thirteen ways of looking at my work life

I used to work.

I work part-time from home.

I work all the time.

I do a lot of unpaid writing work.

I do a lot of unpaid care work. Parenting is work.

I do the work that makes it possible for my partner to do the work that makes the money.

I need to make some money.

I don’t work.

We have somehow morphed into a straight white breadwinner/homemaker household from a 1950s sitcom. Two blond children and a dog. Society won, with us.

We have a radical work/family approach in which my partner does at least half the housework, and half the parenting when he’s home. We both take my intellectual work and his nurturing abilities seriously. Suck it, patriarchy.

I do not know what brand of laundry detergent we use. My spouse has to write details like that on the grocery list, which he creates each week along with our menu. I am not much use, really, given that I’m not working and also not doing the housework. Step up, me.

I do not know what brand of laundry detergent we use. My spouse has to write details like that on the grocery list, which he makes each week. That’s because I’m pitching and writing freelance pieces, working on my book project and proposal, keeping our two-year-old alive, and caring for and educating our 8-year-old during the “work day.”

I guess we must both be working if we’re this tired.

[p.s. This post nods in the general direction of the Wallace Stevens poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," only Eric says that's not obvious and I have to mention that outright, so here you go. I've read a bit too much, I think, and spent too much time with professional word nerds.]

great chapter books for sensitive early readers

While he was five and six, Noah enjoyed having more complicated books read to him and also started reading those books on his own. But he was not yet interested in anything even remotely scary, unpleasant, or sad. And of course we all prefer Light on the Gender Stereotyping, Please.

Here are a few of the series and books we found for that tricky in-between reading phase:

Any to add? Leave a comment … these can be hard to find, and I’d love to help other parents.

book review: Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood

Rad Dad is a 2011 collection of very brief essays (and a few interviews), edited by Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith. Its material is drawn entirely from two radical fathering/fatherhood publications, the zine Rad Dad and the blog Daddy Dialectic.

The book’s biggest strength is in its pieces’ diversity and earnestness. Although it’s a quick read, it offers a lot to think about in terms of how feminist-leaning, anti-capitalist/anti-consumerist, anti-racist fathers experience their own lives and relationships in a culture where fatherhood is deeply tied up with problematic, limited masculinities–and especially with the “breadwinner” role of providing families with Stuff and Money.

As in nearly every anthology, the quality is somewhat uneven. But hoo boy the essay “Skate Dad” earns special mention in that it nearly made me just stop reading. This piece is an unusually low ‘low point.’ In the context of a generally thoughtful and reflective collection, I was taken aback by its I-think-I’m-so-cool-and-progressive sexist paternalistic vibe: “Transfer that treatment to when a skater’s daughter brings a guy home–that guy is in for a seriously uncomfortable meeting-the-parents experience, several times over, until he proves himself in a big way” (107). Can we please move past the “Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel, I doubt anybody would miss you” routine, at least in progressive circles, and drop the Big Man act? (And yeah, I’m quoting Clueless. Of course I am, because Clueless rules forever.)

I really appreciate Moniz’s introductory acknowledgement of his own and many fathers’ initial reluctance to write about parenting, because they worry about their own privilege and/or because they worry about making a contribution at all:

In the first issue of Rad Dad, I confessed that I waited years for someone else to do a zine that would foster parents’, and particularly fathers’, political awareness. I’ll tell you why I was so hesitant: I wasn’t sure how to talk about parenting without it sounding narcissistic or self-satisfied or privileged–See, look, I change diapers, aren’t I a good father? or Let me tell you about how I once got up and rocked the baby to sleep–while the mother still did the majority of housecleaning, errands, and other parental responsibilities.

[...] Many fathers I met were uncomfortable writing about parenting because of this issue–as well as the internaliezd belief that we fathers don’t have much to offer or say about parenting. (10)

This discussion frames the book’s project of storytelling, self-reflection, and personal/political engagement quite effectively.

