60 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

Dear Portland: Where do we go now?

June 02, 2017

It has been so, so hard to process last week's events in the City of Roses.  There are some who have defended the white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian.  We have gathered to memorialize the two men that were slain; we consider them heroes.  One of the victim's last words were: "Please tell everyone on this train that I love them."  And, the surviving victim encourages us to focus our attention on the teen women who were the subjects of the attack: "We need to remember that this is about those little girls."

Racism and hate is nothing new to Portland.  It now the time that we will acknowledge this history?  How are we to move on and grow closer after this?  Are we a community divided, whether overtly or subtly?  Are we less progressive than we thought?  

In the name of our children: how do we work to build networks of compassion and inclusion?  How do we discuss these current events with our youngest community members?  How do we insist, in the name of the generations that will be after us, that we disable networks of hate and violence?  How do we cross boundaries to strengthen the deepest threads of our community's fabric and how do we dismantle the institutional barriers that oppress us?

For me, I found some grounding in this statement from a Portland-based community organization: the road is long and journey will be difficult; we must remain steadfast in our commitment for progress and equity.

Happy No Housework Day?

April 07, 2014

Denise on BlogHer's Facebook page announced, "Happy No Housework Day!" Not that she is celebrating the day properly. Not that I am any one to judge.

I've had my own very (very very very) tortured relationship with housework. On one hand I love housework; I said once that every essay I write could begin, "I am washing the dishes. I am washing the dishes again." And in this daily task is often a kind of meditative calm that I desperately long for when I'm too busy to wash the dishes (or too busy to wash the dishes contemplatively).

Today is such a day. Too busy for housework, though indeed I will do some, I suppose, thank goodness I have people in life who take so much of the load from me. I can never decide, do I love to do housework? Do I value creating more; writing and painting colors on walls and growing things in the garden?

Continue reading "Happy No Housework Day?" »

The Aftermath of the Boston Marathon

April 24, 2013

On Monday, April 15th, I woke up in a tizzy.  First, I was late for a meeting for which I had to commute an hour.  Second, we hadn't finished up our taxes.  Third, the funnest thing of the morning, it was the Boston Marathon, and the last Facebook status I saw was from a former PDX urbanMama, suited up in compression socks and bib number, ready to race.

I thought about our friend all morning wondering how she was feeling and how she was doing (undoubetdly strong, she always runs strong!).  After a busy day of meetings, I settled into another hour commute home and was horrified to hear the news.

"Late breaking news from the Boston Marathon finish line...."  and "....reports of two deaths, one of whom was a child of eight years old..." - the audio was unbearable.  As a "survivor" of sorts of what happened on September 11, 2001, I felt pangs of trauma resurfacing.  My heart beat mimicked how it behaved back then.  Every other moment, I let out tears.  And, as I drove, my hand covered my mouth in disbelief.

Our urbanMama friend was safe, though she was just picking up her warming blanket as the first impact set off.  Luck would also have it that her spouse and three children were running a little late to greet her, still a few blocks away from finish.  After hearing the comotion, the family re-routed to meet at another pre-determined location.

We have stories of friends who were there, stories of friends of friends.  Many of us, runners ourselves, can only imagine the confusion of feelings: the high of completing such a huge feat like a marathon and the low of realizing that something so awful had happened.

How is your family dealing with this current event, this tragedy?  Does it feel close?  Does it feel far?  For another former PDX urbanMama, it hits close to home.  Her 9-year old has nightmares, feeling so disempowered and depressed.  So, this mama has decided to organize an event, a worldwide run, on May 15, 2013, to honor those that ran the Boston Marathon and to honor the goodness in our world.  "MILES to teach GOODNESS" encourages us all to organize a run in our neighborhood, at the same time, to run 26.2 minutes to celebrate our communities and support one another.

Care to join?  Read more about the EmPOWERed Kids Run here or join the Facebook event here.

In our household, it still feels a little unreal.  We talk about it, we watch the news.  The event dampens our spirit.  We think we will join in on the EmPOWERed Kids Run to help us join in with the rest of the community to lift our spirits.

Daylight Savings: Do it again (or stop)

March 11, 2013

I hate the time changes, and as I write this my children have gone to bed an hour late and I am terrified I'll be ushering the boys into school tomorrow, shamefaced, late again. I have never seen the point and wrote about this last year.

This year lots of scientists have been writing about it, pointing out "our bodies... will experience a disturbance...  one that can affect our mental and physical health. The reason lies in the clash between sensitive, eons-old biology deep within our cells, and human-imposed time-keeping traditions that are barely a century old. Twice every year, when we “spring forward” and “fall back,” our bodies must do battle between “sun time” and “social time.”"

It's always been advertised as an energy saver, but that's no longer true (if it ever actually was). "The proportion of total energy that is used for lighting is miniscule compared to other, time-independent uses like factories, computers, nuclear plants, airport radars, and other facilities that run 24/7. Energy companies themselves have measured the effect, and have concluded that DST does not save energy." Because we're "essentially jet-lagged for a few days" we experience higher rates of car accidents, workplace mishaps, inefficiency, and depression.

Continue reading "Daylight Savings: Do it again (or stop)" »

Gun control: Are you one of the 'Million' Moms?

January 30, 2013

It hit me today hard when I heard the news of the shooting death of 15-year-old majorette Hadiya Pendleton. Just last week she was performing at the inauguration. Today, she's a casualty of gun violence; her death, in a park just a mile from President Obama's home in Chicago, was apparently random. She had no history of affiliation with gangs. (And we have to say that, which makes me sad, too.)

Sometimes it seems insensible: that stricter gun control laws have not been put into practice before now. One more repeat of "but criminals will get guns anyway!" and I'll throw something at the radio; according to experts I've heard tell, it's all about economics. If you make it hard enough (read: expensive enough) for criminals to obtain guns, gun violence will fall like a stone.

Eight children are killed by guns every day in the U.S.

What can we do?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a new group has sprung up: “Million Moms for Gun Control”. Million Moms just marched on Washington D.C. last Saturday to ask for reasonable updates to gun policy. The local Portland chapter is planning a family friendly rally on Feb. 9, 10 a.m. at City Hall. Information about the event and other ways you can help is on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OneMillionMomsForGunControlPortland

Ceasefire Oregon is another local group working to reduce access to guns. Ceasefire organizes gun turn-in events once or twice a year and they promote the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign. ASK encourages parents to ask if there are firearms where their children play. On the legislative front, Ceasefire Oregon is planning a rally at the state Capitol on March 12 to ask for tighter gun laws*.

Continue reading "Gun control: Are you one of the 'Million' Moms?" »

I have a dream, that someday, boys won't call their brother 'stupid'

January 24, 2013

My five-year-old is so much like me, sometimes I blink and wonder if we're not one and the same. He really loved the lessons on Martin Luther King, Jr.; he had an amazingly deep and broad grasp of them. ("He was against the bad laws," he said. "And he broke them to show how bad they were.") Bravo, kid!

I was trying to get his older brother to finish his homework, tonight, all about how we're living Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. My oldest was frustrated because I'd told them all we had to help Truman do his homework before anyone could play on the screens (employing the much-maligned-by-me football coach strategy). When Truman said he couldn't think of anything to write, his older brother called him stupid! I was pretty mad.

"Everett," I said, "you're being really unkind."

Fast as a wink and outraged, Monroe shot, "you're not living Dr. King's dream!"

And Everett and I both burst out laughing, and finally, I was able to return to making subscription lists for the magazine.

How have your kids reacted to the school's annual MLK, Jr. history lesson? I love this time of year because it seems we're all studying the same thing; but I never know if the context gets lost, or not.

