Modifying Lullabies

She's holding it...

Look, a man holding a baby! (Photo credit: BenSpark)

I know it’s not the best blogging etiquette to apologize for not posting. But, I’m going to do it anyway. You see, back in September, I started working on the story of my daughter’s birthing, thinking it would be easy to write. It wasn’t, and I’ve been working on it ever since. Her first birthday is in two weeks, so I’m hoping to have it finished by then, but I’m not sure it will be. In the mean time, I’ve been thinking about this blog and how it functions in my life and as a meaningful force in the world. I recently took a personal development class that helped me think about my definition of success.

Enter, bedtime.

I sometimes sing my daughter to sleep. I sing several songs, but the one I am thinking of is “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” The Lyrics:

Sleep, baby, sleep
Your father tends the sheep
Your mother shakes the dreamland tree
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee
Sleep, baby, sleep

And so I began to think about the message this sent. Daddy works, mommy cares for you. I am more worried about the message it sends that daddy doesn’t care for baby girl than the idea that mommy doesn’t work. So I sing this, too:

Sleep, baby, sleep
Your momma tends the sheep
Your papa shakes the dreamland tree
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee
Sleep, baby, sleep

I know it isn’t much. But I want my daughter to grow up knowing that daddies take care of babies, too.

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Actual Risk versus Social Risk

Breastfeeding symbol

Image via Wikipedia

I posted a link to a book review to my Facebook wall, because I was really interested in the underlying thesis of the book, as explained by the reviewer. I haven’t really the book, but I’ve atleast read the review – and the argument was about what the author calls “neoliberal risk culture,” or the conflation of actual risk and social risk. Unfortunately, the example that was used by the author to illustrate her point was one of the most contentious of motherhood debates: bottle versus breast.

The actual risk of feeding your child formula, or the risk of not breastfeeding, is quite small. According to the review, the risk of not breastfeeding is a few upset stomachs. However, the social risk of not breastfeeding (at least amongst middle class women) is high — because of all the propaganda surrounding breast feeding, the decision of bottle feeding without trying to breastfeed is the social equivalent of saying that you’re not doing everything you can to make your baby smarter… and everything else that breastfeeding claims.

Bottle feeding does not carry real risk — rare is the baby in danger because they are bottle fed. That baby would have to have some severe allergies. But in an age of New Momism, the social risk is immense. So immense that women are pressured into trying breastfeeding when it might be better for them to bottle feed — and women who want to breastfeed feel guilty when medication, mental health, etc., prevent them from continuing.

The conflation of small actual risk into large social risk does a huge disservice to mothers, especially, and also society as a whole.

Another example for mothers is bedsharing versus co-sleeping versus nurseries. Bedsharing is considered the most risky, co-sleeping a nice middle ground (if you must have your child close), and a nursery the most safe. However, a close reading of the studies shows that the rates of SIDS is probably equal, and the cost benefits extremely personal, much like breast versus bottle.

I am a bedsharer. There, I said it. Socially, the sleeping arrangement that allows my family to get the most sleep, it’s the most risky. Common perception suggests that I am willingly risking my baby’s life for convenience, even though it was a decision I researched before making. Trust me, I do not lazily risk my daughter’s life.

I’m trying to think of a non parenting example — something where there is a small risk, but a large social backlash. Smoking is probably one, considering how much government propaganda surrounds not smoking. My occasional fast food eating is something I don’t like to admit, so I’d consider that an example of over blown social risk for something with minimal actual risk. I think that multiple sexual partners probably falls into this same category — as long as you practice safe sex, both physically and emotionally, it probably isn’t as risky as our society makes it out to be.

Life is risk, and yes, some risk is more risky than other risks. But, in the end, some things may be more about what works for you.

How to Talk About Chores

Small yellow bathroom

Image via Wikipedia

A friend asked that I write more about the process of choosing which chores are important, and which ones can be overlooked. She also asked about how to negotiate the standards of cleanliness and the sharing of chores so that in partnership, particularly marriage, they might be fair.

Tall order, dear friend.

I think that it’s obvious and perhaps over stated (at least on this blog, I have mentioned it at least two times before) that men and women are socialized to different awarenesses of the work involved in housework, and if men have had the opportunity to care for themselves, different standards for what might be considered clean. The same might be said for what makes up a healthy diet, among other things I associate with adulthood.

