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Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

If you read feminist blogs, you’ve surely already seen this gem of a T-shirt, which JC Penney was hawking until they (sensibly) withdrew it in response to public protest and apologized for its sexist nitwittery:

Available in sizes for girls in roughly grades 1 through 8, the T-shirt sports the pseudo-sassy phrase, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”

Feminist bloggers have rightly slammed the shirt for its obvious sexism. Recalling the notorious “math is hard” Barbie, feMOMhist snarks:

What person would want to encourage a little girl to think that beauty and intellect are mutually exclusive?  Clearly no one who has met moi!

The shirt is a disaster aesthetically, politically, and intellectually. It’s part of a larger phenomenon of T-shirts with attitude, mostly marketed to boys; this particular specimen adds sexism to the mix for a little extra charm. It reinforces the idea that girls and women have to trade sex, sexiness, and prettiness for security and success, an idea that you’d think would be moribund by now but just refuses to die: see Laurie Penny’s hilarious takedown of a new book by LSE researcher Catherine Harkin, who makes exactly that argument.

At Feministe, Caperton questions how “every employee who touched it between wholesaler and Web site” could have thought the shirt innocuous. I’d add that the design team, too, brings to mind the fine fellows from “Dumb and Dumber.”

But there’s one point that I haven’t seen other commentators skewer, and that’s the idea that a girl’s brother ought to be swayed by her prettiness. Am I the only one creeped out by this? Why should a brother be inspired to do his sister’s homework just because of how she looks? I mean, this shirt is encouraging boys to look at their sisters in a way that verges on incestuous. Ewwwww.

It goes to show that in a world where sexuality is seen basically as transactional, even young sisters and brothers are pushed into that paradigm. While actual brother-sister incest is (obviously) a real thing, it’s relatively rare, compared to adult-on-child incest. In most families, brothers and sisters are either indifferent to each other’s looks or insult them. I imagine this T-shirt slogan refers to brothers because most girls in the target age group don’t have boyfriends yet. Its dumb-and-dumber designers probably didn’t think through its incestuous implications. That doesn’t make it any less twisted. Ewwww, again.

 

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If you haven’t seen this sweet kitteh hugging her very young baby, you probably haven’t been on the Internet this week. Watch for the real hug about halfway through:

If the hugging mama kitteh is already old hat, then you’ll want to proceed straight to these three clouded leopard cubs, born in the Nashville Zoo (via William K. Wolfrum). There’s no actual mother in this clip, only a human simulation of leopard-mama technique. Watch for it starting at 1:05. (My first thought: Oh, if only my son the Tiger had enough of a scruff for that trick to work!

And on the theme of calming our cubs, I’m besotted with the cover of this book,

Go the F**k to Sleep,

which isn’t out yet, but is eagerly awaited.

The cover art alone gets the Kittwampus pawprint of approval for felinity. Want to see the cozy cat family inside? The whole cubs, kits, and kaboodle has been leaked and put up on YouTube:

Sweet dreams! I, for one, am off to emulate that lucky mama tiger, except I won’t be using either of my cubs as a pillow.

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Yesterday, the Tiger asked me: “Mama, what’s the opposite of ‘boys and girls’?”

Me: “Do you think there has to be an opposite? Well, some people think boys are the opposite of girls, but are they really?”

Tiger: “No! They’re all just people.”

Leave it to a seven-year-old to dismantle oppositional sexism.

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The kids are asleep, as of 11:55 p.m. EDT. I’ve got candles burning in the same tealight candelbra that did a job on Grey Kitty’s whiskers, lo those many years ago. I sit on the front porch as the rain cascades around me, letting me and my candles burn.

Oh, and I’m wearing a bathrobe, just to confirm that most hoary of prejudices against bloggers.

The kids will wake soon, and when they do, I’ll be presented with offerings. One involves dirt. Or earth. Or something that requires earth. I’m all for it, though I nearly managed to kill my ‘mater seedlings this weekend through a deadly combo of drought, too-close grow lights, and lack of fertilizer. (When my own fumbling incompetence rains down, I do wonder how my children continue to thrive. It helps that their CNS trumps the tomato’s defense mechanisms. I guess opposable thumbs don’t hurt, either. At any rate, my earth mother cred is shot to hell; just ask my ‘maters.)

I will tear up at my children’s sweet offerings, no matter that they felt obligated or spurred by a class assignment at school.

I will hug them and kiss them and keep their presents forever.

And yet, I still have a wishlist.

1) Can we get beyond the idea that women are uniquely suited to multitasking? Cordelia Fine just bulldozes this stereotype in her book, Delusionas of Gender. And more: Kevin Drum marshals the evidence that multitasking is folly for everyone, irrespective of gender. No wonder I still have a florid scar from the time when I tried to pull a baking sheet from the oven while ensuring that the mini-Tiger (aged not-quite-three) wouldn’t get burned. (Guess who got schorched instead??) I keep multitasking, I’m liable to lose that opposable thumb. Picture a dog watering a tree. Picture a dog baking a souffle. The intersection of that? Um, that would be me. Multitasking. The combo of onions and knives is a particularly foolhardy ideas.

2) Can we please just “be excellent to each other,” as Bill and Ted would say? The one thing I truly want from my beautiful boys is kindness. Toward each other. Toward me. They have mad skillz with their friends, so can we please bring those skillz home? Because, y’know, rudeness is a neurotoxin, especially when rudeness is spread among peer or near-peers. I’m well aware that another camp of researchers regards sibling arguments as healthy, spurring on their verbal development. May God, or some benevolent goddess, or my pal the Ceiling Cat save us from further precocious verbal development. We’re already at a point where the least bad outcome could be a Amero-Germanic version of Alan Dershowitz. But back to the neurotoxins. My kids appear to bee more than fine. They chat; they argue, they wear me down. But my brain? It’s in acute danger of rotting! Neural termites and mad-cow disease could hardly hollow it out any faster than the daily squabbles! No wonder the Red Cross recently rejected my blood on suspicion of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, aka mad cow for homans. (True story.)

That’s just my very personal list. I know theere’s ooodles more to say about what other kids and mamas need – not to mention daddies. I realize that my personal wishlist is very much formed by the concerns and privileges of educated, middle-class mothers.As for what less-privileged mothers need – well, Katha Pollitt pretty kicked it into the goal with her commentary on the “Tiger Mother” flap.Please read what she has to say about class,mothering, and solidarity, and I’ll just leave it at that – with the injunction that we should all be excellent to each other, to our parents and our children, tomorrow and always.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, be you bio-mother, step-mother, adoptive mother, other-mother … or just another exhausted multitasker of any age, gender, or species. May your day be crowned by candles, flowers, champagne, and the survival of your opposable thumbs.

And on those days when excellence turns to flatulence? Well, you’ll still be welcome here at the Kitteh, where we recognize that being a child or a parent or just a fallible hooman is simply who we are. Welcome to the club. I’d light a candle for you, but I must admit it’s rather perfumed, and you might just prefer eau de methane.

(Next up: our local Mama Robin, if I can manage not to terrify her.)

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In my previous post, I promised I’d deal with feminist ethical objections to delving into the veracity of Palin’s claimed pregnancy with Trig. Is it illegitimate to ask questions about a candidate’s reproductive history? Are we invading Palin’s privacy, down to her very uterus?

The arguments for backing off from the tale of Palin, Trig, and her alleged Wild Ride fall into two main categories. (Let me know if you can think of others.)

1) Palin and especially her children deserve at least a modicum of privacy.

2) It’s always anti-feminist to second-guess women’s choices in childbearing and mothering.

On 1) privacy: As I mentioned in my last post, it’s standard operating procedure for presidential and veep candidates to disclose their medical records. While I would object strenuously to laws and policies that demanded the same of grocery clerks and accountants and locksmiths and (yes) college professors, the presidency isn’t just any job. There’s a reasonable case to be made for the citizenry knowing whether a candidate has a condition that might render her or him incapable of serving or exercising good judgment. We should have known, for instance, that Ronald Reagan was experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

We expect this disclosure of all candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. Why should Palin get a pass? Why should her records remain private? Is it justifiable simply because she has a uterus? That would be sexist in its own twisted way, wouldn’t it – throwing us back to the days when ladyparts were still “unmentionables”?

