Storytime & annoying AF male characters: Can we talk about how annoying the dad is in Olivia??

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. 410E4S3D33L._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

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.

‘Wishes for my sons’ by Lucille Clifton

‘Wishes for my sons’ by Lucille Clifton (1987)
i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn’t believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

I haven’t read a huge amount of poetry about parenthood, but this is one of my absolute favorites. In fact, it was one of the inspirations for this blog. Late one summer evening in 2017, my dad and I were sitting in my living room. I mentioned that I had been thinking about starting a blog about social justice and parenting. He (someone who actually didn’t raise any sons!) immediately thought of this poem and showed it to me. Lucille Clifton gave words to what it means to raise a feminist son. To raise an empathetic son. To raise a son who understands the anatomy of a body with a different reproductive system than his. To raise a son who does not approach the world with arrogance but with a humble curiosity and humor.

Today, I’m going to let Lucille speak for me. She does it so much better!

The Value of Caregiving

A few days ago, I was reading about ‘the baby penalty’ for women in academic careers. The article talks about how women who have babies early in their university careers are more likely to take second-tier and lower-paying positions (adjuncts or part time teaching positions at universities) or completely leave the academy. The article presents this as something to fix—which, of course, it is.

But what if, instead of approaching this as a problem of why women are pushed away from paying careers, we approach it as a problem of why men are pushed away from caregiving? Instead of ‘women are prioritizing caregiving over careers’, we say ‘men are prioritizing careers over caregiving’? After all, sitting on your deathbed, are you going to say ‘I really wished I worked more on Sundays,’ or are you going to say ‘I wish I spent as much time as possible with my kids’?

Maybe this is semantics, but it was a little thought that kept niggling away in my mind as I read the article. Perhaps because I was the ‘problem’ that this article is trying to address. I am a mother, young in my university career, who finds herself more and more drawn away from a career in a university and more and more towards caregiving (happily).

I’m hesitant to even publish this, because I don’t want to undermine women who do value careers and want to dedicate their time to that. That’s badass and awesome, and women often face enormous struggles when they are dedicated to their careers. I say this coming from a home where my mother was the primary breadwinner and my father was the one waiting for us at home when we got off the bus. He always worked when we were kids, but he also dedicated much of his time to caregiving (Do you agree, mom & dad? Lol—LOVE YOU). I am really proud of that fact.

The point is: caregiving is systemically under-esteemed in our society, and men are pushed away from it because of that. As a traditionally feminine undertaking, caregiving is chronically underpaid and undervalued (think teachers, early childhood educators, nursing home staff, stay-at-home parent etc.). Some may even think that full-time caregiving is not contributing to society (think of criticisms of stay-at-parents—‘what do they even do all day?’).

Despite that, I do believe that having deep, personal, loving connections is the meaning behind this thing called life. And caregiving facilitates that. I feel sad for men that are denied the opportunity to invest their time and emotional energy into caregiving because of the capitalist pull towards paid work. Obviously, there are some practical components to this:

  1. Households need money to survive, and caregiving is either not paid at all or paid very poorly.
  2. Some people don’t actually like caregiving. It’s a grinding at times (though joyful at others).

But still, if A were to call us in 30 years and say he was going to be a stay-at-home parent, I would not only be thrilled for him but proud of him as well.

Working moms

“This brings me to the most important lesson I wished I’d known when I first had kids: There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment”

-(Erin Cochran, 2/22/18 Washington Post)

‘Work-life balance’ seems to be a mantra that everyone uses now, even those without kids. It’s this idea that you need an equilibrium in your life between your work-for-pay and your time away from work-for-pay. Mostly, I hear about how bad most people are at this work-life balance. To complain about how busy and overworked you are is like a currency in our society. Busy-ness (and complaining about busy-ness) proves your importance.

Erin Cochran wrote a piece for the Washington Post the other week about this topic. She essentially argues for the famous Madeline Albright line: women can have it all, just not all at once. As in, you can have a successful career and a happy family—but maybe not at the same time. Cochran quit her high-powered job to stay at home with her kids (though now she runs a small consulting firm, and clearly does at least a little freelance writing as evidenced by this article. Not sure if she still considers herself a stay at home mom or not, but she does identify as it in the article). Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about her main theme. Some days I agree with it—something’s gotta give if you’re going to do anything well. But another part of me is stubborn and wants to not give up on the ideal.

One quote in her article, though, hit close to home: “There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment.” When I was going back to working full-time in my PhD program (after an amazing 6-month maternity leave), I had many hard days. I intentionally and consciously wrote out my list of priorities to get me through those hard days.

My son (and family in general)
My physical and mental health
My job (and within that, professional activities that promote social justice).

When 4pm rolls around some days and I’m irritated that I didn’t finish everything I wanted during daycare hours, I take a deep breath and ask myself: What’s more important—reading this journal article or high quality time with my son? The answer always is—and always will be—my son. I want to pick him up by 4:30 each day so that I had 2.5-3 solid hours of hang out time with him. He is what matters to me. Knowing my priorities is a mindfulness strategy that allowed me cope with the stress of working-for-pay and being a mom.

