More cake! – how we can support each other as parents.

We’ve all been there, as parents.

You tell your child that they have had enough chocolate cake and then, while you are distracted by good company and a second coffee, your toddler climbs onto your lap and starts eating cake from your plate, carefully at first, watchful of your reaction, and then with more confidence.

One of the biggest surprises, to me, in becoming a parent, is how exhausting the constant decision making is. Especially so since all the decisions can seem equally important in a harried world – does your child need to wear a hat today? can they have another cookie? watch another episode of PJ Masks? should you vaccinate/send them to kinder at age five?

So many of the decisions we make every day and every minute mean nothing in isolation but can have a huge impact on how simple our parenting lives are in the future. I don’t care if my child has another cookie today, or skips toothbrushing once a week, but I think that when I’m consistent, it works out in my favour later.

Just as I’ve found myself in the toddler-sneakily-eating-cake zone, I’ve found it painful to watch other parents in similar situations. The firmest “No,” turns into “maybe later,” and finally ‘OK then, just a bit,” all in the space of five minutes.

I must admit, I notice this mostly in women parents [partly because I mostly hang out with mums] and I think it’s probably a really important point to address in terms of bigger issues around women and assault.

Getting clear and committing – even to something as small as “we’re leaving the playground,” or “no more cake,” helps women set up boundaries and tune out social pressure, which provides an example to all kids that women are to be listened to and respected.

I’ve long tried to figure out ways we can help each other stick to our words, especially in social situations when we are distracted and want to enjoy being with our friends.

One way is to physically back each other’s decisions. Say the parent has said no more cake. If the child reaches for the cake, you can, as a supportive co-parent would, reach out and move the cake out of the child’s reach, saying in a friendly way “I’m going to make it easier for you to listen to your mum.”

Maybe you think the child should have more cake. Maybe you don’t care about the cake. It’s not the point. The point is to back each other up, no matter what the issue.

When you know someone really well, or if you are co-parenting, you could offer to remove the child or hold the child so the parent can focus on the goal [eg. getting the car ready to leave]. In this situation, the child may cry and scream. [Read more about listening to kids feelings here].

So often, parents back out of hard decisions in social situations, not wanting to face judgement or be the one dragging a screaming child down the street. We make split-second decisions according to what’s easiest at the moment, but having back up can help us follow through with what we know will pay off in the end.

Strong physical responses in parenting can be seen, beautifully, by watching animals parent.

My darling husband and father to my children has a charmingly animalistic approach to parenting – when our daughter decided to protest walking even short distances by dragging on our arms as we held her hand, he decided that if she dragged, he would let go of her hand. After explaining it to her, they began walking.

Every time she dragged, whack! her tiny two-year-old body would hit the snowpack. I had to look away – no one enjoys seeing their child upset. But she only did it a handful of times before deciding it wasn’t worth it to drag on his hand.

We parents tend to feel that we can’t do anything right. We sometimes fold guilt away into little pockets that remain in the fabric of how we identify as parents.

Having another adult or another parent make it clear that they will back anything we do as parents [obviously if it is safe for the child] is a huge relief.

It confirms what we know in our hearts – that we love our kids and that we’re doing our best.

 

 

 

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We too

I admit I avoided participating in the #metoo movement which swept social media late last year. Oh, I knew then that I’ve been sexually threatened, but the whole thing seemed too murky – I say #metoo and everyone wonders: was she raped? whistled at? grabbed?

I assumed people would wonder about me, but I never asked any of the hundreds of women who hashtagged in my social media feeds: what happened? which experience do you think of when you hashtag #metoo? and are you OK?

I’ve come to realize that #metoo needs another step. We’re so accustomed to thinking of ourselves and other women as victims that the hashtag confessions hit us like a wave, washing over us the feeling of something we already knew.

Although there was liberation in confessing that we had been hurt without repercussions, the details of what happened to the women who hashtagged [and those, like me, who could have but didn’t] in a way don’t matter anymore.

Many of them couldn’t press charges, which is one of the bummers of sexual assault – washable evidence.

But the useful thing that can come out of the movement is for all victims of sexual violence to feel so enraged at being violated that they are compelled to report the crime, right now, immediately … while the evidence is still fresh.