Now it’s rather late to demand medical records be released, since Palin is no longer a candidate. But I think it’s still fair to say that Palin would have set the record straight on Trig’s birth, one way or another, had she only behaved like other candidates back in October 2008. Instead, she substituted secrecy for transparency (which didn’t surprise many Alaskans). She was nominated without any real vetting by McCain’s people, and they built an opaque wall between her and the press. She guarded her secrets while piling up lies. It’s not surprising that quite apart from Trig’s birth, the contents of her medical records would become subject to speculation.

Concern for the privacy of the Palins’ minor children (which included Bristol in 2008) is a legitimate and noble cause, one that I’ve consistently espoused. Let’s be clear: None of the brouhaha around Trig’s birth is actually about Trig. It’s about Sarah Palin.

The Palin children’s privacy has been breached, all right, but this has been almost entirely Sarah Palin’s own doing, apart from Bristol’s own self-promotion as a (*cough*) abstinence advocate. Who chose to use Trig as a political prop? Who decided to out Bristol’s pregnancy to the world instead of directly laying to rest the rumors about Trig’s birth? (Let us be clear: Bristol’s pregnancy in fall 2008 did not prove Sarah gave birth to Trig; it only made Bristol an unlikely mother to Trig unless he had actually been born earlier in the winter of 2008.) Who carried on a public feud with Levi Johnston’s family (which ultimately involved Palin’s grandson Tripp)? Who signed her family up for a reality TV show?

Mind you, I disapprove of the Gosselins and Duggars, too, for televising their children’s childhood. It’s just that none of them are running for president.

On point 2) – reproductive choice and trusting women – Melissa McEwan writes:

Birtherism, in which both conservatives and liberals are engaging, is a terrible and intrinsically misogynist game to play, entirely dependent on a belief that policing women’s bodies and reproduction is an acceptable recreation.

Actually, what’s going on here is not policing Sarah Palin’s body. What’s truly at stake is not what or who came out of her uterus. It’s what came out of her mouth. It’s her self-contradicting statements and outright lies.

McEwan tosses out a straw man when she says mockingly that the only acceptable evidence for “Trig birthers” would be video of Trig emerging from Palin’s vagina. Of course that’s silly. On the other hand, medical records showing that Palin truly was pregnant, underwent amnio, and gave birth when she claimed – well, that would be pretty darn conclusive. The unreasonable few would continue to hatch conspiracy theories. The rest of us – people like me and Litbrit – would say great; case closed; let’s carrying on dissecting why Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Santorum, and Co. are a danger to the United States. Andrew Sullivan would back off it too and devote himself more fully to his irrational quest for fiscal austerity. (Hmm, that’s one good argument for keeping the mystery of the Wild Ride alive.)

As I’ve written before, if Palin’s account of the wild ride is true, it displays epically poor judgment. By her own account, she board not one but two long flights after her water broke, without even stopping for a check-up before she left Dallas.

The party-line feminist response is: trust women. And I agree, we have to do that. Generally, women are trustworthy. That presumption underlies any pro-choice position on reproductive rights.

But what happens when a woman (or a man!) is reckless? What happens if a mother (or father!) makes egregious choices? Are we obligated to suspend judgment?

The consensus at both Shakesville and Feministe is that you turn in your official Feminist card as soon as you question the wisdom of anyone’s parenting or reproductive choices, no matter how irresponsible they may be.

Really?

To take a more extreme case, do I have to agree that it’s hunky-dory for a woman addicted to heroin and meth to have one baby after another, only to have them taken by Child Protective Services? As a matter of fact, I think it’s a pretty terrible situation. What makes me pro-choice is that I don’t want that hypothetical – but all-too-real – woman to be thrown into jail (as South Carolina has done, repeatedly, with pregnant women of color who are addicts). I don’t want her to be forced or coerced into Depo-Provera shots or Norplant. I do want the people who provide her prenatal and birth care (assuming she gets any) to compassionately counsel her about treatment programs. I want drug treatment programs to be abundant and free, so that no barriers prevent pregnant women from using them – unlike the many programs that have historically refused to admit expectant mothers! I want her caregivers to kindly and non-coercively explain her birth control options, including the potential benefits of long-term contraceptive methods (both the IUD and hormonal methods). I want her to have free access to birth control. If her children must be placed for adoption, open adoption should be the default unless there are very compelling grounds to separate the children from their birth mother.

That is a pro-choice position. I do see a need to exercise judgment. I do assert that childbearing while in the grips of an addition is a Bad Idea. Abandoning judgment, in such cases, would be abandoning responsibility. What makes this position pro-choice isn’t a refusal to judge; it’s rejecting punitive and coercive measures.

Now, Sarah Palin obviously is not comparable to a poor drug addict (unless you want to call power an addiction). Palin lives in a realm of privilege that insulates her kids, to some degree. CPS is not about to seize them even if she and Todd serve them Lucky Charms with crystal meth sprinkles for breakfast.

But the basic question still stands: Must feminists withhold judgment when a woman – or man! – makes reproductive or parenting decisions that are grossly unwise? Does it make us anti-choice to say that even though a woman has the legal right to implant eight embryos into her womb, it’s nonetheless an über-crappy decision? Does it make us anti-choice to say that medical evidence unequivocally shows that smoking is worse than crack for a developing fetus, and so every effort must be made to help expectant parents (not just mothers!) stop smoking?

And is it really anti-choice to say that Palin’s decision to fly home after her water broke not only potentially endangered her and Trig, but also exposed the whole plane to the risks of an emergency landing? I’m not saying “There oughtta be a law,” just that it was a piss-poor decision.

Again, this is not policing Palin’s uterus. This is questioning what went on in her brain. And if she runs again for POTUS, her brain is the organ that ought to concern us.

The good mother/bad mother dichotomy is still used as a cudgel. It’s one that feminists should always regard with deep suspicion.

But sometimes, bad mothering – and importantly, bad parenting – is egregious. When it occurs in politicians who position themselves as paragons of family values, it’s reasonable to ask about their general judgment and scrutinize them for hypocrisy. So while I regard it as out-of-bounds to criticize Todd and Sarah Palin for the fact that Bristol became pregnant, I do think it’s fair to criticize how they handled it in the national spotlight. When the Palins announced Bristol’s pregnancy instead of debunking the Trig rumors head-on, both parents threw their eldest daughter under the bus. (It was Sarah and her political who made that decision, but the First Dude was part of that inner circle and I’ll bet he could have vetoed it.) Similarly, it’s understandable that Sarah Palin would have kept her pregnancy quiet until late in the game. Most women who work for pay realize that they may be seen as less competent and committed once their pregnancy becomes public, and that goes doubly for female politician. What’s not reasonable is boarding a plane without any idea how imminent labor might be after leaking amniotic fluid.

If wanting politicians to exhibit sound judgment not just in public life but as private individuals – and yes, as parents – makes me an anti-feminist, so be it. Just let me know where I should turn in my F-card.

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Dear Bear and Tiger,

The Bear baskets are on the left. The Tiger baskets are on the right. The presents not in baskets are to be shared.

If you fight over Hello Kitty I will only bring you vast amounts of bunny poop next Easter. Seriously.

Love,

Your Easter Bunny

This missive was left by the Rabbit, gracing (?) baskets full of sugar and plastic crap that will probably condemn my children to tooth decay and type-2 diabetes.

Kindly note the pastel colors. For all her turdly threats, this is a high-class rabbit who respects Easter traditions. (She also knows that the Tiger loves any poop reference. She further realizes she’lll regret this cheap poop joke a thousand-fold as the Tiger compares each and every chocolate egg to … well, ’nuff said.)

The aforementioned Hello Kitty product is a bubble-blowing set. The Bunny is weary; she has lost all photo-taking capability and merely wishes to sleep until the rain ends in southeast Ohio. (That might be late December, at the rate we’re going.) This blog will not feature a picture of said plastic-crap bubblicious Kitty. You will therefore have to use your florid imaginations. Suffice it to say that the HK product looks incredibly ineffective, as you would expect from a Kitty without a mouth. I mean, how else should she blow bubbles?

