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Holiday Gift Guide: New Parents (or parents-to-be) and Babies (up to 1 year)

December 15, 2013

Lord but I’m having some trouble finding both my creative mojo and time to exercise it to write blog posts. In the shower a couple weeks ago, though, I started reflecting on all the stuff we’ve found useful and/or entertaining over the course of the last year, and I thought, Hey! That might actually make a great blog post! And being that it is December, and I’m totally addicted to online holiday gift guides (even though I almost never find anything in them to buy), it seemed like that might be a good format to share my thoughts.

*NOTE: Most of the links below are Amazon Associate links. So if you buy something from Amazon using one of the links below I might get whole PENNIES credited to my Amazon account. I don’t usually bother with the special links, but this is a LOT of links, and frankly I spend so damn much money on Amazon that I deserve some kickbacks! :)

Breastfeeding and Feeding

  • Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles: These are designed for breastfeeding babies to be more like the breast. I dunno, but M. never had any trouble taking a bottle. And they’re chunky, so she figured out how to hold them for herself pretty easily once she was old enough for that.
  • Medela Pump in Style breast pump (the tote, not the backpack): Most breastfeeding moms will need a pump, and a double electric one is imperative for working moms. This thing was a workhorse for me, and easy to carry around. I used it for over a year (still use it about once a week when I have to leave my house before M. wakes up – she still nurses when she wakes up every morning, but we’ve weaned from all other feedings), and it traveled to Chicago, Indianapolis, and Seattle with me for work. Other moms advised me to get the tote, not the backpack – I heeded their advice and am passing it along to you. Pro tip: Lubricate BEFORE you pump with olive oil or coconut oil or something safe for baby to ingest but lubricate-y (and apply nipple cream after pumping) and your nipples will thank you.
  • Extra set of pump parts: Another essential for working moms – keep a set at work and a set at home so you don’t ever forget a key element and realize you need to pump when one of your parts is in the place you are not.
  • Bottle drying rack: ESSENTIAL for saving your counter space. We dried bottles and pump parts on dish towels on the counter for weeks before I caved, and I instantly loved it. This particular one is not as cute, but it can hold a crapton of stuff and is durable and easy to clean. A lot of the cuter ones are not nearly as functional (though I did get a cute one for my office because I didn’t need to hold as much). As we get away from bottles, I can see this still being useful for sippy cups, etc. If you work, get an extra one for work to dry your pump parts.
  • Lansinoh breast milk storage bags: I tried some of the other milk storage bags as well, but I liked Lansinoh the best because they freeze the flattest. I tried the Medela bags, which can actually attach straight to your pump in the place of the bottles, but I only did that once – it was annoying and I spilled milk detaching the bag from the pump. Pro tip: Freeze as much extra milk as you possibly can. You never know when you might need it. Freeze it lying flat in the freezer, and then use a soda can case (the long cardboard box) to store it all upright with the date at the top, in order by the date (early to late). We’ve been using up the last of my freezer milk during weaning – mixing it with cow’s milk to ease her into drinking that – and it’s been awesome (not to mention that it was crucial during my work travel and was really nice to have when kind parents offered to feed her in the middle of the night so I could sleep…).
  • Micro-steam bags and pump cleaning wipes: Crucial if you’re a traveling mama. Ask for a microwave and a fridge in your hotel room and sterilize your pump parts easily (especially after gross airport travel and when you don’t have time between meetings for a thorough cleaning). For the cleaning wipes, they are the only way to pump in an airport, which is a miserable experience anyway. These make clean up a lot easier, and God knows you will deserve SOMETHING about that experience to be easy.
  • Motherlove nipple cream: There are many nipple creams and ointments. Lots of people swear by Lansinoh’s lanolin, but I hated it. It was sticky and messy, hard to squeeze out and apply and wash off your hands and it gets all over your nursing pads…just no. My friend Kath turned me on to the Motherlove cream, which is FABULOUS. Yes, it’s $10 an ounce, but it lasts a while – a couple months at least. And your nipples are way worth it.
  • Bamboobies: I used Lansinoh’s disposable nursing pads for a while, but I felt guilty about it. It seemed wasteful, and they were also kind of bulky and uncomfortable. But I needed something, especially at night, because there was all kinds of leaking going on for the first few months. I read about Bamboobies, ordered a single pair as a test run, and never looked back. They are SO soft and comfy, and absorbent enough for most people. If you’re a heavy leaker, try the overnight ones. If you’re small-chested, they may bunch up on you, though – they’re pretty big, area-wise.
  • Boppy: If you know anyone with a baby and you haven’t heard of the Boppy, you probably live on another planet. Or at least in another country. The Boppy pillow was essential for getting M. positioned properly for breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months. I think I used it for several months after that, until she was big enough that it was actually less comfortable for me to use it. Dave used it in his lap to bottle feed her when she was tiny, too. We used it to sort of prop her up so she could see things when we weren’t holding her before she could sit. And we used it as a cushion around her when she was learning to sit, so that when she inevitably fell over, her fall was cushioned. I have a friend who used it to sit on when she first came home from the hospital after giving birth (I used regular pillows so that I could use Boppy to feed, but it would have been great for that too!). I suspect if I were to haul it down from the top of her bookshelf now, she’d enjoy it as a toy. Bottom line, it’s really versatile and easy to clean. Get a couple of extra covers for it while you’re at it, so you have backups while one cover is in the laundry.
  • Small Glad containers for baby food: My best friend gave us some of these, and they were fantastic for storing and freezing pureed food. Making baby food was crazy easy – just boil or roast your veggies and use a blender, food processor, or stick blender to smoosh it up – but figuring out how to portion it out and store it was harder. Covered ice cube trays were okay, but they didn’t hold enough for a whole meal. These 4 oz containers were better, and cheap!
  • Fisher Price strap-on high chair: They call it a booster seat, but it has a tray that snaps on and totally functions as a high chair that straps onto a regular chair. It’s cheap, it’s super-easy to clean, it could be portable, it doesn’t take much room – it’s all we’ve ever had as a high chair, and it’s perfect.
  • Munchkin Travel Booster Seat: A friend sent me this for absolutely no reason at all, and it’s been fantastic for travel! It is actually just a booster seat – no tray to strap on. But it has little feet that fold out to make it higher – strap it on a chair in a restaurant and your baby can use the table as a tray. Fold the feet up when they get bigger and need less height. And it all folds up and buckles in on itself with a carrying strap so it’s super-portable, AND there’s a storage compartment. SOLD.

