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Monday, July 26, 2010

Part I: A Series on Attachment Theory, a summary of A Secure Base

In the past two years of being a parent, I've grown abnormally fond of the style of Attachment Parenting. Because it is my nature to delve deeply into the roots of anything I am enamored with, I have decided to do a series on Attachment Theory, the roots of Attachment Parenting. There are lots of great books that were spawned based on this theory. I like many of those books, but I also like to know where my information is coming from, to make sure it is consistent with the original ideas.
The leading researcher in attachment theory is John Bowlby. About a year ago I read one of his works called, Attachment. It is a tome. Although my brain felt like it was glazed in an honey dijon sauce for most of it, I did glean some good information out of it, but I decided that I needed to read something a little more digestible. I picked up A Secure Base, which is a compilation of Bowlby's work that spanned a half a century. It is eight chapters long and each Monday, I will summarize a portion of the book. I am doing this for two reasons. One, so I will understand it better. And two, so that anyone who is interested, but is not nearly as masochistic as I am, can get a glimpse into this theory.

(Part of) Chapter One a summary of, A Secure Base:

Many people choose to take on the job of parenting, but it is a high stakes game. Successful parenting is the key to the health of the next generation. It is a 24/7 job, which means giving up other interests. Many people do not wish to believe this, however, based on numerous studies, the evidence points to the same result. Successful adults come from stable homes in which "both parents give a great deal of time and attention to the children."

Single parenting is a not a good option, all parents must have help. The current society is a product of evolution, and a peculiar one. It is worrisome that we might adopt mistaken norms. Children living with inadequate parenting is just as bad as to leave them starving for food.

The study of attachment is an ethological one. A child's dependency on its mother is partially pre-programmed based on the expected environment. These behaviors assume that a child needs to be near his/her mother in order to be safe from predators. Attachment behavior activates especially during times of pain, fatigue or anything frightening. At low intensity, the child may need to see or hear his/her mother. At high intensity, the child may require physical closeness.

Attachment behavior is not apparent only in children, just more obvious. We see it in adolescents and adults during stressful times. It is common, for instance, to see it activate in a pregnant woman, or a mother of young children.

Attachment behavior is represented by the emotional state of the person. If the attachment is going well, the emotional state is joyful and has a sense of security. If it is not going well, there is grief and depression.

Parenting can be approached from the same ethological viewpoint. In order for attachment theory to be correct, it is implicit that at least, some, parenting behaviors are instinctual, like soothing a crying baby, keeping the baby warm, protected and fed. Obviously, not all of these behaviors activate in every parent. Most of the way parents learn to behave is learned by observing other parents, starting during their own childhoods, observing one's own parents.

The modern view of parenting contrasts sharply with two differing viewpoints. One viewpoint is that of instinctual versus learned parenting. The other overemphasizes learned parenting over instinctual. Parenting is not the product of instinct, nor is it something that is simply learned. It is a mixture of biological behavior and learned behavior. Parenting behavior is one of a class of biological behaviors that change based on environment, just like attachment, sexual behavior, exploratory behavior, and eating. In this framework, Bowlby acknowledges that some psychological theories link all of these behaviors together, but he chooses to separate them based on their own biological function and the fact that each action is so distinctly different.  

Okay, so that is approximately one third of the first chapter, but this seems like a good stopping point.. I am going to go ahead and quit for now, I will finish the first chapter next week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tao Te Ching

Even though I've made plenty of snarky remarks about my ex-husband on here, he introduced me to some good things too. One was punk music. And another was the Tao Te Ching. He didn't read the Tao itself, but had a copy of the Tao of Pooh, which is how I learned about the real book.

After we split up, I needed something, anything to guide me. I was wandering around a bookstore one Sunday afternoon when I ended up in the religion section, where a copy of the Tao Te Ching popped out and practically begged me to buy it. So I did.

I grew up in the Church of Christ, and even though I don't believe in organized religion anymore, I still find solace in many various teachings, especially when I'm floundering in new waters. Without getting too much into what I believe and what I don't believe, I'll just say that I think most religion has some value, but most people who profess to "be" something, don't really understand it and therefore, miss the most valuable lessons.