Perhaps we’d best not answer that question.

Instead, here is a thing of beauty from the Bunny’s garden. It was not toothsome. That is why we could capture it in a picture, which was taken a few days ago, before the Bunny and her handler committed to a good nights’ sleep. The rain clings to the blossoms. Its fragrance makes us believe in magical rabbits, unearthly and perfect. If only blogs offered scratch-and-sniff functionality!

Happy Easter – or belated spring solstice – or whatever blessed moment you choose to celebrate as the earth awakes from its too-long slumber.

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I’ve been reading a lot more than writing the past few days. One of the themes that has popped up repeatedly in the discussion of the Arizona shootings is whether college officials should have been far more proactive in seeking help for Jared Lee Loughner. The New York Times today ran no less than three pieces on this topic:

Couldn’t a caring teacher have intervened? It’s an appealing what-if, isn’t it?

Take for instance the piece that appeared yesterday in Salon, where Sarah Hepola interviews a psychiatrist, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, on the probability that Loughner has untreated paranoid schizophrenia:

Hepola: … What do you do when you see someone like this?

That’s the $64 million question. Among his classmates, if you took all the information known about him and looked at it together, you’d say this guy is potentially dangerous. But one classmate saw one thing, another classmate saw another. The college apparently had enough information to know this guy should be off the campus if he didn’t get mental help. They knew people were purposefully sitting by the door so they could run fast in case this guy did something. This guy clearly struck people as dangerous.

In Arizona the laws are fairly liberal compared to other states. In lots of states the only way you could act on this is if he had demonstrated dangerousness to self or others. But in Arizona, it would have been legal to involuntarily take him to the clinic and have him evaluated. People don’t do this much, because we’re very concerned about people’s civil rights. How do you weigh the fears of a college atmosphere against the civil rights of the individual — an individual who will go in and say, “Look, I might be a little strange, but there’s nothing really wrong with me”?

That’s a key question. Did the college behave properly? Should the school have mandated some sort of mental health treatment for him, rather than kicking him out?

Legally, they could have. Whether they should have or not depends on who had what information and what it looked like at the time. The retrospect-o-scope is a hundred percent.

Exactly. The people around Loughner had only piecemeal information, the impact of which is “obvious” only now that we know how the story ends.

But that’s not the only problem colleges face. For one thing, the actual contact hours a professor has with students are pretty limited. I typically see a student four hours per week (unless they’re taking more than one class with me, the poor dears!). Loughner gave off enough scary vibes that the instructor reported him and the college ejected him until he got treatment. That didn’t happen at Virginia Tech, where as far as I know just one instructor was alarmed enough by Seung-Hui Cho to advise him to seek counseling.

In my eight years of teaching, I’ve had a handful of students who were disruptive of classroom dynamics. There was one guy I considered my “mini-MRA,” who belligerently challenged every idea I presented, but also seemed to think he could kiss up to me by calling me repeatedly at home. Another apparently aspired to become Jonah Goldberg’s clone. But I’ve only had one who gave me an intensely uncomfortable vibe. He talked about how people thought ill of him because he liked to wear a trenchcoat, just like the Columbine shooters. I spotted him again on campus about five years after I’d taught him, and I wondered if he’d had to stop out for mental health reasons. As a new instructor back in 2002, I just thought he was creepy and eccentric. Today, in the post-Virginia Tech era, I’d probably consult with a campus counselor.

But actually reporting someone isn’t a simple matter. Will the student retaliate once he’s put under a microscope? One of my graduate advisers was stalked for many months by a former student, and she had only given him the low grade he’s earned. Loughner, too, acted out when he didn’t get the grade he wanted:

Even in his gym classes, there were problems. In May, the police were called by Mr. Loughner’s Pilates instructor, Patricia Curry, who said she felt intimidated after a confrontation over the B grade she wanted to give him. She said he had become “very hostile” upon learning about her intention. “She spoke with him outside the classroom and felt it might become physical,” the police report said.

Ms. Curry told the police she would not feel comfortable teaching Mr. Loughner without an officer in the area, and the officers stayed to keep watch over the Pilates class until the class ended.

Ms. Curry must have been alarmed indeed to call the police. In her place, I’d be even more frightened about retaliation after class.

The danger of retaliation would be great if the student weren’t treated or didn’t adhere to his treatment. My university does offer psychological services, but they’re woefully understaffed. Severely depressed students are routinely told to wait a month until they can see a therapist qualified to prescribe medications. This has occurred even when the student was suicidal, and said so. Multiple students have told me that they sought help and endured a long wait to get in, only to find they had no rapport with their assigned counselor. One rape survivor told me her sessions were downright counterproductive. Much of the counseling is provided by graduate students. The experienced therapists are quite good, I think, but they’re far too few in number.

Pima College, where Loughner took classes, provides no mental health services. It has over 68,000 students. Much of Loughner’s behavior was bizarre rather than threatening – for example, insisting that the number 6 was actually 18. I can understand why they Pima expelled him but didn’t petition to have him involuntarily committed.

One of the New York Times articles makes the argument that colleges can keep a closer eye on troubled students if they remain enrolled. That’s true as long as students are in dorms. (Incidentally, the same holds true for substance abuse problems.) But when a student lives off campus, we cannot expect an instructor – who in community colleges may teach four or more classes – to keep tabs on a student she sees only four or five contact hours per week. Pima is not a residential school. Did I mention it has 68,000+ students?

It’s striking that no one is asking why Loughner’s former restaurant employers didn’t call in the state. Or why the dog shelter where he volunteered didn’t so the same. Or the Army! All of these entities recognized that Loughner had serious issues. The Army rejected him for having a drug arrest. Quiznos fired him for bizarrely refusing to respond to a customer, and his manage recognized a “personality change.” At the shelter, he exposed puppies to parvovirus after being clearly told to keep them out of a contaminated area. But the New York Times is not asking why these entities didn’t intervene.

I think the difference is that Americans still expect colleges to operate in loco parentis. Even residential colleges haven’t really borne that responsibility – or wielded that power – since the 1960s. We no longer have housemothers and curfews. Young people 18 and older aren’t legally children. Universities can’t act like their parents. Especially when the student is still living at home with his parents.

I don’t want to indulge in blaming Loughner’s parents. His father is reportedly an unpleasant fellow. They still deserve pity and compassion. They have lost their only son forever.

But we surely cannot expect an underfunded, overgrown community college to stand in for his parents, either.

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I cannot talk about Christina Taylor Green without starting to cry.

My kids are too old to be sheltered from terrible news. And so I have to talk to them about it. We have been talking about the Tuscon massacre since the weekend, in small doses, with as much reassurance as I can muster. It’s not enough.

Tonight we watched the memorial together. The Bear, who’s eleven, said, “It’s important.” He wanted to watch. The Tiger, who’s seven, wanted to be near us, too, though he was playing with rubberbands and flipping through books and asking when we could watch Simon’s Cat again.

The Bear started to cry when the image of Phyllis Schneck came on screen, as Obama talked about her quilting and churchgoing. “The pictures make them real, Mama,” he said. I think she may have reminded him of his grandma.

When Obama’s speech turned to Christina Taylor Green, I broke down, too. Then Obama said:

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

I squeezed the Bear’s hand. He squeezed back and said, “Yes! But something terrible shouldn’t have to happen before we get better.”

Indeed.

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People go to such lengths to keep the Santa myth alive! Kenneth Rapoza, writing at Salon, details the lies he spins to preserve the magic for his children:

We send letters to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. A real place. We even got letters back from them two years ago.

That tradition began after my daughter, at 5, discovered in school that the North Pole had no land mass and didn’t support life, except for an occasional polar bear in the winter months. I pointed out that Lapland was a hot spot for actual Santa activity and told her that the North Pole was just one of many Santa stories: not real. It was a nice recovery, but year after year, it’s getting harder to trick her.