I would not attempt these steps unless you have a partner who believes in equality, and is open to dividing the work that goes into the home equitably. (This means hours of paid and unpaid labor should be treated equally.) If you don’t have a such a partner, you have other work to do.

Step One: Shine a bright light on the work that needs to be done to keep your household moving. I found the housework equality scale from EquallySharedParenting.com invaluable for this — it lists chores that happen less often, like post office visits and taxes, so you don’t forget anything.

Tim and I actually looked at this scale twice over about a period of a year and a half. The first time was really tense — Tim didn’t seem to think that a lot of stuff on the list happened in our home. Truth was, I did it, and he didn’t notice. Even though it was a tense conversation, it was important because it opened his eyes. A year later, he was very aware of the work that needed doing, and who was doing it. Since I am currently a stay-at-home wife and mother, the split was about 70% me, 30% him. I asked him if he thought this was fair, and to his credit, he did not think so. Which lead to…

Step Two: Figure out what chores are actually getting done in your home. Chores are done in my house for three reasons, as far as I can see: for our safety, like washing cutting boards and knives with hot and soapy water to prevent food-borne illness; for our sanity, like clearing off flat surfaces of clutter; and for our vanity, like my husband’s recent desire to wash marks off the wall. This list has the benefit of showing you what’s really important to you, and thus the “standards” already exist. I made a list of chores that needed to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly, and basis — focusing on safety and sanity, and telling vanity to take a hike.

Vanity is beating myself up for not scrubbing the bathroom once a week, whether or not anyone besides ourselves sees it. But if the bathroom is done once a month, the germs are kept at bay (Safety!), and I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly how clean it is. And knowing how clean it is, I can figure out if I need to clean real quick before guests come over.

Step Three: Present the list of chores that must get done to your partner and ask what they think. Ask them if they think that any chore is missing; ask them if they think any of the chores can be taken off the list.

Tim wanted to add vacuuming and dusting to the list. Me? I could care less that things are dusted, and I hate vacuuming. Tim doesn’t necessarily see the need to fold clothes.

Step Four: Divide and Conquer. Once you have a list of the chores that you need to do to keep your household moving, chores that are for your safety and sanity (and not necessarily your vanity), and both partners have weighed in on what chores should be on the list, take turns claiming chores. If there are certain chores that only you can do, or that you’re an expert at, or you really like to do, claim those first — it wasn’t on the list, but since only I can breast feed our daughter, I would have claimed that first. I did claim making dinner first, because after a day of childcare, making dinner makes me feel human again.

Dusting and vacuuming got added to the “monthly chore” list, which Tim is in charge of. I picked up folding laundry. But more on that next.

Step Five: Make a schedule. Schedules make sure that there are time to do all the chores. I suggest spacing the chores through the week so you’re not doing more than half an hour of chores each night. The nice thing about a schedule is that even if none of the chores get done one week, you can do it the next week and start to come out from under a lack-of-chore pile. At least theoretically.

So far, all the chores are getting done in our home, because Tim and I both feel ownership of our tasks — and we do them. They don’t always get done right on time; laundry folding happened on Saturday instead of Tuesday, but at least it happened.

Step Six: If it’s not your chore, it’s not your standard. There are downsides to sharing household responsibilities. Because your partner is an adult who has hopefully lived on their own for a time before coming to live with you, chances are, your partner has some idea how to do the tasks that they named, agreed to, and claimed as their own. (Look how much consensus we built up until this point!) If your partner asks for input on how to do the task, feel free to give it. Otherwise, let them get on with it — you have your own chores to do.

Tim is the one that cleans the kitchen and the bathroom. He also does the laundry. He checks in with me sometimes, but the majority of the time he applies his own standards to the task. And for me, that’s fine — but it’s a serious ego muncher for some women.  Remember, equality is about sharing power. If you claim all the power and responsibility of the household standards, you’re only hurting yourself.

Step Seven: Rinse, Repeat. The same chore list isn’t going to always work for you. Be flexible, and keep the lines of communication that you’ve created here open over time!

