On being a mama, and being a mama of a small child.

There are a couple of recent guest posts at Feministe written by a woman named Maia regarding children in public spaces and what it means to be a mama. I was horribly late to the comment-party (-FAIL), and when my “thank you” got to be more than 200 words, it got transferred here. So.

The bit of Maia’s post that stood out to me:

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?

I am the mother of a small child, who, long before becoming the mother of a small child, had the opportunity to watch small children in situations that most people in my area (US Midwest at the time) wouldn’t consider “appropriate” places to bring kids.

The four year old child of my voice teacher ran and played with other kids up until the few moments before my teacher’s recital began, when the kid climbed up into a chair, sat face forward and paid attention to what was going on, with only a small reminder from his mama to do so. This was normal for him, going to concerts and being quiet when they started, because he’d gotten the opportunity to do it.

Thing is: if you take kids places that don’t specifically cater to kids, they learn to do the things the adults do. My two year old already knows, when we go to our local cafe, that you go get in a chair and sit down, that when we go to hear music somewhere, you listen to the music. There are times we go home early, sure, but that’s usually for kiddo’s well being (too tired or hungry).

Expecting children to be on airplanes is the reasonable thing to do, yet some fellow airline travelers seem to think that my child getting to go see the grandparents is some sort of infringement on their right to quiet. If they know they are bothered by children and would take the time to buy a $2 package of earplugs at the dollar store, they might be much less bothered when/if the hollering begins. Pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin hurts some people’s ears, and if you’re not verbal yet, the only way to deal with that is screaming.

I haven’t encountered self-proclaimed feminists with this attitude yet. My usual interactions with the why-are-children-in-my-WAY crowd have either been with complete strangers or with people whom I know to not be particularly interested in treating children like human beings (or women, for that matter, although they’d deny both charges).

The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.

The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well. I’m grateful I woke up to

One small note: I call myself a radical feminist. I don’t know if that label says all the time what I want it to say, that the problems of misogyny and racism and ableism are at the very roots of our society, so what needs to happen is for all that to be rooted out – that it won’t get better with patches and creams, cosmetic changes like allowing (some) women to vote or making the wage gap not-as-bad or making abortion theoretically legal but only marginally obtainable. The problem is at the root, so the solution has to go there. I don’t know what my part in it is, but when I just read what bfp and other WOC say about their lives, that just kids just being kids while black or brown gets them arrested and abused, that the places mainstream feminism has repeatedly ignored women of color gets them killed.

This shit has to stop. I am not going to go off all delusional like the Great White Woman Who Saves The Brown People From Themselves. What I can do, right now, is raise my child to treat others like human beings. What I need to do further than that, I don’t know. But I’m not going to go expecting WOC to tell me, either. It’s my job to educate myself.

A geek, in all things

So. I’m trying to figure out this feeding-and-putting-the-baby-to-bed thing.

So I’m keeping track of when Tobit sleeps and eats (and for how long, and what happened, with notes!) in iCal.

In. All. Things. I am Geek.

(I’ve also started a blog called Letters to Tobit. I made a place for pictures, now I’m going to have a place for stories.)

Balance: I needs it

It’s a daily, near-constant struggle to (attempt to) achieve, and requires endless maintenance.

But still, it’s worth it all. It’s always worth it.

I’m not even trying to balance a job with all this, yet I find myself quite busy enough, thanks, just trying to keep my sanity and the kiddo fed. It’s getting easier, and yet I can’t seem to get caught up. I think the sleep deprivation is getting to me, and staying with me, even though I’m getting more five-, six-, even seven-hour stretches.

Parenthood is definitely not for the faint-of-heart.

Medical bills (most from the birth) have been piling up, and that’s a stressor, although my mother has been able to help me out a great deal in getting those things paid off (“pay it forward”, she always says, followed by “you just have to take care of me when I’m old”). Financially, our heads are just above water, which is good enough for me right now. Things could be much worse in this economy.

But remembering my own needs (eating well, getting enough daylight, taking care of my wonky back via yoga or chiropractic, getting to the dentist soon) is the most difficult of all, and I only seem to remember them when things go wrong, when something gets out of balance.

Still, the way of life is error-correction. Turmoil is to be expected with a new baby in the house, no matter how sweet-natured and good-tempered. Things change. Change disrupts the patterns in daily life, and as mine weren’t all that strong to begin with, it may have upset the equilibrium, if not the actual scheduling. I am, in some ways, looking forward to the changes this will inevitably produce, because I will, hopefully, develop some more of the self-discipline I’ve heretofore lacked, in order to combat the chaos inherent in new parenting. Already I’ve noticed myself trying to “make the best use of time”, grabbing 5, 10, 15 minutes here and there to wash dishes, knit, read, or just rest. It may be that I begin to marshal myself into some semblance of an orderly life, taking those precious hours during the little one’s afternoon nap for some sort of self-enrichment, or even start taking on translating gigs, and begin to regain a feeling of self-sufficiency, even if actual financial self-sufficiency is still a ways off.

It’s a goal. I’m on my way to it, even if I have only made a small start.