What she doesn’t get is the logistics. How can Santa deliver toys around the world in one night? It’s not one night. It’s two because of world time zones and dates, plus the story that Santa flies through the sky on reindeer is just a story. Years ago, he delivered toys in his hometown by sled, pulled by reindeer. But Santa has a big staff now. The Santas you see, including those in the fake beards who are trying to dress like Santa, represent Santa in other cities and towns and — upon receiving your letters to Santa — fill in your wish list with small presents that Santa makes. This is reality, dear. Santa may not be as magical as you think. But don’t ruin those stories for others, I say. She’s cool with it.

Maybe his kids are in for a gentle landing. Maybe it’ll be more like a brutal crash, with reindeer blood and tears despoiling the winter wonderlandscape. That’s sort of how it went for my ten-year-old nephew this year. Everyone had assumed he was in don’t ask, don’t tell mode for fear of losing the loot. But when his seven-year-old sister learned the truth and immediately spilled the beans to him, there were histrionics. I wasn’t there, but I hear it involved oceans of tears and at least a half-hour in the fetal position. He’s fine now, but to judge from Salon’s comment section, there are adults walking this earth who still suffer the aftershock of disillusionment.

My mom has long said she hated lying to us kids about anything, even Santa and the Easter Bunny. I shared her qualms (even though I hadn’t been terribly traumatized, myself) and so I vowed to keep the lies to an absolute minimum. Yes, Santa comes to our house, but their dad and I never told the kids a lie when their budding scientific minds began to deconstruct the Santa myth .

The Bear, age five: How does Santa get into houses without a chimney?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Bear: I bet he uses the door.

Not long thereafter, the Bear determined that the Easter Bunny couldn’t be a real rabbit; he had to be a person. A few days later, he announced, “And I know who he is! It’s Santa Claus in a bunny suit!”

By the time the Bear solved the puzzle, he had a lot of pieces in place: the impossibility of making all those deliveries in one night, the absurdity of flying reindeer, the fact that all the elves’ handiwork was “made in China,” the presence of familiar handwriting and (oops) wrapping paper on Santa gifts, and the small can of blue paint in our garage that perfectly matched the base of the fish tank Santa brought him. The Bear was proud to have done the detective work and thrilled to guard the magic for his little brother. He was a perfect co-conspirator; not once did he let the secret slip.

Over the past year, the Tiger – now seven – would ask occasionally whether Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy was real. I’d always counter, “What do you think?” He would respond, “I think he’s real.”

Earlier this month, he raised the question again:

Tiger: Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Tiger: I think he’s not real.

Me: Why? What made you decide that?

Tiger: Because magic is not real.

Me (with a slight pang – knowing that when magic dies, the whole world is disenchanted): What would you think if you knew it’s me and your dad who are Santa?

Tiger: That would be nice!

I couldn’t have wished for a softer landing. In general, my parenting is pretty imperfect, so I’m reluctant to claim any special wisdom here, either. But if you’ve got young sprogs on Santa’s delivery route, it might be worth trying our approach. Let them decide what they want to believe and how much of the myth to question. Follow their lead. (Hmm, that’s starting to sound like my philosophy on sex ed, too!)

I’m curious how other parents handle this, as well as what went right or wrong in your own falling away from a world enchanted.

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate or believe!

Illustrations are a few of the cookies that my family and I made during the last run of snow days – photos by me, Sungold.

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Betty Draper of “Mad Men,” played by January Jones. Photo from examiner.com (Columbus). I claim fair use.

Confession: I find lists of trendy baby names fascinating. If you share this mildly guilty pleasure (“guilty” because it’s so easy to snark and criticize), the list for 2010 is up at Babycenter.com. But what caught my eye this time around was the “Mad Men” trend that Babycenter spotted: “Betty” has emerged from almost total obscurity, landing at number 868.

Of course that’s still pretty obscure. Of course there’s nothing inherently bad about “Betty.” It’s a perfectly nice name. It’s even the name of an iconic second-wave feminist, Betty Friedan. But new parents are not finding inspiration in Betty Friedan; they’re evidently borrowing the name from Betty Draper. (Then again, Betty Friedan had issues of her own, failing to adequately recognize her class and racial privilege, and accusing lesbian feminists of constituting a “lavender menace” to the rest of the women’s movement.)

In case you’ve never watched Mad Men, the first thing you need to know is that you’re missing out on a real treat. I was a real latecomer, but once I started, I was practically hypnotized from the first episode onward. For you Mad Men virgins, I promise no major spoilers below! (But do get your hands on season one!)

The second thing you need to know is that the show brilliantly portrays the sexism of American society in the early 1960s. Betty Draper is the wife of a handsome but philandering ad executive, Don Draper. While there’s plenty of sexism to go around at Don’s agency, too, Betty exemplifies everything that was wrong with the upper-middle-class housewife role in the early 1960s.

At the outset of the series, Betty’s life revolves around keeping a perfect suburban home, drinking coffee and cocktails, and waiting for her husband to come home. She’s spoiled and childish, seemingly stunted by her beauty and social privilege. In her marriage to Don, she’s lonely and depressed. She’s not a very likable character; her demeanor is mostly cool and passive, though she does seem to feel passion for her husband. Although her life is organized around homemaking, she typically appears detached from her children. In one early episode, she scolds her daughter Sally for putting a big plastic dry-cleaner’s bag over her head. Betty’s not worried about Sally’s safety, she’s just angry that her dry-cleaned clothes might be soiled.

In short, Betty Draper evokes more pity than sympathy. She’s a dramatic embodiment of what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” – the anomie, depression, and disorientation of highly educated, affluent suburban housewives of the early 1960s:

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.”

Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling gets so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I talked to women who had spent years on the analyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to the feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a wife and mother.” But the desperate tone in these women’s voices, and the look in their eyes, was the same as the tone and the look of other women, who were sure they had no problem, even though they did have a strange feeling of desperation.

(You can read the whole first chapter of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique here.)

And new parents are saddling their infant girls with a name honoring this legacy? Sure, Betty has a chilly glamour reminiscent of Grace Kelly, but it’s swamped by all her negative baggage.

Babycenter suggests that we may be craving “a simpler, Betty Crockeresque way of life.” but that just doesn’t compute if you’ve watched Mad Men even once. Nothing is simple about the Drapers’ world, despite all their privilege. Kennedy is assassinated. Racial tensions simmer, and casual racism is as common and unremarkable as sexism. People betray their colleagues and their lovers. The show features some strong women, but all of them suffer real injuries from sexism. That’s not simplicity; it’s oppression. Funny how people tend to confuse the two.

(Then again, Babycenter reports a surge in Bristol, Willow, and Piper, too. As I said, it’s way too easy to criticize and snark.)

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(Dazed kitteh from ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

Despite having foolishly booked my return flight to Ohio through Chicago, I managed to avoid getting stuck there in last weekend’s blizzard – only to be snowbound with the kids all this week. We’ve had three full snow days and two mornings with two-hour delays. The high school kids didn’t get to take their final exams today; my fifth-grader and his friends have to postpone their geography fair until January; and neither of my kids had math even once this week, since that’s scheduled first thing every morning.

A walloping half-foot of snow has fallen over the course of the week, maybe a tad more.

We here in Athens, Ohio, are not like Seattle or Atlanta, where snow takes everyone by surprise. We get it every darn winter. Here in southeast Ohio, we actually get less snow than, say, Cleveland, but my students from Cleveland laugh at our inability to carry on with school once a snowflake sticks to the ground.

The problem, this year and every year, is that we don’t have the equipment to clear the snow quickly. We don’t have the manpower. The city does pretty well at clearing the main streets, but the county roads remain impassible. It’s all a function of money. You could just as well call many of our snow days “poverty days.”

It’s not even the first day of winter, and we’ve already blown through all our snow days. In fact, thanks to our “tornado day” back in September, we’re one in the hole. Our inestimably wise legislators reduced our allotment of calamity days from five to three, starting this fall. I guess they thought our kids would get more edumacated this way. Instead, we’re likely to have a few dozen more two-hour delays between now and March. To make up the snow days that we’re sure to have in the new year, we’ll lose every holiday except MLK and Memorial Day. The school year will extend into the summer, like it does every year. And our kids will miss a month or so of math.

