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Click “Like” If You…

If you have an account on Facebook (like everyone else between the ages of ten and eighty), you undoubtedly receive a number of requests to “like” or “share” a page in your daily news feed. If not a direct request, you’ll see the page being liked or shared by your buddies.

As far as I can tell, these request fall into one of three categories:

1. Share if you don’t think people should punch Down Syndrome kids square in the face.

These requests tell touching stories that pull at your heart strings. They often involve protecting the innocent and/or vulnerable–like puppies, kitties, or special-needs kids that are being bullied. Or they deal with loving your country, your kids, or your pets. Or thanking Veterans for their sacrifices.

What they all have in common is making you feel like you’d have to be a sociopathic monster not to support them.

2. Share This if You Can Guess the Answer in Under a Minute

These involve some kind of puzzle: a crossword, a math equation, a riddle… It tends to be fairly simple, so people can guess it pretty quickly and feel smart. And then they want to share their cleverness with their friends.

While the first type appeals to your sense of morality, this type appeals to your ego… See how smart you are? Tell your friends!

A bizarre variant of this type is: Show Everyone How Old You Are. It calls itself an “Age Test” and usually involves a picture of some dated technology or childhood memorabilia. I assume the lure must be the thrill of recognizing something other people might not recognize, as well as the shared experience with other people in your age range.

3. My Parents Said I Could Finally Get a Winter Coat if I Get A Million Likes

This final category includes the appeal to complete some worthy goal if enough people show support. The lure is that with the simple click of a button, you get to feel like you have helped accomplish something admirable. You are industrious, involved in the community, and a team player, and with a simple tap of your thumb.

These request feel much like the chain letters of yore , which would promise great rewards or terrible luck, depending on whether you choose to participate. The question is: where so they come from? Who starts them?

An even bigger question, is what is this supposed to accomplish? You may be against bullying, sure, but how exactly is clicking “like” on an anti-bullying blurb going to end it? Is there a panel if experts who wield the power to end bullying forever scanning Facebook requests to see whether the population supports it? Are they monitoring instances of bullying and checking with Facebook to decide whether or not to intervene (“Hmm, there’s a kid in a wheelchair about to be tipped over… Let’s see whether Facebook users disapprove”).

At least the third category of requests claim that your “like” will result in something concrete. A million requests will supposedly get someone to stop smoking, or further some other worthy cause…

Unfortunately, many of them are completely fraudulent. Photos of kids with diseases are posted by people with no connection to the kids, when really they are farming for personal information, giving you potential viruses, or otherwise conducting scams. These photos cause great pain to the actual families of the people in the photos.

Scammers are horrible. They prey on your good intentions and vulnerabilities. Be careful about liking or sharing posts when you have no idea who originally threw them into the Facebook feed.

To Spank or Not to Spank

spankNow I know what people mean when they say that if you don’t have any children, you shouldn’t be giving parents advice.  I had plenty of solid opinions about child-rearing back when I was single, childless, and consequently had loads of time in which to ponder these sorts of things.  I was certain that if and when I ever had offspring, I would raise them so differently than the ways I had observed while growing up: I would never use food or television to pacify them, or be a harsh disciplinarian who raised her voice or stifled their individuality, or refuse to take them to restaurants when they obviously need to become socialized… My fuzzy visions of future parenthood were not based on actual experience, of course, but on idealized fantasies and sitcoms, where conflict is simple and always resolved with obvious solutions and touching hugs that reaffirm the parent/child bond.

Yet now, while struggling with a newborn and a two-year-old daughter, I have suddenly become THE MAN. After a childhood of testing my parents’ boundaries and throwing tantrums against seemingly endless repression, an adolescence of pulling fast ones on the totalitarian wardens they call “teachers,” and a young adulthood of railing against The System and mocking perceived sell-outs, I find myself now on the other side of the equation–a member of the taskmaster force, setting rules and enforcing boundaries in the continuing fight against chaos.

I consider myself a rather crunchy parent. I breastfeed my daughters, co-sleep with my babies (moving the older one into her own room after a year), made my own organic baby food, took mommy-and-me exercise classes, and showered an inordinate amount of snuggling and attention on my babies.  I read a massive amount of books about kindler, gentler parenting methods–including Miyam Bialik’s tome on attachment parenting.  All of them seem to advocate that bonding properly with your offspring will keep them naturally good-natured, and that they are rational little beings who can be talked into proper behavior with convincing arguments. It all sounded pretty good to me.

The problem?  Small children are rational to a degree, and certainly lovable, but they are also extraordinarily tempermental beings with a weak conceptual grasp of consequences, the needs of other people, and really, limits of any kind, be they gravity or social disapproval.  While my two-year-old daughter is very loving and adorable, she is also a 25-pound Juggernaut of destruction whose havoc-wreaking tendencies are beginning to overwhelm me in ways for which nothing in the literature prepared me.  I find myself in grocery stores struggling to quiet  a screeching newborn with one hand, while in the other, my two-year-old strains against my grasp.  She breaks free, runs circles around the cart, dodges around the other customers to cause a traffic jam of frustrated shoppers while grabbing random items on the shelves.  She will try to break eggs.  She will make-noodle-legs and refuse to walk.  She will stop suddenly, throw her mouth open, and make me cringe as she prepares to unleash a screeching wail, mid-aisle that brings about an onslaught of disapproving glares. She will of course wait to do these horrible things until our shopping cart is piled high and escape is nigh impossible.

Her public antics are nothing compared to her behavior at home.   There, she has decided that she no longer wishes to wear clothes or diapers. She will tear them off the second my back is turned and hide them, or throw them angrily in protest. Once, I returned to kitchen after completing some task to find her sitting in her highchair with her diaper in the tray and a pool of urine beneath her on the kitchen floor. She will crap indiscriminately, wherever she happens to be standing, then walk through it, squeeze it through her fingers, and paint the surrounding areas with it. Delighted to find a new artistic medium, she will sometimes reach straight into her diaper to grab her poo and begin finger-painting with wild abandon.

Today she decided to paint the cat, who then bolted through the house, flinging poop everywhere. I could hardly blame him… There must be few situations more horrifying to a cat. They don’t even like their own poop. When crapping, they will arch their backs to get their butts as far away from them as possible before relieving themselves with an obvious look of disdain on their cat faces, then quickly cover up the offending substance to obliterate it from view. Now, smeared in toddler-poo, our kitty was reaching a new feline rock-bottom in cross-species living.

This was the final straw. I quickly scooped up my poop-lathered daughter for an impromptu shower and timeout session as she wailed against the repression of her creative vision. The World obviously did not appreciate the genius of Fecal-Cat and she was outraged.

I, on the other hand, was pulling my hair out.  My daughter usually laughs at me when i tell her “No!” and does whatever she’s doing HARDER.  Is this just a passing phase, or am I raising an out-of-control social deviant who would become harder and harder to rein in with each passing day?  What bothered me most, however, was the fear that each moment of escalating stress, every plate of lovingly-prepared food angrily thrown on the floor, every chocolate-filled diaper stuffed into the white couch, every errant expensive toy chucked at the helpless cat, was the countdown to the moment where I would inevitably snap and give her a hard spanking.

I haven’t done it yet, but my nervousness spurred me to start asking around for good parenting books.  A number of people recommended “The Strong-Willed Child,” but it turned out that was written by James Dobson.  Isn’t he the guy that recommends regular spankings and not sissifying your sons because that would turn them into homer-sexuals?  Umm… no thanks. 

Then came “12 Simple Secrets that Real Moms Know.”  It may be an informative book, but I was fairly turned-off by the passive-aggressive title suggesting that you aren’t a “real” mom if you don’t know the author’s secrets.

Frustrated, I moved the discussion to Facebook, where a huge number of my friends with children began a long discussion of what they thought were good reads and effective disciple methods.  The conversation became heated around the question of spanking… to spank or not to spank.

Opponents of spanking believe it is a vicious, primitive method of discipline that teaches your children that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems.  Advocates believe that spanking is a highly effective tool, if wielded responsibly, and a time-honored way to communicate disapproval to your children when they are too young to understand abstract explanations, or care.  Incidentally, my mother ended up jumping in on the conversation, becoming increasingly defensive about my reluctance to spank since she had spanked me.  She even polled her classes, reporting that all of her students at the higher levels had been spanked at some point during their childhood.

Despite my mother’s disapproval, I don’t want to spank my children.  In my opinion, spanking is a harsh method of last-resort, to be tried only when all other methods have been exhausted, if at all.  But the whole issue got me thinking about how difficult the question of discipline has become for modern parents.