What I wanted

…and didn’t get, due to understandable circumstances. But this is what I wanted when I gave birth.

If I weren’t so happy for her, I would envy this woman. As it is, I’m just a bit sad things didn’t turn out for me that way. At least I didn’t have to have a C-section, so that’s something.

(Video below the cut is potentially NSFW, esp. if you’re in the U.S. We’re such prudes about the naked human body, especially the female body, even in completely non-sexualized instances like this.)
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The vicissitudes of energy, and First Fig

Yep. I’m not back up to snuff yet.

I thought I was. I had such a surge of energy yesterday, a delirious, intoxicating rush of competence and ability and determination, that I was deluded into thinking that yes, my body had fully recovered itself from the exertion of 12 days previous, that running a marathon wasn’t out of reach like it had been a week ago, that my full self was finally back and conquering the world fully within my grasp.

Today showed me that, alas, this was most certainly not the case. After relatively “normal” activity — a third of an hour at the park, and the remainder buying a few groceries for the house — my energy plummeted suddenly after my lunch, during Tobit‘s lunch, enough to have me shaking myself awake every few minutes, babe in arms, and finally relinquishing the little one to the safety of the crib, because my grasp was no longer the safest place for a child that small. I tried to manage on a 30 minute nap, when what I really needed was no less than two hours, and I’m still moving at less than normal speed, feeling less than my normal self.

It will return. It will. Patience isn’t just to be practiced on the newborn, but on myself as well.

The culmination of yesterday’s festivities was convening with other writers of First Fig, which, among other things, produced a septet of verse, and inspired this more florid prose.

Edited to add: I’m also writing haiku.

Fiber Geekery: Patchwork Afghan (10% completed)

I learned how to knit several summers ago, when I took a class at the Yarn Barn and made a horrifically ugly yet functional felted bag (which was, of course, left in Germany at Dory’s house). I really got the hang of knitting in the round (start knitting and keep going) and decided that, when I needed a portable keep-my-hands-busy hobby last summer, that knitting hats for my in-laws’ myriad grandchildren would be just the thing.

Always when I get into a new fiber art, I get really ambitious, and start a huge project that I never ever finish. I was determined not to ruin my own fun by starting yet another huge project, but I also wanted to complete something more time-consuming than a 2-year-old’s hat.

I was inspired by a quilt that was left at my house long years past by a roommate who moved out and forgot to take everything with her. It’s a patchwork quilt, done mostly in strips, using all manner of leftover random fabric, as any good quilt does. [Photo forthcoming, when I get said quilt out of the car. It’s been traveling lately.]

What I had in my knitting basket was six different colorways of the same yarn I’d used on most of the kids’ hats last fall; a discontinued yarn, so I wouldn’t be able to simply go down to YB and get another couple skeins if I wanted more of X color for a project. I was stuck with remnants, and I hate to throw away anything; yet another legacy of my Depression-era grandparents, I’m sure.

Since, I reasoned, cloth scraps could be quilted, yarn scraps could be, too, so I started small, casting on 12 stitches, and knitted until the piece I had looked roughly square (turned out to be 16 rows). I changed colors at that interval, and this is what I have so far:

patchwork afghan

Strips of knitted fabric, much like sewing quilt squares together for a strip quilt. I found someone else’s project on ravelry, showing that she’d knitted similar rows together, so I’m planning on doing that as well — picking up stitches on the long edges, knitting one row each, and finishing with a three-needle bind-off (which I will have to learn how to do).

The confidence to strike out on my own in an art that I’m relatively unpracticed at is a fun little challenge, even though I’ve pretty much kept it really simple (I knit every row — no fancy stitches for me! Simple garter will do.)

I’ve also found that I want more colors than I have, and that quite a few users on ravelry are willing to either trade or sell the Classic Elite Flash prints and solids in their stashes (or even give away remnants of skeins) so that I’m not limited to red, orange, blue, green, pink and white.

In any case, this is the first present I’m making for the impending kiddo (a.k.a. Plus Sign, wiggle-wort), and I want it to be colorful and soft. The yarn I’m using is 100% cotton and has a nice hand, and with all the help from other ravelry users, it should put rainbows to shame.

[In case you’re so inclined, and a member yourself, you can watch this project as it progresses on my ravelry project page: Patchwork Afghan.]

[ETA: If you’re a knitter/crocheter and not on Ravelry, you can sign up if you want (it’s free). If you’re NOT a member, and not interested, then you’ll just have to wait for updates here.]

FA, HAES and Pregnancy.

I’ve noticed something about people, since I’ve gotten pregnant.

They like to commend me on my lack of appetite for sweets. For those of you who know me personally, you understand precisely how bizarre a turn of events this is for me, and that it must be dictated by pregnancy hormones, because I would rarely pass up on the opportunity for dessert, or something sweet, no matter the reason, occasion or time of day.

People say what a Good Thing (TM) it is, that I don’t want a lot of sweet foods these days. They congratulate me, like it’s some sort of moral achievement or personal victory.