In an abbreviated version of his blog post “10 questions on profeminist fatherhood,” Smith writes thoughtfully about the power dynamics within his family as they changed during the transition to parenthood:

Most shocking of all, I think the power in our relationship started to inexorably tilt in my direction, as perhaps it always did, as we became parents. Even when I took time off of paid work to serve as my son’s primary caregiver, the tilt continued. It didn’t seem, and still doesn’t seem, to matter what I want or decide—I just keep growing more powerful in the relationship.

What do I mean by power? In this context, we might say it’s the ability to do and say what we want and need to do or say. From this perspective, we’ve both lost power: Parenthood constrains our choices in countless ways, which I don’t think I need to explain to other parents.

But there is no question, absolutely none, that my wife has lost more power than I have. This won’t surprise moms who are reading this, but it certainly surprised me.

The biggest reason for this, I would say, is that I have simply not been as absorbed by the physical and emotional demands of caregiving, even when I was primary caregiver; and at this writing, I am the one who is making most of the money and feels most driven to advance in my so-called career. (130-131)

Also, what a great description of what some of my friends call “the witching hour,” from David L. Hoyt:

It was a bitterly cold winter afternoon. Four p.m. and already dark. I was tired, and dreading the two-hour stretch that yawned before me, from the end of Spot’s afternoon nap, to Spot’s mom coming home from work a little after six.

It is a bleak stretch of time, bleak in my mind like the glare of sodium vapor street lamps over a frozen, salt-crusted alley.

Bleak, I tell you. Bleak.

Although–or perhaps because–I sometimes had to remind myself to take off the ol’ judging hat, I really enjoyed reading a collection of casual stories and opinion pieces by fathers who are actually thinking about issues surrounding race and racism, class and classism, consumerism, poverty, law enforcement and the prison system, and gender and sexism.

But my two-year-old would tell you to get the book just because it has somebody about his size wearing a “bicycle helmet! bicycle helmet! for me! get!” on the cover.

sex & knowledge: links

I love me a good read (or video) about sex, sexuality, knowledge, education, and understanding. If you do, too, you should watch Marnie Goldenberg’s TEDx talk “The Sex Talk.” Check out the Our Bodies Our Blog post “The Ideal Labia is Your Own: Online Sites Push Back Against ‘Model’ Genitalia” and follow the links from there. Read Alice Dreger’s essay “What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily about Pleasure?” over at Pacific Standard. And let me know what resources and commentary have been making you think (or cheer) lately.

eight!?!

My first child is eight years old now, a rising third grader. I don’t experience shock at his age each year (we usually accidentally start calling him the new age months in advance, just sort of starts to seem right), but somehow for the first time this one feels surprising.

Eight!

I remember being eight, and the third grade, in a different way from what came before. And he’s so clearly not a baby or young child any more: he’s grown up a lot in the past year. He’s awesome. And we’re old, huh?

book review: Non-sexist Childraising (1977)

I recently read Carrie Carmichael’s 1977 book Non-sexist Childraising, as part of my research for my own book about parenting while feminist. As far as I can tell, Non-sexist Childraising was the first book on nonsexist parenting. It was followed closely by Ourselves and Our Children (from the good folks who continue to give us Our Bodies, Ourselves) and, a bit later, former Ms. magazine editor Lettie Cottin Pogrebin’s Growing Up Free.

As you might expect, Carmichael’s book offers a fascinating glimpse into a brief cultural moment, pre-backlash, when feminist advice on parenting and education was available to general audiences. Although she’s clearly annoyed with both institutional and personal sexism, the author sounds so very hopeful about the future and about the then-current generation of children, children she wanted to grow up “free.” And it’s so, so 1970s in tone and outlook.

This book takes non-sexist parenting to mean raising non-sexist children. For instance, women would ideally work outside the home as good models of living outside gender stereotypes, rather than for our own benefit if that’s what works best for us. This is very different from my own feminist approach to parenting, which is about all family members’ needs and is not aimed specifically at raising future feminists.

Non-Sexist Childraising begins with chapters on “non-sexist childraising”–including awesome and telling paired narratives of sample “sexist” and “non-sexist” family days–and then talks separately about feminist mothers and fathers. The rest of the chapters deal with broader culture: homophobia, television, toys, language (especially gendered pronouns and job titles), books, and education. It’s worth requesting via Interlibrary Loan for a look!

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