(From ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

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Earlier this week, I talked to my husband and kids, who are keeping the fires burning in Ohio while I’m visiting family in California. All of them were aggrieved. My husband was planning to fix broccoli and noodles for dinner. Both boys were insisting that they would not eat it and furthermore never had liked broccoli. Never mind that two reliable witnesses (both of their parents) have seen them eat it with gusto! The standoff ended when the broccoli was discovered to have both mold and bugs.

You might imagine that this was simply an instance of children being picky and ornery. You would be wrong. New research shows that I am to blame!

When I saw the headline on the medical news wire Ivanhoe – “Pregnancy Diet Predicts Food Choices of Children” – I figured it would insinuate that mommy is at fault. But the actual article was much worse. It managed to blame mothers directly in its very first sentence:

If you’re a mother to a finicky child, then you may be to blame for his or her picky taste.  A new study conducted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine uncovers the possibility that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can both familiarize the unborn baby with specific scents and tastes and directly influence what the child will later prefer to eat or drink.

“This highlights the importance of eating a healthy diet and refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing,” lead researcher Josephine Todrank was quoted as saying.  “If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing fetus ‘expects’ that whatever comes from the mother must be safe.  If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food.”

I’m dizzy with those leaps of logic. How did we jump straight from food to alcohol – the kryptonite of mother-blaming? And how many children are attracted to alcohol, anyway? Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious problem among the offspring of binge drinkers. I don’t see a lot of kids clamoring for a glass of Merlot. In fact, we’ve let our kids taste beer and wine, when they expressed curiosity, just so they could discover that it tasted “pooey” to them.

Read a little farther and you learn that Todrank et al. tested their hypothesis on newborn mice. For better or worse, mice don’t have much of a culinary culture. They aren’t tempted by the toys in Happy Meals. Nor are they exposed to my delicious vegetarian chili. Even in terms of the mouse lifecycle, one wonders whether the pups acquired a broader range of tastes as they grew. Also, mother mice are never told to drastically limit their diet while breastfeeding due to a colicky or restless pup.

My firstborn child tolerates much more spice than I do. He eats chard and Thai curry and Kalamata olives with gusto. My second son? He’d live on candy, breakfast cereal, hard-boiled eggs, Kraft mac-n-cheese, and more candy if we’d let him.

If this study has any applicability to humans, you’d expect to see the same pattern in every family: the firstborn should be a foodie, while subsequent children – conditioned by the relatively bland diet that families often adopt while feeding a toddler – should be pickier. You’d also expect the children of my spice-loving friends to be omnivores, yet many of them are pickier than my younger son.

It may well be that the biological effects on taste and smell that Todrank et al. found in mice have some applicability to humans. If so, it’s heavily filtered through culture. As parents generally know, young children usually have much more restricted tastes than their parents. I, for one, forced myself to eat broccoli during pregnancy even though it triggered nausea – and look where it got me!

Can we stop with the mother-blaming already? Most women consume a reasonably well-balanced diet during pregnancy. The few who don’t are usually either poor or plagued by hyperemesis gravidarum (that’s medicalese for uncontrollable barfing). Let’s not make mothers feel guilty because they failed to eat their brussel sprouts.

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I’ve been so serious these past two weeks, it’s time to take a brief break to gloat. As my long-time readers know, neither of those modes is my usual. I’m not typically a single-minded terrier, and I try not to be too smug. But sometimes The Kitty just has to pounce on an injustice when it’s fresh and new and potentially reversible. The TSA debacle pushed all of my buttons: Possible harm to my kids? Check. Sexualized violence? Check. Creating novel forms of bodily experience? Ugh – check. Trampling the rule of law? Checkmate!

So let this be my “Moment of Smug,” to paraphrase Colbert. Over the past few days, my post debunking the right-wing meme of TSA favoritism toward Muslim women drew thousands of hits – with this result:

In case you can’t quite read the graphic – and even if you can (because hey, I’m gloating!) – my post, “Not Exempt,” is the first listed on Google after the breaking news links. The first. Number one. Nummer eins. Woo hoo!

Starting tomorrow, instead of all-TSA all-the-time, I’ll be going back to a broader mix of posts. But for a few sweet moments, I’m going to savor my ascendancy over Fox News. Yes, I realize my post floated to the top of Google mainly because 100,000 other posts all regurgitated the same right-wing distortion, while I offered a fresh view. In spite of this, I know many readers merely sought to confirm their wingnutty views. (From my comment spam folder: a commenter with the clever handle “fuck you” tells me to “get fucked.”)

Never mind the haters. I’m still tickled that my information rose above the scum of Islamophobic disinformation. I guess I assumed disinformation always wins because it never fights fair. Some of us feel an inconvenient obligation to the truth, which hobbles you in the fight. It’s lovely to see that sometimes the truth does rise to the top. I’m happier yet that my post might have planted a few seeds of awareness in the minds of people who were sincerely questioning.

Thanks to my readers – old and new – for hanging with me! I’m not dropping the TSA story. You can expect updates when I feel moved to provide them, but they’ll be jumbled in with my usual mishmash of sex, feminism, parenting, kittehs, and any stuff that catches my fancy or pisses me off. For those playing along at home, I’ve put together a list of my TSA posts to date:

Also, if you’re not reading Cogitamus, do pop over there. Lisa Simeone has been covering the abuses of the security state in depth for years. Her co-bloggers are excellent too – among them litbrit, who like me wants Sarah Palin to explain her “wild ride.”

It remains to be seen if the TSA will really be forced to revamp their policies. So far, they seem terrified of losing face. In the meantime, though:

(Smug kitteh from ICHC?)

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When the TSA is questioned on its procedures, its first go-to excuse is that they’re keeping us safe. If you press harder, a favorite second-line rationale is that they need to treat everyone the same – even toddlers and the elderly – because the alternative would be “racial profiling.”

Sure, the TSA may be treating everyone the same. That doesn’t mean they’re being treated equally, however. Some people are more vulnerable than others. I’ve already touched on the likelihood that a grope search would trigger a rape survivor’s trauma. Newsweek has a good in-depth analysis of this issue.

I’d argue that children are also vulnerable to being traumatized. Two nights ago, in response to an adult conversation that in retrospect I wish I’d postponed until after the kids were in bed, my eleven-year-old son, the Bear, said: “Do you remember when the security guy searched inside my waistband in Belgium? Are they going to do that to me again?” His eyes welled up. Granted, he cries easily – a trait he inherited from his mother – but he seemed deeply upset at the prospect of a replay.

Now, imagine a child who’s actually been sexually abused. How will she or he react to being groped, no matter how officially and “professionally?”

Today, TSA head John Pistole (is that a pistole in your pocket? … oh never mind) told an NPR interviewer that children twelve and under would be exempted from the enhanced pat-down:

We did not do frankly a very good job of communicating initially that there would be an exemption, if you will, from the thorough pat-down for children 12 and under.  That was under review when the policy came out, and so we have clarified that.  It does not apply to children 12 and under.

(You can hear the interview at NPR.)

Frankly, I don’t think that this exemption existed until today. Goldblog cites an incident about ten days ago where an eight-year-old boy was selected for secondary screening after he went through the metal detector. Yes, the boy’s genitals were checked, and his father was appalled. I suspect Pistole’s volte-face (or flip-flop, for the Francophobes still out there!) is a reaction to the public anger about subjecting children to intrusive groping. I think he and Janet Napolitano realized that anything smacking of pedophilia could doom their program. Hence the age of thirteen, when, apparently, children are no longer children. But pray tell how, exactly, a thirteen-year-old will process the experience differently than a twelve-year-old?

While there’s been an upswell in outrage about children being groped, there’s been almost no public attention to another group that will suffer disproportionately: people who are trans or intersex, or who for whatever reason don’t conform to sex/gender expectations. A couple of days ago, GallingGalla left a comment here that vividly highlighted the real dangers and humiliations awaiting her:

Apparently, TSA considers us to be terrorists simply by our existence, as they have issued directives indicating that people dressing in what they, the TSA, perceives to be the “wrong” clothing are more likely to be terrorists. I guess, since they think that trans women are “really men”, we must be hiding bad things in our lady clothes.

Along with that, I shudder to think about the harassment and sexual assault that is *sure* to follow the discovery of “non-standard” genitals.