Newsflash: I’m just eating what my body tells me, just like I did before I got pregnant. It’s called Intuitive Eating, folks.

The problem that is tangled up with all this is the (erroneous) assumption that there are Good Foods (TM) and Bad Foods (TM). I can assure you, that from the standpoint of a pregnant woman’s stomach, the only bad foods are the ones that sound like they’d do a number on my digestion, i.e., foods that would not be the best choices for me at the moment.

That, however, is absolutely NOT what is meant by Good and Bad Foods (TM).

We have somehow come to this notion that foods have some sort of moral value. If it’s something you’d eat to try to lose weight, it’s Good (TM). If it’s something you’d be told to avoid on a diet, it’s Bad (TM).

Food doesn’t have moral value. It has nutritional value. Any food. Anything that your body can derive energy from (described as “calories”) is food, and if your body can fuel itself with it, then it’s got nutritional value.

I see, so often, in discussions of FA/HAES, this formulation when discussing Intuitive Eating or refuting the Good/Bad Food assumption:

“Sometimes I eat X, sometimes I eat Y.”

In these instances, the given value of X is “some food associated with good health and/or dieting” and the given value of Y is “some food associated with poor health and/or fat shaming”. I don’t think that FA advocates are missing the point when they use this phrasing — I think it’s an attempt to communicate with others who are still under the delusion that some foods are morally good while others are not*, when all that distinction is used for is trying to bully people who don’t fit the mainstream ideal “Thin” into complying, or to bully folks who DO fit the ideal into continuing to comply.

There’s something complicated in all this too — about keeping people in line, oppressed, although I can’t quite tease it out yet.

So, if I say, as I might in normal conversation, “I don’t really want any Y; I don’t have much of a sweet tooth these days” — that is precisely what I mean: Food Y doesn’t appeal to me at the moment, thanks. It has nothing to do with any moral value others may ascribe to Food Y, nor does it stem from any desire of mine except what my stomach dictates.

Believe me, I miss sweets. I can’t wait until half a cup of homemade pudding doesn’t give me heartburn, or the thought of chocolate cake doesn’t turn my stomach or simply not appeal at all. I take no particular delight, as others seem to expect me to, in the fact that I can’t enjoy the foods I loved before I was pregnant.

There is no “side benefit” to not wanting dessert. I don’t want to lose weight. I’ve long since given up on the dieting myths that say self-deprivation is the way to socially-accepted health status. My goal is my actual health — not some outside view of what that should look like.

This is Fat Acceptance. This is Health At Every Size. That I get to define, for myself, what healthy feels like, and do what I consider the best things to achieve and maintain that health. Weight is an arbitrary number, and size is not an automatic indicator of health. I’m more healthy now, because I listen to my body and do what it tells me it needs to do, than when I was starving myself in high school or trying to avoid the candy dish so as not to top 150 lbs.

Because I love my body, and want it to last a long time, I do what it indicates is good for me, instead of trying to force it to be one way or another. I, and my health, are much better for it.

*Leaving aside people’s personal beliefs regarding moral eating practices. Veg*nism, religious beliefs, etc., aren’t something society at large touts as moral food choices, at least not in the U.S.

This blog is paved with good intentions.

One of which, naturally, was to do an I ❤ my body post on Valentine’s Day, which has, of course, come and gone. I will still put that one up, I think, although in my own time. I hadn’t read much on FA and HAES in a while, but it struck me that the one love letter I could truly write (well, semi-publicly) was one to myself.

As it is, life happens, and my energy isn’t what it once was. For good reason, of course. The first trimester does that to a woman, I understand; and I’m understanding firsthand these days.

That’s right, I’m going to be a Mommy-Blogger.

One of the reasons that FA and HAES are so important to me right now is for that very reason: that my body is about to undergo some massive changes, and that if I don’t start out from a place of acceptance, I’m just going to drive myself crazy. What energy I have left that isn’t being sucked away to support the Plus Sign (as I have affectionately termed the growing embryo/fetus) is being devoted to keeping me sane and happy, generally taking care of myself, and resisting the years of self-criticism and self-judgment based on my physical form.

I mean, seriously. I was embarrassed by how ‘fat’ I was when I had to buy a size 10 swimsuit, even though I’m much bigger now. I have stretch marks already, and have had for years. I’m going to do some of the things that mothers everywhere recommend (lotion daily, exercise, prenatal vitamins, yoga, etc.) but they have to be for my health and well-being, and not for those pesky niggling ideas from the outside world that basically boil down to “I’m not good enough”. (I am extremely grateful not to have cable right now, thereby cutting down on said messages a bit.)

So. I have to do the lotion thing so my skin will feel good/better, and not because I’m afraid of getting More Stretchmarks ZOMG! (TM). I have to exercise because it might help me fight lethargy, and not so I will Lose Weight (TM).

This, to me, is the essence of Fat Acceptance: caring for the body because it’s my body and it deserves to be cared for, and letting the results be what they will be. I want to be strong, and flexible, and active. Thin is no longer important. If I have to buy new pants, whether larger or smaller, it does not matter. What matters is that I’m improving my health and enjoying my life.