Monthly Archives: April 2010

Three things: the BADD, the Gentle, and the New

One: The first of May is Blog Against Disablism Day, and although I really meant to participate again this year, I’m operating on about four hours’ sleep, and instead of blogging about ableism/disablism, I’m thinking I might actually take care of my own disabilities and go to bed (sort of) on time. Shocking, I know. But go read the other excellent BADD posts.

Two: The week-long Carnival of Gentle Discipline is over, and it’s been fabulous. But the fun isn’t yet over: no ma’am, because from now through next Friday (7 May 2010), you can vote over at Baby Dust Diaries for your favorite original Carnival post. The winner gets a $25 gift certificate to Wild Mother Arts at Etsy. Do read all the entries, and vote for your favorite — and I promise I won’t be even slightly disappointed if that’s not me, because the competition is quite outstanding, and I’m proud to have been among them all.

And three: Elizabeth of the oft-dormant Elizabeth’s Little Blog introduced me to Kelly Hogaboom, who also writes Underbellie, and I think — after less than an hour cruising around both sites (and there will be much more time spent there than that when I’ve had more than four hours’ sleep) — that I’m in love. Just… yeah. Read tollhouse helps (which reminded me strongly of We knocked on the neighbour’s door, only, y’know, better), and then read childbirth is natural / childbirth is danger danger!! or perhaps: if you’re a woman you suck, and you will know why.

Your turn: tell me three things from your own life of late. Good, bad, indifferent, ambivalent, whatever. Links optional. Consider this That Spot, you know, the one on your counter/table/banister/cat furniture where you drop all the stuff you’re sure is important but you don’t quite know where to put yet. We’ll help you sort through it. Or just ooo and ahh. Or commiserate. Whatever’s called for.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: 10,000 Dresses

Welcome to The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to parents who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

10,000 Dresses

The Story

Bailey (a white girl of maybe 5-8 years old) dreams of a staircase of 10,000 beautiful dresses, each unusual and unique. She tells her mother, then father, then brother about her dreams, and asks each in turn to help her get one of the dresses she falls in love with, but each time she is rebuffed, because they say she’s a boy and “boys don’t wear dresses.” Discouraged, she runs away (“all the way to the end of the block”), and meets an older girl, Laurel, who is trying to sew dresses, but is disappointed because they each come out the same. Bailey shares one of her ideas with Laurel, and they make two dresses out of mirrors. Laurel declares that Bailey is “the coolest girl I ever met”, and asks Bailey if she can come up with any more dress ideas; Bailey assures her she “can dream up 10,000 dresses!”

Intended Audience

The intended audience for 10,000 Dresses is actually a little unclear to me; obviously transgender girls (those who like dresses, anyway) would appreciate seeing themselves mirrored in print, as Bailey and Laurel are mirrored in the dresses they make for themselves. But Bailey’s family are quite rude, even cruel (especially her brother, who declares her dreams of dresses “Gross!” and threatens her with violence — and for this reason might be unsuitable for survivors of abuse); therefore it doesn’t seem the type of book caring cis parents would buy for their daughter. That said, it serves as a simple, engaging introduction to being trans and the discrimination and misunderstanding transgender children (especially trans girls) can face, and that’s a message children both cis and trans (and as-yet-unknown) could do with hearing.

Also, Bailey and her family are white (which while not a problem by itself, is part of a pattern of the “default human” being white, straight, cis, etc, and only varying from that in one aspect at a time), and thus might be off-putting to children of color — especially trans girls of color, who are looking for role models for themselves.

The publisher suggests the book for 4-8 year olds, but I would suggest it for any child ready to move on from board books.

Changes in the telling

There is little we change or add when we read this out loud, but it is more reinforcing of gender norms than I’m entirely comfortable with; perhaps in an effort to make the message simple and clear for young children, it conflates inherent gender (that Bailey is a girl, despite her assignment at birth as “boy”) with a desire for a particular style of gender expression (wanting to wear dresses). Perhaps most girls — no more so trans girls than cis girls or vice versa — enjoy “girly” things, such as dresses, but I am always concerned when such desires are presented as absolutes: that Bailey wants to wear a dress because she is a girl, and she is a girl because she wants to wear dresses.

Further, although the book does an excellent job of reinforcing the message of Bailey’s girlhood despite her family’s protestations to the contrary, the assertion that “boys don’t wear dresses” goes unchallenged. Thus, in reading it to the Boychick, we usually add something like “Which is wrong, because boys can wear dresses too!” We also point out how cruel it is that they yell at Bailey when they say she doesn’t feel like a boy.