What I want from a Non-parental Caregiver

I’m lucky to be starting grad school at the end of this month. I say lucky because I have a small fellowship, because I have an infant, because I have a supportive husband. I’m lucky because my mom is going to take care of my baby; I won’t have to take out loans to pay for childcare.

I wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of my mom being my daycare provider. Sylvie is familiar with my mom and comfortable with her. And I have had plenty of chances to observe the two of them together. Those two things are not something you can sneeze at; everything I have read about vetting facilities says those are things you want.

Not only that, but I was able to broach the idea of making “Nanny Notes” and sharing them with my mom — that way my mom knows exactly how I would like my daughter to be cared for (i.e. I am clear about my expectations) and she knows exactly how to spoil my daughter (i.e. I expect my mom to still be a grandparent and do what she wants occasionally).

Nothing I found on the internet about preparing your child for daycare really approached the subject the way I have in my own preparations, so I thought I would share my list.

What I want from a Non-parental Caregiver:

1. Someone who will love her, bond with her; someone who will build trust with her. I subscribe more or less to the Attachment Parenting philosophy espoused by Dr. Sears, and I believe that attachment is key in Sylvie’s development — particularly the psychosocial development task of infancy: learning to trust. This means that when Sylvie cries, my ideal caregiver will respond, because crying is a way of communicating need. Which brings us to…

2. Someone to fulfill her needs. Her needs, as I see them currently, are: eating, sleeping, clean diapers, play, and love. Since Sylvia is breastfed, this means that I will be providing her grandmother with expressed breast milk. Sylvia is not too keen on her bottle, so we may be switching to more of a sippy cup soon. She will start solids at six months, so those kinds of equipment will be needed as well. Sylvie will need a couple of swaddle blankets and a pacifier for her grandma’s house. I gave my mom a set of cloth diapers already. We’ll need to make sure there are good toys at both home and at grandma’s. And I know my mom loves Sylvia.

3. Someone to keep her safe and secure; provide limits. This means that my mom and I will work together to make sure that my mom’s house is appropriately child-proofed, but it also means that we will have to work jointly on discipline issues. Right now, discipline isn’t too much of an issue — after all, she is only an infant. But by the time I graduate, which is when I foresee this arrangement ending, Sylvie will be old enough to be willfully disobeying.  We don’t want to give her mixed messages about what is and is not appropriate, which will require communication. Also, I want Sylvie to be disciplined with positive methods, which will also require communication, so that my mom knows what I mean when I say this.

4. Someone to play with her, and to be her partner in learning. I believe that play is the key to learning, and so I think it’s very important that Sylvia plays. Of course, she can and does play on her own, but play with an adult is important too, because it provides Sylvie and opportunity to stretch her skills with a technique called scaffolding. The play should be directed by Sylvie, if at all possible, to give her a sense of efficacy. Reading is play too!

5. Someone who respects our boundaries as her parents. I am the momma, and with my husband we are ultimately responsible for Sylvia’s care and upbringing. How we want things done matters. However, this means we are also responsible for communicating those boundaries. A major way we’re going to do this is through “memo” type of correspondence; I like to have things in writing.

The thing about this list is that it’s basically what I expect from myself as a parent. I think that’s as it should be — the care for my daughter by non-parental caregivers should be as close to what her parents provide as possible.

Making SMARTER goals starting Grad School

I start school in just over a month, hurrah! I’m really nervous about it, because I think that work-life balance is really illusive. I want Tim and Sylvie and I to have time for ourselves, each other, our jobs, and not live in squalor, and I wonder if that is too much to ask.

But in hopes of accomplishing this, I am going after some SMARTER goals to prep myself and my family for this transition.

The first goal is to make chores and family obligations explicit and a habit by the time school starts.

I’m going to start by consulting the website on equally shared parenting. I’m going to download their equality scales and have Tim and I take them seperately. We may disagree about how equally we are sharing parenting, housework, etc., so it will be important to use my interpersonal communication skills to talk through the lists and the expectations with Tim.

Then, I will do a walk through of our home, thinking about the chores that need to be done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I will use my judgement and critical thinking skills to come up with this list. The list will reflect my values of meaningful work because the list will be about the work I do for my family, which also reflects my value of relationship, because my family is important to me.

I will then talk through the list with Tim. I anticipate that the list may seem overwhelming. I will keep an open mind as we talk through the list with Tim to prioritize what is truly important, and so we can work together to get these things done in partnership. Together we will turn each chore into a reasonable list of steps.

