Every school needs a Jacob!

My three-year-old Lydia and I recently enjoyed a picture book from our local library, Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah & Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case.  Jacob is a preschool boy who enjoys wearing dresses from the costume box but is criticized by his classmate Christopher.  His mom is kind about his hurt feelings, but when he says he wants to wear a dress as his regular clothing, she’s clearly unsettled.  After an experiment with a towel toga and some more bullying from Christopher, Jacob steels his nerve to talk to his mom again–and she helps him sew a dress he really likes.  When Christopher complains about it at circle time, their teacher says, “Everyone wears what’s comfortable for them.”  She points out that people used to say girls couldn’t wear pants.  At recess, Jacob stands up to the bully, feeling his dress surrounding him like “soft, cottony armor.”

Lydia and I loved this story of bravery and being yourself!  It’s very gently yet vividly written, perfectly evoking Jacob’s desires and worries at a preschool level, not preachy and not over-explaining.  I’m especially impressed with the moment when Jacob’s mother is trying to decide what to say and Jacob feels like he can’t breathe–that’s all it says, but you can feel the tension, the importance of his mother’s reaction to him.  I also love what she says as they make the dress: “There are all sorts of ways to be a boy.”

Lydia likes pink and flowers and Hello Kitty, but she also loves trains and playing in the mud, and she likes to wear clothes handed down by her older brother Nicholas, like a blue T-shirt with a dragon on it.  She was surprised by the idea that girls “couldn’t” wear pants.  I pulled out a few of the pre-1960 children’s books we own and pointed out that all the girls in the pictures were wearing dresses.  We agreed that sometimes pants are more comfortable, and other times a dress is just the right “soft, cottony armor” for your adventures! Read more of this post

Is Your Pussyhat Keeping Someone Warm?

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper.  Click photo to read the article

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper. Click photo to read the article “Pittsburghers pledge to continue fighting after women’s march.”

In photographs of last Saturday’s women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and around the United States, many pink hats are visible, most of them with ears, indicating solidarity with the Pussyhat Project that was so popular it caused shortages of pink yarn in some parts of the country.  It’s obvious that many thousands of pink pussyhats now exist.

Why haven’t I seen any of them this week?

I live in the East End of Pittsburgh.  This is a very liberal area where support for equal rights is seen as a good thing by the general public; it’s highly unlikely that someone would be harassed for wearing a feminist symbol in public around here.

The weather has been warm for January but damp.  I do see people wearing knitted hats.  I haven’t yet seen a pink hat with ears, not even one.  Where did they all go?

If you have a pussyhat, wear it as your warm hat for the rest of the winter!  Let it remind you and everyone else that this protest was not just a one-day thing but that we need to stand up for equal rights for everybody every day!

If you have a pussyhat that you are not going to wear again, for whatever reason–please give it to someone who needs a warm hat or to an organization like a homeless shelter that will put that hat on a cold head.  A warm hat can keep a person alive on a cold night.

Don’t let that knitting go to waste!  Share the warmth and keep America great!

What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much (and 4 other books!)

In addition to finishing the books I got for Christmas in time for my birthday, I’ve read a few other new-to-me books recently, including one that actually has the alternate title What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much!  I learned something from each of these books.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

This is one of the most helpful self-help books I’ve ever read.  It explains several ways that anger typically functions in women’s relationships (with men, family members, friends, and co-workers) and how our handling of anger often keeps a relationship stuck in frustrating patterns.  Although the book focuses on women and makes some generalizations about what women do vs. what men do, it’s more insightful than stereotypical, and some of the strategies could easily be useful to men, too, when they find themselves stuck in the same situations.  A particularly helpful section talks about the formation of triangles in which “we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.”  I’ve sometimes realized that I was doing this, or that two people had pulled me into the middle of a conflict that was really between them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get out of it.  The book explains how to figure out why it’s happening and how to get out of it by “staying calm, staying out, and hanging in”–none of which is especially easy to do, but the clear explanation of steps makes it sound possible, at least!  I also appreciate this book’s clear explanation of a pattern in which one person consistently “over-functions” (does too much) and the other “under-functions” and why both people find this difficult to stop.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This dystopian techno-thriller starts with a fascinating premise and goes on into a saga that seemed kind of muddled… Read more of this post

The City of Slim Shadies

On days like this, when the sky is so heavy with clouds that we never glimpse the sun, and the wind is cold and damp, and it seems like winter will never end . . . I think of Eminem.

