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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?

I long ago gave up the hopes of being popular. My rather kid-centric views don't hold a lot of water in our very adult-centric world. Eh. I'll live. As such, I'm here with another unpopular view: kids' birthday parties...they should be for kids.

Let me clarify for a moment. I see no reason to invite your friends, unless they are close to the child whose birthday it is (and by 'close' I mean close - not that they spend a lot of time with you and in the same vicinity as your child, but really don't know about anything that is important to said kid). I see no reason to have alcohol. I see no reason to make it about you or anyone else other than the birthday girl or boy, because it's NOT about you or anyone else. It's a child's birthday and subsequent party. The kid doesn't have a birthday to give you an excuse to party, show off, and make it your day.

Let me put it another way. Is your child allowed to invite his or her friends to your birthday bashes? Do you provide special food, beverage, entertainment, activities for your son or daughter for them to celebrate your big day? Perhaps, but probably not. Your child can't drink, so why have available drink that has nothing to do with the child whose day it is? Your child doesn't care about your business contacts, so why are they there? Your college roommate who just moved back into town - don't invite her. You may want to see her, but it's not your day.

Whose day is it? Why not let your child be in charge of the guest list, menu, theme, decorations, cake, music, EVERYTHING? It is their special day, after all.

Just another perspective to think on and a few different examples of differing perspectives to illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly of birthday parties (you choose which is which):

Addendum (9/30/13): After conversing with a few friends on this post, it has been brought to my attention that I have perhaps been unclear. This post is not to say that NO adults should be at a kid's party. It is not to say that NO restrictions should be put on a kid's party while they get to have whatever they want. The point is, it's their party. Their party. Not yours. Theirs. If they want great-grandma at the party, then great-grandma should be invited. If they want an 80s hair band costume party and its within your ability to do so, they should be to choose that. If they want a full-blown circus in the backyard and that's not in the budget, talk to them about why that's not feasible and try to compromise with a circus theme if that's what they want. Alcohol, no, I still vote not on that. If my 14 year old son is a vegetarian and I choose carnivorous fare simply for the guests, I find that to be disrespectful to my son whose birthday party it is. He can't drink alcohol yet. Is it a huge sacrifice to not drink for a couple hours at a kids' gathering?
I hope that clears things up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Expert Advice on "Breastfeeding" Without Controversy (or Quotation Marks)

I was recently more than a little irked by some "I support breastfeeding, BUT..." comments, which, as we all know, means they do not support breastfeeding. They were in response to the piece I wrote on the topic (click here to read it). As a result, I went looking for more on the harm of Modesty Doctrine on breastfeeding. I found some good stuff. Then I found this: Expert Advice on "Breastfeeding" Without Controversy. I immediately thought, "Oh, this has GOT to be satire. I mean, quotes around breastfeeding and everything!" It read on. It wasn't. I about lost my lunch and peed from hysterical laughter all at once. It seems to need some slight dramatic complete revision, so I've taken on the task. You're welcome, Ms. Trasancos.

Nursing doesn’t have to be controversial. Too often the conflicts over breastfeeding in public turn into a debate about whether the woman has a right to expose herself in public or not. One side says it’s natural and the woman is justified, the other side says she isn’t because, frankly, it makes people uncomfortable.

Ok, so, maybe not COMPLETE revision. This part is fine.

When I was younger, I was in the first category, a me-first mentality and the media seems to encourage that mindset. “Look what a great mom I am!” For me, that need to show-off was a compensation for the compromises and insecurities of trying to appear liberated. As I nurse this seventh child now, I realize my approach to nursing has changed, drastically. Age? Experience? Faith? (Exhaustion?) A lot of reasons.

Um, treading dangerously close to some very ugly territory, but as she's only just speaking of her own feelings, I'll let it slide...for now.

First, that compulsion to prove myself vanished. I’m happy, confident, and proud in my home, and if I must go somewhere, then I am prepared to find an enclave. Nursing, like it or not, is private, and a woman is not oppressed if she has to excuse herself to feed her child. It’s a considerate gesture, an act of propriety, to acknowledge those around you — basic good manners.

Ok, ok, ok...let the revisions begin!
Actually, I'll go back to that last paragraph just for kicks.

