt Lauer: These men keep falling. The entertainment and news world is in a reckoning. And only the men who aren’t abusive assholes/sexual predators will be left standing, thank god. My thoughts turn, of course, to how to raise a son who doesn’t become an abusive asshole, no matter how powerful of a position he finds himself in. What did Matt Lauer’s and Harvey Weinstein’s parents do? I don’t mean to scapegoat parents for their sons’ actions exclusively—I think that is unfair to the parents (there’s a whole host of other socializing factors in a child’s life—school, media, peers, other family, etc.) and removes blame from the perpetrators themselves.

But I have to hold out hope that parents have a role in either fostering toxic masculinity in their sons or discouraging (destroying? Dismantling?) it.  I’m hoping that all of this empathy-building and explicit conversations of (and displays of) emotions are developmentally appropriate ways to start preventing that toxic masculinity mindset. Obviously, I can’t tackle sexual harassment and predation with a 16-month-old. But the actions of Matt Lauer and other men are rooted in the whole jumbled-up, clusterfuck of normative masculinity and power. And preventing that starts in infancy.

Dang, I really, really hope A isn’t an asshole when he’s an adult.

 

My disjointed, but topical, thoughts for the week.

 

Happy wiping,

Olivia

Birthing a human, pt. 2: Race & Class

There’s a quiet crisis in American childbirth currently: Black women die in childbirth in disproportionately large numbers. In Texas, Black women make up around 11% of births but over 28% of maternal deaths. Numbers are similar around the nation, and activists and media have recently been drawing attention to these numbers. While the rate of maternal death is still overall extremely low in the United States, rates have been increasing since the 1970s. (read more here & here).

The tone of this blog post seems to be in stark contrast to the tone of my last blog post about birth. I argued in the last blog post that women need to cultivate positive, affirming narratives/images of pregnancy and birth in their lives—that anxiety and fear don’t need to be the primary emotions of childbirth and pregnancy. I stand by that message.

But that perspective is clearly one positioned in race and class privilege. In my last blog post, I wrote “I felt in control” and “my doctor…respected me.” I grew up surrounded by physicians. My mother is a doctor. Many of our closest family friends are doctors. I have aunts that are nurses and physicians. Now, as an adult, my husband is a doctor. I grew up with familiarity of the medical system and a deeply held belief that it was there to help me and to heal me. I know these to be truths. For me.

But the medical field has a history of both malicious maltreatment and neglect towards more marginalized communities, so it is unsurprising that there is such a large racial disparity in childbirth mortality for Black women. There are millions of Black women who have had positive and affirming childbirth experiences both inside and outside of the medical institutions of the US. Of course, many Black women make their own positive and affirming pregnancy and childbirth experiences, and there are medical providers that support them.

But I want to take time to reflect on moments in my hospital stay when my class or race changed how I was treated (of course, it’s hard to just pick discrete moments–many times race and class privilege changes the underlying tone of interactions. Plus, the fact that my privilege got me into one of the fanciest hospitals in the region…):

  1. When I mentioned to my labor nurse that my husband was an MD/PhD student, she got so nervous that she had to bring the more experienced nurse on shift to do my I.V.
  2. When I was about to get my epidural at 1 a.m., the night nurse told us that my husband would have to stand in front of me so he couldn’t see the procedure, but the anesthesiologist let my husband watch.
  3. My OB offered me a mirror to watch the pushing stage and advocated for me so a nurse went to go get one.
  4. I’m sure there are dozens more…

My privileged experiences is directly related to someone’s discriminatory/damaging experience. Maternal mortality is obviously the extreme and incredibly rare end of the spectrum. But subtle discrimination can have smaller but nonetheless insidious impacts of women of color.

I want there to be a call to action in this blog post—a tangible thing I could do to promote racial justice in childbirth & pregnancy in some small way. I’m not sure what that is honestly though…Any suggestions, as always, are welcome!

 

Self-reflection & Joy

I didn’t post last week because I didn’t have my shit together (read about my thoughts on self-care as a parent here). Plus, I made it to the three-months of blogging mark, so I decided to give myself a week off! I’ve been thinking about this blog in my time off. When I started it (as with any project), I was so excited—I had a long list of blog topics, and I would draft my post on Monday and edit it all week. The last month or so, though, I have been feeling uninspired about topics (though I still have that long list) and hurriedly writing the post on Thursday afternoon to meet my Friday morning deadline. Nothing’s changed except the novelty of a blog has worn off and the school year has kicked up again (the joys of the academic calendar). But I don’t want this blog to feel like a chore, so I decided that I am going to expand the scope of this blog.