Not as a hashtag confession months or years later.

When I was researching for a local newspaper article I wrote about sexual assault early this spring, I spoke to many women who had been assaulted. Every single one spoke about the period after the attack as being traumatic in some way – whether recalling the attack, confessing, testifying or having evidence collected.

One of the women I interviewed has crossed my thoughts so many times since we met. I first met Tracy at the elementary school she works at and she was warm and friendly – one of those people you just like instantly.

We met in a diner on an icy February day and sat in the back room, cradling thick white coffee mugs, and Tracy told me that she had been raped twice while serving in the military.

Tracy let me understand the process of re-victimization through evidence collection that I had known only as a theory before –

“When I reported the first rape, they took evidence. It was horrific, the two nurses were so cold” Tracy told me “they pulled hairs from my butt hole and the whole time I kept thinking: why aren’t they pulling hairs from HIS butt hole?”

As she was talking, Tracy was half laughing and half crying, and I was weeping too. How could anyone hurt the strong, wonderful woman I saw before me?

It is slowly dawning on the western world the burden that women carry everywhere they go – how much effort goes into selecting clothes, choosing routes, checking shadows, looking back, charging cell phones, communicating our whereabouts and wondering who we can trust.

But we need more understanding and instruction so that when someone talks about sexual assault, whether that assault happened 40 years ago or ten minutes ago, we lean in and ask more – because it can compound the hurt and add shame if we don’t.

There have been two occasions I would say #metoo about – one was when I was 21 and traveling in Amsterdam and stayed with someone I had just met – a young man and his wife and baby.

This man, with no prior warning, tackled me while I was getting out of the shower in the morning and I ran out of the tiny apartment dripping wet, grabbing my huge backpack on the way to my train to Paris and leaving a soggy towel behind a bush in the front garden.

When I got to Paris, I told the woman I was staying with what had happened, and she berated me for trusting a stranger. She didn’t ask if I was OK. She just very squarely blamed me for staying with someone I didn’t know.

In contrast, my second experience, which happened in the same era of my life, had a happier ending.

I was hanging out and drinking with two guys I knew from high school, but neither very well. One started to pressure me for sex, and the other guy looked at him squarely and said “you’re being a dick. I think you should go outside and calm down.”

He did, and I went home and, being 20, never acknowledged either man’s actions again. I should probably write a thank you letter to my defender’s parents for raising a man who was full of matter-of-fact respect.

Years have passed since those incidents, and a few days ago, I realized how protected I am from daily dealings with strange men when I was approached while waiting in line at the King Scoopers in Arvada, Denver.

“You’re cute,” a 40 ish man with a ponytail told me “are you married?”

The words themselves – unthreatening. The whole interaction – scary as hell, especially given how unprepared I was, and how deep into reading about Harry and Meagan Markle’s home life.

Last month, a 22-year-old comedian named Eurydice Dixon was raped and killed in a popular Melbourne park. When I lived in Melbourne when I was 22, I walked and rode through a lot of parks at night.

The response to Dixon’s death shows that the mainstream narrative around violence against women in Australia is stretching, and may even be on the cusp of shattering the ways women are blamed for being attacked by men.

National newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Clementine Ford which criticized the police response to Dixon’s violent death.

Melbourne police issued statements encouraging calls to 000 [Australia’s version of 911] by anyone who didn’t feel safe. Local Superintendent David Clayton warned, “This is an area of high community activity… so just make sure you have situational awareness.”

Speaking about rape and murder as being part of community activity normalizes the way Dixon died, and neatly leaves out a call to perpetrator’s: if you feel violent, or worry that you may rape someone, please call 000 for help.

Ford writes in response:

“The language used towards women when we exercise caution is contradictory at best and disdainful and mocking at worst. Exercise caution, but stop being so paranoid. Be prepared for danger, but don’t treat individual men like they might be a threat to you. Don’t put yourselves in harm’s way, but quit acting hysterical about every little shadow that crosses your path. Be wary of strange men, but don’t you dare be wary of me.”

Police officers are often first responders for sexual assault and have a great responsibility to respond well. As part of my sexual assault article, I spoke to the chief of police in nearby Libby, Montana – Scott Kessel.

