Category Archives: mothering

Manners Monday: Reclaiming the fine art of the Thank You note

Ah. The day after Christmas. Boxing Day if you are in a Boxing Day country. Personally I think Boxing Day is a great idea… why don’t we have Boxing Day? Or just celebrate St. Stephen’s Day? I know, it’s just an excuse to go out and shop, but the extra bank holiday might be appreciated by some. Anyway…

Gifts have been unwrapped and put away. Paper and packaging has been cleared away. New play-doh that came out of the can in such vibrant colors are now a sad shade of beige. What’s next to do? Thank You Notes. Time to write the Thank You notes.

What?! You may think that Thank You notes are antiquated and a throwback to the dark ages before we had stuff like email and unlimited minutes and instant gratification but that is what makes Thank You notes (or letter writing and manners in general) is fine art that transcends all social and class lines. It really can be the great equalizer!

Writing a note by hand allows you to put to paper human emotions: joy, sorrow, gratitude, love, nostalgia. And if you think about it, those (and anger) are among the first emotions we learn to articulate verbally.

Before sitting down to write your notes, gather your supplies:

Pen

Paper

Envelopes

Address Book

List of gifts and their givers (if needed)

According to Margaret Shepherd, author of The Art of the Handwritten Note,  your Thank You Note should have five characteristics. It should be: generous, specific, prompt, succinct and personal.

Generous. Send the note even if you’ve already thanked the giver in another way.

Specific. Mention the gift but thank them for the THOUGHT behind it.

Prompt. Send the note right away, but don’t let lateness stop you from writing at all.

Succinct. Keep it short by writing about any unrelated matters in a separate note.

Personal. Write it by hand. No form letters, printouts or greeting cards.

Things to say:

Thank you so much.

It’s just what I’ve wanted

How did you guess I wanted a [the gift]

I am enjoying wearing, playing with, looking at, eating, listening to, reading [the gift]

You were so thoughtful, kind, generous

Things to avoid:

Thank you for the gift [this may imply to the giver that you have forgotten what they gave you or that you lost the gift. EXCEPTION: when the gift is money in some form. In that case, thank them for the “gift” but then be sure to tell them what you are planning to do with the gift.]

You shouldn’t have 

Thank you for dinner. [Was the rest of the evening just awful?]

I’m exchanging it. [Wow.]

IT’S THE BEST GIFT EVER!! [makes you sound a bit insincere.]

Now some of you, like me, are parents. And since you are a parent, that means you have children. If you have taught your kids to say “thank you,” you can teach them to write thank you notes! When it comes to kids, you have a new options. For the first five years, or so, you can write on your child’s behalf. I, personally, write in the child’s voice. For an older preschooler, they could dictate to you what to write or copy a few lines down that you have written for them (if they can write their letters) or they can write their name at the end of the note.

For older children, help them enjoy writing notes by employing some of the following tactics:

Schedule time together to write. We all know how kids fare better when they know what to expect and when, so set aside, in advance, a set an hour or so on a specific day to write notes

Support your child. Give your child their very own stationery and special pen. Make sure your child has all of the needed addresses or address the envelopes for them as they write the note.

Personalize it. If you child likes glitter, stickers, stamps, or the like, let them add the embellishments to their note.

Model. Your child will not want to write thank you notes if they do not see you writing notes. Just as your child sees you saying “Thank You” in person, let them see how that gratitude is translated into a thank you note. Make sure your child sees how enjoyable RECEIVING thank-you notes is by reading the notes you receive aloud and posting them.

Join them. Sit down with your child and write something as well: your own thank-you notes, journal, a letter, etc. If nothing else, it’s helpful for your child for you to be there, to offer support with spelling, advice and phrasing.

Have the gift at the ready. Kids are concrete. They remember the here and now, so it might be helpful for to have the gift in front of your child when they write. Ask your child how they felt when they received the gift. If they were not too keen on the gift, ask them to imagine how happy Auntie was picking out the gift for them.

Reciprocity. Help your child understand the pleasure people get from being thanked by making sure they know what it feels like to give a gift and then receive a thank-you note. If you write a thank-you note to your child, it is a concrete example of how thank-you notes make people feel. And how cool is it, as a child, to receive a thank-you note from a grown-up?!

I hope this takes some of the scare out of writing thank-you notes and encourages you to start a new tradition of your own!

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Filed under christmas, etiquette, family, gifts, holidays, manners, monday, mothering, toddler

Manners Monday: Parenting with Grace under Pressure

A Facebook friend recently shared this on her Wall:

What would you do? Could you do anything? I’m curious what others do or think. I felt nothing I could do would help, and I was too overwhelmed caring for my babies. But I saw a scandalizing example of why many people develop a dislike for Christians. A mother w/ a 2ish year old and 4ish year old shared the “cry room” with us for a random church session. And proceeded to hiss, yell, slap, pinch and otherwise verbally attack her kids throughout the whole thing. It was very disturbing and I ended up leaving the room to stand in the back w/ my kids.