That's why I like the Tao Te Ching. It's all about the individual. What one verse means to one person, it can mean something completely different to another person. And they are both right. But in order for it to be valuable, you must truly be honest with yourself.

I go through phases where I read it a lot and right now I'm in one of those phases.

There are a lot of different versions and I don't profess to be an expert on the Tao, but my hard copy is a translation by Stephen Mitchell and I read this online version.

So short story long, I felt like sharing this verse, for no real reason other than it's something I've been thinking about lately. Hope you enjoy it:

"Not knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
Then you can move toward health.

"The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Giving up the beast takes time

Years ago if you had told me that I would compare quitting smoking with my toddler's sleep cycle I would have told you to shut the fuck up. No. Seriously, that's probably exactly what I would have said. Not because it's a far-fetched comparison, but because up until I got pregnant, the idea that I would become a mother was a far-fetched notion.

But that's what I'm about to do.

See, I've been hemming and hawing with myself for the past couple of months, wondering if I'm doing a disservice to Annika by continuing to let her nurse to sleep. At 26 months, she's at an age where many of her peers have weaned altogether.

Even though all the AP literature and people I know say that kids outgrow, well, everything, there's this little voice in the back of my head going, "Maybe they're all wrong. What if the mainstream parenting books are right? You need to start layin' down the LAW!"

It's the same voice that whispers in my ear during election years wondering what I would do if I found out the Republicans had it right all this time. And then they recruited Sarah Palin to the ticket. I felt unusually confident when I cast my vote for Obama that November even though I supported Clinton during the primaries. (Whoa, stop throwing things, you barely missed my head!)

So, I've been thinking, should I start encouraging Annika to start falling asleep without nursing? She CAN do it. It's just easier to let her nurse. Ninety percent of the time she falls asleep faster on the breast Some nights after an hour or so of nursing, I'll gently tell her that it's time to stop nursing and go to sleep, but that is still a rare occurrence.

The other day I was chatting with a couple who had an 11-week-old baby hanging from her daddy's chest in a Baby Bjorn. They were talking about how she hadn't learned to self-soothe while sleeping yet. I snickered and said, "My daughter's 2 and she still doesn't self-soothe at night." They stared at me like I had just sprouted two heads. I felt like an ass. I hang around with so many AP people that I forget that in the outside world some people just don't get that we think of babies as babies and not miniature adults. That conversation got me thinking about how two years is sort of a long time in baby years. Most people hit the breaking point with sleep sometime in the first six to nine months. Two years of sleep nursing and waking at night is a long fucking time.

Then I started thinking about how I quit smoking. I smoked cigarettes for 18 years. (Jeez, when I put it like that it seems like a long time.) When I started smoking, I figured I'd just be a social smoker. But damn, I liked it. There's something super soothing about the way you hold a cigarette, stroking it between your fingers. I even liked the way my fingertips smelled when I wasn't smoking. Even though I didn't like the idea of smelling like a smoker I sort of got a kick out of getting a whiff of my stale smoke on a sweater as I tossed it around my shoulders, or that first scent of stale smoke in my car on a crisp winter day.

Smoking was rebellious. It was also dangerous and unhealthy. That's why I liked it.

I tried to quit, very halfheartedly, some time in my early 20s. I think I went a week once. Then I started back up again without any qualms. I liked it and I was still in the stage of my life where getting old was like, in a galaxy far, far away. When I had my wisdom teeth removed I was told that smoking would give me dry socket and I should not smoke while I was healing. I made it four days. My husband (at the time) was baffled as to why I didn't just give it up then. He said if I quit, then he could try to quit. I told him to fuck off. That if he wanted to quit smoking that was his business, but I had no intention of giving up the beast. It was my beast and I liked it. At that point in my life I figured I'd keep smoking until I had to start carting around an oxygen tank.