It is because of back-scatter machines and pat-downs that I do not fly. I don’t have the privilege to “opt-out”; I simply *cannot* fly, as my very person will be in danger.

How long will it be before photos of people stripped naked by back-scatter machines wind up on 4chan or local “she-male” porn sites?

(I quoted most of it; the whole comment is here.)

Of course, the TSA policy both taps into and reinforces the trope of the “deceptive” trans person. It sets trans passengers up for public humiliation and violence. TSA personnel are not even trained to search a child with sensitivity. What are the odds that they will react calmly and reasonably to non-standard genitals?

Trans men are worried too, as evidenced by this anonymous comment at BoingBoing:

I’m a trans man (FtM transsexual), and I’ve NEVER packed when I go to the airport b/c I’m sure my dick would show up looking like plastic explosive in my pants. My home airport only has the n00dscanners, so now I am not entirely sure what I should do. Either way, it looks like I’m destined for molestation at the airport. Pack, and be singled out for a pat-down based on what shows up on the scanner, or not pack and have the TSO end up concerned/confused when the “enhanced” pat-down turns up the fact that I don’t have any balls for “resistance”.

I have a flight planned in January. I’m pretty nervous about it.

Those are pretty terrible choices. And in case anyone was reassured by the blurriness of the naked-scanner images that had been stored at a Florida courthouse and leaked yesterday by Gizmodo? The resolution on those is much lower than the machines are capable of delivering. The TSA has told the New York Times that the machines are able to image a sanitary pad. They weren’t able to say, however, whether the pad would trigger an enhanced pat-down.

Update 11/17/10, 11:10 p.m.: Edited above to add the material from Goldblog, where he notes that the war on terror is colliding with the war on pedophilia – and so far, terror is winning.

Update 11/22/10, 10:40 a.m.: See also this post by Rebecca at The Thang Blog on how the new procedures have effectively grounded her as a trans woman.

Update 11/22/10, 3:30 p.m.: … and similarly, this piece by Bridgette P. LaVictoire at Lezget Real, who stresses the humiliation and danger to which she’ll be exposed. The mainstream media remains (predictably) silent.

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From where I live, it sure looks as though the body scanners – better termed “strip-search machines” – are in fact violating laws against child pornography. Ohio Revised Code section 2907.323 states:

(A) No person shall do any of the following:

(1) Photograph any minor who is not the person’s child or ward in a state of nudity, or create, direct, produce, or transfer any material or performance that shows the minor in a state of nudity, unless both of the following apply:

(a) The material or performance is, or is to be, sold, disseminated, displayed, possessed, controlled, brought or caused to be brought into this state, or presented for a bona fide artistic, medical, scientific, educational, religious, governmental, judicial, or other proper purpose, by or to a physician, psychologist, sociologist, scientist, teacher, person pursuing bona fide studies or research, librarian, member of the clergy, prosecutor, judge, or other person having a proper interest in the material or performance;

(b) The minor’s parents, guardian, or custodian consents in writing to the photographing of the minor, to the use of the minor in the material or performance, or to the transfer of the material and to the specific manner in which the material or performance is to be used.

In the case of body scanners, a photo is most definitely being taken. The TSA long maintained images weren’t being stored. Indeed, it repeatedly claimed images could not be stored.

That was a lie. Earlier this year, CNN documented the machines’ capacity to save and export images:

(Go here if you can’t see the clip.)

This week, the TSA’s false claims were further debunked at Alternet:

The U.S. Marshals Service admitted that just one courthouse checkpoint in Florida has stored tens of thousands of the images. And a report released last week revealed that the TSA demands all machines be equipped with the ability to record and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.”

So yes, the TSA is able to save and transmit pictures of children. The TSA insists that the “save” function is disabled before the strip-search machines are used on passengers. Blogger Bob – the friendly public face of the TSA – insists that “here is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports.” Unfortunately for Blogger Bob, multiple witnesses report being groped. The TSA might be credible if it had a track record of truthfulness rather than truthiness.

Even if the “save” function is indeed disabled in the strip-search machines, we cannot know what transpires in the mind of the officer viewing the images. Some portion of the population gets off on pictures of naked children. The TSA has no mechanism to avoid hiring these people, other than rejecting applicants with a conviction for rape or aggravated sexual abuse less than ten years in the past. Applicants with older sexual assault convictions are fully eligible for hire. These regulations are silent on possession of child pornography. (Regulations via the travel blog Flying with Fish.) Last spring, a 44-year-old TSA employee at Logan Airport in Boston was arrested on “two counts of statutory rape, two counts of enticing a minor and one count of indecent assault and battery.” (The link is to Prison Planet, which mirrors the Boston Herald’s article – now partially behind a paywall.)

I imagine the TSA would cite a “governmental” purpose, as specified in paragraph (a) above. However – and this is a mammoth caveat – paragraph (b) further requires the written consent of the child’s parent of guardian.

Know any parents who would willingly sign off on this?

Otherwise, according to my reading of Ohio law, naked images of a child, whether transmitted or not, constitute child pornography. Creation of them is a second-degree felony.

(The usual disclaimer applies: I am not a lawyer, just a pissed-off mother. If are any real lawyers are willing to weigh in, I’d be grateful for your opinion!)

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When I flew out of Columbus a few weeks ago, I was stunned to see the new machines arrayed at the checkpoint. Ours is a relatively podunk airport, and I’d hoped the body scanners would come either late or never. I eyed the machines queasily, calculated how much time I had to squander on security, and decided that I wouldn’t miss my flight if I stood on principle.

When I got to the front of  the line, I bravely announced to the TSA personnel that I chose to opt out of the body scanners. I walked through the metal detector. “Now where do I go?”

“Huh?”

“I don’t want to go through the scanners. I’m opting out. That sign over there says I’m allowed to. So where should I go?”

“You just went through the metal detector, right?”

“Yes, but … don’t you want to pat me down?”

“No, you’re done.”

I grabbed my computer, wiggled into my shoes, and hightailed it for the gate before anyone changed their mind.

But that’s not how every airport is handling the opter-outers. Indeed, Columbus may have to change its policies. Here’s what happened when, faced with the new body-scanners at Baltimore-Washington International, Jeffrey Goldberg opted for a pat-down instead.

When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”

I answered, “If you’re a terrorist, you’re going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina.” He blushed when I said “vagina.”

“Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

“What am I not going to like?” I asked.

“We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.

“Resistance?” I asked.

“Your testicles,” he explained.

‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”

He answered, “Like ‘The Situation,’ that guy from ‘Jersey Shore?’”

Yes, exactly, I said. (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)

(Read the whole thing. It’s trenchant, highly entertaining, and right – as in “correct,” not “neocon right,” although that’s Goldberg’s usual beat.)

Whoa. I have never linked to Jeffrey Goldberg, and I may never do it again. But sometimes, even proponents of bombing Iran write something that’s so eminently sensible – and so funny – that it deserves a nonpartisan audience.

All of this leaves me wondering what my husband and I should do the next time we fly with our kids. Up ’til now, I thought the answer was obvious: opt out with the kids and spare them indoctrination into the creeping-fascist security state (not to mention exposure to superfluous radiation). Now, I’m not so sure. I picture them in a future therapists’ office: “Mama? Oh, she wasn’t all bad. Sure, she had her impatient moments, but we always knew she loved us. If she just hadn’t let the TSA molest us …”

(This is one of those occasions where I resort to sarcasm because the alternative is molten rage. Most of parenting consists of moments lost in the surging river of time. One moment that is still present and razor-sharp for me? When a Belgian airport security official subjected my Bear – then aged 9 – to a search that involved reaching inside the elastic of his sweat pants.)

I’m starting to wonder if we should all opt out of “the Dick-Measuring Device,” as Goldberg terms it. What would happen if we filmed the ensuing searches and put them on YouTube? Could we completely overwhelm the system if even a third of us opted out? (Yes, we’d all miss our planes, which is why this would probably never work.) What if apparently harmless moms like me started to yell, “Get your paws of my ladyparts!” when TSA agents failed to meet, um, Resistance?

