26 September 2007

Solo Parenting

Tomorrow, we leave for DC. J was invited to attend a conference for a grant he won, and Little Man and I will be having some solo fun in the city.

I'm excited, because I love D.C.-- it's my favorite American city, by far. We spent a lot of time there back in 2001 when J was working for AmeriCorp and I was living in State College. Every other weekend or so, I'd drive the 3 hours to visit him, and we'd go out and explore. It always feels, in some strange way, like coming home when we visit. I love everything about the city--except maybe its most famous resident. I love the food, and the national mall, and the low buildings and wide avenues. It reminds me of Europe in a way. New York's towering height can be breathtaking and exhilarating, but I've always felt like D.C. was a city I'd be able to live in and feel at home.

But this weekend will really be my first effort at solo parenting, and I'm a bit terrified. J and I have always shared the Little Man duties about as equally as a couple comprised of two people--only one of which produces milk--could share them. The first summer he was on the outside, I would spend three hours each afternoon along with him, but I've never had to do a 12 hour stint without some sort of back-up.

I'm glad we're going somewhere familiar to me, but the idea of 12 hours without J's tag-team assists makes me nervous. I'm not the most patient person in the world. But I've got a whole bunch of places and activities to go--the zoo, the mall, some fun indoor playground over by the Capital. It should be fun... right?

Wish me luck. I'll post pics and stories when we get back.

Bush for Hillary '08?

Reports have come out that in Bill Sammon's upcoming book, The Evangelical President, Bush predicts that Hillary is a shoe-in for the nomination. I don't want to put too much stock in what our xx leader has to say--he's been wrong before, after all. But the issue of Hillary's viability as a candidate is interesting for me.

You see, I'm not sold. I wish that I were, but I'm not.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is absolutely convinced--but not because of Hillary's politics. For my second-wave, march-on-Washington, hold-an-undying-grudge-against-Phyllis- Schafly MIL, Hillary's campaign is the dream of Geraldine Ferraro revived and made real once again. For her, the opportunity for a woman to hold the highest office in the land trumps any voting record or political past. It's the feminist dream of the 1970s come to fruition.

I want to sympathize with that sentiment. I want to see a woman in the White House doing something more than hosting a polite gathering of tea cups. I want to believe that a woman could do an even better job than a man. I want to believe that Sally Fields is right-- "if women ran the world there would be no God damn wars in the first place." But I know that it's too reductive. And as much as I have the impulse to second those sentiments, I know that they actually continue and preserve the stereotypes that keep women making, on average,only 81% of what men make for the same jobs.

I want to like Hillary. I want the vote I cast for her--if it comes to that--to be one I'm excited about making. The problem is, she keeps giving me reasons to doubt. I watched her interview with Tim Russert last Sunday on Meet the Press hoping that she could give me a reason to change my mind. It didn't happen. I keep waiting, but it doesn't happen.

Here's my problem-- I get irritated by one issue voters. I hate that the last election was most likely decided because people were voting pro-choice and anti-gay. I hate that people can actually buy into Bush's rhetoric about a culture of life when he's pro- death penalty and instigated what seems to be a hellish and un-winnable war. It simplifies the issue too much. I think the reason politics have become so dichotomized in recent years is because Americans tend to cling to one-issue campaigns and fail to examine the complexities of each issue. We don't like complexity. We live in the echo-chamber, listening only to the opinions that please us. And that's dangerous, I think, for democracy in general. But still, I can't get over Hillary's vote for going to war, her continued (until recently) support for that war, and her reluctance to admit the mistake of those votes. I don't want to be a one issue voter, but I feel like I am with her.

I want a woman in the White House, but I also want the right person in the White House. We've had the wrong person for seven years now.

I do think it's interesting, though, that Bush himself thinks that she's the one that has a shot. He doesn't predict victory for the Democrats, but, like I said, he's been wrong about stuff before.

21 September 2007

The One about Boobs

Certain boobs are at work once again making it a rough couple of weeks for boobs everywhere.

