March 31, 2008

Beck Being Smart: or, more on dressing daughters

I keep writing these quick little posts on all these complicated issues. O, how their incompletion irks me. Brevity is the soul of blog posts, but it's super irritating.

Anyway, from Beck today:

I will do things, The Boy's clothing predicts, possibly unwise things but whatever - an exciting future awaits, needing sturdy pants and cars that go places, skateboards that will hurtle through the air. The future that we offer our daughters promises less, a cheap disposable sexuality and a world where there are no adults. Look at me.

Which I think is a great summary of how we teach boys to be agents and girls to be objects, and how very sad it is.

I will add to Beck's articulation, however, that it is not only what she calls the "pre-teen tartwear" that objectifies our daughters. I think a lot of very conservative "girly" clothes do the same thing. Is it doing more of a deservice to daughters when we dress them in tartwear than when we dress them in frilly, facile clothes that impede their movement, require their cleanliness, and locate their value in their "innocence" of everything--action, sexuality, anger, outspokenness, intensity--that is equated with being powerful in the world? What to think of the white antique linen dresses hanging in my closet, waiting to dress the daughters I don't even have? How much worse for girls are bratz than barbies, anyway?

Which is all to say that sexualization is stylistically intertwined with but not fully reducible to the larger question of the ways little girls' appearance matters in the world, and the different ways it matters than the appearances of little boys.

And in both areas--objectification in general, and sexual objectification in particular--we raise the question of the degree to which being an object can actually be interesting or, in a weird way, powerful. I suspect every woman who reads this has had some experiences in which their appearance, and the sense of being looked at or desired, made them feel powerful, and some in which being reduced to your appearance was incredibly incredibly frustrating and even demeaning.

As a feminist and a woman and a mother, I have lots of thoughts about this. But let me for the moment answer my own question, above, with a pragmatic and unfortunate: yes. Yes, sexualized objectification is, in some ways, more dangerous. I'm rather sad to say it. But girls get pregnant, and are more at risk of a whole series of diseases, and are more liable to be punished socially for their sexuality, and more likely to be physically endangered by their sexuality.

It's like children's wear learned the wrong lesson from the sexual revolution. It's unfair to expect girls or women to be sexual in the way that men are, not only for whatever biological reasons you think exist, but because sexuality, for women, is still profoundly unsafe. Until that changes, sexualizing young girls is not just tasteless or crude or morally questionable. It's physically dangerous as well.

Food Success

As we have mentioned several times, Elliot is not a particularly adventurous eater.  While his friends munch on asiago chicken sausage, dried seaweed chips, whole raw mushrooms, fried eggs, and so forth, Elliot pretty much eats...milk.  And some other things.  Like maybe six other things, not including deserts which don't count.*  I'm exaggerating a little, but not much.

Anyway, we're super excited that Elliot has added a big number seven to his list of acceptable foods.  It is a kind of exciting and moral new food--Brandon's homemade protein bars, inspired by Alton Brown's "Good Eats" recipe.  They include things like tofu,** wheat germ, eggs, peanut butter, and protein powder, and I can confirm that they are quite good.  I mean, sure, they are protein bars, which means that they're weird.  But weird is relative when you're feeding a child.

That photo has nothing to do with food or protein bars.  It's just cute.

*I should say that Elliot's eating has gotten better in the last couple of weeks; we're back to eating some staples.  Peas, for instance, have returned into favor.

**Do people have thoughts on the soy protein for children issue?  I know a couple of people who are convinced that it's a terrible idea, but I myself haven't found any proof that I would consider conclusive on that issue.

March 27, 2008

Kids Swearing

So NPR did this completely underdeveloped story on dealing with your kids' swearing. It's friendly and all, but I don't think it gets us very far. I agree with the point one of their interviewees makes that I am less worried about my child swearing than I am about my child being mean. Okay, then. But does that mean I should stop swearing?

I am a little up in the air on this one, as Michelle and Rox and I were just talking about.  So I'm just putting it out there. I feel like this is one of many parenting issues that people respond to in a gut way, without really thinking through the underlying issues. And that's fine, because who has the time to really develop a full-fledged theory of your child's speech acts? Much easier to just stop swearing.

Except I sort of like swearing. It's a part of adult life, unlike going to shows or staying out late dancing or having one too many beers, that I did not necessarily have to give up when I became a parent. And not only is it a marker of my adulthood in general, my language is a marker of the particular mode of adulthood I have chosen: a little irreverent, a little outside of bourgeois norms, a little funny, a little bit free of a some ideas of tidy, euphemistic, womanhood. I'm not the kind of woman who drinks wine coolers and watches her tongue. I drink beer, and I swear. I am not a delicate flower.