After that, I will make us a chore chart. We will then use the chore chart to build our daily and weekly routines and habits around taking care of our home. Sometimes things will be forgotten because of circumstances or for no reason. In those cases we will learn from our mistakes and learn to schedule in chore time, or we will forgive ourselves and try again the next day,  week, or month.

The most important thing to remember is how good it will feel to have our chores explicit. It will make keeping our house clean an easy thing to talk about, hopefully minimalizing fights and frustrations over expecting something to be done a certain way, or expecting someone else to do something.

It will feel good to work together with Tim, being fair in our relationship. It will feel good for our home to be a sanctuary, and when it gets dirty, have an easy plan to fix it.

Baby Wears Blue: Coworkers Edition

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

The TARDIS is blue!

One Monday morning, I drove Tim into work, so that I could pick him up after work and we would go somewhere together as a family. (To play Bridge like little old people, but that’s besides the point.) He asked me if I wanted to bring Sylvie in to be shown off to his coworkers. Since I have a couple of friends among them, I said sure.

Sylvie was wearing her blue footie outfit, and I did not bring the sling for this supposed-to-be-quick errand.

First, I visit my friend Matt. (Hi, Matt!) He knows that Baby Rocketship turned out to be female, and I jokingly point out that Sylvie is wearing blue. “Oh noes!” he said sarcastically. “She’ll grow up and be… butch or something, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes and made it clear that he thought that the color my daughter wore had very little bearing on much of anything. When another acquaintance of mine walked up and we began talking Doctor Who spoilers, Matt stuck his fingers in his ears and ran away saying “La la la!”

Then, another coworker walked by. He was carrying two dinners to the kitchen, one of which was intended for us, and the other for the other new baby in the office. We chatted for a while and he asked the typical polite new parent questions (how are you sleeping? etc.), and then asked, “What’s his name again?”

“Her, actually,” I said, flustered. “We got tired of all the pink, so my friend sent us this blue outfit. I rather like it. Sylvia, by the way, is her name. I mean, it shouldn’t matter.  I mean, I wear blue all the time.”

“Yeah, but you have long hair,” said this coworker. “She doesn’t have long hair yet, that’s why I got confused!”

That’s a simplified version of the conversation. In reality, we talked over each other a bit as each of us navigated our own defensiveness and tried to justify our positions. But that’s what it came down to —  he wanted symbols to tell him how to identify the gender of our daughter, we resisted the ultimate arbitrariness of those symbols, and he was mistaken. He was defensive as a result.

I wish I had handled this situation differently. I wish I had had something to say that taught a lesson about identity politics, how it’s important not to label people, how it is important to let people self identify. But it’s hard, at least in part, because I don’t have much of a stake in this. It isn’t personal — it’s a thought experiment.

But in other ways, this is practice for letting Sylvie make her own decisions. I’m the one making the decisions that take her against the norm, but I’m navigating them for her — and I’ll be sheltering her in the future from some (though not all) of the consequences of her decisions. I want to let her express herself and her identity however she would like, and to grow confident in it, before others tell her that she’s ruining their categories. If she chooses to wear plaid and polka dots together, I’ll be the one that cheers her on and then tells anyone who gives her the stink eye that she’s a visionary.

Baby Wears Blue: Medical Edition

medela lactina select breast pump single breas...

The medical-grade breast pump we rented was like this, only in a box instead of on wheels.

Sylvie was five weeks old when I needed to return the breast pump we had rented to the hospital. I put her in her sling, and carried the hulking package into the hospital. Every time people were able to catch my eye, and even some times when they were not, they exclaimed over the little baby in my arms. They generally fell into two categories.

“How precious/sweet/beautiful! How old?” — Notice that they avoided any pronouns at all in this exclamation. They waited until I started talking, and then adopted the pronoun that I used.

“It’s so tiny!” — That’s right, people who did use pronouns went so far to use “it” to avoid being wrong, even though using “it” for a person is generally considered insulting and inappropriate. People are not objects, after all. “They are,” similarly avoiding being wrong.