But then I entered my 30s. It was then that I realized I was not going to defeat the space time continuum and I would in fact, age past my 20s. I got divorced and when I started dating again, I found that most of the men I was into didn't smoke and they did not find it attractive. Smoking was not cool anymore. I was not young enough anymore to make it cute and sexy. I no longer enjoyed the staleness of my car's interior. It was time to quit.

I wonder how I would have felt if all of a sudden one day there were simply no cigarettes. It would have been pure torture for me. I've known plenty of smokers and I can't think of any that have quit cold turkey and been successful at quitting. They always come back to it. 

It took me several years of cutting back and cutting back to finally give it up completely. I was down to only a couple of smokes per day when I found out I was pregnant with Annika. I gave it up for good that day.

Now, almost three years later, I don't even crave it anymore. When I pass by a smoker, I have stopped inhaling the smoke. I don't even think I could go into a smoky club anymore. I guess it's a good thing that all those laws have been passed against it.

As you can see, I've never been keen on cold turkey.

If I keep up this comparison with smoking and Annika's sleep habits, I guess three years seems a logical time frame for her to really start sleeping like a human being, to fall asleep without needing to soothe at my breast. She's already starting to sleep heavier. I actually had to shake her awake one morning last week when we had to be somewhere by 8:30 a.m. and she was still snoring. She's finally started sleeping like a log in the evening and I don't typically have to go in and help her settle back to sleep before I go to bed. And most nights if she wakes up in the middle of the night, a cuddle is all she needs to fall back to sleep.

I guess my point is that, when she's ready, or when she has an incentive or something else to distract her, then she will give up nursing to sleep. There's no need to rush this, especially since she isn't likely to develop lung cancer from it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Seseeee Streeeeeeeeeet! Review of the platinum album, yes, Sesame Street has a platinum album

Even though I've tried over and over to get Annika to listen to various, kid appropriate, adult music, she will only listen to kid music. Specifically, Sesame Street sound recordings. Well, that and a couple of other random kid music that I've had since she was an infant.

Right now her favorite is the Sesame Street Platinum album, which is filled with classic Sesame Street songs, like Bein' Green, by Kermit, C is for Cookie, by (obviously) Cookie Monster, Happy Tappin' With Elmo, and one my personal favorites, Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange) sung by Grover, (and Harry Monster) and Cookie Monster.

Annika's newest favorite song off this album is People in Your Neighborhood and the Sesame Street theme song.

I've been forced to listen to several of the Sesame Street albums over the past several months and this is by far the best one.

Don't bother listening to the ones sung by actual people. When I have checked out various CDs from the library, and popped them in the CD player, Annika just stares at me like, "Who the f is that? That sounds like a washed up old drug addict. Last time we discussed this, I mentioned to you that I like fuzzy monsters, not washed up celebrities."

I gotta agree with her on this one. If you had asked me before I had a kid if I thought it was cool to listen to rock stars sing Sesame Street music I would have said a resounding hell yeah! But listening to Steven Tyler sing I Love Trash, is just creepy and Rosie O'Donnell singing I Nearly Missed a Rainbow makes me want to vomit, although, pretty much anything Rosie O'Donnell does makes me want to vomit. I almost forgave her for being so gross when I saw her once on Curb Your Enthusiasm as a guest star, but after hearing her sing on the Sesame Street album, I have relegated her back to her gross celebrity status.

We had to return this CD to the library a couple of days ago after six weeks and it was on hold, so I couldn't renew it. So, I'm off to buy it on Amazon. We just can't live without it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Divorce and depression = distraction from life; Setting my happiness bar higher

When I separated from my, now, ex-husband 10 years ago, it sent me into a spiraling world of depression that would last for about three years. At the time I didn't realize it. Logically, I was happy to be free from this awful, debilitating marriage to a narcissistic, immature, insecure, and irresponsible man.