Clothing

  • PJs without footies: My child inherited the tall-and-thin gene from Dave. At her 1-year checkup, she was in about the 20th percentile for weight and the 95th for height. She outgrows footie pajamas before you can blink an eye – usually long before the rest of her body has outgrown them. So I can either put her in footies that are too short and scrunch her little feet up, or footies that fit her length but that she’s swimming in, width-wise. I’ve come to adore pajamas without feet, because if they’re a little high-watery as she gets taller, who cares? They’re PJs! In particular, we have completely fallen in love with Leveret’s pajamas, because they don’t cost a fortune, they’re adorable, and they’re super-soft. Easy to get on/off and wonderful to snuggle up to. I actually want a pair for myself…
  • Halo swaddle sleep sacks and regular sleep sacks: There are nine million kinds of swaddles out there, and people who prefer to swaddle with special ninja blanket folding moves, and people who poo-poo the swaddle altogether. Our kid would not sleep without either a swaddle or someone actively cuddling her for months, and we were either too uncoordinated or too sleep-deprived to be any good with the blanket origami, so we preferred the easy-peasy velcro swaddle gadgets. Halo was our favorite – they are soft and cozy, but the velcro cannot be undone and does not wear out. Once she outgrew the swaddle, we continued using the regular sleep sacks because they give her the warmth of a blanket at night, but she can’t pull it off or get tangled in it or whatever. We do not go anywhere without a sleep sack.
  • Robeez: I’m sure you’ve seen these adorable little leather crib shoes somewhere. We’ve been using them as M.’s shoes since she was wee – they’re so easy to get on and off, and they’re very cute and super-durable. They are a bit of an investment, but you can usually find them in good shape at consignment sales and second-hand shops if you don’t want to buy them new. She’s rarely ever worn any other shoes.
  • Trumpette socks: FAVORITE. BABY SOCKS. EVER. I’ve heard people claim they’re overpriced, but seriously – they are SO adorable (she actually wears them instead of shoes a LOT), and most importantly, they STAY ON. Nary a lost sock. Gymboree socks are also pretty good at staying on our kid, for the record.
  • No-scratch mittens: Our kid would have flayed all of the skin from her head with her fingernails in her first couple of months but for these tiny little mittens. They look kind of ridiculous, but in our case, they prevented self-mutilation. We stopped using them once she figured out how to pull them off by herself, but that was long enough for her to develop a modicum of control to realize that scratching herself hurt and she should stop.

Bath Time and Hygiene

  • Spongey bath cradle: Has a temperature-sensing disk in the center that turns white if the water is too hot, and it can be used in a variety ways. When M. was brand-new, before her umbilical cord stump fell off and we were supposed to just give her sponge baths, we put this in the bathroom sink and ran a tiny bit of water in it to use with the washcloth. Then we had a big plastic tub that she was too small for, but this cradle helped her fit comfortably and safely. Once she moved up to the big tub with no smaller tub to sit in, we sat her down on the cradle to help keep her from sliding around on the bottom of the tub. Word to the wise, though – don’t sit this on the water first and then go undress/fetch the baby. The water will soak up to the top and be cold by the time you get back! Just put the sponge on the water right before you lay the baby on top of it.
  • Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash: I like this so much better than the standard Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. It can be used as shampoo or a body wash, and it smells fantastic – much less like chemicals than J&J (more like an oatmeal cookie!). I like the lotion, too.
  • Good, thick hooded towels: There are thin hooded towels too, but the thick ones are a lot more absorbent. Plus my kid gets cold in the bath – partly because she refuses to sit in the water, but I think any kid would be cold when getting out of the water, and the thick towels are way better for getting snuggly warm again.
  • Diaper sampler pack: If the parents are planning to cloth diaper, a small package of newborn or size 1 eco-friendly diapers (like the ones from the Honest Company or Seventh Generation) can still be useful, and the eco-friendliness will be appreciated by most cloth-diapering parents. Outside of cloth diapers, though, new parents have NO CLUE that different brands of diapers fit differently – and since babies are all different shapes and sizes, you will have no idea what brand fits your kid best without some trial and error. I think these diaper sampler packs are GENIUS. I’d get size 1 in case their newborn is on the larger side – most kids are out of newborn size diapers pretty quickly.
  • Honest Company Healing Balm (diaper cream): I absolutely adore this balm as a diaper cream. I have never seen anything heal a small touch of diaper rash so fast. Plus it’s all-natural and eco-friendly. It ain’t cheap, but it is (in my opinion) well worth the cost. I tried the Burt’s Bees kind too, which is a lot cheaper, but I hated it – I could barely squeeze it out of the tube! I like the Honest Company’s way better.

General Baby Gear

  • Ruby Love baby book: I spent an obscene amount of money on a baby book for M. I know some people find them kind of cheesy, but I really appreciate the prompts and spaces to record her big moments. I couldn’t find a less-expensive one that I really liked, though. The Ruby Love books have the right prompts, are beautifully designed, and are easily customizable if you order additional pages you can add in (it’s a binder-type book so you can add pages or move them around). By the time I had customized the book with all of the pages and accessories I wanted for it, I spent almost $100 – but I have not regretted it for a minute, particularly since M.’s likely the only kid we’ll have. I see they have a school-years album now too, that goes from pre-K through 12th grade; I may well get one of those when she reaches the right age!
  • MAM pacifiers: These were (and still are) M.’s favorite pacifiers. She took to them like no others. And the glow-in-the-dark ones were AMAZING when she would wake up and cry if her paci fell out of her mouth, but she couldn’t put it back in her own mouth (because she was swaddled or because she just hadn’t figured out how to do it yet) – it was so easy to find at 3 am when I was barely awake and just pop back into her mouth.
  • MAM pacifier clips: Even if your kid doesn’t like the MAM pacifiers, these clips are fabulous. A friend gave us a baggie of her used ones, and we adore them. They snap on the MAM pacifiers perfectly, but they also work for other pacifiers with either roundish knobs or with handles or holes that you can thread the velcro part through – the round snap-on part actually comes off the end if you need it to so that you can just use a simple velcro loop. Don’t boil these to sterilize them with your bottles and pacifiers, though – the plastic won’t stand up to boiling heat. Just wash them in hot soapy water.
  • Jumperoo: My cousin was kind enough to let us borrow one of these when M. was about 5 or 6 months old, and for 3 months, it was her favorite thing ever. One of my cousin’s children stayed in it almost constantly for well over a year. There’s just so much to do here, and they’re ready for it right when they’re finally ready to start playing with toys.
  • Fisher Price Cradle ‘N Swing: This thing was a LIFESAVER for us. It was the only way M. would sleep for 5 months. Naps and nighttime both she spent strapped into this thing. We figured out how to strap her in even though she was swaddled. We were weaning her off of it anyway when the motor wore out, so that ended that – though FP was amazing about sending us a new motor, which was very easy to replace, so we were able to pass it on to another family when we were done with it.
  • White noise machine: Some people hate these things, but I think they’re amazing. They were especially helpful when we lived in a condo with loud neighbors, but even in our new house where most of the noise she could hear is made by Dave and me, it mostly helps her stay asleep. Frankly, the sound of it through the monitor helps me sleep, too!
  • Fisher Price Soother Penguin: Another item our kid loves at bedtime. It’s got two sound buttons – nature sounds or classical music – and you can either play them by themselves or couple them with a light projection show (which you can change – there are 3 different inserts that project different pictures). She’s big enough now that sometimes she stands up in her crib and pushes the button herself when she wants it, and then lays back down and watches the light projections.