In my parents’, and especially my grandparents’ day, spanking was common–even considered an essential part of effective parenting (“Spare the rod and spoil the chid”)–but nowadays it seems there is no technique that hasn’t been heavily criticized by a panel of experts.   We are tasked with teaching our children how to behave, curbing their excesses, controlling their tempers, and fashioning them into good citizens while simultaneously protecting their fragile self-esteem and allowing their individuality to blossom.  Whether your child ends up a social deviant or suffers from neurotic insecurity, whether he or she becomes a controlling sadist or a pathetic doormat, it is considered your fault.

Yet, no matter how you try to guide your little ones, there is an expert explaining why this method will be horribly traumatic for them.  Spanking is considered  a form of child abuse by many, being a type of physical assault,  but even raising your voice has been called “comparable to physical abuse” by many experts.  In a study at Yale, researchers explained that even though 90% of parents yell at their kids, it had the effect of making adolescent behavior worse.  An article on Slate detailed how discipline should be about education, not shame, and how yelling could trigger traumatic feelings of humiliation and guilt in fragile child psyches.

So, yelling if off the table.  As a mother of two, I can assure you that politely asking your children to do something will not only fail to always make them do it, but also that children will take full advantage of a perceived lack of consequences for their behavior. Last week, this resulted in my daughter bolting from the playground and continuing to run out into the street despite my screaming protests and near heart-attack before I could catch up to her.

My daughter doesn’t understand what might happen if she runs into the street, though the consequences are very real and hideous.  Is it more traumatic for her to be yelled at, spanked, or hit by a car?  If she is not allowed to play at the playground, or kept within a two-foot reach, then i would be guilt of “Helicopter Parenting.” This is the term applied to parents who always hover near the child, and according to, can result in the child losing self-esteem, confidence and coping skills, as well as developing anxiety and a sense of entitlement.

So, hovering over the child is also off the table.  We don’t want to spank them, yell at them, or smother them, but they need consequences for their behavior.  What about the time-out method?

Sorry, no… According to some experts, time-outs are a traumatic form of banishment that send the message that the child is undesirable and unwanted.  This feeling of “being rejected by their parents” can mess up your children for life.

What then, do we have left in our discipline toolbox?  How about the old carrot/stick method of rewarding a child for good behavior while punishing bad behavior, perhaps by revoking privileges?  Many experts frown on this B.F. Skinner style of behavioral conditioning.  One psychology expert claims that rewards work, but punishments ironically bring about the bad behavior we are trying so hard to prevent.  Another suggests that we scrap rewards and punishments in favor of simply making requests.

This all sounds very positive in a world of infinite patience and eager-to-be-enlightened children, but are you really willing to make a series of calm requests to your toddler to stop running toward a screeching car?   In the real world, kids are perpetually testing boundaries, have a limitless capacity for toys and ice cream, and seek to understand in precise detail what power they wield.

We have to guide our children away from danger, teach them how to behave appropriately, help them develop patience and the willingness to sometimes do boring things while at the same time fostering their independence, empathy, and individuality.  We must show them unconditional love but create consequences for their behavior.

On top of all that, every child is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. We have ultimate responsibility for our child’s development, yet everything we do to guide them is either too lax or will screw them up for life.

It’s tough being THE MAN.

The Weight Watchers Breastfeeding Diet, Part Deux

NOT how I look right now.
NOT how I look right now.

Last Saturday I returned, like a frightened lost sheep, to my Weight Watchers flock.  It has been a little over a year since I achieved Lifetime status and received the Golden Keychain of Victory, but I hadn’t darkened the doors of the Roseville chapter in over eleven months, because I was too busy being pregnant with our second daughter.

It was a bittersweet return.  On the one hand, this program absolutely saved me a couple of years ago.  On the other, here we are again. I had put on about fifty pounds when I was pregnant with my first child and had heard far too many women say they had never managed to take the baby weight off.  None of my clothes fit me, except for maternity gear, and there’s something particularly demoralizing about having to wear maternity underpants when you aren’t pregnant.  My back hurt and my knees creaked, and I wasn’t sure how much of all that was due to postpartum carnage as opposed to lugging around more poundage…

Though I was anxious to drop the extra weight, I was also afraid of taking things too far, because I was exclusively breastfeeding my baby and didn’t want my milk supply to dip.  My body WANTS to be fat–in fact, I ran a genetic test with 23andme and discovered that I face about an 80 percent chance of obesity.  I’m well aware that the pounds start to creep up when I become too sedentary or stop paying attention to my diet, but I also have to power to disengage from my hunger signals and start to under eat.  So, following the Weight Watchers breastfeeding diet made sense, because it’s obviously designed to keep your food intake at a level low enough to lose weight, yet high enough to meet the demands of breastfeeding.  It was all about regulation and routine.

All in all, the program worked amazingly well.  Since I was breastfeeding, I enjoyed an amazingly generous points budget for my size, and still dropped weight rapidly.  While there were nights I wanted to eat a little more, it was actually more common for me to struggle with eating enough points.  It didn’t hurt that having a screaming newborn at home made exercise class suddenly seem more like a spa day than a chore (ahhh… bask in the quiet!). Ultimately, I managed to successfully feed my little one while reaching my high school fighting weight and maintaining it successfully for months.

Then, my husband and I decided we wanted one more baby.  We further decided that we didn’t want there to be too much of an age gap between them, since we wanted them to entertain each other, and should therefore get started right away. Sigh… I had just lost all that weight.  People were even cautioning me not to lose another pound. Well… problem solved!  Preserving my streamlined figure wasn’t enough to keep me from having another baby, but dang, it sucked to think about unravelling all that hard work in a matter of months.  While I mostly eat healthy food when pregnant, I’m not about to regulate portion size… avoiding another glass of milk or handful of almonds makes me panic that my baby isn’t getting all the nutrients she needs and then someday she can’t do math and it’s all my fault.

I comforted myself with the idea that since I lost the weight before, I could do it again, and that many women keep getting successively bigger with each pregnancy because they never lost the weight from the last one, but it still wasn’t fun to need larger and larger clothing as my body steadily inflated.  I didn’t weigh myself the entire time… what  was the point?  As my expanding belly became ever more cumbersome, my exercise sessions became less and less intense before practically disappearing.

Then finally, our second beloved daughter was born.  It was all worth it, of course, though our daily life has become an extended game of whack-a-mole.  Fast-forward a couple of months and I decided it was time to return to Weight Watchers.  I wanted to give myself enough time to establish a milk supply, but I’m also convinced that weight is harder to lose the longer it stays on your body, so I wanted to get back on the horse as soon as it was safe to do so.

Finally facing the scale last Saturday, I flinched to learn that I was 35 pounds heavier than my last weigh-in… it was even harder to go home and take my “before” measurements.  I am seven inches bigger in the hips and TEN inches bigger in the waist!!! I restarted my fitness routine and tried my best to keep my chin up while exercises that I breezed through only a year ago made my muscles shake violently and collapse.  But this is not the time to run away; it’s time to bring everything back into balance once more.

By now, you may be thinking I work for Weight Watchers, but I promise that I don’t.  I’m simply one of a gazillion postpartum women that may be simultaneously stressing about milk supply and post-baby body carnage that wants other women to know that she successfully managed to breastfeed while dropping weight by using the program.  In that light, I’d like to share a few helpful insights I’ve picked up during the process:

1.  Going to meetings works much better than doing the online program.

Many times, while sitting in a room hearing about how you shouldn’t watch TV while eating or standing up, I’ve thought, “while these are helpful reminders, they aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know.”  There’s nothing stopping you from weighing yourself while following the program at home without having to burn an extra hour a week hearing about how you should be eating on smaller plates.  So why pay a higher fee to go to meetings when you can just do all of it at home anyway?

Because it works.  It’s incredibly easy to rationalize eating another slice of pizza or to blame weight gain on water retention.  You can outsmart yourself with all kinds of convoluted logic and sabotage your own efforts without breaking a sweat.  There’s something so much more official-seeming about having to drive somewhere to attend your diet meeting, and a much greater sense of accountability surrounding stepping on an official scale to have your official weight recorded by another person.  There’s a mild sense of shame that accompanies a weight gain, even in front of a perfect stranger, and corresponding sense of accomplishment with every loss.  You are much less likely to blow off your diet when you know someone will be checking your weight the next day.