When I was younger, I was in the first category, a me-first mentality. While the selfish mentality has long gone (thankfully!), I have maintained my place in this category. In fact, I have solidified that place and I realize my approach to breastfeeding is all about my son's needs. My insecurities with my body have all but disappeared, I have to make no compromises for society's odd hang-ups about the human breast, I am completely liberated, as is my son. The reasons: age, experience, faith in my son and myself, exhaustion in attempting to conform to social norms that are both outdated and anti-woman and child...a lot of reasons.

First, that compulsion to prove myself vanished. I'm happy, confident, and proud in my home. I'm just as happy, confident, and proud outside of my home. If I must go somewhere (the homebody that I am sees most outings as a 'must'), I am prepared to breastfeed wherever we are. Breastfeeding, like it or not, is normal and natural, and a woman must not be oppressed into finding somewhere else to feed her child. Expecting someone to do so is inconsiderate, an act of impropriety, a dismissal of the rights of the mother and child in favor of the squeamish wants of those around them - basic bad manners.

Moving on.

Second, because it will happen, when I have no choice but to nurse in front of other people, I do it discretely. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, and a woman’s attitude can put others at ease. Cover up with a blanket, focus on the baby, and do what needs to be done. This may seem insignificant, but refraining from eye contact will do much to maintain a little private bubble. [3] Chances are, no one will even notice, and your mini-withdrawal will put them at ease if they do. Once the baby’s situated, carry on. People don’t mind knowing you are nursing, it’s the risk of exposure that makes them nervous. Understandably so. Nursing is intimate.

No, no, no. This will never do.

Second, because it will happen, when I have no choice but to breastfeed in front of other people (again, the introverted homebody in me makes my first choice to be with only my husband and son), I do it (and I spell it correctly). It isn't a big deal. My attitude of it being a non-issue puts others at ease. I covered once. It sucked. It was a hassle, an extra and unnecessary step, and prevented me from making eye contact with my son. Never again. Now, I just do what needs to be done. This may seem insignificant, but making eye contact with not only your babe, but those around you will, again, show others that what you're doing is a non-issue and put them at ease with you. Keeping yourself in a little private bubble is alienating yourself from the world and showing others that what you're doing is something of which to be ashamed or embarrassed. Chances are, no one will even care that you're breastfeeding unless you make a big deal of it by hauling out the cover and getting yourself and your babe all situated. Keep calm and breastfeed on. People don't care and those who get nervous have a personal problem that is none of your concern. Breastfeeding is no biggie.

Much better.

Third, I simply let myself enjoy it. It’s not a competition and babies grow too fast anyway. These are precious moments. So what if you have to make temporary sacrifices? So what if you have to learn, by sometimes failing, to navigate uncomfortable scenarios graciously?

Third, I simply let myself enjoy it. I refuse to teach my son, as he is growing all-too-quickly, that he must bend and sacrifice based on senseless social stigma.


Last, using a more appropriate word helped me orient my thinking. “Breastfeeding” sounds so utilitarian. I prefer to call it “nursing” which implies loving care. Moms nurse the child in the womb, and into adulthood. Every stage comes with its challenges and joys, so let the first years be intimately special, and leave the controversy for another day.

Last, I choose to purposely call it breastfeeding (no quotation marks) as opposed to nursing. Nursing, in some countries, means the simple act of holding someone lovingly. I prefer to call a spade a spade and not downplay the importance of that terrifying word - breast [*gasp*] - in the act. However, call it what you want. It's no skin off my nose. Just do it. No controversy. It's your legal right and your babe's human right. There's a special finger reserved for those who try to debate the issue any other way.

This is shaping up quite nicely!

In other words, lighten up. You don’t need publicly published professional photography to capture the moment and rankle a non-issue.

In other words, lighten up. You don't need to hide yourself away from crowds, gatherings, or the camera on the off chance someone might be rankled by such a non-issue.


Finito! I don't know who your original editor was, Ms. Trasancos, but clearly they were having an off day or were distracted by their own breastfeeding babe, because they did a terrible job. Never fear, though, I fixed it all up for you. You're quite welcome. It was my profound pleasure.

(Photo: mother breastfeeding babe uncovered while speaking to and making eye contact with the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Child Car Seat Safety Starts with You

Imagine running as fast as you can - into a wall. Do you think you could stop yourself if the wall suddenly loomed up when you were two feet away? This is exactly the situation you face when the front of your car hits something at only 15 mph. That's bad enough, but at 30 mph you hit the wall four times as hard or with the same impact you'd feel as if you fell three stories. Now picture that every time you get into a car without buckling up or doing so properly.