On the Bookshelf Because

There’s not a lot to contrast 10,000 Dresses to; this is the only picture book I have encountered explicitly about (and supportive of) a transgender child, and for that alone I would celebrate it. But further, it tells its message well, unwavering in referring to Bailey as a girl and using the appropriate pronouns (except in direct quotes from her family), and communicating what many adults make into an unnecessarily complex concept in simple, appropriate language, as when Bailey says “But I don’t feel like a boy.”1

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

The first time we tried reading 10,000 Dresses (in the bookstore, along with a dozen other offerings), the Boychick didn’t want to finish listening to it; after we brought it home, however, he has been happy to read it and often requests it. I think one of the biggest barriers he had to it was simply that he’s unfamiliar with the concept of a “dress”, since no one he knows (including me) regularly (or, uh, ever) wears them. The pictures and cadence and repetition of the story draw him in, however, despite that initial barrier.

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

Buy it. For all its simplicity and faults, as (one of?) the only books about a transgender girl, and a well written and Boychick-approved one at that, it’s quite worth getting for your own bookshelf.

Your Take

Have you read 10,000 Dresses? What do you think, and what do your kids think? Are there other books with similar messages you prefer? Are there any other books supportive of transgender children you know of?

Warning: Although I’ve included links to the book listing on Amazon (any purchases through which will earn me some small percentage of the sale), I would put a strong trigger warning on that link, especially the reviews, due to much mis-gendering and cissexist language.

  1. I will note however that not feeling like a boy does not necessarily indicate one feels like a girl, and this exchange could be off-putting to children with nonbinary genders.

Choosing Joy

This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

Here is what I do not do: I do not spank the Boychick. I do not put him in time outs. I do not count to three1. I do not punish him for failing to live up to my expectations. I do not expect him to live up to anyone else’s unrealistic expectations. I do not use a “naughty step”. I do not use reward charts. I do not, in general, bribe2. I do not believe yelling is particularly effective or acceptable.

Here is what I am not, that people nonetheless often assume when I say the above: I am not perfect. I am not yell-free. I am not a saint. I am not a martyr. I am not a zen master. I am not a naturally low-conflict person. I am not a naturally comfortable-with-chaos person. I am not without anger. I am not without impulses to violence. I am not even without impulses to violence toward my child.

Here’s the thing: I choose — for it is a daily choice, a moment-by-moment choice — this parenting style3 not because it comes easily to me (in case you hadn’t gathered from the above, it doesn’t), or because I’m selfless (I’m not), or an emotional masochist (I’m really not), or because I think people who parent differently are bad parents (I don’t). Rather, I choose it for two reasons: one, I think it’s a way to raise an emotionally healthy, secure, confident, interdependent child, and two — no less important — I like feeling good.

I could expound upon the former point, but the second I think is said less often. Simply: given the choice, I would rather feel good. I would rather look at my child and smile because he’s being rambunctious and learning about his body than tense up and get ready to yell because he’s being wild and tearing through the place (it is, after all, often a matter of perspective). I would rather take the time to find creative solutions that leave us all satisfied than waste hours feeling angry and resentful and listening to him cry and be grumpy. I would rather practice finding joy in chaos than create frustration trying to control that which is not controllable.

Which is not to say he never needs, or gets, guidance, limits, or boundaries (neither is it to say that I’m particularly good at shifting my attitude to one of joy, but when I’m not it’s often because I am stuck in HALT TOT4, or have been triggered by his behavior). But we assume he wants those things, and is at all times doing his best to meet both his needs and our expectations. Our part is to communicate effectively what our expectations are and help him meet them.

Communicating guidance and boundaries effectively means both using language he can understand and making sure our behaviors say the same thing our mouths do: saying “don’t put this in your mouth” is the fastest way to get him to put it in his mouth; saying anxiously “you can do it by yourself” while hovering over him tells him we think he can’t do it; shouting across the room to not dump all the cereal out doesn’t work nearly as well as getting up and righting the container. So we think about our words, and we think about what we’re saying without words, and sometimes we don’t use words at all because he’s not in a place to hear them right then.

Helping him meet our expectations means making sure that they’re reasonable, that there aren’t any impediments, and that he has the tools and guidance that he needs. Reasonable expectations take into account the world he lives in, and his abilities — both his limitations and his strengths (for children are often far more capable than we think). When he’s tantruming on the floor over his popped balloon, we consider that possibly he’s in HALT TOT, and seek to rectify that and address the underlying problem, rather than getting upset over what is only a symptom of an unmet need. And if we want him to say please and speak to us kindly, we make sure he has the words and the modeling to know how to do that.

While working on this post (at night, after The Man took him to bed, when I do all my writing), the Boychick came out of the bedroom, unable to sleep. I helped him go back to bed, after letting him stay up for a little to eat and to use the toilet — and he got back up after another while.

