Tuesday, February 28, 2012

from probes to paper towels

When you write a farcical blog post about vulnerable vaginas, intrusive probes and seedy politics, I’ve discovered, you sort of write yourself into a corner.  How in the world do you top that?  Add that a riveting post about paper towel usage has sat patiently on my back burner for 2 weeks now, and you can see my problem. 

Of course, I could write about something else, but I’m beginning to wonder, what's so wrong with a post on paper towel?  Why can't I seem to find room for that here?

This has forced me to think carefully about the point of this blog.  Can probes and paper towels comfortably share this cyber space?

Surprisingly, I think they do.  I set out to write about the family—the home—as it relates to the bigger picture outside.  A sort of untapped-power-of-the-homemaker kind of thing. 

Going to a protest, as Olivia and I did last week, demonstrates an explicit way that a family can participate in politics. Sometimes you even get a really exciting payoff.  In our case, I think the Virginia legislature was shocked to find 1,100 silent but furious men, women and children standing defiantly on their doorstep.

Thankfully, they couldn't take the heat.  I can see them now, blushing furiously at their sudden national association with vaginal penetration.  Consequently, they deferred their vote on the personhood bill until 2013 and favorably amended the sonogram bill

Such victories are a pretty big deal, and I admit, no matter how I might try to jazz it up, paper towel just isn’t that “sexy.”  Still, most people (including me) don’t have time to protest every day, or every week, or even every month, and standing on the picket line isn’t always the best way to address an issue anyway. Not to mention that many people simply aren't up for that kind of activism.  That’s perfectly OK. 

There are other ways to advocate for change—many of which don’t require extra time, effort, money or the occasional risk of arrest.  Eliminating something like paper towel from your kitchen is a great example of how to live purposefully—of how to make the everyday decisions of the household count for the bigger picture you’d like to see in the world.

So, if you don't want to march, chant, carry banners, or tie an intimidating black bandana around your face (or even if you do), you can always make your daily routine your protest. Make it your vote. 

The opportunities are limitless because:

everything we buy casts a vote,

everything we eat casts a vote,

everything we throw away casts a vote,

everything we teach our kids casts a vote …

regardless of whether we intend it to or not.

So why not make these decisions with intention?

As Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

After Olivia and I dressed up in sneakers and slogans last week, we still had to return home—to our daily routine. 

What would we buy?

What would we eat?

What would we throw away?

In the course of doing those things, what would Gareth and Olivia learn about their own roles as citizens?

I don't believe there is such a gap between protesting probes and passing on paper towel.  Both represent political action.  They simply vary in their degree of confrontation, duration, and risk. 

Which gives me permission to write here about disposable stuff in the kitchen! 

Except I've come to the end. 


And still I have offered nary a word about our justifications or strategies for operating a paperless kitchen.  I suppose this writing serves as the post-probe paper-picker-upper PR, the paper towel hype that, by the time I sign off, will have everyone in a frenzy of anticipation for the long awaited...paper towel post.

Next time. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

in search of personhood: my new job as a vaginal probe technician

I’m getting into the vaginal probe business, yes I am.  Some of you non-Virginians may not know that the VA House of Delegates passed several disturbing bills last week. 

If made into law, one would require a doctor to administer a medically unnecessary vaginal sonogram on women seeking an abortion. 

The other, the Personhood Bill, would recognize every embryo as a person from the moment of conception. This “person” would have the rights of a citizen of these United States, even though said "person" would reside inside of a woman, wholly dependent upon her body for life. 

I’m telling you, I’m going to make a killing.  I guess the Republican legislators are job creators after all.   

How will I make my money? As a vaginal probe technician.  I thought of this while tossing and turning last night, worrying about this bill and worrying about my current employment status.  I had so many RIDICULOUS questions going through my head.  Then it hit me, if I performed transvaginal sonograms, I could get rich off the personhood bill!

Just ask yourself: 

? – If an embryo is a person, will pregnant women have to pay twice for services that are charged “per person” like entrance fees, bus tickets and cab fare?  How will we determine who carries an embryo and who doesn’t?  (We don’t want women sneaking "persons" into, say, the movies for free!).  That’s where I’ll come in.  Just order popcorn for two and a vaginal probe—with butter on both—and voila! we can determine the cost of admission right there at the concession stand.  Perhaps we can enact an “embryo rate” to help ease the burden?