But even so, there is something about divorce that tears you in two. If the marriage was more negative than positive, it's like having surgery to remove a tumor. Even though you are glad the tumor is gone. You feel free from it, the wound still has to heal. You will forever be scarred. You don't have to worry about the tumor invading your body and taking over, slowly poisoning you until you die. But if you react poorly to this separation, it takes much longer for the wound to heal. And when it does heal, it is filled with infection and it comes back to make you sick, over and over again.

Instead of living with my pain and dealing with it, I shut down. I drank. I spent time doing things that would relieve me from the awful thoughts about my dead marriage, my dead life. I avoided. I denied my pain.

I don't blame anyone but myself for my poor reaction to my divorce. I don't even blame my ex for the divorce anymore. I was just as culpable in our bad marriage as he was. One of the many times I got angry at him for not doing the dishes that he promised he would do, my reaction was to scream at him and smash all of them on the kitchen floor. (Luckily they were not expensive dishes.)

Should he have done the dishes? Sure. He said he would. It was the umpteen millionth time in the five or so years we'd been hitched that he said he would do something and then didn't do it. But my reaction to it wasn't helpful. In fact, it likely gave him the satisfaction he needed to convince himself that he hadn't done anything wrong. That I was the one who was the lunatic. My reaction to his lies only made me feel worse. It didn't do anything to bring us closer. Even though he started the negative spiral, I joined in.

There are lots of things and people that we can't change. Instead of trying to control other people, we can only control our reactions. The only thing we can do is to change ourselves, or leave the situation.

Having a child is one of those life-changing situations where you cannot do the latter. When you have a child, you must be in control. You must be the one to change when something isn't working. You must be the adult. You must be the one to learn self-control. Children are still learning. We cannot expect them to do the hard work. The parents must do it.

I've recently learned about myself that my happiness bar is set at neutral. Somehow, when I was a kid, I got the message that as long as something bad wasn't happening, that meant I had nothing to complain about. If nothing bad was happening, that must mean that life was good, or at least, as good as it was going to get.

Joy has never been a goal for me. I've had plenty of joy in my life, but I always saw it as a luxury. I didn't work to find joy, I waited for it to find me. 

I am an adult now and if something is going wrong in my life, it's up to me to fix it. I cannot blame anyone else if things aren't okay with my life. Even though I know this logically, I've struggled with it for several years. 

I've been in the midst of some pretty hard emotional work lately. I'm working on fixing the old wounds that have been poisoning my life, making me feel unhappy. For a long time I've known that my happiness was up to me. But was going about looking for it in the wrong way. I thought that if I acted happy, I would feel happy. I think that's backwards. I thought that if I told myself I felt happy, then I was happy. But joy and happiness have to come from within, then they radiate outward. It's like falling in love. You can't tell anyone how it feels, but when you feel it, you know it.

And then this weekend, I watched something that gave me the new goal of setting my happiness bar higher. It has become even clearer to me that joy and happiness are a choice. You must seek them out. They don't just come along. Finding joy and happiness is work. It's work that parents should do for themselves, because our children imitate us. If we aren't happy, it is highly unlikely that they will be happy.

Over the weekend I watched on Netflix a documentary called, This Emotional Life. It is a three-part series done by PBS that talks about the range of emotions that we have starting at birth and going through life.

I wanted to share a few things I learned from this film and recommend it to you all because it seriously made me do some heartfelt reflection. It didn't necessarily teach me anything new, except for some scientific findings, but it clarified some things for me. The stories reflected the realities of this life. The idea that we aren't always in control of our bodies, but the mind is more powerful than we often realize. We are resilient.

At the beginning of the film, there is a story of an American couple who adopt two children from a Russian orphanage. They take home a boy and a girl. The boy is 2 and the girl is 9 months old when they adopt them. As the children age, they realize their son has mental instability and they come to find out that he has never attached to them because he had so little human contact during the first years of his life. He literally cannot feel love for them because he was not given love during his formative years as an infant. He is damaged for life.With therapy, he might be able to learn how to love, but it will always be something he struggles with.