Books

  • Baby Baby Baby by Marilyn Janovitz: M. picked this one out in the book store herself when she was about 8 months old, and it continues to be a favorite. Cute rhymes, cute illustrations, and as she gets older she starts to do some of the motions that I do for the book with me.
  • All the BabyLit books: Being that we are both English lit nerds, this line of classic novels re-imagined as board books to teach numbers, colors, shapes, and more is right up our alley. M. loves the bright colors and fun designs; we love the distilling of classic tales. We have Alice in Wonderland, Jabberwocky, Dracula, and A Christmas Carol. We want ALL OF THE OTHERS, though.
  • B is for Bear by Roger Priddy: This is an alphabet book with touch-and-feel pages – feel the puppy’s fur, the seeds on the strawberry, etc. M. is in love with it, particularly the “Y is for You” page because it has a mirror on it.
  • A Starfish: A Shapes Book by Bernette Ford and Britta Teckentrup: Simple, bright colors that teach shapes. Really, this is just good design in a simple board book – nothing ground-breaking, but M. loves it.
  • The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton: We read this every. single. night. M. totes it around the house with her. It’s a fun, silly bedtime story. All of Boynton’s books are great – classic board books – but this is one that we may have to re-buy because she’s going to wear it out before long.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd: Another classic, one that we revisit frequently. I like to point to the items in the pictures that we’re saying goodnight to as I read the book, in the hopes that she’s picking up on what the names of those things are. She totes this one around the house a lot, too.

Toys

  • Bright Starts Rings/Links: The simplest, cheapest, most amazing toy ever. These were the first toys she paid any attention to, and they are super-handy for hanging toys from car seats, strollers, etc. She still loves playing with them, though now she’s more interested in how they link together and their different textures.
  • Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Camera: She’s less enthralled with this now, but she thought it was the most amazing thing ever for months. Push a button and it talks or sings! WHOA!
  • Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Home: A friend passed this along to us when her son outgrew it. It took a little time for her to figure out all of the working parts, but she seems to figure out something new that it does every couple of weeks. There are just so many activities she can explore, and it plays lots of music, which is her favorite. She currently likes to hit the “radio” buttons on the back and dance to the music.
  • Fisher Price Stride to Ride Puppy: My parents got her this for her birthday. The puppy is her new best friend. In theory, she could push it while she learns to walk, and later she’ll be able to sit on it and drive herself around on it. For now, she likes the puppy’s face most of all, though, so she just sits there and pushes his nose and music buttons, clapping and laughing and dancing. She also really likes feeding the puppy the plastic shapes he came with. I see this being a favorite for a long time.
  • Wooden puzzles: Any wooden puzzles (we also have a Melissa & Doug fruit one she likes), but the one I linked to is one my sister gave M. for her birthday, and she lurrrrrves it. (Sorry for the weird link on that one – apparently you can’t buy that one anymore, but M. loves it so much…) She makes a beeline for it every time she re-emerges from her room to play. Unfortunately, the dogs ALSO love it – they’ve almost destroyed one piece already when we weren’t looking, and we’ve fussed at them to leave it alone (and taken pieces away from them) more times than I can count in just the 6 weeks we’ve had the dang thing.
  • Angel Dear Pink Poodle Lovie: Known in our house as Pinky, this is her lovie, though she’s more attached to her books than to any stuffed animal or blanky type things. It’s a good size, and it looks kind of like a pink version of our Delia dog (her best bud), so it works for us.

Electronic

Disclaimer on this category – we are TOTALLY those people who let our kid play games on our phones and watch television. If you’re not one of those people, feel free to skip this section. Also, we are an iPhone family, so I know all of these are available on iOS, but I can’t speak to other platforms.

  • Fisher Price apps: There are a ton of these, and they’re all FREE. Her favorites are Animal Sounds, Baby Monkey, and all of the Storybook Rhymes (there are 5, but we only have the 3 free ones).
  • Monkey Drum: My father-in-law found this one – she can bang on the monkey and jungle instruments, and the monkey plays back what she played. She can also feed the monkey bananas, and she can compose her own songs to play on an infinite loop. And again, it’s free!
  • Elmo Calls: Not free, but worth it if you have an Elmo lover on your hands. It’s $1 for the app, but then another $5 to buy all of the calls you can have with Elmo (the $1 comes with just 5 or 6). So you push a button, and you can Facetime with Elmo. Play peek-a-boo with Elmo. Sing with Elmo. Play pretend with Elmo. And it’s got context specific calls – like for bath time and brushing teeth and visiting the doctor – and you can schedule them so that Elmo calls for your kid at the right time, maybe right before tooth-brushing time. It’s pretty cool. She likes it now, but I think she’ll like it even better as she understands what he’s saying more.
  • NameGames: This lets you put in pictures of people baby knows and record their names, so they play a game where they touch bubbles and the bubbles have pictures of their loved ones and says their names. It’s pretty cool, but you only get 2 profiles of people for free. If you have more than 2 people you want to put in, you’ll have to pay for the full version.
  • Peekaboo HD: M. adores this game. There are a bunch of barnyard animals, and they hide behind a haystack one at a time but make a noise (moo or bray or bark or whatever), and when she touches they haystack, they’re revealed. A voice says what they are (“cow”) and then they make their noise again and then it’s time for the next animal. There are also jungle and safari versions you can buy, and you can make it do the animals in Spanish.
  • WebMD Baby: There are expensive apps for tracking feedings, diaper changes, etc., but this one is free. It has the added benefit of reminding you to take a picture of the baby every week, giving lots of helpful information and articles, giving you a spot to record growth (which I fill in right in the doctor’s office as they measure her), and so much more. And did I mention free? I think it’s an amazing bargain.
  • Netflix: Dear God, we could not get by in our house without Netflix. We have it on our phones, and we use it sometimes, but mainly I’m talking about how we use Netflix instead of cable. Because we haven’t had cable for years, so we just have a computer hooked up to the TV permanently that we don’t use for anything except streaming entertainment. And Netflix has a fabulous kids’ section. We watch a ridiculous amount of Sesame Street, as well as the occasional Curious George and My Little Pony. We used to watch Yo Gabba Gabba, but they took it off of Netflix (sadface). She watches maybe 30 minutes of TV a day, but for those 30 minutes, it is amazing to have all of Sesame Street at your fingertips.