Shootings and tragedies and parenting in the midst of it

December 14, 2012

I didn't know what to say after the Clackamas Mall shootings. We have the radio on a lot, and maybe my kids are just used to tuning out stories about gun violence -- BBC shares a story of an explosion or shooting death almost every day. My kids didn't say a word, and I felt I should say something before they went back to school because maybe other kids would be talking about it. I said it plainly. "There was a shooting, and two people died, and people are really sad and scared." They didn't ask any questions. No "why would someone do that?"

I hope this is because of fiction; because we read a lot of books with rather strong evil vs. good storylines, and watch TV shows like Dr. Who and Merlin in which people do die, we talk a lot about what motivates people to do terrible things. It's often the small things that take the most explanation, but we talk a lot about fear, fear of change, fear of difference, fear of being found out to be a fraud, fear of punishment, fear of facing one's own shortcomings, and how terrifyingly motivating that can be. How people shut themselves down to the hurt they are causing others and act protectively in terrible ways. How people want to be loved and feel connected, and when they don't they act out. How a lifetime of being hurt in some way -- physically, or being abandoned, or being treated with indignity and contempt -- can change someone into an unrecognizable mess of hurt. How they take power back any way they can.

That's the story of Lord Voldemort, and the story of Uther, and the story of many of the most violent evil characters in fiction and history. It's why I turn to fiction so often to tell my story.

I, again, don't know what to say about this latest tragedy. It's on all the radio shows and on all the Facebook statuses. I feel like I can't escape it and so my kids shouldn't either. Should I? Should I get out a guide to how to talk to your kids after a tragedy? Should I, like so many people are saying eloquently, look for the helpers? Should I do what I can myself? Should I work on this web site, whose stated goal is to help you find community? Should I work on this magazine, whose stated goal is to share the real stories of parenting so that we can all feel less alone? Should I retreat to fiction, pull up a good chapter of Harry Potter where Harry gets to exercise that power we all think we lack? Should I give kids power in my own fictional work?

I think I want to do all of that. I feel the only power I have in this is to tell stories and to help other people share theirs. I feel that the cure for violence is love and the cure for isolation is seeing another person through their history. I feel the cure for sadness is knowing you're not the only one feeling sad. I feel the way to heal from everything is to reach out and be together; not to draw in and be apart.

What do you do? Where is your power? How will you exercise it? Is there a cure?


Dear Mr. Charlie Hales upon your mayoral win

November 07, 2012

An open letter to Charlie Hales:

written by Sarah Gilbert, who has not run these opinions by the other mamas who run the site yet but hopes they agree.

I don't know if we trust you. Let's be upfront here: we were not particularly thrilled with the choices we had for mayor. That's probably already clear to you by the 8% of us who chose to write-in our vote. After much agonizing and largely because of your rather wishy-washy stance on transportation, as well as the quite clear disingenuity of your income tax history, I voted for Jefferson Smith. I didn't like his personal history much, but I thought his policies would better reflect the non-powerful. I loved that he was from outer east Portland, a historically vastly under-represented part of the city.


I -- and I think I am safe in saying, "we," -- didn't love the way Sam Adams did things. He was clearly invested with too much of a sense of personal and political mandate. He made his own way. He did not seek consensus. He gave off the scent of backroom dealings. Don't do that. Don't let your personal life get in the way of your mayoral business. Please please don't let us find out you've lied to us. (Or, if you have, come clean now, let's get it out of the way before you take office.)

This is very much a city divided. Sure, we look good from the outside and lot of people worldwide hold us up as an example. Everyone I know outside Portland is jealous of where I live. We have a very vibrant arts scene -- the writers! the musicians! -- we celebrate counter-culturism, we love to Do It Ourselves, we have backyard chickens and front yard kale gardens. We are the U.S. leader in family biking! (I made that up, but it's probably true.) We affirm natural medicine and rights for people no matter their disabilities or incomes or races or whatever, we have more doulas and birth centers here than just about anywhere else, we have so many farmer's markets it's almost silly (but silly-good!).

Continue reading "Dear Mr. Charlie Hales upon your mayoral win" »

Down with the 'R' word (of course! But how?)

October 23, 2012

I'm the mother of a kid with Asperger's, and dear friends who have kids with Down Syndrome. I've watched as our cultural relationship to children with minor and major developmental disabilities has changed; when I was in high school, the students who were friends with the kids in the classroom behind the cafeteria were looked on with a mixture of awe and utter incomprehension. It was something like sainthood: lovely, admirable, but most couldn't see themselves on that path. But now, it's not unusual for children with Down Syndrome to be beloved by their classmates, and the ones with the kind of dear social ineptitude I sometimes see in my own child, tolerated with kindness. I've had conversations with the high schoolers I coach about the "r" word. All agree, it's totally uncool. I've watched my kids interact with children who have a variety of disabilities, and it's just a thing. Something that is, and is not to be pitied, or belittled, and does not detract from the coolness of the kid.

We have a harder time in my house with that word. My husband's family grew up in what seems to me to have been a lot of bigotry. (It was probably not unusual for the time, but my current context makes a stark contrast.) I'm often left correcting my brother-in-law for his use of the "r" word, or some similarly unacceptable cultural slur. I know he doesn't really mean any of this, and my kids are savvy enough to know that it's not o.k. just because their uncle says it, but it still rankles. I often pull him aside and have the talk with him, this is his nephew he's slurring, and the boys' friends -- he apologizes, promises to work harder. I get it. It's hard to undo that kind of aculturization.

I tend to forgive my brother-in-law. But I can't really forgive someone like Ann Coulter. That's why this post was incredible -- it took Ann to task for her slur, and yet, forgave her. (I want to see her fired, and her audience ripped from her, honestly.)

I keep thinking, oh how far we've come! And then something like this happens -- our President called the R-word by someone with a huge platform, who is paid well for her bombast -- and I think, oh dear. We Americans are still those people. We're still the bigots.

Can we change? Can we do like our children are doing already? How common is the Coulter sort of aculturization? Is Portland a bubble of peace and love? If it's a bubble, it's a bubble I'm happy to live in -- but I so look forward to the way forward. Do you ever hear the "r" word, or is it going away in your world too?

Water Fluoridation in Portland: Next Steps

August 28, 2012

I have three children, one born in New York and two born in Portland.  From the time when they were all young, my husband has commented that their teeth growth has been significantly affected by their water source in the formative years.  Our first child drank fluoridated water for the first three years of their lives.  Our second two children never did.

For our youngest, we don't yet know how the earliest years have affected his teeth, as he is only turning 3.  For our middle child, she has already had carries and fillings, while our eldest seems to have the best oral health.  This could also be a result of being the best tooth-brusher among them.

As educated parents (with ample health care coverage), we have swished, taken oral fluoride supplements prescribed by our pediatrician and used fluoride toothpaste.  Even still, one of our children - born and raised in Portland - has suffered cavities.

My best estimation of what is happening in Portland and Oregon is that, indeed, "we are in a dental crisis".  One in three of our children has untreated tooth decay, and one in five has "rampant decay", which is 7 or more cavities.  

The impact on low-income communities and communities of color is disproportionate: African Americans have twice the rate of tooth decay than white counterparts, 72% of Native Americans have untreated cavities, 46% of Oregon's Latino children have untreated tooth decay.  All these issues result in absenteeism and ultimately affects a child's success in school.  This is a preventable childhood disease.  Does the swishing work?  Yes, but it doesn't help the children before kinder age. And also, what about swishing in the summer or what about teachers who might forget the swish or kids that just throw it out?

Sometimes I like to know who else is support a certain cause.  This fluoridation effort, who else supports it, aside from health, dental, or medical organizations?  Some other supporters include: Urban Leauge, Central City Concern, Children First for Oregon, p:ear, Native American Youth Association, Latino Network, African Women's Coaltion, and many more.  (Full List Here in *pdf)

Commissioner Randy Leonard has been a supporter of this effort.  The Portland City Council is holding a public hearing on water fluoridation next Tuesdsay, September 6, at 2pm in the City Hall Council Chambers.  Interested in learning more?  Please attend.