Another story in the film is about a girl who is depressed. She is a twin. Her twin sister is not depressed. But she is. There is no reason that any life circumstance has made her depressed. She simply is. Psychotherapy doesn't work. Anti-depressants don't work. When she is 18, her family finally makes a decision to give her electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy. She required almost double the sessions than normal to help people feel better and even then, her family is not certain that it worked to completion.

Another story in the film is about a Vietnam War veteran. This man spent less than one year in Vietnam, yet he spent another 30 years reliving the horror of that time. He couldn't work. He stopped leaving his house. He completely shut down. He finally tried a new form of therapy where he was made to relive the horror in a safe situation and talked through it. He learned to face his fears instead of avoiding them. After three decades of torturous memories, he is finally able to live again.

Since the Vietnam War, science has learned that post traumatic stress disorder is actually a physical reaction to severe stress. We have learned that when people are in highly stressful situations, their brains kick into high memory mode, making them have photographic memories, which is why PTSD is so traumatic. These war veterans literally cannot make the memories go away. They cannot forget. They relive the memories over and over again.

Another, even more uplifting story from This Emotional Life is another war veteran. This man was a P.O.W. in the Korean War. He spent eight years in isolation. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of a house he would build for his family when he got out. The only positive communication he had during those years was a form of Morse code he and the other prisoners worked out, tapping on a wall so they could talk to each other. At the end of his interview he said he would not change his life if he could. He would not take away those years in that prison camp because they taught him valuable lessons about himself that he would not have learned otherwise.

Another uplifting story is about a married couple who consider each other soul mates. They agreed that they had never known such joy as when they first met. But then they experienced married life. Things weren't always blissful and he cheated on her. Instead of just giving up on their marriage, they sought counseling. Even though they weren't feeling it all the time, they knew that they wanted to fight for their life together. The wife eventually accepted her own culpability in their problems. She came to understand that her husband's cheating was not the ultimate sin and that she was just as responsible for their problems as he was. It was truly a thing of beauty to watch their process because at the end of their interview, you could see in brief snatches, the anger and pain they had gone through, and yet, at the end, they were more in love than ever.

Watching these stories, and hearing the science behind why people behave the way they do, was uplifting, even during the hard moments. It made me look at my life rationally and realize that I can decide at any moment to step out of this endless loop that I've been coming back to all my life. (BTW, this isn't coming completely out of the blue. I have been soul searching for years, and I've also had some therapy.)

I didn't know it at the time, but I spent most of my childhood feeling depressed. I was depressed more than not, so I did not know that what I was feeling wasn't normal. I spent a lot of my early adulthood reacting poorly to that depression. And then I spent a good part of my later adulthood feeling depressed and reacting poorly to it.

But I'm done. I am determined to work my way out of the spiral. Even though I know I am broken, I am going to live with the mental brokenness.

I was inspired the most by this final story.

This story was of a young man, just out of college. Had moved to New York to work in the publishing industry. Life was good. He was living the dream. Then he dove into a pool and snapped his neck. He was told he would die. Then he was told he would never move any of his body again. But he didn't give up. He started physical therapy. He set a goal in his mind that he would be able to move his arms again. He did. And even though he will never walk again, he was able to find happiness, again.

During this part of the film is where the host tells us that in studies surrounding happiness one of the things that research shows is that most people generally go through life with the same amount of happiness. The young man who was crippled had been happy before his accident and he found a way to be happy again. In watching the film, you could see it in his face. He wasn't just saying he was happy. He really was. He beamed when he talked about his family and his business and his physical therapy. He set his happiness bar high and every day he did things to keep it up.

I'm done reliving the spiral between neutrality and angst. I've realized that for so much of my life I spent it thinking that only if "this" would happen, then I could be happy. But that elusive thing out there isn't going to make me happy. All I have to do is set my mind to a higher goal. And then live it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In between hair is "good"

When I was a kid, I never liked my hair. It was fine and wavy, so it curled funny, but it wasn't curly. I didn't have thick, straight hair. I didn't have curly hair. It was just wavy and weird. I always wanted thick, straight hair. OR, curly hair. What I had was in between.

