Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Magic Room is Not for Me

I'm a mom and I have a daughter. Consequently, The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters by Jeffrey Zaslow sounded like a book I should read.  So I did.

It turns out it's not my cup of tea.

It's not that I didn't enjoy it, I just found it a little annoying.

Technically, there's nothing really wrong with the book. Zaslow leaves you in suspense in all the right places. He makes insightful little comments on the state of marriage in the United States today. There were chapters I enjoyed, stories that made me a little teary, and a few moments when I started wondering about my own daughter's future and who she might fall in love with. I thought a lot about the fact that I wasn't a girl who dreamed about my ideal wedding day. I thought a lot about how wonderful my wedding day was...even though it was nothing even remotely like the weddings in the book. 

Like I said, there's nothing really wrong with the book. It's filled with cheesy love stories and plenty of people who overcome tragedy to find happiness and love.

And I guess that's partly why it's not my cup of tea.

I'm definitely a fan of cheesy love stories but I got bored with story after story about the horrible things the people in the book endured before finding love (or after finding love). Some people probably think that makes me a horrible person. Sorry. I'm not trying to make light of their hardships. There are some incredible stories in this book. But sometimes I want to read about people who fall in love without the bad stuff. Sometimes I want to be uplifted without simultaneously being depressed.

Everyone faces challenges in life but enduring tragedy is not the only things that makes love worthwhile.

I think everyone wants their children to find love. I doubt there are many people out there wishing their children would be alone forever. I think most people would agree they want their child to find someone who respects them and supports their aspirations. Someone who loves and cherishes them. Someone to take care of them if they get sick.

Obviously. That's the message Zaslow is trying to get across. Unfortunately, he makes this universal statement over and over again but fails to support it with stories that match.

Yes, there is a wide variety of tragedy and circumstance throughout the book but in the end I felt like something was missing. Zaslow's message is only universal if you're a white, middle-class, heterosexual, dreaming of a big dress, and a wedding in the Midwest. I hoped he was going to look at the wide variety marriages taking place in these modern times but the book only went so far as to make being an older bride, having been married before, or having a child out of wedlock seem non-traditional. I was annoyed he made such a big deal about the young woman who was "almost an atheist."

Throughout this book, even though Zaslow periodically makes comments to the contrary, love is equated with marriage and a wedding dress. All hopes are pinned on the dress. He even describes it as a "life preserver".

It's a book about the love we want for our daughters and it's set in a bridal shop. I felt like that inherently contributes to the idea that love is a commercial object. Trying on dresses can be fun but I don't think it's the end all be all of being in love. Love can be alive and well without the dress and the ceremony.  

While I understand the importance of tradition and symbolism, I believe equating love with the dress puts too much emphasis on the wedding and not so much on the entire lifetime afterword. I dislike the refrain, your wedding is "the most important day of your life." In my experience it was an amazing day but so was the day I met my future husband. So was the day we started dating. So was the day I realized I'd found my partner for life. So was the day we found out we were pregnant. So was the day our daughter was born.

I dream about my daughter falling in love. I don't dream about buying her a wedding dress. She might not want one. Or maybe she'll want one that costs thousands of dollars. I don't know. I won't think any less of her relationship because of a dress. Zaslow casually mentioned how brides have become entitled and bossy over the last decade because they think it's expected of them. I certainly don't dream about my daughter becoming a bridezilla. The term and it's general acceptance annoys me. It's perpetuated by all the hype about having the perfect wedding. But I supposed any real commentary on this societal trend would be another book in and of itself. 

I want my daughter to fall in love. I want her to find someone who respects her. I want her to find a love like her father and I have. But she may not find that love with a white man like her father. She may not even find that love with a man. I'm not going to wish her any less love if she falls in love with a woman or someone of another race or ethnicity. She may choose never to get married and that is okay too.

By failing to address interracial and gay marriage and couples who love each other and choose not to get married, I feel like Zaslow is assuming there is a universal dream that everyone wants their children to fall in love and marry someone that looks like them. That's not necessarily true for me. I want my daughter to find love but I'm not the one to say what that love might look like. I understand that people could argue they wouldn't wish for their child to be gay or to be in an interracial relationship because that would make life more difficult for them.  

That may be true. I don't wish a difficult life for my daughter. But I'm also not imagining her falling in love with someone specific. I want her to know who she is and be herself. I don't want her to be lonely. I want her to have someone to share the burdens in life. Someone to have adventures with. Someone to smile at her crazy hair in the morning and kiss her when she has bad breath.

