Monthly Archives: May 2012

Action Legos for girls

I don’t have too much of a problem with the Lego Friends line.  I don’t mind that it has lots of pink and purple pastels, and the themes seem perfectly nice for the most part.  A tree house, cool car, vet clinic, home, and cafe are all pretty normal settings that don’t necessarily scream “You’re a girl – stay in your place!”  (Sure, the beauty shop is a little iffy, but then again, I have to admit my girls spent an awful lot of time doing their ZhuZhu Pets’ hair when they were given a salon for them.)  My biggest problem with the Lego Friends line is that the segregation exacerbates and may be used to justify Lego’s marginalization of girls in their other toys.  (And it also tends to exclude boys from playing tree house or vet clinic, which seems unfair.)  Sure, girls can play with Lego sets that don’t include female figures, but I think it’s better for girls to have the option to play with figures that are “like them.”  And Lego’s more adventuresome sets don’t offer that.

For example, Lego’s Airport set comes with five figures.  There’s one female.  Guess what her role is?  Yep, flight attendant.  Similarly, Lego’s licensed movie products tend to fail the Bechdel test just like the associated movies – The Avengers set has one woman, the Star Wars set has one woman, The Pirates of the Caribbean sets have up to one woman, etc.  One brighter spot comes with the Harry Potter sets, which may actually include more than one female figure, and offer an array of female hero and villain figures across the line.

Meanwhile, the Lego City sets make a few stabs at equality by occasionally including one female figure.  Which I do appreciate.  But how come the boys are guaranteed someone like them in every cool action-oriented set, but girls will be lucky to find such a set with one female character, and more than one is out of the question?

Recently, when Chloe decided she’d rather have a police set than a Friends set, I came up with my own solution.  I’ll demonstrate with her latest set – Raptor Chase.

Step 1: Get yourself a cool Lego set.  This one comes with two dudes.

Step 2: Go on Ebay and buy a set of female minifigure heads.  And/or some female hairstyles.  Like so:

 

Step 3: Now you can do home gender reassignment on your Lego guys.  Chloe chose to have one man and one woman hunting raptors:

My girls have a lot of fun exchanging heads on various Lego sets, playing with different hairstyles, and inserting more females into the narrative of Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars.  They tend to play with a mix of male and female figures, but use more females than those that come with the original play sets.

At one point, Chloe was considering the pirate-y looking lady head.  I approved, saying, “She looks a little bit mean, but like she can get things done.”  Chloe responded, “Yeah . . . like you!”

I’ll take that as a compliment.

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Time’s poor science reporting on AP sleep habits

Would you be surprised to learn that Time Magazine published an article criticizing bed sharing and staying with a baby or toddler until he’s asleep?  Me neither.  Would you be surprised that the “science reporting” involved was pathetic?  Me neither.  How about the fact that the story is framed in an inflammatory, accusing manner?  Not a shock, huh?

This was back in 2008.  Time put out an online article with the headline How not to Get Baby to Sleep.  The article reports on two different areas of study, but discusses them in tandem to make its point: If you’re present when your baby falls asleep, or bring them into your bed, you will cause significant sleep problems.  This in turn is “associated with an increased risk of being overweight and having emotional and behavioral difficulties in adolescence and adulthood.”

The referenced study discusses parents being present when the child falls asleep, taking the child into the parental bed, and giving food and drink upon night waking, and describes these actions as “maladaptive parental behaviors” . (I don’t know if the study authors are just presumptuous, judgmental jerks about cosleeping, or if “maladaptive parental behavior” is an actual, defined term of art in this field.  Regardless, I felt like I needed a barf bag nearby for use every time I read it.)  Of course, the first two “maladaptive” behaviors are common practices of attachment parenting.  According to Time, these behaviors “led to disrupted sleep — bad dreams, short sleep time and delays in falling asleep — in children of preschool age.”

The clear message of the Time article is, “If you cosleep, you’re causing your child’s sleep problems and probably dooming them to a fat, stupid, anti-social adulthood.”

The problem is, the cited study actually comes to almost the opposite conclusion:

Findings support the hypothesis that maladaptive parental behaviors develop in reaction to preexisting sleep difficulties. Further, early sleep difficulties are more predictive than parental behaviors in explaining [bad dreams] and foreshortened [total sleep time] beginning at age 50 months. Results are interpreted in light of early emotive/physiological self-regulation problems. . . .

When controlling for early sleep factors, most parental behaviors no longer predict future sleep disturbances ([bad dreams], [total sleep time]) or remain predictors only in interaction with prior [sleep onset] difficulties.