Scott was concerned that in his year in Libby, there had been no reports of sexual assault.

“It’s either positive or ominous,” he said, “and I suspect the latter.”

Our county health nurse, Riley Black, is working with Scott and the police force to make reporting sexual assault easier. As it stands, victims in our rural community have to travel two hours to Kalispell to be examined for evidence, but Riley will soon be opening a clinic in Libby specifically for sexual assault examination.

“I want it to be as comfortable as possible,” Riley told me “so it doesn’t feel like a punishment to be examined.”

Riley, who is herself a victim of sexual assault, was one of the only women I interviewed for the article who didn’t appear to blame herself for the attack. She never once said “I was so naive”, as the majority of women did.

This, as well as Riley’s warm and direct presence, make her the ideal person talk to about a sexual assault, someone who would lift you out of doubt and never ask “what were you doing/wearing/saying?” but instead ask “how could he?”

In a Denver supermarket last week, the ponytailed man responded to my confusion and back-off vibes correctly: he came up to me, eyes lowered and said gruffly “you have a great evening.”

Whew.

As  I left the store, I peered around the entrance, checking around the pallets of flowers and fruit for the man. In the blazing sun in the car park, with bags full of organic blueberries and bread for my kids, I checked over my shoulder.

I longed a little for my 21-year-old pre-Amsterdam self, who would have assumed all was well and drifted on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 2018 – why is female sterilization still performed more than vasectomy?

 

Sterilization [either male or female] is the most widely used birth control in the US [36%], followed closely by female hormone treatments such as the pill [30.6%].

But permanent birth control – sterilization – is vastly different for men and women in terms of cost, risk, and recovery for the patient.

According to come quick research via the Mayo clinic website, the risks of female sterilization [tubal ligation] include: Damage to the bowel, bladder or major blood vessels, reaction to anesthesia, improper wound healing or infection and continued pelvic or abdominal pain.

According to the same website, the risks of vasectomy are very low, and none are potentially life-threatening, unlike damage to the bowel or reaction to anesthesia.

So why is female sterilization [tubal ligation] still performed in the US two thirds more than male sterilization [vasectomy]?

Our family has benefited so much from Haakon’s 2015 vasectomy that I wanted to tell our story as a way to look at some of the reasons vasectomy may not be as popular as it should be.

I can’t remember how the idea that Haakon would have a vasectomy after our second child was born came up, but I know it seemed like a natural progression to me:  I’ve had two babies and lots of genital involvement around birthing [not to mention years of periods and pap tests before the babies, and after], and a vasectomy was an opportunity for something medical to happen in his body.

Although I was mildly concerned about Haakon’s vasectomy – I don’t like the idea of someone cutting into anyone’s junk any more than most people, and there is the risk of permanent complications with vasectomy – I never considered that I would, instead, have tubal ligation.

From Haak’s perspective, as a man who is pragmatic to a fault, his initial research about vasectomy made it clear that to suggest I would have the surgery instead of him would be “foolish,” he told me.

But here in Montana, I hear this all the time from women: “I was in there anyway [hospital, to have a baby] so I told them, just go on and tie my tubes. I wish Tom/Mike etc would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it.”

[About half of female sterilizations occur within 8 hours of giving birth, according to the national center for biotechnology information]

My assessment of how often female sterilization is performed over vasectomy is backed by figures provided by the national center for biotechnology information in 2008. According to their website, 27 per cent of sexually active women in the US rely on female sterilization as birth control, while 9.2 per cent rely on vasectomy.

Although the information I found online is dated, all the US-based reports I found drew from the same study, which also notes that “Overall, the sterilization rates for men and women have remained constant over the past 40 years [since 2008].”

Why is this, I wondered?

The fact that the numbers of female sterilizations are higher than male is probably influenced by the number of babies born via cesarean section – the US center of disease control and prevention website says that in 2017, 31% of all births were cesareans.

When a woman is already having major abdominal surgery and wants a permanent form of birth control, having a tubal ligation performed at the same time makes some sense.

But where sterilization is sought in stand-alone cases, vasectomy is not only faster and cheaper [“best $300 we ever spent,” says Haakon!] than tubal ligation, it is much safer for the person being operated on.