Recently, Facebook decided to remove pictures that women post of themselves nursing. Apparently, it is a breech of their decency policies. Then, a Harvard medical student was denied the ability to take a long enough break during her board examine to pump for her child. And my favorite, Bill Maher has likened breastfeeding to masturbation. There are numerous other blog responses to his apparent idiocy, so I thought I'd put in my two sense.

Basically, Maher says that it's true that breastfeeding is natural, but no more natural than masturbation--and he doesn't do that at Applebee's (although I have my doubts). The whole nursing in public, for Maher, comes down to poor planning, laziness, and a streak of exhibitionism. Women apparently don't plan ahead to feed their babies out of eye-sight, are too lazy to cover up, and want to be recognized and applauded for having a child in the first place, something that Maher says "even a dog can do."

There's a lot to be upset about with Maher's comments, not the least of which is the applause and laughter each witty little quip receives by both his audience and his guests. But I also understand where he's coming from.

When I decided to nurse Little Man, it was one of the easiest and hardest decision I ever made. I read all of the information I could get my hands on, so I knew that breast milk was best for babies. I knew all about the health benefits it could have for him and for me both. It was really only that knowledge and the desire to do everything I could for my new baby, to give him the best start I could, that kept me going. Because any mother out there who's tried it knows that it's not easy--and at first it's downright stressful, hard, and often painful.

I didn't grow up around anyone nursing. Apparently one of my aunts nursed her kids, but she must have been so stealthy, so private that I never realized what was happening. To be honest, the idea of nursing freaked me out. It seemed odd, unnatural. I'd look at the La Leche League website and wonder why people would take pictures of women nursing their children. They seemed too intimate, too provocative to be happily floating around cyberspace. I watched the video about how to latch the baby on at the class I attended and vowed that no nurse was going to help hold my boob up for me. I thought that I would probably just pump and bottle feed. Bottles were all I new of babies; bottles seemed most natural to me.

And then Little Man arrived and all of my grand plans went right out the window. Ten hours after his birth, two nurses and J were all trying to help me get him latched on. I was too worried to be weirded out by it--my baby needed to eat. I learned that there was nothing remotely convenient about pumping. I cringed the first time I saw my Mother-in-law giving a bottle to my baby. Sure, it let me take a little extra nap, but that was my job. It seemed, suddenly, so unnatural to see someone hold that cold piece of plastic up to the little mouth that now knew so instinctively how to search out warm flesh.

It still took awhile for me to nurse in public, though. I would retreat back into my bedroom when people visited, and sit alone while Little Man got his fill. I would nurse in the car, in fitting rooms, in that lovely nursing room at our local mall. And then, when he was about 3 months old, we took a trip down south. Somewhere in Oxford, MS outside of the square that Faulkner immortalized in The Sound and the Fury, he was hungry and it was too hot to sit in any car to feed him. So the first place I ever nursed in public was a small, upscale pizzeria in Oxford, MS. I was as discreet as possible, but I was still worried that people were looking, and judging.

After that, nursing in public and in front of family and friends got easier. I nursed anywhere he needed to eat--at a winery in Ashtabula, in a steakhouse in NY City, in parks, and in malls. If people were offended, they never said anything, and after my initial experience, I stopped caring.

Nursing was something I had to grow into. It wasn't easy. It didn't seem natural. And, it does entail a certain loss of self. You have to give up part of yourself to another human being and you have to give up your original ideas about how you are connected to your body, and how your body is connected to the world.

At some point around the time Little Man was about 5 months old, I knew the transformation was complete, because suddenly I wanted one of those pictures. I wanted to be able to remember someday what it was like to have that bond with my son. I'm not sure that J understood, but he obliged. It's a somewhat blurry image--you can't really see much, because we're silhouetted by the lamp. When Little Man sees it someday, he probably won't even realize what it's a picture of, but I will. And I'm happy to have it.

