Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Defining Feminism

Recently,'s editor Peggy O'Mara published a piece claiming that breastfeeding, and more specifically, the right to breastfeed in public, is "the feminist issue of our time."  I had a flood of thoughts upon reading it, and I feel compelled to respectfully disagree. 

Let me start by saying that my almost 27 month old daughter still nurses 6+ times a day, even [gasp!] during the night in bed with me, and I have no issues with nursing publicly.  I think Peggy made some very valid points about breastfeeding being a basic human right, among other things.  However, saying it is "the feminist issue of our time" is a bold statement. 

My initial reaction was that the seemingly endless battles for reproductive rights would probably be at the top of my list of current feminist events.  Then I began expanding my view to encompass the international scope of women's rights.  I could feel my heart sink as I reflected on young girls who had their water poisoned at their schools in Afghanistan, or the BABIES who are raped and maimed in the Congo.  These are just two examples of the numerous atrocities committed against females worldwide, and suddenly, breastfeeding in public certainly did not seem like it was at the top of the list of feminist issues.  Even the assaults on reproductive freedom here in the US seemed somewhat myopic to me.

It is important to note that I am very passionate about rights for breastfeeding mothers, and infuriated by what has been going on lately with attempts to redefine rape, limit women's access to birth control, and disable the ability for a woman to make life transforming decisions about her own body.  I just wish that a few more feminists in the US would be equally outspoken and enraged about the treatment of women all over the world.  Rarely do I see information flying around social networking sites about the lives of the women in Darfur, or the acid attacks that are becoming increasingly popular in many countries.  I am a survivor of rape, a survivor of domestic violence and a survivor in general, but I am humbled to think of the things so many women around the world have to face in their lives everyday, just trying to achieve having their basic human rights met.  Is breastfeeding THE feminist issue of our time?  Personally, I don't think so.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The schooling decision.

Photo Credit
This past Saturday marked the official start of Autumn, my absolute favorite time of year (I know, I know, me and every other blogger out there!). Autumn makes me think of many things: brightly colored leaves, crisp air, apple cider, and hayrides to name a few. But more then anything else, autumn always makes me think of school.

Now its been 8 years since I graduated college, but those 19 years of school (including kindergarten and two years of preschool) become quite ingrained in you. And its only a year until Gwen will start a preschool program, so it is definitely on my mind. As a work outside the house mom (we're all working moms!), I think a lot about the what ifs and the what might have been regarding staying at home, especially when I read about homeschooling and unschooling.

I'll say this first: There is no way, in this time and place, that I could be a stay-at-home mom. If I'd done it from the start, never gone back to work, it would be different, but I did and for me, that ship has sailed. We'd have fun, for sure, but we'd drive each other crazy. She's so used to having the other kids around, I think I'd bore her! Sometimes though, I miss the opportunity that has passed. And never more so then when I daydream about homeschooling. The neat supplies all tucked into baskets, the personalized teaching method and lesson plans designed just so to help my girl get the most out of her schooling.

All parents have a desire to pick the best "life-prep" path for their kids, no matter your parenting philosophy. School is one of the biggest parts of that prep. As parents who sometimes sit outside the mainstream, a schooling system that reinforces certain values and ideals is a big deal to me, and one that's a little harder to find. I am a public school grad myself, so this is in no way an indictment of public school, but the best school districts around here are very expensive to live in, and in the other districts I worry about the overcrowding, overextended teachers, budget cuts for the arts, and other problems public schools are facing these days. This is also not to say that all AP parents chose to look outside of public school, or that Gwen wouldn't thrive there, but like others, I believe that Gwen would do even better in with the unique blend of more personalized teaching with more room for independently-led education that certain "alternate schools" provide. So we look elsewhere.

Right now our top two choices are Montessori and a Friend's School. I'm thrilled we have those options, though, like everything else in our area, they come with a large price-tag. Friend's Schools are known for teaching self-sufficiency coupled with a compassion for others that I really appreciate. For reasons why Montessori partners well with AP, check out Julian's post. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but short of suddenly not needing my income and finding a homeschooling group in my area, they are both my top choices.

The self-imposed pressure to make the "right" choice, the "best" choice, is intense... even though this may be one of those areas where there isn't just one right or best choice. It sticks with me though, the thought that the choice I make now will certainly influence her way of learning for years to come, and with that perhaps her desire to learn and her ability to learn. I wish for her to always have a love for learning that will propel her to try new things for the rest of her life. I hope that the decisions we make in the coming months will help achieve that.

What route did you or will you go with for schooling your children? What helped you make that decision?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Whose Stuff Is It, Anyway?

I haven't used my crockpot in probably two years. I don't know why; I just kind of got out of the habit and it sat in the pantry a long while. This week, I decided to make stew. The Agents love it and it's easy and it makes me think of fall even though the weather here isn't exactly cooperating.

