I did it! One year ago, on my son’s first birthday, I set a goal for myself: I would write one blog post a week for the next year. I would focus on how mundane parenting moments can be used to promote social justice. I strayed a little from that original mission: instead of just focusing on the mundane moments (like diaper changes and bedtimes), I also included so big, important parenting moments like choosing a name and giving birth. Regardless, this goal forced me to take 30-60 minutes a week to sit and think consciously and write critically about parenting with privilege. I made it a blog, because the public nature of blogs held me accountable to my goal. My parenting journey is uniquely privileged, so I don’t claim to speak to every parent out there. There are definitely moments during this blog process where I felt insecure—like I wasn’t digging deep enough or assessing myself critically enough. There are other moments that I’m proud of—like when I opened up about my miscarriages or committed our family to individual reparations.
If I’m being totally transparent, one of the reasons I started this blog is because I was in a really low point in my professional life. I was in the middle of writing a dissertation, feeling a little bit lost and hopeless. And I found myself more and more happy when I was actively engaging in parenting moments. But so much of my identity as a privileged person who cares about social justice was wrapped up in my professional identity. So, when I thought about changing my priorities from career to family, I was worried I would lose that identity of someone who cares about social justice. I started this blog as a thought experiment to see how I could maintain that identity and prioritize parenting. In the last year, I’ve realized that I still love my career (and that a dissertation is a short phase of a career in research), so the identity threat no longer persists. But my absolute love and respect for caregiving and parenting persists.
Throughout this year, I discovered I loved parenting and thinking about parenting more than I thought I could. One of the blog posts that I am most proud of is about the value of caregiving. Not necessarily because its particularly well-written, but because I believe it so strongly. I’ve gotten a bit soap-box about the issue honestly. I started off this blog by asking, Can wiping butts be woke? And I think I’ve discovered that yes, it absolutely can be. Caregiving itself (including butt wiping) is radical and when you add on top of that certain mentalities and practices, wiping shit off your kids butt can be an act of social justice.
Thank you so much to all the individuals who have checked in with the blog every once and a while throughout the last year. Though ultimately, I am writing this blog for myself and my family, knowing there were at least a few of you reading kept me accountable and made me want to do my best. I’m not quite sure how I will move forward with this blog. My professional life will be very busy starting in August, so I am hesitant to commit to weekly blog posts for the next year. I encourage you to sign up with your email in the sidebar, so that when I post (perhaps biweekly, perhaps sporadically) over the next year, the blog post will be emailed directly to your inbox. This anniversary post isn’t my last sign-off (I might even post next week! The mystery is what will make this fun…), but it does mark me accomplishing my goal of blogging for one year. And that feels great!
Thanks so much, and happy wiping–
If you’ve perused any children’s library in the last fifteen years, you’ve probably come across Olivia by Ian Falconer. It’s a hugely popular, award-winning book series. A has two copies of the original book, a copy of another from the series, and has gotten multiple other books from the series out of our local library. The original book is undeniably charming—the illustrations are minimal, and Olivia herself is a strong, feminist character. She’s opinionated and passionate and willing to try new things. I’m glad A enjoys reading such a strong, female character.
As I’ve read the series over and over and over and over and over for the last year or so, I have come to a realization: Olivia’s dad is so god DAMN annoying. In the original book, he’s pretty much absent. Olivia’s mom does all of the care-taking. I think he is mentioned once. Fine, whatever. I can get over that. BUT, in other books in the series, he is present and actively annoying. He sits and reads the newspaper while Olivia’s mom is feeding the baby. He undermines things Olivia’s mom said (all of this in just Olivia… and the Missing Toy). He just generally doesn’t engage in care-taking or with his children in any of the books that we’ve read from the series. Can a book count as feminist if the dad is that annoying? I’ve written before about how society devalues care-taking—this is one of the books that proves my point.
We’ve continued to read the Olivia series in our house, for sure, but not without problematizing it for A. For example, I sometimes say:
“This picture shows Olivia’s mom helping the baby and Olivia’s dad reading a newspaper. Sometimes that happens in our house, but sometimes Baba helps you and I read.”
The parents in the books are just so normative in gender roles that it is hard to ignore. There may be other points in the series when Falconer does try to disrupt gender stereotypes (we haven’t read the whole series, to be fair), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Olivia’s dad is still the most annnoyinnnngggg. Books can be charming and good in some ways, but not great in others. The Olivia series is a perfect example of that.
P.S. This reflection doesn’t even touch on class-based analysis of Olivia: the family goes on vacations to Italy, not to mention the Ballet and art museums in NYC. I was worried when I wrote this reflection that it was prioritizing a white feminist lens, rather than an intersectional feminist one. I need to reflect more on making this review more intersectional.