Reflections on a Year

October 30, 2013

My sweet baboo, my baby M., is a year old today. So much has happened this year, good and bad and indifferent, but the biggest life change we’ve had has been living with a whole new person. She delights me and frustrates me and makes my heart swell a million times over and causes the greatest anxieties I’ve ever felt and makes me want to play again for the first time in years. I’ve lost some of myself, a little bit, but I’ve gained so much more than I’ve lost. I don’t even know how to express how incredibly complex my emotions are when I think back on this year with M., but I’ve got to give it a go because that’s what I do here.

Brand-new Baby M.

Brand-new Baby M.

First, some milestones:

  • Weight: At birth = 8 lbs 2 oz; At one year = 18 lbs
  • Height: At birth = 21 inches; At one year = 31 inches
  • Clothing size: At birth = newborn for 3-4 weeks before moving into 0-3 mo; At one year = just barely moved into 9-12 mo
  • Teeth: 7 and counting
  • Words: Mama, Daddy, book, dog/doggie, hi, Delia
  • Favorite things: Books, balls, Mozart music cube, laptop computer (both her toy and my real one), iPhone games, music (especially the ABC song, Twinkle Twinkle, Patty Cake, and the Itsy Bitsy Spider), Sesame Street (especially Elmo, Grover and Abby), watching our dogs (especially when they go crazy and run circles around the room – that is, to M., HILARIOUS), climbing on her parents like we are jungle gyms (this is the most fun when we are lying or sitting on the ground)
  • Things she hates: having her face or hands wiped off, not being picked up and carried around immediately when she decides that’s what she wants, being told no, going to sleep, clothes going over her head, anyone grabbing or holding her hands
  • Physical abilities: Crawling and cruising, clapping, waving, giving kisses, feeding herself chunks of things
M. at about 3 months

M. at about 3 months

And now I’m going to bombard you with a list of random thoughts* that have occurred to me when I think back on this Year of M. Actually, I suppose that should be Year One of M., because I imagine every year from here on out will be about her in some way or another. I sure hope so.

      • My baby’s kisses are the sweetest and best thing to happen to me every single day.
      • My husband is rocking the stay-at-home-dad thing, despite the fact that it is simultaneously the most exhausting and the most boring and the most wonderful thing he could be doing.
      • Hearing tragic news of any sort is approximately one trillion percent more horrible than it used to be. In the past year there have been so very many heart-wrenching news stories about children in school shootings, accidental shootings, rapes, abductions, natural disasters, horribly abusive homes. Just yesterday there was local news about a six-year-old who was hit by a car and died. It has all always been heart-wrenching, of course, but now it’s magnified beyond comprehension. I’m terrified for the day I have to let M. leave the house without me or Dave or one of her grandparents right next to her.
      • I am completely fascinated by every moment she figures something out, or even just tries to figure something out. Sitting there and watching her study something, the little wheels clearly turning in her head, is endlessly entertaining.
      • M. at about 6 months

        M. at about 6 months

        My body sucks in a way I didn’t understand it would. I’m about a size and a half bigger than I was pre-pregnancy, and about a half-size bigger in shoes. I have stretch marks and belly fat I did not have before. My back and my pelvis have mostly recovered but are still not the same as they were.

      • On the flip side, I am developing KILLER arm muscles from toting around 18 lbs of baby all the time.
      • I did not understand exhaustion before M. However, lack of sleep was my greatest fear about being a mother, and I’ve adapted far more easily than I thought possible. Yes, I’m tired pretty much all of the time, but it’s OK.
      • What in the world did I do with my time before I had a kid? I thought I had no free time then, and now I have multiple hours of time LESS than I did before and I still manage.
      • Please, please let her love of books continue. It seems like a no-brainer to me, because Dave and I both read so much and have read to her pretty much constantly since she was a newborn. She loves books right now, and her first word after Mama and Daddy was “book.” But I know a lot of kids love books at this age and outgrow it when they get old enough to read on their own. I hope so hard that won’t be her.
      • When your kid is 4 to 12 weeks old, it is TOTALLY okay to watch Deadwood while they’re in the room.
      • M. at about 9 months

        M. at about 9 months

        Netflix streaming and Hulu are lifesavers when your child needs to eat, or just refuses to sleep, in the middle of the night.

      • Baby gear is expensive. But if you wait to have your first kid until after your friends have already had a few (but not so late that they’ve already given away all of their baby stuff), they will beg you to take their stuff from them, and you get free stuff.
      • Babies grow way too fast. I’ve spent about an hour in the last two years managing my own wardrobe. I’ve spent probably 12 hours in the last year managing M.’s wardrobe.
      • Making real baby food (as opposed to processed purees in jars or pouches) is actually super-easy. It takes very little effort or planning. But the pouches are quite handy for traveling.
      • Breastfeeding is really, really hard. We are going to make it to a year and beyond, but I don’t know how much beyond. I am just…I’m done. I’m so tired of pumping, and now that she has all of those teeth, I’m tired of being bitten. Frankly, I don’t know how much she’ll care – she has never once asked me to nurse, and lately she seems impatient to leave my lap and go explore when she does nurse. She only stays because she’s hungry; she’d rather have something portable to eat, I think. And have I mentioned just how over pumping I am?
      • M.'s 1st birthday - special shirt!

        M.’s 1st birthday – special shirt!

        I’m going to cry when she’s weaned. Hormones aside – and nursing has made me super-hormonal at times – I will be so sad and so relieved at the same time when nursing is done. It is so hard, especially as a working mom with a full-time job out of the house that requires me to travel periodically, but it’s also so sweet and perfect and bonding.

      • One is enough. I would not trade M. for anything. Having her and raising her are the hardest and best things I have ever done. But right now, you could not convince me to have another baby for all tea in China.
      • Despite seeming like she is living, breathing chaos, my child totally thrives on structure. She is at her best when her routine is followed to the letter and everything is totally predictable for her.
      • Who ever knew that the best part of every day for me would be sitting in the floor clicking two plastic balls together and making goofy faces in an effort to make another (quite small) person laugh? WHO KNEW?
M.'s 1st birthday - first cake ever!

M.’s 1st birthday – first cake ever!

*Sorry for how very random and disorganized this list is. I just…I couldn’t figure out any way to organize it. And this is why I will never be an author. I can’t put together a coherent narrative from my disjointed thought-lets.