Being Bi-racial, it is likely that Annika will feel this way about herself on many fronts. My goal is to ensure that she doesn't feel this way about her hair. 

I've come to terms with my hair. I'm okay with it now, but I also know that it will never be the long, luscious locks I dreamed of as an adolescent and 20-something. If I had been taught how to care for my hair when I was young, I might have had the chance to make it as beautiful as I wanted it to be. The potential was there. But now I don't have the desire for those beautiful locks as deeply as I once did, nor do I have the time to keep it up. 

Annika has lovely hair. As it stands now, she has relatively "good" hair. She has nice curls, that aren't too tight. If it stays this way when she's older she will be able to straighten it without using relaxer. That's fine and dandy, if that's what she wants to do. But I don't want her to feel like she has to straighten it.

I want her to like her hair. It is beautiful, thick, curly hair. I have known plenty of curly-haired women in my lifetime and most of them have hated their hair at some point in their lives, if not for most of it. My goal is to make sure that Annika has a good relationship with her hair, understands it, cherishes it, uses it to help her feel on the outside, like the lovely person she is on the inside.

That was always my goal, but I recently watched Good Hair, a documentary by Chris Rock about the Black hair industry. Frankly, it scared me deeply. To some it might seem that I am weighing Annika's self-esteem too heavily on her hair. But I know how women work in this country. Hair is important. I want it to be a source of satisfaction for Annika, not part of her sense of worth, but a source of pride.

But this movie left me wondering if I will be fighting against destined, lifelong discontent with her hair.

See, I always knew that Black women did things to their hair that White women didn't do. I knew they used weaves and straightened it. (Sure, White women do that stuff too, but it's not as pervasive.)

What I learned from this film was the extent of the pressure Black women feel, from the rest of the world, to do that stuff to their hair.

They are deeply unhappy with the basic nature of their hair. Tight, curly, afro-like hair is not considered, "good" hair. Good hair is considered to be relaxed, wavy or straightened and silky hair.

The film focused on three areas. How women feel about their hair; where the weaves come from; and the hair dressing industry.

The documentary presents the nature of the industry where hair dressers are rock stars. These rock stars will help you have "good hair," if you can afford it.

A yearly hair show is put on to sell the latest and greatest hair products. They hold a talent portion where the most talented hair dressers show off their hair cutting skills using circus-like skills. This is just the entertainment portion of the show, designed to draw customers in. The rest of the weekend is used to hawk the latest products. These products will help you have good hair. Because, apparently, natural hair is not "good."

Interviews with celebrities who talk about their weave and being addicted to the "creamy crack" (hair relaxer) prove that even the most successful women have hair issues. Once you start relaxing your hair, it is almost impossible to stop.

Women skip paying their bills in order to afford hair weaves that cost thousands of dollars. Rock interviews men who talk about how they are not allowed to touch their woman's hair and costs them intimacy because they feel like they can't get close enough.

All of that stuff was distressing. But the most distressing part, to me, was an interview of a small group of young Black businesswomen. All of the women in the group had straightened their hair and styled it in the way Caucasian women typically do. Except one of them.

She had sisterlocks, which is hair twisted to look like dreadlocks, but neater looking.

I thought her hair was cute. I didn't think she looked any less professional than the other women.

However, the other women disagreed. They told her that they thought her hair looked messy and she looked unprofessional. She was told, by her own peers, that they couldn't imagine her sitting in a meeting with other professionals. They also agreed that if they were hiring for a job, they might not consider her because of her hair.

I don't fault those women for judging her so harshly. What scares me is that they are right -- about how other people would view her. They know better than I do how the world views them. They were simply restating the message that had been sent to them for their whole lives. 

I see things differently than the rest of the world, which can be a real pain in the ass. When I looked at that woman I saw a lovely, professional-looking, young woman. I thought she had pretty hair. But most people won't see her that way.

This isn't really about hair anyway. This is really about the message that hair sends. When a Black woman doesn't straighten her hair and chooses to wear it closer to her natural texture, it sends the message, "I refuse to conform with your standards. I am an independent and autonomous thinker. I like myself."