Representatives from the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition has reached out to me and has offered to offer a Q&A situation where we can have readers email questions and concerns, to see if we can find answers.  For example: I, too, was concerned about the Harvard IQ study that is oft referenced, but - after chatting with other researchers and reading more online from a researcher-mom in Eugene - it sounds like the Harvard study is inconclusive.  I have plenty of questions about fluorosis, and - after again talking with others - it sounds like fluorosis can happen at higher levels of fluoridation but not at the level used to prevent tooth decay (0.7mg/L).  Do you have questions?  Send them over to urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will see if we can find answers.

I have suggested that we gather a group of subject-matter experts - a dentist, a medical doctor, a naturopath, maybe even a teacher who has implented the swish program at schools - to field questions from mamas and papas.  Interested in helping to coordinate this effort?  Please email us at urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will put you in touch!  Perhaps a playdate for parents and kids, where we have the opportunity to learn more?

Until then, keep talking, keep reading up on the issue, and keep informed.  It seems highly likely that this effort will pass in Portland, and we - as parents - need to educate ourselves on all the facts as it relates to fluoridating our water.

Water fluoridation in Portland: Taking the choice out of parents' hands?

August 18, 2012

We've made a case against water fluoridation here before.

Sam Adams says he doesn't care that voters have said 'no' to water fluoridation three times (in 1956, 1962 and 1980), and he will support a plan to add a $5 million fluoridation plant -- it would take at least five years to build and cost taxpayers about $575,000 a year to run once it was going. Commissioner Nick Fish, one of the two others who have publicly supported the project (Dan Saltzman is the third) told an Oregonian reporter how much poor families need fluoridation.

In a statement released Thursday, while on vacation, Fish said many hard-working families can't pay for fluoride. "With fluoridated water, simply drinking tap water gives all of our children the same opportunity to start life with healthy teeth," Fish said.

It's a bizarre argument, given that fluoride has been freely offered in Portland public schools every morning for decades. I swished the fluoride when I was in kindergarten (and my family was, indeed, poor); my kids swish the fluoride. Sure, preschoolers can't have access to fluoride unless they pay for it, but (umm) there are so many ways we don't support the health of poor families that this just seems a weird thing to plant a $5 million-plus flag in. Also, many health advocates have repeatedly noted that fluoride's benefit is topical, and there have been documented effects of fluoride poisoning -- from ingestion -- for about as long as water has been fluoridated.

According to a meta-analysis of fluoridation studies published in the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, high levels of water fluoridation had a negative impact on the IQs of children. Here's another mark against fluoridation, found on the web site of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water:

A recently published study from Harvard found that young boys between the ages of five and ten years old who drink fluoridated water at so called “optimal” levels  of one part per million have a 500% greater likelihood of developing osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, than boys who do not drink fluoridated water.  The study corroborates earlier studies on the fluoride/osteosarcoma link by the National Cancer Institute and the New Jersey Health Department.

I think the most powerful argument against adding fluoride to water, though, is that parents of babies are asked to avoid giving them fluoridated water to drink. The CDC itself, a supporter of fluoridation, says in a very carefully-worded statement that parents should not use exclusively fluoridated water to reconstitute baby formula. Baby and toddler toothpaste doesn't contain fluoride, because it's considered dangerous for babies to ingest.

I've read a book on fluoridation, and came through the experience firmly against it. I don't disagree with the use of topical fluoride; I think it's perfectly acceptable to use fluoride toothpaste. In fact, it's a lot cheaper to purchase flouride toothpaste than the natural fluoride-free alternatives (Sam and Nick, take note, poor parents now have no choice but excessive fluoridation).

I really don't think this move makes sense for any of us. If we as a city have decided that our tax dollars should support the heath of the poorer members of our community, the most efficient way to achieve that would be in health outreach to poor families -- more fresh whole foods and less sugar, more social-emotional supports for young families, more dental treatments for poor families -- than prophylactically medicating the entire city through our water system. I can't believe this is just about dental health, because there are so many better ways to approach it (and, once again! we already HAVE a fluoridation program for children in Portland!)

If the city council does indeed vote for this plan, we'll have the opportunity to overturn it. It will be expensive (money better spent on true community building and food and farms and arts and all sorts of things); it will take a lot of our time and energy; it will be seriously annoying. We already said "no." We have alternatives that work. We could spend $100,000 a year to buy toothpaste and fluoride tablets for every kid in Portland.

It's just not the Portland way, Sam & Co. Let the parents make the choices about their children's health. We can be trusted. Stop making it so clear you don't agree.

Having it all a little bit as a mom

June 23, 2012

Have you read the epic, flag-planting, fierce-debate-inspiring cover story in The Atlantic? I came across it the evening it was published and immediately -- though it was past 1 a.m. when I finished -- read the entire story, 12,000-some words and all. I wanted to stop in the middle several times to say, "this is ground breaking! This is amazing!" but I read through to the end. Of course, by this time, it had already begun to create controversy.

I read it almost like gospel. In my opinion, Anne-Marie Slaughter eloquently and persuasively make the case for why it is impossible for women today to "have it all at once" -- the high-powered career, and children who are well-cared for -- and how societal expectations, policies, and our own relationships might be changed to make "having it all" possible. For one, the "culture of face time" needs to be wiped out (something I agree with so much I'd happily write an entire 12,000-word column on that alone); for another, family values, even the sort that value older parents and siblings and partners, need to be re-valued (this one's worth a couple of books).

The biggest criticism of Slaughter's article is that she doesn't discuss the potential contribution of dads enough; she makes a point that "having it all is possible if you marry the right person" is one of the "half-truths we hold dear." Her husband, indeed, was a working dad rock star, a nurturing dad who helped his boys learn lines for the school play and made Hungarian palacsinta for foreign food night. She mentions Sheryl Sandberg, who famously pointed to her own husband and said, "There’s my work-life balance." Well, great. Not all of us make such brilliant choices; and even if we do pick fantastic husbands, it's still not ideal to put far more of the parenting load on dad. There are times we as moms want to be around; there are times we're really just needed; there are times that a culture that valued family more than work would be nice. OK: that would be nice all the time. We're also going to have to stop expecting any young parent to dedicate him or herself to a job. It's just ridiculous that any boss (or financial backer) should see a new parent or parent-to-be and think: "well, we'll give them a week or two off for family leave and then the responsibility will be done." We should change the expectation of work entirely; 40 hours should be more than enough. You should be able to go home and turn off, even if you do work in a high-powered job. Unless actual lives are actually depending on you. (And then it's probably better if you're actually happy.)

Slaughter makes a point of the Washington in-joke, that those who say they're leaving  a position to spend time with their family are using it as a euphemism for "fired," and that when one does actually leave to spend time with one's family, everyone rushes to say, "it's true! FAMILY! Really!" and hardly anyone believes it.

I left my last full-time job to spend time with my family. But, to be honest, this was also a euphemism. My family took more than the hours "after" work could fit. I didn't "marry the right person." I had kids with extraordinary (in the literal meaning of the word, "outside the ordinary," not "insanely difficult beyond all reason" as it often has come to mean) challenges that kept me running around to IEP meetings and to pick them up from school and up at night, literally. They required more from me than someone who wants to vault up in her career can handle.

So, I -- if you are to take literally the weird and logically-flawed reasoning of another Atlantic writer, Elizabeth Wurtzel -- became an unreal feminist. (Here's what she wrote, so you don't have to click, "Let's please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don't depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own." Her argument was based on "1% wives," who she tarred and feathered as being "dumb" and so obsessed with yoga that they had no room in their brains for anything else, and were ruining feminism for us all by being so dumb and making their 1% husbands think that's what all women are like. I am not exaggerating her piece at all. Like I said: weird.) I started to, over time, depend on a man whose living is mostly made on the other side of the planet driving VIPs to their Very Important Appointments for the Army.

