Sunday, June 30, 2013

talking to girls about beauty

I have been thinking a lot about how I have a daughter, and how she is bound to bring different challenges than having a son.  The one that is really interesting to me lately is how mothers, and women in general, think the issue of beauty should be handled with girls.

I read a lot of articles about how we need to praise girls for being smart.  Ignore the whole notion of looks.  The idea is, wouldn't the world be a better place if girls and women were not held to these current, almost unreal, painful standards of beauty?  If they were not obsessively objectified almost everywhere you look? I think the argument for this goes something like "be the change you want in the world."  Just act as if the world is different than it really is, and maybe, just maybe it will become a place where women's beauty or lack of it is a non-issue.  Or our daughters will be so secure in their intellectual prowess, so completely unaware that people value beauty, that there is not the slighted chink in their armor that could ever come from not being the next Victoria's Secret angel. (that's what they are, right?  Angels?)

But I just think this argument is kind of... not the smartest.  Because what if your daughter is... not the smartest?  What is she's instead a terrific athlete, or dancer, or very good at drawing, or really funny?  Or what if she's not particularly strong in any one "activity" that we could "praise", and yet she's, of course, just a worthy of feeling loved and respected and confident as a person in the world?
I read an article that suggested that instead of greeting a girl with a "oh, look at that cute dress!" (which I have been known to say if the dress is cute,and I'm pretty sure the girl I'm greeting picked it out herself), you would say, "so, what books are you enjoying now?".  Which is a great conversation starter... as long as the girl you're talking to likes to read.  But what if she's struggling with it?  What if she doesn't read for enjoyment?  Then you might be putting her on the spot and making her feel like she is supposed to be something that she's not.  Which is the whole argument around beauty and girls.  That  is so destructive that they think she should be pretty, even when they're not.

But in this world being smart and liking books... is praised by others.  Just as being beautiful is.  We're drawn towards beauty.  We love art, and flashy sunsets, and body adornment, and jewelry, and tasty food, and music and we're always craving these things that please out senses.  Beauty is something we are fortunate to love and be drawn to!  It makes us happy, it raises our existence.  And human beings find young, healthy humans with certain features beautiful.  It is part of what drives out species to reproduce and now look at how many multiples of billions of us there are.  I just don't think we can erase that from humanity.  That physical beauty is not pleasurable, is not noticed, and doesn't matter.
I think girls should have very open discussions with their parents about beauty, what they thin is beautiful, how they feel about things that are beautiful, and their own desires, if they exist, to be beautiful or be around beauty.

Because the thing is, we all have slightly different things about people that we find beautiful.  The more open we are in talking about beauty, the more we can turn it on it's side, flip it upside down, examine it, and our feelings, and allow those feelings to be OK.

I'm getting older.  There are things about me that I feel sad I've lost about whatever kind of beauty my youth had given me (well, and part of my youth was spent being pretty disappointed in my looks)- to be replaced with a wiry gray hair, varicose veins on my leg from 2 pregnancies, skin with sun damage that has little wrinkles around the eyes.  I try to cover these things up, because guess what?  I like beauty.  I want to look better.  And I don't think I can live one way, telling my daughter the opposite in a hope that she doesn't end up like me.  Caring about looks.  Because its not the worst thing- to care about looks.  The extremes of this are very upsetting to me, but extremes come, I think, with greater issues, greater wounds.

When I had read about depression in a great book The Noonday Demon, the author had gone around the world in a quest to explore all of the treatment options others cultures use to cure depression.  And it struck me that he had found, in Cambodia, a very successful program for women who had suffered the greatest atrocities from the Khmer Rouge.  It involved things like, getting a little manicure.  Having your hair brushed.  Simple acts of self care.  Having someone else care for you.  This helped greatly with feelings of despair and pain.  I like waking up in the morning, putting on an outfit I think I look nice in, and brushing my hair, doing it so it looks beautiful... (well, closer to that, what I can do in 5 minutes, anyways!) Saskia watches me do this, and she like to open my drawers and pull out things like a jar of face cream, a stick of deodorant.  She holds a comb or brush up to her few little strands and pretends to brush her hair.  These are all the simplest parts of looking good which, haha, didn't quite happen for a few months of newborn life, but which happen (somewhat) now.

