Name: Ashley

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    Didn’t You Know That NOTHING IS SAFE?!

    July 23rd, 2014

    So, I’m sitting around yesterday, basking in the glow of an amazing facial and relaxing after some great yoga while doing a little copywriting to make some extra money, munching on a peach, when this pops up on my Facebook feed:

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    Because, you know, my garden-variety anxiety isn’t enough.

    So, since I’ve talked about anxiety and the ways I’m dealing with it and working through it, was I able to keep my cool? Continue on with a level head and call my doctor calmly and rationally to find out if this was worth working myself up into an all-out frenzy over?

    No. I did not. I spit out the peach I was eating – which was, by the way, purchased from Trader Joe’s, as is almost all of our produce – and completely lost my mind.

    I called Tim into the room, already shaky and crying. He carefully reviewed the news report that was linked and we determined that, yes, we had purchased those particular plums, peaches, and nectarines from Trader Joe’s almost every week this summer and, yes, I had eaten at least one of those fruits (if not more, because fruit is a serious craving of mine; who would have thought that I should have just stuck to ice cream and pickles?) every day for the last two months.

    Clearly, that didn’t help.

    Since I was not at all rational, I made Tim call the doctor. In fact, I made Tim call the doctor three times. Apparently, we were around the 25th caller about this issue that hour. Unfortunately, there was no prize.

    After those three tearful (my tears, not Tim’s) and panicked (my panic, not Tim’s) calls to my doctor, I learned a great deal about listeria, if anyone is interested. My doctors did not seem worried, even though listeria can, like, KILL YOU AND YOUR UNBORN CHILD, and said if I experience flu-like symptoms to come in immediately but, otherwise, not to spend time panicked about it. (Yea. Right.)

    The good news, according to my medical professionals and the very kind people at Trader Joe’s, whom we (Tim) also called in a panic (rational, calm manner):

    1) This is a precautionary recall after testing, not because anyone has been infected.
    2) We’re now well outside the window they cast for the packing dates (which was likely larger than necessary in the interest of safety), so I’d very likely know by now if I was infected.
    3) Listeria is very treatable if you don’t let it go too long thinking it’s the flu and, if it is treated, your baby will probably not be affected.
    4) Symptoms of listeria include flu-like symptoms, especially diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues, and can progress to a headache, stiff neck, dizziness, and confusion if left go too long. This is not to be confused with the killer headache I had Monday evening. That was probably due to not drinking enough water in this heat, which is an entirely different – yet still dangerous – issue.
    5) Despite what the internet says (because the internet is a pack of LIES), you’ll know it if you have it. People who “didn’t know” they were infected, thought they had the flu. So if you think you have the flu but ate some of this produce, go to the doctor. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
    6) Wash your produce with running tap water and dry it with a clean paper towel before you eat it. This is what the CDC recommends for pregnant women (and everyone, really, but especially for pregnant women).

    For me, now that I can breathe again, the moral of the story is that, truly, nothing is safe. To anyone who asks, I talk a lot of talk about not worrying about hot dogs and deli meat and a sip of wine here and there, but I’m all talk. In reality, you will most often find me firmly placed in the better-safe-than-sorry camp. I obsess over my nutrition (which, incidentally, isn’t a pregnancy thing; I was like this before I got knocked up), and I make the healthiest choices for me which, it should surprise no one, often includes eating fresh produce.

    Even though it is unnecessary (says my doctor) to avoid things like deli meat and domestic soft cheeses, I do. Because what if? Even though I’ve been CRAVING a turkey bacon sandwich from Panera for two weeks and can think of nothing else, I refused to eat it. Because what if? So, instead, I eat a variety of fruits to give my growing fetus and me the nutrients we need even if, as I’m gnawing on the fruit, I’m dreaming about the salty goodness of turkey and bacon on carby bread. Apparently, the joke’s on me.

    However, it is a little liberating to know that nothing is truly safe, which sounds weird but stick with me. Pregnant women are encouraged to live in terror of the entire world for the entirety of the gestational period: Don’t do this. Don’t eat that. Don’t sit there. Don’t reach your arms over your head. Don’t lift more than a grocery bag at a time. DON’T DO ANYTHING BUT LAY DOWN AND EAT OVER-PROCESSED FOODS THAT ARE COOKED TO OBLIVION.

    Has that really ever worked for anyone? No. It has not. Because that isn’t healthy either. We need to be active and use our muscles and eat a variety of foods to ensure that we – and our unborn children – are healthy.

    While some things are more dangerous than others, there is nothing without risks. Even doing as one of my friends suggested (in jest… I hope) and peeling every single produce item I eat (can you imagine peeling a plum?) has risks of some kind of contamination (plus, all the good nutrients are in the skins!). Risk is unavoidable. The best we can do is be healthy and be aware. Now I know what to look out for should listeriosis strike, and I know what to do if it does. And I know that, since I’m a conscientious adult with a lot of knowledge and good medical care, the odds are most definitely in my (and my baby’s) favor.

    Just don’t hold me to this the next time one of my favorite foods is recalled and I am pregnant.

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    Social Media! I’m On It! Are You?

    July 22nd, 2014

    We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this brief message.

    This is just a friendly reminder that there are about a million ways (OK, maybe only 6) you can find updates from this site. Follow! Like! Subscribe!

    1. You can subscribe by email. Just fill out the form at the bottom of this page, or on the side of any post page.
    2. You can subscribe by RSS feed. (If you’re experiencing the void Google Reader left in our lives, might I suggest Feedly!) Click here for the feed, or find it on the bottom of this page or the sidebar of any post page.
    3. You can like me on Facebook. Click here, then click “Like.” Here, you’ll not only get updates when I post, but you’ll also get a bunch of other interesting and relevant links I want to share and talk about, but don’t always have time to write a post about.
    4. You can follow me on Twitter. Click here for my Twitter feed. There, you’ll find updates when I post, links similar to the ones you’ll find on Facebook, and random 140-character musings on other things.
    5. You can follow me on Instagram. Click here for my Instagram feed. There, you’ll find mostly pictures of my dogs, crafts, and #365feministselfies. It’s a private feed, though, so don’t be offended if it takes me a while to get around to adding you.
    6. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can connect with me there, too. Click here to find me on LinkedIn. I’m not super active on there, but connections are always good for everyone!

    See you around the internets!

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    My Baby Girl isn’t Dancing; She’s Punching

    July 22nd, 2014

    Here’s an interesting factoid: Women who find out the sex of their baby actually describe fetal movement differently depending on if it’s a boy or a girl.

    For boys, they generally use sports metaphors: a soccer or football player kicking, of a boxer punching, for example. For girls, they generally use more graceful metaphors: the fluttering of a butterfly, the moves of a dancer or swimmer.
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    I can’t find the link to the actual study (anyone have it?), but I heard it referenced in a talk by one of Sheryl Sandberg’s lead researchers on Lean In, and this About.com article about reasons not to find out the sex of your baby references it, too (so it must be true, right?).

    Anecdotally, I haven’t noticed this in my friends who have been pregnant, but the discomforts of pregnancy usually take precedence over the wonders of fetal movement in conversations. Also, I know a surprisingly few amount of people who found out the sex of their child before “D-Day,” as my birth classmates are fond of calling the day the child is delivered.

    However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true, though. In her TED Talk, Deborah Siegel discusses that, even as her boy/girl twins were in her womb, her husband noted that the boy’s bump looked like mountains while the girl’s looked like rolling hills. It happens to even the most gender conscious among us!

    Each fetus is different, just like each baby is different and each person is different. Having a graceful, powerful, lethargic, or active fetus is no different than having a graceful, powerful, lethargic, or active person. But guess what? These movements have nothing to do with the fetus’ gender. How could it? Fetuses don’t know anything about how a boy is supposed to act versus how a girl is supposed to act. They just move. They probably don’t even know if they are moving in an active or lethargic, powerful or graceful way. They just do it.

    It is, instead, our descriptions of the movement that change depending on the sex of the fetus. These are our gendered notions, not the baby’s. We impose them on our children from the womb, and often unconsciously.

    I was once asked if our baby girl was “dancing around in there.” I laughed and replied, “Dancing? No. Punching me? Yes.” I didn’t say this because I’m a crazy feminist or because I’m in tune with my gendered language (though maybe, unconsciously, I am); I said this because it’s true. Baby Samberts continually uses my uterus as her own personal punching bag. Seriously, it’s like Million Dollar Baby going on inside my uterus. Sometimes it actually hurts, even, and it definitely keeps me awake at night. (Feeling this, I’m not sure how anyone could describe fetal movement as graceful in any way, but, like I said, every baby is different.)

    We all have hopes and dreams for our children. We all want our children to be well-rounded, well-adjusted, happy, and successful. We want them rule the world, regardless of gender. But the gendering starts early, folks, and we may not even be aware of it as we’re doing it.

    Image Credit: Isabel

    2 Comments "

    Let’s Talk About Anxiety

    July 19th, 2014

    Let’s talk about anxiety.

    It’s not a topic that many of us talk about often. I’m not sure why this is; usually it’s depression that gets most of the media coverage (especially when it comes to postpartum issues), which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering nearly half of people who are diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety, and anxiety disorders are the most common of all the mental illnesses in the United States, with 40 million adults ages 18 and over diagnosed – which doesn’t even count the teenagers.

    So why don’t we talk about anxiety, especially as it relates to pregnancy and parenthood? Is it embarrassing? Uncomfortable? A private matter? Is it because the anxiety we typically link with parenthood and pregnancy is deemed “normal” – as in, “Of course you are anxious about creating a human/giving birth/raising a kid! It’s a daunting task!”? Is it because, in the age of Google, any little anxiety can be addressed and dispelled (or compounded) immediately? Is it because, once that anxiety is addressed, we go about our lives as if we were never anxious, until the next anxiety provokes us and the cycle begins again?