There was one person who made the assumption: When I sat down to rest in the lobby, before trekking out to the car (I was still recovering from my c-section at this point), one woman brazenly came over to me and looked into the sling. Seeing the blue she said, “So precious! It’s a boy, right?” I half nodded, surprised and caught off guard despite the experiment, but in the course of the conversation I used “she” or “her” and the woman corrected to match my pronoun use.

The attention for my baby surprised me. (In fact, my mother-in-law asked me what the most surprising part of parenthood has been, and I said, “The attention we get everywhere we go.” She chalked it up to babies being a symbol of hope. I’m not sure that’s it, but I don’t have a better explanation.) But the lack of real discomfort also surprised me — that, I suppose, was because it was actually pretty hard to see what Sylvie was wearing, considering she was only five pounds and was being engulfed by the sling.

The next day, the onsie wasn’t dirty, so she wore it again.

We had a well baby visit, two weeks after we came home from the hospital, for Sylvie to have her first Hep B shot (these are usually given in the hospital to newborns, but we deferred because we didn’t think she had enough muscle, being premature).  The pediatrician we go to is a single-doctor practice, and we’ve seen the same nurse each time we’ve gone. Now, the nurse knew that Sylvie is a girl, but I expected some feedback on the way she was dressed — after all, these doctors and nurses are supposed to be authorities in my parenting life.

Maybe it was because babies spend most of their time at a doctor’s office naked, but the nurse didn’t say anything. And the doctor didn’t even see what she was wearing.

I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly. Or maybe I do. I was expecting people to be uncomfortable — and there were some signs of that. Without seeing what she was wearing while Sylvie was in the sling (which is white, by the way), people didn’t want to make a mistake. I was expecting people in positions of authority to tell me what to do regarding the gender presentation of my infant; they didn’t — for which, ultimately, I am glad.

You’re Wiser than That

A black and white icon of a teacher in front o...

Image via Wikipedia

My little brother didn’t have school yesterday because they shut down the school for a security threat. Apparently, one teacher made a threat against another teacher, and after he was asked to leave the building returned the next day for work. Third or fourth hand knowledge of the event (because the gossip mill in suburbia is surprisingly rapid) says that what he said was this:  “If you [believe that? argue that? say that?] I may as well shoot everyone and then kill myself.”

This particular teacher (if you know the school district, you can google and find a name — it’s made the national news) was a mentor of mine, especially as a newly transplanted freshman who hated all the “dumb people” she had to deal with day in and day out. He challenged me, encouraged me, and most of all was there for me — as any good teacher would be.

He is prone to hyperbole, and I know he had some frustrations with school bureaucracy. With the budget cuts, with the political climate, with some of the pedagogy, I can imagine him uttering the phrase that was interpreted as a threat as a way of expressing his extreme frustration. However, I can’t imagine him actually perpetrating that violence.  He once kept my freshman history class on lockdown because of rumored threats — not even ones that the administration was taking seriously. He was one of the teachers who told us what he would do to protect us in the case of school violence. He was also the kind of guy who would blithely tell anyone who would listen how he could kill a guy with a wrapped twinkie.

I can’t say for certain what happened. But as I was doing dishes I couldn’t help but think that it’s sad that most of our analogies for extreme disappointment and hopelessness are violent. “I felt like a little part of me died.” “I am dead inside.” “This institution is dying!” “You’re going to destroy everything we stand for!”

It reminds me that violence is the language of the voiceless — it is their last resort, as democracy or the lack there of, as bureaucracy, as the mental health care system, as the economy, as international relations and international trade have failed them.

I trusted my mentor to be wiser than that, to find other discourses and other ways. Be wiser than violence.

Why I am not looking for a job right now

It’s not because the Michigan job market is crap, and most of the jobs I’m qualified for skill-wise wants me to have a Master’s Degree, though all of that is discouraging. It’s more like this:

1. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 does not apply to me.

FMLA was hailed as a great thing early in President Clinton’s term. It granted 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave with benefits intact and job security for persons who worked for a public agency, a business with 50 or more employees in a 75 mile radius, who had worked for the company at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months.

In other words, you have to have worked some place for a year, and that place has to have 50 or more employees, or be public agency in order to qualify for these federal benefits.

My term of service for my national service with AmeriCorps ends February 3rd; I have worked with a nonprofit for the last two years, and probably qualify as a public employee — but since my service is ending, much like a contract position does, it is all a moot point.