But when I went to find the crockpot, I couldn't. I thought and thought about where it could possibly be: Did I box it back up? Did I move it to another shelf? Did it get lost in the move? 

When I talked to Hubby later that evening (after preparing something else for dinner) I told him all about my missing kitchen tool dilemma. And luckily he knew exactly where my crockpot was!

He noticed I hadn't used it in a while, and really wanted that space in the pantry for something else. So, he took it to Goodwill and dropped it off. 

He figured I wouldn't even miss it, so he didn't bother to tell me. Besides, I haven't earned a paycheck since December 2007, so technically I didn't "buy" it, so it really wasn't mine to begin with. 

Plus, we have been on this mission to declutter the house, and really this was just being helpful, right? Now I would learn to live with less and be content with what I have! 

And maybe next time I'd think twice about wanting to purchase yet another kitchen appliance when I already have a fully functional stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. I even own a coffeepot and a waffle maker. Surely, a crockpot is just overkill.

Any of this sound completely ridiculous to you?

It should. It's complete fiction and would never happen at our house. My husband would never assume he could decide what to do with something that is mine (or ours jointly) without talking to me first.

And we wouldn't do this to our kids either. It is not okay to take our children's belongings. They have as much right to hold onto their crockpot (or legos, or dolls, or books) as I do.

From what I've been reading lately, this does not appear to be a very popular stance. 

I saw a blog post recently about a mother who took away all of her children's toys and previously allowed screen time and replaced it with a pocket playground. (Yeah; I had no idea what it was either.) There was really no logical reason to why she did this other than she wanted to see what happened. Her kids were understandably devastated and confused, but because they eventually learned to adapt (kids are resilient like that) she considered it a "success."

Another story I read just this week was about a parent who cleared out everything from her daughters' room after spending hours cleaning it and coming to the conclusion that they didn't appreciate their stuff and therefore didn't deserve it. (Why she spent four hours cleaning her children's room without enlisting their help or communicating about what she was doing, I have no idea. Probably a whole other post though.) She "allowed" them to "earn" back a few treasured possessions, all the while patting herself on the back for being so clever.

And remember that chore bin photo that circulated a while back? Where if a child left something out the parent held it ransom until the child paid some penance to get it back? Because we all know that adults never leave their keys in random locations, or lose their cell phones, or forget to put away something they finished using.

Conventional parenting wisdom (and most mainstream parenting advice forums) would have us believe that this is completely okay. That it is our job as parents to [teach our kids a lesson, make sure they know they can't have/do everything they want, show them there are consequences for XYZ]. That out of sight means out of mind and if they don't ask for it back it's okay to ditch it. That it's really our stuff anyway, because children don't actually have the right to "own" anything.

I personally don't follow this "logic" at all, and here are some reasons why:

1. Assuming your child is old enough to engage in meaningful back and forth conversation, he or she should be involved. Contrary to what some may believe, children are people and have feelings about their possessions. Even ones they haven't looked at in a while.

2. It won't teach them to take responsibility for their things. It might, however, teach them that sooner or later mom (or dad, but face it, probably mom) will get fed up and do it for them.

3. If the item in question was a gift, and you are swiping it back, it teaches them that gifts are given conditionally, not freely.

4. It's doubtful (at best) that having a few possessions snatched at random will teach them to appreciate their belongings more or to be content with less.

5. If we are still tempted to do one of the above, we probably need a good long look in the mirror first.

Wait wait wait . . . hold on a second. I know what you're thinking: It's not the same because you are an adult and your children are, well, children. Adults can and should make their own decisions when it comes to these things, and children . . . Can't? Shouldn't? Don't deserve the same respect?

Or maybe you agree with me, but are thinking: Okay, that's all fine and dandy, but seriously . . . what am I supposed to do with all this stuff?

Some possible solutions:

1. Limit what comes in. Less stuff, less clutter, less of an issue. Don't worry about what you should have done to prevent it in the first place, move forward.

2. If you already have too much, start by setting an example with your own things. Talk to your children about what you are doing and why. Involve them in both donations and purchases big and small.

3. Give some things away to charity if that's a mutual decision, but have a conversation about it first. 

4. Rotate toys by putting some in a storage bin (or a cardboard box) in the attic, garage, guest room, hall closet, tool shed, wherever you have space. Put away some newer art supplies until they've used up what's out. Tell them what you are doing and why, and be sure they know the items are not going away forever. 

5. Organize what you have with a better system. This doesn't have to be expensive or catalog worthy. Get your children's input; they'll be more willing to keep up with the organizing if they helped with it from the beginning.