I guess I don’t mean the rapper himself so much as the character he played in 8 Mile [plot synopsis], which I saw when it came out in 2002 mostly because I was so impressed with the rap “Lose Yourself” [lyrics].  It very strikingly captures a young man’s desperation to escape the life he’s always known by seizing a fleeting chance to express himself in a way that will be heard and magnified to bring his family a better future.  The film amazed me with its very consistent, insistent pull, bringing me right into Rabbit’s story that he was not only telling me but making me see and feel.  I left the theater and had to walk around in the cold drizzle for a long time letting him speak to me some more.

And I thought, I work for that guy.  I work for 1,517 guys, a lot of whom are a lot like that.

Disclaimer: This article is not in any way an official statement by the Pittsburgh Youth Study or any of its funding entities.  This is a statement of my personal opinions and feelings.  For information about the Pittsburgh Youth Study, see our many publications.

Now, most people would say that I “work for” the principal investigators of the study, or that I “work for” a psychiatric hospital that is part of a corporate health-care system, or that I “work for” a research study that is funded by federal grants.  Yes, those are the ways my work is organized and paid.  But who have I been working for in my 17 years of data management and analysis of a longitudinal study of Pittsburgh’s at-risk boys?  I’m working for them.  I’m doing what I can to help us as a society understand why some boys break laws and hurt people and often wind up dead at a young age, while others somehow find their way to a stable and responsible adult life. Read more of this post

Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?

Our daughter Lydia is 21 months old.  Since she was born, almost all of her diaper changes at home (rather than childcare) have been my job.  I also launder the cloth diapers myself.  Unfair, right?  Daniel is just as responsible as I am for the existence of this messy little human, so he should take charge of 50% of her sanitation needs, right?

Well, that’s the way I saw it 11 years ago when our first child was born.  I spelled out to Daniel what sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan: Whenever we were both home, we would split diaper-changing 50/50; when one of us was alone with the baby, of course that parent would change diapers; when we were together in public, Daniel would take him to the men’s room for changes (because a male should use the males’ restroom, when feasible) unless it was a place with a nice changing table in the ladies’ room and no suitable area in the men’s.  Daniel agreed that this was fair.

We had our first shouting argument about diaper changing before Nicholas was a month old, and it was often a touchy topic thereafter.  Why?  Read more of this post

My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother

When I was born, my mother quit her paying job so she could be home with me.  She did not take another job until I was almost twelve years old.

I resumed working outside the home when each of my children was twelve weeks old.  After Nicholas was born, I went back part-time and later gradually increased my working hours until I was back to 40 hours a week when he was four years old.  After Lydia was born (when Nicholas was nine years old), I returned to my job full-time.  It isn’t easy!  Forty hours, plus commuting time, is a long time to be away from home even when you’re only taking care of yourself; when you have young children, it’s a time-management struggle as well as an emotional struggle over being apart from the kids so much.  My mother–who’s been a great role model to me for things like breastfeeding, intelligent discipline, and making healthy food–was not much help as I figured out how to balance parenthood with employment.  It’s my father whose example has really helped me understand what’s important and where to cut myself some slack.

Oddly enough, it was an insensitive comment my father made that led me to realize his value as a role model for me. Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Mysteries and Mars

These aren’t the only books I’ve read in the past few months, but I noticed two themes that led me to group these reviews together.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin

P1020132This classic mystery was written in 1953, and reading it in the original edition (courtesy of Daniel’s mother) helped me get into the mood.  I’ve never seen either of the two film versions, which is good: This story is best if you have no idea what to expect from it, and some of the twists just simply wouldn’t work if you could see who’s who rather than relying on the viewpoint characters’ perceptions.  I won’t give away the plot except to say that you may want to avoid this one if you’re pregnant or have a new boyfriend.  It’s really fantastically written, with plenty of clever tricks that prevent you from noticing that you’re making assumptions until some of those assumptions are suddenly overturned.

Although the story is set on Earth and all characters are humans, the book will be enjoyed by readers from all worlds, as indicated by this symbol on the cover of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries hardcover. Read more of this post

One Brave Girl

This article from The New York Times was reprinted in my local newspaper.  In Afghanistan, a mullah who raped a 10-year-old girl in the mosque was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Most Americans would agree that anybody who rapes a child is a horrific criminal for whom 20 years is a light sentence, would be especially disgusted by such behavior from a religious leader, and would rally around the girl as an innocent victim.

This girl’s family considered murdering her to protect the family honor.  This girl has been raised in a culture in which that is traditional.

But when the mullah spoke in his own defense and claimed she had seduced him, the girl stopped sobbing and pulled aside her veil enough to speak directly to him. “Hey liar, hey liar,” she said. “God hate you, you are dirt, you are dirt, you are a vampire.”