The Return of Monday Miscellany

October 14, 2013

Long ago and far away, I used to write a Monday Miscellany post that was full of exactly what it sounds like – random crap that caught my attention over the previous week. I don’t know that I’m going to do it regular-like (I seem to be having trouble doing anything regularly these days), but it seemed like a good thing to do today.

  • I have recently run out of my backlog of podcasts from when I didn’t listen to podcasts for 18 months or so, because I now listen to nothing but podcasts on my 20-30 minute commute to and from work. There are podcasts I enjoy greatly, but they don’t come out fast enough for me. So I have recently started listening to Welcome to Night Vale. You guys. It is HILARIOUS! It’s a tongue-in-cheek radio show about a desert town with all kinds of weird occurrences that the inhabitants don’t seem to find all that weird, like the dog park that is for neither dogs nor people, the house that isn’t really there, angels that all lie (and don’t really exist), and major earthquakes that no one can actually feel. I’ve only just started the second episode, but it is cracking me up.
  • I’m loving this series of posts on FoodRiot called “Cooking With Children (Like, as Helpers, Not as Ingredients)”. You can read the first installment and the second installment. I just wish she posted them more often – I’d love to read regular posts about her cooking with the toddler!
  • I have a friend who is a fabulous chef and a fantastic cookbook author/recipe creator who has launched a Kickstarter for a gluten-free cookbook that promises easy recipes that won’t taste like sawdust or have weird textures. GF peoples, get on it.
  • The Flat, a faboo creperie here in our town, is ALSO holding a Kickstarter because they want to buy a food truck so they can make crepes at festivals and weddings and parties and maybe IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD sometimes. And because their crepes are amazing and I want them to make crepes as close to me as possible at all times, I want them to have this food truck. Cvillians, get on it.
  • Today is my amazing husband’s birthday. To demonstrate my appreciation for how he cares for M. all day every day, feeds and walks the dogs every day, feeds me and M. every day, cleans the house, takes care of the yard, and generally eschews adult interaction and sanity in favor of our family well-being, I gave him…fleece socks (which he was VERY excited about, I must report in defense of my selection) and the world’s most inappropriate card game. M. gave him a half-dozen of his favorite cupcakes in the world. And we had a single night baby-free in the Outer Banks on Saturday, but that was mostly for a friend’s wedding and only a tiny part for his birthday. I feel like he deserves a billionty times all of that. Hopefully he’ll settle for some sweet baby kisses on top of it all… :)

So that’s what I’ve got…what have you been up to lately?

Personally Defining Books

October 7, 2013

Last month was crazy busy, as you might have guessed from the lack of posts! I’m back now, though, with an interesting bookish topic for you.

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to the Bookrageous podcast’s 3rd Anniversary episode. For every anniversary show so far, they’ve taken listener questions via social media and email and then answered them on the show. One of the questions asked each of the hosts to list their three most personally defining books. Now, that was an interesting question. Not their three favorite books, or the three books they re-read most, or their three desert island books, but three books that they feel personally define them as readers and, perhaps, as people. Of course, I immediately started making my own mental list. After much debate (with myself, because I’m TOTALLY SANE, people), here’s what I came up with:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is the first book I remember being totally obssessed with. I checked it out of the library over and over and over until my Grandma found an old copy lurking somewhere in her house and told me I could have it. I read it multiple times a year, and then yearly once my reading life expanded, for a long time. I think I have seen every movie adaptation (Katharine Hepburn as Jo is the best, obvs). I haven’t read it in a number of years, but it absolutely my first grown-up book love. What is it about that story that speaks to me? Maybe because it’s got a little of everything – close family ties, strong women, romance, heartbreak, tragedy, gossip, in-fighting, poverty, decadence. Maybe because I’ve always been a little drawn to melodrama, and maybe because Beth was the sister I identified with most, but I wanted to identify with Jo. That last part might be it, actually – I have shaped my personality and life path to the greatest extent I have control over in an effort to become a person with the best characteristics of both Beth and Jo – loving and nurturing, but not a doormat; sweet-tempered but also feisty and passionate; lover of music and of books. If that’s not personally defining, I don’t know what is.
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This is the first book that totally blew my mind open. We read it in 10th grade in English class and I was not articulate enough at the time to explain it, but I felt awed and privileged to be assigned such an amazing book to read for a school assignment. It ignited the burning love I have for Southern literature – all strange and gothic and batshit crazy with a soft, sweet side. It reminded me of the feeling I associate with the word “home” – small town, close-knit, loving but also back-stabbing, odd, and fascinating. The first time I had to write a curriculum unit for a class assignment (while in college to become a high school English teacher), this book is the subject I chose. It is the book I associate over and over with any writing about the American South, the standard to which I compare all Southern literature. I came to love Eudora Welty and William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor and Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee and my contemporary favorite, Joshilyn Jackson, by measuring them against this book and finding them worthy of comparison.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare. My first Shakespeare, from when I was about middle-school-aged. My town’s Girl Scouts got all of the troops together to throw a Renaissance faire, complete with costumes and games and performances. Some troops performed scenes from Shakespeare, and I was a witch in a scene from Macbeth. Yes, one of the “double double, toil and trouble” witches. I still remember most of my lines. I remember looking up what some of the words meant, because they were so odd but so interesting and fun to say. After that, I read the whole play on my own. Then I read Romeo and Juliet. Then A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then Hamlet. I felt really smart, sure, but I also loved the stories. I think that initial exposure is what started both my love of theater and my path toward being an English major.

And because I can’t make decisions without second-guessing myself, here are my runners-up:

  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
  • Every single book ever by L. M. Montgomery, especially the Anne of Green Gables series
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

How about you? How would you answer the question “What three books are the most personally defining for you?”

My Adventures in Baby Feeding

August 26, 2013

So, apparently August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Which, I agree with Pregnant Chicken, is totally a weird name – surely, everyone is aware of breastfeeding. But I get the point, that it’s to promote knowledge about the benefits of and not-obscene-ness of breastfeeding, which is good. But I think it’s also good to just celebrate people who are feeding their kids, period, no matter how they’re doing it. Of course I have quite a few friends who chose to breastfeed (and had varying degrees of success doing it). I have friends who chose not to breastfeed because their jobs made it far too difficult. I have friends who could not breastfeed, either physically or because of other life circumstances. I have friends who tried to breastfeed but had to supplement with formula. And I support ALL of their choices. They are all wonderful, amazing mothers, regardless of how they fed their kids. The important thing is that they sacrificed their money, their time, their sleep, their bodies to feed their babies in whatever way made the most sense for their families and their kids are all thriving. Yay for having the resources and the love to feed your kids!