One of Haak’s co worker’s, Shannon, recently had tubal ligation surgery. I spoke to her on the phone 11 days after her surgery, and she was still using a back brace to protect her bruised stomach muscles.

She had also developed anemia and a blood clot near the surgery area which is not life-threatening but is hard and painful.

“I’m still in pain,” Shannon said, “I keep asking the doctor if this is a normal recovery because they told me I would only have to take it easy for a week afterwards.”

Shannon and her husband had been talking about permanent birth control for years, she said, and he had wanted to have a vasectomy but a history of hernia surgery made them both concerned about how suitable vasectomy would be in his case.

“Now that he’s seen me go through this,” Shannon told me, “he wishes he’d gone ahead with the vasectomy.”

Although Shannon and her husband were well informed and made the best choice for them, its clear that in most cases, tubal ligation carries higher risks than vasectomy.

Despite this fact, I do not want to minimize the risk of chronic pain or long-term implications for a person’s sex life, which is associated with vasectomy in rare cases.

Shannon’s youngest child is now 10, and despite her long and continuing recovery from the surgery, Shannon told me her only regret is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Having access to permanent, relatively safe birth control is indeed a treat – after muddling through ten years of using various temporary contraceptives, like condoms and the pill, Haak and I were both 100% ready to say goodbye to the possibility of pregnancy scares and all the organization required to avoid them.

And so it came to be that one sunny winter’s day in Moruya, NSW, I was waiting at a coffee shop across the street from the doctor’s office where Haak was having his vasectomy done. Callie was almost six months old, and I ordered and sat in the courtyard breastfeeding her.

My parents happened to be passing through, and they arrived at that moment.

“Should I order Haakon coffee?” Dad asked.

I paused to answer, and looked up from my half-finished flat white:

And saw Haakon, bounding down the steps of the doctor’s office. A similar image to my very first memory of him, when he was tanned and 20, and bouncing across a lawn to meet me.

“Couldn’t they do it?” I asked sympathetically, imagining that the doctor was called away or held up in some way.

“It’s done,” he answered, beaming.

And that, my friends, is the kind of after-effect of a life-changing surgery you will almost never get. Haak wasn’t even in the chair for 15 minutes and was enjoying a coffee in the sun 5 minutes later.

He still likes to tell people that the worst part about having a vasectomy was shaving his testicles in preparation for the surgery.

“The chafing from the stubble growing back was intense,” he told me this morning when I asked what he remembered most.

Haakon was “sore for a couple of days,” he recalled. He took no painkillers and was back at work three days later.

Although it’s hard for me to say if Shannon and Haakon’s recoveries are typical of the surgeries they had, it’s clear to me that something deeper than a pragmatic weighing up of the costs and benefits is in effect when heterosexual couples begin to research sterilization – something that culminates in many making the decision for the woman to undergo surgery rather than the man.

Hearing versions of the “I wish Carlos would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it,” conversation over the years has made me realize how our society ensures that the only genital sensations men have are pleasurable – and that women support this idea as much as men do.

It’s certainly been said before, but I’ll say it again – we seem to be stuck, as a society, in a pattern of accepting at face value a woman’s responsibility for all things reproductive, from unintended pregnancies and childcare to buying the condoms.

But it’s 2018 and vasectomy just might be the way forward – a way to revolutionize our relationships and sex lives.

Haak

 

I found information for this post from these sources:

CDC website, stats about cesarean rates: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/delivery.htm

NCBI website, articles about rates of sterilization: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492586/

Mayo Clinic, basic info about vasectomy and tubal ligation: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vasectomy/about/pac-20384580

 

Thanks for reading!

We are disabling our girls

I found the last few months of each of my pregnancies frustrating because I couldn’t pick up a box of groceries on my own, or carry my three year old very far, or even pull on my own shoes naturally.

Pregnancy has been the closest I’ve come to being disabled, and it was obviously temporary and ended in a pretty terrific way. But I was thinking about disability, and self inflicted disability this morning as I walked with Callie and her friend to the store.

The two were a magnificent sight – they had each tied ratty-haired dolls on to their fronts with scarves to mimic baby carriers. Callie was also wearing a pink tiered dress that used to belong to her older brother.