The jobs I want are in nonprofit or public service; nonprofits rarely have more than 50 employees, and if I were to work for the state government (where there are plenty of job openings due to retirements), I would not qualify by time-served.

Long story short: the federal government would not protect my job security or benefits, nor my right to the time needed to care for a child after birth. Some states have extended the benefits; most not enough.

2. Individual Employers may extend FMLA-like leave to non-qualified persons, but it’s risky business.

First of all, the fact that any law exists — even a law as admittedly as flimsy (on a personal, policy, and international scale) as FMLA — shows that individual employers were not protecting their own employees. As it stands, the law only begins to apply to what I’d believe you call “second stage” businesses — no longer start ups or small companies, but neither are they big companies either.

From an economic point of view, it does not make sense to hire a 7 month pregnant woman, train her, and then allow her to take 2, 6, or 12 weeks off (debates about how long the postpartum period last are on-going) to take care of her child and adjust (or readjust) to motherhood, and then return to work. First of all, training someone is a huge investment in and of itself; it’s why many companies require contracts of 2 years in order to train people in the first place. Then, there is no guarantee of loyalty; with the way motherhood is treated in today’s society, it isn’t certain that the mother will return to work — thereby costing her employers the money and time spent on training, even if the leave is unpaid and benefits are suspended for its duration of the leave.

From a functional and managerial point of view, it’s quite possible that the job held by the pregnant women is vital to a small company, and will need to be filled while she is away — either by a temporary employee, covered by another employee at the company, or possibly hiring a new employee. This last option is prohibited by FMLA — but let’s remember that I’m not covered by FMLA, and neither are many people working at companies with <50 employees. Temporary employees are expensive (training, remember?), and delegating a leave-taking member’s responsibility may cause resentment if not managed correctly. Conventional wisdom says it isn’t really good management to let employees take a leave of absence like the one described by FMLA.

From the employee’s point of view, especially mental health-wise, more than 12 weeks is ideal — a baby at 12 weeks hasn’t smiled spontaneously, yet. But, without the protection of FMLA, or even the NEED to work because going without income for 3 months is impossible, 2 or 4 weeks just has to suffice — leaving mothers separated from their children and at greater risk for postpartum depression and other complications. Perhaps individual employers could work with employees for longer periods of leave; but because of the above reasons, it would need to be a seriously enlightened employer to make that happen.

If I were to apply for a job, I’d have to hope that they would look past my being pregnant to hire me in the first place; that they would train me, that they would keep my job for me, and give me sufficient leave for me to become a confident parent and protect my mental health. It seems too much to ask, and it’s a lot to hope for.

3. A new job and an infant at the same time is a recipe for Postpartum Depression.

Let’s be honest, I’m a prime candidate for PPD. I’m already depressed and anxious, my medications don’t cut it, I haven’t been in therapy (but I’m going back!). One of the first things they tell you to help prevent PPD is to not change too much in your life at the same time you have the baby — you know, like move (done last month), end a job (2/3), or start a job (not happening).

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when caring for an infant. It’s easy to be overwhelmed while beginning a new job. Hint: attempt only one at a time.

4. It is because I am privileged that I can make this decision, to not look for a job.

This is a choice I can make because I have a committed partner whose job pays most of our bills. It is because our rent isn’t unaffordable, because we have health insurance through Tim’s work, it is because we don’t go hungry when only one of us works that I can say, “I can’t work right now.”

I want to work, like many other mothers out there. Many mothers need to work. But public policy does not support women who need to work to make ends meet; and then vilifies them for being on welfare.

I wish I could apply for job after job and be the top candidate always and when they deny me the leave that I need to make sure I don’t spiral deeper into depression, I could walk away and teach them a lesson. I wish I could stand up and be an example, to cause discrimination to occur and start filing lawsuit after lawsuit. Would I be teaching them the right lesson — that it is important to take care of your employees? Or would I be teaching them that what their mentors told them about pregnant women was right — you can’t trust them to keep to their commitments? (That double standard is a whole post in and of itself.)

I’m not strong enough to make an example of myself; to live through the day to day of poor policy. And I can avoid it — I am privileged enough to avoid it, to become a housewife and a stay-at-home mom.