At the end, she literally physically dragged them into the main church and told them they had to do stations of the cross for being bad while on their tippy toes. She kept twisting the older child’s arm b/c he wouldn’t stop sobbing. I feel bad b/c my reaction was so strong I could not think clearly or think of any helpful way to intervene/redirect/de-escalate. My kids were freaking out and I didn’t want them to see what was happening, too. Mostly I was shocked that she had no filters whatsoever…she didn’t seem to care at all that others saw her and heard her. Ok so there’s my current stomach-turning issue.

Comments ranged from total compassion for the mother (‘you don’t know what kind of day she was having’) to complete and total derision toward her (‘you should have called CPS right away.’) Parenting is full of Monday Morning Quarterbacking moments and this is for sure one of them.

I think that we have all been in that sort of situation to some degree. We have been the mom at our wits’ end with our children and we have been the passive bystander asking herself “What should I do? Should I ask her if I can help? Oh, those poor children!” None of us are parenting experts, even those with a whole alphabet’s worth of letters after their name. We all have great parenting days and we all have craptastic parenting days, but the mark of a Parent with Grace is how you handle those craptastic moments.

I will say that I take issue with how this mother handled her craptastic moment in general and specifically at Mass. Pinching, Twisting, and Bopping your kid only teaches this that it’s acceptable to pinch, twist and bop those weaker than you if they don’t do as you say. Mass is supposed to be a celebration and Church should a happy place to be… not a punishment for anyone. If nothing else, this mother has planted the seeds for extreme religious hatred for her children. Instead of seeing the Stations of the Cross as a monument of Christ’s love for us, they will see it as a punishment, something that they had to to when they pissed mom off at church.

Discipline is proactive. Punishment is reactive. There are days that I would love to get to daily Mass, but it doesn’t happen if I know that my children are not prepared for the Mass. That means: well-rested, fed, dressed and briefed as far as my expectations go for them. If I am choosing to take them to Mass and I know they are hungry and tired, I have no one to blame but myself for setting THEM up for failure. We, as parents, need to also drop this facade of perfection that we carry around. We all have bad days and accepting help from a stranger, or asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If someone offers you a hand, do not take it as a personal affront to your parenting skills, as it is only when we accept help from others that we allow them to become Christ to us.

So what would I have done if faced with this dilemma? Honestly, I have no clue. I’d like to think that I would have said something to her but I really don’t know…

What would you do? Should you do anything?
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Filed under Catholic, etiquette, family, manners, monday, mothering

Teaching the Teacher Tuesday: Nothing more precious

Today was our first full day here in Pasadena and it will remain in my mind as the most memorable first days ever in a new city. On the way to Costco, with the girls, I was involved in an auto accident.

First of all: We are all OK. The airbags did not deploy and the girls were giggling afterward with the Bear saying how “fun” it was. I wish the same thing could have been said for me. With adrenaline rushing through my veins, I did what most people would have done… I cried and then called my husband. A pair of witnesses called the Police and they arrived within 10 minutes to file the report. I was able to drive the van back home and now we wait.

I’ve had a couple hours to process what happened… after all, I have been driving for 15 years and this is my FIRST accident (I’ve never even received a speeding ticket!) and let me tell you, this was the scariest thing that I have been though… especially when I imagine it could have been that much worse. Sure, my Swagger Wagon is damaged and looking very sad and not drivable for any sort of distance. Until we get a rental car, I have no way of getting around Pasadena on my terms (short of walking.) Our auto insurance will go up and I no longer have the luxury of bragging about my spotless driving record (but I still have the no tickets thing going for me.) But: WE ARE ALL OK.

Both girls were in 5-pt harnesses and The Dragonfly was still rear-facing, even though she is over 20 lbs and over the age of 2. I have been a stickler about keeping her RF-ing as long as possible, despite my husband’s (and others’) protestations/ questioning. Keeping your child rear-facing adds a level of protection that is unsurpassed and it all has to do with anatomy and physics. I wish The Bear was still RFing but her beast of a CRS is FF-only (Britax Regent. It’s 50 lbs without a child in it.)

Before the age of 3-4, it has been found that the vertebral column in humans is more on the flexible side (if it helps, we are born with more with over 300 bones which fuse over time to make the 206 in the average human.) This makes sense when you consider that during birth, the neck has to flex to make it through the birth canal. But because of that, the necks of infants and toddlers remain very flexible:

If the infant is facing forward in a frontal crash–which is the most common and most severe type–the body is held back by the car seat’s straps, but the head is not, explains Kathleen Weber, director of the Child Passenger Protection Research Program at the University of Michigan Medical School. While older children and adults wearing safety belts may end up with temporary neck injuries, a baby’s immature neck bones and pliable ligaments can allow the spine to separate and the spinal cord to rip, says Weber.