Critical self-reflections on parenting with power are the heart of the blog and will continue to be, but sometimes I may throw in a post that is just about the joys (or frustrations) of parenting. I don’t sit around and stew in White guilt all day, and I worry this blog makes it seem like I do when I only post critical self-reflections. While parenting with privilege needs to centralize self-reflection & justice-oriented action, parenting in general has so much joy in it. I want this blog to represent all of that. (And to be clear, sometimes there is joy in self-reflection and justice-oriented action. But I am talking about a different type of joy).

So, in the spirit of joy:

A learned to blow raspberries on my stomach on Monday night. I laughed so hard that he would come back every few minutes and do it again to make me laugh!

My husband and I took A trick-or-treating for the first time this year. I tried to dress A up as an adorable fluffy llama, but he screamed every time we put the costume on him. Instead we got a Dracula cape and covered both him and my husband in fake blood…seems appropriate for a 15-month old’s costume, right? 

My husband had to go out of town last weekend, so A and I made a spontaneous trip to the zoo by ourselves. We’ve been so many times before that I thought it would just a way to spend an hour or two (it’s a free zoo, so you don’t feel guilt for going for only an hour!), but we somehow found all of these exhibits we’d never seen before and it was so much fun! A specifically asked to see the ‘maymun’ (Turkish for monkeys), so we spent lots of time in the Primate House. He also would not leave the Children’s Zoo goat area …. 

A is obsessed with blowing kisses! Anytime I ask him to say thank you or I love you, he blows a kiss. Plus all of the other times that he just wants to give people kisses. We facetime my family a lot, and he leans down and gives the screen a kiss over and over when we are talking to his aunts or Nana & PopPop.

Til next week—Happy wiping,

Olivia

 

 

Affirming A’s Turkish identity

I had a long day on Tuesday, but I had signed up to listen to a webinar put on by EmbraceRace, a nonprofit that works to encourage color-conscious parenting. The webinar was about ‘Why and How to encourage cross-racial friendships in young children;’ I recommend the webinar if you are interested. The main take away I had from the webinar was not actually about cross-racial friendships (though that’s important). It was about the positive (emotional & academic) outcomes associated with a strong, positive racial/ethnic identity (see some related research here & here–there’s lots more, but this was from a quick google).

I got to wondering: what am I doing to affirm A’s Turkish identity? Because we chose to name him a Turkish name, he will be treated as Turkish in many contexts, although he looks White. I want his Turkishness to be a source of pride for him, not a source of discomfort/angst/embarrassment. I want him to have a strong, positive ethnic identity. I have been talking to A as if he were White—for example, when we talk about race or skin color in books, I talk about ‘people who have pink-y skin like us.’ In many ways, he is White—and he will certainly benefit from White privilege—so I don’t want him to grow up ignorant of that. But at the same time, because we named him a Turkish name, he won’t always be treated as White. My husband and sister-in-law, who grew up Turkish in the United States, will be able to speak more to this, but I wonder: What is the role of the White parent in raising a child who may not always be treated as White?*

Obviously, a lot of the cultural affirming needs to be done by my husband. I can’t really understand what it’s like to be treated differently because of your name or language you speak at home. We are lucky enough to live close to my in-laws, so A has those family spaces to feel culturally affirmed & supported. Additionally, our niece who is Turkish-Iranian, lives just a half an hour away and is only 9 -months older than A. They will be able to grow up together and have each other as support. They won’t question each other’s identities as some of their peers might to them.

The question of what the White parent can do to affirm identities that are typically ‘othered’ (i.e. what can I do to affirm A’s Turkish identity) still stands. I encourage my husband to speak to A in Turkish as much as possible. When we read about immigrants, I try to say something like ‘your baba is in an immigrant! That means his family came from a different country to live in the United States. How cool is that?’ I want to get more books about children from immigrant backgrounds or children with uncommon names in the American context (I feel like books have been my answer to a lot of questions around identities for kids, but they can be powerful tools!). We do hope to travel to Turkey soon, but there’s a lot of unknown questions with that.

Overall, it is a question of modeling pride (and allowing him to have mixed feelings, particularly during school-age and adolescence).

*P.S. Turkishness is an ethnic (or even national) identity, but I think this question could be applied to parents of biracial children as well.

Yes, that’s your penis…

‘Yes, that’s your penis…’ 

‘No, we don’t put our toothbrush on our penis. That’s yucky for our toothbrush.’

‘Most of the time, we touch our genitals in private.’

‘A, your penis has poop on it. Can you please not touch it right now?’

‘That’s where your urine comes out.’

‘Daddy has a penis, too.’