I had a choice, then: I could get upset, and try any number of ways to coerce or manipulate him (ordering, bribing, or threatening him to go back to bed); or I could accept that this night wasn’t going to go how I’d planned, find the joy in the moment, and get creative about either getting him to bed, which would probably have involved going to bed with him, or, as I’m doing right now, writing it with him in my lap. Neither set of options (for there are near endless options within each paradigm) would get me what I originally envisioned for the night; but one way — choosing joy — would leave us both happy. Why would I choose anything else?


Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/Welcome to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!
Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 – What Is Gentle Discipline

Day 2 – False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)

Day 3 – Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)

Day 4 – Creating a “Yes” Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)

Day 5 – Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)

  1. Except on the way to his favorite number, 5, when we’ve agreed that’s how many more times he’s going to do whatever it is I’d like to be done doing.
  2. I do, however, sometimes use lubricants, like making sure I have a snack to hand out when it’s time to get in the carseat.
  3. Joyful parenting, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, attachment parenting, whatever you care to call it; labels don’t matter so much to me as what it feels like.
  4. HALT TOT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Thirsty, Overstimulated, or in need of a Toilet.

NPFP Guest Post: I was three

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

TRIGGER WARNING There is a strong trigger warning on this post for descriptions of child sexual abuse and incest. Please do not read if doing so would put your own health or sanity in jeopardy.

I was three

I was three when it began. It was our own little game, you said. No one but us could know because they wouldn’t understand. On that one count you were right, they would never have understood. You were fifteen or sixteen, my uncle. In the beginning it wasn’t so horrible. Your touch was gentle and you said you loved me. I wanted so desperately to be loved. At three I already felt alone in the world.

You held me close when we played hide and seek in the snow with all of the other cousins that winter; I was terrified that we would be found. You whispered to me, “It will be okay, I’m here. They won’t find us.” That thought was strangely calming. You frequently gave me treats; that day we shared hot cocoa wrapped in a blanket on the swinging bench at Grandma’s house.

By the time I was five, gentle touching had turned to rape. I remember the first time, how could I not? That day has been indelibly etched in my mind. Your room was filthy, as always. Your bed not made, dishes from days before stacked around the room gathering ants and flies, clothes strewn all over the floor. The sheets on the bed were foul smelling and scratchy, the pillow lacking a pillowcase and showcasing a prominent yellow stain. I had no idea what was happening; even for all of the touching that had gone on I was quite ill-prepared for what came next. That is the first time I remember trying to get away from you. I earned a swat on the butt for that and then was thrown into the wall. You picked me up from the floor and pushed me on the bed. You stood there naked, expectant and high with excitement. Your weight was crushing, your breath stinky and your body sweaty. I had never before experienced pain on that level. I felt I would break in half, thought of Humpty Dumpty and wondered if I’d be able to be put back together again. There was no way for me to comprehend that the part of me that would not be fixed, could not be fixed, was my mind.

Your bedroom was upstairs in the converted attic. I remember so many times standing at your gabled window; the serenity of the street below in direct contrast with my emotions. Our relationship no longer felt safe, I no longer felt loved by you. I wanted out; I wanted nothing to do with you. I never felt dirtier than I did when I was with you. And yet you had the perfect way to keep me quiet: the winter before I turned six my little sister was born. You never thought twice about using the image of her little body with yours to coerce me into doing whatever your sick mind wanted. The fear that you would get to her like you’d been able to get to me haunted me to the point that many times when we arrived at Grandma’s house I sought you out in order to keep you away from her.

I was six years old and I was following every order of yours to the T. I knew it was wrong; one of the first things we learned in school was that no one should touch me in the multitude of ways I was being touched by you. And yet. And yet there were the many threats you offered up to keep me compliant. You would tell everyone I was lying and I’d be taken away from my family for being such a Bad Person. You would take my little sister next. You would cut me into little pieces. My fear of you and what you would do if I ever told anyone kept me quiet.

For the last seventeen years I’ve done everything I could to avoid seeing you. This year Grandma called me and invited me to dinner at her house. When I asked who would be there your name was on the list of attendees. I wondered if I was strong enough to confront you. I wondered what I would say when I came face to face with you for the first time in more than half my lifetime. I fantasized about bringing our secret out in the open and what would happen to you when I did. I thought long and hard about going to dinner. In the end I called my sister and gave her the bare bones account of what had happened years ago. I asked her if she’d be willing to come to dinner with me. I needed to face you, but I needed help watching my four year old son. I wanted to make sure that he would never be in a room with you.