Basically, she’s saying that a child can internally be decapitated because the vertebrae and ligaments will stretch but the spinal cord will not. Some of you out there may be thinking to yourselves: Well, we (have car seats/ weren’t rear facing/ didn’t wear seat belts/ sat in the front seat, etc, etc) when we were growing up and we turned out just fine.” To that I have to ask: Were you involved in an accident in which those safety measures would have been employed? Most people will answer “no” which affectively renders their argument moot. If you haven’t been in an accident, what you grew up doing has no matter.

Another concern I often hear is one that I used with our first. She was rear-facing only until about 18 months, because I felt that her legs were getting too cramped in that position. (We were driving a car that didn’t allow the seat back to recline.) The way I look at it now, I’d rather risk broken legs than a dead child.

When all is said in done, the Swagger Wagon will be repaired, we will have two new 5-pt. harness car seats (after an auto accident, seats must be replaced and the old ones rendered inoperable,) and I will struggle with the guilt of what I could have done differently. My mind has been filled with “what-ifs” all day: What if I’d just stayed home? What if I’d waited until after rush hour to venture out? What if I had just gone to the market by our house rather than trying for Costco in Burbank? But at least the one “what-if” I don’t have to deal with is “What if I had left her Rear-Facing?”

For more information here is some light reading.
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To my friends and family: I am sorry that you are reading about this on the blog rather than my calling you, but I feel that this is a message that needs to get out ASAP. We’ll talk soon.


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Filed under family, infant mortality, mothering, travel, Tuesday

Welcome to the World, Cazimir Kolbe!

This past Sunday (Aug 7) I took part in what has to be the one of the most amazing moments of my life, and it totally changed the friendship that I have with one of my BFFs.

My friend’s husband is overseas for the time being and as a result wouldn’t be able to be here for the birth of their third child. Earlier this Spring, my friend called me and asked me if I would consider being her birth partner for this child’s birth. I didn’t have to think twice, of course I would! She and I have been friends since 2007, I met her at a La Leche League meeting right after I moved here to St. Louis. The Bear was almost 4 months old and she was expecting their first child that month. She helped our family find our Parish and she and I really hit it off right off the bat. Through the years, our friendship has been through highs and lows, through births, through moves and changes, but our friendship has only changed for the better.

Early Sunday morning (around 230a) she called me and told me that she was going to have the baby today. I dressed, grabbed some stuff and drove to her house. Her doula and I arrived at the same time and we helped her labor at home until 530a. We arrived at the hospital around 6a and this is where things got a little fun. (Just a little aside, the staff working in ERs really need to cut back on the caffeine! My friend’s water hadn’t broken yet, but she was having intense contractions… to the point where she had to stop walking and concentrate on the contraction. Labor was not imminent in the fact that the baby wasn’t going to fall out of her right then and there, but the staff added a little unneeded stress to the situation by basically chiding us for not getting to the hospital “sooner.” Anyway.) We get to Labor and Delivery and get my friend set up on a birthing ball. Now, she and I have the same OB/GYN, a fantastic man who is a great husband and a father of 7, but he was on-call at another hospital until 7a. If you have given birth, you know how particular one can be about “your” OB delivering the child. So, my friend labored and worked through her contractions all the while praying for Dr. G to get there.

My friend had made it clear to me and her doula and in her birth plan that she wanted to have a non-medicated birth, and that she would ask for pain meds when she wanted them. But here’s the funny thing about birth, if you are going natural, the moment you think you really want those meds means that you are probably closer to time to push than you think. So, she was checked and sure enough, she was 8cm and 80% effaced. After another 20 minutes of work, she asked for an epidural again and the orders were put through… at least they tried to put them through. The hospital had just switched over to electronic filing and there was a little issue getting the meds ordered. By the time the order had come through, her water had been broken (the sac was bulging, bulging but wouldn’t rupture) and she was feeling the urge to push.

She pushed through a couple contractions while on the ball and then decided to move to the bed. During the next contraction, the doula and I checked and sure enough… we saw hair! The doula pressed the call light for the nursing staff (another aside and a reason why I LOVE this particular hospital… if you are having a non-medicated birth, the nurses really do not come in much. They will come in to check fetal heart rates every so often but other than that, they are pretty hands off. I just wish they had birthing tubs) and Dr. G and the nurses came in. My friend pushed another 6 times or so and my godson, Cazimir Kolbe, was born! (For those trying to keep track, from the time we arrived at the hospital to when he was born was 2 hours.)