6. Make reasonable requests. A two-year-old will never understand the command to "clean up your room" . . . heck, my very sharp six-year-old can get overwhelmed by a statement like that. Stick with short, specific goals. And be prepared to participate while your children are young. I'll straighten out the pillows and blankets on the bed while you put all the books back on the bookshelf. Put all the stuffed animals back in the toy box while I find a basket for these blocks. 

But what if it "works"? What if they do become more content with less, don't notice, don't care, and/or truly appreciate it?

This is definitely a possibility. And the truth is, I really don't know how to answer that one. However, in general I don't believe the end (however positive) justifies the means.

What is your take on kids and clutter? How do you handle this at your house?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Letter to My Unborn Second Child

My Joy,
I call you "my joy" because that is what you already are to me. From the moment I knew that you were finally coming into our lives, joy is all I have felt when I think of you. It took us much longer to conceieve you than it did to conceive your older brother and so I think, maybe, I am already grateful for you because we had to fight for you more. Perhaps it is the idea that maybe we wouldn't have you that makes the knowledge that you are coming that much sweeter.

It is important for me to tell you that although you may be coming after your brother, you are no afterthought. You have been in my heart since the beginning. I never thought of when I would have a child; I only thought of when I would have children. Before we became pregnant with you, we were ready for you. We looked at our life and as full and as wonderful as it is with your brother, whom we love with all of our hearts, we saw the spaces that could only be filled by you. We bought this house and the second we saw your bedroom, I could only imagine you in it. I would walk down the hallways after putting your brother to bed and I would hear the future echo of you two giggling together. I would push him on the swings and I would look at the swing next to him and know where you were meant to be. You were always a member of our family, even though we didn't know you, yet.

I want you to know that I love being a mother with all of my heart, but I am not perfect at it. I cannot even say that I am great at it, but I do try to get a little better every day. You do inherit a much better mother than your brother first met because he has already taught me so much. I know and expect to learn even more from you and I want you to know that I am open to the lessons you want to teach me. I am just grateful for the oppurtunity to know you, love you, and to watch you blossom into whomever you are meant to be and I apologize in advance for the mistakes I will make with you. I am not always the mama I want to be, but I can promise you that even when I am at my worst, I will still love you. When you are at your worst, I can also promise you that I will remember my own mistakes and be kind and as gentle as I can be. We will learn to forgive, both ourselves, and each other, just as your brother and I are learning right now. I cannot promise that you will always like me or even love me; I'm not sure I always like me, but I can promise that I will always love and like you.

I want you to also know that your brother is an amazing person and he will teach you a lot. He has his faults and he can be a little temperamental (I think you'll find that he gets that from me. .. sorry!), but he also has a capacity to love that will only be fully realized when he finally meets you. He already thinks about you and asks when you are coming. He makes plans for you because, I'm afraid, he is a bit of a strong leader, but don't feel you have to follow his lead. He only does it because it is who he is and he will learn who you are by the way in which you tell him what you need. You will have rough patches here and there, but, growing up, I loved my brothers and you will love yours', too. By the time I was fourteen, I already knew that one of the best days of my life was the day I became a big sister and I'm sure your brother will feel the same about you. I have loved getting to know your brother all of his three years and I know that you will love him, too. As for your father, well, you sort of hit the jackpot there. From the very moment your brother was born, your father has been devoted to this family and I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone more excited than he is at the prospect of meeting you. He already loves you and dreams about you. He can't wait to hold and kiss you. (He's definitely the more fun one!)

I will close by letting you know that although we are anxious to meet you, we want you to wait until you are completely ready to be born. Your birthday is a secret for you to whisper to us when you are ready. I think I've found a doula and a midwife who will help us usher you into this world in the gentlest way possible. I look forward to showing the world what we can do together. I will know heaven when I can push you out and hold you in my arms. Until then, I am doing my best to prepare our lives for the miracle of you. Take care, little one.

All my love,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Montessori and Attachment Parenting

Oliver's first day of school
On one hand it would seem that Montessori education and attachment parenting fit together beautifully. Both respect the child as his own person above all else, both are inherently child-led, both value independence and self-direction/determination. For me, the leap from stay-at-home attachment parent to putting Oliver in a Montessori preschool program was a logical one.

While there are solid commonalities between Montessori and attachment parenting there are also differences. Yet to me some of these differences aren't quite so opposing as some may see on the surface but are, in fact, interconnected. For instance: independence and attachment.

For someone who's main focus is on independence it may be hard to see attachment behaviors as anything but dependence; in my reading I have come across the odd passage here and there to suggest Maria Montessori herself may have thought so too, this small quote in conclusion to thoughts on dependence of both adult and child made me squirm a bit in particular: “[...]An adult becomes a slave to such children. Even though child and adult have a deep understanding and affection for one another, they are ensnared in the same net.” (In fairness there are other passages in Maria Montessori's works to suggest a more attachment friendly world view, she's a hard woman to pin down on this issue.)