There is joy in beauty.  There is joy in being smart (I'm told).  There is joy in pursuing your talents.  There is joy in loving and being loved.  Lots of these things are complicated and painful, too.  Lets be honest with our girls about how we feel about these things and encourage them to be honest, too.
When Akiva wanted to dress up with his friends as a princess, I thought I was so open an enlightened to allow him to do whatever he wanted without any gender judgements.  And seeing him frolic around in a sparkly tutu, I realized- kids like sparkly tutus because they are visually pretty stunning!  The sparkles are magical!  I hope that even though its the truth about humans that beauty will be more complicated and maybe even painful for Saskia, its not something I ever want to pretend to her is not a great gift to enjoy throughout her life- in others maybe, and possibly in her self.
So here's to watching her run around in a poufy sparkly princess dress and taking deep breaths of appreciation for the beauty I truly see in her.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Present

For the past week I have been horrified and fascinated with the story of the three Ohio women who escaped from over a decade of captivity.  It seems so recently that Jaycee Dugard also escaped from her imprisonment of 18 years, and who can forget Elizabeth Smart, who after 9 months of captivity, also escaped.  And the Austrian woman Elisabeth Fritzl who was enslaved by her own father and bore several children. The fact that there are men out there sick enough to do this, and that it seems to happen... well...frequently and with such a common storyline strikes me deeply.

I was awestruck at the seeming immediate normalness of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, their positivity and will to live that shone so brightly in the press after their return to civilization.  How can you go through that and come out the other end?  And seem to be better adjusted than most people I know to what life is all about?

I am terrifically fascinated by the mythical elements of these stories.  A young girl is kidnapped, taken captive and enslaved by an older man and raped and children are produced.  And in the case of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, both had opportunities to interact with the public, to try to escape, or alert someone to the fact they were being held against their will... and they didn't.  The psychology of this is incomprehensible to the general public I think, and fascinating.  It is all the more moving that Amanda Berry had it within her to scream through that window to the outside world for her freedom.

As a parent, it is absolutely your worst nightmare.  I just read a play by Tracy Letts called Bug, and the main character in this play lost her son a decade ago in a grocery store and never found him.  I imagine what that reality could be- and recall a passage in Gavin deBecker's Protecting the Gift about a woman who watched helplessly as her son was kidnapped through the back door of a store they were shopping in.  Is death the worst fate that could befall these children?  It seems roughly half of all abducted children are ultimately killed.  But what about the gruesome torture endured for years?  As a parent would you rather know your child didn't suffer as horrifically as it is suggested the Ohio women have suffered?  These are questions I can think about asking, but when I actually think about answering its just too horrific to seriously imagine.

These stories are sort of.. well.. the worst thing ever.

And yet, as I said before there is something mythical, something archetypal that draws us towards these news stories.  Perhaps it is that ultimate triumph over evil that is so gripping.  Perhaps there is also some sort of echo of how women were normally treated historically. The Ohio women's captivity and barbaric torture is an exaggerated version of stories that at one time were actually acceptable.  In England the 1800's it was commonly accepted that a man is legally allowed to beat his wife. In many parts of the world today is absolutely the norm.  And marriage to many women, has historically been seen as a form of enslavement itself.  When I worked on Big Love, so much of my research entailed reading stories of how within the polygamous FLDS very old men were given brides as young as 13 and 14.  As absolutely sick and atrocious as the story of the three Ohio women, its surprising how many societies have made lesser but similar versions of this legal.

So I'm drawn to the new details that emerge, the little stories that pop up with updates on these women, and Matt and I discuss what to say to our kids so they never ever get in a car with a stranger, that they scream bloody murder in a store if they are ever grabbed, so they will windmill their arms to make it difficult for someone to hold them, or grab onto something nearby- a clothes rack, a bicycle, another person- anything- to keep from being taken by force away from us.  How an adult never needs a child's help for anything.  That they will be told ahead of time if anyone other than us will pick them up from school, and to fight as fast and as furiously as they can if someone ever succeeds in getting them into a car- open the doors, jump out.  Politeness is for certain situations only, and it is not universal.

I hope you also have open and informed talks with your children about how they can save themselves from being abducted.  DeBecker's book is one I have read and greatly recommend.