Can you imagine the courage that took?

I used to be a Girl Scout leader.  When one of my girls was ten, her dad took her to an all-ages concert in a bar, where, she said, “a man, or maybe like a really old teenager, like in college” leaned over her saying she was pretty and asking for her phone number.  She did not know what to do.  Her father grabbed the guy by the collar and said, “Hey, leave my daughter alone!  She’s only TEN! YEARS! OLD!  Idiot.”  That is the kind of treatment men who hit on preteen girls deserve, and men who rape preteen girls…  Dirt.  Vampires.  It breaks my heart that this girl had to speak up for herself, but I am so very glad that she did.

This girl’s courage, and the courage of all those who are helping to bring the rapist to justice, will help to make Afghanistan a safer place for girls and women, who have been treated so badly for so long. That’s something that is working in our world. Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to read about many other things that are working.

Why we didn’t have a Gender Reveal Party

This post is not meant to criticize parents who make different decisions, just to explain our point of view.

“Do you know what you’re having?”  I am in my last month of pregnancy, and oh, how tired I am of that strangely-phrased question!  I just smile and say, “It’s a baby!”  Of course that doesn’t stop the interrogation, because what people want to know is whether it’s a boy or a girl.  The more reasonable way to ask this question, in my opinion, is, “Did you find out the sex?”

This time around, my answer to that question is a bit more complicated than it was in my first pregnancy, when we did not know our baby was a boy until he was born.  My policy is still the same: If I am having testing for medical reasons that also happens to reveal the sex of the baby, then I want to know what it says.  I don’t like the idea of hospital personnel knowing when I don’t.  But I would not have a test primarily so that we can know the sex before birth.  In my first pregnancy, the only medically indicated ultrasound was too early to tell the sex.  I did not have any further testing because there was no reason to think anything was wrong.  This time, because I’m 40 and therefore at higher risk of some birth defects, I decided to have a 20-week ultrasound and non-invasive genetic testing.  So we know the sex, but we’re keeping it a secret from most people.  Some people like the suspense, and others are badgering us, hoping to get us to slip up. :eyesroll

Why not find out, and why not tell everyone when we know? Read more…

A Real Man

A Real Man does not mind carrying the groceries in a canvas tote bag with colorful tulips printed on it.

A Real Man knows how to cook a meal, wash the dishes, do the laundry, mop a floor, and sew on a button.  He considers these basic survival skills that everyone should know by the age of 18, at latest.

A Real Man will hug a friend who is upset and wants to be hugged, even if that friend is another man.

A Real Man appreciates being offered a choice of pink or orange highlighter marker, instead of getting offended that you didn’t just hand him the orange one.

A Real Man does not run away screaming whenever menstruation or childbirth is mentioned.

A Real Man responds to his four-year-old child’s request for purple sparkly shoes by asking, “Do they have grippy soles for rock climbing?”–whether the child is a boy or a girl. Read more…

But why should your tax status be based on your sex life?

Last week, the United States Supreme Court decided that federal laws that apply to married people apply to same-sex couples who are married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.  As a liberal person who supports equal rights, I’m supposed to rejoice in this great victory for equality and diversity.

In a way, I am glad.  Making certain federal benefits available only to people whose permanent monogamous sexual partner is of the opposite sex was unfair to people who feel sexual attraction only to their own sex and therefore could never enter into a heterosexual marriage except in a half-hearted or deceptive kind of way.  If marriage is linked to government benefits, those benefits should be available to all people who choose a married relationship.


What bothers me about this court decision and nearly all the discussion of the issue in the past few years is that very few people ever seem to consider that If or to consider what it really means.  This decision does not “make the benefits of marriage available to everybody,” as I’ve heard many people exclaim happily.  Read more…

The Toilet Seat Position Problem, Solved!

It’s an age-old battle of the sexes (well, at least as old as toilets with hinged seats): When a male has raised the toilet seat, should he then lower it, showing courtesy to females sharing the bathroom? or should the female take responsibility for checking the position of the seat before she uses it, showing respect for the male’s manly needs?  I realized just how many people have how big a problem with this debate when I worked for an invention marketing company, where at least one invention out of every hundred was somehow addressing the issue of toilet seat positioning.

My brother and I solved this dilemma when we were pre-teens.  Our solution is equally convenient for both sexes and also improves bathroom cleanliness and safety! Read more…

I don’t wear makeup.