So I can't have it all. And I'm only a feminist in the eyes of the generous. Throwing off an Ivy League MBA for the thrift-shopping, bike-riding, weed-pulling, dish-washing life of an Army wife is fullscale traitorism in Wurtzel's mind, and I'll bet Anne-Marie Slaughter would never have made this call in her 30s, though maybe she would consider it in retrospect.

This is when we find something else. I'm an idea person; I make up what-I-imagine-are-paradigm-shifting ways to run the business world while I shower and while I run and while I bike and while I wash dishes. One of my many such plots was "Mom VC." A venture capital firm run by mothers, kind of micro-social venture capital. Each woman would contribute either time or money -- not a lot by VC standards, $1,000 or so -- or their skills as lawyer/marketer/graphic designer/accountant/strategy expert/content writer/editor. A board would decide where investments would go. We'd all be "job creators," creating jobs for other moms, jobs they could make as flexible as their family needed them to be.

I still love this idea. But it would take an extreme amount of time and dedication to make it happen. Could we? Would we? I think so. In the meantime we have Kickstarter. And it's, amazingly, becoming the kind of place where we can have, not "it all," but a little bit.

I think of it as a version of my Mom VC, but not just moms, and you can buy in with anything. Here are three projects you can support -- use your own venture capital in any amount -- for Portland mothers working to create jobs we can believe in.

  • Stealing Time, a literary magazine for parents. This is my project and it's already shown me just how incredible the community here in Portland, and across the U.S. social media landscape, can be. We've had donations of time and talent and love beyond what I could hope for, mostly by moms, but some of it by people who just care about great writing and reading. It's a literary magazine for parents to take the place of the closing-down Brain, Child, and to also be something more; one issue a year will be devoted to pregnancy and childbirth, creating the only regular venue for truly literary writing about pregnancy. Funding ends July 2.
  • Yankers, time- and stress-saving baby clothes. These adorable and sensible baby clothes are the brainchild of Rosalee Rester, a mom whose funny Babywit was the stuff of consumer lust when I first became a parent. She's back with "stylish, modern, all-in-one outfits designed with a unique and simple pull down panel in the back. This panel allows easy access to your baby's diaper without having to deal with any snaps or fasteners." I love innovation like this; it's exactly the sort of thing a Mom VC would back. Funding ends July 13.
  • Dark and Light, a love story for babies. This board book series was created by sweet Portland mom Shasta Kerns Moore, one of whose twin sons has cerebral palsy. The book "is an elegantly simple board book aimed at very young children. The pictures are straight-forward enough that babies can follow along while adults can consider the wider implications of the story's metaphors." Funding ends June 27.

Walk and Bike to School: Know Your Way Around *and* Be Happy

May 20, 2012

A new study illuminates why pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets are so important, not just for the health and environmental impact of neighborhood residents but also for kids' fear and sense of overall well-being. As the post in The Atlantic points out, "Automobile collisions disproportionately kill kids, for starters. Heavy traffic also prevents them from playing on their neighborhood streets. And communities with limited opportunities for walking and playing outside have been shown to have higher rates of childhood obesity, which can lead to serious health complications in later life."

But the new study by Bruce Appleyard, a Portland-based urban planner and designer (and son of an urbanist who famously showed how heavy traffic in a neighborhood increases disconnection, disatisfaction and loneliness) talks about ground-level concerns, the ones I have a lot with my own kids: knowing their way around and being happy in the place where they live.

Bruce showed that kids in low-traffic, walkable neighborhoods remembered more features of their neighborhoods and remembered playing in more parts of their neighborhood than kids in high-traffic neighborhoods where they spent more time in cars. What's more, they simply liked their neighborhoods more and felt safer (according to the "cognitive mapping" techniques he used). He wrote, "In sum, as exposure to auto traffic volumes and speed decreases, a child’s sense of threat goes down, and his/her ability to establish a richer connection and appreciation for the community rises."

Later, he went back to the high-traffic neighborhood after it had undergone improvements in walkability and bike infrastructure. They knew more about their neighborhoods, and, he wrote, "Before the improvements were made in the heavy-traffic-exposure neighborhood, many children drew expressions of dislike and danger associated with automobiles and were unable to represent any detail of the surrounding environment -- possibly feeling overwhelmed by the threats posed by the automobiles. After the improvements alleviated the exposure to these threats, there were indeed fewer expressions of danger and dislike, indicating a greater sense of comfort and well-being."

I've thought about trying this experiment on my own kids, having them draw maps of the neighborhood (without scientific rigor, given that I know next to nothing about cognitive mapping). I think it would be a great way to celebrate Walk and Bike to School month.

Maurice Sendak: A Remembrance

May 08, 2012

I did not begin to love Maurice Sendak when I had boys, three of them, all just as wild as Max. I loved him, as most of you did, long before that. I could recite the entire text of Where the Wild Things Are even without the pictures, probably. It's like poetry; it's like Bible verses.

But there is something else. Before I had my boys, before they were very old, I did not really understand it; I felt the mother was hasty and rather too punishing. Surely: if you're going to give in and give him dinner anyway, why send him to bed? Why call him 'Wild Thing'? I shook my head.

As I grew as a parent, I had compassion not just for the boy but for the mother, too. The lucid, elegaic movie based so loosely on the book showed me that mother and tore me up even more and, I felt, explored the true nature of this parent/child relationship: imperfect (as we all are) and intense and marked with the rich internal life and tendency toward emotional overload and explosion as my own boys, and my relationships with them, are. There is that love that overwhelms and then buzzes into absolute impatience. But it is true even across the years and weeks and days and into the monstrous internal struggles or rumpuses with which our children might be rocked. It remains.

And my love will remain for this book and Maurice's true sight into a child's heart. He died today. I will miss him.

If you've written your own tribute to Sendak, please link to it in the comments or send me a note!

Supermoon! Where is the best place to moongaze?

May 05, 2012

Tonight is the Supermoon! Evidently, every once in a while, the moon comes extra close to the earth in its elliptical orbit, and that closest point coincides with a full moon -- it will be closest within a few minutes of the "official moon phase" of its fullness. This makes the moon appear 16% bigger and 30% brighter (or thereabouts) than usual.

(Or, according to National Geographic, "Due to the moon's egg-shaped orbit, there are times when our natural satellite is at perigee—its closest to Earth—and at apogee, its farthest." Hand that off to your high school-aged kids for SAT study.)

Our immediate neighborhood is terrible for moongazing; we're at a flat part west of a very steep hill, so that by the time the moon appears over the apartment building roof to the east of us, it's lost much of its enormity. Also: apartment building roofs do not make for lovely backdrops.

My favorite views of the moon have all been serendipitous; there is an amazing vantage point at the intersection of 39th/Cesar E. Chavez Blvd and Hawthorne, where you can often see the moon slink up behind Mt. Tabor, hanging low and spectacular over the bank (I know. Such romance!).  I've also seen a stunner at the intersection of SE Market and 77th, getting ready to come down the hill to Bridger school. I'm sure the southeast approach to Mt. Tabor, from 73rd Ave, would also be a great place.

Any favorites? Have you watched the moon somewhere stunning? (and if you see it tonight, post pictures! Please!)

SUN Schools in Peril: Rally Wednesday 9 a.m.