Additionally, going to meeting taps into your inner social animal.  Since you’re dieting, you become a little fixated on food and want to talk about it all the time, and face it, the only other people who want to hear about it are other people on a diet.  And where else are you going to get  a little gold star and round of applause for losing five pounds?

2.  Fast Food is evil.

After our hectic daily routine, folks are tired.  All they want to do is collapse and watch a little comedy TV to lift their spirits.  It’s such a pain in the butt to go shopping, chop up all those vegetables, cook a proper meal, and sit at the table to eat it… especially when fast food and the occasional take-out pizza is so tasty, convenient, and relatively cheap. Now, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally grabbing a fast food meal when you’re absolutely exhausted or have no time to cook (a couple of Jimboy’s tacos are a reasonable point value, for instance), but it becomes a way of life far too easily.

Having to track your points teaches you what a crappy nutritional deal you get from fast food joints. The food rarely has significant produce, unless you get a salad with a fat-bomb of dressing, croutons and cheese.  It’s designed to quickly appeal to your love of sugar, fat and salt, and is processed beyond recognition–packed with cheap, easy ingredients and a thousand chemical scents.   Eat fast food too much, and you’ll either explode your points budget or not get enough “real” food to remain satisfied.  You can cook a decent meal, even involving steak, for the same number of points as a tiny McDonalds hamburger or single slice of pizza, and who really stops at one?  Just avoiding fast food will alone improve your diet immensely.

3.  Fruit is your friend.

I really love the new Weight Watcher program’s take on fruit. Most fruits and vegetables are free and unlimited.  This solves the problem of being uncomfortably hungry on a diet… you can always snack on fruit.  After all, if you aren’t hungry enough to eat a piece of fruit, you aren’t THAT hungry.  Watch a few episodes of “Naked and Afraid” to learn what truly hungry people will eat.

As an ex-lowcarb dieter, I was a little afraid of the WW fruit policy.  Fruit is supposed to skyrocket your blood sugar and lead to all kinds of insulin mayhem that makes you fat.  But since I was adhering to the program, I put aside my doubts and ate fruit whenever to mood struck.  I wasn’t modest about it, either–I ate three or four bananas in a row if I wanted to and ate clementine oranges like I was in some kind of food competition.  Nevertheless, I lost weight rapidly. My fruit fears were clearly unfounded and I firmly believe your body processes the calories differently than it does “fake” food.  Of course, if you are diabetic or suffer a long weight loss plateau, you may want to investigate your fruit intake more carefully, but for me, none of the fruit seemed to budge the scale, even when the sheer number of calories seemed like they would.

Whew… I’m sure I will be revisiting this topic in the many months to come.



The Politics of Curly Hair

Yet another glamorous makeover...
Yet another glamorous makeover…

Tonight, I invested in a diffuser attachment for my blow-dryer, some non-sulfate conditioning shampoo, and curl-revitalizer spray.  Why?  Because I’m finally trying to take the plunge into letting my naturally curly hair do its thing.

This shouldn’t theoretically be much of a big deal,  yet it is.  Over the years, I’ve occasionally confronted the split ends and frizziness from constant heat styling and sworn to stop flat-ironing my locks into submission.  I’ve looked online for “curly hairstyles” and been dismayed by photo after photo of women with obviously straight or mildly wavy hair with scattered perfect corkscrews that are obviously the result of meticulous curling-iron placement… and then thrown up my hands at the poodle-mop reflection of raw curliness staring back at me in the mirror.

Corkscrew tendrils apparently used to be in fashion, if art is to be believed.  Roman matrons sported curly bangs, 18th century Venuses had mops of endless blonde tendrils hanging seductively around their ample bosoms, and Edwardian goddesses tied full auburn locks into satin ribbons.  Yet, at some point during the 20th century, shiny locks that fall straight like waterfalls became the rage.   We all heard about how our grandmothers used to sleep with their hair wrapped around orange juice cans to achieve the ruler-straight conformity demanded by the fashion of the day.  There was a brief respite from such torturous regimes during the 80′s, when big glam hair was in fashion and everyone was getting a perm.  Rockstars had giant hair for days and that Weird Science hot chick had a curly do… but then the 90′s happened and all of a sudden Friends is devoting an entire episode to how Monica goes somewhere tropical, her hair puffs up, and Chandler is now embarrassed to be seen with her.  Kyle’s desperate attempt to hide his puffy curly hair was a running joke on Southpark.  People referred to Julianna Margulies as “that frizzy-haired actress on ER.”

I’ve had hairdressers sigh when dealing with my hair, calling it “ethnic” with an obviously disdainful tone in their voice.  I’ve lived in fear of humidity or accidentally getting wet after spending ages on my hairstyle.  My year living in San Francisco was a nightmare only managed by nonstop braids and chignons while pining for the dry heat of my Los Angeles days.

The worst part of endless straightening is that it becomes a vicious cycle… no amount of heat-protective spray will truly shield your hair from damage, and the more your hair is damaged, the more breakage, frizz, and dullness it accumulates.  And then you HAVE to smooth it down or it looks like utter crap.  Sometimes I notice women with long, shiny curls and deeply envy the self-control they must’ve had to let their hair grow out naturally without frying the bejeezus out of it… and I wonder if it’s possible for me to have that kind of self-discipline long enough to achieve the same glorious results.

But this time, I’m determined.  Why?  Because my two-year-old daughter has curly hair.  She is beautiful, with wide blue-eyes fringed with lashes so full they look like butterfly wings and golden-brown corkscrews adorning her cherubic face. Perfect strangers will stop to stare at her and remark on her loveliness.  Sometimes they ask where she got her curly hair and stare at me quizzically when I answer, “from me.”

I think about where my hatred of my curly locks comes from and remember thousands of before and after makeovers with women whose once-wild locks are tamed into acceptably-smooth configurations.  I remember my mother impatiently tearing a hairbrush through my scalp as she tried to tame my frustrating rat’s nest.  Now, I see my little girl stare widely into my eyes, run her baby hands across my necklace and clumsily try to apply my lips gloss to her strawberry pout.  I am the primordial Woman to her, as all of our mothers were to us, and I begin to wonder if she will grow to someday hate her bouncing corkscrews after years of watching me fight with mine.  I don’t want her to feel ugly someday because her hair doesn’t conform to the Barbie-doll straightness that has somehow defined the parameters of a woman’s crowning glory for decades.  I want her to feel nothing but glorious pride in the Amazonian lushness with which Nature has adorned her gorgeous face and shoulders.  Why must we keep perpetuating these rigid beauty standards, making every beautiful variation seem somehow defective?

But for her to take pride in her hair, I must  learn to take pride in mine.

It’s Not Really About the Fish

Courtesy-Vandan-Desai-Photography_Creative-Commons_sqSeveral years ago, during the wee hours of the morning, my gay buddy Nate and I learned a little something about the psychology of relationships.  We hadn’t expected to… we were merely stayed up really late one night together, drinking cheap red wine out of plastic cups and making fun of  trash TV.  It was one of those completely self-indulgent, luxurious experiences you tend to have in your early twenties, that era when you are rich with time and freedom but poor with money and personal direction.  We were knee-deep in idle revelry when  an old rerun of “The Newlyweds” started to play.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with “The Newlyweds,” this is how it works:  each show includes three newlywed couples who play against each other. First, they take the husbands offstage and ask the wives a series of questions.  The wives write their answers on a card.  Then they bring the husbands back and ask them the same questions  The husbands write their answers on a card, then each newlywed couple holds up their respective cards, gaining points when the answers match.   Then the show goes through the same process with the wives.  So, the winning couple is ultimately the one with the greatest number of matching answers, meaning the ones who have the best collective memory and/or are best able to predict their spouse’s answers.

What was particularly entertaining about this episode was the behavior of one of the couples.  They were chipper and attractive, but woman seemed sweet and terribly eager-to-please, whereas her husband had one of those cocky, self-satisfied grins that probably means he likes to slap his teammates butt after a good game, roll up dishtowels to twack people with them, and when his wife asks him if a certain pair of pants make her look fat, he tells her that her butt makes her butt look fat before slapping his thigh and howling at his own sassy cleverness.

At any rate, “The Newlywed Game” loves to trap its couples with risqué or loaded  questions, and this guy was snapping his ankle in all possible bear-claws and falling into every leaf-covered pit with a sandwich on top.  It was so bad, you had to wonder if he was doing it on purpose.  For example, one question was, “Did it take you the longest to fall in love with your wife’s face, body, or personality?”  Granted, there is no great answer to such a question, but the least objectionable one would clearly be”her personality,” since presumably he would’ve talked to her after seeing her face and body, and therefore would’ve gotten to know her personality last.