Or we could take a page from Goldberg and just repeat “vagina” until TSA officials give up out of sheer embarrassment. I have no problem talking about the “crotchal area” (best whacko neologism since “refudiate”!) until the proto-fascist security state waves us through. For good measure, I think a carry-on full of sex toys might amplify the guards horror. But don’t worry – I won’t try that if the kids are flying with me.

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The New York Times reports that anti-bullying programs are already under fire from opponents who fear our wee children will catch The Gay if teachers present LGBT folks as, well, fellow human beings:

Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as here in Helena [Montana], the programs have unleashed fierce opposition.

“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Mr. DeMato, one of numerous pastors who opposed the plan, said in an interview. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”

The divided Helena school board, after four months of turmoil, recently adopted a revised plan for teaching about health, sex and diversity. Much of the explicit language about sexuality and gay families was removed or replaced with vague phrases, like a call for young children to “understand that family structures differ.” The superintendent who has ardently pushed the new curriculum, Bruce K. Messinger, agreed to let parents remove their children from lessons they find objectionable.

(Read it all here.)

Message sent: We’re all against bullying, except when it comes to kids who are gay, or might be gay, or dress up as Daphne on Halloween even though they’re male. (If that last story doesn’t ring a bell, follow the link, stat!)

Opponents of bullying-prevention spew predictable condemnations of people who have “chosen the gay lifestyle.” I know a few lesbian parents in my town, and believe me, they are leading the “mom lifestyle.” Yes, it can be twisted, but they have chosen it! We see each other at music lessons and soccer. When it comes to carpools and practices, though, there’s not a heap of “choice” involved. (So sorry to disappoint the homophobes). Non-hetero moms and dad are supervising homework  just as painfully as the rest of us parents.

So go right ahead, you sanctimonious Christianists. Let us who’ve chosen the “mom lifestyle” hear just how depraved we are – just how repulsive! We can take it.

Just leave our beloved children out of it. My elder son’s favorite color was purple up until about second grade. I don’t think either of my kids are actually gay, but if they were – so what? So fucking what?

No kid deserves bullying, period. As long as wingnuts and ignoramuses act like gayness is a communicable disease and marriage equality is the death-knell of Western Civilization, kids who step outside the norm will continue to be bullied. Some will despair. Some will take their lives in their despair.

What kind of “family values” justify the lethal bullying of children? (Maybe Jerry Falwell will reach out from his grave and enlighten us?)

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Today was crap. I caught a student plagiarizing (off Conservapedia, no less!) and that’s the least of my concerns. I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.

But this? It warmed even my shriveled soul.

(Click to enlarge.)

In case you’re having trouble diciphering:

Dere MaMa

I love you mama you are the best mama

in the howl younavers

you ar betr than the howl werld.

His signature follows (I blanked it here), along with maps of the werld (I am doing a backfloat on it – which sounds about accurate for today) and a diagram of the younavers, which consists of pointy houses that look like mountains – and me.

Of course, I cried when he gave this to me. Who wouldn’t?

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Addressing a proposal in Australia to make baby formula a prescription-only product, Spilt Milk strikes the perfect balance between breastfeeding advocacy and respect for women’s individual situations, experiences, and autonomy.

As a lactivist I obviously have a problem with the marketing of infant formula and any implication that it is as good as, or better than, breast milk. But as a human being I also know that people are hurt, seriously hurt, when they feel judged and shamed and when they are exhaustedly holding a hungry, crying, baby at 2:30 am and it feels like no one can help them.

Removing systemic barriers to breastfeeding certainly may require improved measures to reduce the popularity of formula – popularity which can be attributed to decades of marketing not only to the public but to health professionals. A big part of that marketing is about convenience: huge displays in chemist shops and regular sales at the supermarket of products in familiar-looking tins add to the impression of ease of use and the normalisation of artificial feeding. But whether we like it or not, formula and its ready availability is important to many families. Removing that now feels like a stick where a carrot should be.

Give parents the tools to make sound decisions that benefit them and their babies. Give parents not only choices, but supported, realistic choices. Don’t tell a woman who has to go out of the home to work, or who has other children to look after and little support, that the choice to dedicate perhaps days to increasing her milk supply through frequent feeding and skin-skin contact to avoid supplementing with formula is an easy one: it clearly is not. Education and information are hugely important but they are only part of the picture when practical barriers still so often interfere with breastfeeding relationships.

Adding practical barriers to formula use, as I think this proposal would, isn’t a particularly kind way to help parents. Being caught between a rock and a hard place doesn’t make the rock seem any easier to budge: it just makes it hurt more to be stuck there.

(There’s lots more where this came from.)

I want to zero in on the problem of shaming. It’s illuminating to shift the focus away from infants and toward the choices that we adults make about our own bodies.

For instance: I had a super healthy dinner tonight: baked tofu, locally-grown Carola potatoes, locally-grown watermelon, and sliced golden tomatoes that I grew from seed. (I had been trying to grow these ‘maters, Aunt Gertie’s Gold, since I read rave reviews about them on Garden Web, but managed to kill them on the first attempt by mixing in too much organic fertilizer when I planted them out. Another year, they failed to germinate. This year – success!) I added a dab of butter to the potatoes and marinated the tofu in teriyaki sauce. I was in late-summer heaven.

But last night? Late after the kids were in bed? I ate a strawberry Pop-Tart. And damn, was that good too.

What if someone had decided to shame me about that Pop-Tart? Would that have caused me to ascertain that those potatoes were also organically grown, instead of just sustainably? Might I have foregone the butter? (Admittedly, if I’d been feeling well instead of ushering out a nasty GI infection, that pat of butter would have blossomed.)

Hell No!

I would have had a Pop-Tart for dessert.

Now, luckily people have not often shamed me for my Pop-Tart weakness. We don’t eat them regularly. My kids love them precisely because a Pop-Tart is a pink unicorn in their world, and a yummy one, at that. Most crucially, though: I am NOT FAT. And therefore I can only shamed along the “bad mommy” axis for keeping Pop-Tarts in stock; I’m pretty impervious to fat-shaming. (Fat-shaming would surely be worth a whole ‘nother post, and this post would be a whole lot different if not for my thin privilege.)

Of course, “bad mommy” shaming is the main tactic used against women who don’t conform to the loftiest ideals of breastfeeding practice. They’re told in no uncertain terms that their child’s survival depends on what they feed him or her. And they’d better feed mother’s milk, but then the true shaming begins. The new mother is eating all wrong! At least, this must be true, or the baby would settle better, sleep longer, give up his eight-hour crying jags. And so they’d better watch out for garlic! Peanuts! Soy! Cow’s milk! Eggs! That dejected bottle of prune juice, purchased solely in the hope of warding off postpartum constipation? Might as well dump it, dear; no one else in your family will go near it.

Through all this, the mother is trying to suss out her child’s new and changing needs. If she’s poor and/or not white, the “well-meant” advice may well come wrapped in a thick wrapping of paternalism. How’s she supposed to develop her sense of mastery and competency in this hullaboo of “Yer doin’ it rong!”

Really, what new mothers need is respect for the fact that they still are humans, and that their body remains their own. The baby has a moral claim on breastmilk, sure; the mother has a moral claim on being an autonomous person. In most cases, she also is willing to make very significant sacrifices for her baby – her sleep, bodily fluids, her illusion of invulnerability,  the very minerals from her bones. Shame her, though, and you’ve shortcircuited her chance to figure out what combination of sacrifices (because there will be sacrifices) could help her child thrive without eviscerating her as a woman – as a person.

And darn it – sometimes every mother needs a Pop-Tart. Mine was strawberry. Toasted. And I haven’t breastfed since spring 2003, so how much more do new mothers need a Tart? I don’t believe food should have to be earned through moral machinations, but I do tend to think that I’ve got a lifetime entitlement to Pop-Tarts. I’m certain that there’s still one box of brown sugar/cinnamon in the basement. I will eat it with utter lack of shame. Next morning, with nothing but a Tart headache, I will help my kids get their reasonably healthy breakfasts and lunches. They are growing. I’m pretty sure we’re doing something right. Quite possibly something that deserves a Pop-Tart and champagne celebration.

I’d be interested in your metaphorical Pop-Tarts – and that goes for non-parents, too. What small self-indulgences keep you afloat? How do you gird yourself against scolds?