These kinds of messages scare people in the professional world because it means that deep down, they won't be able to fully control this person. It also means that this person might just be strong enough to rise above you. People who choose not to fully conform are threatening to society because they might not accept the status quo. They might want to make changes. And we all know how most people hate change.

When it comes down to it, this isn't really about Black hair either.

I was in high school during the 1980s. During that time, no woman, White or Black, left their hair "natural." White women permed their hair to make it curly. We all used tons and tons of product and varying combs, brushes, hot rollers, curling irons, flat irons to make us look like we were more closely related to alien life-forms than humans.

I remember the ridiculous feats I had to go through every morning when I was getting ready. Don't even get me started on how much money I spent on hairspray.

I had one friend who knew her hair was close to being "done" when her curling iron started smoking from the hairspray.

Even though I consider myself to be pretty low maintenance these days, I still color my hair. I like the way it looks. I don't feel any pressure to do it. When  I started coloring my hair, I didn't feel pressure either. It was one of those, "sure, what the hell" kind of moments when my roommate was putting some color on her hair.

But I got a lot of attention after that. So I continued. It became part of my regular routine. It became a part of myself -- this idea that my regular old self was not as lovely as this fake part.

It's something I haven't even given much thought about, until now. Now that I have a daughter, who has beautiful, natural, curly hair. Hair that will be seen by some people as messy, or ugly, or not "good."

When women are given the message that their natural features aren't beautiful, it affects self-esteem. Sure, in an ideal world we wouldn't care what other people think. But what other people think does matter. Because it affects your ability to get a job, or get a loan to buy a house, or a car. It affects your ability to prove yourself in certain situations because the first thing people see about you is your external. If they don't like what they see, they won't bother to try to see the internal you.

But you know what? The world is wrong. Black hair is beautiful. It is "good." Fuck hair relaxer that has the potential to burn your skin and blind you. Fuck hair weaves that are stolen off of Indian women during temple sacrifices.

The world is wrong. Annika has good hair. We all have good hair.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mommies and Daddies can be different colors

I've been waiting in anticipation for opportunities to talk to Annika about race, as recommended in NurtureShock. (I know, I know, if I love it so much I should just marry the damn book.)

Last week an opportunity presented itself that just screamed for a conversation. I was pretty excited about it since the other conversations have been more like, "Hey Annika, what color is your skin? What color is Mommy's skin?"

The opportunity arose while we were playing with Annika's Little People family. I bought a house and family figures off of Craigslist. It was a White daddy, White mommy and White baby. I had mentioned to a friend that my plan was to find some Black Little People to supplement the set, so she gave me a couple of Black females from her son's toy collection since he never plays with them and wouldn't notice them missing.

I've given a lot of thought to the types of toys Annika plays with. For instance, I anguished over buying her domestic toys like a play kitchen and a toy vacuum because I wondered about the implications. I've gone out of my way to make sure that her doll collection represents more Black dolls than White. Even though she doesn't seem to care much for cars I've added some to her toy collection so that she has access to "boy" toys as well as "girl" toys. She has a huge collection of Duplos, and she has a large animal collection.

Before I had kids, I sometimes wondered why people made such a big deal about the types of toys their kids played with. For instance, the idea that Barbie gives girls poor body images, or that boys should play with cars and girls should play with dolls seemed to me like people might be over thinking the influence of their childrens' toys. But since then, I've learned that toys and play are an extraordinarily important part of a child's life. 

As I learned in Playful Parenting, (another one of my favorite parenting books) play is how children form their thoughts about the world around them.

PP's author, Lawrence J. Cohen writes, "Play is fun, but it is also meaningful and complex. The more intelligent the animal, the more it plays. Unlike slugs or trees, every human learns new things about the world, and themselves, though discovery and practice. Some of this learning just happens automatically, by virtue of being alive, but much of it happens though play."

So with that in mind, I watch how Annika plays. I knew that one of the ways we would begin to discuss race was through play. It is important to me that she has lots of play characters that reflect her own skin tones.