We are our kids' greatest examples. As such, it stands to reason that if we're not doing as we should in the car, they won't either. Why should they? You don't see it as important and you're the wisest person they know, according to them.

A bit of information, then, on proper seat belt usage. First, my credentials:

- 1998-2002, driving instructor at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC)
- first female instructor
- still youngest instructor ever
- lead instructor for Teen Survival Driving Skills and Advanced Defensive Driving
- instructed Ambulance Driving Skills
- certified for academy instruction in basic emergency vehicle operations and 4x4 off-road

In other words, you can trust me.

The standard three-point seatbelt is meant to support your body over its strongest parts - hips, chest, and shoulders. If you wear your seatbelt properly, your shoulder strap will be halfway between the crook of your neck and the end of your shoulder, diagonally down over your sternum (not off to one side or the other of your breasts), and over your hips (not on your belly).

The seatbelt must be snug and flat. A twisted seatbelt can act as a knife slicing through you in the event of a crash. A seatbelt under your arm is no longer on a strong part of your body and can easily crush ribs and cause serious internal injuries or death. A seatbelt placed behind your head and body is not protecting your upper body at all. If you crash going 50 miles per hour, your upper body is still going to travel 50 miles an hour until it is stopped by something or someone, again causing serious injury or death. You'd be surprised how much your body can bend at those speeds. Obviously, no seat belt at all is completely irresponsible and sends the message to your child(ren) that they, too, are invincible. I mean, it's never happened before and you're a good driver, so.........

Cornell University once did an analysis on what happens when a car and driver traveling 55 mph crashes into a solid tree. Picture this:
During the first tenth of a second, the front bumper and grill collapse.
In the second tenth of a second, your hood crumples, rises, and strikes the windshield. Spinning rear wheels rise from the ground. Fenders begin wrapping themselves around the tree. The car frame is effectively braked, but your body is still moving at 55 mph. Instinctively, you stiffen your legs for the jolt, but they snap at the knee joint.
During the next tenth, your torso catapults from the seat. Broken knees ram into the dashboard. The steering wheel begins to collapse and the steering column drives toward your chest.
In the fourth deadly tenth of a second, two feet of the car's front are totally demolished, but the rear end is still rushing onward at 35 mph. Your body is still traveling 55. Half a ton of motor plunges into the tree and the car's rear rises as high as the tree's lower branches.
In the fifth tenth, you are impaled on the steering column Blood spurts into your lungs.
During the sixth tenth, the force of impact has built up so that your feet are ripped out of tightly fastened shoes. The brake pedal shears off, the car frame buckles int he middle, your head bangs into the windshield while rear wheels, still spinning, fall back to earth.
And in the seventh tenth second, the entire car body is distorted. Hinges rip. Doors spring open. The seat flails loose, striking you from behind, but it doesn't matter, you're already dead.
You aren't around to experience the final three tenth of this horrible second. Neither are your children.

A great many of you are not wearing your seatbelt properly, if at all. I know, because some of you are my friends and I see pictures. A great many of you are not properly buckling your children, whether it be in their carseats, boosters, or standard seatbelt. I know, because some of you are my friends and I see pictures. I talk to you, of course. You blow me off, not surprisingly. Don't. Don't risk it. Don't be the one who says, "If only I had listened" beside your child's hospital bed or worse their grave.

It's Better That I Was Raped While Drugged, So I Don't Remember It

I was raped by a husband-wife couple. I was raped while under the influence of drugs they slipped me.

I'm glad it was done that way, though. It's better that it was done when I was too drugged to remember it. I wouldn't want it to be done now that I'm sober. It doesn't affect me at all. I'm not traumatized in any way. I'm not a victim. If I had to choose a way to be raped, I'd choose this way. I'm glad that couple chose to do it to me then, making the choice for me that I wasn't able to make. I can't remember a thing and anyone who says that makes me a victim of some horrible act is just a whiner looking for something to cry about. There are bigger issues...