    I’m sure if I searched around on the internet, I’d find quite a few women talking about anxiety and pregnancy/parenthood, but I know my close circle of friends doesn’t discuss it nearly as often as I’m sure it takes hold of their lives and, if they do discuss it, it’s after the fact. So, I’ve decided to spend a little time today talking about my personal experience with anxiety.

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    I started experiencing some form of anxiety in my sophomore year of college. At that time, it was probably triggered by a lot of things, including my imminent future life outside of the hallowed halls of my alma matter and my parents’ impending divorce, but the biggest trigger was a guy I dated for an incredibly short time, but with whom I became very close. He had a host of mental health issues, and I felt like I could save him. I couldn’t, by the way (which should surprise no one) and, even though he is now (as far as I know; we haven’t talked in a long while) living a perfectly happy and healthy life in New York, I am sure I had little to do with that. But that didn’t stop me from being concerned about his every move, no matter where he went. There were times when I couldn’t get ahold of him and I’d feel a gripping panic like I was absolutely sure something was going to happen to him or already had. I think the experts call that a “feeling of impending doom.” All I know is that I was so nervous, I could barely function. The only way I knew how to deal with this feeling was to find out if he was OK (and he always was), which I did by calling him an embarrassing number of times and, usually, crying. Eventually, I had to cut off contact with him because it was the healthiest thing for both of us, and my anxiety regarding him disappeared.

    During that time, I did speak with a doctor about my anxiety because I wanted a referral to a therapist. Nothing was diagnosed, and no referral was given, but he did give me a sample pack of anti-depressants. Perhaps understandably, this was the beginning of my mistrust in the medical profession.

    At some point, though, my anxiety transferred itself to other things, and stopped manifesting itself in a nervous panic, which made it harder to identify. It became more of an obsession over things I could control but couldn’t convince myself I was in control of, if that makes any sense. Usually during points of great stress in my life (trying to find a new job, getting married, after a kid brought a gun to school), I became intensely preoccupied with making sure my house/apartment was safe when I left it. I would check the locks a million times, check about 10 times to be sure all the lights were off, everything that was heated up (iron, curling iron, coffee pot, etc.) was unplugged, the oven was turned off. As you can imagine, it became pretty difficult to leave the house in the morning. I always did, and I was never late, which is probably why I never actually sought help for the issue. I was able to recognize it as anxiety, recognize why I was anxious, and trust that I’d just work through it eventually. Eventually has taken a while; I have been dealing with this off and on since 2008.

    Incidentally, I also attribute my skin issues last year to this anxiety. The stress I was experiencing at school was just too much. Couple that with a Type A need to be perfect all of the time, and it becomes a bit of a dangerous mix.

    This all sounds horrible, but the truth is, I was able to live a completely normal life. I made it to work on time, excelled at my job, built a successful relationship, bought and decorated a beautiful home, and eventually got pregnant. I went out with friends and family and, overall, enjoyed my life. In fact, if you saw me and I hadn’t told you I was experiencing anxiety, you probably would never know. There were just certain moments of every day that were difficult to manage, and I knew when those moments would be and could do nothing to prevent them.

    For many women, pregnancy is a time of deep anxiety, especially if they’ve been prone to anxiety before. It should surprise no one, then, that my anxiety turned from the safety of my home to the safety of my fetus. I obsessed over lists of things not to do and not to eat. I slept very little at night, when the worries were at their worst, and Googled obsessively, becoming convinced I would have a miscarriage. It wasn’t until I started feeling downright sick that I knew everything was fine and, in a final acknowledgement that this was only hurting me (and the fetus), I gave up Google, gave up trying to avoid things not to do or eat (the list is actually surprisingly small, despite what Google and a few of the fear-mongering public would have you believe), and started asking my doctor all of my questions.

    At this point, I mostly feel pretty good. I’m not panicked; I’m not checking my house a million times before I have to leave. My anxiety still exists, though it is centered around seeing people who I know will say something ignorant to me about my pregnancy and what I will say to respond to them. When I know I will have to see those people, I don’t panic, but I tend to get emotional and extremely nauseous – which can be a sign of anxiety in pregnancy, by the way – and want desperately to avoid the situation, even while I recognize that I can’t. I did speak with my new doctor about this, because it does put me at a greater risk for postpartum anxiety and it’s something to watch out for in case it gets worse. I’m hoping it doesn’t, but I guess you never know.

    The bottom line, I think, is that more people should be talking about anxiety as they experience it. So many of my friends have shut out the world postpartum and only talked about their anxiety later, after it has dissipated, if it ever does. Not all anxiety can be treated the way I have dealt with it – in fact, I don’t recommend it. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling anxiety. If he or she gives you a packet of pills and that’s not what you want to try as a first option of treatment, find a new doctor. This was a mistake I wish I didn’t make all those years ago; I knew therapy would have helped immensely, but thought all doctors would have been pill-happy like the one I saw. As it turns out, my current doctor was very receptive and able to talk to me about ways of managing anxiety without medication, and warning signs for both me and Tim to look out for in case it gets much worse.

    Anxiety is nothing to mess around with, and it isn’t always related to a situation, even though a certain situation might bring it on. This, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to identify. Find a healthcare professional you trust, and some friends you can talk to, if you are worried about your anxiety, even if you think it’s manageable or mild. There are things that will help.

    I’ll try to update more about this off and on, though I am hoping that it doesn’t get worse and I won’t have to. I just think it’s important to get this out there and talk about it as much as we can.

    Featured Image Credit: Porche Brosseau

    4 Comments "

    My Body Has Betrayed My Mind

    July 15th, 2014

    I am not super in love with my body right now. And I feel like a bad woman – and definitely a bad feminist – because of it.

    Up until the end of June, I was working. I wasn’t doing a great job at work, but I was doing the best I could considering I was exhausted, hormonal, and sick. I was so sick, in fact, that I didn’t care if I couldn’t do the things I normally could do. I just wanted to lie on the couch and get through the first trimester. It didn’t bother me so much that I wasn’t able to go out with friends or grade papers or read a book at night; I was sick and needed to rest. It was no different than having the flu.

    Now, I feel quite a bit better. Even though the beginning of my second trimester wasn’t great, my energy has greatly improved and I’m not feeling sick all the time anymore. Oh, and I can eat again. (BOY, can I eat again! My hunger is seemingly never satisfied. Tim is training for his third marathon and I think I still eat more than him.)

    But, by no means do I feel normal. I’m still sick often, and there are still foods I absolutely cannot eat. (Umm… chicken? That healthy, complete source of lean protein? Yea, can’t eat it.) I have heartburn like you would not believe, and after our babymoon to San Francisco, I got super sick with a cough that just Would. Not. Die. (and I rarely get sick, so you know this pregnancy just zapped my immune system) and that lovely cough caused me to throw my back out, which has been super painful.

    So, even though I feel better, I’m not feeling great and I still can’t do much. My body doesn’t want to do the things it used to be able to do, even though I feel better so I want it to do those things. Mentally, I want to go out to see friends. I want to take a walk with the dogs. I want to cook amazing, healthy dinners. I want to go to yoga or Zumba class every day.

    Physically, I just can’t.

    A lot of people during pregnancy – fitness instructors, doctors, midwives, birth class instructors, husbands, the internet – tell you you need to listen to your body during pregnancy. If you feel like you can’t do something, don’t. The problem is, I feel like I can because I have great energy on my way there, but then when I get there, I am already exhausted just by the travel and I know two hours of hanging out with friends or an hour of yoga will cash me out for the rest of the day.

    So, my tendency has been to just sit around the house. I don’t have work to go to, so what else am I going to do?

    I’m not great at relaxing. I’m Type A to the core, so sitting still is rarely an option for me. Therefore, even though I’m trying to listen to my body and take some time off when I need to, when I do, I’m pretty depressed about it.

    A lot of the time, I feel like my body has betrayed me.

    Everyone tells you your priorities will change when you get pregnant. I hate hearing that, because it’s just not helpful. It falls along the lines of, “Do this stuff now because you won’t be able to do anything once you have a baby!” Which, for the record, I do not believe is true. Sure, there’s a period of downtime during which you cannot just up and leave the house because you have this little person who needs you, but that doesn’t mean your priorities change; the way you go about them has to change. You have to line up a babysitter, for example, or make sure the kid’s father is home to hang out with her while you are out. But it isn’t impossible.

    But with pregnancy, everything changes because it has to. You can’t go traipsing around the city or to wine tastings or do a two-hour hot yoga class. Not only are some of those things just unsafe for your fetus, you literally, physically cannot do them, even though you used to be able to do them just fine.

    Don’t get me wrong: Our baby is very much wanted. I feel bad complaining about pregnancy when I know there are a lot of people out there who struggle with getting pregnant. But, just because pregnancy is a miracle of sorts and I’m fortunate to have had a mostly complication-free experience doesn’t make this mental-physical disconnect suck any less.

    For now, the best I can do is keep myself busy with crafting and some at-home work, force myself to go work out for a little while, and make sure I get adequate sleep at night and, in the meantime, hope that all of my friends whom I’ve blown off in the past few weeks understand that this isn’t permanent. I haven’t really changed. I’m just doing the best I can not to lose my mind in this body that just can’t seem to catch up.

    Does anyone have any advice for me on how to deal with this mental-physical disconnect? No one really talks about wanting to do things but feeling unable, so I’m all ears. What worked for you? What can I try that might help?

    Featured image credit: flequi

    8 Comments "

    Review: The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality

    July 11th, 2014

    The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality
    The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality by Avital Norman Nathman
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I am woefully late to the party on this review, especially considering (and full disclosure) that Avi is a dear friend of mine, as are some of the contributors to this anthology. In my defense, I knew pregnancy wasn’t too far off for me when the book was released, and I didn’t want to over-inundate myself with mommyhood before it was time. Then, I had every intention of reading this right away when we got pregnant, but my first trimester had a few other ideas. Long story short, I’m finally feeling better, have some time off, and was able to breeze through this book in a few short days. Seriously, it’s that good! I didn’t want to put it down.