The most obnoxious answer is obviously “her face,” since that’s simultaneously more personal and less changeable than her body, and that ended up being this jerk’s answer when he flipped his card.  To make matter worse, the wife had expected him to say “her personality” too, because that’s what she had written on her card.  As if the husband’s crappy answer weren’t insulting enough, he actually elaborated on it by saying something negative about her face, though I don’t remember what it was because Nate and I were too busy shrieking about the horror of it all.  Fully expecting to see the wife react with disbelief and horror, we were then shocked when nary a twinge marred her serene smile and she nodded in affirmation of her perceived defects.

Next, the husbands were asked whether, if given the chance, they would alter the quantity or the quality of their wives’ lovemaking.  Again, there is no spectacular answer here, but the less insulting one  be  “quantity,” because it’s far nicer to say you want even more of a great thing than say that thing really isn’t so great in the first place.  The wife expected as much, since her card read “quantity,” but she was again publicaly humiliated when her husband’s card read “quality” and he dug himself even deeper into his douchebag pit by rambling on about how great his ex-girlfriends had been in bed and how much of a dive his sex life had taken since getting married.   Throughout his entire speech, the wife smiled angelicaly and nodded repeatedly, as if to corraborate what a stud her husband used to be and how frustrated he must now be with the current state of affairs.

By now, Nate and I did not know what we found most startling: the husband’s incredible penchant for douche-baggery, his wife’s infinite patience with it, or her continued expectation of chivalrous answers from a guy that most viewers could increasingly count on saying the most obnoxious things possible.

Nevertheless, the wife appeared to be taking this all in good stride.  Finally, the husbands were asked to recall the last dinner their wives prepared for them.  The smug husband flipped his card to reveal his answer… “spaghetti.”  And it was at this point that the wife completely lost her shiznit.

“It was FISH, you IDIOT!!!” she shrieked, while whacking him over the head with her “Fish” card.  “That was an easy one! You never remember anything I do for you,” she yelled, “It was FISH!  I made you baked sole and garlic bread!  How could you forget that!?” She had a complete meltdown and crossed her arms while the husband sat in perplexed bafflement for the remainder of the episode (which, of course, they lost).

Nate and I were absolutely howling at the sight of this bizarre interaction.  After all the godawful insults her husband had publicly thrown at her, this woman was freaking out about the fish? After all her saintlike patience about her unacceptable face and their terrible sex life, she was going to attack him for forgetting about a dinner?  It was absolutely ridiculous, and became an inside joke between Nate and I for ages.  Whenever we saw someone getting irrationally agry about something, we  would look at each other and yell, “It was fish!” before breaking into knowing giggles.

But we learned something that night, something we went on to notice in our respective relationship… sometimes you are fighting about the fish, but it’s not really about the fish.  Relationships are tough, and people can be intensely vulnerable in them.  We struggle with insecurities about whether we are lovable enough, attractive enough, and whether we are happy.  We build protective walls.  Sometimes they are built of denial, a happy, intentionally-ignorant smile when feeling bullied deep down.  Sometimes they are built of coldness or insult, feigned indifference toward our current partners or an exaggeration of the greatness of former exes. And sometimes people have recurring fights and power struggles about relatively insignificant issues that are “safer” to talk about than the really vulnerable underlying fears that we worry might topple our relationship or self-esteem if they were approached.

I don’t know if that couple eventually split up or if they went on to fight about the fish for years.  I don’t know if the wife would have been better off recognizing how mean her husband tended to be, or if she should have directly confronted him for insulting her appearance or comparing her unfavorably to his exes, but I do know that pretending she was okay wasn’t working.  That hurt and anger was teeming under the surface and welled up in an exchange about fish vs. spaghetti that probably never would be resolved and wouldn’t fix the underlying issues in their relationship even if it were.

Either way, it gives us some valuable insight into what might be going on when we are having that argument for the billionth time about who changed the toilet paper roll and what direction the roll should face.

Sometimes, it’s not about the fish.

Diet Fatigue

Maternal-junk-food-diet-may-alter-baby-s-brain-development_strict_xxlI can’t be the only person out there getting fed up with all the conflicting information about what we’re supposed to be eating.  Every week, it seems as though a new superfood is promoted, or a previously innocuous food is suddenly demonized.  Trans fats have finally been recognized for the artery-clogging poisons they are, whereas food scientists are beginning to question whether the saturated fat in red meat is as awful as we’ve been hearing it is for decades.

I’ve been following health news for quite some time now.  Back in high-school, I started to get a little pudgy.  It wasn’t much of a shock… obesity is fairly rampant in my family and I had seen my mother go through countless diets in an attempt to stave off the diabetes and bad knees and other health conditions similarly rampant in my family.  When my pants started getting really tight and the scale numbers ominously began to climb, I tried to nip it in the bud by going on a bona fide diet for the first time.

In those days, fat was seen as the be-all, end-all evil.  Nonfat foods were the rage. Susan Powder’s shaved head belted out the evils of fatty food from the television screen–she had gotten famous for losing tons of weight, transforming from a frumpy housewife to a svelte GI Jane by keeping her fat content extremely low.  When I consulted a nutrition specialist for help with my spreading waistline, she echoed the sentiments of the day by prescribing a strict diet of 10 grams of fat a day along with 70 grams of protein.

Boy, was that tough.  Even a slice of bread contains a couple of grams of fat.  It was pretty much impossible to follow those parameters with real food… you had to dig into specially processed fat-free food products in order to meet your quota of protein.  I ate a LOT of nonfat cottage cheese with canned fruit dumped into it, as well as a LOT of fat-free cheese, which tastes and melts remarkably like day-glo orange plastic.  Cottage cheese is alright, but months of eating it twice a day put me off the stuff for about a decade.

The diet worked, though by the end of it I was starting to hysterically fantasize about eating anything with actual flavor. It was hard to imagine a lifetime of eating the same horrible crap.  By my early twenties, I was starting to get a bit tubby again, but this time, the diet pendulum had swung in a completely opposite direction.  Suddenly, carbs were enemy #1, and the industry’s replacement of protein and fat with empty calorie sugars became the whole basis for America’s obesity crisis. Like one in three Americans at the time, I went on the Atkins diet, ravenously tearing at the bit to try long-lost friends like beef, eggs with the yellow parts included, salty butter, and real cheese.

The Atkins diet kinda worked too, though you’d be surprised how unappetizing a steak begins to sound and how wonderful a piece of bread suddenly seems when you’ve stripped your diet of carbohydrates.  What’s worse is that you completely lose the ability to eat socially.  Hardly any restaurants cater to a non-carb lifestyle, and you can’t enjoy a piece of someone’s birthday cake when a single bite will throw your body out of ketosis. Still, plenty of people I knew had lost a hundred pounds or more by giving up the white stuff.

America’s love affairs with no carbs eventually died down.  Constant reports about the dangers of saturated fat, the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t a good idea to give up fruit, and Mr. Atkins himself dying of heart disease while clinically overweight didn’t help. My next adventure was the South Beach diet, which is fairly balanced and reasonable.  South Beach kept my weight from getting out of control, but I had to wonder if it didn’t work more because it forced you to avoid fast food and processed crap than from any special magic in its theories.

I have read more diet books than I can count and kept up with health reports in the news for decades now.  What can be intensely frustrating is that much of the logic behind the various diets makes perfect sense, yet they all seem to contradict each other.  Not even the food scientists at top universities can agree on what we should be eating.  Remember when eggs were going to give you horrible cholesterol problems?  Now they are considered healthy and we are told there is no link between eggs and cholesterol. Remember when the food pyramid included about 6-11 serving of carbohydrates?  It has been flipped on its head.  You know how fish is a fantastic source of omega-3 oils, which we are sorely missing in the American diet?  Well, they are also packed with mercury and toxins, so we are supposed to avoid them. Except now they are saying the benefits of fish outweight the risks.

Take the Paleo-Caveman diet, for instance.  They make a good point.  Humans were hunters and gatherers for thousands of years, much longer than we have had agriculture.  Farming allowed populations to thrive, but didn’t necessarily make us healthier in the long run.  If we didn’t eat bread and grains for most of human history, then it is flatly illogical to assume we need to have them to survive. If you follow the Paleo method, you can have meat and produce, but you lose dairy, grains, beans, and sugars.

