Name: Ashley

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    Ms. Blog: A Crafty Way to Support the Women’s March

    January 12th, 2017

    I’m over at the Ms. Magazine blog today talking about Pussyhats: and the Women’s March:

    In launching the Pussyhat Project, the co-founders created a meditative and communal activity that serves as a mindfulness practice as well as an organizing opportunity. “We are hearing from participants that they are connecting through knitting circles, workshops, family, friends, and social media,” Zweimann told Ms. “People who are housebound are joining the movement. I have even connecting with a long lost cousin who will be wearing my hat at the march!”

    Each pussyhat carries a story, many of them moving and deeply personal. There are women who are unable to march sending a piece of themselves to a marcher. There are grandmothers and mothers using their craft to outfit their children, carrying on a tradition of both craft and protest. There are even people sewing hats with fabric from a deceased loved one’s stash—a fitting way to pay homage to activists who are no longer with us.

    For the whole story, click here!

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    3 Ways to Shut Down Pussyhat Haters

    January 8th, 2017

    Like most people in my circle of friends, after the election, I was left in a dark place. I wanted Hillary to win for women and girls everywhere, but I needed her to win to prove that progress isn’t perfect, but that it’s at least a given and not something we should have to continue to fight for.

    I, like many people I knew, was left questioning pretty much everything I thought I knew about politics, about America, about the world. And after a while, I was more than mourning the loss; I was downright depressed. How was I supposed to look my students in the face and say that everything was going to be OK? How was I supposed to raise a daughter knowing that she would know the word “pussy” before her 5th birthday? How was I supposed to tell my girls that they could be anything they wanted to be?

    I lost interest in a lot of things I used to love. Teaching and coaching, sure, but that could have been the product of the end-of-the-semester blues so I wrote it off as such. But when I started to lose interest in knitting and sewing, food, and yoga – and when I started falling asleep on the couch at 7 PM for no apparent reason – I knew something had to be up.

    Top that off with the fact that I wanted so desperately to attend the Women’s March on Washington but didn’t think I could. I just wanted to do something that felt like action, but it was too expensive, too hard to leave a toddler, I’d miss a Speech tournament, I had never done anything like this before, I didn’t want to go alone…

    And, just in the nick of time, I saw a post somewhere on my social media about the Pussyhat Project. If you haven’t heard about it, check out the link. (Go ahead. I’ll wait here.) The jist of it is that these women want to outfit all of the marchers in handmade – knit, crocheted, or sewn – pink cat hats. The idea is to create a stunning and noticeable visual statement at the march (and to keep the marchers warm, because it’s January in D.C. and it’s going to be COLD!) that protests our President-Elect’s use of the word “pussy” by reclaiming the word as our own, all while reclaiming the color pink – one that has been used against women to demean them – and the concept of handmade items that traditionally fall in the realm of women’s work.

    I jumped right on board. I’ve made over 30 hats, and will continue to make them right up until the day of the march. I will probably be knitting one on the bus on the way there. (Oh, did I mention I abolished all of those reasons floating in my brain for why I couldn’t go and bought a Rally Bus ticket? Because I did! AND I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED!)

    I knit. I sew. I’ve made a lot of hats. (This isn’t even all of them!)

    But, you know, hatters gonna hate, right? I’ve heard a lot of arguments against the use of these hats lately as the project has gained momentum and, while I see where these people are coming from, I disagree. If you’re a Pussyhat Project Proponent but are at a loss for what to counter, then here are some things you can say to those Pussyhat Pessimists’ arguments.

    Argument 1: These hats are silly. We need to be taken seriously.

    You’re right. They are. I have been wearing mine every day since I finished it, and I will admit that I feel weird about it. As one of my students said on the Speech tournament bus this weekend: “That’s an interesting hat choice for a grown woman.”

    This isn’t about one woman wearing a silly hat, though. It’s about over 150,000 women and men – angry women and men – wearing them in solidarity, and when the world sees us connected by this symbol, it will be powerful.

    Also, I hate to say it, but we have a President-Elect that says silly things. (And hurtful things. And demeaning things. And downright damaging things.) Sometimes, you just have to meet your opponent on their level to get them to pay attention. And he will be paying attention. This man gets rattled. Easily. 150,000 people marching against him, when the spotlight is supposed to be on him, decked out in pink Pussyhats… He’ll say something about it because it’ll get to him.

    Correction: He’ll tweet something about it. But it’ll still get to him.

    Argument 2: Pink is not the right color for this. Why choose such a girly color? And why cats? Why not vaginas or something more revolutionary?

    Pink is exactly the right color for this. Black or white wouldn’t make the intended visual statement, and Democrat Blue would just confuse the issue. Would you prefer purple as something girly but not too much so? Like Hillary Clinton’s concession pantsuit, all that does is blend the red and the blue, which isn’t want we want at all. Green? Yellow? Orange? It’s a women’s march. Pink has been used for and against women for a very long time, so why not reclaim it for this, an important women’s issue?

    As for the cat imagery, let’s never forget that kitties have claws. And it isn’t our fault he used the word “pussy” to describe women’s genitalia, opening himself up to endless cat puns. I hate to be the toddler here, but he really did start it.

    More importantly, though, these patterns were meant to be easily accessible to anyone, even those without a lot of experience. Crocheting an elaborate labia would be time-consuming and something only the most elite crafters would be able to do, which would not only defeat the purpose, but go completely against the accessible and intersectional nature of the event itself.

    Argument 3: Why waste your time making hats when you could be doing something more productive to “Dump Trump.”

    Well, as a matter of practicality, it’s D.C. In January. It is going to be cold. More importantly, though, this project was a way to channel anger, frustration, and astonishment for those of us who needed something to do and weren’t sure where to start. This project has been a lifesaver for me, and not only because I had something to do with my anxiety. Knitting (and other crafts) are so meditative that I had no choice but to slow down and become very mindful about my next steps. It helped me organize my thoughts and clear the post-election fog from my brain.