    For this anthology, Avital wanted to create a space where women could debunk the myth of the “good mother.” You know the one: She always has her hair done and her high heels on while every outfit is meticulously planned and perfect. Her house is always cleaned and her fridge and pantry are always stocked with organic, wholesome goodies. Not to mention that her marriage is perfect, too, and she does it all while raising perfectly behaved kids whom she has been breastfeeding for over two years. She never has a meltdown, or goes a few days without showering, and her kids will probably grow up to be geniuses.

    Well, guess what? That mom actually doesn’t exist.

    This anthology completely turns the “good mother myth” on its head. The women featured here bravely and honestly share their stories from new motherhood through their children’s teenage years, showing us that no one is perfect, and, in fact, that is the beauty of parenthood; the little imperfect moments not only challenge us to learn and grow as people and as mothers, but often provide the best opportunities for love.

    At times heartwarming and humorous, at others heartbreaking and humbling, The Good Mother Myth is a must-read anthology for all mothers at any stage in their mothering careers. I found it particularly helpful as a first-time mom-to-be as a reminder that I am not going to be perfect, and that’s just fine.

    I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5 for a few small reasons. First of all, though there was an amazing amount of mothering diversity represented in the book – from adoptive mothers to trans mothers to lesbian mothers to working moms to stay at home moms and so on – I didn’t see a ton of racial or class diversity represented. While I know the intent of the book was to focus on motherhood and its varying manifestations (and, because of the diversity of types of mothers, the book does that beautifully), I do think that much of the image of the “perfect mother” is embedded in race and class privilege, and so it would be beneficial for many, many moms out there to see how others navigated through the “good mother myth” in different ways because of their race or class. There are a few essays here that do this, but I was craving a few more with that focus.

    Secondly, and this is the curse of any anthology, I was left wanting more at the end of many of the essays. A perfect example of this is K.J. Dell’antonia’s essay, “Lucky American Girl.” While she says, “This is a small part of the story of a year in my life…” right at the beginning of the essay, Dell’antonia managed to completely draw me into the story and then cut me off right as it was getting interesting, leaving me without a lesson to be learned or an analysis of the situation and, therefore, unsatisfied.

    All-in-all, though, The Good Mother Myth is a fantastic anthology and one that every mother, regardless of how old her kids are, should read. Buy several copies – one for yourself and one for every mother you know!

    View all my reviews

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    The Pressure to Not Feel Pressured

    July 9th, 2014

    Don’t feel pressured to make stuff for your baby. Your baby won’t know if you did it yourself  or if you bought it.

    Don’t feel pressured to breastfeed. Some women find it really difficult and formula is totally OK.

    Don’t feel pressured to use cloth diapers. You might use them a little bit and decide that the disposable ones are just easier.

    Don’t feel pressured to buy organic food for your kid. Organic food isn’t necessarily better than the normal stuff at the store.

    Don’t feel pressured to have a natural childbirth. There’s nothing wrong with drugs or C-sections.

    Don’t feel pressured to stay away from pink for girls. Girls are cute in pink, and it won’t damage them at all. 

    At 23 weeks pregnant, I’m at the point where this stuff is starting to get pretty real. I can feel the baby kicking up a storm a lot of the time, so I know she’s in there. I’m not just going on faith anymore; she is for real. Also, even though the chances are statistically grim, she technically could survive outside of my body at this point – granted, this would only be the case with pretty serious medical interventions and she would probably have long-term health problems or disabilities, so it’s not something we want to happen by any means, but she could. Which is pretty crazy to think about.

    Of course, this means I’ve started planning. A lot. I’m pretty Type A when it comes to… well… everything. If I don’t have a well-researched, well-thought-out, honest-to-goodness, bonafide plan for the most likely scenario at the very least, I am seriously a hot mess.

    I know: Men plan and God laughs. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It doesn’t matter. I’m a Type A teacher. Planning is literally in my job descriptionI cannot help it. And Tim is not as Type A as I am (because, seriously, you cannot get more Type A than me), but he is also a teacher and, therefore, also a planner. We make a good team. Or, at least, a team with a plan.

    So, plans have been made. We researched cloth diapers, breastfeeding, natural childbirth, organic food, organic fabrics, safety standards on carseats/strollers/baby carriers/furniture. We researched the benefits and drawbacks of hospital births versus home births, whether or not the expense of having a doula was worth it, the effects of my diet and exercise on our unborn child. You name it, we’ve researched it. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, we have made a few decisions along the way.

    Cloth diapers? Good for baby, the environment, and our wallet. Yes!

    Breastfeeding? Good for baby, mom, the environment, and our wallet. Yes!

    Natural, drug-free childbirth? Good for baby, mom, and our wallet. Yes! (Though we will not be using a doula and we will be giving birth at a hospital. The doula was not good for our wallet, and the hospital is a non-negotiable for me.)

    Organic food? Good for baby and the whole family, the environment, and farmers. Yes! (We already eat organic all the time, why shouldn’t our child?)

    DIY nursery decorations? If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you should know that I absolutely love to make stuff. It keeps me busy, helps me relax, and gives me a serious sense of pride, so I did create some pretty cute stuff for the nursery. Plus, it’s good for our wallet. Yes! (Also, note how almost none of this stuff is pink.)

    Notice a theme here? If I’m being completely honest, most of the decisions we made were because we were being totally selfish and trying to save money. Of course, health plays into it a great deal, but that’s pretty selfish, too, when you think about it. We have only made decisions that are good for us in some way. Never, at any point in time, did we ever make a decision thinking, “Gosh, we really should do this even though we don’t want to.” Far from it, in fact. I wanted a natural childbirth, for example (mostly because needles and drugs scare the bejeezus out of me) so we found a class and method that would allow us to do that. And we are really excited about the decisions we’ve made. Natural childbirth was something I wanted, breastfeeding and organic food/materials are things we both feel passionately about, cloth diapers are freaking CUTE, I love to craft, and I am not a huge fan of pink in my home decor.

    No brainer decisions, right?

    That’s what I thought. Until I started talking to some people. In retrospect, this might have been my first fatal mistake. Everyone knows the Cardinal Rule of New Motherhood: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER TELL ANYONE ANYTHING. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AT ALL TIMES OR YOU WILL RECEIVE ADVICE AND OPINIONS YOU WERE NOT LOOKING FOR AND DID NOT WANT.

    But, in my excitement, I started chattering away about all of these super awesome things I was really excited about – and I mostly started chattering about them because I never, ever, in a million years, ever thought I would be excited about childbirth and childrearing and baby stuff. So I was excited. I am excited. And I just wanted to share that excitement.

    As it turns out, no matter how excited you are or how clear you are about not wanting people’s advice, some people will not share that excitement with you, and they will just want to tell you about how you are wrong. Except they won’t phrase it as simply as, “You are wrong.” They’ll frame it in a way they think you can stomach and will be more likely to listen to: “Don’t feel pressured…”

    This, friends, is the new Mommy War: the pressure to not feel pressured. Who can withstand pressure the best? Apparently it’s not me, because I’ve decided to do things that, on the surface, seem more difficult, so that must be because I’m not very good at withstanding pressure. It’s obviously not because I’ve researched everything and made the decisions I’m most comfortable with.

    I understand that the pressure to not feel pressured is usually coming from a good place. We cannot be perfect all the time, and moms need to forgive each other as much as they need to forgive themselves. I fully believe that I will pump and hand my husband a bottle of breastmilk to feed her when I just need a damn nap, or that I might make mac and cheese when I have a million other things to do and that looked good, or that I might use a disposable diaper at my mother-in-law’s house because I don’t feel like carrying the wet bag, or that I might need an epidural to get me through a particularly long labor. I absolutely do not fault people for doing these things, nor do I want to repeatedly kick myself for doing them. That isn’t healthy for anyone, and no one can be perfect all the time. 

    But, let’s be honest here. Having a baby is hard. And there isn’t a whole lot out there that will truly make it easier. Cloth diapers? One extra step plus a little more laundry. Breastfeeding? In a lot of ways, less work than making a bottle of formula. Organic food and fabrics? Pinch pennies somewhere else. DIY stuff? OK, that’s a lot of work, but I love to do it, and I do it for people I love. Guess what? I love my little girl, so DIY it is.

    And what’s wrong with a little pressure, anyway? If I didn’t pressure myself to finish baby blanket #1 (the white one), I never would have gotten that monstrosity done. From what I hear, breastfeeding can be downright hard sometimes, and if I don’t pressure myself to give it all I’ve got, I’m dooming myself from the start. Avoiding princess gear is going to be next to impossible, but being vigilant about the media my daughter consumes is part of the job of being the parent of a daughter.

    Often, when the pressure is just enough and not too much, it’s what keeps us striving for better rather than finding comfort in the status quo. And in any other setting, what we see as “pressure” from within ourselves would be called “setting goals” and would be championed.

    I have goals. I have a plan. I might reach all of them; I might not. But my decisions are in no way a reflection on how I feel about others’ decisions, and are in no way borne from a pressure to be perfect.

