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.

Advertisements

Feminists can be Christians, too

Lot's Wife - medieval stained glass detail, Ca...

Image of Lot's Wife by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

I am a Christian. I believe that following Jesus is about kindness, compassion, for meeting people where they are, for practicing empathy. I think the Bible contains metaphorical truth, historical truth, and that it’s a record of human struggle with faith and the human story of encounters with the divine.

As a feminist, I am afraid to admit that I am a Christian, because I’m afraid you won’t take me seriously anymore. That you’ll think that I live my life and govern my relationships with legalism (i.e., using the Bible to make “rules”). Sometimes, those who are also struggling to follow Jesus as a path to following God act in ways that are intolerant, uncompassionate, and inhospitable. These fellow believers make people uncomfortable, claiming to speak for God, claiming to know when another person is sinning, claiming the Bible as incontrovertible truth with a capital T. They use this belief to say that love between two people of the same sex is a sin, to reduce women to objects and servants, and to consume the Earth’s resources.

These people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are using God’s name in vain. They are speaking for Him without the humility to admit that they may be wrong. I have recently been made aware that silence on the issue of faith and belief may also be using God’s name in vain, because I am part of God’s voice in this world. Silence implies shame.

Here’s what I want to make the liberal, feminist blogosphere aware of — the Bible is open to interpretation, and when it is being used as a tool of bigotry, literacy is the only way to educate those whose minds are open, those who are not using God’s name in vain.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapter 19, verses 1 through 19, narrates the story of Lot inviting two strangers, angels, into his home in the city of Sodom. The bigoted citizens of the city, who already do not like Lot, because he is also a foreigner, demand him to hand over his guests. Most translations I’ve read demand that the guests be turned over to the mob so that they can “have sex” with them. Lot pleads with them not to do this wicked thing, and offers his virgin daughters to the mob instead. Before this can happen, the angels strike the mob blind, and ultimately, as a result, the city of Sodom is destroyed.

This passage is the source of the word sodomy, which is less judgementally known as anal sex. Those who believe that homosexuality is a sin cite this passage as a proof that God hates sodomites – i.e. those who have anal sex, i.e. gay men.

But, feminist readers, does this not also sound like attempted gang rape?  Complete with rape apologist language of “have sex”? Could this passage be a story about how rape is not to be tolerated? Instead of teaching how a certain kind of sex is wicked, could the passage be teaching that a lack of consent, that force in a sex act is wicked?

As feminists, it is easy to get up in arms and distracted with the way that Lot offered his daughters to be raped to protect his guests. It is not nice to think about, but in the historical context, women were objects — and we must acknowledge this. To apply our current values on historical circumstance is futile — we will always be disappointed. The knowledge that women’s value used to be different can be a source of strength, too. How far women have come, and yet how far we have to go. Just as life is now, the Bible is a mixed bag. There are both wins and losses, victories and defeats.

What I take heart in is that God did not allow Lot’s daughters to be raped either (at this juncture of the story, at least. The ultimate fate of Lot’s daughters is a different story). God through his angels intervened, and did not allow anyone to be raped that day; the city was destroyed for that attempted act of violence.

At least, that’s how I read the passage as a feminist.

The Church is still a human institution, I get it.  Sometimes the acts of Christians are incredibly hard to defend. The Bible is a human work. Not all passages are easy to explain in a way that makes us feel good.  Sometimes humans use God’s name to legitimize their bigotry and privilege. Sometimes people who believe in justice, in tearing down privilege, and are Christians forget to invoke God. Both are wrong.

My mission here is to record my activism. Sometimes that activism occurs in the context of Church. I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about 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.

Blue PANIC! My baby girl wears blue.

My husband and I decided we were not going to find out the biological sex of our child before he or she was born, which resulted in very few gifts of clothing. My mom made an effort to buy things that were yellow and had ducks on them, my friends helped make awesome nerdy decorated onsies, but other than that, nothing.

It turns out, my baby’s biological sex is female. Cue all the pink clothes ever from well-meaning friends and family. Unless she informs us otherwise, we are raising her with the assumed gender. Cue debate and philosophizing about the signifiers of female-ness and the potential behaviors related.

For a while, all that fit was a purple sleep-n-play that had clouds and carriages and castles on it. (Message: dream of being a princess?) My friend Patti offered to buy her something that wasn’t pink or princessy, and sent a gift set with the following note:

Kate & Tim –
A list of things I learned at the baby store that you probably already know:
1. People really love dressing babies as animals.
2. If something is intended for a girl, the animal must have eyelashes – even if it is a butterfly.
3. It’s never too early to put your female child in a ruffle-y pink dress. (For a newborn? Really?)
4. Lacking an equivalent marker to eyelashes or ruffles, baby boy clothes, if not blue, must clearly and visible state “boy.”

So, obviously, as a result, I bought Sylvie a “boy” outfit in blue. Start the gender-bending early.  Besides, I think the characteristics of a bear (loud, strong, hungry for food that comes from picnic baskets) are much more interesting than those of a butterfly (fragile, pretty, short lived)!

Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS! You two will be awesome parents.

(heart), Patti

I was super excited about the outfit, but I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I showed it to my mom, and felt the need to justify it. “I think the paw prints all over the onsie is potentially feminine,” I said.

She looked at the sleep-n-play (i.e. the footed all-in-one outfit), and said, “These colors are preppy!” in an effort to appease me. Strangely, I didn’t want to disappoint her with the way that I dressed my daughter, even though my mom has been fabulous about supporting me in my own parenting decisions and not offering too much unsolicited advice.

And so, I was appeased. Then I put the outfit away because my baby did not fit into it yet.

When my baby did fit into the outfit, I was excited again, and washed the onsie first. When I put it on my little Sylvie, I began to be anxious. What if she was mistaken for a boy? And so what if she were? Why did we have to identify little beings with no secondary sexual characteristics as one gender or another? It was a blue onsie with a semi-accurate depiction of a bear on it — she had another onsie that was green with a teddy bear that I had no qualms about putting on her. What gives?

In fact, as I looked down at my own shirt standing at the changing table, frozen with indecision, I realized that I was wearing a solid blue shirt. And with the knowledge that blue used to be for little girls, and pink for little boys (Because pink is a very decided color?!), I decided to swallow my anxiety and have her wear the outfits.

Perhaps my discomfort isn’t as strong as I am describing here. Patti, as she read the draft for the blog entry apologized for her gift causing anxiety — but perhaps that anxiety is productive.

As a parent of a little girl, I am worried about her future. Her self-esteem, keeping her interested in math and science, helping her be the person she is meant to be and wants to be. Hell, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was ten-years-old, already a survivor of sexual harassment.

I love these outfits, and Sylvie has worn them many times. They have resulted in comments, which I will share another time. But I’ve written on this blog before about how culture is agreed meaning — and there is certain agreed meaning about pink and blue — it’s worth thinking about.

I listened to a Diane Rehm interview with the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein. She was arguing that pink was a gateway to poor self-image, among other maladies of young womanhood. I’ll read that book so you don’t have to, but in the mean time, I will keep observing people’s discomfort with me obscuring shared meaning.

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

Image via Wikipedia

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.