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Longtime readers of Kittywampus may recall that there are just a few things that viscerally scare me:

Almost all of these things enter into the story from Thursday night, through I don’t believe any wasps were involved. But honestly? I wouldn’t know; I was holed up with my kids. As I was cleaning up the dinner mess, I heard the scream of an emergency siren. I knew that the university was planning to test its emergency system – on Friday. So I flew out to my front porch, straining to hear the announcement through its bullhorn-distortions. All I picked up was “take shelter,” along with the oppressive air on my porch, and that was good enough for this North Dakotan-bred gal. I yelled upstairs, “Tornado warning!” The Tiger yelled, “Tornado warning!”

He and his brother, the Bear, tore down the stairs. I followed them into the basement, laptop and phone in hand. (Why, oh why, didn’t a flashlight even occur to me?) Minutes later, I chanced the upstairs again just long enough to rescue a few treasured stuffed animals and the cord for my laptop. I was alone with the kids. Mmy husband was at a meeting in the country, out of cell range, which was a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because he holds the theory that tornadoes never strike Athens, and that warning aren’t worth heeding. A curse, because I couldn’t be sure he was in safety.

For a good half hour, the biggest challenge was keeping the Tiger’s whine of “I’m bored!” from driving the rest of us around the bend. I let them watch a couple of silly YouTube clips (this one cracked them up again). I was hoping we could go back up once the warning expired at 7:15. The Bear would be about to go to his music practice, and we could try to track down their dad.

But then we heard the emergency siren again. And again. Soon sirens were wailing every minute or two. I still couldn’t catch the message, but I was certain it wasn’t “all clear.” I’d have guessed, oh, “prepare to die.” The next day, a friend said he’d heard “Tornadoes are surrounding Athens!” which I’m sure was close to the truth.

Here’s what it really said:

Looking around our basement hideaway, I started toting up the hazards. The small window. The bookshelves. My French horn (hey, that would be deadly if it went airborne.) I gave each kid an oversized pillow to shield their noggins and necks. At that, the Tiger’s boredom tipped over into terror. He would not be consoled by how silly it was to have a lumpy Winnie-the-Pooh chair over his head. I nixed YouTube so I could hear, and the LOLcats just weren’t cutting it as a distraction. Even the Bear was fighting tears. Heck, I was working hard to act brave. It didn’t help that the National Weather Service was starting to report multiple sightings of a twister touching down. Or that I was frantically hitting refresh on their page.

When we finally emerged from our secure underground location after an hour and a half (without ever sighting Cheney, I might add), we were all rattled. So were our neighbors and friends. We’d kept our power while most of the town and county had lost it. An acquaintance had actually seen the funnel cloud moving merrily down his road. Afterward, he had to take his chain saw to the large trees that had fallen across the road, trapping him and his family.

News filtered in only slowly. It seemed clear that Athens and its environs had been struck by at least one tornado. Rumors started to spread that the high school had been hit. One of the first reports noted that Pine-Aire Village had suffered damage and had to be evacuated due to a gas leak. The tornado had duked it out with the achingly poor mobile home park where I went canvassing in 2008. As usual, the tornado won. As usual, Pine-Aire Village lost. People who are trying their damnedest just to eke by now have new worries.

I haven’t taken a look at Pine-Aire because frankly, I’m still scared of the meth dealer and the vicious, unleashed dogs. But I did see how similar trailers were flipped and squished nearby in The Plains, the closest thing Athens has to a bedroom community. These mobile homes were located right next to Athens High School, which for bizarre reasons relating to government pork funds is located in the Plains.

This picture (and the next) was taken by my husband the next evening, as dusk was closing in. The woman next to the trailer is a Fox News local reporter. (They just lapped this up.)

Note how someone has scribbled “NOT SAFE” in big red letters. I’m not gonna argue.

The rumors about the high school turned out to be true. It was full with soccer and volleyball players and their families. The morning after the storm, a good friend of mine – the mother of the Bear’s best friend – responded to my worried email. She’d been working in the concession stand when some prescient soul yelled that a funnel cloud was approaching. She sprinted up the long steep hill to the high school and took shelter in the bunker-like locker rooms. Other adults, perhaps thinking they’d be safer sheltering in place (the hill is pretty daunting), remained in the concession stand. At least two of them were injured, though not seriously. One was taken to the hospital, the other treated on the scene.

That’s the inside of the concession stand.

That’s its exterior.

Meanwhile, the students on the field had sought shelter from the rain in the press box. Someone ushered them down to a locker room that’s located right on the edge of the field. Good thing. The press box blew clean off the top of the bleachers.

Cars were crushed as the press box collapsed behind the stands.

My friend had a bad half hour before she was reunited with her son. The fear of another strike hadn’t quite abated enough for everyone to be released. My friend was in cell contact with her son, but the wait was hard, especially as the smell of gas indicated leaks. When they were finally permitted to leave, they found a moonscape: mature trees snapped like sticks, debris everywhere, and a stadium that won’t host games anytime soon.

The scoreboard is whacked.

The football goals stand at jaunty new angles.

The wreckage in the foreground used to be a stadium light. (Those to the right and left remain standing, but their lamps have been turned 90 degrees.) The wreckage in the back – well, that was the visitors’ bleachers.

Structures to the right and left of the locker room were decimated. And yet, the kids sheltering there stayed safe.

School is called off until further notice. The high school suffered damage to some classrooms.

It also lost its two 1000-pound AC units, which blew off the roof.

It is a miracle that no one was killed. I heard one chopper take off Thursday night, and the next day a colleague confirmed that one person was injured badly enough to require transfer to Columbus. On the whole, though, injuries appear to be few and minor. Property damage is much more significant.

The tornado also touched down in Athens proper, leaving its main mark on Autotech, an automotive servicing and towing company at the edge of town. The only two buildings farther out along that road are the Super 8 Motel and the clinic where I had my colonoscopy. Those facilities survived with only minor damage (mostly missing shingles). Just a few yards away, Autotech was damaged beyond redemption.

The view from the highway.

Note the Coke machine encircled by corrugated metal. (I took this photo yesterday morning, and the machine was liberated by evening.) Note, too the wads of insulation. We saw them everywhere. All those years growing up in North Dakota, and I never imagined that the hallmark of a tornado could be oodles of rogue insulation.

Of course the impaired Coke dispenser adds credibility to the conspiracy theory …

… that this tornado was brought to us by Pepsi. (Photo from the high school.) Yes, I’m being flip. Black humor is one of the ways I deal with the world’s horrors.

I’m grateful that my family didn’t suffer any harm beyond the shock and fright. Today the Tiger has been playing with Lincoln Logs. Every once in a while a tornado comes and knocks them down. It’s spookily reminiscent of boys I knew who were 10 after the Twin Towers collapsed. They built mega-towers out of legos, which were level by terrorist flying planes. I shudder. Yet our kids seem to need these reenactments in order to come to grips with destruction that none of us can really fathom.

I’m grateful that all of the neighborhoods in Athens proper were spared, and that the elementary schools (except the Plains?) seem to be fine. (I still expect them to stay closed on Monday, given the track record of my boyfriend, the superintendent. We’ve now burned through a full third of our three calamity days.)

Ohio University got very lucky. It appears undamaged. Nor will the Darwin Award go to any of those students who went outdoors to watch the storm “cause I’ve never seen a tornado!”

Tonight, my thoughts are with the people of The Plains, the families of AHS students, and (further afield) the people who did succumb to the storm: a man in West Virginia as well as those killed in Queens in a separate, even freakier storm.

And I’m grateful for the rescuers, pictured here in an extraordinary photo by Spencer Heaps, taken the same evening as the storm:

Spencer Heaps has several other stunning photos at his blog. Please do pay him a visit.

The Athens News also has info on Athens County being declared a disaster area and on the confusing scene at the high school. They offer a photo gallery, too.

There’s no really good footage of the tornado itself, thankfully. (I don’t want people putting themselves in harm’s way!) The next closest thing is this clip, taken by college students living on a hill on the south side of town, which to my knowledge was not damaged.

Photos by me and my husband except as noted.

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