     

    EDIT: I realized, thanks to a friend, that I wasn’t super clear in this post. Some of the reassurance not to feel pressured – in fact, most of it – is simply a Type B mom trying to comfort a frazzled, stressed out, Type A mom by letting her know that her baby will be totally fine regardless of the decisions she makes. That is not what I was referring to at all. In fact, that particular calmness is comforting because, frankly, they’re right – sometimes this stuff doesn’t matter as much as you think it does so it’s OK to take a deep breath and settle for good enough for a minute. What I am referring to here is the more jaded “don’t feel pressured” advice that often takes the condescending tone of, “Relax, little missy. It’s cute that you care right now, but in a few months, you are absolutely not going to care about any of this so just give up now” or the vindictive tone of, “Ha! We’ll see how long that lasts. My bet is not very.” This type of pressure to relax is not only not helpful, but is downright mean, and usually comes at a point when the recipient has made a decision and is no longer looking for advice. When someone is looking for advice or unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to offer what you know, but when someone has made up her mind and a person has to jump in and tell her why she’s wrong or that she only made that decision out of pressure rather than research or personal beliefs, laughing at her decision as ridiculous is just rude. (Not to mention that I truly believe that in a few months, with this baby in my arms, I will actually care more about this stuff because it will all have more concrete implications, and, as stated above, I’m setting goals for myself and my family. How long this lasts will be entirely dependent on how long I want it to last! And what’s wrong with having goals? Nothing, in my opinion. But that’s neither here nor there.) Anyway, hopefully that clears some things up. I wasn’t criticizing you, Type B moms. You rock!

     

    In other news, below is a gallery of the projects I’ve done so far for Baby Samberts. If you see something you like, I might be willing to recreate it and sell it to you. Feel free to contact me!

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    5 Years Ago…: A Look Back

    June 24th, 2014

    Five years. It’s a long time when you think about it. Babies born five years ago are now getting ready to start school full time. Trees planted five years ago are giving us much needed oxygen and shade. A marriage started five years ago is now opening new doors for the couple (or has ended in divorce, if you want to be negative about it). Students who graduated high school five years ago are now embarking on post-college careers.

    Five years ago, I had moved home from the small town where I started my career right after college. I had been living with my mom for a year to save money, and was going to continue doing so for the coming year. I was still nervous about living at home again, but excited to be back with family and friends.

    Five years ago, I was pretty sure I had met the guy I was going to spend the rest of my life with. In August, I was sure. We got engaged.

    Five years ago, I had one year of grad school under my belt, and I was getting ready to start writing about literacy in the feminist blogging community for my capstone project.

    Five years ago, I had one year under my belt at the school where I would make my career. I realized time and again that I love teaching.

    Five years ago, I decided I would not change my last name when I got married.

    Five years ago, I decided I didn’t think I wanted kids – at least not right away. Tim agreed.

    Five years ago, I turned 25. I thought, then, that I was officially getting old.

    Five years ago, I started this blog.

    It’s been a whirlwind five years. At times, it has passed excruciatingly slowly. At other times, I wished everything would just slow down. Through it all, though, has been this little site of mine. I’ve quit (many times), but it’s always pulled me back in. Through this site, I’ve made some of the best friends I could ever imagine, many of whom became real life friends and some of whom I’ve never actually met. I’ve found like-minded people in the world where I didn’t think there were any. I’ve launched (and pulled back on) a semi-successful freelance writing career. I’ve written about feminism, teaching, engagement, marriage, pregnancy (both being pregnant and not being pregnant), crafting, buying and owning a home, food and diet, books, and a whole host of other things. For five years, consistently, this has been my space to think, sort out, and explore issues in my life. You, loyal readers, have provided feedback (though not so much anymore – where are the commenters?) and shared experiences. You’ve shared stories and links. Even though this is my space, it has helped me feel not so alone.

    I’m not sure what the coming years will bring, though I do hope this blog is a part of them. For the last five years, it has been invaluable to my development as a human being. It has helped me sort out issues I didn’t even know I had. It has brought a lot of frustration, but also a lot of joy. I hope I can continue to make small strokes here for the next five years, and I look forward to what they might bring.

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    The Top 5 Most Offensive Things People Say to Pregnant Ladies

    June 19th, 2014

    I’ve been asked on many, many occasions to write a post about the most offensive things people have said to me during this pregnancy. Considering I’m officially halfway through it, now seems like a good time to oblige. Keep in mind, this is meant to be funny; if these awesome second trimester hormones have done anything for me, they have allowed me to see this all with a sense of humor more than annoyance. Which is good, because we all know how easily I get annoyed under normal circumstances.

    So, here we go. Top 5 most offensive things people have said to me about this pregnancy.

    Enjoy!

     

    Was it planned?

    shoes

    To be fair, this was the first question I asked my best friend when I found out she was pregnant almost three years ago, so I do understand it is a question that  people are curious about. However, I’m letting myself off the hook for that one for a few reasons: 1) She’s my best friend. She might as well be my sister. 2) The news of her pregnancy caught me a bit off guard because she didn’t tell me she was trying (she was), and I thought she would have told me since we’re so close. But, you know, that stuff’s private, so I get it. 3) She was the first person in my close circle of friends to get pregnant, and I was still thinking that pregnancy was something that happened mostly by accident.

    However, I’m not letting the people who ask me this off the hook. Mostly because they are people I barely know. People I’ve spoken to maybe five times in my entire life ask me if we were planning this pregnancy. I don’t know if it’s because I used to be so vocal about not wanting children (Which I wasn’t, really, if you read closely. I just wanted people to back off asking me “WHEN” as if it were a given. We knew we wanted kids. We also knew we wanted to wait until we were ready.) or if it’s because, in an age where we know so many people undergoing infertility treatments and trying desperately to get pregnant to no avail, people are genuinely curious if our child was conceived naturally or through other means. Either way, I’m not open to discussing my sex life with acquaintances.

    Notice how I still haven’t answered the question. Nor am I going to. Because it’s inappropriate.

    Are you sure it’s not twins? OR You don’t even look pregnant!

    19 weeks

    Yes. I’m sure I’m pregnant, and yes, I’m sure it’s only one. Three ultrasounds later, I think the doctor would have found an empty womb or a second fetus. I’m showing plenty for my body type and this stage of my pregnancy, but I’m not huge. Stop commenting on the size of my body, even if you think it’s a compliment. It’s just creepy. Being surprised that I have a bump every time I walk past a mirror or that my pants won’t button when I reflexively try to button them is hard enough without your commentary. My body rocks and I’m super cute. The end.

    [Insert something about girl babies here]

    girl

     

    “Tim better get his shotgun ready to chase away the boys.”

    “At least the clothes are cuter.”

    “Are you ready for the hormones once she’s a teenager?”

    “Girls are easier until they grow up.”

    “PINK!”

    I had to lump these all into one, because they’re all equally ridiculous, and they’re all really about the same thing. People honestly don’t know what to say to you when you say you’re having a girl. (I know someone who had a boy and, when she told someone this, they said, “Oh good. You really dodged a bullet there!” You can’t make this stuff up.) Our society prefers boys. We think having a boy is somehow easier, better, more fun.

    Let’s be clear: I wanted a girl. Tim wanted a girl. Raising a girl in this political and social climate is not only an awesome responsibility, it’s exciting to think that she will have even more options than I did. Also, Tim and I make a living teaching adolescents. Some of those adolescents are girls. The hormonal adjustments aren’t as bad as you think they were when you lived through them. Also, my Fearless Females are my absolute favorite, so I’m excited about raising an awesome teenager. And, make no mistake about it, she will be awesome.

    As for the shotguns, this bothers me for a number of reasons. 1) Guns bother me. 2) It’s not funny. 3) Let’s not sexualize my daughter while she is STILL A FETUS. OR AS AN INFANT. OR AS A CHILD. (And when we talk about dating, make no mistake about it; you are sexualizing my daughter.) 4) We have this strange notion that our daughters should not be allowed to have healthy relationships with partners of their choosing while they are still young enough to learn what makes a good partner. 5) Why are we assuming she’ll be straight?

    There are 4 rules for dating our daughter, whenever she is ready to date. They are as follows:

    rules

     

    (via Feministing)

    Should you be eating that?

    food

    Yes, I should.

    That is all.

    Unsolicited advice, stories, comments, and touching

    shirts

     

    (Images via Pinterest - the actual sources are forever lost)

    It’s every pregnant woman and new mom’s worst nightmare. Everyone tells you it’ll happen, but no one can prepare you for the onslaught. Or the inanity. Or the stupidity. Or the ignorance.

    The worst part is, everyone tells you you’ll get advice, comments, stories, and touching, but they usually tell you right before they, themselves, indulge in the very thing they were just warning you against.

    Take the following scene for example:

    (Woman touches belly of my pregnant friend without permission.)
    Touchy Woman: Oh, isn’t it so annoying that everyone wants to touch you? But you’re so cute!

    Again, you can’t make this stuff up.

    I have to say, the unsolicited belly-touching (of which I’ve only had two so far, and they were from people whom I love dearly, so it wasn’t that weird) is not as bad as the unsolicited bear-hugging (I’m sore in places I didn’t even know could get sore; please don’t squeeze me. Also, I can smell everything, including the BO you don’t think you have, so please stay away.), arm-rubbing (I’m not a lucky token; rubbing my arm will not rub off some magic fertility luck-dust.), and hair-stroking (I get that it’s fuller and shinier because of the hormones, but I spent a lot of time doing my hair because it is the only part of my body that I have any control over anymore, so please leave it alone. Also, I am not a doll.) that seems to be ubiquitous any time I’m near anyone.

    I also have to say the unsolicited touching is much worse for me than the unsolicited advice and stories. I’m a high school teacher. I hear inappropriate and annoying things all day that don’t even phase me anymore, but come anywhere near me and I see flashing red warning signs. I can’t help it. That said, as soon as someone starts giving me the horror-story play-by-play of their birthing experience, I have to cut them off. No one wants to hear that, least of all a terrified first-time mom who has to face the prospect of delivering a baby without any previous comparable experience (because there is no comparable experience). It’s scary enough; don’t make it scarier.

    So there you have it – the top 5 eye-roll-inducing things people have said and done over the past 20 weeks. I’m sure the next 20 weeks will bring many, many more (and the 20 years after that will bring even more).

