13 Books for Feminist Mothers (me, writing elsewhere)

At MUTHA Magazine, I’m recommending books all over the place. It’s like I want to be a librarian or something. Check it out, and let me know what titles you’d add!

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parenting poems

[A friend recently asked if I know any nice pregnancy or birth poems, for use as part of a baby shower. After offering some ideas, I remembered that I used to post links to these sorts of poems at my old blog but never moved any of those poems or links to this space. I'm grabbing from those (no longer public) archives to share in a few batches--pregnancy, birth, babies, parenting. Hope you enjoy the poems!]

Yehuda Amichai, “A Child Is Something Else Again

Desmond Graham, “She Is Learning Her Hands

Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

Michael Ondaatje, “Bearhug

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packing, cleaning, planning: spring move!

Posting has been a bit slow here, I know, and I’ve also failed to keep my dear readers up to date on some Big Life Goodness. As I always keep you up to date on the Big Life Badness and General Complaints Lodged against the Universe (see: pregnancy nausea), I should probably go ahead and say the neat stuff too.

Back in bitter cold February, I offered 7 reasons I wanted to buy a house (and mentioned that we were pretty sure we could finally get a mortgage). After figuring out the details, we looked at houses for exactly one week, put down two offers, and had our second offer accepted.

We’re supposed to close next week, at which point we shall actually own the house and there shall be much rejoicing! I have repeatedly threatened to pee all over it–you know, to mark it–but Eric says no. He has, however, agreed to a pizza picnic on the floor the evening of the closing. That sounds like more fun anyway, although how are the other animals supposed to know it’s mine, huh?

This is the first time we’ve owned a home, the first time Noah has ever had a house or a yard where he can garden and play and keep his stuff, the first time Eric and I have moved into a place expecting to stay there long at all. It will be a huge relief–and a huge change–not to spend part of each year trying to figure out whether to resign a lease and whether/where we’ll be moving next. We are glad to have rented this long (we know so many people who got stuck in houses/towns when the real estate market did its scary thing), but now that we know where we want to be and have some clue about our finances, this is an awesome shift for our family. And one we would have found unimaginable a year ago, when we were living off SNAP, WIC, and my last few unemployment payments.

In the meantime, the fairies do not appear to be packing or cleaning for us. And Simon is not amenable to the whole project. (When he got hold of a box that had been shipped to us, he removed a strip of packing tape and promptly affixed it over both nostrils and his mouth. I am not even kidding. Imagine what he would do with a roll of the stuff, a permanent marker, scissors, or breakable items.) So, we’re trying to shove a lot of work into nights (despite already not getting enough sleep, thanks for that too, Simon) and weekend afternoon naps. Oh, and our regular childcare provider is out of town for a long time right now, meaning my only writing/research time happens during afternoon naps on weekdays. So, yeah.

But we’ll be puttering around our own backyard soon!

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The Little Rebels Award shortlist: radical children’s fiction

This year’s Little Rebels Award shortlist was released a couple days ago. This is just the second year of this UK-based award, which honors fiction with radical sensibilities that’s aimed at infants through 12-year-olds. The organization that administers the award, Letterbox Library, is a big champion of diversity (including gender and sexualities diversities) in children’s literature. So that’s pretty cool!

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book review: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

Journalist Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun (2014) has been getting quite a lot of attention. My vague sense from half-encounters with the book’s media coverage was that I would find it really annoying. As it turns out, though, I enjoyed reading it.

In a twist on typical parenting books, All Joy and No Fun focuses on parents’ experiences and outcome rather than on children’s. Senior examines the impact of contemporary parenting practices on parents through research and portraits of individual families.

Nothing here blew my mind. For example, I am super not shocked by the news that:

  • happiness is a fuzzy concept that’s often ill-measured
  • parenting is both very stressful/draining and deeply meaningful/pleasurable
  • becoming parents is typically rotten for romantic partnerships (pp. 47-50 & ff.)
  • long-term sleep deprivation messes you up (pp. 20-23)
  • mothers typically find ourselves doing most of the planning-worrying-organizing-tracking-research labor (even if we have father-partners who actually do about half of the ‘childcare’ as typically measured: external activities like changing diapers, carrying out bedtime routines, driving children to activities)

However, I do think all these points are important and worth pondering, and I’m glad that Senior is communicating about them to such a broad audience.

Also, I forget where in the book Senior cites research to this effect, but it makes me happy that US households are flat-out doing less housework than they were in the 50s and 60s, and spending more time with our children. This information is couched in terms of contemporary middle-class parents’ over-the-top cultivation of children, but I really enjoy interacting with my children more than, say, dusting the baseboards (not that I have ever actually dusted a baseboard). It seems at least potentially good and life-affirming to spend more time on people and less time on houses. The discussion of the cultural shift from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mom” is very interesting (154).

Sometimes I was like, what?, and here are two of those times:

  • I was a little weirded out by the assumption that parents who tend toward anti-authoritarian parenting practices like “giv[ing] choices and negotiat[ing]” (rather than issuing “orders” and punishments) would regard challenges to our own “parental authority” as a bad thing (129). I thought that was part of the point, and that parents operating deliberately in this way likely regard their (our) authority and goals very differently from parents who A) do orders-and-punishment parenting or B) sort of accidentally end up negotiating with their children because they’re easily cowed and in the thrall of their special little snowflakes or something. Maybe the assumption is that we’re all really in category B? The book’s next paragraph (130) makes it sound as though children of choices-and-discussion parents are all rude little hellions who act out at restaurants, which is also not my experience.
  • When Senior argues that “there were once more purposeful outlets for adolescents’ restless energies,” citing Steven Mintz’s work, she refers to the adolescent labors of Eli Whitney, Herman Melville, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson as evidence. DO YOU SEE THE PATTERN TOO? Oh good. Because she then quotes Mintz–”The mid-eighteenth century [...] provided many opportunities for teenagers of ambition and talent to leave a mark on the world”–without mentioning that perhaps those mid-18th-century teenagers of ambition and talent who didn’t sport penises were in a somewhat different boat from these fellows. “Teenager” is not a synonym for “young man.”

Senior closes on a high note, in a chapter entitled “Joy,” and I will too. The concluding chapter spends time thinking about how we create stories for our own lives, narratives that give our lives meaning and beauty and that give us comfort, purpose, and indeed joy. As a literary scholar, I am acutely aware of the role of story in my life. I enjoyed reading Senior’s take on psychological and other research into memories, narratives, and life satisfaction as they relate to parenting.

Highly readable and engaging.

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