The Post-Birth-Happy-High set in pretty quickly for my friend (another upshot to the non-medicated birth is that the after birth endorphins aren’t blocked by pain meds) and she was so amazed at her body that she not only had a son but that she birthed her son without the aid of an epidural or pitocin! She couldn’t believe how great she felt and how “fast” it worked. I know that feeling because I felt that same way after birthing The Dragonfly. It seems as soon as they place that baby on your chest, you completely forget about the previous time that you are working and exhausted and that you thought you couldn’t do it anymore.

For me, the experience really enforced, in my mind, how childbirth should be. Childbirth is an event that can unite a couple, but even more so, it is an event that unites women across time. My friend is not kidding when she says that our friendship has changed because we have been to the edge and back together. I looked into her eyes and I saw the moment when she had to let everything go and trust her body and trust her support team to walk with her to the end.

And it was amazing.

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Pax Christi!

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Filed under family, life, mothering, Tuesday

Top Ten Things to say to encourage a nursing mother

It’s Time for another List!! Part of me is thinking about making Thursday my “List Day.” My post about breastfeeding this week kind of got me thinking about some of the other “booby-traps” that moms run into, and negative comments tend to be right up there. Honestly, I think it’s because people just don’t know what to say to a nursing mom. Here’s an idea: Just talk to her like you would any other mom. The fact that she is nourishing her child with breastmilk shouldn’t sway your conversation (and that applies if she is nursing right next to you or just nursing in general.)

Top Ten Things to Say to Encourage a Nursing (or Any) Mother

10. You are doing great!

9. What can I do to help you out right now?

8. Can I make you dinner tonight?

7. Would you like a glass of water?

6. You been nursing for (2 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 months, 3 years)? Congratulations!

5. Nurse where ever or how ever you are most comfortable.

4. Your baby looks very happy/content.

3. Any amount of breastmilk your baby receives is fantastic for his health.

2. Formula and Breastmilk can work together, it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing.’

1. I am here if you need me, even if it’s just to listen.

I know that it sounds kind of counter-intuitive, coming from a self-professed “lactivist,” but I have really been thinking about why I began breastfeeding and why I wanted to help other mother’s breastfeed. I believe that breastmilk is superior to formula but I am also a realist knowing that not all moms will make the choice to stay home with their children (or that it is financially feasible.) So if I mom decides that pumping her milk for while she is away is too much of a hassle and would rather use formula when she is away, that is what works best for their family.

But there is the flip-side, I do believe that more should be done to remove some of the barriers that impede the efforts of nursing mothers. I mean, you figure if a mom wants to nurse her child exclusively for 9 months and goes back to work when the baby is 3 months old, she’s requiring time to pump for 6 months. When that comes up, all of a sudden there are calls about how it’s not fair that this mom has to have:

1.) time to pump

2.) a private location to pump that’s not her car

3.) storage for the milk (optional)

I think back to when I was working (before teaching) and our workplace was smoke-free, when the smokers could go out willy-nilly to have a “smoke-break” in addition to their mandated breaks. Did I think that it was fair that me, as a non-smoker, didn’t have that luxury? No, I didn’t think that it was fair, but to be honest, I was happy that I wasn’t saddled with a nicotine addiction, so it was a wash. But we have to remember, fair does not mean equal.  When I was teaching, I used an easy way to illustrate this: Is it fair that I have to wear glasses while my BFF has perfect vision? No. Should I stop correcting my vision or should she wear corrective lenses so we are equal? No.

When my DDs were little, they both wore a cheeky one-sie that we bought in Chicago. It read:

” Thank You for not giving my parents unsolicited advice.”

I think new parents are so bombarded with advice, that they forget to follow their God-given instinct. Mothering is hard enough as it is and we make it harder by always wanting to either out-do each other by being the “better mother” or by thinking that somehow we are doing something wrong because we are not following the latest expert advice to a “T.”

But I think the best thing you can say to any mother is:

You baby/ children is/ are beautiful and you all look very happy.

And that’s music to any mother’s ears.
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What’s the best or worst advice you received as a new mom, nursing or not? Share below!!

Pax Christi!

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Filed under breastfeeding, family, fathers, feminism, lists, mothering, Thursday

Summertime Modesty: Not Impossible!

It seems as if this week has been all about body image, gender and modesty. Wow! Well, let’s round it out!

Modest dressing is easy enough to do in the wintertime; especially if you live in chillier climates but come summertime, it seems as if all sensibilities kind of go out of the window! Yes, summer is hot but that’s no excuse to stop dressing modestly, if that is your goal.