Since humans mostly ate this way for ages, it makes sense.  But on the other hand, life expectancy wasn’t nearly as high as is is now, and even if you attribute that to antibiotics and other medical innovations, it still suggests that our ancestors might have eventually succumbed to heart disease had they not been gored to death by a mastodon or brought down by infectious diseases.  Our ancestors might have been a lot more active than us too, needing to gather berries for hours and hunt wild game rather than sitting at our computers and Playstations being the wonderfully sedentary being we have now become.  So maybe they could handle a few more calories.

At further odds with this theory, though, is the fact that the Mediterranean diet seems to keep people so dang healthy.  The Mediterranean diet is packed with vegetables and beans, and includes dairy and loads of heart-healthy fats.  It seems to forestall heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and all kinds of other nasties we want to avoid.  The problem with the Mediterranean diet is it covers a vast region of different populations, everywhere from the Middle East to Spain to France and Crete, so what are its exact parameters?  I have read books on the Mediterranean diet and many of them suggest crap like fat-free yogurt and dairy, even though I know damn well that Europeans aren’t chowing down on processed fat-free crap the way Americans are.  Apparently, scientists saw that the Mediterranean diet was working out but took it upon themselves to determine what was good about it and want to present us with an altered food plan that brings down the fat levels because they can’t let go of the idea that fat is terrible for you… even though we already made that mistake in the 80′s.

So then we hear that the Mediterranean diet is good for us because we should be eating whole, unprocessed foods like white bread, rice and flour.  That sounds plenty reasonable, except I have spent a good deal of time over in Europe and know folks are in fact eating white bread and flour and are still slimmer and healthier than us.  The French, for example, start each day with a buttery, fluffy croissant or white bread roll smeared with butter, washed down with lashings of hot coffee with full milk included.  They are most certainly NOT eating fat-free cheese. In fact, I would be afraid of mentioning the stuff in their presence.  Yet, they have a longer life expectancy than we do.

The Italians are also living well and they aren’t going out of their way to find wholegrain pasta.  Asians have a great life expectancy and they eat plenty of white rice.  Once I asked a Chinese friend of mine why he thought Asians are so healthy despite all the dietary advice to avoid white rice and I’ll never forget what he said: “The Chinese have been around over 10,000 years and Atkins has been around for 30.”  Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?

Speaking of Asians, apparently lactose intolerance is pretty rampant among Asian populations, as well as among African-Americans.  Europeans are genetically better able on average to handle dairy, which makes sense when you consider that dairy has been a staple in European diets for a very long time and this might effectively weed out folks who can’t stomach it. There are plenty of health studies out touting the great benefits of dairy, and of course also a large anti-dairy contingent that blames dairy for nearly every health issue.  More contradiction.  Is it then possible that various populations have evolved that respond well to different diets?   It makes sense that if a population ate a certain way for thousands of years, the people might adjust to favor that diet… kind of like how the Europeans developed some resistance to smallpox but then inadvertently brought it over to the Americas and devastated the vulnerable Native-Americans with it.

So, maybe differnet genetics favor different diets.  The Eat Right 4 Your Type system touches on this, and I know many people who swear by that diet.  However, if you look at the parmeters of the diets for each blood type, they are so bizarrely restrictive that you can kiss eating out goodbye.  Plus, researchers have debunked its theories left and right.

We can’t agree on dairy and also can’t agree on how much protein we need.  Some researchers are promoting the satiating qualities of protein and claiming its replacement with empty carbs has led to obesity and shortness amongst Americans.  Other researchers, however, are saying most Americans get far more than enough protein without even trying.  You’ve got the vegan contingent claiming our protein needs are overstated and throwing out studies about drastically improved cholesterol and whatnot after giving up animal products.

It’s hard not to be impressed with some of the vegan results.  Add to that, the horrors of the slaughterhouse industry make the idea of a vegan diet sound morally righteous.  The problem, however, is that just because we like the idea of not hurting other living beings in order to live, it doesn’t mean that’s how we were designed.  The fact that it’s very easy to suffer nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet, that there isn’t naturally a solid, non-animal source for B-12, and that no vegan cultures have existed on earth that we know of for any length of time all contradict the idea that we are supposed  to be vegan.  Cavemen didn’t have Brewer’s yeast, Spirulina, and fortified tofu trees at their ready disposal.

Just because we weren’t designed to be vegan, of course, doesn’t mean it can’t be a healthy way to eat.  We have managed to send people to the moon.  We may have figured out our nutritional needs so well that we can be vegan and perfectly healthy though the wonders of modern science. I know that I have personally felt like crap anytime I have experimented with veganism, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for people.  On the other hand, now we have targeted gluten as the next big dietary enemy. The Wheat Belly diet is making waves.

I have no problem with adjusting my diet for a good cause.  Like many other people, I want to be healthy and don’t want to end up miserable and broken down before my time.  But I don’t like to suffer for no reason whatsoever and am starting to fear that whatever  new insights the food scientists are coming up today with will be reversed tomorrow.  Even exercise is coming under scrutiny.  Some studies are reporting that it is good for you but doesn’t help much with weight maintenance, and others are even saying long bouts of cardio, the darling of fitness experts for ages, may be terrible for you in the long run.

On top of all this, one has to wonder about the role of placebo and nocebo effects.  The mind is a terribly powerful thing.  If we are suddenly convinced that wheat is killing us, can we think ourselves sick after eating it?  We have heard about how important one’s optimism is when battling dread diseases… what is it doing to us to start to fear meat, fish, dairy, salt, wheat, fruit, beans, sugars, genetically modified soy, barbecued food, jogging, not jogging,now getting enough protein and getting too much protein?  Are we able to take a bite of food anymore without being afraid it is slowly poisoning us, or alternatively that we have cut so many foods out of our diet that we are becoming grossly deficient in something?  Even vitamin supplements, once thought a good form of nutritional insurance, are coming under scrutiny.

I think I’ve about had it.

Confronting the Stick

pregnancy-testI will never forget that moment, two years ago,  when my husband stood in the bathroom doorway peering at a stick.  “You’re pregnant, ” he told me flatly, “with an alien baby.”

I rolled my eyes… clearly he was making a bad attempt at a joke to release nervous tension.  For a couple of weeks, I had been having bizarre stomach cramps and a thorough search online had revealed that this was often the early signs of pregnancy.  I doubted this was the issue.  My husband and I had only been married about a month and a half, after dating a couple of years, and we hadn’t decided to try for children yet.  After reading about the whole stomach cramps=pregnancy, I had asked him to pick up a test on the way home “just to rule it out.”

After peeing on the little white stick, I begged him to look for me, because the news just seemed too daunting if left unfiltered.  So when he cracked a joke about it, I figured we were in the clear.  Imagine my shock when he showed me the test and I found two pink lines ominously staring back at me… “Umm,” I nervously stammered after a few moments, “I need to go for a walk.”

So, we headed out the door and started walking… Aimlessly, for about two and a half hours.  I didn’t speak for the first hour, just walked off the adrenalin flooding my system with an increasingly rapid pace.  Finally, I looked at him and said, “Well… I guess this is good.  We’re married.  It’s a good time.”   He nodded back at me and we kept trudging along until all our nervousness had been marched out with an uneasy fervor.

I hadn’t decided yet whether or not I wanted children, but now the decision had been made.  Growing up Generation X, we were no longer expected to have children by default.  On the one hand, how amazing to create a whole new person, watch it grow, and leave your legacy.  On the other, children require a tremendous amount of time, money and work.  You are responsible for them for a couple of decades, at least, and who among us has not seen out-of-control kids in public spaces, the wearied and hopeless looks on their overworked parents’ face, or imagined trading our freedom and leisure time for dirty diapers and tantrums?  I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of having children entirely, but I also had never been one of those women that melts at the sight of a newborn or fantasizes about decorating a nursery and knitting booties.

You always hear about how much people love their kids, but deep down, I had wondered if they exaggerated the good stuff and went into denial about the bad.  After all, once you have kids, you can’t put them back. The human species needs someone to reproduce, so was there a mass campaign to convince people that having children would make you utterly fulfilled, when in reality it is a thankless job that saps all your independence and resources while making you an everlasting target of criticism?  You can’t flip on television or the radio without hearing someone talk about all the ways their parents screwed them up, and sometimes it seems people can’t win… you’ve got psychology articles saying you can’t spank or yell at or discipline your kids without damaging them forever yet in the meantime, kids are bullying each other and bringing guns to school… it’s terrifying.