I just hope that by the time she falls in love, we live in a society where all relationships are accepted and glorified for the love they hold and not what they look like or whether or not you walk down the aisle in a fancy dress.

Would I pass this book on to a friend? It depends on the friend. I know people who would adore this book. I also know people who would be frustrated and angered by the stereotypical standards of love and marriage it upholds. I know too many people who don't fit the mold yet constantly feel it's pressure. 

This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but it's all my own opinion. To find someone with a different opinion or to find out more about The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters and the author Jeffrey Zaslow, visit the the Magic Room page at the BlogHer Book Club. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Breastfeeding in Public

Until last Thursday I hadn't gone to a La Leche League meeting since my daughter L. was one month old. Back then we were having problems latching and my nipples were sore. I went seeking help. A few weeks later I went back to work and wasn't able to attend any other meetings.

By the time we moved to Texas, my daughter was almost eight months old and we had worked through our breastfeeding challenges. We were successful. We didn't need help. It didn't occur to me to join a La Leche League group. My mom suggested it a few times but I didn't think I needed it.

A few weeks ago two things happened that changed my mind.

First, a friend from back home came to visit us with her almost-two-year-old daughter. As we sat in the living room nursing our girls I realized how rarely L. sees other babies nursing. When she does see other children breastfeeding they're generally much younger. We don't know any other two-year-olds in our area who are still nursing.

L. was overjoyed to see our friends breastfeeding. She would smile and squeal with excitement and ask if she could nurse too. I think she likes knowing she's not the only one.

The other thing that motivated me to seek out La Leche League also happened while our friends were visiting. On their first day in town we took them to the aquarium for the day. After running around for a few hours we settled down to watch the dolphins and let the girls have a snack. The viewing room was empty except for a 4th grade class on a field trip. The students were behind a curtain and facing away from us. The students couldn't see us but the teachers, who could see over the curtain, noticed that my friend and I were breastfeeding our girls.

Let me assure you we were being discrete (only 28 states have laws exempting breastfeeding mothers from indecent exposure laws and Texas isn't one of them). After two years of nursing we've got it figured out. Most people never realize what we're doing.

Nonetheless, the teachers noticed. They glared pointedly at us and whispered to each other while staring at us. They gave us dirty looks and talked behind their clipboards.

Long story short, the teachers had a problem with us breastfeeding in public. One of them came over to us and made it clear that we shouldn't nurse when the students were up and walking around. The students might see us and ask questions. She explained that she wasn't comfortable discussing it with them. She didn't think it was her place as a teacher to explain.

I was surprised she was more comfortable confronting a complete stranger than she was answering questions from her students.

I calmly told her I was really sorry she wasn't comfortable explaining to her students that I was feeding my child.

I told her that Texas state law protects my right to breastfeed in public spaces. I suggested that, if she were uncomfortable with breastfeeding and answering any questions her students might have about how I was feeding my child, that she let the parents know their child had questions. She didn't think it was her place to do this either.

Although she claimed to be "totally supportive of breastfeeding" and said she had breastfed her own children, she said I needed to be respectful of the people around me. I told her I was sorry she found the fact that I was feeding my child disrespectful. I told her I was not doing anything inappropriate by breastfeeding. I told her breastfeeding was not remotely sexual and reminded her that my friend and I had both been completely covered.

The teacher and her co-worker continued to tell me how inappropriate and disrespectful I was being.

I told them that I felt their behavior toward me and my friend had been disrespectful as we had done nothing illegal. I told them I was sad that their behavior was my friend's first impression of Texas hospitality.

I ended the conversation there.

My daughter turned two last month and this was the first time anyone has ever said anything to me about breastfeeding in public. I'm glad I live in a country where I have the freedom to breastfeed whenever and wherever my child gets hungry. I'm glad the law is on my side.

Yet, I was surprised and saddened by the views of these two teachers. It made me realize how far we have to go before breastfeeding is the norm, before breastfeeding in public is socially acceptable. According to the World Health Organization only 33% of infants less than 4 months old are exclusively breastfed in the United States. That percentage drops down to just 13.6% for children more than 6 months old (click here to see the complete data for the United States and other countries).

Those are incredibly low rates considering that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding until at least a year (exclusively for the first six months) and longer if possible. The AAP specifically states that there is no known psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or beyond (read the entire AAP statement on breastfeeding here). The World Health Organization also recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and then continuing for at least the first two years (click here for more info) or longer.

Let me be clear. I'm not making a breast vs. bottle argument. It's every mother's right to make an informed decision about whether breast or bottle or any combination of the those is best for her and her family.