There is illness in this world to the extent that these stories are reality- recurring reality.  As human beings, this is a part of who we are, of what we are capable of.  Its hard to justify why, why we have these flaws, these weaknesses in our species that allow something so abhorrent to occur, so nonsensical.  But I truly feel love combats this, the love we have for others, and how we act with this love.  So hold your friends, family close and remember how lucky we are.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Past

I have had a few moments when I look at Saskia and see myself.  And I wonder, is this what it was like for my mother when she looked at me as baby?  And then I start thinking about my mother, and my childhood, and that can lead to so many flashes of memories from growing up in Newton.  The hill that used to be across the street from my house where we would sled in winter and roll sideways down it in summer which is now a college dorm.  The walk to the Cumberland Farms with my best friend Molly, with 30 cents each in our pocket for skittles.  Its now a 7-eleven.  The high school I went to- (where the prevailaing hair style was to curling iron your bangs upwards from your forehead and spray) which was recently torn down and replaced with a 200 million dollar structure.  Gone Baby Gone.

here was a sample I found on the internet of the hair:

I recently auditioned for a part, and the description of the character was like Amy Ryan from Gone Baby Gone.  I've had discussion about Boston accents a lot.  My husband Matt's family is from Greater Boston, and they have subtle vestiges of their Boston accents.  I never spoke with a Boston accent, my parents weren't locals- but it was all around me, and I heard it every day of my life since I was born.  My first home was a two family house, and the family who owned it, who lived upstairs, were the Romanos.  They had lovely accents.  Christopher was Christopha.  Linda was Linder.  George was Gahdge.  I'd be greeted with a "hawaah yoo?" Matt's family is in stitches when they remember his older brother asking for a "fahkin spoon" (fork and spoon) as a child.  Neither of us have accents, but we can slip into them.  So its hahd to hea (hard to hear) a bad Boston accent on TV or in  film.  Preparing for that audition made me remember a whole slew of lingo that was particular to the kids with Boston accents in Newton.  "Mush"(affectionate or derogatory term for a person depending on tone), "divia mush" (crazy mush)... this was particular to my high school actually.  There is a whole article written on the way the kids who had Boston accents around me spoke, and I guess still speak here.

And then yesterday I saw it.  The mush in Saskia.  The mush in me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

music pick of the week: girl power: GRIMES - genesis

I haven't posted a music pick of the week in... years.  So here I'm starting this up again.  This one is for Saskia and her friend, maybe they'll grow up in a world that looks a little something like this.  Wearing body armor, swinging those spiked ball thingies around.  Wearing snakes in limos.  I'm a little obsessed with Claire Boucher, and know I'm totally late to the party on this one.  But being a mom puts you out of touch with stuff.  Enjoy!

Janet Lansbury

I have a good friend with a 7 month old baby.  My daughter, Saskia, is now 13 months, and while these two babies right now seem totally different- with Saskia being nearly twice the other's age- some day this age difference will be completely irrelevant, and maybe they will grow up to be friends, like their parents are, and Akiva and her older sister are.
But my friend's sweet, adorable 7 month old baby does not sleep very well at all.  She's driving her poor mama a little crazy.  She wakes up every hour all night long.  My friends are very loving parents.  Like me, they don't believe in "cry it out" as a solution for sleep issues.  However, a parenting inspiration to me, and RIE expert Janet Lansbury, whose website is a wealth of riches, has this wonderful post about infant self-soothing that I recently shared with my friends for their sleepless daughter, and Janet is just so great I thought I'd re-post this post for you all.  The original is posted on her website here if you'd like to share it with others yourself.
I'd love your thoughts on this article.  Does it strike you as useful and true?