The study found that it first appeared that cosleeping and staying while a child falls asleep might be causing sleep disturbances, but when they controlled for early sleep difficulties, it showed that parent behaviors had almost no effect on sleep problems.  The one effect that remained was that taking a child into the parental bed upon night waking was associated with a sleep onset time of more than 15 minutes.  So if you’re really concerned that it might take your toddler 16 minutes to fall asleep instead of 14 minutes, you might want to worry about that.

(And actually, given that the study relied on questionnaires filled out by parents, how reliable is this?  How do parents who aren’t present at sleep onset determining the time until sleep onset?  I think the results would be better summarized as “When parents are absent at sleep onset, they assume their kid fell asleep faster.”  Who would have thought that it seems shorter when you’re downstairs watching Game of Thrones than when you’re in the dark, singing “Toora Loora Looral” for the twelfth time in a row!)

But it’s not good marketing to write an article that says some kids are born worse sleepers, and that parents wind up lulling them to sleep or cosleeping more often, but that there’s nothing you can really do about it.  People want to have directions on how to fix infant and toddler sleep problems, and the ammunition to judge those smug, freaky AP parents who don’t let their babies cry themselves to sleep.  Subtle, equivocal results just aren’t sexy.

And this speaks to the larger issue of the diminishing quality of science reporting.  In a recent episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Steven Novella pointed out that every major news article got the “Did dinosaur flatulence warm the Earth?” study totally backwards, no doubt because it’s a more charming, clickable headline if dinosaurs farted themselves to death, regardless of what the science actually says.  He also mentions being interviewed and having reporters feed him quotes.  They didn’t care what their expert source actually thought or what the evidence showed – they just wanted a ventriloquist’s dummy with some letters after his name to mouth their preconceived angle on the story.

Luckily, Emily at Double X Science has a good checklist to run down when you see a showy “science” headline: The Double X Double-Take Checklist for Reading Science News is a great list of suggestions that will help you avoid being taken in when science journalism goes to the dark side.

I suggest you keep that checklist (and possibly that barf bag) handy whenever Time addresses attachment parenting.

How about Take Your Kids to the Park and Stay Day?

I’m getting really annoyed by the attitude of the Free Range Kids movement that it’s not enough to bring your kids to the park – you have to leave them alone; otherwise you’re a Smother, a Helicopter Parent, and a pearl-clutching pedophilo-phobic who’s stunting your child’s development.

Sure, some kids are locked up all day inside, watching TV.  Not good.  Others have pushy, overzealous parents who teach them to “read” at 18 months and schedule activities every day after school and twice on Saturday.  Others put their kids in a tutoring program for hours a week to get their grades up from a B+.  It’s perfectly valid to question these practices.  What’s not valid is to create a false dichotomy where you either completely leave children to their own devices (not even hands-off supervision allowed!), or you’re automatically stifling their natural creativity and impeding play.

This week my 4 year old examined a dead frog, a dead mouse, and a live snail.  I was there, and reminded her not to touch the dead animals.  Yesterday my 8 year old was climbing the tree in our front yard (without a CPSC-approved depth of mulch below her!)  She got a pretty good cut on her arm from a ragged branch, and I cleaned it out for her.  I also assured her that she’s 8 and it’s summer – if she’s not covered in scrapes and bruises, she’s doing something wrong.  Yesterday I sat on the porch and read while they shot foam rockets in the yard.  When one got stuck in a tree, Chloe opened the garage (she knows the code), got a broom, and tried to get it down.  When she still fell short, I helped.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I believe in turning kids loose . . . and still being there to help if needed.  Maybe Lenore Skenazy thinks parents won’t be able to resist overprotecting and interfering if they’re present, but I think most parents naturally fall into a more and more background role as their kids get older.  The moms I see at the park are actively helping their toddlers, but when they have kindergarteners they’re more like, “Go play, let me talk to my friends!”

The other thing that irks me about this “holiday” is (surprise!) Time Magazine.  Bonnie Rochman can’t let the cover controversy die, and states that attachment parenting is exactly the kind of smothering helicopter parenting for which free range parenting is the “antidote.”  In doing so, she shows not only Time’s contempt for attachment parenting, but her amazing ignorance of actual attachment parents.  Every parent I know who does AP-style stuff believes that attachment during the early years should serve as a secure foundation from which children can take flight.  Rochman seems to think AP moms are all Pink Floyd’s Mother (NSFW), but in my experience the AP families are actually much more likely than average to be letting their kids roam the woods making discoveries, or sending their kids out to play with a ragtag bunch of neighborhood children.