    Moreover, this project was intended to foster connections between people, and allow people who couldn’t attend the march a way to send a piece of themselves there. Knitting, crocheting, and sewing is all about making connections – connecting loops and knots of yarn, thread, and fabric together, sure, but also connecting crafters with other crafters. I even saw a post on Instagram that was a box of hats, each with a note saying that the hats were made from her late mother’s stash of fabric as a way of allowing her mom – who had died in December – to participate in the march. That, right there, is the epitome of love, and love trumps hate, which is possibly the most important message we can send right now.

    Photo Credit: Instagram User @mckfly

    Also, these crafts were and still are typically considered “women’s work;” something that was expected to be done in the home, alone, but soon knitting circles, sew-ins, and other craft groups emerged to connect people together. The natural outcropping of this is some discussion about more revolutionary topics in safe spaces for women to do so. That tradition has continued with several knitting parties across the country to make Pussyhats and discuss the next steps in our “craftivism,” and our resistance. I attended one at Women and Children First Bookstore in Chicago last week and it was amazing. It just felt so good to be with women who all cared deeply about feminist issues, and who all still felt dejected about the election results, and who all felt passionately about crafting for the cause. (See also: that point up there about making connections.)

    Photo Credit: Women and Children First Bookstore

     

    Photo Credit: Veronica Arreola

     

    If none of this works and you love the project while some of your feminist friends still hate it, you can tell them they by no means have to wear one, and then continue to rock your Pussyhat with pride. But, if you are going to the march and you can, pack an extra. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually give in to the power of the pink Pussyhat.

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    No Resolutions for Me This Year

    January 4th, 2017

    ‘Tis the season of resolutions and promises to ourselves. Of one-word focused thoughts. Of gym memberships and diet plans. Of trying to be better versions of ourselves.

    At the moment, though, guilt is probably the most powerful motivator in my life because I feel intense guilt for not being more, or better, or focusing, or dieting. I acutely feel the ever-present and all-encompasing Mom Guilt, sure, but also guilt over pretty much every other aspect of my life. I feel guilty over wearing clothes that weren’t necessarily made ethically. Over my toddler’s eating habits (or lack thereof). Over my own eating habits. Over going to yoga. Over not going to yoga. Over creating waste in my kitchen, my house, my classroom. Over taking a shower that’s longer than I absolutely needed. Over turning the heat up a few degrees to stop shivering. Over what I teach my students. Over what I don’t teach my students. Over the work I do from home. Over the work I leave at work. Over not really blogging or writing for the past few years. Over deciding to spend my time crafting rather than reading books. Over the election.

    You get the idea.

    The list goes on and on. It’s pervasive. It’s enough to make me not want to do anything at all… so maybe I should say that guilt is probably the most powerful un-motivator in my life sometimes.

    I have grown and changed quite a bit over the past few years. Some of this is for the good, and some not. There are some things I really like about my new self – I’m a mom! That is exciting and challenging and new every day. I’m really trying to do more with less, which feels good and productive. I’m trying to bring more mindfulness into my everyday life, which is a really popular buzzword right now, but I think it’s important anyway.

    But there are some things about my old, pre-kid self that I miss – Attending book club (and reading books in general). Dinner and drinks with friends without also having to entertain the kids. Writing. Being more politically active. Being more active in general.

    So this year, instead of making some kind of resolution based on the guilt I already feel, I’m going to try to recapture some of the things about myself that I liked before, while also retaining some of the things about myself that I like now.

    To start: Crafting Pussyhats and marching on Washington the day after the inauguration. Teaching Beloved by Toni Morrison to my AP students so we can have real conversations about race in America within the context of my class. Blogging more.

    But for now, I’m going to sign off and spend this last day of winter break with my kid. Because that’s important, too.

    Image credit: marc falardeau

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    Musings on #SlowFashionOctober 2016

    October 30th, 2016

    Last year, I came upon Slow Fashion October on Instagram and I was curious. At the time, though, I had just started knitting small things (mostly cowls and hats) that actually looked decent and, while I was proud of those things, I definitely wasn’t in a place to think about crafting much of a wardrobe. For Emily, sure. Her stuff is tiny and doesn’t take very long to knit, but for me? No way.

    On top of that, I still wasn’t very close to the size I was before Emily was born, and I definitely wasn’t close to the size I wanted to be, so I wasn’t sure why I would make myself clothes if I was just going to try to lose more weight. On top of that, I felt that my body didn’t necessarily deserve clothes that took a lot of time to make because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. My solution at the time was to buy cheap clothes to cover the transitional period. I figured if I bought a few pieces, I could get by.

    What happened in reality over the past two years was that I essentially ended up with three wardrobes: my pre-Emily wardrobe I always thought I’d get back into, my immediately post-Emily wardrobe full of cheap pieces that never fit right and never made me feel good, and my post-transition wardrobe full of pieces I love and make me feel good and I wear all the time. Several pieces in that third wardrobe are handmade, because I realized at some point that clothes should be made to fit me, not the other way around, and when my clothes are well-made and fit me well, I feel a lot better.

    When I started to make and wear my own clothes, I also started to do a little more research into fast fashion, and it is kind of terrifying, though not at all surprising. As with many things in our speed-oriented society, there is a dramatic surplus, and the waste from the industry is ruining the environment. And the cheaper the clothes, the worse the problem gets.

    There’s no perfect solution to this problem, of course. We need to clothe our bodies, and some of us don’t have infinite funds or time to do so, but, as with every problem our world faces, I believe that if everyone did a little bit, we could collectively make a huge difference.

    For me, this past year has been about minimizing and feeling good. When we do more with less – use leftover food, for example, or create interesting wardrobes with a few well-crafted pieces – there are quite a few benefits. Personally, you look better, feel better, and save money. Globally, you make a positive impact on the environment and the economy.