So I can understand Maher's reluctance to accept nursing as something that is publicly acceptable, but that doesn't really quell my anger. The problem with his logic is that while dogs also give birth, no one sees them as any less valuable for it. No one tells Spanky to go nurse her pups in some dark corner or some dirty bathroom. Heck, Spanky can lick any part of herself, and no one bats an eye. No one expects any less of a dog than to do what's natural--to feed her offspring, but when it comes to humans, the boobs are already owned by others. That's why, as Maher says, the only restaurant boobs belong in is Hooters. They're safe there--happily on display. A luxury rather than a necessity.

Nursing is hard. The decision to do it is often difficult, and the act itself is a challenge every moment of every day. These sorts of decisions, to make it into something offensive or dirty do such a disservice to women, but also to children. Breastmilk is better than formula--that's why all of the formula companies claim that their product is close to approximating it. But our children won't have the opportunity to get it as long as nationally known figures keep condemning nursing as something sexual and dirty.

Maher sees the whole nursing public issue as one indication of how far awry activism has gone in our country. For him, it's pointless and narcissistic activism to be a lactivist. He won't ever realize just how wrong he is. The impulse to lash out against nursing mothers is the same impulse that underlies so many issues that affect women. It's the impulse to tell women how their bodies are allowed to be displayed, to be used, to be controlled.

Maher's right-- nursing is dangerous. It lets women see power within their bodies. It lets women realize their own strength. It de-sexualizes the breast and takes it off the market. It undermines every reason that Hooters exists. Nursing is most certainly a personal decision and it is an intimate act, but that doesn't make it one unfit for the public sphere.

Little Man has long since weaned. It happened quickly, with little fanfare. Now, when I see a mother nursing, my heart leaps a bit, because I remember that bond and because I now realize how fast it all goes. And I also know that the more women make the decision and commitment to nurse, the more irrelevant Maher and his type will be.

Once, when I was sitting at my grandma's kitchen table, talking with her, and nursing, she asked, "It's just special, isn't it?" "Yep," I replied. Because, really, that was the only word for it.

19 September 2007

The one about Poo

Yup, that's right. Poo.

Lately Little Man has started recognizing that he poops. I know, everybody poops, but Little Man is not yet 1 1/2. I didn't know kids could start recognizing it that early. It's probably my fault. Since he was born, every time he would stop and stare, and then do a little shake, as though he had the chills, I knew that Papa would have a present just waiting for him. Recently, I started asking him, "Are you poopin'?" when he did it, and apparently, he caught on.

J and I thought that this could only be a good thing. Long gone are the days of dainty little newborn poops that barely smelled. Nope. Now apparently my child has the bowels of a 40 year old man. Getting him to potty train sooner is definitely better than later in our book.

We decided to capitalize on Little Man's new discovery by showing him how to put the "poo-poo" in the "potty." Basically, this consists of us dumping the contents of his diaper into the toilet. He loves it. He loves that it disappears when you flush. He loves that he gets to wash his hands in the sink afterward. Poo-poo in the potty is a good time.

Maybe too much of a good time.

Now, I think he mostly wants the potty to do its magic. Even without producing a poop of any kind, he will take my hand, drag me into the bathroom, and demand that the "poo" go into the "pah." I dutifully take off his diaper to show them that there's nothing there, but that doesn't appease him. He wants me to throw the whole thing in. What a plumbing nitemare that would be-- ultra-absorbent baby diaper clogs local sewer system. I can see the headlines now.

So apparently, I 'm in that part of parenthood. The part where you start saying things like "did you put the poo-poo in the potty?" and then blogging about it later.



Chapter 2- check.

Well, at least a draft is done. Fifty pages plus notes. Most of it makes sense, and some of it might be pretty good.

But it's DONE!

17 September 2007

The Oldest Rant in the World. Tribute.

This morning, while taking a break from grading the mountain of papers sitting in front of me, I was reading a blog that belongs to a friend of mine at Nowhere U. Said friend said that she has recently realized that maybe she dresses too provocatively and despite her attempts to un-hooch-ify her wardrobe, she realized that she inadvertently fell of the modesty wagon when she noticed people looking at her in the hallways. Most of the "neckline-gawkers" were women in the department, and when she finally asked one if the shirt was too low-cut, the gawker couldn't tell her no.