Now, I don’t think that you are a bad mom or a bad woman if these aren’t your priorities. One of the beauties of living in the era we do is that women should (in theory) be able to set their own priorities. You prefer your career over having a family? Baller. Do it. There might be days in the future when I really don’t want to pick him up from daycare because this project I’m working on is really important and engrossing. They haven’t come yet. In fact, I have found myself less and less content with work, leading to more and more of those random thoughts: ‘maybe I should be a stay at home mom?’. I highly doubt I would every do it for many, many complicated reasons. But on days when my work just straight SUCKS, I fantasize about it…

Storytime & Badass grandmas: Nana in the city by Lauren Castillo

A has two pretty badass grandmas: Nana & Nene (Hi, mom! Hi, mom-in-law!). It’s not super surprising then that he’s starting to get into a new book: Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo.

nana in the city cover.jpg

The book is about a little boy spending a night at his grandma’s apartment in the city. At first, he is scared by everything going on in the city. But when his Nana makes him a red cape, he sees the city through a whole different lens: everything that was scary the day before makes the city thrilling today!

We haven’t done any ‘naming whiteness’ talk while reading the book, but we have looked at the illustrations and found racially, socioeconomically diverse urban settings. The main characters do appear White, but (and?) they are situated in representative urban spaces. The illustrations depict homelessness in respectful fashion. It depicts urban parks, taxi cabs, and street food vendors. It reflects urban life in a realistic and optimistic way. I also appreciate the fact that they are showing a male character who is afraid and intimidated by new things (gotta disrupt that toxic masculinity from the start, ya know). And an older woman living a happy, independent life.

Overall, a sweet and pleasant read! With lots to talk about (particularly in the illustrations) for parents interested in stimulating conversations about social justice with their young kids.

Happy wiping,



Storytime & Poop: Everyone poops by Taro Gomi

New favorite book alert! New favorite book alert! A has a new favorite book, and I’m loving it, too. I’ve done a mini-series on this blog called ‘Storytime & …”: Storytime & avoiding colorblindness, Storytime & decentralizing manhood, and Storytime & naming Whiteness. Well, today, we’re talking about Storytime & Poop.


My husband went to a library book sale (the kind when all of the old books are 25 cents), and came back with Taro Gomi’s Everyone Poops. It’s literally a book about pooping, complete with illustrations of turds hanging out of people’s butts. And animals’ butts. To be fair, I think that’s part of the reason A likes it: there are lots of animals. There are one-hump camels pooping; two-hump camels pooping; gorillas, pigs, pelicans, and bugs pooping. As the book says, “all living things eat, so everyone poops.”


On Thursday morning, as I was reading the book to him (trying to calm him down because he woke up in a FOUL mood), we got to a page when it talked about how “different animals make different kinds of poop. Different shapes, different colors, and even different smells.” At that last part, he wrinkled up his nose and pretended to sniff the book, then he turned and grinned at me. This is one of the things that makes this book great: it teaches A about his body. About how he uses his nose to smells things. About how pooping is natural part of being a human. And ultimately, about how he is a biological creature that has autonomy over his own body. I’m not sure if this is a chicken-egg scenario, but since his obsession with this book started, he’s even started telling us when he’s trying to poop or just pooped. That might just be a coincidence, but it also might not be (every parent thinks their kid is a prodigy, right?? Maybe mine’s a pooping prodigy!).

The author is Japanese and draws characters that are Japanese. I haven’t been explicit about talking about race in this book with A. That’s something I can add into our conversations in the future.

The one social observation I have made to A about this book regards gender (and it’s my only critique of the book). All of the humans in the book are male. They have male genitalia and/or have clear cultural symbols that represent manhood. None of the animals are gendered, but given what we know about the centralizing of manhood, many readers may refer to the animals as male (though maybe that’s not true in Japanese culture). Since we are reading it from an American perspective, though, I want to be very explicit with A: GIRLS POOP, TOO! Here’s an example of something I have said to him while reading this book:

That little boy is pooping. All the people in this book are boys actually. But girls poop, too! Mommy poops sometimes.


Happy wiping (and pooping?),


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.


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.


Storytime and Decentralizing manhood: Tubby, pt. 2

A has moved on from his Tubby obsession since I wrote the first blog post about the book, but I still wanted to revisit it. Last post, I talked about Tubby and whiteness. Today, I want to use Tubby to talk about decentralizing & redefining boyhood/manhood.

Tubby never implies a gender of the baby protagonist in either the words or pictures. I find myself really intentionally using the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ in reference to the baby, though I admit one of the first times I read it (of thousands at this point), I realized I had been referring to the baby as a ‘he.’ It’s not uncommon in American society for gender-neutral characters/things/animals to be assigned ‘he’ as a pronoun. There’s an awesome (and free) zoo near where we live, and I often hear parents referring to almost every animal (without obvious genitalia, lol) as a ‘he.’ De-normalizing boy/man as the assumed gender is one thing I try to be conscious of in my day-to-day interactions with A.

I am human, of course. Sometimes, I’m sure I assume ‘he’ when I’m super busy or feeling really tired. We haven’t completely abandoned gender in raising A, particularly in how we dress him, though I do try to push back at hyper-normativity whenever I can. Trucks and dinosaurs are great, but so are dolls and art and play-cleaning (he’s currently obsessed with a vacuums and brooms and all things cleaning) and science and nature and all sorts of things. Blue and red are great colors, but so are pink and green and purple and orange.

My mentality is that the world is going to smother him with trucks/dinosaurs/blue/red so much already that I don’t need to encourage it anymore. He will get those messages from school, media, people on the street. I can use our home to encourage him to be interested in things (often stereotypically feminine) that the world won’t push on him.

Using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun when reading books or encouraging non-normative interests are small ways of decentralizing and redefining boyhood/manhood. It happens during storytime with books like Tubby. It happens when I’m buying him new kid silverware, and I pick the green & purple unicorn-themed fork. It happens in all sorts of mundane, tiny moments of parenting.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start.