    After all of this thinking and researching all month long, I decided there was nothing left to do, but to do it.

    To celebrate the end of Slow Fashion October, I decided today was the day to go through my closet once and for all. I started by telling myself that, yes, I did have a lot of well-made pieces from years and years ago (some of this stuff was from college, I’m not even kidding). In some cases – like with dresses that I truly loved that I had bought for bridal showers and weddings – they didn’t fit me anymore, and then I had to tell myself that it was time for someone else to enjoy these pieces. In other cases – like with some of the teacher clothes I bought when I got my first job – they fit just fine, but the cut was outdated and they didn’t make me feel good because they weren’t stylish. In other cases – like with the suit I bought for job interviews – they just didn’t have any use for me anymore.

    So, I purged. I packed away some of my nicer transitional clothes (if we do this again, not having to buy new clothes for the immediate postpartum period would be really great), and I got rid of three huge garbage bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories. On top of that, I put away some other pieces that had fabric that I really liked in order to upcycle them into pants for my super tall daughter. All in all, I got myself down to just one wardrobe that is filled with pieces that I enjoy wearing all the time and that are stylish now.

    I know no one wants my old clothes (as I stated above) so donating isn’t a great solution, but what was happening to me was that so many of my great clothing items were buried under years of accumulated crap that I didn’t like or wasn’t useful, and I was spending my mornings either crying that I had nothing attractive to wear, or disappointed that I was wearing the same old thing yet again and needed something new. And then I’d spend my afternoons on Amazon buying new, cheap clothes that I thought would make me feel better, thus compounding the problem. Now, I know that anything I pull out of my closet will fit well, look great, and pairs with most of the other things I own since I stuck to a definite color palette as I was purging.

    I counted, and if you count only items of clothing that could actually clothe by body – so not counting underwear, outerwear, accessories, shoes, gym clothes, spirit wear, and loungewear – I have approximately 140 clothing items left in my closet and drawers. This seems pretty great to me, considering Project 333, a guide to minimizing your wardrobe, suggests that you start with 33 pieces every 3 months, which would be about 132 pieces per year. I decided not to cycle out clothing items each season and, instead, keep all of my items in circulation because I live in Chicagoland and you never know what the weather might bring. Plus, putting a cardigan over a summer dress or top works really well for me, so I figured I’d keep everything out. It’s also very likely that I’ll donate pieces here or there throughout the next year as I try on clothes I discovered during this purge and decided to keep because I didn’t have time today to try everything on, or as I go through the year and realize that I’m not really wearing a piece as much as I thought I would.

    My goal for the next calendar year – until Slow Fashion October 2107 – is to be very mindful about my clothing. I’m only going to buy or make clothes if I truly need or want something new for an event, or if something I own wears out (or if I do finally lose that weight, but I doubt it at this point). And, if I’m buying something instead of making it, I’m going to either purchase it secondhand or spend the money on quality pieces that fit well from companies who ethically source their clothing. Furthermore, I am going to donate one piece of clothing for every item I buy or make. Oh, and I’m going to take the time to care for my clothes to make them last longer, not just launder everything in the quickest possible way.

    It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And, while I’m a long way away from a 100% handmade wardrobe, it feels good to know that I’m trying to do what I can, and that tomorrow, when I go to get dressed, I know that whatever I put on my body will look and feel great.

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    Yoga Challenge: Day 1

    September 19th, 2016

    My yoga studio started a fall fitness challenge today. 21 classes in 30 days, and if you make it, you’re entered into a drawing for some pretty sweet prizes. So, I figured, since I’m looking for a way to kick my butt into shape before Speech season starts, and since I quit my gym membership in favor of only doing yoga, why not? I mean, it’s only 5 days a week (plus one) for a month, right? Right??

    Since I’m doing this, I figured I might as well take these next 30 days to really overhaul my routine. Since Emily was born, I’ve had a couple of false starts – trying for a week or so to eat well, then caving and ordering pizza and shoving it in my face because I was too tired to do anything else. Making it to yoga maybe once or twice a week and calling it a win. Not writing, not thinking, not taking care of myself in general.

    Not this time. I’m going to start a new routine and it starts today. For one month, I am going to eat food that fuels me rather than just fills me. I am going to go to yoga 21 times to complete the studio’s challenge. And I am going to blog about it.

    I started today, which is great, but I’m not feeling any more introspective about it than usual, since Monday is my normal day to get my yoga on. However, as I was practicing tonight, I thought that now would be a good time to set some intentions for this challenge. In yoga, sometimes you set an intention for your practice – a word to meditate on, or a goal you want to accomplish. So here are my intentions for the month:

    1. Feel better. This one is just a given.
    2. Lose the last 5 baby pounds. (8 if we’re being honest, but I’d be happy with 5.)
    3. Sleep more. OK, that’s probably impossible given my schedule, but sleeping better would be a plus.
    4. Drink more water. 91 ounces a day. This seems specific, but it’s just a number some app gave me based on my activity levels and age/height/weight, so I’m going with it.
    5. Eat better. No dairy, no grains. Nothing that typically makes me feel bloated.

    I’m hoping to get a few things out of this with all these goals:

    1. Better skin
    2. Better fitting pants
    3. Better body image
    4. Better energy levels
    5. Better routine of self-care

    These may look like they are in order of least to most important, but they are, in fact, in order from most to least important. Better skin above all, and then the rest will follow.

    This sounds like I’m joking. I’m not joking.

    I’m going to try to blog about this journey. I won’t blog every day; that’s just unrealistic. But I will try to blog every day I go to yoga, or maybe just a few times a week to check in. We’ll see how it goes. I’m setting the bar low.