    That said…

    But - and this is a big but - I have been blown away by the generosity, love, and positivity 99.9% of people have shown towards our growing family. The help, support, and great sense of humor you all have provided for us has gone a long way towards making me feel like I’ve been enveloped into an exclusive mommy club that I never knew I wanted to be a part of, but now understand I definitely do. So, before I get too sappy and start crying all over my keyboard (it’s the hormones, I SWEAR!), know that I thank and love each and every one of you (because, if you are reading this, you are probably not one of the culprits of this incredible behavior) for helping me through this in every way.

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    Sexism in High School Sports

    June 19th, 2014

    I’m over at Teaching Tolerance talking about “Defeating Sexism in High School Sports”:

    Any one of these stereotypes could prevent a girl from becoming involved in sports in the first place. Some girls who love sports and have competed their whole lives refuse to try out once they get to high school because, in high school, reputation is everything and they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves as jocks.

    Athletic girls who do pursue sports must also grapple with the sexism that is pervasive in almost all aspects of sports culture, despite the strides that have been made since Title IX was passed in 1972. In the same day, we might see a story about a girl who is denied the right to play a sport because of her gender and a story like the one we saw in Steubenville, Ohio, where members of the high school football team raped a girl at a party and were then defended by their teammates and coaches.

    Read the whole thing here!

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    An Open Letter to My Pregnancy: Early Second Trimester

    May 29th, 2014

    Dear Pregnancy,

    You are now in the early second trimester – 17 weeks, to be exact. It is supposed to be this mythical land of loveliness during which I am supposed to have a cute little bump that isn’t yet big enough to look like I swallowed a watermelon. I’m supposed to glow, and my acne is supposed to have subsided. I’m supposed to feel great and have a lot of energy. I’m supposed to be able to sleep through the night for just about the last time in my life, or at least for the foreseeable future. I’m supposed to enjoy my favorite foods again. In short, this is supposed to be the “honeymoon trimester” before this thing gets really tough (and really real).

    I thought you should know because it doesn’t seem like you got the memo. While I no longer feel like I want to puke 24/7 nor do I want to (though I never actually did) put my head down on my desk during my prep hour because I literally could not do anything else, I’m not feeling all that great. The smell of Tim’s coffee and toast in the morning is enough to keep me in bed all day and, while part of me blames his disgusting coffee that smells like rotting wood, I could handle it before you came along. I opened the dishwasher the other day to put in some dishes like a responsible adult and had to turn around and dry heave because the normally innocuous smell of dirty dishes was too much for me to take. Eating is still a chore, and I still can’t stand the sight or smell of most meat unless it’s cold. This makes packing lunches really easy because I take whatever I couldn’t eat for dinner the night before, but leaves me with few options besides cereal to  nourish this little fetus at night. I’m still exhausted, probably because I can only sleep for about 4 hours per night before I’m wrenched awake by my bladder  or my aching muscles or my crippling anxiety about one parenting thing or another. I don’t have dreams, either. My father-in-law gets to have cute dreams about our beautiful baby; I just get darkness and then wakefulness.

    And don’t even get me started on the glow. I am not glowing. Any glow people perceive from me is either makeup or a trick of the light. Or sweat. I am constantly sweating. That acne that I thought I avoided by not having any during my first trimester is back with a vengeance. Those three, swollen, red zits on my chin that have been there for two and a half weeks? Thanks for those. I suppose you can share blame for those with the intense humidity and the fact that I cannot yet eat any of the healthy foods that I believe cleared up my acne in the first place, but, considering they are right on my chin – ground zero for hormonal acne – you get part of it, too. I’m just hoping upon hope that it doesn’t spread to the entire rest of my face like it did last year.

    dress

    I just wanted to let you know all of this, Pregnancy, just in case you forgot to be wonderful this trimester. I’m trying to have as much fun with this as I can with cute clothes (and lots of selfies), gender reveal parties, and really adorable baby shoes (because, BABY SHOES!), but I could use a little help. I know you cannot possibly comply with all of my requests, but if you could throw me just a few bones, I’d be eternally grateful. Really, just one. Just the acne. I dealt with this before and I really don’t want to go through it again. The rest of it, I can probably handle, though if you wanted to throw a few other great things my way, I’d definitely take them.

    Oh! And I’m supposed to be feeling my daughter move any day now, as you know. I think I already have, but I’m not really sure. It was really weird; it kind of just felt like someone lightly tapping me from the inside. Maybe it was something else. And even though I think it’s a little weird to feel a living being poking me from inside, it is a bit reassuring. If you could make that more distinct so I know what I’m feeling, that would definitely help this feel a bit more magical.

    With Love,

    The Samsanator

    2 Comments "

    It’s a….. gender reveal!

    May 28th, 2014

    I like to know things.

    I’m not sure if it’s because I value knowledge over ignorance in general, or if it’s because I’m a type A personality and I want to be able to plan and control things, but I want to know all the things. When we were faced with the option to do early genetic screening even though we had no risk factors for any genetic abnormalities, I was unsure at first because of the anxiety it created, but eventually ended up deciding to do it because I like to know things. (I’m so glad we did, by the way. Our risk factors ended up being super low and the piece of mind was well worth a few weeks of anxiety.)

    So when people asked us if we were going to find out the sex of the baby, the answer was a resounding YES. Knowing you could know, how could you go a whole nine months without knowing?! And I’m not even talking about planning for nursery colors here, I’m talking about just the sheer curiosity.

    In fact, when I found out that there were 3D ultrasound places that could tell you the sex of your baby for $60 at 15 weeks – a full 5 weeks before the 20-week diagnostic ultrasound, I plunked down my credit card and all but put the goo on my belly myself. (Well, I asked my doctor if those places were safe first, and then I scheduled the appointment. Whatever.)

    People don’t like to admit they have a preference when it comes to the sex of their baby, but I think almost everyone does. Of course, having a healthy baby of any sex is top priority, and we would have been happy with either outcome. But we really wanted a girl.

    No one has a hard time believing that I wanted a girl. Feminist,women’s rights activist, girly-girl; of course I wanted a little fearless female to wear those darling hair bows and crush gender norms. But some people have a hard time believing that Tim wanted a girl. All men want sons, right? Something about patriarchal lineage and carrying on the family name and tossing a ball around the back yard. I don’t really understand it, not being a man and all, but apparently it’s a thing. Tim, though, was excited about the possibility of women’s sports, daddy-daughter dances, and fighting the good feminist fight. And lineage? Not an issue and never was. It was Tim who insisted on our child – girl or boy – having a hyphenated name. I suggested it, but quickly decided I really didn’t care; Tim was the one who argued for Baby Samberts to officially be Baby Samsa-Roberts.

    So, we found out a week ago the sex of the baby, and we wanted it to be a girl. I honestly expected it to be a boy, but I wanted a girl. When the ultrasound tech finally got a good picture and told us, I cried. I was so incredibly happy and excited and relieved that I cried. And then I felt this immense pressure to be a good mother, to raise this kid right, because life is hard enough, but when you’re born as a member of this gender, you’re at a disadvantage from day one (arguably from the womb based on some of the things I’ve been told lately, but that’s another post for another time). Because….

    IT’S A GIRL! Future fearless female comin’ atcha, November 2014.

    The very first decision I made as the parent of a girl was to show all of our friends and family exactly how excited we are with a gender reveal party. I always thought these things were stupid, but now I see how fun they can be. We had pink and blue utensils, plates, and punch. I made cupcakes with pink frosting concealed in the middle. I cut out a banner (from Pinterest, obviously). And we wrapped a box in pink and blue paper and stuffed pink balloons in the middle to release as the “reveal.” It was so much fun having everyone together and having them share in our joy. It felt like our personal joy was also political, too, as we talked about all of our hopes and dreams and ideas for raising this little girl into a wonderful woman.

    More later on how weird some people are when we tell them we’re having a girl. For now, happiness.

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    Fearless Females: Don’t Be the Wrinkle

    May 13th, 2014

    We did two really enlightening activities in Fearless Females yesterday, both of which left the girls and me feeling really great about ourselves and our place in the world.

    Wrinkled Heart

    photo (1)

     

    This was an activity I picked up at a conference on relational aggression, “mean girls,” and cyberbullying. It was a great conference and I’ve used a lot of the activities I learned from there before. I held off on this one, though, because it seemed a little young for my high school girls. However, it ended up being a great activity and working really well with the activity that followed.

    For this one, I asked the girls to each take a piece of paper and some markers. I told them to draw a heart that takes up the entire piece of paper and decorate it with things that made them happy. When that was finished, I told them that this heart represents their hearts (or their emotional centers) I asked them to call out things that either they did to themselves or others did to them that made them sad. They called out things like being called names, not feeling pretty, feeling like a failure, and being told they look bad in some way. For each thing they called out, we folded our hearts.

    When we couldn’t fold it anymore, I asked them to open their hearts up and notice how many wrinkles their hearts had. Each wrinkle represented one piece of self-talk or bullying they had experienced that crinkled their emotions. Then, I asked them to try to get the wrinkles out. Of course, they couldn’t. This was symbolic of the fact that, once you feel bad about something, it’s always with you.

    Compliments Behind Your Back

    photo

    I couldn’t leave them on that note, so we moved on to a more positive activity. I put a chair in front of the whiteboard and each girl took turns sitting in the chair. Behind them, the other girls wrote compliments for the girl sitting in the chair. I took their pictures with the compliments behind them to send to them, and then they could look.

    A few of the girls were near tears at the nice things their peers wrote about them. You can see mine above, and I felt the same. I was touched at the things they noticed and appreciated, not only about me, but about the other girls as well. Even when they didn’t know someone very well, each girl was able to write four or five compliments. It’s a huge testament to their positive attitudes and to the love they have for each other.

    Wrap Up

    When asked if they liked the second activity, every girl said they did, but that they liked writing the compliments even better than receiving them. I loved hearing that, and reminded them how much it hurt to think of having wrinkles on their hearts – or putting wrinkles on others’ hearts – and how good it felt to compliment others. I told them that, at the end of the school year, we often get frazzled and frustrated with those around us. We just want summer to be here and the stress of school to be over. But we can’t forget that our words matter, at the end of the year more than ever, and we should make ourselves and others feel good by spreading compliments rather than wrinkles.