I purposely inserted these new characters into her Little People family because it reflects her real life, even though the skin colors are switched at the moment.

Anyway, Annika has a tendency to carry around tiny little toys and she had left the Little People mommy at Toyin's.

When she noticed that the White mommy was missing, she asked me, "Mommy, where's my mommy?" Annika calls every "my" these days, so I knew what she meant.

I decided to take the opportunity to propose to her that one of the Black female figures could play the part of the mommy. So I handed one of them to her and said, "The other mommy is at Daddy's, but you can use this one."

Her response was more ardent than I expected.

"That's not MY mommy!" She shouted, handing it back to me.

"Why can't it be the mommy?" I asked her. She looked confused by my question as if the answer was obvious.

"Is it because she doesn't look like me?" I asked, holding the girl next to my face.

"Yes Mommy," she said. 

Then I picked up the daddy figure and said, "This daddy doesn't look like your daddy," I pointed out.

She stared down at the White daddy with brown wavy hair and a sweater vest, as if she was realizing for the first time that he was very dissimilar from Toyin. After, all, he is holding a cell phone and wears glasses, there is some similarity.

"See, Annika, mommies and daddies can be any color."

"Oh!" Annika squealed.

"Do you want to use this mommy now?" I asked, handing her the Black Little People woman.

"Ok!" She said excitedly.

"See," I said. "Mommies and daddies can be all colors."

"Thass right," she said.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book review: NurtureShock

Since becoming a parent, I've read a lot of parenting books. When the babies are little, the books are filled with lots of fluff and sweet talk. They also like to give you lots of advice without backing it up with any real facts or science.

During the newborn phases, most parents probably don't even notice that. For one, we are assuming that these books are based on some sort of evidence, but it's just watered down for our mushy new-parent sleep-deprived brains.

But I like facts. I like to know where information comes from. This is why I absolutely loved NurtureShock.

I spent almost two years lying down with Annika for most of her naps and about 80 percent of her bedtimes.

During that time, I read a lot of parenting books.

Somewhere in there, my brain regained about 80 percent of its functionality and I realized something. Most parenting books are filled with information that's based on what people know about adults, not children.  

That's one of the many reasons why I loved NurtureShock. Not just because it's filled with easily digestible science and research, but because it doesn't assume that we already know how children work.

NurtureShock is filled with information gleaned from research studies that DISproves a lot of the common societal beliefs that we've been spoon-fed by pediatricians and "parenting experts" for the past several generations.

For one thing, the authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are not pediatricians. They don't have agendas, other than as information seekers.

And secondly, the information in this book is about researching what we thought we knew about parenting to see if it is accurate. The finding are truly shocking.

In NurtureShock the studies found:

  • Praising actually causes low self-esteem. (Also a lesson learned in Unconditional Parenting, another book I love.)
  • White parents' refusal to talk about race PROMOTES racism.
  • Teenagers are not naturally lazy and cranky. Their bodies really do function differently than adults'.
  • Kids lie because we send them the message that it's okay.
  • Young children shouldn't be judged on i.q. tests because their brains aren't done forming yet.
  • Teen rebellion is a sign of respect. (No that's not a typo, it is supposed to say respect, not disrespect.)
  • Programs designed to teach children life skills can be detrimental.
  • Violence and aggression are sometimes caused by the television shows children watch, but the study results were surprised by which shows caused aggression.
  • Language skills develop based on a specific parental reaction. 

These aren't the only things you will learn in NurtureShock. It is a solid 240 pages filled with evidence and findings relating to common parenting advice and why a lot of it is wrong. The book also has another 94 pages of notes, acknowledgments, and references if you are interested in reading more.

NutureShock is also a great read because the book's authors chose to focus on what works for the masses. This book isn't promoting pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams about making your child the best and the brightest. Instead, it is a book chock-filled with information for parents on how our children work, mentally and emotionally. With this kind of information, it is bound to help parents be more effective at relating to their children.