    Feminists often talk about self-care and how radical it is to take care of yourself and love yourself. Well, I’m about to embark on that journey for the first time since my child was born almost two years ago. I doubt that it will be radical, but I think it might be necessary. They – whoever “they” are – say it takes 21 days to create a habit or something like that?

    Well, here’s to a new habit.

    Here’s to a better version of me.

    Photo Credit: Hamza Butt

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    America and Me? We’re Old Friends.

    September 13th, 2016

    I have a student who declines to stand for the Pledge of Allegience. She takes issue with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all,” because it is not “for all” in her view.

    I asked her about it once. I said, “I take no issue with your choice not to stand during the Pledge. I just want to make sure it is because of your beliefs, not because you just don’t feel like standing up.” And she said, “No, Miss. Here’s the thing. It’s about liberty and justice and it’s not for all…”

    “I’m going to stop you there,” I told her. “That’s all I need to know.”

    And would you like to know why I did that? Because it is within the rights of a student not to stand for the Pledge because of his or her beliefs. And you do not get in the way of that. That is Law for Teaching for Dummies 101, that’s how remedial it is. It is the first thing they tell you in your education classes, and the last thing they tell you before handing you your diploma.

    OK, maybe it isn’t that drastic. But it is made pretty clear. You don’t have to agree with students’ beliefs, but your job is to help them express those beliefs, not to impose your own on them. You don’t want to stand during the Pledge because you take issue with any part of it? Fine. I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let you do it.

    It wasn’t long after this episode that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and blew up news cycles everywhere. My attitude about this was the same: You take issue with any part of the National Anthem and what it stands for? Fine. Good for you, even. You have something to say, and you are saying it. What’s wrong with that?

    I’ve stayed silent on this issue and let others talk for me. I’ve stayed silent on a lot of issues over the past year and let others talk for me. Some of this was because infants and toddlers suck all of the life out of you require all of your time and attention. But some of this was because I was a little bit afraid.

    You see, I have never been one to have a million friends. I’m much more the person who guards friendship carefully and only lets a few select people in. And when I love, I love fiercely, and I want those I love fiercely to be the best human beings they can be. Sometimes, if they are not being the best human beings they can be, I even tell them about how I want them to be the best human beings they can be. Most of the time, as you might imagine, that blows up in my face.

    But here’s the thing: A sure sign of loving something fiercely is wanting to help it be better. Spending time and effort, blood and sweat, tears and toil helping a caterpillar to become a butterfly is time well spent. Caterpillars are fine, don’t get me wrong, but butterflies are better. If I didn’t care about the caterpillar, I would accept it the way it was. But I do care about the caterpillar; I care so deeply, that I want it to become the butterfly it was always meant to be.

    We are over the clichéd metaphors? OK.

    America and me? We are old friends. And I love America deeply. Because I love America deeply, I want it to be better. It’s pretty great already, but it’s not the best it can be. And a sure sign that I love America deeply is my work to make it better. I can’t speak for them, but that is where, I think, my student and Colin Kaepernick and the hundreds of other Americans who take a knee during the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are coming from.

    And who can fault them for that?

    Featured Image Credit: Robert Claypool

     

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    These Kids are MY Kids

    May 1st, 2016

    I am a teacher.

    It has taken a long time for me to be able to come to terms with that. It was always something I knew I was good at, but it wasn’t always Plan A. Plan A was to write fiction. And then I became a feminist and realized that I wanted to be able to support myself and, unless you are J.K. Rowling, no one supports themselves writing fiction. So I moved to Plan B, which was to become a journalist. And then the Twin Towers fell and the economy crashed and the news outlets crashed with it and I realized I would never be able to support myself as a journalist. So I moved to Plan C. Teaching.

    This makes it sound like I ended up with this major in English and nothing to do with it but teach, which is not the case at all. I went through Plans A, B, and C all before I graduated high school. By the time I got to undergrad, I was certain that I wanted to teach high school English. People told me that there was no money in it, that it was a really hard job, that I was too smart to teach. Sure, people also told me how wonderful and stable and rewarding it was, but they also told me all of those other things, too.

    Didn’t matter. I wanted to teach. My mom was a teacher, so I knew what I was getting into. I really enjoyed helping people, which sounded like a cliché and probably was at the time, but ended up being true anyway.

    Ten years later, and I’m still teaching. Still writing, too, even though I ended up taking a bit of a maternity leave from it for a while there. But it’s the teaching that really keeps me going, even though I thought it was going to end up the other way around. And, while I’m not surprised it happened this way, I definitely wasn’t expecting to end up as a middle-class, white teacher in front of 150 students, most of whom are not white and most of whom would qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

    (I mean, I saw the first part of that statement coming. It’s the latter part I didn’t expect. You get my point.)

    Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t fit anywhere else. These kids are my kids. I am constantly thinking about ways to help them succeed. I’m putting in extra hours, taking on extra curriculars, doing whatever it takes to give them the edge that so many other students in the Chicago suburbs seem to have – that I, myself, had – by virtue of being born into a wealthier school district.

    I tried to pull back a few years ago. It certainly freed up more time to do things like write, which I haven’t had time to do this year. But it didn’t work for me. It never felt good to scale back my commitments to my students. Don’t get me wrong – I still have boundaries. When I go home, I’m home and I’m not working. But I’ll do what it takes at work to make it work, and that is sometimes very difficult. I have a kid of my own at home. But I also have these kids at school. And I want them to succeed as much as I want my own kid to succeed. And I’m proud of them like I’m proud of my own kid. I could go on, but you get the idea.

    Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver. It’s just real life.

    If we’re being honest, this school year has been the best of my life both personally and professionally.

    If we’re being honest, this school year has been the most challenging of my life both personally and professionally.

    Right now, I’m just waiting for a little break this summer, and wondering if I can have one of the previous two statements without having the other. Do I need to be challenged in order to be happy? If so, do I need to push myself to the max like I did this year, or can I relax a little and achieve the same results?