I mention this because I think something we might talk about more often is how our children's swearing reflects upon us as parents, and mothers in particular. When our children swear, it's not so much that adults judge them, it's that they judge us. As a wise women I know once said: "when kids swear, people think their mother's don't love them." I think that's sort of sadly true, because mother's are the ones we still expect to teach our children moral propriety.

Swearing has this sort of metonymic significance: if you reject proper language, maybe you also reject other socially appropriate behaviors! Like, if you don't teach your child not to swear, you might also not teach your child to be clean, or not to litter, or to go to school on time, or not to be unkind, or not to be lazy, or to keep their promises or live in a principled way at all. And if you don't teach your child those things, well, you are clearly a bad mom.

Now, of course, one of the reasons why I find bourgeois norms irritating is that I would like to break the association between trivial things like swearing and important things like living a principled life. But here's the deal: bourgeois norms might be outdated and irritating. But they are still powerful.

So I think if we don't teach our children how to behave in polite and tidy bourgeois society, it's still a sign that we aren't giving our child access to the power of that world. And it's one thing for them to opt out on their own. It's another for us not to teach them how to behave there.

And, quite frankly, even if I do often swear or speak irreverently, there are times when I don't want that part of my personality on display.  I don't think swearing is very taboo, but my grandmother thinks it is--so I don't swear around her, because in her mind it would move form being "irreverent" to being "sinful," which is completely different.  And I can't expect my child to respect my boundaries if I haven't taught them that those boundaries are important.

I guess swearing is one of the places, if a trivial one where real life meets ideal life, and then you just have to decide if this is a battle you want to fight.

On a completely different tack, so I'll just say this real quick like, it occurs to me that I am very casual about swearing because most swear words involve references to sex and the body, and those are things that I think we should be more casual about.  I don't think, most of the time, that the body or its actions or excretions, should be taboo issues.  But that doesn't mean I don't have my own set of taboos.  I am not at all casual about language that I find racist or sexist or homophobic, for example, and I don't think Elliot should be, either.  

Which I guess leave us here: if you hear Elliot say "shit," feel free to shake your head in my general direction.  But if you hear him call someone a fag, call me immediately and I shall proceed to wash his mouth out with a series of rigorous essays by Judith Butler on hate crimes and speech act theory.  Like soap, but different.

March 26, 2008


Here we see Elliot and one of his friends, Babar.

He is subjecting Babar to an examination to see if he has bumped his head, which is what happened to the monkies who jump on the bed. Elliot is super-interested in the subject of who has bumped their head. (And he wags his finger around whenever the doctor delivers his orders: "no more monkies jumping on the bed.")

As it turns out, Babar is fine.

Babar is a good friend. He was introduced to us by another friend who is actually a person, Amy E, and Amy's gift of Babar is significant for a couple of reasons.

First, Amy and I share a particular affection for Elephants. They are powerful but also very delicate. They are wild, and also they paint. So: elephants. Amy has been one of Elliot's major suppliers of elephants.

Second, this particular Babar was Amy's gift to Elliot on his first birthday, and to ensure that Elliot had the right Babar Amy did extensive research and ordered this one from France, and he arrived with special French tags still in place; a world traveller. Lest you think that this is extraordinary gift-giving behavior, let me assure you that it is not extraordinary for Amy, who also had a special elephant-themed quilt commissioned for Elliot's actual birth, also a favorite.

One thing that is special about Elephants is that they show remarkable emotional sensitivity, particularly the female elephants. They mark the life passages of each other. When one elephant gives birth, the others gather around her and trumpet supportively.

Amy has been a major trumpeter for Elliot. She greeted him with love and attends to his growing with care.

Thus today, we would like to return the favor by sending a resounding elephant TARROOOO westward to Los Angeles, to say to Amy: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

We trumpet for you because we love you very much.

In the spirit of your birthday, let us now quote Dr. Suess, who also appreciated elephants:

So we'll go to the top of the toppest blue space,
The Official Katroo Birthday Sounding-Off Place!
Come on! Open your mouth and sound off at the sky!
Shout loud at the top of your voice, "I AM I!
I am I!
And I may not know why
But I know that I like it.
Three cheers! I AM I!"

March 22, 2008

Dressing your Children Ethically

Specifically, dressing your daughters.