However as an attachment parent I firmly believe that true independence cannot exist without the solid base of secure attachment. When a child is free to experiment with independence at his own pace with the net of attachment to catch him when he falls or even just second guesses himself he has more freedom to take risks (an important part of learning), and more freedom from the great distractions of fear or anxiety. Respecting my child's independence (of which he has oodles) is a huge part of attachment parenting for me, the need for independence has to be met just  as the need for sleep or affection. In my opinion and experience forcing independence, or more accurately the allusion of independence, by discouraging attachment behaviors is counterproductive to that kind of respect.

So when it comes to separation anxiety; how does one balance the two methodologies? Many of the montessori materials I have read encourage what I call the 'clean break' method of making the transition to school. The child is nervous but mom or dad stay calm, say goodbye and leave while the teacher takes over reassuring the child. For parents, like myself, who have never turned our back to a crying child (unless it's to count to ten or stop a pot from boiling over, let's be reasonable here) the clean break feels absolutely wrong on every level. But I do believe that there is a valid argument for it even within attachment parenting theory.

As children grown their ability for attachment does as well. A newborn attaches to his primary caregiver, in Oliver's case he stayed in my arms a vast majority of the time, he nursed on demand from my breast, he woke and slept close to me so his cues could be recognized and responded to in a timely manner. As he grew he branched out, he started seeking out his father's face and presence like he sought mine and (eventually) came to trust that his father could be relied on to meet his needs just as I could and his attachment to his father strengthened. Now at almost three years of age he has secure attachments with several extended family members. Attachment parenting is not meant to happen in isolation and children should be encouraged to connect with their community. Leaving my child who is upset with a caregiver I am confident will provide him with consistent and loving care isn't 'anti-attachment', it is a difficult transition but one that most children adapt to fairly easily as they form connections with their teachers and learning environment.

However; sometimes children don't react well to the 'clean break'. Oliver was, to my surprise since he's always been so easy going and independent, one of those children and so it was time to put my ideas of how Montessori and attachment parenting can work together to the test. Despite the fact that Oliver was calming down and joining his class quite quickly after I left in the morning I started to notice that his anxiety was starting earlier and earlier before school started. What started as a bit of sadness when we said good-bye at the door turned into sadness as we rode the bus to school then into nervous questions about the coming day at the bus stop, then into frantic pleading that I not leave when the alarm clock went off in the morning. The clean break was not helping his anxiety, it seemed to be making things worse.

The most obvious answer to the problem presented here is that Oliver just isn't ready. To some extent I agree, he is excited to be at school he just isn't old enough to understand that school can still be fun even if Mommy isn't there to enjoy it with him. My first reaction was to pull him out and try again in six months or so but for me it wasn't so simple. Another key component to attachment parenting is balance and for me to juggle work I find fulfilling with being present, mindful, and compassionate as a parent regular time away from each other needs to happen, trying again in a few months is still an option but I would much rather find a way to help Oliver with the transition in a gentler way.

So as I write this I am sitting on a surprisingly comfortable waiting chair outside of Oliver's class room while he plays. Yesterday and this morning we have arrived early, sat and cuddled outside the room and allowed Oliver to make his own forays into the classroom. He hangs up his coat and runs back to make sure I am still here, he says hello to his classroom plant and runs back to make sure I am still here, he goes to see what his friends are working with and runs back to make sure I am still here. I hug him, reassure him, then explain that I have work to do, and so does he. At the bell there are still tears, his teacher still has to pull him in crying but the crying stops almost as soon as the door closes. He waves as he walks by to use the bathroom or go for outside time but stays in cue with the other children. Yesterday he asked at snack time if I was still out here and was happy with the answer that I was without feeling the need to check for himself. The initial separation is still hard, as it should be for his age and developmental stage, but the knowledge that I am here seems to be enough to quell the vast majority of his anxiety. After only a day under this arrangement he woke up excited to come and learn.