    Can I be a teacher, mother, wife, writer, knitter, reader, feminist, friend, and still have time for the occasional glass of wine? Or does something have to give?

    I’ve always said that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. Am I just trying to have it all and all of it right now?

    I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Image credit: Denise Krebs

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    Teaching Tolerance: #DayoftheGirl 2015

    October 9th, 2015

    It’s been a while, but I’m trying to get back into the writing game. This post at Teaching Tolerance is a great way to start – talking all about how to celebrate and honor Day of the Girl, which is this weekend – 10/11:

    This Sunday, I’m lucky enough to be hosting an all-day camp for girls in grades 5 though 8. We will be discussing and doing activities about relational aggression and bullying, body image and careers—all in honor of the United Nations’ Day of the Girl Child, an annual observance on October 11 also known as Day of the Girl.

    While you probably don’t have an entire day to devote to celebrating Day of the Girl, you might have some time in your classes to do one or more of the following activities. The best part is that all students, not just girls, can participate in any of them. It’s important to build awareness of the issues facing girls so that their peers can stand with them against these issues. Also, many students, including boys, are facing these issues, too.

    It’s like riding a bike. Check out the whole post for ideas for how to deal with relational aggression and bullying, media literacy and body image, and how to inspire girls to choose interesting careers!

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    Teaching Tolerance: Girls in STEM Fields

    May 21st, 2015

    I’m a little late on this one, but I have a new post up at Teaching Tolerance about how to encourage girls to stay in STEM fields:

    This might seem like a no-brainer, but one of the most important things we can help our girls realize is that being smart is nothing to be ashamed of. Dr. Carolyn Phillips, assistant computational scientist in the math and computer science division of Argonne, told the girls, “You want to be around smart people because smart people make you smarter.” In her keynote address, she cited studies that state that women are more likely to feel frustrated when they fail than men are. Men are much more likely to subscribe to Thomas Edison’s statement: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Phillips encouraged the girls to persevere with the hard problems, saying, “You know you’re working on something good if you can’t solve it right way.” Science is all about failing; some of the best inventions and solutions to the most difficult problems have come from experimentation and subsequent failures.

    Read the rest here!

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    The Broad Side: Teachers for Hillary?

    May 11th, 2015

    I’m on The Broad Side today, talking about what Hillary Clinton can do to win teachers’ votes:

    On a more personal level, since the Common Core has been implemented, I have seen an incredible uptick in students diagnosed with and hospitalized by severe anxiety disorders. What a teacher should do in the case of a panicked student vomiting during testing is, in fact, now written in the test instructions, which gives you a sense as to how common this is. On top of that, where I used to stand in front of the classroom, ask a question, and receive 20 different analytical answers, I now ask the questions and am often met with blank stares from my students. Sometimes students even ask me, because of what they’re expected to know for the standardized tests, to just tell them what I want them to know and move on. How’s that for a lack of creativity in the classroom?

    The reasons for wanting education reform might not match up across the political aisle, but one thing is for sure: Hillary Clinton, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, is going to have to be very careful when she talks about education policy on the campaign trail.

    Read the whole article here!

    Image via Wikimedia Commons/in the public domain

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    Six Months a Mother

    May 10th, 2015

    It is my first Mother’s Day as a mother. Incidentally, I’ve also now been a mother for two days shy of six months.

    I feel that six months is a pretty significant milestone. Half a year. A half-birthday. It’s also when things start getting significantly easier. Fewer feedings and more smiles. Less crying and more sleep. Reaching out for things she wants, and sometimes she wants me. And that alone is pretty great.

    They say that you can tell a lot about what your baby’s adult personality will be very early on. If that’s true, I can already tell that baby girl’s personality and mine will be very similar.

    She watches and watches and watches. She’s curious and wants to know how things work.

    She can’t stop moving. She doesn’t do well sitting down for long periods of time.

    She laughs easily and often.

    She’s not mad a lot of the time, but when she is, she’s really mad.

    She does things her own way, even if there might be an easier way to do them.

    She wants to do everything by herself, even if she can’t quite do it yet.

    My hope for her is that she continues to be all these things and more. I hope she grows to be a better version of me; I hope she grows to be the version of herself that she designs.

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    Etsy Shop – Mother Lovin’ Knits

    May 8th, 2015

    If you follow me on the interwebs, you know I love knitting. And, I like to think, I’m pretty good at it, too. A bunch of people told me I should open up an Etsy shop to sell some of it, so I did just that. Right now, it’s just baby stuff, and most of it is made-to-order (because I like that people can choose their own colors!) but I hope to get some scarves and hats up there in time for cooler weather.

    Check it out, and maybe even buy something!

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    Symbolism and the Smiling Poop Emoji

    May 6th, 2015

    Here’s a little levity for your Wednesday evening.

    My students started today by taking notes on symbolism. I’m sure they all already knew what symbolism is, but repetition is always good.

    Me: Can anyone give me a real-life example of symbolism?

    Student 1: Emjois?

    Me: Yes! That is the perfect example of something standing in for something else.

    S1: What is your favorite emoji, Miss?

    Me: The smiling poop.

    S2: She didn’t even miss a beat. You didn’t even have to think about that.

    Me: Well, I live with a baby, two dogs, and a husband. I find the smiling poop very useful.

    S1: It is a versatile emoji.

    Me: It really is. What’s the baby doing? Smiling poop. How are the dogs? Smiling poop. My entire family is coming over for dinner; I hope you want to cook tonight. Smiling poop. How was your day? Smiling poop.

    S2: Do you have bad days that often?

    Me: Not really. But the smiling poop could stand for a bad day, but remember it is also smiling, so it could symbolize a day that isn’t going as I had planned but I’m still smiling about it. In that case, it symbolizes persistence, perseverance, a positive attitude…

    S1: Who knew emojis were so deep?