I used to wear makeup.  From age 12 to 16, I added more types of makeup to my daily routine each year, and I went through that daily routine even if I wasn’t planning to leave the house.  I continued for a while into college before I realized that the insanely stressful life I was leading there did not allow time for makeup and many other students did not wear it–but I felt that college was an exceptional situation, so I still wore makeup to church, to my summer jobs, and whenever I went back to visit the town where I grew up.  After college, I wore makeup to work and church and social events very consistently at first, but over time I began to wear less and less, until at age 31 I quit almost completely.  Why? Read more…

Meal Planning When I’m Not the Cook

For a few years now, I’ve been seeing lots of blog posts about the advantages of meal planning, i.e. figuring out what you are going to eat days or weeks in advance so you can make optimal use of your groceries and get meals on the table on time.  Fine, sounds good, but everyone writing about this was a full-time homemaker.  In my family, both parents had full-time jobs, and although Daniel was working at home and willing to stick something in the oven an hour before I got home with the kid, he wasn’t willing to knock off work early to do elaborate food preparation.  Normally, when I got home we decided what we were going to eat and which one of us was going to make it, and then we’d eat dinner whenever it was ready.  Read more…

My grandmother got a few things done.

My paternal grandmother would be 100 years old today, if she were still alive.  She died in July 1991, when I was 18.  Her name was Janette, so we grandchildren called her Janmother.

Janmother was an outstanding high school student but never went to college.  She married just after turning 20, and at times she helped my grandfather with his work, but primarily she was a homemaker.

My dad and I were able to spend the final week of Janmother’s life staying in her house and visiting her in the hospital.  The last time I heard her speak coherently, she said, “I’ll never cook another meal.” Read more…

Christian Children’s Television

I am a liberal Episcopalian now, and I was raised Unitarian in small-town Oklahoma, so I’ve never felt like part of the mainstream of what’s called Christian in America.  I’ve seen a lot of “Christian” media productions that were painfully hokey, heavy-handedly moralistic, hateful, and/or boring.  I never in a million years expected that I would someday be sitting down to watch Christian TV with my young child every Saturday morning and loving it! Cornerstone Television (WPCB here in Pittsburgh, with affiliates in several states) shows programs I think are just as good as PBS Kids and better than anything else on basic cable on Saturday mornings. Read more…

Why aren’t we married?

Three years ago, Daniel and I were interviewed by Redbook magazine for an article called “The Changing Shape of the American Family” which profiled several different family structures.  The Alternatives to Marriage Project referred the reporter to us as an example of a stable couple raising a child without being married.  The final article [which, in its online archived version, has a photo of another family next to the text about us!] used only brief and paraphrased excerpts from what we’d said in two phone conversations and a lengthy e-mail interview.  So, in case anyone is wondering why we aren’t married, here’s how we explained it in lots of detail! Read more…

Seven Reasons Not to Circumcise Your Son

by Daniel Efran

Well, I figure if my girlfriend and my parents are discussing my penis on the Internet, I’d better chime in!

The subject, specifically, is routine circumcision of infants–whether it should be routine, whether it should have been done to our son (which it wasn’t), and whether it should have been done to me (which it was). Becca’s article and my parents’ reply reflect many of my opinions so eloquently that I have little to add, but I’d like to go on record with my opinion about circumcision. Read more…

Tie-dyed Socks!

My son, who is officially four-and-a-half years old today, loves colors and enjoys wearing a variety of colors. He was quite annoyed last fall when we went shopping for new socks and found that the choices offered were white, white with gray toes, black (but only thin dress socks), brown (same), and a variety pack of white, brown, navy, and olive–“Why don’t they have any nice colors?!” I told him my college roommate Kevin‘s axiom that in male fashion, your socks should match your teeth, and Nicholas grudgingly agreed to the 10-pack of white socks. At least they turned out to be comfortable socks.

Then some friends invited us to a tie-dyeing party! Nicholas immediately said, “I will dye all my socks!” Read more…

Thirty Reasons Why Women Should Have the Vote

In the late 1970s, my mother was advocating ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and one of her organizations decided to make the editorial below part of the program they presented to other women’s groups.  It is adapted from an editorial in a suffragist newspaper published in Garnett, Kansas, in the era when women were fighting for the right to vote.  I guess the idea was to remind women of how far they’d come in the past century, commemorate the struggles of our foremothers, and be amusingly quaint.

They chose me to read this aloud because, at four years old, I was able to read these words (after some coaching on pronunciation and meaning) but still little enough to be cute and to fit into the old-fashioned dress and sunbonnet another woman in the group had made for her daughter several years earlier, and I wasn’t in full-day school so was available for these weekday events.  I don’t know how many times I presented it, but it must have been at least a dozen.  It was good practice in public speaking, and I learned a lot of history and vocabulary from my mother’s explanations of this text. Read more…