Over the last month, I’ve had two posts dedicated to reducing plastic use in our household. I’ve got one more for ya—but this will be the last for a while (seriously, keep reading to find out why).
One of the motherhood bloggers I follow (@mamademics) recently posted on Instagram how she pissed off a bunch of White women when she said she didn’t want to ban plastic straws. I admit, I felt a little ashamed—was I one of those White women that was focusing so much on plastic as a way to feel like I did something social justice-y rather than focus on the more challenging issues like Black and Brown individuals being murdered by the police? By poisoned water in Flint? By the lack of employment opportunities that give any capacity to sustain a family? On top of that, @mamademics linked an article that talked about how plastic straws are very crucial for some disabled people to be able to drink. The author of the article talks about moving to an ‘opt-in’ system (no one gets plastic straws unless they specifically request) instead of a total ban. @Mamademics’s post was a two-fer: calling out an excessive focus on plastic straws at the expense of racial justice AND the able-bodied privilege unrecognized . She’s awesome—go click on all the ads on her page to get her some of that money.
If I’m being fair to myself (should I defend myself? Is that the typical white feminist defensiveness we see everywhere else?), I’m not focusing on banning plastic straws. I never focused on straws or a total ban, though I do talk about single-use plastic and one of those is plastic straws. I do think reducing waste is an important activity, as does @mamademics (it seems—I don’t want to talk for her). But I didn’t contextualize my blog posts in how my privilege shapes my ability to reduce our plastic use. This blog is written by a privileged mother, so almost all of its content focuses on how to channel that privilege towards socially just ends. Part of that means I need to be explicit about when my privilege is shaping my actions—like my focus on reducing single-use plastic.
Also, if I’m being honest, it did feel good to be able to focus on plastic and give myself a day’s pass on thinking about the torture and death of Black and Brown babies. I’m embarrassed to say it but it’s true. And I thank @mamademics for doing that emotional labor to educate me (I went to her page and pay-paled her a donation to thank her #paywomenofcolorfortheirlabor).
So, yes I am going to continue to reduce our plastic use as a family. I’m going to continue to get excited when corporations and nations talk seriously about how to reduce single-use plastic (as long as its not at the expense of access for individuals who are disabled). But I do not judge those who do not have the emotional energy or financial resources dedicated to the same goals that I have. And I will not let these plastic-reducing activities distract me from racial justice issues.
Last month, I made a modest goal to reduce single-use plastic in our grocery shopping/food habits and in our bathroom habits. I’ve successfully stopped using most plastic bags & produce bags, tried to find produce that is not wrapped in plastics, etc. I even shopped at the farmers’ market (since farmers’ markets tend to have less plastic wrapping than grocery stores), though the one near our house is so damn expensive it’s hard to commit to shopping there long-term. I also made a goal of reduced bathroom plastic, and while I haven’t needed to repurchase anything for A or myself yet, I have chosen where I will buy my next package-free options (LUSH seems to have what I need, honestly).
As we transition to plastic-reduced lives, I think we need to put a lot of conscious thought and energy into it. Once living plastic-reduced/plastic-free becomes a habit, it can fade into the background and not require so much thought and planning. But right now, during the transition, it should. And the goals I set last month have already faded into the background, so I think it’s time for the next push. Once something gets easy, it’s time to make it hard again. This month, I’m doing that through ‘no-buy July.’
My husband and I have committed to ‘no-buy July’, where we limit our frivolous spending (obviously necessities are allowed, but no extra toys/clothes/eating out, etc.). Trying these two big goals (plastic-reduced and no-buy July) at the same time may seem like I’m spreading myself too thin, but in reality, they are mutually supportive. When you don’t buy as much, you don’t use as much single-use plastic. Funny how that works. Consumerism is the motivation behind single-use plastic. So reducing consumerist tendencies reduces our plastic use. There are other benefits to no-buy July as well (I hope! Only six days in at this point…), but even reducing our eating out means that we are less likely to get takeaway and therefore less likely to use plastic utensils and to-go food containers.
It’s difficult to live plastic-reduced as a parent. We’re tired and don’t always have the energy to do the slightly harder (but less-plastic) option. We feel poorer and don’t always want to buy the slightly more expensive (but less-plastic) option. We’re marketed to like crazy, which means we buy toys/clothes/convenience food wrapped in plastic. That’s why our family has chosen to set incremental goals, instead of going cold turkey. It makes a radical lifestyle change something that seems doable. A isn’t old enough to talk about plastic-reduced living yet, but I hope he sees the precedent we are trying to set for him. We are doing it imperfectly but trying nonetheless!