For me, when I put an outfit on, I ask myself if I am dressing to attract the attention of men other than my husband. If the answer is yes, I change. Maybe you are one that that standard is not for you. You may feel that we as women should not be responsible for the eyes/ actions of men and I wholeheartedly agree, but when I said my marriage vows, I promised to forsake all others and in my mind, if I’m dressing in a way that is disrespectful to my husband or our marriage, I am not staying true to my vows. (I am sure those advocates of the SlutWalk** might take issue with my opinion, but I digress.)

So, if you don’t care what your outfit represents to the world about your marriage, ask yourself, “Would I want my daughter to wear this?” because as her mother you are her biggest influence. If you have sons, ask yourself what message are you sending to your son about women?

Actually, take that last statement and apply it to all of your children, how does your dressing affect their perception of women?

Without further ado, some modest dressing tips for summer:

Undergarments


1. two words, Flesh toned! Light, unlined pants, that are more popular in the summer, are notorious for showing your undergarments, so if you don’t want the world to know you’ve got your polka-dot panties on, don’t wear them or make sure your trousers are lined.

2. Camisoles make great layering pieces, especially when dresses show a bit too much décolletage. The lacy topped once even make your tops that much prettier.

3. Make the half-slip your friend. Seriously. You would be amazed at what “Mr. Bubble Sun” will show when shining through your dress. (That’s DD1’s nickname for the sun.)

Dresses


1. I’m taller so I especially love the maxi dress trend. But it even works for those not so tall ladies. Find a tailor if needed or take the dress up on your own. (If your dress has a major or busy print, you might want to take it to a tailor and have them take it up at the waist rather than just hem it.) What I like about dresses is that they are easier to put on than a tee and shorts and you look that much more put together, plus they are breezy!

2. I personally follow the rule of “one set of limbs out at a time.” So, if I am wearing a  sleeveless dress, I like the hem to be longer. If the dress is shorter, you’ll find my cardigan or wrap not far away.

3. I think it was Stacy London who said it but: “short+tight+shiny=cheap.” and I don’t think she meant garment cost.

Shorts

1. If you can see where your buttocks meet your thighs, those are too short.

2. If your shorts look painted on, they are too tight. I don’t care how thin you are.

3. (Butt) Crack is Wack.

4. Skirts make a great alternative to shorts, but can be hard when you have little kids and you play on the ground with them, but you can make it work.

Tops

1. Bra straps were never and will never be a fashion statement. Whoever said they were lied to you.

2. Bikini tops at beach: good. Bikini top while running errands far from beach: bad.

3. Polyester and Spandex blends make for bad choices.

4. If your shirt proclaims to the world that you are a “MILF” or “Hot Mama” or “Sexy WIfe” you might want to re-think that. In fact, re-purpose that shirt for cleaning around the house. In fact, just make them cleaning towels.

And above all else: BUY WHAT FITS! Ignore that little evil number or letter denoting the size. When I am shopping, I tend to take three of an item into the dressing room. The size I think I wear, one down and one up. Different garments wear differently and different manufacturers size differently. Ladies’ garment sizes are not the same across the board and are  sized very arbitrarily. If the tag bothers you, cut it out or cover it up. An item that fits well will flatter you so much more than that coveted size X. (And make friends with your tailor because they can do wonders with fit!)

Dressing modestly is not about hiding your body, but it is about presenting your body and yourself in a way that command respect from those around you as a person and not a piece of flesh for pleasure. And the ironic thing is, modesty can lend itself to sexiness. Stay with me here: Think of some of the most smoldering movie scenes (Titanic, when they are on the bow of the ship, comes to mind for some reason.) They are hot not because of what they are showing, but because of what they are not. InStyle magazine interviewed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld earlier this year who said that the sexiest part of a woman’s body is the curve of her lower back. (for the life of me, I can’t find the issue!! But he drew a little sketch with it and everything, it was great!)

And above all, if you are a church goer, please dress for church and not the beach or the club! I know that we are not supposed to judge and if I find myself becoming distracted, I really should refocus on the cross but come on! Yes, it is fantastic that you are at Mass, but shouldn’t you give Christ respect by dressing well? I am sure that it’s a throw-back to my Baptist upbringing, but we never went to Sunday Services in anything less than our… Sunday Best, and I continue that with my family. Yes, you could meet a fantastic mate at church, but do you really want to lure him or her in by being scantily clad while listening to the Word?

So, keeping in mind that these are all my own opinions, I hope it does help you with the tricky summertime dressing!

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**While I agree with the premise of Slutwalk (i.e. no woman is ever asking to be raped by her attire, her behavior, her state of mind) I take the same issue with the recapturing of the term “slut.” When I was teaching, girls called each other sluts and bitches all the time, as terms of endearment. Really? That’s where we are? The English Language has how many words in it and those are the ones that we are choosing to use with one another?

Pax Christi!