Can we just ditch the labels already?  How about we stop worrying about whether we satisfy the checklist for AP or FR, and examine specific issues on their individual merits.  Less TV – good.  More physical activity – good.  Scheduling every moment of a child’s life – bad.  Obsessing about instilling independence from the first month of life – bad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get ready to accompany my children outside.

Mothers breastfeeding “for their own gratification”

“There’s an admittedly fine line between the beautiful bond between mother and infant and the weird gratification some women get from breast-feeding in inappropriate and exhibitionistic ways.”

“A kid who can write her own name shouldn’t be nursing. If you like your nipples sucked, let your husband do it.”

“It’s not being used as a form of birth control; it’s being done for the sole satisfaction of the parent.”

“I think that most of this is for the mother’s benefit. I personally know of one instance of this, and in that case it was the mother who was unable to let it go…”

“She must be nursing for her own gratification.”

Those are all genuine quotes about nursing an older child.  And I hear and read all the time about people saying “Oh she’s just doing it for her own gratification,” or “at that age, it’s not for the child – the mother is doing it for her own purposes.”  I have two, related, problems with this sentiment.

First, it’s very silly.  Imagine if people said stuff like:

“There’s an admittedly fine line between the beautiful bond between mother and infant and the weird gratification some women get from cuddling a baby in inappropriate and exhibitionistic ways.”

“A kid who can write her own name shouldn’t be read to anymore.”

“At that age, lullabies are not needed to put a child to sleep; it’s being done for the sole satisfaction of the parent.”

“I think that kissing a booboo for a preschooler is really for the mother’s benefit – these mothers are just unable to let it go…”

“By now she must be brushing her child’s hair for her own gratification.”

If anyone shared the above opinions publicly, people would think they were nuts.  Children have needs and wants.  Some continue in one form or another from birth through the school years.  No one would seriously argue that parents shouldn’t hug their children once the children can ask for it, or that a parent shouldn’t do anything for a child that she can arguably do for herself, or that a pleasant parenting routine must cease once it is not strictly necessary for the child’s physical health.  We all understand that parents frequently do”babyish” things with their older children because it pleases the child, it helps accomplish the parents’ goals, it provides emotional support, or it’s more convenient.  Yet somehow when it comes to breastfeeding, this understanding is forgotten.  And I think it must be because of my second issue -

So frequently, critics of sustained nursing bring a sexually perverted perspective to the conversation.  Mothers and babies do not find anything sexual in nursing.  It’s the people loudly complaining who seem to find breastfeeding sexually charged.  Look at the way people criticized sustained nursing when that Time issue came out:

“Exhibitionist”

“Inappropriate”

“If you like your nipples sucked, let your husband do it”

“When your kid starts noticeably sporting wood at meals, it might be time to wean.”

“Sorry, this looks like a circus midget having the time of his life.”

“I think the biggest deal is that he’s still walking up to her boobs. If you wanna breastfeed until your kid is a teenager, then fine…do your thing. But pump the damn milk!”

“Borderline child porn.”

“At this age what is the difference in this and a father making his daughter touch his private parts?”

For people who relate to these comments, please try to get some perspective.  Breastfeeding is not inherently sexual.  Breasts are not inherently sexual.  Yes, our current culture in America treats breasts almost exclusively as sex organs.  Yes, many people assume that it’s a basic biological fact that breasts are sexual.  They forget that people once felt the same way about women’s calves.  That many people today feel the same way about a woman’s bare face or exposed hair.  Throughout human history, different cultures have “known” that certain female body parts are so sexually stimulating they must be hidden, and that they could never be viewed as just a normal body part.

Families who are used to sustained nursing view a breast just like you view a woman’s leg.  Sure, in some situations, to some people, it might be something sexy, but it’s not perverse or abusive to let your preschooler sit on your lap.  Try to adjust, and realize your discomfort is a perception, not a fact.  It’s OK if you feel uncomfortable.  You can’t necessarily control that.  But do please engage your rationality and recognize that you feel uncomfortable for the same reason that imams feel uncomfortable with they see Western women wearing pants.

To sum up, it’s silly to think that a benign, useful parenting behavior becomes wrong if it’s no longer strictly necessary, or the child can request it, or do it for herself.  Nursing is no different – there’s no time when it magically becomes illicit and sexual.  If you see a mother nursing an older child and it seems sexually perverse to you, you are the only one of the three people who is having sexual thoughts.

PSA: Please reconsider a popular name for your baby

I liked the name Chloe before it was cool.

Hi, I’m Christine.  No, not that one.  No, not Kristy, or Krissy, or Christa.  Oh, yeah, that one’s a Christine too, but she goes by Tina now.  Fine, you can differentiate me by calling me Christine L.  May I introduce my husband Chris?  And his stepbrother Chris.  And my uncle Chris and his son Chris.  That guy over there?  He’s my husband’s office-mate, Chris.