Let me back it up a minute and say that among most grad students and many professors in our department the dress code seems to be just (barely) on the better side of casual. Said friend, however, always always looks professional and...well...fabulous. The girl has the wardrobe that I usually imagine myself having if I put enough effort into getting dressed in the morning to think about a wardrobe.

But the neckline-gawkers (her words, not mine) irritate me to no end. It reminds me of the first time I went back to the building when I was "showing." It was just after the New Year and I hadn't seen anyone in almost a month. Every single person I met in the hall seemed absolutely shocked at my burgeoning bump. Only one said congratulations. Most simply said hello or attempted to carry on a short conversation while ignoring it, their eyes unconsciously lolling on my protruding belly. It must be what well-endowed women go through at bars. The oogling, the judgment. I realized then that bodies do matter--they change people's perceptions of who you are and what you are capable of. There are more than a few people in the department who seem different to me now. More than a few people who only say a brief hello instead of updating me on the latest gossip about their progress or advisers.

I knew all of this coming in. We planned Little Man so that we could have kids while the old clock is still young and far before I had to sit in an interview in front of judging eyes. I've heard stories about a brilliant up-and-coming young scholar with two books out who still couldn't get a job for almost 4 years. Why? Because she was gorgeous and knew it. She wore short skirts with funky boots and vibrant lipstick. Even dressed in a black suit, she couldn't hide that she was pretty. No one, for a long time, took her seriously. Even with two books out of grad school.

So my friend's experience walking down the hall in our building makes me angry. We women are our own worst enemies. We judge and pick and belittle--and usually we use the most superficial aspects we can get our claws into. We forget that feminism doesn't mean we change the list of requirements a "real" woman must meet to be a legitimate person. We forget that feminism was supposed to give us that choice.

It makes me angry because I see this tendency in my students, colleagues, and friends all the time. People will act surprised and tell me how lucky I am that J does the dishes without being asked or "helps" with the baby so much. They're his dishes. It's his baby. It's not helping. My students still tell me that they couldn't vote for a woman for president because "women are too emotional," as though we still teach biology out of 19th century textbooks. Newspapers have a field day when Hillary shows the tiniest amount of cleavage. As though that counts as news when hundreds die each day in a war we created. But there's smaller things--I want a job, so I delay a second baby past the job market. No one, I know instinctively, will hire a brand new PhD who is due in 5 months. They may not even hire the mother of a 3 year old. I worry about not being taken seriously when people discover that I'm a mother as well.

It's frustrating. In the 21st century it's still frustrating, and the neckline-gawkers are just one symptom of the whole problem.

So what if I have a child or want another? So what if I consider myself a wife rather than a partner? So what if I make dinner--he cleans the dishes. Fair is fair in my house, and I can only hope to raise a son who understands that women
bake pies from scratch or
wear lipstick and heels or
want to have babies or
want to not have babies
and she might
want to be married to the right partner--whoever that is or
want to be single forever and
she might
listen to the Indigo Girls or
listen to Metallica
and she might
not shave a hair on her body or
want laser hair removal the instant she can afford it and
she might
think that her fight is over or
think that there's no fight left or
think that it's only begun
and she might
be any number of things
including beautiful or fabulous or frumpy or ugly

and that doesn't change what she should be capable of doing.

Damn. People who work in departments where feminist theory and queer theory and body theory are all legitimate courses of study should know better than to judge a collegue by the way she chooses to show or hide her rack. Enviable as it might be.

14 September 2007

Random Good Things

MGM over at Diss Dat and Diapers recently wrote a list of random bullets about the early semester. Since I have a bunch of random stuff on my mind, I thought I'd shamelessly copy.
  • Today J and I interviewed potential babysitters for Little Man. Yay! He goes to daycare on the weekdays, but we haven't had a real date night in the 17 months that he's been on the outside. We talked to three very nice undergrads, and although it was ridiculously difficult to decide between them, I think we have a winner. This means that in the next week or two we might actually get a grown-ups night out.
  • Which is good. Because I've wanted to go to the local Beer and Chili Festival for the last two years, but first I was pregnant and then I had a baby. Maybe this year....
  • Finally finished the wreath I was planning on making. The pictures don't really do it justice:

  • I love fall. Love it. Love it. LOVE IT. I love the crispness of the evenings and the way the leaves are starting to crunch. I love going to the local orchard and getting an apple cider donut on the weekends. I love that Little Man is going to get to pick out his own pumpkin this year and he's going to get to help carve it. I love that it's starting to be pumpkin pie season, and I just so happen to have an extra homemade pie crust in my freezer right now. I absolutely love fall.
  • I hate our local electric company. Sure, they sent us a nice rebate check for upping our power rates, but our electric has gone out THREE times in the last month. BOOM- some transformer or something keeps blowing out in the back of our house. Two of the times, Little Man has been in the bathtub when everything went black. Once, it was still literally 90 degrees at 9:00pm. I have things to do at night. I can't sit around mooning over the day by candlelight.
  • I was not looking forward to teaching Rhet this semester, but my class is actually fairly amusing. I have them all Blogging right now as one of their writing assignments, and it's going pretty well. It's amazing how well students can express themselves when they don't think there is someone to impress. Plus, I'm enjoying seeing more of who they are.
  • I finally changed my myspace profile a bit. Originally, under occupation I said "perennial grad student." As part of my new effort to transform myself into someone that someone else might hire, I thought that I needed to update that a bit. At the very least, I think I've finally gotten to the point where that doesn't define me anymore. I've been working too hard lately, and enjoying the work too much, to not recognize that I'm something more than just a student now. It now reads "Scholar, Mother, Lit/ Writing Instructor." It may still change, I dunno. But I feel like that's how I want to be described right now--at least professionally. Ok, maybe not the mother part, but damn, that's definitely a full time job even when your kid goes to daycare. I just don't feel like I want to be or that I am a student anymore. The whole dissertation thing is plugging right along, and for the last month the work has been more enjoyable than painful. I think I've finally gotten to the place where I can see myself as a professional.
Ok- enough for now. I'm off to find some apple cider.

12 September 2007

09 September 2007

It's enough to make you believe in ghosts....

Earlier, I wrote about some of the projects I started in my attempt to make myself a more well rounded person (i.e., not simply an intellectual dork, but an intellectual dork covered in glitter and sporting a brand new hot glue burn.) I haven't made much progress yet, unless you count waking the spirits.

The decision to cut up my grandmother's dress wasn't an easy one. She died rather unexpectedly when I was only about 17 months old, so I only knew her through the things she was associated with. Because my otherwise curmudgeonly grandfather saw her as a saint, his house was a shrine of sorts. Literally, nothing was moved after she died. For thirteen years, the same plastic covered the windows that she had put up the winter she died. For thirteen years, the knickknacks sat in the exact same and went undusted. A candle burned under her picture above the fireplace, and a plate was always set at her place at the table. When my grandfather died (I was in 8th grade), all of her clothes were still in her closet and none of her make-up or perfume had been touched.

When I was younger, I used to relish the very rare times when my grandfather would allow us to venture upstairs and I would get to look at her bridal crown and her wedding gown. I thought that maybe I would wear her dress some day- it seemed to me everything a bridal gown should be. It was a simple ball gown, ivory satin with a row of tiny buttons up the bodice. After my grandfather died, I finally got to try on the dress. I was only 12 or 13 at the time, but I got stuck in it. I realized then that I would never wear the dress. But we had it cleaned and preserved, boxed it up, and put it into storage.

I never got around to making anything for Little Man's baptism, but I wanted to do something for Mo.

I started by ripping the dress apart. It wasn't too difficult, because the threads were so old, they pretty much dissolved without much effort. The dress had a funny smell-- I thought from either the cedar chest it was originally stored in or from the dry cleaning. It wasn't silk, so I tossed the pieces of the skirt into the washing machine.