 

All of these lines are things I have actually said to A over the last few months during diaper changes. It seems we’ve entered the developmental phase (an extremely common activity at this stage—so universal that I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this did it at this age) where A’s genitals are really interesting to him.

I started talking to A explicitly about his genitals recently. It’s not a revolutionary act, but it is important to me to use anatomically correct words with A. Mostly, because I want him not to feel any shame around his genitals (though there are other arguments, like this one). It’s just a part of his body that, at this point in his life, is associated with peeing and pooping. I want him to feel comfortable in his body and knowledgeable about it. And eventually during adolescence and adulthood, I want him to have a healthy way of thinking about sex (that feels so weird to say about my 15 month old…), and I think that starts early. (It goes without saying that this whole approach to genitals is a culturally-situated one–not everyone will feel comfortable with it or even the end goal.)

Regardless, I think it is important for A, but I think it would be even more important for girls. American culture will encourage A to be confident with his body, but it may not be so kind to his young friends with female bodies. I remember laughing with my husband about A touching his genitals, and I paused and wondered out loud: ‘if he were a girl, would we think it was this funny?’ Would I say, ‘Yes, those are your labia/clitoris/vagina.’? I hope we would. If we have a daughter in the future, I will consciously try to use anatomically correct language when she touches her genitals during diaper changes. Having knowledge of your body and confidence in that knowledge can be empowering for woman of all ages.

I haven’t quite un-learned binary ways of talking about gender, which extends to conversations about genitals. I don’t want to tell A that ‘boys have penises and girls have vaginas’ because that’s not necessarily true. If anyone has any children’s books recommendations about transgenderism/genitals/etc, I would love to hear them!

Choosing a last name

I wrote about how and why we chose A’s first name, but my husband and I also spent time talking about what A’s last name should be.

I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married—for many and no reasons at the same time. It wasn’t something I every really thought about honestly, mostly because it wasn’t a precedent set by my mother. She kept her last name when she wed my father in 1985. It was my father (according to family lore, at least) that wanted to have my mom’s last name as my sisters’ and my middle names. My sisters and I all have the same middle and last name: my mom’s last name (as our middle names) then our dad’s last name (as our last names). I’m not sure why they decided this way instead of hyphenating it or ditching my mom’s last name all together. But they did, and I like it.

When we got pregnant,  we discussed what A’s last name should be. We never really considered hyphenating, though that seems like a good option for some. We debated mostly if he should have my last name or my husband’s last name. Ultimately, we decided to do as my parents did: my last name is A’s middle name; my husband’s last name is A’s last name.

When I talk about last names with other women, they often say that the only reason they changed their last name when they married is so they have the same last name as their children. I get the sentiment, but given my background, it doesn’t bother me as much as it might bother others. I didn’t feel any less connected to my mother because we didn’t have the same last name. And I don’t feel any less connected to A because we have different last names.

For the next kid (not any time soon-don’t worry!), I’m not sure what we will do. Should we switch the order for the next kid—my husband’s last name as the middle name with my last name as the kid’s last name? That would be the fairest, after all. If I am being honest, I am already leaning towards sticking with what we did for A. It does mean that the maternal last name only gets one extra generation of life—I’m not passing down my mom’s last name to my son, for example. But I’m not really concerned with legacy in that way. It doesn’t bother me, for example, that if A has children, they probably won’t have my last name in their name anywhere. At the same time, there is something romantic and rebellious about giving the next kid my last name. We’ll see…

By the way, I do NOT consider myself more feminist than others who do something different with last names when they marry/have kids. What I think is radical is the conversations and debate about family names, just as much as the actual act of naming (though that has power too–and is more permanent than a conversation). Disrupting the patriarchy means critically thinking about the paternal family name as the norm.

 

Storytime & Avoiding Colorblindness: Last Stop on Market Street

A friend of my husband very sweetly gave A the book, Last Stop on Market Street (written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson). Unlike my reviews of Tubby (part 1 & part 2), I actually love how this book presents race and family. The picture book is about a boy and his grandmother leaving church and traveling in a bus. Nana, the grandmother, has an unrelentingly positive and curiosity-seeking demeanor that she uses to gently encourage CJ, her grandson. The last stop on Market Street, we eventually learn, is a soup kitchen where they volunteer every Sunday.

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Nana and CJ look African American (though the reader is never explicitly told how they racially identify). Many children’s books with characters of color deal with race in one of two ways: First, there are children’s books that use characters of color to discuss the Civil Rights Movement or slavery. Racial struggle is the central theme; these types of books have their place. They can be powerful tools to help kids understand huge topics like slavery or Civil Rights. Second, there are books with characters of color that fall into a “colorblind” narrative (the whole “my kid doesn’t see race” idea). In this type of book, characters of color and White characters interact without any recognition of White privilege or how American society organizes power along racial lines. They become weird post-racial utopias. This type of colorblind book is actively dangerous, because it risks exacerbating racial inequality. (I get this might be controversial for some. Read more about colorblindness here and here.)