    For more ideas about activities and discussions for the teen girls in your life, click here. For resources for starting your own group for girls, click here.

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    Bump Ahead: An Announcement and 5 Things I’ve Learned in the Last 15 Weeks

    May 12th, 2014

    If you know me on a personal level, you have probably already heard the news: I’m pregnant!

    This is, of course, the other reason I took a break from social media that I alluded to earlier but couldn’t talk about. We hadn’t shared the information with everyone we love yet, so I couldn’t very well put it out here on this blog, now could I? But, the cat’s out of the bag now, so here we are. I’m 15 weeks pregnant and experiencing all of the emotions I feel like one should be experiencing in this moment: excitement, terror, being overwhelmed. Mostly excitement, but still a healthy dose of the rest, as well.

    If you’ve been a follower of this little blog, you know that I’ve debated about whether or not to have kids for a long time. You also know that I’m a huge advocate for people who want to remain childfree. I, myself, went from never wanting kids to maybe wanting kids to wanting kids for sure but not right now to now being here. I feel that’s sort of a natural progression, and reflects more how I’ve grown as an individual and within my marriage rather than a direct change of mind. It was always in the back of my mind that I’d have at least one kid, but I wasn’t in a hurry and it irritated me to no end when people would pressure me to get on with it already. Now that I have “gotten on with it,” I will say it’s been an incredibly illuminating experience, and the past 15 weeks have taught me maybe more than any other 15 weeks of my life. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my first trimester (and I hope to update the list each trimester, so stay tuned).

    1. Even when you’re ready, you’re never really ready.

    I used to HATE it when I’d tell people I wasn’t ready to have a baby and they’d say, “You’re never ready.” Yea, I get it, you can never be prepared for everything that might happen, but there is a moment when you are more ready than you were. When we got pregnant, Tim and I were ready. We had good jobs, enough money, a house in the ‘burbs, supportive family who live close by, and lots of love to give. We were absolutely prepared and we wanted to create a new life together.

    However, now I see what people were talking about. When I found out I was pregnant, my first thought was one of panic. Things were going to change, and I wasn’t ready for that. Even though we were ready, once it happened, I suddenly wasn’t anymore, and I think that’s what people really mean. That said, I still believe there are levels of ready, and once you feel ready, you should take the plunge. Just know that it’s OK if you’re not super excited until later because you’re too busy being panicked. It’s totally normal.

    2. People say the strangest (and meanest) things.

    I’ve been called “huge” or “big” 4 times already – and I just started noticeably showing about two weeks ago – and one lovely person even told me to get myself to the gym. I’ve been warned not to eat too much because I’ll end up diabetic, and I’ve been warned that I’m not eating enough to sustain my life and the baby’s. I’ve been mocked for wanting organic baby products and food and I’ve been shunned for my lack of enthusiasm about breast feeding (I’m going to try – don’t get on me about that. It’s just not the part I’m looking forward to the most.) I’ve been told my cup of green tea is too much caffeine, and I’ve been told that glass of red wine I had the day before I found out I was pregnant might give my baby Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

    Keep in mind, we just started telling people we were pregnant at 8 weeks for family and close friends and 12 weeks for everyone else, so all of that has come in the past month and a half or so.

    A word of advice: Unless one of these people is your doctor, don’t listen to anyone. And DO NOT GOOGLE to find out if they are right. You can find whatever you are looking for on Google, so it’s probably best just to listen to your own instincts and those of your healthcare professional. (I emphasize “your” there because you may have friends in the medical field. Just because they know things doesn’t mean they know your medical situation, so feel free not to listen to them, either.)

    3. Your body truly isn’t your own anymore.

    I’m not talking about unsolicited bump-touching (of which I’ve only had one so far) or backseat advice here. That’s an entirely different – and feminist – issue that I’m sure I’ll address later. Here, I’m talking about the sheer physicality of being pregnant. I’m saying that, if you are anything like me, you will have no control over your body anymore. You won’t want to eat things you’ve loved your whole life. The only things you’ll be able to stomach are cheese sticks and toast. The smell of your husband’s coffee – which you loved waking up to – will make you hurl. You’ll get splotches and acne. Things will grow and shrink. Your hair and nails will grow like weeds. You’ll be hot pretty much constantly. You’ll wake up at 2 AM and have to use the bathroom and then eat another meal before going back to bed. You’ll show early (like me) or not show until later.

    Who knows if all of these things will happen or have happened to you, but some of them are bound to sound familiar. I had a hard time giving up control (what… me?!) of my body. I’m one that likes having a plan. I planned to manage my weight gain and go to the gym 3-4 times a week and then walk for 30 minutes on other days. I planned to eat Paleo throughout my entire pregnancy. And while I have done a lot of those things (my weight gain has not been huge, despite what people have said to me – see #2), the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn is to ditch the plan and listen to my body. I suppose this is also an important lesson to learn about babies too, since there’s just so much you can’t plan for.

    I’m also going to add a 3B here: Buy maternity clothes whenever you want. People will tell you they waited until they were in their third trimester. They’ll tell you to buy bigger shirts and pants to get through as far as you can. I’m not really sure what’s up with people’s aversion to maternity clothes. They’re cut for pregnant ladies so they’re more flattering, and they are really comfortable. I’ve been using a belly band since week 6 and wearing maternity shirts since week 13 and I’m wearing my first pair of maternity pants today. I popped early and my pants and shirts just didn’t fit. Every pregnancy is different, so do what you need to do!

    4. Learn to grow a tough skin early.

    See #2. Smile and let it go. If it truly gets on your nerves, tell them. If they are your friends, they’ll understand. If they’re not, screw ‘em.

    5. Enjoy it while you can.

    I’m not into the cutesy baby stuff. I’m just not. I really love baby shoes (see above pregnancy announcement), but that’s about it. On top of that, when people told me to enjoy my pregnancy in those first 8 weeks when I was bent over the toilet puking my guts out, I wanted to punch them in the face. But we announced our pregnancy with both of our families there at the same time by handing out mugs that said, “The best moms get promoted to grandma,” “the best dads get promoted to grandpa,” etc. and it was so much fun. We’re going to do a gender reveal with a pink or blue cake on my 30th birthday. I believe this is what people mean when they tell you to enjoy it. Sure, pregnancy pretty much sucks the life out of you – because you’re giving life to someone else – but it’s OK to have fun with it, too!

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    Social Media Burnout and Facebook

    April 24th, 2014

    Yet again, it’s been a while since I’ve been on this little site of mine.

    Eventually, I’ll get around to explaining all of the reasons why I’ve been absent – and there are a few – but let’s start with the biggest one.

    Burnout.

    As a teacher, my life doesn’t run on calendar years; it runs on school years. And this school year has been brutal in the best kind of way. I had three classes to prepare for each day – two of them upper level classes that require a lot of attention and planning. I had speech team. I had Fearless Females. I also decided to join pretty much every single committee I could join. Not to mention I’ve still been writing from time to time (just not necessarily here).

    I loved it all.

    OK, OK. I loved it all most of the time. There were certainly times when I hated everything and desperately needed a break, but those times were quickly overshadowed by the fun stuff, the kind of stuff that reminded me why I do what I do.

    Overall, this year was one of those years that just made me want to throw myself into my job more and more. I have this weird thing where the busier I get, the more I want to add on my plate. As you can imagine, this leads to burnout pretty quickly, which is why I am prolific at my busiest and downright lazy during my downtime.

    When speech season ended, it occurred to me that things had gotten a bit too intense. It’s not uncommon for me to feel that way after a big season or event ends, but this time was different. I felt a general feeling of malaise. I was angry. I was fed up. So, I had to take a step back to figure out what was making me feel this way and, in an effort to make a real change, I decided to try something new.

    I decided to tune out.

    You see, I wasn’t just angry at being busy. I was angry at the State of Things. And this wasn’t the usual, feminist righteousness I experience day-to-day. This was personal.

    I was annoyed with the pressure of trying to keep up. Listen to the news every day, read all the books, don’t miss a Facebook post/Tweet/Instragram picture. Basically, know all the things, all the time.

    It’s maddening to try to keep up with it, and eventually, it becomes not worth the effort.

    So I gave up.

    I stopped listening to the news and to books on tape during my commute. Instead, I listened to music. I checked my RSS feed reader once or twice a week instead of every day and skipped the stuff I didn’t find interesting. I turned my phone off more than I turned it on. And I completely quit my personal Facebook.

    I think that last one was the toughest decisions to make. Being who I am, I have friends and family scattered all around the globe, and keeping in touch with them is difficult without the convenience of Facebook. I didn’t want to miss all that. But something needed to change.

    The reason I chose to disengage from Facebook instead of other social media is because, for me, Facebook is the most difficult to ignore and the most likely to raise my blood pressure on a daily basis. It seems as if all of my friends are now more likely to share news on Facebook rather than via text, email, phone call, or face-to-face interactions. You miss a post, and you’re out of the loop and, often, you don’t get to share in your friends’ joy. Also, with Facebook’s newer sharing settings, you are privy to literally EVERYTHING your friends do – from what music they are enjoying to what places they visit and who their with to all of the pictures and public status updates they “like.” When, more often than not, those pictures are political memes that are unresearched, untrue, or otherwise discriminatory, it’s a lot to handle. Oh, and the babies. Seriously, I like babies as much as the next red-blooded woman, but I don’t need to see a video of your baby’s first fart. I wish I was kidding.

    Facebook was successful because everyday people want a platform to share whatever they want to share. Now, you don’t need a blog or a reality tv show to tell the world the intricacies of your life or share your political and social opinions. All you need is Facebook.