Some will ask how long I plan to keep this up, if I am not encouraging dependence by 'giving in' and remaining near by. The answer certainly isn't definite. My knowledge of my child tells me that sometime early next week I will be able to tell him I am stepping out for a little while and he will be ok with it, but prior to this my knowledge of my child would have told me he'd joyfully embrace the independence in the first place so really, who knows. I do know that attachment is about relationships and relationships, as I've mentioned, have to be balanced. As much as I want and need this time away I also need to recognize that my child still needs me. Not because he's 'dependent' but because he's three and this is an experience very different from anything he's done before. I am willing to go slowly, I am willing to work with him and his teacher (who, by the way, had been so fantastic about all this) to lessen his anxiety, I am willing to meet him half way. Is it what Maria Montessori would have done? Maybe not, but Maria Montessori isn't Oliver's mom and our end goals are the same: a free and self directed child who is eager to learn.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breast is Best For You, Too

“Often, mothers see breastfeeding as martyrdom to be endured for their baby's health. If they stop early, they may feel guilty about depriving the baby of some health benefits, but their guilt is often soothed by well-meaning people who reassure them that ‘The baby will do just as well on formula.’ Perhaps if they knew that continuing to breastfeed is also good for their own health, some mothers might be less likely to quit when they run into problems.” La Leche League International

When I gave up on breastfeeding my son at just four days old, I felt like I had failed him. I felt guilty, I felt inadequate, I felt like I wasn’t doing what was best for him. What I didn't realize at the time is that in giving up breastfeeding, I failed myself, as well. I didn’t do what was best for me.

I’ve learned so much about parenting since my son, but one of the most important areas of education for me has been breastfeeding. We all hear about how many amazing benefits breastfeeding has for babies; but we don’t often (or at least, not often enough, in my opinion) highlight the very many benefits it has for mothers, as well.

Oxytocin. After birth, putting baby to breast releases this remarkable hormone which not only signals the breasts to release milk (let down), but also produces contractions which help the uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy state. Oxytocin is also known as a “feel good” hormone, and the more your body releases, the more relaxed and content you feel. It’s released each time your baby latches on.

Reduces the risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer. The female body produces less estrogen when it’s lactating, and studies suggest that less estrogen decreases the chances of cancer occurring. Chances of breast cancer in particular can be decreased by as much as 25 percent. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the lower the risk of cancer.

Lower rates of postpartum depression. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed have lower rates of anxiety and stress.

I’d like to add that these are merely studies—I know that every woman who breastfeeds does not avoid PPD, and in fact have known mothers who experienced PPD because of their negative experiences with early breastfeeding. But I firmly believe that breastfeeding is not to blame—rather, lack of real support, education, and the presence of booby traps are the culprits. This was my experience with my first born, and I’ve seen it happen to other women as well.

Interruption of menses. Alright, this isn’t necessarily a huge deal for everyone, but it has been for me! I didn’t get my period until my first daughter was a year old; my baby is almost five months old, and I’m still happily period-free. It’s said that this is nature’s birth control, but I wouldn’t bank on that, since you can easily get pregnant even when you’re not menstruating.

Burn, baby, burn. Breastfeeding on demand can burn as many as 500 calories a day! It’s been shown that breastfeeding mothers tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight more easily.

I mention the above cautiously, because this is not the case for everyone. In fact, the body tends to hold on to a few extra pounds (to keep up milk production) while breastfeeding, and based on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, your body type, etc., you may not reach your pre-pregnancy weight for some time (if at all). And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Rigid dieting during breastfeeding not only runs the risk of interfering with your milk supply, it’s unhealthy for you, as your body will take what it needs to nourish your baby and leave you with little else.

That said, though I don’t believe that weight loss should be motivation to breastfeed, it’s an awesome side effect if it works out for you (and if it doesn’t, just look at the list above! There are still so many amazing benefits!).

Other benefits include lowered risk of osteoporosis, lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and lowered risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Lastly, breastfeeding is free. I’ve done it both ways, and even with the purchase of breast pads, a breast pump, some pump accessories, and a few bottles, I have spent close to nothing breastfeeding my daughters, compared to the hundreds of dollars I spent formula feeding my son—and we switched to cow’s milk when he turned one. Continuing on with “toddler” formula doubles, even triples the cost, depending on how long the formula is used.

I believe that if this information were made more readily available to pregnant mothers, they would be twice as likely to breastfeed—or at least stick with it when it gets a bit hard. After nine months of pregnancy and a difficult birth, I felt like I had given so much to my son, and I couldn’t give any more. I was so tired, and I was so stressed. Even though I knew I could do better than formula for him, had I been aware of how good breastfeeding was for me, it would have given me the motivation to keep going.

When you’re in over your head with a new baby, losing sleep, grappling with new emotions, a new body, and a completely different life, it can indeed feel like martyrdom to continue breastfeeding your baby. If every woman had this information at her fingertips, maybe she would feel empowered and supported to keep on going.

I am the proof. Though much of my confidence has come from the wisdom of having more than one child, most of my peace and contentment has come from the way I parent; from the things I’ve done differently, and better. Breastfeeding is at the top of the list.