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    Talking to Students about the Baltimore Riots

    April 28th, 2015

    One of my students asked me today how I feel about the riots going on in Baltimore right now. Nothing like being put on the spot at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning.

    But, if you know me at all, you know that I’m not one to shy away from these questions. And this is an excellent question, for how does one feel about the rioting in Baltimore? How does one see, day in and day out, the systemic violence and hatred toward a group of people, or the death of countless Black individuals who should never have died, or the resulting protests that start peacefully but inevitably end up embodying the anger and resentment and, most of all, fear that people in these communities feel and then express thoughts and feelings about these incidents in coherent phrases? How is one supposed to do that?

    It makes me sad. I hate it when my students say that. I ask, “How did this passage make you feel?” or, “What is the tone the author is using here?” They say: sad. I hate it because it’s too easy, but also because it’s too distant. Sad is something other people feel, something a child points to and notices. It might be sad, but it is also outrageous, devastating, heart-breaking, unthinkable, untenable. But I want to maintain a bit of distance from this, for now at least, and especially with my students. I’m not sure why, but that feels right at this point. So, for now, it makes me sad.

    It makes me sad that we live in a culture of systemic violence and racism. It makes me sad that people think that because we elected a Black President that we now live in a post-racial society. It makes me sad that my students – many of them young, Black men themselves – are not surprised when they hear of other young, Black men being killed.

    But it also makes me sad when people point to rioters and say, “See? They’re hoodlums. They don’t know how to act. No wonder police shoot at them. Be peaceful. Can’t you see that you need to be peaceful to exist in this society?”

    I cannot be surprised about riots following some act of violent injustice, nor can I condemn them. Violence begets violence; we’ve seen it time and time again. Kids bullied on the playground become bullies themselves. A little boy who watches his father beat his mother might grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps. We don’t call it the “cycle of abuse” for no reason. So why are we surprised when the violence of a young person murdered unjustly begets the violence of riots when justice is not served?

    Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not condone the destruction of property and the injury of people. How can I? But how can I say that their anger is unjustified or that this physical embodiment of their outrage is surprising? It’s not.

    In March of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” I’m sad that his words are still relevant. I’m sad that we tend to teach racism as something that happened long ago and has long since been fixed. I’m sad that we have to continue to watch the loss of lives, and I’m sad that our justice system is broken.

    So, how do I feel about the riots going on in Baltimore right now? I feel sad.

    Don’t you?

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    Motherhood is Messy

    April 27th, 2015

    I don’t deal well with messes. I take a good portion of every day just to get myself organized. It’s kind of ridiculous, actually, but I can’t do any work until things are clean, and if I don’t sit down to organize papers and write my to do list first thing in the morning, I’ll feel like I’m forgetting something all day. When I go home at night, I need to prepare everything for the next day for the same reasons. I like things in their rightful place, organized, and preferably at right angles.

    There are very few right angles in my life now. Even my body reflects this; where there used to be flat lines and pointy edges there are now soft curves and extra skin. My body is quite literally a physical manifestation of the ways my life has changed: there is just more, and it’s not as clean-cut as it used to be.

    I haven’t dealt well with the changes in my body, if we’re being completely honest. The only thing in the world I’ve wanted since giving birth is to wear my old clothes again. And, since my physical being is an allegory of sorts for my mental one, you would think I would be mourning my old life like I’m mourning my old jeans.

    But I’m not.

    At least, I don’t feel like I am.

    The way I have to do things now is so completely different than the way I was able to do them before becoming a mother. No longer can I sit in my office and pound out 10 articles in a day; I’m lucky if I get one done without being interrupted. I can’t do any task without getting interrupted, for that matter, and that was a difficult adjustment for someone such as myself who really, really likes to finish things. My schedule is also wildly unpredictable. Just when I get used to a nap time or feeding schedule, she decides to change things up. Just keepin’ you on your toes, Mom. And then she laughs at my so obviously tilting axis as she rotates in my orbit. She is constantly, constantly in my orbit. The planet that is my body (and sometimes it feels like a planet, indeed) will always have this baby moon surrounding it.

    But the baby moon? She’s pretty amazing. She controls the tide, just as you would expect, but she also gives light in the darkness, joy where there wasn’t any before.

    I’m full of metaphors today. All of this is just to say that I’m adjusting, slowly, and then re-adjusting again every few weeks. I’m learning to embrace the mess, and learning how to organize some of it (because my personality can’t entirely change). I’m learning how to take yoga off the mat, and just breathe when things get frustrating: Let it go. Drop a thought. Acknowledge that feeling, then move on. See the mess, then tackle what you can… or don’t.

    I expected the mess. At least a little. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy the excuse not to have it all cleaned up all the time.

    Featured Image Credit: Liza

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    Teaching Tolerance: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

    April 16th, 2015

    I’m easing back into the writing game! My latest at the Teaching Tolerance blog is just in time for the second half of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s all about what educators and students can do to prevent sexual assault and help survivors:

     

    Read the rest here!

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    I Don’t Have a Problem With Dove’s #choosebeautiful Campaign

    April 15th, 2015

    In case you missed it, Dove released a new video recently, showing women around the world who were presented with two doors, one labeled “Beautiful” and one labeled “Average.” What they found was disappointing, but probably not surprising: Most women, no matter where in the world they lived, chose the door labeled “Average.” The video included interviews with some of the women who were filmed walking through the doors, and encouraged all women to #choosebeautiful.

    I’ve heard a lot of criticism about this campaign. Maybe women chose “Average” because there wasn’t an option for “Funny” or “Intelligent” or “Strong” or whatever other descriptor might be appropriate. And let’s not forget that Dove is a company selling a product. Not just any company, either; a company which makes its money by selling beauty products. A company owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe, and we all know Axe is not famous for its body-positive advertising.

    I’m a feminist. So I should have a problem with Dove’s #choosebeautiful campaign for these reasons.