Although the question of young-girl fashion in the age of Bratz is not an issue upon which I myself have a fully formulated opinion, I totally appreciated this little mini article, the title of which you will enjoy, especially if you are Beck: "Dear Moms: Your 6-year old Daughter's Ass is Not Juicy."

Now, I think the question of children and their sexuality is a complicated one, and in my (as I said, not fully formulated) thinking on this issue, I'd say that your child probably will be interested in sex and sexuality regardless of whether or not you buy them low-rise jeans. What I feel more strongly about is that there's enough of life spent worrying if your jeans make your butt look good or whether or not you should get your hair highlighted, and whether or not people are looking at your jeans or your highlights, and that commodification and stylization is something that you should probably not have to be worrying about when you are still learning how to read and play four-square.

March 20, 2008


We need spring!

Elliot likes to point out trees in books now -- you can ask him, Elliot where are the trees? And he will point to them.

But he always goes for the ones with no leaves. That's what the concept of "tree" means to him right now -- bare branches.

We need spring!

March 18, 2008

Eating Ethically

Okay, so the author of one of our favorite cookbooks is this guy, Mark Bittman, who also writes a great column about food in the New York Times. He normally writes about basic cooking things, like how to make simple and excellent bread. But lately he's done some really good columns/articles about the way food is produced. I find his stuff very interesting, because it's mostly written from the perspective of someone who really loves food, and thinks food is important on its own terms--which makes his stuff particularly compelling.

Anyway, today for example he links to a column about the logistics of organic farming; I would be interested if anyone who reads this is a farmer, or has a background that would allow them to evaluate the numbers? It seems interesting to me.

Also recently, he wrote this very disturbing article about the effects of large-scale meat production. Now, Mark Bittman is no vegetarian, and neither are we. I have worked on a farm, and I have thought a lot about ethics, and I think that there is no ethical problem with being a part of a food chain in which something dies or is killed, and you eat it.

That said: lately I have been thinking a lot about our grocery store habits. We're not completely gung-ho organic, and we're certainly not going veg. But we are trying to make some changes, not only because of concern about our own and Elliot's health, but more importantly because of an attempt to live a little lighter on the world. We're lucky enough to have the resources to spend a little more on our food if we need to...I guess I see spending more on food that's raised more ethically as sort of a "vote with your money" way of making a charitable donation--rather than giving money to the Sierra Club, this year, we are buying organic milk.

Anyway, these are some of the changes we're making. I don't mean them as diagnostic, because I don't really know enough...I'm more interested in starting a conversation, if anyone is interested, on how to make easy and effective food changes. We are open to suggestions.

  1. We are indeed buying organic milk. I read a pretty compelling piece about how milk is a very effective thing to buy organic, not so much because organic milk is healthier, but because cows require so many resources. When you buy organic milk, you're "voting" for organic feed for those cows, too.
  2. We are trying to buy antibiotic free meat whenever possible. This means we go to whole foods more than we'd like, but there it is. I will say that I was recently making a recipe that involved shredding some chicken, and half of the chicken was fancy whole foods stuff, and half of it was from costco, and I COULD TOTALLY TELL, as I was shredding it, which was which. The whole foods suff was noticably moister.
  3. We are trying in general to eat less beef (sigh--this is hard for me) and get protein lower on the food chain.
  4. We are arguing a lot about the organic/local foods divide. From what I can tell, the evidence is still a little sketchy on this point.
  5. Other foods which we have been convinced to go organic on, from either a health or taste perspective, include: apples, sweet potatoes, and peanut butter.
Okay, that's all for now. I just wanted to throw this out there. To recap: read that creepy article about meat. And make that YUMMY YUMMY recipe for bread.

March 16, 2008

Two Updates!

Hi there! We wanted to say two things. First of all, the "apple book" of which Elliot speaks is this one:

And truly, we can't praise it enough. We are not sure who gave us this WONDERFUL WONDERFUL book, but we are very grateful. Thank you!

Second, and more importantly, we officially have a new cousin! We would like to announce the birth of Alexander Daniel Hiles, 4 lbs 8 oz, born late last night to Tom and Sara. Welcome to the family, Alex! We are excited about your safe delivery (yay Sara!) and can't wait to meet you.

new friend on the way!

I'm all hyped up this morning and just had to tell you, because i think that right now elliot is in the process of acquiring a new cousin!  Or rather, to be exact I am in the process of acquiring a new cousin, but I think it's likely that this new baby being born today will be more of a playmate to Elliot than me.  