When we walked into the house we greeted Grandma with hugs and kisses, sat down at the dining room table with her and then looked around to see who else was there. The fear came back immediately when I saw you in the doorway; I was once again three, five, eight, eleven, fourteen, fifteen. Those seconds lasted a lifetime. Then all at once your gaze switched from me to my son, my four year old baby. I was no longer three, five, eight, eleven, fourteen, fifteen. I was thirty-two and I was a mother. I stood up and set my boy child back on the chair the two of us had been sharing. I stood between you and my loved ones, my little sister and my child. I stood for all those times that I couldn’t say or do anything except exactly what you said. Although my heart felt as if it would beat through my chest, I stayed there. And you, you sick man, you looked from me to my sister to my child again and again. You waited to see if I’d say anything or what I’d do. And still I stood tall. I stayed there, breathing, taking strength in the time that had passed, in the stories I’d recently shared with a trusted friend, in the knowledge that I no longer had to bear this horror alone. I stood, knowing the truth and hoping that you remembered all of it too. And when you finally turned away and walked out the front door to leave, I drew in a fresh breath and gave thanks.

——————————

Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the blogger will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: Heather Has Two Mommies

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this series, I review children’s books of interest to parents who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

I thought it fitting to start this series with a book that, when it was born 21 years ago, created a controversy for its seemingly simple message that families come in many different configurations.

Heather Has Two Mommies

 mce_src=

The Story

Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two pets, two arms, and two mommies: Mama Jane and Mama Kate. When Heather starts preschool at three years old, she realizes that other people have daddies and she doesn’t, which starts a conversation about who is in all the other children’s families. The teacher suggests everyone draw a picture of their family, and declares “Each family is special.”

The art is simple black and white (pencil or charcoal drawings, I’d guess) in a realistic style, with contributions from a five year old for the family drawings.

Intended Audience

Heather Has Two Mommies is not just for children with two mothers, although they might especially appreciate seeing a family that looks like theirs (or more so than most books). However, it is very obviously written by and for liberal/crunchy white families. Heather and her mothers are white, most of her classmates are white, and the children’s family portraits were all drawn by the same little girl (I suspect a black or Latino child’s self portrait, like David’s or Juan’s, would not be identical what a white child would draw — but I don’t know). The telling of Heather’s conception (with explicit references to doctor-assisted conception, and sperm, “womb”, and vagina), and home birth (attended by “a special nurse called a mid-wife”) might limit the appeal to families who adopted, birthed in a hospital, or grew by some other means. And while I giggle appreciatively at Mama Kate’s shirt in one frame, which declares “NO NUKES”, it communicates a very particular cultural affiliation that might put off some readers.

Changes in the telling

Perhaps the most obvious fail in Heather Has Two Mommies is the definition of a womb: “A womb is a special place inside a woman where babies grow.” In reading to the Boychick, we drop the special and add the very-important some: “A womb is a place inside some women where babies grow.” I don’t believe that kids are too simple to understand complexities like some, especially given that the topic of the book is that some kids have two mommies, some kids have one, and some kids don’t have any.

I also change around the retelling of Heather’s conception and birth a bit, not because I have a problem with the explicitness, but rather because it bugs me that it doesn’t go far enough. I replace “sperm” with the more accurate “semen” in “[the doctor] put some sperm in Jane’s vagina”, change “egg” to “ovum”, and add “and she didn’t get her period!” on the page about the early signs of Jane’s pregnancy. The Man downplays the “mid-wife”‘s role in the birth, and we’re both annoyed we can’t flip Jane over into a better position than “sitting in bed”.

Overall, however, especially given the length of the book, it requires relatively little on-the-fly rewriting to make it palatable to us.

Right on!

Things Heather Has Two Mommies gets right: the message of diversity of families, that “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other”1. Shows families with same-sex parents, single parents, adoptive parents, and step parents. Class of six contains two children of color. One child’s “[brother] uses a wheelchair”, and the family portrait includes a picture of him in his chair, albeit in the background.

But does it appeal? The Boychick’s take

I was surprised how much the Boychick likes this book. Since it was one of his first non-board books, I was not expecting him to sit through it, considering its rather excessive length. But he not only sits through it all, he sometimes requests it multiple times in a row, and still be engaged by it. Perhaps this is because we acquired Heather Has Two Mommies around the time we started talking about sending him to preschool — for the first week after we bought it, he referred to it as “the room book”, a reference, I assume, to the “play group” room Heather goes to. Summary: The Boychick approves.

Buy it, Consider it, Skip it, or Compost it?

Consider it. The old-fashioned art and cultural references, the cissexism, and the explicit conception and birth descriptions mean Heather Has Two Mommies won’t appeal to everyone, but mostly it’s a story that’s held up remarkably well in the 21 years since its first publication.

Your Take

Have you read Heather Has Two Mommies? What do you think, and what do your kids think? Would you consider acquiring it now? Are there other books with similar messages you prefer?

  1. I admit I read that as a prescriptive: it is important that all families love each other. It might, however, be read by a child with an abusive or emotionally unhealthy family as an absolute statement, leaving them to wonder what’s wrong with them that members of their family don’t love each other.
Private