Breast is best. For babes, and for moms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sexy Little Girls

The sexualization of young girls seems to be a disturbing trend in this country, and it leaves me deeply concerned about the types of things that will be marketed to my daughter as she gets older.  Sadly, I didn't even have to wait that long to discover inappropriate girls clothing, when I stumbled upon this bathing suit from the Gap while searching for my daughter's first suit.  I was shocked that a leopard print string bikini was being sold for girls ages ONE through five.  When I was a kid, my one piece suits had rainbows and hearts on them.  Not that those suits don't still exist, but I found my brow furrowing as I sifted through more and more sexy suits for toddlers.  Ultimately, we decided to skip the bathing suit and put her in nothing but an Applecheeks cloth swim diaper, which some may argue exposes more than a string bikini.  However, there are undeniable associations between sex and things like animal prints, string bikinis, fishnet stockings, thigh highs, short skirts/shorts, etc...  I would think nothing of seeing a 2 year old wearing only a diaper, or a six year old in a short jumper.  Yet I look at most of the young girls I see around my town, and many are wearing shorts that in my day we called "Daisy Dukes," because the super sexy (adult) character on Dukes of Hazzard always wore incredibly short shorts.  I suppose when I think of it, there was a trend in the early 80's for short gym shorts with white piping up the side (for both guys and girls), but the socks pulled up to the knees that often accompanied them just doesn't scream "Sex!" to me.  It just seems that the clothing currently being offered to tweens and younger has a very different tone than it did back then.

After seeing a photo that a friend posted of sexy tween Halloween costumes, I decided to fish around and see what's out there.  I make my daughter's costumes, as my parents did for me.  In 4th grade I was a tree - encased in cardboard that had a bark print on it, with small branches sticking out of my waist.  In 5th grade I was a ladybug, with a baby tub covered in red fabric and painted with black dots strapped to my back, and some black socks stuffed with other socks dangling from my shirt.  Even in junior high I remember Halloween being about fun and creativity - not how sexy I could look.  When I searched the other night, I found so many appalling costumes, many marketed to girls as young as 4 years old, that are not a far cry from a french maid outfit.  This one happens to be made for girls as young as 10 years old. 

I'm not exactly sure when or how this happened, but I'm so saddened by it all.  Clearly these things are being prominently marketed because there must be some parents out there actually buying them.  There are so many choices as a parent that while I may not practice them myself, I will happily dismiss as every parent's right to decide.  Whatever the case - video games, cell phones, sugary foods...I will usually say "to each his own"....EXCEPT in this instance.  Sexualizing young girls is NOT acceptable to me in any way, shape or form, and I will unabashedly declare it. 

I would by no means consider myself a conservative, puritanical sort.  I'm an atheist who'd like to think that I'm explicitly liberal by nature, and I am perfectly fine with educating children at a young age about sex.  Yet the implications of dressing young girls this way infuriates me to the core.  There is the obvious reasoning that children do not need any help attracting pedophiles and sexual predators, but there's so much more than that.  What sort of message does it send to an 8 year old that it's acceptable to exploit her not yet developed body and show it off?  Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire a while back when they introduced a padded bikini for the 7-8 year old set. Just what every girl needs! A complex that their breasts aren't large enough and their body isn't good enough before they even start, much less finish developing!  Last summer parents were livid when JCPenney was selling a shirt that said, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me."  How is this any different?  I guess it's alright to send your child out into the world wearing shorts that from a distance look like underwear because they don't actually say on them "My mom thinks the only thing that I've got going for me is my body, so I should show it off.  Here ya go boys!" 

In an age where women are being forced to fight resurfacing battles over reproductive rights, isn't it time we start empowering our daughters to be strong, intelligent women instead of encouraging them to be sexual objects?  I know that's what I intend to do with my own daughter, and I can only hope that over the next few years this trend begins to subside, rather than get worse.  Sadly, I'm not entirely convinced that will happen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Introducing Myself

Hi, my name is Meegs and I'm the newest contributor here at Connected Mom. Here I am with my very first post, and let me tell you, I could not be more excited to join the other smart, sensitive Mamas here. I thought I would introduce myself before I dive right into writing.

My name is Meegs, and I'm a personal, all about my life blogger, turned mommy blogger with the birth of my beautiful, spirited daughter, Gwenivere, on February 16, 2010. I work outside the house full time... which is exciting, exhausting, and bittersweet. I cherish every moment home with my sweet girl. I started my blog, A New Day, in 2002 as a way to vent and ramble. I started off sporatically enough, but it became my journal and memory keeper. I feel like I've found a real community online, and love sharing myself with the world.

Since that day so long ago when I dove into blogging, I've graduated college, moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia, worked the same job in center city for 8 years, traveled to China, got engaged, bought a house, got married, traveled to Ireland and Mexico, walked a 60 miles in 3 days walk for breast cancer, got a super pup (Daisy), had Gwenie, started working one day from home, and started volunteering with a monthly Sierra Club service project! Not to mention a million other smaller things that make life great.