I'm simply saying there is a lot of work to be done to make breastfeeding more socially supported and accepted and there are numerous reasons it should be both supported and accepted. 

My encounter with the teacher made me realize I wanted to connect with other mothers who are breastfeeding and supportive of extended breastfeeding. I want my daughter to see that it's normal for babies and toddlers to nurse. I've gone back and forth about whether or not we're ready to wean and have decided L. is going to lead our weaning process. I don't want to regret weaning her before either of us was completely ready. I love breastfeeding and I'm grateful we've been able to nurse as long as we have.

That said, I've realized that I'm in a position where I need support again. I've been worn down by all the passing comments about how it's time for me to cut her off and wean her for good. 

I wanted affirmation that continuing to nurse is what is best for me and my daughter. That's why I went to the La Leche League meeting last Thursday. 

But when I got to the meeting I realized that it wasn't just about me. It was bigger than that. I needed to be at that meeting for myself and my daughter but also for the other women who choose to breastfeed in my community. They need support just as much as I did when I went to that first meeting two years ago. I realized I had come full circle to a place where I could give and receive support and encouragement. 

Every woman who chooses to breastfeed should be able to feel confident with that choice.

She shouldn't have to defend that that choice to anyone.

But the reality is that women frequently do have to defend themselves. Just recently a woman was harassed at a Target store in Houston. (In case you're interested a national "nurse-in" in scheduled for 10am on December 28th at your local Target to raise awareness about a woman's right to breastfeed in public). It will never cease to amaze me that in a culture where breasts and scantily clad women are everywhere (on TV, movies, magazines, billboards) women are harassed for breastfeeding their children in public. Breasts have been so over sexualized in our society that we've become completely detached from their original function. 

That needs to change. I'm glad I went to the La Leche League meeting and I'm going to keep going back.

If you're looking for breastfeeding support and community, check out these sites:
La Leche League International
Cafe Mom Breastfeeding Support and Information
Mothering Magazine-Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding.com
Breastmilk Counts
Best for Babes
Breastfeeding Laws by State

Also, many state health departments have wallet size cards explaining breastfeeding laws that you can download, print, and carry with you. You can download a card for the State of Texas here.  

What has been your experience breastfeeding in public?

This post is part of the Breastfeeding Support Blog Party. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Rose Cake for Christmas

Last Friday my family and I attended a fabulous little Christmas party. It was a potluck and since desserts were needed, I decided to bring a cake.

[Actually, I found this tutorial for a rose cake a few months ago and had been looking for an excuse to try it out. The Christmas potluck was perfect!]

I was too chicken to do the vertical layers or two different types of cake called for in the tutorial. I did two boring horizontal layers of chocolate cake. I used the same recipe I used for L.'s birthday cake.

One thing at a time. Fancy frosting first, fancy layering job second. Next time. There will be a next time.

Ta da! Here's the final product:
It wasn't as pretty as the original but it could have been worse. I don't have much experience using a tip and a pastry bag. The cake definitely had a better side and a worse side. It didn't look too bad from a distance though!

Just a note about the frosting recipe...I used the recommended crusting buttercream frosting and I don't think I added enough milk. I was worried about it not holding it's shape and as it turned out I don't think it was quite creamy enough. The roses held their shape but they weren't as smooth as they could have been and the frosting was a little difficult to work with.

And I used equal parts butter and shortening instead of all shortening. I think it made the flavor better. It tasted more like a real buttercream...only really, really sweet. 

I admit it was a little sweet for me. I'm not a frosting person. But it is fun to play with!

Oh, and I almost forgot. I sprinkled a little sparkling sugar on the top when I was done frosting the cake. I thought it made it a little more Christmas-y.

What is your favorite thing to bake for the holidays?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Late November Harvest

On November 30 we harvested veggies from out garden. It's still weird to me that we are growing anything this time of year. Maybe I'll get used to it one day.  Until then, ignore me if you find my frequent exclamations annoying.

Anyhow, our lone Rainbow Chard plant reached maturity, and since the weather was supposed to drop near freezing within the next week, we thought it would be a good time to bring it inside.
Isn't it pretty?

I'd read that you can harvest the outer leaves first and let the rest of the plant continue to grow but since we weren't sure about the weather, I cut down the entire plant. I cut the stalks off about a half inch from the ground.

And despite several days of cold weather...look what we have a mere ten days later!
Sorry about the blurry photo. I'm so excited it's still growing! We may have more chard in a few months! I'm amazed at how it grows right up out of the old stalks.