 ? – Can an embryo own property? Accumulate debt?  Can we open a credit card or a checking account in the name of our embryo? Sounds like we’ll need a probe at the bank. No problem; I’m on it!

? - Who owns the shared body? The embryo or the mother?  Could we sue an embryo for possession of our body?  Or perhaps sue our embryo for damages incurred to the body during pregnancy such as varicose veins, stretch marks, hermorrhoids, diabetes and death?  OK, I admit we'll need a lawyer for this one.  But I'm sure he or she will ask for the big probe at some point.  I'll be there, ready to serve!

? – Should we name our embryos upon conception? Will we need a conception certificate? How will we determine the date of conception? Should we keep conjugal logs and public records of menstruation?  Perhaps retain the services of a traveling vaginal probe technician to drop in regularly for a heartbeat check?  I'm your "man!"

? - Will our embryos get social security cards at conception and death certificates in the event of miscarriage?  Will we have to add 9 months to our age? Who will do all this data collection (probing) and data entry?  Wow – the personhood bill is an even bigger job creator than I thought!

? – Will we need embryo passports?  What will we use for passport photos? Transvaginal sonogram images, of course  Will we be able to get those at CVS like we do our other passport photos? I’ve got it covered.  

? – Should we submit sonogram pictures with our tax returns for child credits and exemption calculations?  Everyone will require a probe—I’ll make millions!

? - What about sex with pregnant women? Wouldn’t it be wrong to engage in intercourse if you’re unsure of whether such a young “person” is in the bed with you? A quick probe before conjugal relations will put your mind at ease!

? - Need an embryo’s consent for an amniocentesis? Not a problem, just fire up the probe and ask for an embryonic thumbs up.

? – Worried that a woman of childbearing age might try to sneak an embryo-of-suspicion onto an airplane?  No big deal.  We can just ask girls and women aged 13-55 to put their underwear in the bin with their shoes so that a quick probe can help to allay these concerns without holding up security.  

Of course I'm being absurd, but this kind of absurd legislation begs for an absurd response.  I can't help myself!  Yet, the Personhood Bill has a good chance of becoming a Virginia law.  If so, my 11 year old daughter will enter her reproductive years during a time when a pregnant woman must share her body with another citizen of the United States.  

I talked to Olivia about these things.  She thought the sonogram bill sounded “mean.”  She thought the personhood bill sounded “stupid.”  I thought she sounded pretty smart.

So we took our smallhouse lives to the bigpicture in Richmond this past Monday and stood in silent protest outside the state capitol.  Here we are looking like the crazy radical feminists that we are. 

Can you see the glint of maniacal red in our eyes?

Organizers counted 1,100 people standing in protest with us.  I wonder, however, how many we would have numbered had we counted each and every "person." 

Why didn't we think to bring the probe? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

mama don't judge

I read a blog post recently that harshly rebuked mothers who melt down and yell at their kids in public.  I was dismayed by the willingness of the author and some of the commenters to judge other parents with such a swift and righteous hand.  They sounded so angry.

In our effort to come together under the umbrella of feminism, nothing can send women scattering to their various corners of the ring like motherhood can. 

I am no stranger to those corners.  Once upon a time, I was a young mom.  My hair was thicker, my breasts were perkier, my legs…oh, but I digress.  Yes, I looked nicer, but I didn’t necessarily think nicer. 

Fourteen years ago, I put my brand new infant on a schedule. I needed him to sleep so that I could study, and sleep he did.  Right through the night at 6 weeks old, and every night after that.  In fact, he’s still doing it.  Here’s something else amazing that I did.  I wiped his nose whenever it ran.  No snotty-nosed kid here.  What was wrong with all these other mothers with their tired and dirty-faced children?  Hadn’t they the discipline to adhere to a schedule?  Didn’t they have any tissue?

I carried my successes around with me, my little banners of good mommyhood.  I didn’t articulate my judgment to people, but I felt it.  Yes indeedy.

Apparently, the god who reigns over judgmental parents doesn’t care if you utter your criticisms out loud or not, because said god soon delivered unto me, child #2.  I think there is nothing so humbling for a parent as child #2…or 3, or 4—whichever one breaks all your rules, defies all your expectations and proves you wrong.

Olivia would not adhere to a schedule.  And a clean face?  She had undiagnosed food allergies that gave her a bright red rash on her cheeks and an incessantly runny nose.  I wiped and I wiped, to no avail.  Her face remained perpetually wet, chapped, goopy, and crusted.  I had a cranky snot-nosed kid.  Yes indeedy.