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Filed under family, feminism, Friday, manners, modesty, mothering

A few Words Wednesday: Shirt or no Shirt?

I just wanted to share a little scene I saw yesterday at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It really plays in well with our discussion about gender and all things girl and boy. We were in the Children’s Garden and there they have a little splash fountain area. It was hot yesterday… over 95 degrees and humid, so it was the perfect oasis! OK, here you go:

MOM (to her two children, boy about 5, girl about 3): OK, Have fun you two!

(Son takes shirt off. Daughter starts to take hers off.)

MOM (to daughter): Oh, no, no, no! You can’t take your shirt off. You have to leave your shirt on.

DAUGHTER (in tears): WHY?

MOM: because… because… boys can take their shirts off and girls can’t.

DAUGHTER (still trying to take shirt off): <Inaudible through tears>

MOM: If you keep trying to take your shirt off, we will have to leave

DAUGHTER: (more tears)

MOM (to son): you don’t need your shirt off, put it back on. It will dry if it gets wet.

SON (whining): I don’t want my shirt to get wet!

MOM: (big sigh)

At this point, DDs decided they wanted to play in the sprinklers with this mama. So, we went.

(Now my little editorial… her son had a pretty intense sunburn and maybe should have a shirt on more often.)
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ETA: Now, this mom might have wanted to teach her daughter about modesty, but it really wasn’t the best argument. But as moms, we’ve all been there. Where do you think “Because I said so” comes from?

Pax Christi!

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Filed under family, feminism, manners, mothering, wednesday

Guest Post: A Gender Neutral World

The following is a guest post written by a good friend of mine. Hope you enjoy!

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A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day and it really got me thinking. These parents are trying to raise their 3 children, 2 boys and one child whose gender has not been announced to the world, in a gender neutral world. I, too, have chosen to raise my daughter, now 7, in a gender neutral world. But I also understand that a lot of what makes people male or female is engrained in us and I am not just talking about certain genitalia and hormones.

I have re-read the article multiple times and have decided that there are some similarities between myself and these parents.

  1. I, too, gave my daughter a gender neutral first name.
  2. I have also allowed my daughter the freedom to decide who she will choose to be. One day it will be a pretty, pretty princess and the next day it will be a hard rock/punk girl.
  3. My daughter can also pick out her own clothes from either department in the store. In fact, for Christmas 2010, her new pajamas and robe were straight from the traditionally “boys” department and featured skulls and candy cane shaped crossbones.
  4. I, too, hope that one day my daughter will live in a world where people can make the choice to be whoever they want to be and society will be fine with that choice.
  5. I also agree that children receive messages from society that encourage them to fit into existing societal boxes.

But that is about where the similarities end. My daughter knows she is a female as do all of my family and friends. I wanted to combat the pretty princess toys and pink “girlie” outfits. Well guess what? I lost and lost big time. As much as I didn’t want my daughter to be the girlie girl, she pretty much is. Don’t get me wrong, she loves to hang with the boys on our street and play superheroes, but give her the chance to wear a dress, a pretty hair bow and paint her nails…yes please!

I am all for raising kids in a gender neutral world…I was raised in one. There were no such things as girl specific toys or boy specific toys; I saw my dad cook dinner just as I saw my mom do yard work; and when I was little I had the primary colored room and my brother had the pastel colored room.

I wonder how the family and friends of these parents feel – I guess since no one else can change a diaper for fear of discovering the baby’s gender, they may not mind! I do have one major issue (okay more than one, but this is the one that I will touch on) with how these parents are raising their two older boys, it isn’t the fact that they have long hair and wear pink, but at 5 and 2, should they be responsible for explaining their parent’s choices to the outside world? Talk about undue pressure for little kids. Why should a child be the one to correct a person if said person gets their gender wrong? Maybe the parents could take responsibility for this, but then also add a caveat such as “Jazz and/or Kio are boys, but we leave it up to them to decide what they wear and how their hair is styled.” When people, especially over the phone, mistake my daughter for a boy, I don’t go, get her and make her explain that her name can be either a girl’s name or a boy’s name. I just very politely (and sometimes not so politely especially to people who should know that she is a girl, like the receptionist at her doctor’s office) say, “She is a girl.”

There were multiple occasions when I had to correct people on my daughter’s gender when she was younger, maybe they thought she was a boy because she didn’t have much hair until she was at least 2, but more likely it was because she was in dressed a fire truck outfit (her dad is a firefighter) or once when she had on khakis. My retort to the person after they asked why my baby daughter was in khakis was, “Well, don’t adult women wear khakis?” That quieted her quickly!