Whenever you hear or read about women’s brains, you hear all this stuff about the maternal instinct, or women’s intuition, or how evolution shaped our wiring to accommodate being a mother above all else.  It leaves you with the impression that pregnancy is a default state for women and therefore we all fall into it with a natural sense of great fulfillment and instinctively know what to do.  That really couldn’t be further from the truth.  It felt very bizarre to contemplate that I had a small being in my body, growing ever larger, crowding my organs, separating my joints, and causing all manner of strange sensations and heartburn.  The niftiness of making a person was offset by the alien sense of having a parasite invade your body and being swept into a process beyond your control. The realization that I would eventually be giving birth filled me with white-hot fear as the screams of thousands of agonized women in labor haunted my imagination.  Suddenly, I had to confront the possibility of tearing from stem to stern and questions about whether I wanted a giant needle jabbed into my spinal cord when D-day arrived.

Pregnancy and childbirth had never been particularly interesting, but now I read obsessively about what miniature organs were developing when and how. You become awash in hormones… feeling livid sometimes at the slightest provocation, overwhelmed to tears by anything remotely sentimental (even commercials) and always intensely vulnerable.  Sometimes you freak out and are later embarrassed by your strange behavior. You suddenly become a whole lot more sympathetic to your parents and how hard this job is… you remember anything obnoxious you ever said or did growing up and nervously wonder how karma plans to wreak vengeance in the future.

Still, you have magical moments that shake you from your former complacency and delight you, like seeing your baby’s face on an ultrasound and watching bumps ripple across your belly.  Becoming a parent is intimidating, but you also know that all you can do is try your best to do a good job… since you aren’t a drug addict or felon or sociopath, things could be a lot worse for the little tyke.

Sometimes I think the idealized parenting hype does more harm than good.  As a women, for example, I grew up thinking I was supposed to delight in the sight of newborns and dream of motherhood above all else. When you don’t find yourself awash in maternal instinct, you wonder if you’re not cut out for the job.  I think one point that gets lost is that it’s really quite different when it’s YOUR child.  Even if you’ve stifled a yawn at every baby photo that came before, you will probably think your child is the coolest, cutest being in the universe.   You will probably be so taken with your little infant that you will eventually bore the crap out of everyone around you with photos of them breathing and staring at the wall, even if everyone else pretends to be just as fascinated as you are.

For me, the maternal instincts kicked in the moment I awoke from my emergency C-section, looked a few feet over, and saw my daughter’s glistening eyes staring back at me from her baby tray.  A glistening of light reflecting off her shiny eyes and the consciousness of a brand new person staring back at me… part of me, but also someone different, reflecting back.  Bonding.  I had spent the entire pregnancy uncomfortable and terrified, but now the entire universe made more sense.  Everything else seemed insubstantial… THIS is what it was really about.  So many meetings at work about how the new X627 form should be constructed and filled out, petty debates with coworkers, irritation at drivers who meander aimlessly on the road… all these snapshots of daily human trials and tribulations suddenly felt absurd as I felt my place in the giant mysterious Universe.  All species, growing, evolving and strategizing have been planted with this driving force to replicate themselves, care for their offspring, and see that Life continues.  I had created a new human being and knew I would throw myself on a grenade to protect her.  Awash in a flood of Love and the sense that I had done my cosmic part to fulfill our human destiny, I would now raise and protect this vulnerable little being and even if I made mistakes along the way, it would be okay because ultimately, there now was a little person that didn’t exist before.

Maybe it’s a grand delusion… this sense of overwhelming importance we attach to a little baby, who is but one in millions and millions that have existed before. Maybe it’s nothing but practical instinct that floods our brain with happy chemicals to convince us to fulfill our biological imperative.  But does that matter?  It is the beginning of deep bonding for our fellow beings, an oasis of love and connection we feel for others in a vast ocean of human selfishness. This seed of caring for other people is an escape from the oppressive prison of Self.

What It’s Like to Have Kids

The agony and the ecstasy.
The agony and the ecstasy.

Yesterday, I went to check on my 20-month-old daughter, who had been napping, and suddenly found myself confronting a dirty diaper outside the crib, a giant turd on the floor, and a naked baby who had smeared her poop all over herself, the crib, the bedding, and every surrounding stuffed animal.  It was one of those days… when you find yourself elbow-deep in someone else’s feces and contemplating the best way to approach an entire room suddenly smeared with hazardous material. Not a situation I routinely faced before having a baby.

It wasn’t long after that I received an email from a friend asking me about what it’s like to have children.  She and her husband have been married several years and have been contemplating whether or not to make the leap into parenthood while there is still time.  Answering her the best way I could (by listing some of the pros, cons, and factors I would consider) led me to reflect on the past couple of years: how my life has changed, what surprised me about parenting, and what I’ve learned so far from watching a newborn morph into a toddler.

Since I waited until my thirties and a second (more stable) marriage to procreate, I’m probably in a good position to describe this new reality.  After all, I spent an entire decade in childless adult independence, unlike people who had children shortly after leaving home themselves.  By contrast, single folks (or childless couples) may have notions about what it’s like to be parents from observing the world around them, but you really don’t understand the experience until you have done it firsthand.  I didn’t used to understand People With Children myself, always wondering why we couldn’t seem to relate to one another.  Now I get it.

First off, parenting is more exhausting and frustrating than you could possibly imagine.  People routinely refer to their dogs or cats as their babies, for example, but it’s not a very apt comparison.  I’m not saying they don’t adore their pets to pieces (I love animals myself), but the amount of work and responsibility that goes into caring for children is absolutely all-consuming.  Let’s just begin by examining the poop issue… Your dog will start crapping outside after a few weeks of training, and your cat will naturally use a clean litter box (barring any medical problems).  Your baby, however, will come out the door pooping from ten to fifteen times a day, and you will personally be responsible for cleaning out every turd-epoxy spackle from every crevice, containing poop floods that squish out of diapers and into clothing, which occur in public as well as in private, for several years.

Your dog or cat naturally avoids its own feces, but human being are apparently different. Whereas a cat will cover up her turd with obvious disdain, a baby will be curious about it and happily squish it in her fingers, smear it on her face and paint the room with it. I’ve heard that infant boys will pee straight in your face.

Several months ago, my daughter decided she didn’t like diapers anymore, though she has no idea what potties are for, and began stripping her diaper off with nimble fingerwork before running around squealing, crapping and peeing anywhere she stood with utter abandon.  We upped the tech on her diaper by putting it on backwards, so the pull-tabs were in the back.  This worked for a while, but humans are crafty animals, and she eventually sorted it out. So, next we made sure to keep pants on her at all times.  This also worked for a time, but then she mastered the two-step process of removing the pants, THEN the diaper.  Now we keep  onesies on her that button behind her head.  It’s currently working, but I have no doubt that she will in due time master this new technology.

Human complexity means that infants will remain in a relative state of dependency for a long, long, time, whereas pets will practically become adults in a few months.  This means your child will cry, agonizingly loud, for hours on end, on a daily basis, because he or she cannot communicate what he or she needs.  Being parents, you will be biologically wired to respond to this cry… your blood will run cold, your frustration levels mount astronomically quickly as you struggle to figure out how to help the baby, and you will be tremendously embarrassed when this happens in public.  And it will.  Without notice.  You may in a restaurant, having finally gotten your food. You may be in a grocery store with a packed shopping cart.  You may have been waiting for ages in line while on some necessary errand, and your kid will suddenly start shrieking at the top of its lungs, oblivious to the reproachful stares you are suddenly receiving from everyone in the vicinity. You can’t make the baby stop, yet you can practically feel the thoughts of multiple bystanders: why aren’t they doing something? How obnoxious… Why did they have to bring their baby?

Thus you face a painful choice between routine public humiliation or living under self-imposed house arrest for many years, until your child is old enough to behave predictably.  On top of this, you are exhausted. Everyone has heard jokes about never getting any sleep once you have a baby, but until you have experienced the slow burn of waking up multiple times a night, for months and months on end, it’s hard to imagine how frayed your nerves will become, what near-hallucinatory levels of fatigue you will reach.  Sometimes you have to put the screaming baby in its crib and walk away for a while, just to calm down and collect yourself.  You wonder if you’re a bad parent for needing to do this. You wonder why your child is so upset and whether it’s your fault.

When things got really stressful at work, I used to be able to go out for a couple of pints with my buddies.  We could bitch and moan about our jobs or relationships while getting a pedicure.  Maybe we could go dancing that night, down a shot or two and revel in the freedom of it all. Our pets were fine till we got home–after all, the food and water dishes were full.  Not so with a baby at home.  If you want to blow off steam or have a date night, this becomes an incredibly elaborate scheduling ordeal.