Still, the fact that I fully support my formula moms doesn’t mean that I don’t get pissed off every single damn time I hear about a breastfeeding mother who was told to cover up their feeding baby or to go feed their kid on a toilet somewhere. So for my part in Feed Your Baby Month, all I can do is share my own experiences feeding my baby. If you are squeamish about baby-feeding, I suggest you skip this post. I will talk about breasts and nipples, fair warning.

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Breastfeeding is a weird thing. It’s simultaneously a pain in the ass and amazing and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. (Also, I’m just going to say BFing from now on because it’s a lot shorter.) One benefit of BFing for the parents is that it is a LOT cheaper than formula feeding. My organic bamboo washable nursing pads, special nursing bras and shirts and dresses, nipple cream, breast pump, breast pump accouterments, milk storage bags, special bottles meant to closely emulate the breast, nursing pillow – all of this crap adds up to WAY less than a year’s supply of formula. In addition, lots of BFing proponents say it’s just so much easier that giving formula, and I…disagree. Sure, if everything is going well and there are no problems and you’re actually physically with your child, it’s not that difficult to put babe to breast and feed. No muss, no fuss. Nothing to clean up, nothing to prepare, you just do it. There is the matter of middle-of-the-night feedings, which are only harder for BFing moms because they can’t pass it on to the other parent, but neither can single moms regardless of how they’re feeding their baby. But if everything is not just super-duper perfect? BFing, while it’s really, really wonderful, can also be really, really hard.

First, there’s the physical pain. The books and instructors are fond of telling you, before you ever try to BF, that it doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right. HA! Hahahahahahahahaha! I think that’s a lie they tell women so that they’re not scared off of trying. In the beginning, it hurt because my nipples were too sensitive. It takes a little time for them to toughen up. Even if your baby has the most perfect latch in the world and you’re rubbing all of the nipple cream that exists into your breasts, it will still hurt. Sometimes enough to bring tears to your eyes. For me, the pain usually only lasted a bit at the beginning of a BFing session – maybe 30 seconds to a minute – and then it would dull and things would be OK again. After a few weeks, my breasts toughened up and it was easier. But it never went away for keeps. Periodically, even now after doing it for almost 10 months, the pain will come back. It’s not as intense as it was at first and I’ve learned how to distract myself and/or breathe through it and I’ve learned to use ALL THE NIPPLE CREAMS until it goes away again, but there is still pain. Then you introduce teeth…oy. The bottom teeth haven’t been tooooooooo bad, but her top teeth are going to pop through any day now and I know I will get bitten. Probably more than once. And that it will hurt like hell every time it happens. And I got off easy, pain-wise, because I have never had to deal with cracked, bleeding nipples or blocked milk ducts or mastitis (that would be infected/inflamed breast tissue caused by blocked ducts) like many moms do – I don’t know if I could have kept going through that level of pain because I’m a wuss, but man, kudos to the many moms who do! So yes, it hurts.

Also physically, there’s the logistics. I gather that figuring out positioning and such is not easy for any mom, regardless of the size and shape of their breasts, but I can speak from personal experience on having really large breasts. First, let’s dispel what I think of as the pr*n myth (misspelling that word on purpose to trick the gross spambots, FYI). Very large breasts are not usually perky. It’s a gravity thing – they’re heavy, and so gravity pulls them down. Any woman you’ve ever seen a photo of with enormous, perky boobs? Psst: they’re not real. They’re likely Photoshopped or plastic surgery-engineered, and quite possibly both. For we regular well-endowed women, our breasts kind of…hang low. Every time I read an article about a mom BFing while wearing her baby in the Moby wrap or Ergo carrier, I both laughed and cried a little on the inside. It is seriously not possible for me. There is no physical way to wear M. and have my nipple reach her mouth. It cannot be done. Likewise, most of the positions they show you in BFing books and classes, I could not do. It was either extremely uncomfortable for me or again, just not physically possible. We had to figure out our own way of doing it. And even now, at nearly 10 months old and pretty strong, I have to hold my breast for my kid, because it’s too heavy for her to hold and keep in her mouth and there is no natural way for her to sit or lay where it just falls into her mouth. That causes cramps and problems in my wrist and arm. And now that she’s all aware of her body and a crazy super wiggle worm, the logistics are even more complicated – it’s almost impossible to both hold one breast AND keep her from taking a header off the couch. My early BFing days were filled with multitasking, when she just laid there like a lump – I could use one hand to hold my breast and the other to type on my computer or phone or read a book. Those days are gone – now it takes all of my efforts to keep her both eating and not hurting herself while doing so! As for those ladies who can discreetly feed their kid without a cover in public: I am so envious. My child will have NONE of a cover now – if I try to use it, she pushes it off her head. And who can blame her – I don’t want to eat under a blanket either! But there is nothing discreet about me BFing. Oh sure, I try to show the only the tiniest bit of skin, but my shirt will soon ride up my massive breast. Because somehow I’m still modest and shy around strangers, this means I will do EVERYTHING IN MY POWER to plan activities around being able to BF my kid at home (or at least at a family member or friend’s  home, or in the car) before being out in the world. I mean really, if it comes down to it and there is no way around it, I will absolutely feed her in public, spectacle be damned, because my kid needs to eat and that trumps everything. But I cannot do it discreetly. The best I can do is face a wall or a corner while she eats.

And then there’s the fun of pumping. Whee. If you’re planning to BF, and you have the possibility of being a stay at home mom but you’re on the fence about it, let me tell you that pumping is enough of a pain all by itself to push you over the fence. And I, again, have it easy with pumping. I work with mostly women – many of them other mothers – and I have an office with a door I can shut. I work regular office hours. And still, it’s a giant pain. I’d far rather just feed my baby than pump. M. can eat a full meal in 10-15 minutes, depending on how distracted she is. Pumping takes at least 30 minutes. I have to get set up, pump longer than she usually eats to get a decent amount in a bottle, and then break down and clean everything up. Under the very best conditions, it’s still a gigantic pain in the ass. Then you add the fact that I travel for work, and pumping while traveling could take an entire logistics team to figure out: timing your feeding/pumping before you leave for the airport so that you can pump again at the right time on your layover; timing your layover so that you have enough time to find a place to pump and you have time to pump; finding somewhere to do it (usually a family bathroom because unless you want to do it out in the open, which leaves me feeling like I have no choice and less choice); figuring out how to adequately clean all of your pump parts (in a public bathroom ICK); etc. God forbid a flight is delayed somewhere, throwing off your entire carefully planned schedule. And then you get where you’re going and have work to do…do you know how weird and embarrassing it is to tell your Board of Directors that you need to take a break from your meeting to pump breast milk for your baby? Or to disappear several times during the day in the middle of a busy conference you’re at least partially responsible for running? I do. Even when your Board or co-workers or conference attendees are supportive and understanding, it’s still uncomfortable. And then there’s what to do with the milk AFTER you pump, because you may not be able to keep it cold on the trip home, or store it cold while you’re at your destination, and the local milk bank won’t take it unless you don’t take any medications at all, even vitamins, and also have a blood test first, and you just cannot bring yourself to dump that hard work down the drain… And finally, what does your baby eat while you’re gone?! I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to pump enough extra milk to freeze for her to eat while I was on my last 2 trips, but I have serious doubts that there will be enough to last her through my upcoming 7-day business trip next month, much less the 3 days I’ll be gone for a wedding the weekend after that. So she’ll have formula, and it will be fine, but it’s still stressful to think about. All of that PLUS you miss your kid terribly while you’re gone and feel guilty for being away from her (and, dare I say it, guilty for enjoying a little time away, even if it is for work).