    So, I decided I didn’t like the way Facebook made me feel. And I quit, cold turkey. I stayed off of it for three months, too, and I have to say, they were some of the better three months I’ve had this year. I didn’t feel angry or pressured and, believe it or not, I actually felt more connected to the people I truly care about because I had to actually work to contact them, rather than “liking” a status and thinking that counted as human interaction. I liked people a lot better, too, when I wasn’t inundated with the minutiae of their lives.

    Interestingly, I thought this would give me more incentive to blog, since I wouldn’t be on social media so much, but just the opposite happened. Since I didn’t have Facebook, I didn’t feel as compelled to share information about my life and my opinions with the public. It just didn’t seem to matter.

    But, of course, I’m back on the good ol’ FB. The desire to keep in touch with those near and far outweighed the desire for solitude. However, I’m going to use it much differently myself. No multiple updates a day, checking in only once or twice, and no engaging with controversy. I also went ahead and deleted people from my friends list that I didn’t know very well. I want my Facebook to be strictly personal and only for my close circle of friends.

    And, being back on Facebook has enticed me to get back on here, too, though I can’t say I missed posting here very much. I’m working towards a different kind of balance in my life – one that focuses much more on family and self-care and much less on overextending myself in order to prove something – namely, that I can “do it all.” However, I’m open to doing some writing here that doesn’t have to go through an editor or be all that thought-out and professional. That, actually, feels pretty good.

    Photo Credit: mkhmarketing

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    Review: Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother

    March 12th, 2014

    Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother
    Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother by Lauren Slater
    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    In Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, Lauren Slater tackles the tough stuff of life from deciding whether or not to have a kid – and then another kid – to dealing with depression to watching her husband catch fire. Her stories were entertaining and insightful while ringing true to anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness, and anyone who has ever questioned whether or not “playing house” was the right choice for their lives.

    However, while I would consider this an interesting read, it was by no means what I expected, nor was it particularly well-crafted. From the title, I expected Slater’s stories to center around her home life, especially her children. I expected some ridiculous and quippy stories about her children and her relationship to those children. As with most “mother” books, I expected some sort of moral or message to come out of it all – probably that becoming a mother was the right choice for her, despite her misgivings.

    While some of that was present in the book, most of the chapters dealt with her depression and how she dealt with it. While I understand that her depression made her choice to be a mother, and her subsequent filling of her motherhood role, a difficult one, her domestic life did not grace even half of the pages of the book. I don’t think this is bad, per se, but I would want the book to be more aptly titled, then, so the reader could know what he or she was getting.

    Furthermore, I do not believe the book was particularly well-crafted. Her prose, at times, felt forced. Her metaphors were over-extended. In one breath, she says she despises cliches, yet they rear their ugly heads in almost every chapter of the book. It seems as if she is trying to take her reader on a journey with flowing, poetic writing, but that only serves to pull the reader out of her world and into a world of figurative language. Like most English teachers, I enjoy figurative language when tastefully done, but this seemed to be overkill.

    On top of that, Slater referenced much of her past life without giving her reader any back story. She mentions leaving her home for a foster home, several lawsuits brought against her, a friend who completely abandons her, and many other events that would be ripe for a good story, but then just leaves them there in lonely sentences, never to be explained or expanded. Because of this, I was always left wanting more, and left feeling as if I should have been reading other books of hers or her blog (if she has one) first. Or, I felt as if she felt she was famous enough that everyone should know all of her back stories. I have no idea who she is, so that assumption seemed egotistical at best, and bad form at worst. Furthermore, each chapter of this book read like a separate blog post, some occurring in real time, some in the past; some referencing “now,” and others referencing posts written earlier that we should have read. I’m a purist when it comes to books: Unless books exist in a clearly defined series (and even then, back story should be explained), each book an author writes should be able to stand on its own. I shouldn’t be expected to research or read outside of the book to get the whole picture of what the author is talking about. And if a book is based on someone’s blog, which this one appeared to be, it’s the duty of the author to edit those posts into book-worthy writing that is cohesive and understandable.

    All in all, I would probably not recommend this book to many people unless you’re looking for a quick memoir or you’re familiar with her writing.

    View all my reviews

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    Laughter, Love, and Losing Gracefully: Lessons Learned this Speech Season

    February 11th, 2014

    Last year, our school was slated to host the Conference speech tournament. It was the head coach’s first year in the position, and I was becoming known at our school for being insanely organized and really good at running tournaments. So, I volunteered to (read: was paid to) put on the tournament so the head coach could focus on growing the team and winning some medals.

    At the time, I thought I knew nothing about speech team, but as I started organizing the tournament, I realized I knew more than I thought I did. My freshman year of high school, I was on our speech team. My team was a state champion team for many, many years running, so winning was the only option. While I was happy to have that year under my belt and I believe it taught me a great deal about confidence and gave me lots of analytical skills, I left the team to pursue band, which I enjoyed far more. My sophomore year, one of the coaches and my freshman English teacher (and the reason I joined the team to begin with) passed away, and I just couldn’t go back to the team.

    While I don’t regret quitting, I wish I had had more opportunities to develop public speaking and analytical skills in high school. If only I knew then what I do now – that I would end up teaching high school English – I might have stuck with it just for the learning opportunities.

    At the end of the tournament last year, though, a new opportunity presented itself. Our head coach – a drama guy through and through – got it in his head that I’d be good at coaching the speech events, particularly the ones where students have to write their own speeches. (I can’t imagine where he got that idea. It’s not like I know how to write things….) Getting a taste of the fun from the tournament we hosted, I agreed to come on as the assistant coach this year.

    At first, I spent a lot of nights crying to Tim that I was over-stressed and over-worked and had too much going on to continue coaching speech. The plan was to make it through the year and quit and never try to coach anything ever again. However, as the year progressed, I saw my students learning and growing and enjoying the process. Speech must be something special for these kids – many of whom would rather have rather died than speak publicly at the start of the season – to make it to school, dressed in their suits and dresses, at 6:00 every Saturday morning and not come home until 6:00 PM Saturday night, exhausted after speaking all day for the entirety of November-February. And they actually enjoyed it. Many of them who didn’t advance to Regionals this year came anyway, just to support their friends or see a few new events they might want to try out next year, and I expect the same from Sectionals this weekend.

    Speech team is powerful. It was powerful for the students who showed up and gave it their all every week, and I know this because many of the kids I coached would sit in my room after a bad tournament and ask, “How can I get better?” or would burst into tears and hug me when they found out they advanced to a final round of a tournament, meaning they were in the top 8 of all the students competing that weekend.

    But it was equally powerful for me. I can speak to what I think the students learned this season, but I probably couldn’t even scratch the surface. For me, starting the season wanting to quit, this season was a roller-coaster ride that taught me more about teaching, patience, and what it means to be part of the fabric of a school than anything I’ve ever done. Now, I wouldn’t give up this position for the world, and I’m already starting to think about next year. What follows is a reflection on my lessons learned this season.

    Laughter

    Our head coach is a funny guy. I’m not sure, but I think he prides himself in this fact. He spends a lot of time telling funny stories, and the kids hang on every word. In the classroom, I do this, too. It’s part of what makes our students enjoy our classes and gives them a reminder every once in a while that we’re human, too. I used to think that these stories we tell are just fun and sort of self-indulgent, but now I look at them differently. Life is full of stories, and telling them to students offers an example of how it’s done. This might go without saying, but indulge me: So much of speech – and life, for that matter – is the ability to tell stories. Even for the events that require students to memorize and perform script, or write a purely informational or persuasive speech, they still have to find the story there and tell it. Stories are full of cadences, levels, and pregnant pauses that you can only teach by example, and the ability to mesmerize an audience with a tale is a skill that can be learned. In his memoir, Teacher Man, Frank McCourt writes:

    Instead of teaching, I told stories.
    Anything to keep them quiet and in their seats.
    They thought I was teaching.
    I thought I was teaching.
    I was learning.

    I’d argue that he was teaching, too. He was teaching them to enjoy language and how to tell stories, an art that is dying in our go-go-go Google society. Tell a story, mesmerize an audience, and you’ll be able to land that deal or hold a really important meeting. It’s that simple.

    Love

    I love my students. I really do. But speech team is something different. Yesterday was the first day I didn’t have Tuesday practice because all of my students are done for the year, and I actually sat in my classroom feeling sort of lost and sad. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but I was disappointed not to have practice after school.

    You have so much downtime during those tournaments and so you spend a lot of your time coaching. When I say coaching, I don’t mean the typical yell-and-scream sports coaching we see on ESPN. I mean the build-you-up help-you-improve coaching that requires a bit more finesse and grace. One tournament, for example, I was sitting in the tab room so I knew what ranks my students got during their rounds. After first round, I found out one of my better students got a 6 in her event – 6 being the lowest you can get. It’s not impossible to advance to final round with a 6, but it’s darn hard, so I went out to find her and knock some sense into her. When I did find her, she was already crying her eyes out before I could say a word to her. My tactic had to immediately change. She was already beating herself up over her flubbed round one than I ever could, and so I spent a good deal of time helping her realize this was not the end of the world, and that she needed to regain her confidence, take the bull by the horns, and get back in there for her next two rounds. She didn’t advance to final round that tournament, but I think the lesson she learned was far more important: In life, you’ll fail. It’s inevitable. But you have to get up and move on. Which leads me to my next reflection…

    Losing Gracefully

    Regionals was last weekend. The top 3 in each event advance to Sectionals, which is coming up on Saturday. We didn’t expect to do super well at Regionals because our team is so young. You just can’t teach freshmen how to be confident seniors. However, 11 out of 12 of our students ended up advancing to final round, which is a win in and of itself. All of my students who advanced to final round were incredibly excited. I was excited for them. If, in my first year, I could have students I coached advance to Sectionals, this would be a majorly successful year.

    As you already know, none of the students I coached advanced to Sectionals. Our team has several kids going, but all of them were coached by the head coach.