I'm a babywearing, breastfeeding (2.5 years and counting!), sometimes bedsharing, gentle-parenting mama. My husband, Travis, who I'll celebrate my 12th anniversary with (and 6th wedding anny) this fall is my partner in crime and a fabulous dad! He's sort of a goofball, a little bit of a nerd, definitely a big hockey fan... and we have a great time together.

I'm an easy-going girl that loves tattoos (I have 8 currently!), food (especially sushi) and the outdoors. I was born and raised in the country, and love the autumn time. I'm passionate about being greener, co-existing peacefully with the environment and its many critters, and LGBTQ rights. In my free time (ha!) I love to read, go for long walks, cheer for the Eagles and the Flyers, cook, and spend time with my family and our friends.

I can't wait to share a little bit of our lives with you!
If you'd like to know anything else about me, feel free to ask! I'll be posting here every other Monday.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Simple Healthy Changes

In May I posted about using moving into a new house as motivation to get a bit more environmentally friendly. Today I would like to share a few super simple changes we've made in the last few months toward this goal.

Cleaning. I have discovered the joys of green cleaning! We use vinegar to clean the toilets, a vinegar and water mix as an all-purpose and glass cleaner, baking soda and lemon juice for tough stains, and olive oil and lemon juice to polish the furniture. It is all so easy . . . I am totally kicking myself for not doing this sooner. (We do still use commercial brands of laundry and dish detergent.) 

Food. We've made several changes in this area. (Take a peek at what's in our grocery cart.) First, I gave up my addiction to artificial coffee creamers and started putting honey and whole milk in my coffee. (It is delicious, by the way!) We started buying Greek yogurt and organic yogurt made with real sugar (instead of the corn syrup sweetened varieties). Recently we made the switch to brown rice and whole wheat pasta. (My oldest even told me, "hey, I like this new brown pasta.") We also began purchasing a brand of milk from a local dairy; supporting a nearby farm and only a few cents more per gallon. We stopped buying a favorite snack because there are food dyes in it. We've stopped eating lunch meats. We now buy only real butter. (Note: I tend to be wary of any diet plan that suggests eliminating an entire food group because it is evil. Please don't comment that I really need to switch to eating only dairy-free, gluten-free kelp cakes.)

Personal Care. The kids and I previously switched over to a toothpaste without dyes or artificial colors or flavorings. Other than that we haven't done much in this area. Still not interested in going no poo, and my beauty regimen is pretty much nonexistent, so not a lot going on there. We've have, however, been making an effort to not buy personal care products unless we really need them. As one small example, we actually use all those trial size shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and lotions we accumulate during our travels before we automatically just buy buy buy new without thinking about it. 

What (if any) little changes are you making these days? 

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

About the author: Valerie is a Navy wife and homeschooling Momma to three young children.
She blogs at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Announcing a Pregnancy: Should You Wait out the First Trimester?

When to break news of a pregnancy is a very personal journey. Some like to tell right away; others want to wait until the first trimester is over. There are valid reasons for both choices. On one hand, there is the desire to share the joy for as long as there is joy to share, as Jenn and others have written about so eloquently. On the other hand, is the desire to keep the news close and to enjoy the secret between your partner and you until you are completely sure this baby is very likely to happen. With a fourth of all pregnancies ending before the first trimester is complete, this is a very valid concern. Personally, I had always been around others who told right away and so I assumed that I would be one of those people, too, but then when I did get pregnant, my husband believed very strongly in not telling anyone until we were out of the first trimester. He had the experience (twice) of being told an out of state friend was pregnant, only to call back a month or two later, ask how the pregnancy was going, and was told it had ended in a miscarriage. He didn't want to make anyone feel that awkward, so out of deference to him and his strong beliefs, I have kept both of my pregnancies secrets until just about the second trimester.

It actually was a strange kind of experience for me. Both times, as soon as I knew I was pregnant, it was like I had a drum in my heart beating "I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant" and I had an overwhelming desire to just insert it randomly into nearly every conversation. "Oh, you need toilet paper from the store? Well, guess what, I'm pregnant!" "Oh, you are cutting your lawn this weekend before you visit your relatives? I'm pregnant!" Both times, we told our families before the trimester was up and a few, key friends, but we did not tell extended friends or acquaintances until the magic twelve weeks was up, but a strange thing happened both times. As the weeks of secrecy wore on, I became more and more reluctant to tell anyone my news. Partially, this was because I grew to enjoy my little internal secret. Before we told the world, we didn't have to share our newest baby with anyone. The details of the pregnancy were ours alone for three magic months. Each baby was like our secret garden that we were tending until it was in perfect bloom. It also gave me something to hold on to when I had a bad day or when it seemed like I was having trouble with my normal stress. I could talk to the baby and that baby was my tiny little, secret confidant. Each baby was like my own private dream. I didn't have to hear anyone's scary labor stories or hear about how different my life would be when I had the baby. I didn't have to hear any advice. Those first three months were all about my dreams and hopes about what I wanted my life to be like as, first, a mother of one and now, in this pregnancy, a mother of two.