Anyway, it's exciting!  I'm bouncing around wondering if it's still useful to knit a hat for a new baby in late March, in the south?  Do southland spring babies need hats?  I am sending my love to that little soon-to-be-baby's small head.  Send your love, too--this baby is coming a little earlier than expected and so will, hats aside, definitely need lots of soft blankets and feelings to stay safe and warm.

PS: Elliot slept in until 7 this morning, and we are all just in GREAT MOODS!  C'mon over now for tea, and sprinting up and down the hallway.

March 12, 2008

we think he might have discovered adjectives

or, like, proper nouns or something.  anyway, this weekend he seems to refer to a particular book--a book with an apple on the cover--as "apple book," and just this morning seems to have refered to another book--which features a gorilla unlocking a lot of doors--as a "key book."

we're not sure, and we know that this is still kinda small potatoes compared to some of elliot's peers who like, know the alphabet, i swear.  but really!  Apple book!  yay!

March 07, 2008


"...and today in the gorilla book he identified not just the gorilla and the key and the banana, but also the mouse AND both the lion -- AND the elephant!"

These are our small household victories. They are our treasures and we hoard them!

March 03, 2008

Poop Springs Eternal

Well, tonight it is supposed to snow, so you might not guess it, but--we're heading towards spring. We've had three days worth of thaw, and some bright sun, and that means: spring! soon!

But it is not yet spring, and not only because we are expected another freeze. No, we're in that weird liminal season between winter and spring which, in our neighborhood, is marked by: disolving doggie poo. Everywhere.

All winter, people have been letting their dogs poop in snow banks. They probably didn't mean anything by it. Probably they just didn't expect the dog to poop twice on that walk, and only had one bag, and were wearing their slippers anyway, and didn't feel like wading into a snow bank and getting their feet frozen while digging around for a sunken pile of poo and then trying to untie the old poo bag and get the new poo in without letting the old poo fall out. They probably felt kind of bad, but decided that it was really cold, and afterall, it was only one poo.

But we live in an awfully dense neighborhood. So that one little poo had been joined by the poos of other dogs, owned by other slipper-clad dog owners. Lots of other dogs and other poos. All those innocent little poos have been hidden and preserved by the winter chill. And now, in the thaw, the melting slush drips away leaving dead grass, black earth, and a medley of moistened poo piles, eroding away into little poo rivulets, accumulating into little poo puddles in the gutter. It is the season of dissolving poo.

Brandon came in from walking Ada this morning, and said, "it's dissolving poo day." And I sighed. But we are more used to poo around here, than we used to be. Especially because Elliot isn't eating much these days, we tend to see poos as hopeful things. As in: he pooped? Ah! Well, he did eat something! He's growing after all!

And in that spirit, and in honor of the (dissolving poo) season, I have been thinking about this poem, by Maxine Kumin. I'll paste it in incase your home is similarly preoccupied by the signs of...growing things.

Excrement Poem
It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redilvered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today's last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

March 02, 2008

Hunger Strike

Actually, milk strike. Elliot has fallen off the milkwagon (or did he climb aboard?).

Over the last two weeks, the child has forgotten how to eat anything except milk. He also eats hot dog. And the occasional dried blueberry or Cheerio. I admit that he will also wipe a little yogurt on his lips from time to time, but I honestly think it's done more in the spirit of decoration than anything else.

We are brought low.

We stand before you as the same proud people whose cosmopolitan kinder formerly grazed on, let's see . . . pad thai. Hummus -- he ate it straight! Organic peanut butter right off the butter knife (the way I also like it). He would work his way through a bowl of plain unsweetened whole-milk yogurt with Uncle Sam's breakfast cereal sprinkled in it, flax seed and all, for godsakes! That's some sophisticated business right there. Most adults won't eat that.

What the hell happened?

Even peas. He loved peas. Now he will sometimes consent to put one (1) in his mouth. But then, about two seconds later, he reaches into his own craw with a rather grim look and plucks the unmolested pea right back out, sets it on the tray, and looks around for the milk.

It doesn't help that the pediatrician blandly advised us (some months ago) that Elliot should probably have no more than about four cups of milk or so per day, so as not to spoil his appetite for solid foods. Well so much for that. What now, Mr. Genius Pediatrician? What you got? My boy stares down a spoonful of food like it was yesterday's trash.

Wrestling and Chattering

Here's a little video of me (B) and how I relate to Elliot. We wrestle. Also, we chat.

Here, you'll find us chatting very, very early in the morning, on a variety of topics. I must warn you: unless you are a really big fan of Elliot, or a professional linguist, you may find the chatting a bit boring! Sorry. I just happen to think it's AWESOME.