[Note: This is all crap. Well, not the rape. That happened. You can read about it here. The rest, though, is the same asinine logic used by the pro-circumcision and circumcision apologist camp. If you caught that right away, you get a gold star. If you're still pro-cut, re-read, rethink, repeat as necessary.]

Monday, September 16, 2013


"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid is one of my all-time favorite poems. I taught it every year to my high school students and, in turn, I, also, learned something new every time. Let's see what you glean from it:

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don't sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn't speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don't eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button–hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease; this is how you iron your father's khaki pants so that they don't have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don't squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don't pick people's flowers—you might catch something; don't throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don't like, and that way something bad won't fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it's fresh; but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?

Can you relate this to your childhood? To your parenting journey? To today's society?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to NOT Be "All For" Breastfeeding

I have no problem with breastfeeding, but keep it classy.

I support breastfeeding but it is a private act.

Breastfeeding is great as long as you don't flash your boobs at everyone.

I am all for breastfeeding, but I don't need to see pictures of it all over my newsfeed.

I back breastfeeding absolutely, but I don't want anyone to know because others might not like it and I could alienate potential clients.

Breastfeeding is great, but nobody should have to see it.

My wife/daughter/sister/best friend breastfeeds and I support her, but she always covers like she should.

I support women who respect themselves and others enough to not expose themselves to the world while breastfeeding.

Look, I support breastfeeding, I just have a different opinion on what 'support' looks like.

I never said I don't support breastfeeding, I just think it should be done in the bathroom.

I think everyone should breastfeed if they can, but if not, they should use formula, because donor milk is just foul.

Breast milk is best, but once they can start opening your blouse you should give it to them in a cup.

...and on and on and on...

If you have to put a condition on which you'll lend your support to breastfeeding, you are NOT "all for" breastfeeding. As soon as you add in an 'if,' 'and,' or 'but' to your claim of breastfeeding support, you've negated your claim completely. Breastfeeding support is an all or nothing deal. You're either in or you're out. Breastfeeding support simply must be unconditional.

(Photo credit: London's Lens 2012)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gift-Giving as Means of Control

I recently had this short conversation with a former student:

Student: I want to be an English teacher.

Me: Do you really? That makes my heart sing!

Student: I really do. Unfortunately, teachers don't make enough money to make my father happy.

Me: What does your dad have to do with your career? Besides, what we don't make in money, we make up in difference.

Student: He has a lot to do with it because he's paying for my schooling ): And that was very profound. I like that. I'm hoping I can maybe persuade him to let me teach.

Me: Speaking as a parent, I will pay for my son's schooling if he wants to go to college. This means nothing more to me than helping him meet HIS goals. I want him to follow HIS dreams, not mine...ever. That makes me so sad...

And by 'so sad' I mean 'almost in tears.' Parents, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are in control of nobody but yourselves. You do not control your children. Young, old, whether you support them financially every step of the way, or not...you do not control them. They're like real people that way. Huh, imagine that.

I've gotten into these types of issues with my mother many times in the last 35 years myself, so I suppose this is a sensitive topic for me. My mom would pay for something "out of the goodness of her heart" and then expect something in return. (It's worth noting that her 'love language' is gift giving, but mine is decidedly not.) We recently started going to therapy together (after years of me begging and her refusing) and one of the first things that came up was the lack of support I felt from her. Her response was something about always having given me money and presents if and when she thought I needed them. Uh, that's not exactly what I meant...

So, I'm frustrated for my student, especially because I see myself in her and the situation, and I'm bringing it here to ensure we learn a lesson in what not to do from it all.

We will pay for a great many things when it comes to our sons and daughters, both as children and adults. We will lend money when they hit financial hard times as young adults figuring out the way. We may contribute to college, weddings, first homes. These are gifts. A gift does not come with strings attached. Gifts do not equal blackmail material. A gift is given out of the goodness of our hearts. We give gifts that the recipient will enjoy receiving, not that we want them to have. If you find yourself giving a gift, even in small part, with the hopes of leveraging something out of it in the future, turn yourself around, march back home, sit yourself down, and think again. Gifts are not strongholds. Financial support does not equal lifetime control. Giving is not a means of control.

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Feeling "Touched-Out"

When I was a new mom to my new son, breastfeeding was, well, new, as were all the warm, fuzzy, sky-high feelings that come along with the whole she-bang. I would see comments in my online communities about mothers feeling 'touched-out' and think, 'Well, that's just silly. That'll never happen to me. I LOVE breastfeeding and my son, so the combination of the two will never grow old for me.' And then karma pinched me in the nipple (or maybe that was my son).