Nothing really could have prepared me for what happened when that material got wet. You see my grandfather was a cigar and pipe smoker. Big, fat, nasty old cigars. We would go visit him once a week and come home reeking. Blech. Now when I put the pieces of satin into the washing machine there was no trace of smoke in them. Once they went through a wash cycle, my entire kitchen (that's where the laundry closet is) smelled like cigar smoke. The pieces of fabric smelled like cigar smoke. My hands after touching them smelled like cigar smoke. It was as though my grandfather, pissed that someone had disturbed something that was his, came back with a vengeance. I washed them in cold. I washed the fabric in hot. In all, I must have done at least 10 wash and/or rinse cycles. And the fabric still faintly smelled of smoke.

I was kind of panicking. Here I had already destroyed the dress and if it reeked of cigar smoke, there was no way I could make it into a blanket for a baby. I finally gave up and put the pieces out on the line to air out in the sun. When they were dry I couldn't smell the smoke anymore. Strange.

My grandfather wasn't exactly the warm and snuggly type. He was actually more of the gruff and downright scary type. I can imagine he'd be pissed that I tore up the dress. It didn't matter that he was mostly nasty to her while she was alive. I have this bad feeling that he wouldn't be happy that the dress is now in pieces in my living room.

My mom always said that she didn't believe in ghosts, but knew that if she ever moved into his house he'd find a way to come back and haunt her.

I think she just may have been right.


I've always harbored this secret idea that I was crafty. Not artistic, mind you-- that takes another whole level of talent. I'm no Martha Stewart, but slapping together a wreath or heat-and-bonding some curtains, not a problem.

Lately I've been thinking that I needed to do something more creative. I realized this when I was looking at one of those silly surveys and it asked what my hobbies were. Hobbies?? What hobbies. My hobby used to be reading, but now that's what I do for a living. When I was younger, I danced, but those days are long over. I realized that I have no hobby--nothing that interests me outside of work. So, I decided to change.

I think I went a little overboard.

Project 1- Fall Wreath- I've wanted to make a new wreath for our front door for about 6 months now, but all of the silk sunflowers looked to cheesey. Enter fall decorations and voila--I bought myself some fixin's for a wreath. I'll post pics when it's all finished.

Project 2- Transform Little Man into Fat Elvis for Halloween- Sure, anyone can make their little one into an adorable woodland creature, but I wanted to make him something he'll look back and cringe with wonder at. Now here's the catch-- the only thing I've really ever sewed all by my lonesome were some pillow covers. And that took me two days. I'm convinced, however, that I can sew him a halloween costume completely from scratch. I have the white polyester fabric all cut. It took me the better part of three hours, but sitting in my kitchen is one disassembled white jumpsuit. I even got the sewing machine "fixed" (I say fixed with scare quotes, because there wasn't anything wrong with it. I just had to clean off the lint.) All that's left is to figure out how to thread the machine--it's a beauty- a 1950-something dusty-coral Singer. Then I need to put together the jumpsuit (which is really a Raggedy Andy pattern) and transform it into Fat Elvis. Complete with stuffing. It will be a thing of beauty.

or it will be a complete failure and J will never let me live it down.

Project 3: The Baptismal Quilt- When Little Man was born, I wanted to make some sort of heirloom something or other out of my grandmother's wedding dress, but I never got around to it, but Middle-bro and SIL asked J and I to be godparents to little Mo. What could be a better excuse.

At first, I thought I'd find someone to transform the gown for me. Then I went to Jo-Ann's and convinced myself that I was capable of quilting. Me--who has never sewn anything but a pillow cover decided that I would make, nay, quilt a baptismal blanket.

So there you have it-- I've gone absolutely delusional and have started three separate projects all at once. I'll have updates coming up soon-- complete with pictures

01 September 2007

Little Arms

It's 1:45 am. I usually avoid caffeine, but today I had so much that I couldn't sleep. For the last two hours I've been working on grading papers for the big lecture I TA for.

Just a few minutes ago, Little Man woke up--or almost woke up. He must have bad dreams, or stand up without meaning to, something. Anyway, he called for me. When I went into his dark room, my eyes were too used to the glow of the computer screen to see him. But I leaned over the crib and he wrapped his soft little arms around my neck and squeezed.

What a lovely ending to a lovely birthday.