Callie tried to put on her shoes, but couldn’t see over the tulle. She tried to balance on the kerb, and couldn’t see over the tiers to put one foot in front of the other –  temporarily disabled by the dress.

We live in rapidly changing times for women. Thanks to Google’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, Google headquarters has priority parking for pregnant employees [but what about the rest of the world?]. I have friends who tell me that Disney has come a long way since my brief forays into its media in the early 90’s. I’m sure it has, and yet –

Callie’s friend brought over a favorite toy to play with today, a pony called Princess Cadence. Princess Cadence has a recording that says “today is my wedding day,” and “my dress is SO pretty.”

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I’m looking at this bloody pony [and no, it is not wearing a dress, so it’s a lying pony too] now and wondering how I’m going to stop Callie from consuming too much of this girly crap.

Over lunch, I told Haakon about the pony.

“It could say anything, any neutral statement, like ‘I can fly so fast,” I said.

“Yeah, or it could say ‘I have wings but no cloaca,” he answered.

The pony also giggles. This reminds me that a few weeks ago, Atticus’ best friend, a six year old girl, was at our house for a sleepover. In the morning, over pancakes and a conversation about water vapor, she turned to him and said to him in an unnaturally high voice “you’re so smart, I will NEVER be as smart as you!”

The bombshell was followed by a high giggle which ended in a question.

Kids are always testing out new ways of being. So I tried not to over react [but I probably did] and explained to her that there are different kinds of smart and to never let anyone tell her she wasn’t smart. 

I told my friend about what her daughter had said, and she commented that no one at the school had ever told her that her daughter was smart.

“What do they say?” I asked.

Staff apparently tell my friend that her daughter is cute, and distracted.

It’s not that I believe that schools are ultimately responsible for how a child sees themselves, but they are a place for equalizing. In our small, rural community, not every kid goes home to food in the fridge, but at school, all kids qualify for free lunch.

Atticus and his friend have an advantage when it comes to gender equalizing – a strong and positive female principal, and a kindergarten teacher who, in her mid twenties, has already partially lost nine toes to frostbite after a grueling ascent in Nepal.

And yet – when my husband and I go in on alternating Wednesday to help with math groups in the kinder classroom, I can’t help but notice that the girls are distracted.

They are distracted by silky blue sashes, scratchy lace shoulders and ribbons in braids.

Are we really here already, in kindergarten?

At 14, I picked up a copy of Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ and read it in one sitting. 

A recent re reading showed Atty’s friend in new light – shivering in leggings, pretty in red velvet, stopping to cry and dump snow out of her boots while Atticus, snug in snow pants, clambered happily over snow banks on the way to school. 

“The beauty myth is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance,” Wolf writes.

After reading Wolf’s book the first time as a teenager, I went right back to rubbing weird smelling fake tan on my legs and being concerned about looking hot at school. I occasionally took detentions instead of wearing our school uniform, and convinced my parents to write me notes excusing me from wearing it.

But I was a teenager.

My parents had already gifted me a childhood with very little emphasis on looks. Until I went to school I wore track pants and dirty ugh boots and skirts with no undies so I could easily pee outside.

I had a heart to heart with my friend in which she argued that dictating her daughters clothing choices would stifle her creativity, and I argued there was a time and place for creative dressing and it was not school or physical activity.

Or – dress as creatively as you like, as long as it’s weather appropriate and won’t stop you from joining in on an activity. So long as you can still embody the ditty the kids sing on the way home from school: “a verb is a word, it’s an action word!”

Soon after our discussion,  I watched both kids one afternoon after school. It was cold out, because we live in Montana and the school year fits neatly into the nine months of  cold. 

Atty suggested climbing a big tree in the neighborhood they had never climbed before.

His friend, wearing stretchy jeans, a sweater and a warm hat, agreed and as I glimpsed them out the window, I saw her – a glorious pink and blue monkey, climbing higher and higher and leaving Atticus far behind.

So next time she asks I will tell Callie she can not wear fluffy dresses to the store. She might cry, and I will explain that I want her to be able to move her body naturally and climb on stuff if she wants to.

There can be times in a woman’s life when femininity presents some form of disability, but there is no reason for that to happen during childhood.

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