Now that I'm the breastfeeding mom of a nearly three year old toddler, I get touched-out. And then I get pissy. And then I want to rip my hair out. And then I need a break. And then my husband thinks I'm nuts. And then I get pissier. And then my son needs more breastfeeding. And then I'm more touched-out. And then I'm even pissier. And then I need a break. And then I want to push my husband's face through the back of his head to get his attention when I'm telling him 'I NEED A BREAK!' And then I get a break. Finally.

This usually comes in one of four forms and it typically depends on my son's comfort level. I either:
a) head out on some errand,
b) stay home while they head out on some errand,
c) take a bubble bath, or
d) go back to the bedroom to read.

Any of the four will do, but the longer the uninterrupted time, the better. Of course, 'uninterrupted' is less likely if I choose options c or d, but sometimes the goddesses shine on me. Whatever, man, I just need some time!

Breastfeeding a toddler is vastly different than breastfeeding a newborn. It's wonderful, don't misunderstand, but it's different. And the newness has worn off. Again, I absolutely love it, wouldn't stop it for anything, and will wait until my son is ready to stop before we do, but it has its moments when it can wear on a mama. This doesn't make me a bad mama. This makes me an individual. As much as I am enamored with the whole process of breastfeeding my son, I am still an autonomous person with my own needs. Sometimes, those needs include a little personal space. The sooner I recognize those needs bubbling up and attend to them, the sooner I can return to my son refreshed and anew, making me an even better mama who can better meet his needs.

We cannot completely forgo our needs in this whole mothering process. It's a balancing act. Sometimes, things get a little off-kilter. So we stop, assess, act, return, and repeat as needed, all the while knowing that it's OK to feel what we feel when we feel it and to attend to ourselves from time to time.

When you are feeling touched-out, what do you do to care for yourself?

Sunday, September 1, 2013


What is your real name?
Amy Brown (nee Bray), but I typically go by Zen Mama here.

Do you have a Twitter account?
I do. You can follow me by clicking here.

What about a Pinterest?
I do. Click here.

Why aren't you on Facebook anymore? And where can I find you?
See my blog here to read that drama and the corresponding exit. You can find me on Twitter and Pinterest (above), Google+ (click here), and by subscribing to both this blog (see the right-hand column) and the Zen Parenting Daily Digest (click here).

Don't you think there are bigger things in the world to worry about than ________?
As a matter of fact, no. Read here to see my thoughts on that very question.

Can I guest blog for you?
Maybe. Submit your post via email (ZenParenting1@yahoo.com) and I'll be happy to take a look at it. If it fills a need, I'll publish for sure.

Will you review my book?
No. Two reasons and both are completely selfish and have nothing to do with what I am sure is your wonderful book:
1) I'm inundated with books I have yet to review.
2) I recently had the most awkward situation in which I was asked to review a book, read it, did not like it at all, and had to give the author the option of me not reviewing it or reviewing it honestly. I don't ever want to experience that awkwardness again.

You don't seem Zen as I understand it! Should I tell you to change your name?
I wouldn't waste your time, if I were you. Instead, click here to read my take on that very sentiment.

Someone is saying mean stuff about you on the internet! Should I tell you about it?
Nah. Thanks for trying to look out for me, but what other people think about me is none of my business.

I think you’re horrible! Should I tell you about it?
I'm not for everyone, that's for sure, but again, what other people think of me is none of my business. You can go ahead and keep that to yourself.

I don't like your blog (or Twitter, or blah, blah, blah)! Should I tell you about it?
I wish you the best on your journey. No one is forced to be here. Honestly, the numbers don't matter all that much to me, so losing one person isn't enough to send me into hysterics. It's probably best just to quietly click to dismiss yourself and be on your way.

My opinions are in opposition to your facts! Should I tell you about it?
You know what they say about opinions...

You were wrong about something and I would like to correct you in a courteous and constructive manner. Should I do that?
Please do. I don't know everything and truly do enjoy learning.

People don’t really ask you these questions, do they?
Totally. Well, they either ask directly (often) or things are said to the same effect frequently enough that they needed to be addressed in one easy-to-find place.