    The thing is… I don’t.

    I mean, I do, because of course I wish that women and girls were described as other things besides “beautiful.” Of course I know that this is advertising masquerading as body positivity. Of course I wish Axe would take its disgusting advertising down a dark hole and never come out.

    But the fact of the matter is, that just isn’t practical. Beautiful is still the number one thing young girls and many of their grown-up counterparts want to be. According to Miss Representation (http://therepresentationproject.org/):

    • 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies.
    • By age 17, that number increases to 78 percent.
    • About two-thirds of women and girls have an eating disorder.

    Those statistics are staggering, and as a high school teacher, I see this every day. As a woman, (especially one five months postpartum whose pre-pregnancy pants don’t even button yet) I live this every day. As a mother of a daughter, I’m sure I’ll be even more well acquainted with body image issues as she grows older and more aware of how she’s “supposed” to look.

    Negative self-talk is harmful. Allow me to give a personal example: When I look at myself in the mirror every morning and all I can see are my brand-new love handles spilling over pants that are two sizes bigger than they were only a year ago, I don’t tend to think that these are the product of my amazing body creating an entire human being. I don’t even tend to think that it took nine months to put it on, so it’ll take at least that long to get it off and then forgive myself for the scoop of ice cream I ate the night before.

    What I think before I remind myself to love my body is that I look like crap and I have nothing to wear and I don’t even want to leave the house. And when I feel like I don’t look the way I want to, I feel awful in general. I shouldn’t. I should focus on my beautiful baby, my intelligence, my creativity, the fact that I’m a good teacher and a good person.

    But I don’t. And I’m pretty sure most women don’t most of the time, either.

    Should we all strive to be more than “beautiful?” Yes. Of course we should. But what is wrong with wanting to look and feel our best? The important thing, no matter if we come close to meeting society’s standard of beauty or not, is that we love ourselves enough to think highly of ourselves and not succumb to negative self-talk. We are all beautiful; we should all choose beautiful.

    And until it is socially accepted that beauty isn’t something to strive for, until we are not judged for the way we look, until my students don’t ask me if I’m sick when I don’t put makeup on in the morning, until my students stop starving themselves to meet an unattainable ideal of beauty, until I don’t have to worry about which images my daughter will internalize as she grows up, then this campaign is a powerful reminder that we should love ourselves. And that is a reminder that we all need sometimes.

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    Men Change Diapers?!

    March 11th, 2015

    Ashton Kutcher is all over the internets today because he posted a complaint to his Facebook page about men’s restrooms generally lacking changing tables: 

    Judging by the response he got on social media (and, you know, common sense), he’s clearly on to something here. It isn’t out of the question that a father might take his young child out for a jaunt, and shouldn’t he be able to change a diaper in a restroom? Makes perfect sense to me. 

    This isn’t a new issue, although it has been gaining more attention now that It has a celebrity face behind it. A friend of mine emailed me years ago about this same thing; her husband took their then-baby to the mall and couldn’t find anywhere to change her diaper. 

    In this day and age, we not only want fathers to take on more of the burden of childcare, we also want them to be present in their children’s lives and have relationships with them. How is that going to happen if men can’t take their babies out for a little while knowing that they’ll have a place to change a dirty diaper?

    Tim and I live in a newer area, so the stores around here are generally built with men’s, women’s, and unisex family restrooms. However, because it’s finally warm enough in Chicagoland that you won’t get frostbite just by walking outside and because he’s on paternity leave until mid-April, he’s starting to take the baby out more. I hope he doesn’t run into this issue. And, if he does, I hope he gets righteously angry at the establishment!

    Have you or your partner ever struggled to find a place to change a baby’s diaper? If so, what did you do about it?

    2 Comments "

    I’m Not Sorry I Had a C-Section

    January 13th, 2015

    If you don’t want to read my daughter’s birth story, I suggest you stop now and go somewhere else on the interwebs. (Though, after that I imagine most of you will stay out of sheer curiosity!)

    If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of the television show Bones. I’ve been watching it pretty much since it’s inception. Even though I’m an English nerd, I somehow inherited my dad’s scientific and purist views of the world, so I tend to identify with Dr. Brennan and her Squints. (You know that episode with the baby in the tree? Brennan pulls a purple elephant out of the diaper bag they found to entertain the baby and says, “Elephants aren’t purple. This is wrong.” That pretty much sums up about 50% of the interactions I have with my baby.)

    Anyway, one of the most recent episodes [SPOILER ALERT!] has Daisy giving birth to Dr. Sweets’ son. She’s hired a natural doula to try to connect with the baby on a spiritual level and to try to have a natural, drug-free childbirth. The doula doesn’t want Daisy to have her friends around her because she doesn’t want energies mixing. Eventually, Daisy kicks the doula out because she’s fed up with her dogmatic beliefs and, well, she wants her friends around her during the birth of her child. She says something like, “I want doctors and shiny machines and medical technology!” I almost busted open my c-section incision laughing at that, because it rung so true for me.

    I was absolutely set on a drug-free childbirth. My mom did it twice, and I was in incredibly good shape when I got pregnant and all though my pregnancy, so I didn’t think there would be any problem. I hated being pregnant, but I had zero complications. Everything was textbook, so I assumed I’d go into labor on my own. I passed my due date, but that was OK. Most first time moms do. So I waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    And…. waited.

    10 days later, this girl was NOT coming out, so we scheduled an induction. But I still wasn’t worried. My mom was induced when she had me, and still was able to avoid an epidural, so I thought I’d be totally fine. This was just history repeating itself.

    We got to the hospital and started the induction on the morning of November 11. The contractions were bad, but manageable. I was able to relax and breathe through them. Then, at night, they checked my dilation. I was thinking I was almost there and, by midnight, I’d have my baby in my arms. Nope – 3 centimeters dilated.