April 17, 2012

Cuts have been threatened to Multnomah County's SUN programs at local schools. For those of you who don't take advantage of these programs, they're often seen as a very inexpensive extended-day option for parents and kids, and have a variety of other evening and weekend programs as well. I have boys at both Bridger and Grout, two SUN schools. I know they're not supposed to be considered as child care (so say the fliers that go home with my kids), but honestly, that's what a lot of parents do. And it is surely a positive option for many families; the kids get structure and an energetic, fun staff and the parents don't have to make tough decisions about what to do between 2:15 and 5 p.m.

Continue reading "SUN Schools in Peril: Rally Wednesday 9 a.m." »

Sheryl Sandberg tells us how to spend time with our family

April 10, 2012

Do we have enough pithy posts here on urbanMamas? No! Try this.

Sheryl Sandberg made headlines everywhere by saying in a Makers.com video that she leaves work early every day -- 5:30! -- to spend time with her kids. She has two, ages four and six. "Why can't you?" said the Inc. magazine headline. I don't know if I'm more depressed that this is such a big deal today (OMG someone important spends less than 12 hours at the office) or that even the COO of Facebook is better at spending time with her family than I am.

Also, she's super gorgeous and her husband changes diapers.

[Sorry, comments are now closed. Evidently this is too touchy a debate.]

Health insurance stories: What's yours?

March 27, 2012

I don't know about the "I Like Obamacare" meme that the Obama administration is pushing as the landmark legislation comes before the nation's supreme justices. Sure, I like "Obamacare," a.k.a. health care reform, but I definitely don't love it. I'd much prefer a single-payer health care system (a.k.a. socialized health care). All the arguments against it, or most of them, are also arguments against our current system. Take rationing. Today we ration health care to the wealthy and the people with professional jobs. Take long lines. Have you ever sat -- with a legitimate emergency -- in an emergency room? OK, then, you know that long lines are already here. My last visit, for stitches, took us six long hours. The procedure took 10 minutes.

I really believe that many of the woes attributed to "big government" and a "welfare system" could be alleviated with single-payer health care; for one thing, it would be easier to get birth control, so many families could be planned instead of just happening to families not equipped to deal with them. For another, bankruptcies would be greatly reduced; our nation's bankruptcies are more frequently caused by medical bills every year (20% in the first half of 2011, not counting those bankruptcies with medical bills as a factor). Another thing: every time we chat about "radical homemaking" or other ideas that center around the concept of spending more time at home with our kids, health insurance comes up. It hamstrings us, ties us or our spouses to jobs we may not love, because we can't imagine affording insurance without it -- or because we or our kids have chronic diseases that would preclude us from getting good private insurance.

In my helter-skelter, pie-in-the-sky, best-of-all-possible-worlds dream for the way our country could be with single-payer health insurance, we'd have more mobility, more happiness, less debt, more time to pay attention to our kids, and more making choices for the right reasons. More health, of course.

I thought it would be interesting to think about the whole debate going on right now in the Supreme Court -- which, according to pundits watching the courts today, is going to be struck down on very weak legal grounds and very strong political ones -- in terms of our own stories. How has health insurance influenced your life? What decisions have you made simply because of health insurance? What is YOUR pie-in-the-sky idea for how the system should work?

Here's my story:

Continue reading "Health insurance stories: What's yours?" »

#EndDaylightSavings Time?

March 13, 2012

I did everything right: I got dinner ready early, kept the boys off screens on Sunday night, turned all the clocks back before I went to bed Saturday so we would wake up Sunday as if it never happened -- as if the time change was a chimera. We went through the day, keeping to our normal Sunday schedule where I only put the time in quotes in the quiet and safety of my stubborn brain (which had kept me up late Saturday night writing, and late Sunday night too). Still: I'd gotten them all asleep a little early than the normal quote-bedtime-end quote. That should do it, right?

I found out how wrong I was when I woke up at "7:51" a.m. this morning, nine minutes before Truman's final bell rings. It's only a half-mile away, but when I tried to wake him I was resoundingly unsuccessful. I barely managed to get Everett ready by the time his transportation arrived at "8:15"; we were just late, late, late with Truman, and as I walked him into the cafeteria at "8:50" for breakfast, I said that I guessed we were early for the old, dear, departed time!

Continue reading "#EndDaylightSavings Time?" »

TriMet Fare Proposal Forces Families on the Road

February 08, 2012

When I first clicked on a link to TriMet's fare increase survey, I looked over the options with growing fear. Where was the choice that would give TriMet more revenue -- but not make my daily riding vastly more expensive? I'd be happy to pay, say, 40 cents more per ticket for my own ride, especially if I could get more (a longer transfer, maybe), or even buy day tickets if I had a great option for my family -- wouldn't it be great if an $8 ticket would allow one adult and all her children to ride for a whole day? This weekend, for instance, I had made plans to pick up one of Everett's friends, who lives more than six miles from us -- neither family has a car. We were going to meet at the intersection of our bus line and theirs, and I was going to return with four kids. This sort of time-consuming trip would be ok, I thought, if I didn't have to pay so much to bring her back home ($1.50 for each kid under today's rates = a lot for one four-mile bus ride. Each way).

Continue reading "TriMet Fare Proposal Forces Families on the Road" »

Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman

February 06, 2012

I've had it up to here (the writer draws a line with her finger somewhere above her hairline) with the Wall Street Journal headlines proclaiming the superiority of one parenting style followed by an entire culture. You'd think the editorial team was on the payroll of a publishing house (the writer begs forgiveness for her snark). They're certainly not nuanced or creative when they come to writing headlines.

Continue reading "Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman" »

Escaping the post-holiday "I want"s

December 26, 2011

I'm feeling it as much as (or more than) my kids some years -- the post-holiday "I want"s. These come from such innocuous activities as talking to my friends, browsing Twitter, or looking at the Facebook photos of my community. So you got a Garmin, hmmm? I could have used one of those! A new iPad? Never mind that I already have an iPad (it's a work tool! I swear!). Somehow the fact that someone else got one for Christmas puts my own gifts in stark relief. Let's just say, regarding my Christmas take, that "modest" is an understatement; though yesterday I felt warm and happy and loved thanks to just those modest tokens of generosity.

And those photos of Christmas dinner! My parents us invited us to their house for my mom's longed-for new "tradition": cooking a lasagne for Christmas dinner. But we didn't have transportation and, well, Thanksgivingtime was oh-my-god-stressful. We had dinner at home (roast pork loin and apples from my tree -- which turned out fantastic, and easy to boot, and all out of the pantry or freezer so there was no new expense: frugal!). So when I opened Instagram to bountiful pics of rare roast beef and fancy wines and well-dressed families around a big (and, note: clean) dining room table, well. My heart twisted a little with the desire. I ate on (lovely) thrift store plates while watching Leverage with the boys who hadn't fallen asleep yet. I drank tea.

My kids want a Beyblade top, each. They want 2000 or 3000 Nintendo coins for new games. They want another remote control for the Wii (the big present my husband bought this year -- against my early best judgment). I wish I'd got them Legos -- not in the budget this year. They want more gummy bears and to go to Starbucks and to order pizza. I want new yarn and a new pair of running shoes and wouldn't it be nice if I had some new books to read?