    I didn’t understand it. I had a few kids who I thought really had a shot, but they didn’t do well in their final round. What was I doing wrong? How had I, as a coach, failed these kids?

    I asked these questions of the head coach on the bus on the way home. I’m sure he could tell I was near tears, so he spent a lot of time coaching me and giving me a pep talk. But when we all got off the bus, I looked around. None of the kids were upset. They were all extremely exited to have made it to final round, and were already talking about what they were planning on doing next year. They were all laughing and hugging each other and excited for those who were advancing. I’m sure there was some disappointment, but not enough to show. And that, I think, is the best lesson of them all: Win gracefully, lose gracefully, show excitement for those who succeed, and find a way to do better in the future.

    This is learning. This is winning.

    Featured Image Credit: Brad Barth

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    Elsewhere I’ve Been: Teaching Tolerance – Telling the Story of Privilege

    February 11th, 2014

    I’m over at the Teaching Tolerance blog today helping to publicize my magazine article, talking about privilege:

    Once they had the language to talk about privilege, I decided to take it a step further. I asked them what other kinds of privilege exist. They were able to quickly name the big ones: gender, religion and sexual orientation. But after some thought, they started coming up with other really interesting ways privilege manifested itself in the school. Kids in honors classes got special treatment in the hallways; they were trusted kids, so they were never asked for their hall passes. Thin girls were cited for dress code violations less often than curvier girls. Kids with good grades were given extensions on papers more often than kids with lower grades. The list went on and on.

    Read the whole post here!

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    #NotBuyingIt : Out of Print Clothing Advertising Fail

    February 8th, 2014

    Just to be clear, I LOVE Out of Print Clothing. Not only do they have awesome clothes and accessories that are well-made, reasonably priced, and fit well, each of their products features a unique book cover which helps spread the love of reading. Not only that, but for every product they sell, they donate a book to their partner, Books for Africa, doing their part to help increase literacy rates throughout the world. It truly is amazing.

    But, of course, not every company can be perfect. Check out their Valentine’s Day email advertising, with gifts “for him” and “for her”:

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    According to them, books that guys like include Moby Dick, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Call of the Wild, Slaughterhouse Five, 1984, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Great Gatsby. Books that girls like include Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Romeo and Juliet, and Tropic of Cancer.

    Gee. I guess I wasted a whole lot of time reading and enjoying books like Slaughterhouse Five, The Great Gatsby, and 1984 then, since us “little women” just want books about girls and marriage and star-crossed lovers, huh?

    The thing about Out of Print Clothing is that they actually offer a huge range of book covers in women’s t-shirt sizes. In fact, all of the covers featured on their “for him” guide are available in women’s sizes. Not only that, but their men’s sizes aren’t overly bulky and fit like normal t-shirts, too, and the men’s sizes include many of the “for her” book covers as well.

    I have no problem with Out of Print Clothing. I’m sporting one of their shirts right now, in fact, and I will continue to purchase items from them in the future. However, this Valentine’s Day gift guide is a fail. It reads like it was tailored for someone who wants to buy their significant other a gift and knows he or she likes books but doesn’t know a whole lot else about him or her. Books are personal, and if you’re going to wear one on your sleeve – or your chest, as it were – you want one you absolutely love (or, in my case, one you teach to your students so they can laugh at how much of a nerd you are to have a book t-shirt).

    Here’s a Valentine’s Day hint: In order to give a proper book-related gift, spend some time talking with your significant other and actually find out what books they like. That way, you’ll buy a great, gender-free gift that your significant other will cherish AND you’ll have some great books to talk about for the rest of your lives.

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    An Open Letter to Students Who Think They Are the Stars of Their Own Bildungsromans

    January 27th, 2014

    To the aforementioned students:

    You are, at this very moment, coming of age. It makes sense, then, why you would identify so much with the Holden Caulfields and Stephen Dedaluses of our literature class. You are mostly males between the ages of 16-18, and so identify with their confusion as they try to figure out how to be the type of men they want to be despite society’s rejection of the things they hold dear: innocence, art, beauty, love of all things pure. Society is too focused on mechanically pumping kids through school on an assembly line – add some physics here, a little grammar there, stick some math and physical education in there too, and top it off with a good dose of standardized testing. You are too creative and intelligent for this assembly-line mentality. Stephen and Holden were, too, which is what finally inspires them to break out on their own. At long last, you have a character who is just like you. At long last, you have a blueprint for how to come of age in this world.

    I get it. I really do.

    I, too, love Stephen Dedalus and Holden Caulfield. When I first read Catcher in the Rye in high school, I saw in him the malaise of my generation, even though he would have been born at least 40 years before my peers and I. When one of my favorite professors introduced me to Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in college, I devoured every word, underlining most of the final chapter, marking huge stars next to passages that poked fun at Stephen’s poetic nature because I “got it” – I understood what these young men were going through.

    I loved – and continue to love – these fictional men, to be sure. But I love them in a very different way than you do.

    You see, as a woman, I was encouraged to love Stephen and Holden – and any other maladjusted male I met in real life, for that matter – just as I was encouraged to try to change them. You see, women who read these books are forced to filter their consciousness in a way you’ve never had to. We aren’t like Stephen and Holden. We are like their love interests while we are young, and like their mothers when we are older. In school, I could have been their Emma, their Jane, their pure-hearted, ivory-handed, unattainable love interest. Except I would actually talk to them, and they would love me even more. And then they could put their maladjusted ways behind them and live happily ever after; this is the end of most female-centered tales, after all, so it was the end of my understanding of how men and women relate to each other. Now, I re-read these pages and find myself wanting to make these young men a hot cup of tea or a bowl of chicken soup, put it down on the table, and listen as they pour their hearts out to me. I want to be their teacher or their mother (Isn’t there a little bit of each in the other?), to council them and help them find their way.

    Because I had to filter my reading of these novels through my experience as a woman, I have some insight that you might never gain, and I think it’s important to share that insight with you before you meet the same end as these characters.

    To begin, bildungsromans – or coming-of-age-novels – are not to be confused with epic tales, though they sometimes are. A bildungsroman ends not when our protagonists have it all figured out, not at the very end of their quests, but just on the cusp of their new understanding of adulthood. The rest of their lives are ahead of them and, though we hope that they are able to continue growing and changing long into their adult years, we are left only with that hope, and not a definitive answer. Just like women have to learn that relationships are not all sunshine and roses after the kiss that ends the Disney movies and rom-coms we devour through our teenage years, so, too, do you have to realize that growing does not end upon leaving school. In fact, it’s only just starting. As much as we want to think that Holden has it all figured out when he declares, “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody,” (because, let’s face it, that is such a beautiful sentiment on which to base the entirety of the rest of our lives) he doesn’t. We forget, in fact, that he is in a mental institution at the end of the book, having traipsed all round New York City by himself, all because he couldn’t admit he wasn’t over his brother’s death. This isn’t being grown up; it’s growth. That’s an important distinction. And, if he doesn’t continue to grow, how is he ever going to figure out where those ducks go in the winter?

    Perhaps of equal importance is the fact that, though generations upon generations of people will easily declare their love for the Holdens and the Stephens of literature, even the most die-hard scholar/fan will tell you that, were these young men actual people, we wouldn’t like them very much. “How can you love someone but not like them?” you may very well ask. In literature, it’s easy. You love a character for his witticisms, his quotable lines, his grit, his honesty and integrity – or lack thereof – in the face of tough situations. You take inspiration from him or your heart goes out to him. He helps you understand some small part about life that you didn’t understand before. But, were you introduced to him, it would take you all of five seconds to roll your eyes and see right through his egotistical nature and decide he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d want to be friends with.

    And, make no mistake about it, these young men are egotistical to the core. That’s part of what makes Salinger and Joyce so brilliant – something you probably can’t see yet because you are too close to it. They write self-centered post-pubescence with the mastery only granted to one who has gone through it himself. Stephen, come chapter 5, is the only person on that campus who understands beauty at all. He is, he thinks, even smarter than his professors as seen by the conversation he has with his dean of students. His dean could very well be egging him on by speaking literally while Stephen is speaking metaphorically but, since we see the episode through Stephen’s eyes, we can only assume Stephen is much smarter than his teacher. Holden, is similarly ego-centric, wanting to be the catcher in the rye and catch kids as they come through the rye, single-handedly saving them from going off the metaphorical cliff and thus preserving their innocence. He’s the only one who can do it, since he’s obviously the only one in the entire city who isn’t a phony, and who can identify phonies when he sees them. You, who are in the middle of the most self-centered point of your life, cannot see that in others. You can only see how much these characters relate to you, which is just a little bit self-centered in and of itself, don’t you think?

    “But wait!” you protest. “Didn’t you just say that you wanted to be their unattainable love interest when you were younger? And their mother or teacher now that you’re older? Don’t women in all of these roles sort of have to like these guys?” Ah, this just further proves my point about your ego-centrism. I said these were the roles through which I had to filter my consciousness, not that these were the roles I wanted.

    So what lesson is there here for you, if not the ones that the bildungsromans hold? The lesson, to my mind, is clear. See yourself in these characters, then grow past them. Understand that these characters are meant to represent a snapshot in time and, though you may be like them now, don’t strive for that as an end goal. Allow yourself a little bit of self-centeredness, as is natural for a teenager, and then use what you know from literature and from life to practice empathy. Don’t get so involved with yourself that you cannot see the bigger picture. Figure out how “to discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.” Rub f-words off of public spaces and help kids keep their innocence for as long as they can. Then, grow further still. Learn from everyone and everything around you. Take it all in, and don’t be afraid to grow up. You have one great advantage that Holden and Stephen will never have: You are not stuck on the pages of a book. Your life doesn’t end when the chapter does. Your story is an epic journey, not a bildungsroman. Live accordingly.

    Sincerely,
    Your Literature Teacher

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