 

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It is important to me, however, to have books showing characters of color going about their ordinary lives but still relishing in and respecting their culture. Last stop does exactly that. For example, at the beginning of the book, CJ’s friend (a White boy) gets in the car with his father, and CJ asks his Nana “how come we don’t got a car?”. Those few lines, combined with the visual representation of race in the illustrations, hints as the economic realities of race in the US. There are lots of other subtle examples that prove how delicately this book deals with race.

We can’t just read this book to our kids and expect that exposure to be enough (that falls into colorblindness, which, as I said before, I believe we should strive to avoid as parents). We still need to have active, explicit conversations with them about the book and how race is shown. In a future post, I may put together a few examples of how I might use Last stop to stimulate conversations about race with A or other young kids.

I didn’t even get to touch on how disability and blindness is portrayed in the book, which is beautifully done as well! Overall, I would highly recommend the book for any parents or people looking to buy a present for a young child.

Radical self-care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” –Audre Lorde

I’m not feeling inspired this week to write about social justice and parenting. Not sure if my mental energy is being sucked away by work or by the INSANE temper tantrums A has been throwing recently. Dammnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, he has been feeling cranky the last few days. Or he’s just testing his limits. Or he’s going through a developmental spurt. I don’t know, but it is a test of my patience. And a test of my whole ‘are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?’ strategy I put forth a few weeks ago. I want to seriously laugh-out-loud at myself that I called what A was doing then ‘temper tantrums’—they were more like a 30 second whine. Now he screams immediately if I don’t give him what he wants all the time (which I don’t, don’t worry!).

This is actually a perfect segue into what I wanted to talk about this week: how self-care can be an act of radicalism. The image of the ultimate selfless mom who has no time to think about herself is not a healthy one (though I’m sure it feels true sometimes). A few weeks ago, my friend invited me to a self-care workshop for moms. It was a nice 2-and-a-half-hour session, mostly because it was a non-judgmental space of moms recognizing the need for time for themselves. During the workshop, I made a few resolutions to myself about self-care: (1) that I would turn off my screens at 9:30pm every day (not going so hot with that one—it’s currently 9:51 as I’m writing these words), (2) I would hug my husband once a day (seems so obvious that I’m embarrassed to say it) and (3) that I would try floating. One of the other moms in the self-care workshop highly recommended floating (also called sensory deprivation). Essentially, you float in a salt water tub that’s heated to the perfect temperature so that you lose track of your body. The room is pitch dark and completely silent. I did end up trying it recently: one Sunday night right before A’s bedtime, I left him with his dad and went to float in a dark, soundless room (lol). I’m not sure if I’ll do it again, but I’m proud that I made time to try something new, just for myself.

Lorde’s quote is a powerful one. She obviously speaks from an intersectional perspective—her Blackness and her womanhood are wound up together. I’m not sure her quote exactly speaks to me as a White woman (nor should it), but I do believe that any one’s self-care is an important act of social justice. Particularly for parents. Particularly for moms. Not just because it helps us be better moms, but because we deserve that care simply because we are human.

 

Failing as a White person/parent

Last Friday, a few hours after I last posted, Police Officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. The evidence seemed obvious, but yet again, the justice system failed to bring justice to Anthony’s family.

St. Louis activists were immediately on the streets, yet again drawing the nation’s attention to this failure of the criminal justice system. These protesters are doing the real work of nation-building: they are holding this entire country accountable to its most fundamental promise: that all…are created equal.

But I didn’t go. I didn’t go to any protests. I followed the news; I liked Facebook posts; I tried to go to a university-based panel discussion, but A’s naptime overlapped with it. But I didn’t put my body where my mind was–at the protests.

The only reason I have for not going is how the police have been acting towards the protesters. Aggressive, to put it mildly. I was too nervous to bring A to a setting like that. But I know that is a privileged choice to make–many don’t have that choice. I failed this week in my inaction. I don’t want A to be raised inactive.

A’s daycare was shut down on Friday. The teacher that called me to tell me explicitly said, ‘because they just released the Stockley verdict’. I heard other daycares were evacuated, and I know of at least one K-12 school that cancelled after-school activities. There are two possible reasons why his daycare shut down: either because of fear (inconvenience?) of protestors (likely) or out of some sort of respect for the mourning that the city was going through (unlikely). I didn’t try to question the executive director of A’s daycare (who made the decision). Should I?

#Blacklivesmatter