As a strong and independent feminist, did I balk when all my 4 yr old daughter wanted for Christmas was a Barbie? Yes I did. But did I march into Target and buy one for her? Yes I did. Okay so it took me about 30 minutes because I would pick it up and five minutes later go put it back down again. That cycle repeated itself multiple times. Why did I do it? Because it is what she wanted – my daughter knows why I am not pro-Barbie, but was so thrilled that Santa got her one that year. So it made my going against my feminist sensibilities okay.

But in my traditionally rebellious fashion, I will more likely buy the “boy” version of the toy before I buy the “girl” version of the same toy. Like this past Christmas, as I was wandering aimlessly around Toys R Us trying to locate the oh-so-coveted Zhu Zhu Pets, I was pointed in the correct direction by a salesperson, but before she told me where to go, she asked, “Is it for a boy or a girl?” My traditional answer came out, “Well it is for my daughter, but it doesn’t matter.” I proceeded to buy a “boy” one instead the overly girly pink or purple version. And FYI, the “boy” version was on sale and the “girl” version wasn’t – that also helped me to make my decision!

The same thing happens at McDonald’s when I, on the rare occasion, will treat my daughter to a Happy Meal. More often than not, my daughter would rather have the “boy” toy. But I always do ask her which one she would pefer. So when the person at McDonald’s asks, “Boy or girl?” I have learned not to say, “It doesn’t matter”, but instead, “Boy”. Because then my daughter will be happy with the toy. It has happened once or twice where I have had to exchange the toy because the cashier has taken it upon themselves to give us the “girl” toy.

But with me it doesn’t just end with toys and clothes, my daughter knows that men and women are equal and in a household (and in the workforce), the men and the women can and should do the exact same things in an equal fashion. Or at least divide the household chores in a way that makes both partners happy. Luckily, she has my parents to model this behavior for her.

It also extends to the societal norm that I probably despise the most…shaving my legs and underarms. Now I will do both, not on a regular basis and usually for a special occasion, but do I curse it every time? Yes. My daughter knows that she can choose to shave or to not shave and exactly why I feel the way that I do feel about shaving. It is because there is no equivalent societal norm that men are forced to follow. People will say…men have to shave their facial hair. Do I prefer a cleanly shaven man? Yes (mostly because the stubble can hurt when kissing!), but do I look down on a man because he chooses not to shave? No. Does society? No. But do they look down upon women who choose not to shave? Yes.  Remember the Julia Roberts hairy armpit incident?

The eldest boy, Jazz, was asked whether some choices that have been made for him upset him (because even though his parents truly feel that they are leaving all the choices up to him, they aren’t), he nodded his head yes. I hope that the parents are happy and okay with whatever choices their 2 boys and one as of yet unknown gendered child make as they grow up.

I am all for raising kids in a gender neutral world, but like everything else, do it in moderation! You want to have well balanced children and I wonder how balanced the children of these parents will truly be. It would be very interesting to come back to these children in 20 or so years and see how they have fared. To see if they are still keeping with the tenets that were taught to them by their parents or whether societal norms have crept in and overcome their childhood teachings. And to what degree both of these different and opposing teachings/norms have had on their lives.

Societal norms be darned as far as I am concerned, but I also know when to pick my battles and realize that some just can’t be fought!
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Hope you enjoyed this guest post. Feel free to leave any comments or feedback for the writer below!

Pax Christi!

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Filed under feminism, Guest Post, life, mothering, Tuesday

Embracing your Inner Hairy Beast

**Warning to readers: This is a post about body hair (including pubic hair,) hair removal, the media and the overall effect on the self-image of women. You have been warned.**

Hair, flow it, show it/ Long as God can grow, my hair

Those iconic words are from the musical “Hair.” Now, I don’t know much else about the show except that the song “Age of Aquarius” came from it and since I am an Aquarius, I’ve always liked that song. But since this post is about the biological material, hair, and not the show, I’ll let you find out about the musical on your own if you are so inclined.

So, I have a confession to make. I am a hairy beast. I say that in all honesty and acceptance and it’s meant to be funny and not at all self-depricating but it’s very true, I am a hairy beast. I have hair on my nose, my arms, my legs, my fingers and toes. I have hair that runs along my jaw and these stubborn wiry chin hairs. I have a ‘stache and a hairy tummy. I blame the genes on my father’s side. After all, most African and Native American tribesmen aren’t overly hairy, but those Neandertalic ancestors of mine from Northern Europe? Yup, hairy beasts. After all, it’s cold in Northern Europe.