Finally, there’s the emotional strain. You are physically tied to that kid. You cannot get a break. Especially at the beginning, because newborns eat all the damn time. You fluctuate back and forth between feeling those warm, gooey, lovey bonding feelings with the sweet baby at your breast and feeling ready to pull your hair out because you meant to sleep when the baby slept as all of those sage people told you, but you really needed to do the dishes and then answer an email or two and now it’s time to feed the baby again and you feel kind of trapped because you’re the only one who can do this and OH MY GOD YOU JUST WANT A NAP. And THAT feeling leads to guilt, because so many women want to have children who can’t and you did, and so many moms want to BF but can’t and you are, and your baby is amazing and how could you not want to care for her for even a second; what’s wrong with you, aren’t you supposed to feel this mama lion I’ll-do-anything-for-my-kid feeling? Then there’s the worry, being unsure that your baby is eating enough because you can’t tell how much milk they’re drinking when it’s coming straight out of your breast and not out of a bottle, and this is compounded when your kid loses just a teensy bit too much weight after birth and you’re told you don’t need to supplement with formula “yet” with the implication that maybe you will because your body is not feeding your kid enough, and so you feel inadequate and panicky at the same time (ask me how I know). And eventually, that leads back around to pride and amazement: pride that you are doing this hard thing, despite the exhaustion and the emotional roller coaster and the pain and the inconvenience and the worry, and amazement that your body just…does this, it makes food for your baby that is all your baby needs, with no instructions or anything, and how friggin’ cool is that?! And you can feel ALL of these emotions in the span of about 10 minutes. Multiply the intensity of those feelings by about a billionty times if you had the baby 6 or fewer weeks ago, or if you’re suffering from any kind of postpartum depression. It is draining. It does get easier with time, certainly, but some of that sticks around all the way through your BFing time.

Of course, with all of that, there is the amazing feeling of gazing into your baby’s eyes while she eats what your body has made. There is playing silly games with her while she eats, making her laugh and watching milk dribble out of the side of her mouth. Knowing that when she is scared or crying, your body can literally comfort her. Knowing she is so very dependent on you right now, and knowing that won’t last. Being so thankful that you have this opportunity to contribute very personally to her health and well-being, and knowing that as much as you get frustrated with it all now, it will not be long before you miss it so very much.

I am a breastfeeding mother. It is not easy. But for me, it is worth it.

My Week, and My Eleven Questions from Becky

August 10, 2013
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It’s been kind of a crazy week around here. I didn’t mention it in the last post, but my family lost a beloved family member unexpectedly and at too early an age about a week and a half ago, and we were at her funeral a week ago. One of our dogs was made extremely ill by an antibiotic treatment for tick-borne illnesses while the other has totally torn up her tail worrying a hot spot. Then we had the book club occurrence that riled me up, followed by my book club meeting, trying (and failing) to catch up on work, being featured on the Eleanor Project, attending a Getting Things Done seminar in Richmond, and getting a shout-out (with homework) from my friend Becky over at Chicken Wire & Paper Flowers. On top of all that, I started feeling like I’m coming down with a cold yesterday, this is the first weekend we’ve been able to do chores in several weeks so there’s a lot to do, and, if you can imagine this, I haven’t been sleeping particularly well so I’m pretty run down.

I have a bunch of things I could and hopefully will write about in the coming weeks, but this weekend, I am oh-so-grateful for Becky’s questions, because this can be an easy post that I don’t have to think too hard to write. And if you’re not already reading Becky’s blog, I would encourage you to check it out, especially if you’re into cooking of any kind (but particularly pickles and canning), gardening, smart-assery, spunky tweens, Girl Scouts, longtime girlfriends, etc. etc. etc. She and her husband Pat are so open and welcoming and friendly and perpetually in pursuit of some fun, and their daughter Edie is probably the coolest 11-going-on-30-year-old I’ve ever met. (Becky frequently refers to how Edie is probably more grown-up than she is in some ways.) Anyway. On to her questions!

1. The one book you read over and over again.
It’s been a while since I read either of them, but I used to read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott at least once a year, and I’ve read The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea at least 6 or 7 times. I’ve also read many books in the L.M. Montgomery catalog numerous times (I own every book she ever published), as well as A Wrinkle in TimeThe Outsiders, and The Catcher in the Rye. And The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers was my gateway drug to Southern lit, and I’ve read it over and over.

2. Meal planner or just open the fridge and see what you have and throw it together kind of cook?
Heh. I’m not the cook at all. My husband cooks everything in our house. Well, I do occasionally make breakfast, but that’s about it. We do plan our meals together though, because we only shop from a shopping list and you can’t make a shopping list without knowing what you’re going to cook. And on the rare occasions that I do actually cook something, I definitely like a plan (though breakfast is easier to wing).

3. Favorite curse word.
Without a doubt, it’s fuck. Though I do try to curb my tongue in front of my kid, my mother, and people I don’t know.

4. Which is the better album – Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall?
Er…Pink Floyd is not really my thing. I don’t feel familiar enough with either to choose a favorite. Sorry. At least I know these are Pink Floyd, right? :) How about another album-choice game for an artist I bet we both like? I pick Doolittle over Surfer Rosa.

5. In the movie of your life, who would play you?
Drew Barrymore. An old boyfriend once told me she looked like me (or I looked like her, whatever – I guess she’s a year or two older than me), and though I never really agreed, it’s stuck in my mind. No one else has ever compared me to a celebrity. And I kinda like Drew.

6. Best decision you ever made?
Having a baby. We were on the fence about it for a long time. We were married 7 years before we even decided to start trying to get pregnant, and I was days from turning 35 when she was born. Yes, I have less sleep and less free time and more frustration and more screaming in my life, and yet it’s all worth it. She’s amazing.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have so many. Cheap mystery novels. Chocolate. Doctor Who. Sleep. I don’t think I have anything particularly bad right now, but I have had addictions to terrible TV shows at times in the past (I’m looking at you, Brothers and Sisters…). :)

8. How did you meet your significant other?
Online, because we’re both introverted hermit dorks. Our first date lasted 10 hours, though – we hit it off instantly.