    The doctor insisted on breaking my water to speed things up. Having labored for about 15 hours and knowing I was at 3 cm, I agreed. Medical intervention #2.

    And guess what happened? Nothing.

    I called my mom into the delivery room. I wanted the epidural. It had been 20 hours at this point, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to push if I didn’t get some sleep. We talked about it for a long time, and we waited. Tim, ever the coach, told me I could do this and I was strong, but also knew that I was pretty close to my breaking point.

    At about 4:00 AM, a team of nurses came rushing in, flipped me on my side and put an oxygen mask over my mouth. The baby’s heart rate had dropped to 60 beats per minute. I was absolutely terrified. She recovered in minutes, but I didn’t. Relaxing through contractions when you’re super afraid your baby is going to die inside of you? Not gonna happen.

    If her heart rate dropped again, I was going to have to have an emergency c-section. Without an epidural, they would have to knock me out to do the surgery. I wanted to be present for my daughter’s birth, even if I was numb from the waist down for it, so I got the epidural. Medical intervention #3.

    The process of getting the epidural was about as awful as I thought it was going to be. The reason I wanted a drug-free childbirth in the first place was because I was terrified of the epidural. It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get it in my spine because he insisted on trying to put it in before the local anesthetic took effect. The first two times I felt the whole thing, and kept jumping away in pain – not a super good thing when you’re putting something in your spine.

    So I got the epidural and I was completely numb from the waist down. I could not feel one thing, nor could I move my legs. I hated the feeling more than anything, but I was finally able to get some sleep.

    The doctor came in at around 9:00 the next morning to check my progress. 5 cm. Not great progress, but progress. She anticipated I’d have a baby by noon.

    Noon rolled around. 6 cm. The doctor felt my belly and determined she was turned with her spine to my left side and couldn’t properly get into the birth canal. They flipped me on my right side and told me to stay there, hoping gravity would do its work and she’d flip and come down.

    5:00 PM came and went. 7 cm and bloody show.

    7:00 PM came and went. Still 7 cm. The doctor started talking to me about the possibility of a c-section. I opted to wait another hour to see what happened.

    8:00 PM and 8 cm. The doctor told me I could wait as long as I wanted and push all day if it would make me feel better, but it was her professional opinion that this baby was not coming out without some help. I talked to Tim and my mom. I was exhausted. I didn’t think I could push even if I wanted to. I opted for the c-section. This was the fourth and final medical intervention, and the only one I was hoping to avoid.

    At 9:42 PM, my daughter was pulled from my uterus and entered this world screaming. It was the most beautiful scream I had ever heard. Tim was in awe of her, and of me. He held her up for me to see her, and I was in love with her chubby face. Later, in the recovery room, my mother-in-law, with tears in her eyes, told me how proud of me she was and how brave she thought I was for going through so much labor. Tim was beaming the entire time.

    Several people have since told me that they’re sorry I had to have a c-section. They mean well, and they are saying it because they know I wanted to avoid having a c-section at all costs. But, the fact is, I’m not sorry. My doctor made a recommendation, but it was my decision. I decided to have the surgery, and I’m glad I did. In another time and place, my daughter would have died before she came out, and I would have died with her. There is a stigma surrounding c-sections currently. Our society tends to see them as the product of lazy doctors who want to schedule operations in order to make their tee-time at the golf course and selfish mothers who want to pick their child’s birthday. And, while this might have been the case – and still might be in some cases – it wasn’t for me. In my case, it was a necessary evil for both my daughter and me to come out of this thing alive, and I’m grateful for that.

    I’m also grateful that I was surrounded with so much love through the entire process. From going through so much labor unmedicated, to making the rational decisions to have an epidural in case of a c-section and then having the c-section itself, to braving major abdominal surgery while still awake and aware, Tim was so impressed with me. My mom and dad and in-laws were, as well. Tim and I were able to work as a team, make tough decisions together, and hold each other’s hands through it all. Our marriage came out a million times stronger than it was before; in fact, I don’t think I knew just how much I loved him until I saw him in those surgical scrubs, trying to show me he was not concerned, and then beaming over our daughter and laughing when I said strange things (like, “she’s really a girl?!”) in the haze of the operating room.

    I won’t lie: Recovery has been a b*%@#. I’m just now, 8 weeks later, starting to feel like I can do most of the things I used to do, like flex my ab muscles and walk without pain. But it was not only necessary, it was my decision, and one I didn’t make lightly. And, even though I tend towards the natural way of doing things, I’m glad for the doctors and medical technology and shiny instruments that made it possible for my daughter to come into this world, and for me to be here to see her grow up.

    Photo credit: isafmedia

    9 Comments "

    8 Things I’ve Learned About Postpartum Body Image

    January 6th, 2015

    As long as we’re on the topic of body image, let’s talk about the things I’ve learned about my own body image at 8 weeks postpartum:

    1. Leggings are good.

    2. Spanx are bad.

    3. It was not, in fact, all water weight I was gaining at the end.

    4. When people say you’ll bounce back quickly, they don’t mean in two months. They mean in, like, a year.

    5. My personal goal is to be able to wear my pants, buttoned, by April. I’m hoping this is reasonable.

    6. I’m fairly certain God invented wine specifically for new moms.

    6a. I’m also fairly certain that the consumption of wine after 10 months of teetotaling is the #1 reason why I am hanging on to more extra pounds than I’d like.

    6b. After 10 months of teetotaling, I will not give up my nightly glass of wine in favor of quicker weight loss.

    7. After a full-term pregnancy, I will never, ever call myself fat again.

    7a. This is also probably a good practice to get into around my daughter.

    8. I get really irritated when people tell me to love my body because it has made a beautiful human being. I can love what my body has done, love my daughter, and still want to fit in my old jeans. These things are not mutually exclusive.

     

    All valuable life lessons, if I do say so myself.

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