Trust me (and my husband), it’s a pain to have a name that was popular the year you were born.  I actually like my name (and my mother chose it not knowing that it was going to be immensely popular that year), but being one of several kids with the same name in your class is a total drag.  Ironically, this year you’d be fine with Chris or Christine; just avoid Jacob and Sophia if you want to do your kids a favor.  Nevertheless, if you’re really devoted to that top 20 name, I suggest just taking the plunge instead of using a wacky alternative like Alixyveth (typing that made me cry).

Of course, you might find yourself in the same boat as my parents, accidentally picking a name that trends suddenly.  It’s not the end of the world.  But I urge you to check out names that rank below 20 or so – there are some beautiful names, whether classic or newfangled, that you might not have thought of.  And trust me, when your daughter is in homeroom with Emma C. Emma M., and Emma W., she will be happy to be the one and only Charlotte.

A warm fuzzy Mother’s Day card

From my four year old (who dictated it to her sister).

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry I said I would kill you.  I hope you have a happy Mothers Day and like everybodies presents.

Love,

Claire

Why conservatives should vote against Amendment One

Obviously, if you believe that homosexual people deserve equal rights, you’re going to vote against Amendment One.  But there are very good reasons to vote against it even if you believe homosexuality is sinful, especially if you consider yourself politically and economically conservative.

1. Amendment One will cost North Carolina taxpayers a lot of money, while delivering absolutely no benefit.  It’s virtually certain that a same-sex couple will challenge this provision in court, and the litigation will cost immense amounts of money.  Money that will come out of our paychecks.  In the meantime, Amendment One doesn’t make same-sex marriage any more illegal in NC than it already is.

2. It is unconstitutional.  The Constitution of the United States supersedes all state constitutions.  And under the US Constitution, this amendment is illegal for two reasons.  First, it imposes religious rules through the government.  (And if you think that’s OK, or it’s all right as long as there’s no explicit reference to religion, ask yourself how you’d feel if a group of Muslim legislators proposed an amendment that requires women to have their hair covered in public.)  Second, it denies equal protection of the laws to all citizens.  Thus, Amendment One violates the first and fourteenth amendments to the US Constitution.

3. It could have terrible unintended consequences for children, women, and for our economy.  The amendment is worded in a terribly broad way.  It doesn’t say “Marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman,” or “No one may marry someone of the same sex.”  It says “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”  That language entails the prohibition on state agencies, and possibly even private companies, to recognize any domestic legal partnership other than straight marriage.

Sure, it is possible that in the end, some courts will eventually interpret the amendment as still allowing domestic violence protection, child health insurance, and other rights unmarried partners have now (whether gay or straight).  But legal battles take lots of time and money.  Is it really OK with you that a battered woman might have to litigate at the trial level, the appellate level, and finally the Supreme Court of NC before getting a restraining order from her violent live-in boyfriend?  Is it worth it, for the sake of simply reiterating how much we hate gay marriage, to give health insurance companies a convenient excuse for denying the claims of children whose parents aren’t married?  Is it a good, conservative decision to give companies a reason to avoid NC because the status of their employees’ benefits would be uncertain?

Remember that in every legal case, in every health care coverage dispute, in every child custody hearing, there are two sides who will use every legal tool at their disposal.  Sure, you as an individual may be able to interpret Amendment One and conclude that it’s not intended to disrupt domestic violence protections and so on.  But in each legal battle that involves these issues, the defense lawyer for the abusive partner, the lawyer for the insurance company, the absentee parent who suddenly decides to uproot a child from the only family she’s ever known, they will all brandish Amendment One for their side, and they will drag the case through every level of the court system they can.  Even if, finally, the sane side prevails, there will be terrible misery, chaos, and expense in the meantime.

And for what?  What does Amendment One offer to counterbalance these risks?  Nothing.  If everyone votes against Amendment One, gay people still won’t be able to get married in NC.  So why are we willing to risk all these expensive, morally troubling outcomes for it?

Everyone in NC should go vote AGAINST!

How I wound up nursing my kids till they were four

First, you must understand that I never imagined I’d breastfeed an older child.  When I was ten or so, our next door neighbor was still nursing her four year old, and let me tell you, we thought she was a freak!  I mean, she was a really nice person, and our families had a good relationship, but the nursing thing sure seemed beyond quirky.