I first started shaving my legs in the sixth grade and that was after quite a few years of torment from classmates about my hairy limbs. Want to make an eight-year-old cry? Start calling her “The Wolfman.” For a while, when I was in high school, I was even shaving my arms which, honestly, was just a hot mess (that didn’t last too long.) Waxing of facial hair (eyebrows, upper lip and chin) began when I was 16 or so. Waxing of more “sensitive” body parts started happening when I was in college and when I was 25 I discovered “threading” for the removal of facial hair. Bleaching, Nair, Nads, the scrubby pumice stone thingy, I tried just about every fad out there for hair removal. I convinced myself that after X number of times of waxing, the root would die and the hair would stop growing. (For the record, I am 31 years old which means I have been waxing parts of my face bi-monthly for 13 years… but someday they’ll stop growing.) I shutter to think about the amount of money that I have spent on hair removal. I am kind of glad that I never looked into laser hair removal as I was talking to a woman about it a short time ago and she shared her story of how she shelled out over $1000 for treatments… and it didn’t work! Waxing and threading are both painful and temporary and yet, I keep paying for these masochistic sessions. Why?

I consider myself to be an enlightened, progressive, self-assured woman, but I still want to look good and I want to be accepted and being a hairy woman is not accepted. It is not accepted in this culture… in fact, I can’t really think of any cultures where it is accepted. But I have to say, I had my moments of crazy when my drive for acceptance intersected my drive to be seen as desirable and I succumbed to what was and still is considered to be the hallmark of beauty… the Brazilian Bikini Wax.

I received my first Brazilian when I was 21 or so. It was 2001 and “Sex and the City” was still pretty popular in mainstream culture. I considered myself to be very open-minded and sexually aware so men’s magazines were not strangers to my eyes (besides, everyone had access to the Internet in their rooms so it’s not like one had to travel far to find images.) The message that girls like me were getting was “Your pubic region, as it is, is gross and guys really prefer a cleaner look.” Stop and take a minute to think about that… GUYS prefer a cleaner look. (OK I am sure there are some girls out there who like the cleaner look as well, but I am writing from my POV.) So, in my effort to be as desirous to the opposite sex what did I do? I marched down to a beauty salon and allowed a complete stranger to smear hot wax on some of the most sensitive parts of my body and then unceremoniously rip the hair out, until I resembled a pre-pubescent girl. But do you want to know what no one tells you about the Brazilian Bikini Wax? Without the presence of pubic hair, there is major chafing that happens. When hair grows back, it itches uncontrollably and hair has to be 0.25 inches long before you can wax again. Pubic hair does not grow straight, it kind of has a mind of it’s own and in-grown hairs look disgusting and can become infected. And Brazilian Bikini Waxes? Expensive. I kept up this vicious cycle for almost four years. FOUR YEARS!!

But beautifying your nether regions has become big business. Google “Vaginal Rejuvenation” and you’ll get information on plastic surgeons who will, for a fee, tighten your vagina and nip and clip back your labia (minora and majora) making your lady parts look prettier, just like women in magazines or in film. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you the last time I looked at my vulva so I don’t know if I’d consider it to be pretty or not. Now, granted, some women may experience labia that cause them pain because of how far the labial folds protrude, but I guess for me, if it’s not broken, I’m not going under the knife. And the funny thing is, despite all of the testimonies from doctors extolling the virtues about vaginal rejuvenation, absent are the stories from the women who experience recurring pain and discomfort after their surgery. (For those stories, check out American Plastic by Laurie Essig. I was able to get it at the library.)

OK, so if you’ve gotten this far, you might be asking yourself, why is she ranting on and on about this and sharing all of this information with us? Here’s why: DD2, my Dragonfly, is a hairy beast. Has been since birth. It was one of the first things that we noticed about her after my OB plopped her naked, vernix covered body on my chest. She has little furry shoulders, a strip of hair that runs down her back, quite the unibrow and for a while she had a very hairy forehead. I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for her. Who knows? The hair might dissipate as she grows older, it might not. What am I, as a mother going to tell my daughter if she comes to me crying because the kids are making fun of her because of her hair?

I don’t know because I chose to conform to the norm. But consider the words of Sheryl Crow: “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” True? False? Something between?
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For the record, I still shave my legs and underarms (more frequently in the summer… once a week as opposed to maybe once a month,) and I still wax and pluck facial hairs. And it still hurts.

Pax Christi!

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Filed under family, feminism, monday, mothering

More things to never say to a woman with children: Military Edition!

From Mama Clementine, a non-government issued wife of a career soldier:

…I was thinking that for me, being such a Counter-Culture Mama, the lists of random rude questions and offending comments from those that it just does not concern, could go on and on…ad infinitum. So, I thought for fun, I would make a small project out of several lists of obscenely annoying Questions and Comments that I have gotten from strangers, all neatly compiled into categories. 🙂

     What follows is a list of my TOP 25 way too personal, yet oh so popular questions and all to common comments, that I have received during my husband’s Deployments.
You can read the rest here.
Just to warn you, some of her pictures might make you choke up a little!!

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Pax Christi!

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Filed under family, lists, manners, mothering, political, sunday