I don't have the money for any of it (well, maybe the gummy bears, but I said "no" on principal of "too much sugar already"), so I'm having to take a deep breath and get away from the wants somehow. Here are a few ways I escape:

  • Going for a run. Even if I don't have the latest gear or running shoes without hundreds of miles on them, running clears my head and gets me wanting only more running.
  • Reading a book. I know, I'd like new books! But I have a bunch of old ones that could enchant me perfectly.
  • Organizing something. I have any number of corners and shelves and whole rooms which could benefit from a deep clean and organization. And I always discover things I (or the kids) have forgotten about -- satisfies the "I want" urge too!
  • Make something new out of something old. I have a pile of pants to patch or hem, and an equal pile of old clothes and thrifted bits of things ready to be used for something. I made a couple of pretty potholders out of some old quilt squares of my grandma's, and that was ridiculously satisfying -- and quelled my desire to buy some potholders with graphic (and brand-new) fabric.
  • Give something handmade or unneeded. It's amazing how giving something to someone else can reduce your wanting for things. Something about how generosity fills you up instead of shopping. Is that a real thing? Oh well. I like it.
  • Practice. What is your practice -- a musical instrument? Yoga? A foreign language? A craft? Meditation? Prayer? Calligraphy? Knitting? Or even, just seeing the world around you? Practice it. Become the person you want to be.
  • Asking yourself, what would I do with a gift of time? Remember when I had that day alone? Almost all of the things I wanted to do didn't involve any expense, and none of them were acquisitive. Your ideas were equally nonmaterialistic. Consider this time a gift, and use it accordingly. (And if you can get a spouse, family member or friend to give you a truly free, kid-free amount of time, do one of those amazing luxurious things!)

Now: to practice what I preach. Off to sew, run, and organize my kids' book nook!

Of the Great Santa Myth, and Faith

December 21, 2011

There surely was a real St. Nicholas, of course (who would have given very few of our children the things on their Christmas lists -- his assistance of the needy, the sick and the suffering probably wouldn't have included a Nerf Vortex Nitron or the Disney Fairies gift set), but what we have today is all myth. It's the myth that sits our children on his lap, telling him their deepest desires; it is the myth to whom they write letters and make lists; it's the myth that appears in 1,000 permutations on TV shows and movies this time of year. It's the myth that signs his name on packages under trees and fills the stockings (then turns with a jerk...). it's the myth that gives a darn whether or not your kids are "naughty."

I've always been non-committal about the myth of Santa. My parents, despite the religious background that would seem to conflict with the whole idea of an imaginary present-giver, still signed presents under the tree "from Santa" and perpetuated the idea of a guy sliding down the chimney with a big red bag. I remember, one year, writing a letter to Santa and burning it; the idea, that the ashes would float up to Santa in some sort of readable manner, sure didn't make any more sense to me at five than they do at 38. But, I believe it, willing to take a leap of faith if it meant good things like lacy dresses and baby dolls. By my third or fourth lost tooth, however, I was all skeptic; I asked my parents not to sneak in and leave money under my pillow, no matter what! When they acquiesced and, indeed, I woke up to a tooth still in its place, I remember a little disappointment but mostly relief that the world's logic was preserved. I don't remember it being cold or harsh or sad; just helpful. Now I know.

 With my kids, I offer the story like I do Zeus or Achilles or Noah: a story that no one can be 100% sure of. That some people believe, and others don't. The boys are welcome to believe if they like. Most of those guys dressed up on the street certainly aren't the real Santa. Might this one be? Perhaps. If they want to believe it.

Everett, who at eight renounced God, the tooth fairy, Santa and the Easter bunny as myths all (to my disappointment; I still believe in God), is a staunch non-believer, and not quiet about it. This does not affect his brothers' beliefs at all. On Peacock Lane, the boys confronted a Santa Claus together, and Everett informed the others this was a fake Santa. A little while later, with Everett's attention elsewhere, Monroe encountered another Santa. This? The real Santa, he decided, with no one to tell him incontrovertibly that it was not. Even later, as Monroe had not seen Everett evaluate the man (so as to gather evidence for his reality or lack thereof), he remained convinced the second Santa was the real one.

Tomorrow on Think Out Loud, a conversation about Santa and whether or not we tell our kids "the truth" will take place, and the intro to the post and an email about it had me shaking my head.  "Spoiler alert: If you're a Santa believer, you might want to stop reading right now." Really? If you're a Santa believer, even the presence of doubt in others has you disbelieving? This doesn't work for anything else -- take any religion, ever. Even climate change deniers find a way to discount all scientific evidence that works against their theory. Can a radio show shake a kid's faith?

Not in my opinion, especially if a beloved big brother can't even change your mind. The Santa secret is safe, and here's the thing: it was always safe in the minds and hearts of the true believers. Even, if for just a few more years.

The great costume debate: Is this really just a power struggle?

October 27, 2011

I got the chance to connect to my email after several hours offline at a cross country meet, alone with my nine-year-old son. I read the comment on the Halloween costume post that quoted a memo the Buckman principal sent to families:

"As you know, we have requested students not to wear costumes to school on Monday for Halloween. The reasons have been expressed in several ways, most recently in a letter sent out on October 20th. Since this issue was picked up by various “media sources” all over the country, we have received many disturbing emails, phone calls, and countless blog entries. Many of these were threatening in nature and completely inappropriate. I do believe that the majority, however not all, were from outside of our community.

"I wanted you to know I have met with the District and we will have our School Resource Officer here Friday and Monday to help in case we have problems with those outside of our school community. Our number one concern is the safety of our students, families, and staff. Please do not be alarmed if you see this extra security on these two days."

I said something incredulous aloud. (Probably: "oh, my GOD.") "What?" asked Everett. I gave a basic rundown of the issues: an administrator made a decision to ban costumes. His expressed aim was to reduce the pressure on the small number of students who didn't celebrate Halloween, and to remove distractions from school.

"So..." I said. "He didn't want kids distracted by wearing costumes. But now because people are so angry about his decision, the entire school community is going to be subjected to security in the halls because of threats from around the country. And there will be TV cameras and radio microphones outside school. A little distracting, don't you think?" [Update: there will be armed police officers at the school.]

"Why doesn't he just change his mind?" said Everett. Indeed.

Even though the pressure and criticism may be mostly external, it seems that the principles are now being largely obliterated by the stand the administration is taking. Is it worth it? In my opinion, no.

Talking it out with Everett made me see what I think the issue has become: not cultural sensitivity. Not the protection of childhood fun. This is about power. The principal who made the decision is not backing down, even though the debate now smacks more of circus than education. I don't think all our kids' best interests are preserved by protecting a few students who don't celebrate Halloween from awkwardness -- not now that it has become such a huge debate.

Keep Portland weird. Consequences be damned.

Continue reading "The great costume debate: Is this really just a power struggle?" »

Teen Access to Birth Control: Have Attitudes Changed?

October 26, 2011

I remember the debate, when I was a teenager, over birth control access in Portland schools. On one hand, it's positive to prevent teen pregnancy and (in the case of barrier methods) sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, providing birth control in schools is a tacit encouragement of sexual activity! (A worry that research suggests is unwarranted -- studies show no increase in promiscuity among teens who have condom access and education in school.) And schools aren't in the business of parenting!

When I was a teen, as the product of a very religious family, I felt only slightly different about this than I do now. I had no need of such things -- I wasn't sexually active myself. But I recognized that my classmates were, and didn't really think that it had anything to do with whether or not they could get condoms from the health center. I was in favor of birth control, though concerned about the parenting thing. Should schools be in the role of offering such advice? My opinion was, no.

Monday's Think Out Loud discussion about birth control access in Canby shows me that, despite two decades of research and supposedly loosening social norms, the debate hasn't changed a bit. Same story, different millennium. I'm a parent now, though, and I have to say that my beliefs have changed just slightly; now I believe that putting birth control in schools has nothing to do with parenting; parenting happens at home. Parenting is the stuff that should already have affected students attitudes toward sexual behavior before they get to the point of asking for birth control. I got parented in a way that kept me chaste through high school, but at no time in the process would I have gone to my parents to request access to birth control. I did not want to talk to them about sex (still don't, honestly). The more available birth control is? The more likely teens are to use it. I don't believe it has anything to do with encouraging the activity, tacitly or overtly.

Now that you're a parent, what do you think? Have your attitudes changed?

Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens

October 21, 2011

While it would be a stretch to say my kids' screentime is very limited, when my husband is away (in the military, he's currently serving the second of two one-year tours in Kuwait) the TV is usually off. The boys might watch a half-hour or hour on school days, and usually go on a Saturday morning Pokemon and Ben 10 jag if we're home. There's Friday night movie night -- which we'll skip on particularly exhausting weeks. Of course, I don't have a baby, but when Think Out Loud came on this Friday morning, discussing new AAP recommendations that parents with kids under two limit the TV to zero, I immediately thought back to my very different household when my boys were babies and toddlers; in a word, TV rich.

My husband grew up in a household where TV was on all the time, and his young adulthood, when he lived with his siblings, only reinforced this habit. It's hard to get the TV off in my house when he's around, and more so when the kids were younger and he had the (according to the AAP, highly mistaken) viewpoint that they wouldn't watch the TV if it wasn't meant for them. So, my boys grew up, likewise, to the sound of Law & Order and NCIS and other procedural dramas. I'm going to paraphrase the guest on TOL, University of Washington professor of medicine Dimitri Christakis: this is keeping us all from paying attention to our kids and interacting in the way babies need. "It holds your attention," he said, mentioning studies that show how hard it is for us to see anything else when the TV is on.

I had to laugh, a little, when another caller asked the question I was about to ask (as I washed dishes and listened to NPR instead of interacting with my own kids), is radio just as bad? How about NPR? Christakis kind of skirted that question, by emphasizing the difference between TV and music radio -- it's the visual part of TV that sucks us in.

What we get from this new recommendation is not much different in tone than the message in the SpongeBob study: when we're turning the TV on to get something done, it's not good for the kids. We should be interacting with them instead of setting them in front of the tube. Christakis said that he gets all the time, "but how am I supposed to make dinner if I don't turn on the TV?" His answer: parents for millennia have been making dinner without TV, and with current estimates on how much TV kids are actually watching -- it's four or five hours for many toddlers (a DAY, and I know there have been times when that has been the reality in my house, and it kills me to think of it) -- he asks, "how much of a break do parents need?" Kids this age are, after all, only awake for 10 or 12 hours a day.

On one hand, I agree with a friend on Facebook, who (and I know her son watches little TV, comparatively) took the radio program as opportunity to tell all the parents she knows that they're doing a great job and can just stop listening to the media criticism of the job they're doing (thank you!). On the other hand, I want to agree with Christakis. Really, I don't need that much of a break from my kids. And honestly -- they're fine without screens. They can occupy themselves for hours with sticks and a field of grass, or pinecones and fences to climb, or the room full of Hot Wheels and Thomas trains and dress-up clothes and stuffed animals. I get plenty of break (during which I can wash dishes, do laundry, and make dinner all I want. Yay!).

Continue reading "Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens" »

Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?

October 17, 2011

However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!

This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).

I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)

Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.

Continue reading "Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?" »

BlogHer '11 Conference: A Report on Mommyblogging, 2011

August 18, 2011

I have been a "professional blogger" since before that was really a thing, starting out making $3 a post in 2004 at BloggingBaby.com. I wanted to go to the Very First Blogher conference, in 2005, but was a bit hampered by an infant baby (Truman) and no money. In 2006, I managed to get a spot on one of the panels and a roommate -- Asha from Parenthacks -- and brought my infant along. Jonathan and Everett drove down to San Jose in a Flexcar minivan and the boys hung by the pool with other daddybloggers while we women browsed the casual panels. Arianna Huffington was there. Dooce was there! So were all the OMB's, Original MommyBloggers. Even then, though I knew almost everyone, I felt like a bit of an outsider, not as famous as Dooce or even Melissa Summers; not as commercial, not as edgy as just about anyone. Since then, Blogher either didn't fit into my career (the finance management I was working for by then at Aol wasn't really interesting in me writing about a bunch of women bloggers) or my family.

This year, I knew it was time to reinvest. I bought my ticket back in February when I had extra cash and was planning my year. I booked a room at a hostel and, after much debate, a flight by myself, no family at all, to San Diego for Blogher '11. As both an insider and a decided outsider -- I don't really get involved in the same communities as the OMBs, even though I do enjoy reading their work and think they're brilliant and lovely women, I don't do giveaways or participate in the more commercial social networks of the new crop of MBaB (MommyBloggers as Businesses) -- I wasn't sure. Would I have a blast? Would I feel left out? Would I learn a lot? Would I roll my eyes?

As with anything, it's all about who you spend your time with. On the second day, I walked past a woman in the hall on her phone. It was in the middle of a panel session -- I'd ducked out in the middle to switch sessions -- so it was quiet. "It's like being with 3,000 babies who only want to talk about themselves," she said. I thought about some of the questioners at the sessions -- those who preambled their queries with a 60-second (or more) bio in which they list their dotcoms and economic interests. Yes, some of them just wanted to talk about themselves and their own unique concerns (I'm sure I've said things that could be construed as such). But most of the women I was encountering were just as eager to talk about us. Issues we have in common; how we can make a difference using social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of it); who we are and how sharing that is making our lives better.

the wonderful Jessica and the lovely Charlene. you know, they're both lovely AND wonderful.

The first two sessions I attended had me in tears, rolling-down-my-face sniffling tears. The first one, Blogging Your Way to Self-Acceptance, talked about so many things I feel that the OMBs were all about: finding your own truth, telling a story that speaks to the universal, being true to yourself. Brené Brown started, taking us all outside the hustle and bustle of sponsors and products for a beautiful hour-and-a-half. She said, "one of the things that I have come to learn is that our worthiness, our ability to really engage with the world from a place of I am enough, that worthiness lives inside of our story. ...we have two choices and that's own our story and share our story or stay outside of your story and kind of hustle for our worthiness, which I have done a lot of in my own life, perfecting, pleasing, performing, proving, and it's just exhausting and I don't think it's sustainable." The way I heard her was this: believing that our own truth is worth sharing -- and doing so in a personal, authentic way -- is not just an exercise in self-worth but also a necessary and world-changing act.

Shauna James Ahern, the Gluten-Free Girl, was someone I already knew I loved through Twitter. I wasn't sure if I knew what she was doing on this panel, though -- until she started talking (oh!).

Continue reading "BlogHer '11 Conference: A Report on Mommyblogging, 2011" »

Friday Family Movie Night: How to Train Your Dragon, Movies in the Parks

July 15, 2011

Are you a Netflix subscriber? If you're like just about every urbanMama or dad I know, you probably are, and you may be shaking your fist in the general direction of Netflix headquarters thanks to the price changes (you say "increase," they say "lowest prices ever") announced this week. When I wrote a post about it for WalletPop, after "library" the first great free alternative that sprung to mind was the ultimate big-screen, close-to-home experience: Movies in the Park. No: it's not streaming over your internet, it's not something you can pause while you answer the phone. But as a family entertainment experience, a Friday Family Movie Night like no other, it's as good as it gets.

Portland Parks scatters its free movie nights around the city and lets neighborhood boards weigh in on the movie selection. There is something for everyone; vintage Oregon favorites like The Goonies (Sellwood Park, Sunday, July 31); brand new movies like Karate Kid (the one with Will Smith's kid, Knott Park, Saturday, July 16); adult recent releases that may have been on your own Netflix queue, like The King's Speech (Laurelhurst Park, Friday, July 29) and The Social Network (Laurelhurst Park, Saturday, August 27). There is the climbing wall for the afternoon preceding most showings, often free popcorn or other goodies, and local bands. With Tangled (Glenfair Park, Tuesday, August 2; Hazeltine Park, Sunday, August 14), a hair styling and braiding competition. I've only been to a few of these showings over the past few years, but everyone who's gone to one agrees: it's like a block party or a truly old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre, where families show up with wagons and picnic baskets and blankets to share with young singles and older couples, babies fall asleep on their fathers' shoulders and get walked home while their mother and siblings watch the end of the show. It's as Norman Rockwell as you can get, with a big screen movie.