9. Coffee, tea or soda in the morning?
Coffee, my life’s blood first thing in the morning. Along with a big glass of water.

10. Favorite noodle type.
Like, shape? I like rotini best, I think – they pick up sauce better than most other noodles. For a dish with noodles in it, probably lasagna (though I do also love a good pho).

11. Why did you start blogging to begin with?
I wanted to empty my brain of things I was thinking about, and I didn’t have a good platform for that. So I created one. Pretty typical for personal-type blogs, I think.

And that’s it. I cannot possibly summon the energy to identify other bloggers for the game or to come up with more questions, so I’m being a spoilsport and ending the game here. Unless you want to play along with Becky’s questions, in which case, have at it! If you do, comment on this post with a link to your blog so we can all go see it!

Misogyny at the Book Club

August 5, 2013

So, I co-organize a book club. We’re a Meetup group, open to anyone. It was not our group originally; we inherited it from a friend when she moved out of town, and she had likewise inherited it from another person when that person moved away. But we work hard to keep it friendly, to keep people engaged and make sure everyone’s voice is heard in book selections, and keep the books we discuss to actually be discussion-worthy. Sometimes we fail on that point, but usually, even if not everyone likes the book, we can have a decent discussion. The way we choose books is as follows: People who attend the meeting make suggestions. Our criteria for books are that they be approximately 350 pages or less (though we’re not always hard and fast on that one), and that they either be out in paperback or at least less than $15 in hardcover on Amazon. This keeps them short enough for busy people to read in a month’s time and affordable enough that if you can’t get a copy at the library, buying a copy won’t break the bank. My co-organizer narrows the field to 5 books and puts them up in a poll on the Meetup site. We notify the entire Meetup. About 5% of the members vote. (We have over 300 members, of which I’d say 90% have never even been to one meeting, which is typical of Meetup groups, I find. We have maybe 10 real regulars, and by regulars I don’t even mean people who come every month; we have maybe 4 or 5 of those.) The book with the most votes as of the next meeting wins. If there’s a tie, we do one of 3 things: we have two groups the next time, each group reading one of the books, or the people at the previous meeting get to choose which one they’d prefer, or the co-organizers pick the one they’d prefer. It is a pretty fair way of deciding, I think, and we read an interesting selection of books. For reference, here’s the list of books we’ve read in the past year:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: a nonfiction book about science and racism and medical ethics
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: A Man Booker Prize winner from a few years ago, a short novel about a middle-aged British man reflecting on his childhood and unraveling current and past mysteries (and discovering himself as he currently exists)
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami: a typical Murakami book, weird and disturbing and filled with magical realism, about sex and time travel and murder and beheading cats and alternate dimensions
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: the Harry Potter author’s first novel for adults, all about how the death of a city councilman affects all of the deep dark hidden secrets of a tiny British village
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: a rather famous nonfiction book about how famously intelligent/inventive individuals get where they are and the factors that influence excellence in life and business
  • The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux: a trio of novellas on the theme of foreigners’ interactions with natives in India, for the good and the bad (but mostly the bad)
  • Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: a novel from the famous author about a low-level British spy who falls in love with her mark and the complicated ethical line she walks and the fallout in their relationship when he finds out the truth
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed: a nonfiction memoir about a young woman who decides to hike the entire Pacific Coast Trail (the wilder, longer, harder version of the more well-known Appalachian Trail) by herself, with practically no wilderness training/experience, in order to rediscover herself and heal from the wounds caused by her mother’s untimely death and her divorce from the man she loved
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: the first in a famous novel series that has been adapted for TV by HBO, establishing the characters and the world and the political intrigues in a medieval fantasy kind of setting
  • The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom: a modern-day fable from a famous author about the value of time and not attaching too much importance to counting it
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: a young adult novel that is part spooky, part fantastical about a teenager who discovers he is “peculiar” in the same way as his grandfather and that there are other peculiar people out there with their own talents – and the fate of the world may rest on all of their shoulders
  • Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer: a book about space exploration and dying and alopecia and autism and young love and poverty and the suburbs and robots and generally just Being Different (and the book that inspired the incident that inspired this post)

I think that’s a pretty diverse group. I didn’t love them all, but I read a number of books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, and discovered a couple that I liked a lot as a result. Which is why I was really pissed off this morning when I read a comment from a member on the site this morning that said, “Sigh. Another month, another chick book.” Um…WTF?! Here are the thoughts that went through my mind immediately:

  1. This book is NOT a chick book!
  2. Why does he think it’s a chick book? Has he read it? Or is he just assuming based on the cover or a description he read or the fact that it’s written by a woman and has a female protagonist?
  3. What the hell IS a chick book? Are there books that this guy presumes can only be enjoyed by women?
  4. Why is that a prevailing thought? Why do we have the somewhat derogatory term “chick lit” but there’s no male equivalent? Why can guys scoff at “chick lit” but ladies are expected to respect or even enjoy “dude lit” (for lack of a better term BECAUSE THERE IS NO EQUIVALENT TERM)?
  5. This guy has been a member of the Meetup group for a year and NEVER EVEN ATTENDED A MEETING of this group. Why does he think he gets to comment on our book selections?
  6. ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

someecards.com - I'm sorry you find my feminism Possibly more infuriating or baffling was the female member who replied to his post with a “And how!” comment. I am so puzzled. She only recently joined and hasn’t come to a meeting yet, so I guess I can give that a pass…

I’m still pissy about it. I wrote a reply asking him if he’d read the book and for his reasons why he called it a “chick book”, and I suggested he come to a meeting to suggest books and also be sure to vote on the poll every month if he wants to influence the selections. I also listed the last 3 months of books to demonstrate that even if he thinks this is a “chick book” for some reason, we certainly don’t choose one like it every time.

I really shouldn’t be wasting this much energy on this, I guess, but since he posted his comment publicly, I don’t want it to influence potential members who are perusing the site or to discourage current members who just didn’t get a chance to read this book this month from ever reading it (particularly because it’s a book I really, really like). But I am really more pissed off at the societal construct I noted in #4 of my list above where something about/by/for women is somehow less than or easily dismissed. Why is a book written by a woman, written about a woman, enjoyed by women somehow not good enough for reading and discussion? Why is it any less important or less complex or less interesting than a book written by a man, about a man and/or enjoyed by men? I know the answer is that it’s NOT less important or less good, but why do so many people think that? Why do EVEN WOMEN act dismissive in that way?

What do you think? Am I overreacting? Do you have ALL THE THOUGHTS on this issue like I do? If so, please share!

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