But, damn it, as soon as my baby is old enough, as soon as I’ve regained my mental health, I am going to do something about all of this — I’m going to Grad School and study the social policies that got us here, I’m going to intern and work for nonprofits and advocacy agencies that stand up for women’s rights, for the rights of those in poverty. I’m going to volunteer where I can, and I’m going to challenge this disgusting status quo.

Babies need Mamas, and Mamas need money to care for their babies. Can we please make it easier?

Be the Best Friend You can Be: Sisters

Two Sisters

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This post is for a friend of mine, who is in the midst of a friendship break up. But it’s also in response to a New York Times essay about Sisters and Happiness.

My sister and I are two and a half years apart in age, and we were three years apart in school. We are, in many ways, opposites: I am fair skinned and a redhead, she’s brunette and has more of an olive complexion. I am full of logic and facts and science and emotional self-protection; she loves freely and is sometimes hurt for it.

For most of our childhood, we were in sibling rivalry: when we sprawled at opposite ends of the sofa, with our feet in the middle, we grappled for space. When she got my hand-me-downs, I was jealous at her getting so much “new” stuff all at once. She followed me quickly on milestones — using a steak knife at dinner, learning to ride a two-wheeled bike — all things I can now see was loving on her part. She wanted to be like me, she looked up to me, and so she pushed the boundaries I had already pushed.

My sister and I stopped being playmates when we moved to a neighborhood with many kids her own age; she discovered her innate social nature, and indulged it every chance she got. I remained a bookworm, a home-body, a child who needed to be prodded to go out and play. By the time I started high school, and she started middle school, I don’t think we were talking anymore. We coexisted, but we were not friends.

When I went away to college, this got a little better. While she pulled high school all-nighters after I was home for the Holidays, I would bring her snacks, and I would give her advice. But then she started college — same college I went to — and things got worse again.

I resented her asking me for rides around town — to the pharmacy, to the grocery store, to buy booze for her and her friends. I resented the weekend she went home, taking the car that we were supposedly sharing, but was my main source of transportation. She returned late, and I resented that too. Through all this, we were having weekly breakfast dates, and I let her know that I disapproved of her life choices (parties versus studying), and that I thought she could do better.

I had all these ideas about what she should be doing to be a better sister — I saw her being really good friends with her friends, why couldn’t she treat me the same way? As far as I could tell, I was a person of last resort — a person to ask to do all the things she didn’t want to ask her friends for, because I couldn’t say no, and we were stuck together.

I don’t know what changed my mind, looking back, but I decided on a different tact. Instead of resenting her, I would be the best friend that I could be — and even if she didn’t respond, I wouldn’t let it bother me. Because her response was not something that I could control, and maybe if I treated her as a friend, she would treat me as a friend too.

The next time she called and asked for a lift to the grocery store, and it could be worked into my schedule, I cheerfully gave her that lift. The next time she asked for my advice, I gave it, but decided that I would support her no matter what decision she made.  Our relationship slowly got better.

It wasn’t perfect, by any means. Once, I asked her if I could crash on her apartment floor after a wedding I was too tired to drive home. Though she was home at the time I asked, she went over to a friend’s house, and was soon unable to drive home to let me in — I had to go across town to get the keys.

But because I had built up a base of trust with her — because I had been the best friend I could be, thus inspiring her to think of me as a friend, and not as a sister — I told her the next time we talked that granting me a favor and then making me work for it was really not in the spirit of friendship. And because I had been the best friend that I could be, she agreed with me, apologized, and asked that I let her know if I thought she was treating me badly.

Since then, my sister and I have relished our weekly coffee and/or tea dates. We recognize strengths (I help her think through decisions, she helps me dress better), and help one another through tough emotional times. We were told in the midst of our young sibling rivalry that our sister was the only permanent friend we had, but it hasn’t been easy in any way shape or form.

So, any of you out there struggling with friendships, or relationships in general, here’s my advice: Be the best friend you can be. Because in the end, all you can (and should) control in a relationship is yourself. After all, you know what a good friend is — someone who listens, who supports non-judgmentally, who helps out where they can honestly (i.e. without over extending themselves), who sees differences as strengths and not as sources of conflict, someone who lives reciprocally and understands that relationships are two way streets.

Go on, be that person.