That was the more positive part of not telling, however, it was not the only reason for my growing reluctance to tell. A part of me also grew more fearful with each passing week of what would happen if I did wait to announce the pregnancy and then immediately lost him/her, anyway. It was as if keeping it a secret in fear that a miscarriage would happen, made me more and more fearful that a miscarriage could happen and I dreaded telling anyone for fear I would have to untell them and they would know that this was a "later" miscarriage because I had waited so long in the first place. It also became somewhat nerve wracking never dropping any hints and trying to convince everyone that I was just fine, when in fact I was over-emotional, nauseous, and bursting with questions and stories about my plan for my VBAC that I couldn't share because it was still a secret.

One of my favorite yogis, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, in her book, Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful (one of my new favorite pregnancy books) writes of the first three months that they are like "preparing the ground before the garden is planted" and that it is best to "[o]nly let good vibrations go toward the energy it takes to plant a soul" (15). So, when it comes to deciding if you should wait to tell or not, I would consider whether you will have better "vibrations" if you keep it a secret or if you tell others. If you feel, as my aunt and many other people I know who like to wait to tell, that you would like to keep all that positive energy between you and your partner and let the outside world have its influence later, than keep that "delicious secret" (as Gurmuhk also calls it on the same page) to yourself and enjoy tending that secret garden until it is in full bloom. If you are afraid that keeping it a secret will invite your own negative energies and worries into your joy, than tell. In my case, it was a mix of both, but telling a few key people, like my extremely close friends and family definitely helped my garden to grow better than keeping it just between my partner and I would have.

Thanks for reading,
I'm due between late February and mid-March!


Monday, September 3, 2012

The Simple Boxcar: Bring Nick Home

When Ani of The Simple Boxcar asked us if we would be interested in hosting a feature post for her I jumped at the chance. For anyone not familiar with Ani’s story; she is single, naturally minded, home-schooling mom to Nick. Nick has been removed from his mother’s care on false allegations and kept through loopholes in state law because of Ani's 'alternative' lifestyle and parenting choices. You can read all about what is happening in Ani’s own words HERE.  

I started following Ani on twitter just about two years ago, I felt there were a number of things we connected over, what originally drew me was our mutual interest in the art of living simply. I also appreciated Ani’s wit and her willingness to share, discuss, and defend her political and/or spiritual views in a way that both challenges and delights me. I was awed and inspired by her ability to create the life she wanted, to stay at home to educate her son, Nick, to follow her passions, to live simply and harmoniously without the support of a partner or extended family.

Her strength is simply magic. Despite the absolute nightmare she is living through she is still working and creating, still fighting for little things-small details to bring Nick as much joy as she can during the limited visitations they have. She has not forgotten her faith, she has not deterred in her commitment to doing what’s right for her family. I am so happy to be supporting her as much as I can, I am proud to call her a friend.

Currently Ani is raising funds to hire a private attorney who will be able to give Nick’s case the attention it deserves. Part of her plan to do that is her Etsy shop, The Simple Boxcar, here you can find all manner of lovely knitted items from scarves and hats to washcloths to dolls to yoga bags and, my personal favourite, these fabulous barefoot sandals (I like to call them festival footies because they are absolutely perfect for the grassy dance floors of outdoor music festivals):

The yarn Ani crafted these out of is so soft and the colours are so beautiful and vibrant and perfect I literally squealed when they arrived in my mail box. I love that there is a lot of extra material in the ties to give you a few style options, and the quality of the yarn makes them so comfortable even if (like me) you don’t always like the feeling of fabric around your toes. If you’re not really into going barefoot these can be used to fancy up plain ballet flats or worn on your hands.

This is what happens when you try to do a photo-shoot at nap time
Ani sent me this pair free of charge so that I could tell you all about them and I think the highest praise I can give is to say that I just placed another order for a beautiful cowl for fall and winter.

As well as supporting Ani’s shop I have also sent her a small donation through the paypal buttons on her blog, and I’ve signed the petition that has been set up urging the state to right the wrong that has been done here. All parents deserve the right to make decisions for their children without the threat of actions like these and all families, no matter what size, shape, or colour, deserve to be supported in whatever decisions they make. 

Please Support Ani to bring Nick home in whatever way you can, shop her Etsy store, send a donation, send her kind words and prayers, share her story with your networks. Thank you!