And since humans are so damn clever, it makes supervision a nightmare at times.  Toddlers have a frightening temperament combining insatiable curiosity with an utter lack of understanding about the consequences of their actions.  This means they will dump the contents of every drawer or box they encounter.  They will immediately head for every electrical outlet, precarious ledge or hot curling-iron. Just when you think you’ve childproofed the house in every way possible, they will find a novel way of conducting entropy experiments or dialing random people on your cell phone.  I’ve struggled with the baby for hours before finally sitting down with a cup of tea and a moment’s rest, only to catch a midget hand out of the corner of my eye pop up and dump a pile of filthy lint into the teacup.  Last week, I lifted the toilet lid to see a pile of random objects floating in the bowl.  Once, I walked into the bathroom to find my daughter covered in my best makeup, which she had also used to paint the walls, the counters, and grind into the pale carpet.

My daughter recently figured out how to push a dining chair to the kitchen counters, pull plates out of the cabinet, and drop them on the floor, creating a massive circumference of broken glass strewn across the kitchen floor, trapping her in a prison of pointy shards. Once, she managed to remove a poopy diaper then dragged her chocolate-pasted butt down the white-carpeted stairs in order to wipe it.  Last week, she angrily THREW A DIAPER FULL OF POOP AT HER FATHER.  It was vengeance… Monkey-style.  We are not even sure what prompted this fecal retaliation.

Our cats have shown enormous patience in the face of this crazed little being.  She loves the kitties, but has no sense of boundaries.  So she endlessly chases them, crawls up their cat trees after them, pulling their tails, yanking their whiskers, and patting them way too forcefully.  Somehow, the cats seem to understand this behavior as immature rather than an obvious declaration of war, and have mostly ran away from her, only lightly peppering her arm once or twice.

I’m sure you’ve heard the countless jokes about kids being on a sugar high, although it’s a persistent myth that sugar acts like a kind of amphetamine on a little kid.  Of course, it isn’t healthy to feed your children loads of sugar (or adults, for that matter), but the crazed behavior you see is simply excitement.  Kids NATURALLY behave like midgets on PCP.  Life would be so much easier if toddlers only raced around like hallucinating Tasmanian devils when fed a dose of sugar, but the truth is: they by default always have this energy, which is far, far more than you have had in years, and you will be completely worn out from chasing after them, day after day.

My daughter recently developed a toothpaste addiction.  At some point, she must have sampled it and decided it was Baby Crack.  Now we have to be very careful with the toothpaste… setting it down too close to the edge of the counter while drifting off in thought means that a tiny hand will immediately snatch it and we will have to chase her, squealing, as she runs while squirting as much toothpaste into her mouth as she can manage.  Once, we found a half-squeezed tube buried under the stuffed animals in her Pack-n-Play.

So, childless couples may think parents are very BORING and that Everything is Suddenly About the Kids.  In a way, this is true, because suddenly you have to consider the kids when contemplating doing absolutely anything. There is a considerable loss of time and freedom. Things take longer than they used to… you never know when your child is going to have a meltdown, or fight with you to not put clothes on, or spray the room with buckets of poop. You tend to get closer to other parents because they become People Who Know What You’re Going Through.  You start losing patience with your childless friends for complaining about a coworker that got to leave twenty minutes early because her child started projectile vomiting in a complete circle, or about how their date was too uninformed about the latest Indie bands. 

Having children can also make or break a relationship.  You’re going through a tremendously stressful experience, when tempers are raw.  You can work as a team, or turn on each other like the cornered, exhausted animals you are.  My husband and I got closer after braving the rigors together because shared hardships can do that, but I’ve known many people who split up after having kids.  It’s really unfortunate, because you can really use a partner when going through something this (I don’t know how single parents manage!), but the strain it can bring to your relationship becomes too much for many people. It’s much harder to be romantic and spontaneous, and you will see each other at your worst… but it can also bring you together.

Yet there is another side to this, of course.  No matter how unaffected by cute baby pictures you might have been in the past, it’s different when it’s YOUR baby.  You know that everyone on this earth has been born, but it truly becomes a miracle when you experience it firsthand.  This person did not exist before, and you MADE them. You see the baby develop on ultrasounds, and there’s this moment, after struggling for hours in ungodly pain in the delivery room, or braving the terror of a C-section, that your eyes meet your child’s eyes for the first time and you know that for the rest of your lives, you will mean more to each other than you could ever express.  The evening after my daughter was born, I stared into her little shiny eyes and started bawling, because I loved her so, so much that I didn’t know what to do with all that feeling. Then they squeeze your finger, and fall asleep on your chest, so trusting and vulnerable, and you realize that this tiny person will love you for the rest of your life, and you them.  It’s an intimidating responsibility, but also amazing.

As the baby grows, it is sometimes  tremendously difficult, but you also have moments that make it all worthwhile.  You see them struggle and wobble and try desperately to stand up, then one day… they stand proudly, and look into your eyes, and beam.  They snuggle into you, are so happy to see you, and it’s incredible to watch them learn something new… say a new word, use a spoon, start uncontrollably clapping and dancing when they hear music.  Things about which you have long since grown blase are exciting and new to your child, and some of their astonishment makes you remember.  They feel so intensely, their obvious delight at the fall of rain or the sight of a new kitten reminds you of when the world was glorious, wonderful, and mysterious.  Plus, they crack their own baby jokes, which can be hilarious.  One time my husband accidentally let one rip, and the baby started howling, pointing at her dad and blowing raspberry sounds.

Having children isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always the right time, age, or relationship for people to be ready for them.  Sometimes you are so at wit’s end, all you can do is vent your frustrations on a blog. Like this. But then sometimes, it is so miraculous and wonderful, that you want to share the beauty of it all to anyone near you, even if they don’t get quite what all the fuss is about.

What are White Women thinking?

What are we doing to ourselves?
What are we doing to ourselves?

Picking up the house this morning (which mostly consists of containing the nonstop trail of debris from my toddler), I was listening to the Bethenny Frankel talk show in the background. I know, I know… It isn’t the most intellectually stimulating program, but it provides some fun light entertainment while I’m tooling around, doing boring-but-necessary chores.

Today, Loni Love was on the show. She is a black comedienne and was discussing dating and guy friends with Bethenny. What struck me was her unbelievable and infectious confidence. At one point, she said “I’m 240 [pounds] and can get any guy in this room!” before approaching a cute guy in the audience and flirting with him, much to his obvious delight.

Now, I’m not saying that weighing 240 pounds is the healthiest place to be physically, but not allowing your weight to make you feel like less of a person, not allowing it to put your life (or even your love life) on hold, seems very emotionally healthy. Loni was confident, charismatic, and attractive… A striking contrast to friends of mine who have moped around publicly in sweats, openly whining about their weight whenever they have put on a few pounds.

It put me in mind of Loni’s white counterpart, Melissa McCarthy, who cleans up real nicely but always plays the slapstick comedienne, never an attractive woman whose charms are to be taken seriously by her audience. Hell, even gorgeous Kate Winslet was constantly humiliated with fat jokes, and she’s only fat compared to abnormally thin celebrities.

You hear the black and Latino communities like their women bigger than the white community, and it makes me wonder whether black women are more confident because of better acceptance within their community or whether there is more acceptance because black women are more confident. For example, Niecy Nash wore a fat suit for her role in Reno 911, not because they asked her to, but because she said she had grown up associating women in roles of authority as bigger, more physically substantial. I doubt any white actresses would take it upon themselves to adopt a fat suit.

It seems to me that fashion is based on norms and context. By that, I mean american society generally prefers slender women, but what “slender” means changes over time. Actresses in the 1940′s and 1950′s had hourglass figures–they weren’t overweight, but they were not nearly as thin as celebrities today.

Many women are understandably frustrated by the supermodel physique. Supermodels tend to be about six feet tall and weigh barely over one hundred pounds. They have narrow hips rarely seen on a woman over age 16, and drugs and eating disorders are rife in the industry.

But are women themselves, particularly white women, partly to blame for this crazy ideal? Swimsuit models, for example, are impossibly fit and buxom, but they are still meatier than high fashion models, who are usually rail-thin and built like Olive Oil. And women are the main audience for fashion models. We keep buying the magazines that keep us in a perpetual state of not feeling good about ourselves.

It has never made much sense to me that men are the ones with the crazy sex drive, yet women are the ones breaking themselves to always be thin enough, busty enough, plucked, waxed, and manicured within an inch of their lives… while most men are barely grooming themselves beyond sniffing the armpits of the shirt they are considering wearing. This seems to defy the basic rules of supply and demand: women have the supply, men have the demand, so why are we wrecking ourselves to be attractive enough?