The Truth About Infant Self-Soothing

Infant self-soothing is often misrepresented by descriptive terms like tough love, crying it out, leaving babies to “deal with it” on their own, and even neglect. Apparently there are people who misunderstand the concept, or use it as an excuse to ignore a child. Perhaps it’s in reaction to those people, real or imagined, that others have wholly rejected the idea, shutting the door on the possibility that babies could ever benefit from being allowed to calm themselves.
As is often the case, the truth isn’t black or white. When a sensitive, responsive parent or caregiver is open to allowing self-soothing, supporting it, but does not force, demand, expect or abandon their baby to do it, the result is healthy and productive. Affording babies the bit of room they need to help them develop their individual coping strategies in our presence is a loving, mindful practice.
Supporting a baby to self-soothe can mean listening to her complaints for a minute or two while she finds her thumb, rather than immediately giving her a pacifier. It can be about remembering to offer two teethers and allowing the baby to choose one and grasp it herself rather than automatically placing something in her mouth. It might mean allowing our baby to cry in our arms to release her feelings at bedtime instead of rocking, patting, or jiggling her, etc., as explained in “Helping Young Children Sleep” from Hand-in-Hand parenting
Children’s systems are built to offload feelings of upset immediately and vigorously. But our training as parents is to stop them from offloading their feelings! We are taught to give them pacifiers, food, rocking, patting, scolding, and later, time outs and spanking, if the crying or screaming goes on for more than a minute. We are taught to work against the child’s own healthy instinct to get rid of bad feelings immediately. So our children store these upsets, and try many times a day to work them out, usually by testing limits or having meltdowns over small issues. If they can’t offload them during the day, the feelings bother them in the night” – Patty Wipfler
Staying open to the possibility of self-soothing allows babies to actively take part in their care to the best of their ability. As Magda Gerber writes in Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect“Infancy is a time of great dependence. However, babies should be allowed to do some things for themselves from the very beginning.” This empowers our children and ultimately makes our job easier.
In “Helping Children Learn To Take On Challenges” a story from her book Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky shares findings from studies of pre-term infants (born 10 to 12 weeks before their due date) in neonatal intensive care. When the nurses and doctors took charge of the babies’ care without taking the time to read their cues or allow them to actively participate, the researcher, Heidelise Als of Harvard University, noted, “It seemed we were wasting a lot of the baby’s energies that were very precious.”
As Galinsky explains, When a baby who was initially feisty gave in, the medical charts would record that the baby had become well adjusted. But Als saw a different reality: “The baby had given up. The baby just let the world happen.”
After documenting and recording behavior, they launched into a study where the nurses “read” and then responded to the baby’s behavior in ways that built on that baby’s coping strategies, and thus gave the baby more control. The results of this experiment were impressive. There was reduced severity of chronic lung disease in these premature babies, improved brain functioning, improved growth and earlier release from the hospital. In addition, their care was significantly less costly,” notes Galinsky.
She then concludes: “Children, even those as young as premature infants, are less prone to the harmful effects of stress when they are supported in managing their own stress by being helped to use the strategies they have for coping and for calming down.”
So, how do we understand and enable a child’s natural ability to self-soothe?
1. Believe babies are competent and capable whole people. Experts who have dedicated their lives to studying infants, Magda Gerber, Dr. Kevin Nugent, and Alison Gopnik, to name a few, have concluded without reservation that even newborn babies are aware, competent, unique individuals.
A recent article in The Irish Times shares passages from Dr Nugent’s new guidebook for helping parents decode newborn communication: “A baby’s “remarkable ability” to get his hand or fist into his mouth -even when he is not hungry – is no random movement. He may do it when he is upset and then settle himself by sucking on it, enabling him to remain alert and examine his surroundings. By this simple act, “your baby is showing you how competent he is and how, even in these early days, the urge to explore his new world is paramount”.
Trust your baby’s competence. She wants to do things for herself, and she can do things for herself. –Gerber
2. Be an observer. Tune in. Learn about your baby. Familiarize yourself with your baby’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities. Try to read her cues and respond accordingly as best you can.
The role of a parent is to continuously assess whether the infant is capable of handling a situation.  For instance, when an infant looks at an object (or maybe reaches for it), many adults rush to hand the object to the infant – not realizing that, by doing so, they deprive the infant of acting spontaneously and learning from his own actions.  …You also know that sometimes your infant does need help, but try to provide just that little amount of help that allows the child to take over again. Let her be the initiator and problem solver. -Gerber
3. Wait. Therein lies the challenge. As singer songwriter Tom Petty said, “The waiting is the hardest part”, and that couldn’t be truer than it is while waiting for a baby as she attempts to soothe herself.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

More Etsy Finds

Thought I would post some Etsy finds this week that have a bicycle theme.  Somehow, having a bicycle in the photo of just about anything makes me want to buy it.  I'm not sure if its flashbacks to the mid 2000's when Matt and I lived in Downtown LA and would go out at night on bikes to the bars, or if I'm craving the kind of careless - european love film - wine country life that a bicycle conjures up.

White peasant dress: Jammyfingers

Bicycle wine bottle carrier:  Oopsmark

Old school woven bicycle basket: Joannascollections

Friday, March 29, 2013

Etsy Finds

What a cute teddy bear!  Upcycled fabric bear:

Waldorf dolls don't have to be European.  Native American handmade Waldorf inspired doll:

How nice to buy handmade toys for children, right?  These are, admittedly, very expensive.  But worth sharing- for inspiration?- who knows, maybe you'll go make a doll for the children in your life?

What Etsy shops are you drooling over?

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Hello readers!  Long time, no post.  Well, whilst reading another blog I like, , I came across these personalized leggings and thought why not share something so cute on my blog?  find them here 

This had me thinking about how I have recently become obsessed with Etsy, and will try to share some of my favorite stores here on this blog for kid stuff or just all of those random wonderful things you never knew you wanted that are out there on Etsy.