So I rolled up my banners of judgment and put them out with the recycle.    Or I tried to anyway. 

Why did I feel so at odds with my fellow mothers?

First, as a new mother, I think my judgment reassured me during a time of insecurity, adjustment and learning.  I naively assumed I had found the way of handling an infant, when really, I’d only figured out how to handle my infant.

That’s the key, isn’t it? To recognize a multitude of parenting experiences.  Lawyers and other professionals certainly don’t approach their jobs in exactly the same way.  Why should mothers?  

We struggle to recognize and accept our own diversity because we are subject, every day, to the generalizing powers of discrimination (you know, the ones that say all girls like pink). 

If a man backs his car into a ditch, no one says, “Oh – male drivers!” while rolling their eyes.  As an individual, his mistake belongs to him alone, but if a woman screws up behind the wheel, the whole gender goes into the ditch with her.  

When society treats us as a homogenous group, it suggests not only that we share the same faults, but that we share the same values, same aspirations, same interests…the same approaches to motherhood.    

If we internalize this idea of sameness, which we do, we end up in a mess.  We get all pissy with the woman who drove her car into the ditch instead of working together to pull her out.  We start criticizing each other’s driving in order to protect our own records.  Working mothers and stay-at-home mothers, for example, see each other’s choices as mutual condemnations instead of as what they are: different ways of getting a car down the road.

If we can reject sameness and embrace the wildly different experiences and needs of mothers, then perhaps, when it comes to questions of career, discipline, breastfeeding, sleep schedules, and schooling, we could debate instead of judge, listen instead of condemn, and when necessary, simply agree to disagree.  

It’s worth the effort because, as members of a marginalized group, mothers need each other. When our kids push us into the world of the public meltdown, when their noses won’t stop running, or when the balance between their care and our career eludes us, we could use one another’s support.

If we can open our hearts and minds to one another, resisting the knee-jerk rush to judgment that can feel so validating despite its divisiveness, then I think we will find the umbrella of feminism, the one that asserts our worth as intellectual, individual and dignified human beings who love our children, but who also demand autonomy over our careers and our bodies, is big enough to accomodate us all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"femily values:" a diatribe

I heard Rick Santorum on the radio this a.m., spouting off about “family values.” 

I gotta tell you, I am so sick of the insinuation that liberals don’t care about family.    

This isn’t a dispute between those with family values and those without.  This is a dispute about how we define a family: as a unit that subjugates women, or as one that supports women.  It matters because the family is the building block of our society: the rights of women in the nation follow after the rights of women in the family. 

If the patriarchal model espoused by social conservatives represents “family values,” then I want to advocate for “femily values.”

They look like this:

1 -  A femily gives a woman autonomy over her body, trusting her moral and intellectual acuity enough to let her choose if she’ll get pregnant, when she’ll get pregnant and whether to stay pregnant.  This way, women play a major role in shaping the femily.

2 – Femily values dictate affordable healthcare for everybody so that we can take care of ourselves, our aging parents, and our children (the members of the femily).  The U.S. infant mortality rate currently ranks among the worst of all industrialized countries.  Surely, if we come together as a femily, we can do better than that!

3 – A society rooted in femily values supports universal childcare so that mothers of young children can make choices about education, career and marriage. 

4 - Femily values discourage abortion by supporting single mothers.  Instead of trapping young single pregnant women in rushed marriages that diminish opportunities for work and education, support for universal childcare and affordable healthcare makes the single-mother femily a reasonable choice for young pregnant women. 

5 –Hetero-, homo- and trans- partners comprise a femily—all with equal legal status and the right to marry, bear children and adopt.  Femilies provide a much needed safety net to individuals in a society, so the more femilies the better!

6 – A femily supports mothers who work in and out of the home.

7 – Femilies support public education, aiming to build a stronger economy and a better democracy by adequately educating all children.

8 – Femilies reject patriarchs, but value men for their indispensable roles as partners, fathers, brothers, sons and lovers. 

These are my femily values.  They scare conservatives because “conservative,” by definition, is the fear of change.  These values change the patriarchal family, a dated model of social organization that really only serves heterosexual men.  Through support for reproductive rights, childcare, healthcare, sexual diversity, and education, “femily values” serve everybody. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

no poo: green tween dreamin'

I don’t know what Olivia enjoys more, synchronized swimming or the post-practice locker room takeover that occurs when she and her friends head off to the showers.  I never knew that hair washing and brushing could be so entertaining!