Years later, when I decided to have a baby, my first thought on nursing was that I would do it, but I would stop once the baby got teeth.  Perhaps understandable for someone who didn’t know how young babies are when they get teeth, nor how nursing mechanics really work.  When I did some reading and learned that babies should nurse at least one year, I got on board with that.

Then my daughter was born – the day before I was scheduled to take a breastfeeding class at the birthing center.  I nursed her in the first hour after she was born and thought I was doing OK.  But in the next few months I had about every breastfeeding problem except for mastitis and low supply.  It’s funny how I used to be worried about nursing a baby with teeth, because a baby with tongue-tie quite effectively lacerated my nipples in short order, no teeth required.  Even after we corrected that, it was so hard to latch her on.  I felt like I needed at least four hands.  (I would have slapped anyone who suggested I put a blanket over the baby while nursing in public – I needed to use both hands and studiously watch what I was doing to get even a so-so latch – there was no way to drape a blanket over us and actually nurse.)  And once I had figured out oversupply and forceful letdown, I developed yeast.  Basically my nipples hurt like hell for at least three months straight.

And yet, I hung in there because I had decided breastfeeding was very important to me, and I felt if I could just get through the difficulties it would be worth it.  And I did, and it was.  Finally nursing became a good part of life.  It was a moment to sit down and rest, to love on my baby, and as she grew it became more and more of a parenting tool.  In addition to providing the nutrition and hydration she needed, nursing offered soothing, reassurance, and a gateway into sleep.

Before I knew it, my baby was turning one.  And she was still a baby.  It seemed silly to try to make her stop at that point.  How could nursing be recommended one day, but totally useless the next?  On her birthday she wasn’t a year older, she was a day older.  Besides, the WHO recommends nursing until at least two.  Plus I have to say there was a certain determination on my part, like “It took us sooo long to get this working, I’ll be damned if I make her stop now!”  So we kept going.  And nursing continued to be useful, quelling tantrums and making nap time peaceful, as well as serving as a nutritional safety net.

By the time Chloe turned two, I was a member of La Leche League, and I had a community where nursing until children are ready to stop is perfectly normal.  I really couldn’t see a positive reason to make her wean when she showed no inclination to.  Nursing was still a useful parenting tool, and something my daughter enjoyed and benefited from.  On the other side of the scale, the arguments for weaning were weak to say the least.  The predominant argument people have against continued nursing boils down to “It seems weird and makes me uncomfortable.”  My husband had the least dumb reservation about my nursing a two-year old – he said, “If it were me, it would drive me nuts to have such a big kid lying in my lap so often.”  Since it didn’t bother me, and other people’s argument of “Ew” was unconvincing to me, we kept going.

Chloe turned four years old shortly after I became pregnant with Claire.  Around that time it started to really hurt me when she nursed.  Aha!  – a good reason to balance against the arguments for continuing nursing.  Given her age, I felt comfortable telling her that nursing was hurting me and I needed to stop.  Of course by that time she had been “weaning” for years, so that she only nursed at bedtime by the time I decided to stop.  It was relatively easy to substitute a sippy cup of water and lots of cuddling, and we were done.

Of course with my second child, it seemed perfectly natural from the beginning that I would nurse her for years.  As time went by and she turned four herself, I thought about it and decided I would feel uncomfortable nursing a five year old.  That’s just my personal, arbitrary, gut-feeling limit.  (And for the record, I would never tell any mother she should nurse beyond her own emotional comfort zone, be that 3 months or 3 years.)  I started subtly discouraging nursing.  She had naturally pared down to nursing just at bedtime long before her fourth birthday, and shortly after turning four she began forgetting on occasion, or only wanting one side.  Finally, for various reasons we moved the girls into the same bedroom, and unexpectedly this caused Claire to totally wean.  The shakeup in bedtime routine along with the security of having her sister nearby seemed to extinguish her need for that last nighttime connection with Mom.

People might be shocked to learn that my kids are both independent and socially adept.  I’ll never forget that Chloe got on the bus the first day of kindergarten without sparing even a glance over her shoulder at me.  Claire is a favorite among the daycare kids – when she walks in, people call her name like she’s Norm walking into Cheers.  They’re normal kids.  Maybe even more confident and secure than average.  And people might also be surprised that Chloe has no memory of nursing.  I don’t know if Claire will remember or not.

The other thing you might find surprising: when I see another mother nursing a 3-4 year old, that kid looks GIANT to me!  Somehow when it’s your own child, who you’ve been with since infanthood, they still seem little enough to nurse.  But you can look at other people and think, “Wow, how does she balance that child on her lap anymore?”  So I can kind of sympathize with others who are shocked at older nurslings.  When it’s your own baby, and you hold them as they grow day by day, it just seems natural.

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