And just for the record, L. loves chard. It's naturally very salty and you can use it just like spinach. L. ate it raw while we were harvesting. I ate mine sauteed with a little butter and pepper.

Yum.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let's Talk About Domestic Violence

Why should you talk about Domestic Violence?

Because your words could save lives.

Simply put, domestic violence is a "pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person with whom an intimate relationship is or has been shared through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence."

People who are abused often feel isolated. By speaking out you can let them know they are not alone. 

Domestic violence affects women, men, and children of every race and ethnicity, every socio-economic background, and every education level.

It's not okay. Ever. Love shouldn't hurt.

Today BlogHer and Liz Claiborne, Inc. are teaming up for It's Time To Talk Day. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, talk about it. Tell them it's not their fault. Tell them they are not alone. Tell them there are people who want to help them.

If you are in an abusive relationship, let me tell you--It's not your fault. You're not alone. There are people who want to help you. It's scary and difficult but you have options. And if you think your abuser is tracking your computer use, read about Internet Safety and remember to clear your browsing history and/or clear your cache files.

Eliminating domestic violence is a cause near and dear to my heart. I spent years (pre-baby) providing confidential (and non-confidential) shelter services for women fleeing from violence. I spent hours and hours answering crisis line calls and providing resources. I lobbied to save funding for domestic violence services. I taught workshops on self-esteem and dating violence prevention to middle school girls. Half way through my master's program I changed my thesis topic to address issues of domestic violence following an infuriating conversation with a colleague.

But this is not merely a professional interest for me. I have friends who are survivors. I know friends of friends who are survivors. More than once I have called the police when my husband and I heard neighbors being abused by their partners (two different apartments, two different cities, two different women being assaulted).

Domestic violence is everywhere and I am honored to know amazing women and men (many of them survivors themselves) who work to end domestic violence every single day. Despite the work being done, the statistics are still alarming. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence,

*Nearly one in every four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood. 

*1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape. 

*Three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in America, on average.

*Approximately 2.3 million people each year in the United States are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.  

*Approximately 37% of women seeking injury-related treatment in hospital emergency rooms were there because of injuries inflicted by a current or former spouse/partner. 

Teenage girls are currently the most at-risk group for abuse in America.

Our sons and daughters need to be safer than prior generations.

We need to talk about domestic violence. We need to make sure our sons and daughters are safe. We must speak out against it. Victims and survivors need to know they are not alone no matter how isolated their abuser makes them feel.

Talking can help. Writing can help. Want proof? Check out ViolenceUnSilenced.

Need resources?

If you or someone you know if being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or 1.800.787.3224 (TTY).

Love is Not Abuse has a hotline for teens dealing with dating and relationship violence. If you or someone you know needs help call 1.866.331.9474 or 1.866.331.8453 (TTY).

In addition to the sites above, you can also visit The National Network to End Domestic Violence
and The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence for more information about domestic violence, teen dating violence, rape and sexual assault, warning signs, safety planning, how to help yourself or a friend, or how to get involved in eliminating domestic violence.

If you've been wanting to say something, do it today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Click on the picture to see it better...I've been playing with the rolling panoramic feature on our new camera!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reflections on NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) is complete. I wrote a blog post every day during the month of November. I'm glad I did. But I have a few thoughts.

First, writing everyday is healthy for me. However, writing and publishing a post every day isn't very realistic or sustainable for me. Throughout November (which is an especially busy month for us with birthdays and Thanksgiving) I found myself prioritizing the writing over things like running, showering, and sleep. I can't keep it up. Sometimes I have to do other things that are good for me too. In future I think I'll try to write a little every day (say 20 or 30 minutes) and then stop even if a post isn't complete.

Second, more than once I found myself posting something just so I'd have a post and not miss a day. I think I posted a few things that weren't necessarily worth posting. On the other hand, I made myself publish one post I'd written several months ago and never posted. After double checking for typos I published Judgmental Parenting on a day I didn't have a whole lot of time to write. I was self-conscious about that post but it got a really good response. I'm glad my commitment to NaBloPoMo motivated me to share it.

Third, I feel good about how hard I worked last month and that leaves me feeling justified in taking a few days off now. I have a good friend in town and I'm going to prioritize my time with her and her daughter and my family over writing for the next few days.

And I'm running a 5k on Saturday. It's my first official race since 2007 and I'm a little nervous...so I'm going to have to prioritize a little running as well.

Have a wonderful weekend and see you all next week! Thanks for reading and keeping up with me during NaBloPoMo!

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