The drawback to these festivities, however: Olivia has discovered that our shampoo is “not cool.” 


She wants to know why we can’t have something purple or green that is thick, glittery and coconut smelling.  Something magical, that invigorates, lengthens, strengthens and soothes, all while oozing with foamy suds. 

I buy Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle.  Colorless, nearly odorless, moderately sudsy and ridiculously named.   Yet, it’s free of the dreaded sodium laureth and sodium lauryl sulfates (SLES and SLS) that we should all strive to avoid.  These detergents appear in most cleansing products:  from car engine de-greasers to shampoo.  They hurt your skin, eyes and liver.  They kill fish. 

Why let my kids put that stuff on their precious little moppy heads?  Why let it slither down the drains of our small house to infect the big picture beyond? 

When they were younger, I made these decisions with the confidence of a dictator who had absolute authority over his or her subjects.  Sure, I encouraged the kids to exercise their autonomy.  I let them choose their snacks, for example. The dirty little trick, of course, was that I filled the cupboard and refrigerator with the healthy options from which they chose.  They didn't know any different. 

As a parent, you have a lot of control in those early years.

Then your 11 year old comes home one day and says, “Mom, why is all of our stuff so weird?”  You note the hint of despair in her voice.

What to do?  I don’t want to make her stand out.  When I was her age, my classmates bullied me for my failure to wear pantyhose and Levis (not together).  I remember my mother saying, “I’m not letting a group of 11 year old girls tell me how to raise my kids!” 


Which side of this impossible coin am I on?

First, I should be clear that nobody is bullying Olivia about her shampoo.  She just wants to show up at the party with a colorful cool smelling bottle of fun to share, just like everybody else.  I think a lot of grownups can relate.  Who wants to bring a thin and light colored PBR to the party when everyone else is drinking pints of thick and foamy Guinness? 

So, I do what I always do.  I talk her to death about it.  You know, the eyes, the liver, the fish.  She gets it—of course, but it doesn’t solve her problem. 

She bends anyway:  “It’s fine, mom,” she says with resignation.  “I’ll just use the ‘Tea Tree TINGLE.’”  We laugh at how completely dorky that sounds. 

She doesn’t know it, but I consider bending too.  She’s so agreeable that I feel bad for her.  Could I find something more fun to buy? 

I go online to check it out. 

Poor child.

About 5 seconds of research shows me that while I’ve spent years tingling it up at shower time in my Trader Joe’s-induced Tea-Tree-oblivion, a “No-Poo” movement has erupted all around me! 

Apparently, to avoid other chemicals such as the parabens (preservatives) that appear in most cosmetics (including my shampoo) lots of folks just rinse with warm water.  Others use baking soda and vinegar a few times a week (are we trying to make a volcano or wash hair? No wonder the movement is "erupting.").     

Can I send Olivia off to the pool with an orange box of Arm and Hammer and a bottle of vinegar in her shower bag?  Maybe a packet of ranch dressing mix to spice things up?

No.   Unequivocally, no.

Or maybe?  Am I really going to let those 11 year old girls tell me how to raise my daughter?  Ahem.

No.  But also No.  Somehow, I have to hold the line.  After learning about No-Poo, my commitment to remain SLES and SLS free feels more like a moderate compromise than an austere mandate.    

So we talk…AGAIN. 

I give a shampoo-version of my “be a leader” speech:  “What if, instead of acting envious of your friends’ shampoo, you nicely explain that you like your own shampoo because it’s good for the environment?”  I caution against shampoo-bashing which would surely incite a locker room brawl. 

“Maybe the other girls will ask you about it.  You could tell them about how some shampoos hurt your eyes.  How some kill the fish.”

“I could say I use it for the beavers!” she exclaims. 

Why didn’t I think of that?  Olivia is obsessed with beavers.  

“Yes! Then maybe, instead of you begging me for beaver-killing shampoo that smells good, they would go home and ask for your kind of shampoo!  Ooh! Not only would you be “normal,” you would have “led” your friends to create a cleaner environment!” 

I’m really excited now, but Olivia has returned to reality.  “OK mom," she says with eyes rolling.  "I guess everybody has a right to be dreaming.” 

If she only knew about the baking soda.