It’s also interesting that black women deal with the twin evils of sexism and racism, so you would think their confidence would be even more under assault than white women’s, yet they seem to, as a group, feel less pressure to conform to ridiculous standards.

Why are white women making their lives so difficult?


Separate but Equal

Today, I want to tackle a thorny topic that I believe lies at the very heart of gender relations in our society. It is an issue that is wrestled with on many different fronts, from every possible angle, and continues to complicate the entire question of male versus female.

That question is: are men and women fundamentally the same, but have been polarized into different behaviors and tendencies by sexist social rules, or are they fundamentally different?

I consider myself a “feminist,” in that I believe we should all have equal opportunity and should be judged individually, rather than automatically be assumed to have the character traits and abilities stereotypically associated with the groups we were born into, be it race, gender, or anything else. A century ago, women couldn’t vote, hold many jobs, or expect the same pay for the same work. Many women fought very hard to change this, and I deeply respect their work.

Most people don’t want to return to the world as it was a century ago, and most are horrified by what’s going on in Afghanistan, for example, where girls are shot in the head for attending school. Yet, “feminist” remains a dirty word to many. Why?

Is it because feminists are assumed to hate men? I don’t feel that way at all. After all, I am a heterosexual married woman with one baby already and another on the way (not that homosexual, single, or childless women hate men). I’ve had countless male friends and rarely have a beef with any of them. I’m not saying that there have never been any feminists who hated men, but these are extremists who aren’t representative of the group at large… There are always extremists in every group whose beliefs don’t represent a general consensus.

Maybe it’s because some people feel that feminism intends to obliterate all gender differences, eradicate gender identity entirely and confuse all the ways in which men and women relate to one another.

It doesn’t make much sense, does it? How can a group be charged with both hating men as well as wanting to not recognize any differences between men and women at all? Yet these questions are relevant to how many women hope to achieve equal opportunity. Do we propose that we are all essentially the same, and should be treated as such? Or do we propose that men and women are different, but that those differences are all valid, necessary, and should be treated with equal respect?

The problem is, as we all learned in the civil rights struggle, that separate-but-equal rarely ends up being equal. In many ways, the civil rights struggle is more straightforward, because black men and white men are biologically the same apart from differences in melatonin production from evolving in different latitudes. Everything else is likely due to different economic opportunities, upbringing, social constructs, and individual differences.

But between men and women, we have hormonal differences, general biological differences, and, perhaps the most obvious, different biological roles in producing offspring. We also have massive social constructs and differences in upbringing that confuse the issue, making it very difficult to sort out what differences are natural, what differences are artificial, and what differences are natural but greatly exaggerated by social constructs.

The problem with recognizing differences is that so many of them have historically been used to rationalize short-changing women. For example, women who have worked hard and successfully completed higher education are passed over for jobs and promotions because employers don’t want to waste resources training employees just to have them get pregnant and quit, or at least be less available. Or people argue that women can’t be president and have their fingers on the nuclear bomb trigger button because, you know, hormones.

Or more insidiously, they are used to justify double standards. If men have a higher sex drive, then they can wildly indulge in all kinds of kinky sex with multiple partners and it’s just natural, whereas women are always expected to be in control of their sexuality (if their sexuality is recognized at all), or else be considered amoral sluts. Or, since women are considered naturally maternal, they are expected to always be perfect, patient, self-sacrificing mothers by default, whereas men who who show any interest in or have a sense of responsibility for, their kids are considered heroes.

The list is endless, and when so many differences have been used as justification for screwing women over, it’s no wonder that so many women want to deny that differences exist at all, or at least that those differences apply to them specifically.

Another problem with recognizing those difference is assuming they apply to everyone. But this is clearly untrue. For example, men are taller on average than women, but that doesn’t mean every man is taller than every woman.

Yet the flip side, where no differences are recognized, comes with a host of its own problems. First, since men historically had the advantage, most women claim to be more like the traditional blueprint of men. This will, by default, turn traditional male qualities into the desirable ideal, putting women at a disadvantage. For example, if you say women are physically stronger than men, then you are putting a high value on physical strength. In most cases, it won’t be true. But why place such a high value on it in the first place? Upper body strength is handy in some situations, but hardly a great measure of overall competence. If it were, we should be holding arm-wrestling contests to determine the next president, or just hand it over to a gorilla, who is stronger than any human.

Another problem with not recognizing differences is that women are made to suffer a huge burden for the differences that exist. When we, say, fight workplace discrimination by saying we never want to have children, what happens when we do? We have to have children for the species to survive (not all of us, of course, but at least some). We endure a great physical strain, facing many biological dangers and discomforts, in order to do so. This is beneficial and necessary for everyone, yet it gets turned into an individual burden that becomes “our problem” when we don’t collectively fight for accommodations of this fact.

A couple years ago, a bill was drafted that would allow pregnant working women to keep their jobs but would protect them from activities that were incompatible with their pregnant condition. They couldn’t be expected to lift heavy weights, for instance. So, women wanted to be able to maintain employment but as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, be protected temporarily from dangerous activities during their pregnancy. The bill failed. Not only that, but there wan an outcry against women demanding “special treatment,” or expecting accommodations for what was “a choice, not a disability.” People made vicious comments about how women wanted taxpayers to pay for them having “not kept their legs shut.”

So, is it fair that women shoulder the biological burden of pregnancy, which benefits everyone, and be forced into unemployment and federal assistance, where they will then undoubtedly be deemed slutty welfare mothers, suckling at the taxpayer tit? It is one of the many dangers of NOT recognizing biological differences.

Perhaps if we recognized and respected these differences as a society, we would have decent, federally-funded daycare, or other social services that benefit our society as a whole.

Whenever I hear another woman say (and I often do) that she’s not like other women, she’s different, it makes me cringe. She will typically say something like, “I don’t like shopping and gossiping like other women. I like sports and action movies.” It ends up being a reinforcement of all the tired stereotypes and becomes another vote that men are generally “better.” Maybe she would do better to realize that since she is a woman who doesn’t like shopping… All women aren’t therefor obsessed with shopping. We are all unique individuals.

Finally, I think the problem that comes from not recognizing gender differences is that it is ineffective. Because as long as women are held in lower esteem, anything associated with them will also be held in lower esteem. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Women can say they don’t like dresses and makeup, for example, but in Ancient Greece and Rome, men wore dresses, without stigma. Sure, they were called “togas,” but they were dresses. In the 18th century, European men wore makeup.

Similarly, some women pride themselves on not being able to cook, associating it with old stereotypes of domestic goddess duties. Yet Japanese sushi chefs and French chefs are held in very high esteem. How many mafia movies are out there with a scene of some tough guy preparing a giant bowl of pasta for his cronies?

My point is not that women should or shouldn’t wear dresses, or should or shouldn’t cook, but rather that if women are held to be less desirable than men, then anything associated with them is also deemed less desirable, even when the same activities are respected when men do them. So focusing on the minutiae is a dead-end, when we should instead be focusing on respecting women as a group.

How significant are the differences and how many of them are natural? I don’t have a clue. I do know that when I was pregnant, the first question everyone asked was whether I was having a boy or girl, and the conversation became very stereotypical once I answered. I know that when I carry around my infant girl, everyone comments immediately on how pretty she is, and how much trouble she will give me in high school. I’m not saying any of this is at all malicious, just that before my daughter has had a chance to develop herself as an individual, people have made already many assumptions about who she is.

I don’t propose that we try to eradicate differences, but instead make them less restrictive. If my daughter likes a pink shirt, she can have it. If she likes a toy train, she can also have it. Maybe we should be focusing more on opening up the entire human experience for everyone to enjoy, and let people be who they want to be.

We can legislate equal opportunity on paper, but it’s more difficult to change social expectations. I read about a disturbing psychological experience a few years back. In it, they videotaped employees in a shop and had people rate the competence of the employees. The same set and script was used in all of the clips, but some involved male employees, some female, and some had black employees. The script and set were always the same, but the audience have lower competence ratings to the female and black employees than the white male employees. And when the employees were black, the audience also rated the store as “dirtier” or “less tidy.”

I’m sure the audience thought they were being objective , yet they rated black and female employees differently, even when every other factor was kept consistent.

I believe our job, as a society, is to work at eradicating these underlying assumptions that place one group above another… To respect everyone individually while understanding that we do not stand alone in this world. We do not belong on opposing teams.