How to Train Your Dragon is showing several times this summer, and as it's a movie my family saw and loved, I'll review it with this column, too. (And oh yes: How to Train Your Dragon is not available streaming on Netflix, for the record.)

Continue reading "Friday Family Movie Night: How to Train Your Dragon, Movies in the Parks" »

Japan Aftermath: Host Families, Supporters Needed for Japanese Mamas, Children

June 05, 2011

My neighbor, who has a lot of connections, friends and family in Japan, has been doing all she could to help with the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and resultant nuclear disaster there. She asked me to post this and my hope is the urbanMamas community may have resources to help.

My name is Camellia Nieh, and I am a Portland mama and a Japanese translator-interpreter. Since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that struck Japan in March, I have been involved in various relief efforts. 

Our family recently enrolled with a group that helps families with small children or pregnant mothers seek refuge away from the disaster zone. The families seeking refuge may be currently living in shelters because their homes have been destroyed, or their homes may be intact but they are fearful of the radiation risks and are facing a difficult summer of keeping their children indoors during the summer heat to mitigate radiation exposure.

Some families seeking a placement are from the disaster zone or areas close to the nuclear accident, but even mothers in Tokyo are looking to get out of the country. Though radiation levels are lower in the Tokyo area, mothers there too are worried about the effects on their small children. Trace amounts of radiation have been detected in Tokyo mothers' breast milk, and reassurances that those levels are below the established limits for infants' exposure are of little confort. (Would you trust the government to tell you how much radiation intake is safe for a newborn?) 

Our family is currently in correspondence with a mother in Fukushima with a 5-year-old boy. We are discussing having them stay with us in late summer, so that the child can play outdoors and get some fresh air. He has a skin condition that is worsened by having to remain constantly indoors, and outdoor activities for children in the area where they live are restricted to one hour per day to mitigate radiation exposure. 

Continue reading "Japan Aftermath: Host Families, Supporters Needed for Japanese Mamas, Children" »

27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam

May 18, 2011

It's all in a headline, isn't it? That's something I've learned from my two decades as a journalism junkie. And then there's the old saying, "statistics lie." I worked on Wall Street and for a bank selling loans to other banks -- I know from long practice doing and analyzing other people doing so, you can get numbers to say whatever you want them to.

So the above is the headline I'd like to see on Oregonian writer Joseph Rose's piece on how Sam Adams and the Portland City Council decided to spend the "uncommitted budget" -- in other words, the part of budget that's discretionary. It's funded by gas taxes and parking revenue, and makes up about 25% of the overall transportation capital improvement projects funding. He went instead with "Portland Mayor Sam Adams boosts funding for bike projects, but now there's less for paving streets" as a headline and then, in the first few paragraphs, described Adams' statements about the funding (which, for bike projects, works out to 17% of discretionary funds, or 6% of overall CIP funds) at the Alice Awards as having "boasted about what he had done for bicycles." Rose's piece kept up the rabble-rousing bent: "Portland quietly boosted the amount of uncommitted transportation funding it spends on bike projects from just 1 percent to 17 percent – or $2.8 million – in the budget adopted last June. Meanwhile, it slashed the amount allocated to motor vehicle projects by 22 percent... Coming out of the recession, the budget is still bruised. Pothole complaints are up. Nearly 60 miles of the city's streets remain unpaved. By allocating 17 times more of that funding on building bikeways, Adams has left no doubt that he wants more commuters on bicycles."

There are many, many things on which I'd love to see Portland spend its money. And while I understand that Portland's roads are pot-hole filled and it's not nearly easy enough to drive 40 MPH everywhere you want to go, well, when it comes down to it I value the safety of our kids and older citizens more than I do speed. Spending 6% of our budget on bicycle projects (which improve traffic safety, speeds, pollution, noise, and long-term environmental costs for everyone who uses our roads and even those who don't) and another 21% for pedestrian projects (which make our communities more livable and make our citizens healthier and happier -- attracting businesses and invigorating the retail climate and wooing middle- and upper-class new residents), even though these funds come from gas taxes and parking revenue, seems like a sensible and worthwhile investment in a safe and sustainable transportation mix.

Continue reading "27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam" »

A bad man is dead...

May 01, 2011

The boys were still awake, as they usually are at 7:20, when I first saw the news on Twitter suggesting that Osama bin Laden had been killed by the U.S. military. I turned on the news, because I couldn't imagine missing this announcement. So I had to tell the boys (who were really more focused on their dinner) what was happening; and all I could say was, "the president is announcing that he killed a very bad man. He ordered attacks on the U.S. -- thousands of Americans were killed," and, "this is what started the war Daddy is fighting." The war is not over. This does not affect his homecoming, and probably won't curtail future deployments.

I was glad, then, when I turned on the radio later, turned my computer on, to see the celebrations (and they'd fallen asleep already when a neighbor set off fireworks). I don't like the idea of celebrating death, even of a very bad man -- however you feel about the news, I suspect parents have common feelings about that. And if any of our children were alive during the attacks on 9/11 (of the urbanMamas founders, only one, Olivia, already had a child in 2001), it's likely they were too young to understand any of it.

Honestly, I think I'll try to shelter my kids from the photos of celebrations and the related news. We'll just leave with the title of my post: a bad man is dead. And they can learn more once they hit high school and study recent U.S. history. There are lots of tragedies I feel I shouldn't keep from my children; knowing that bad things happen as part of this complex rich life is something we've accepted, more or less. Knowing that people celebrate someone's death is just too nuanced for them; or maybe it's just too nuanced and conflicted for me to explain. How do you feel about this news?

Radiation: Don't Worry?

March 23, 2011

Most of us parents were young during the Chernobyl accident, and have vivid memories of our first exposure to the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can still see, in my memory, terrible black-and-white photos of the devastation in Hiroshima. It was so inhuman; there was so much humanity. Exposed, its surface melted away. And the concept of the invisible threat, the sickness that eats away at you from inside, insidiously: how can it not stay with a girl?

Now we're faced with the crisis that will be our own children's Chernobyl, perhaps: the earthquake and tsunami that devastated so much of northern Japan, and the developing crisis as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant deteriorates. I took my boys to Seaside yesterday with my parents; Truman was so terrified of the idea of a tsunami that he kept going back to Grandpa's truck (there's a story there about the policemen who decided I was a very bad parent because I was spending more time calming everyone's fears than making sure I had eyes on all three boys -- a story for another day that I'm sure I'll tell soon). Everett got scientific and figured out how he could estimate the power of the waves through scientific observation, calming his own fears of one of those waves going Japanese on him.

The short answer to this crisis coming to Oregon shores, as I've learned after lots of research into Walletpop stories on radiation danger and sushi, is not to worry. About this, anyway; any radiation that gets here is at least a million times below toxic levels. Japan exports almost none of its fish, and whatever it would export wouldn't be any more dangerous than a mercury-laden river fish. (We in Oregon actually export a ton of fish and other products to Japan; it's an interesting story, too.)

There's plenty more to worry about. I'm freaking out on a near-daily basis about pesticides and the dangers of exhaust; I'm pretty sure it's part of the reason I struggle so with my boys. Other people are really concerned about radon in their homes; evidently, it's potentially a far, far worse source of radiation than any nuclear plant -- although you can have your radon levels tested and there's a fix. Other friends are having some big worries about lead contamination -- in the paint, in house keys, in the soil, in old furniture you hadn't suspected, in lots of jewelry little kids might get their mouths on (even though it's not meant for kids -- funny how that works). A bunch of us are very concerned about BPA and other plastic-based endocrine disruptors.

And another thing. I got an email which led me to this post I wrote forever and a day ago about radiation exposure of parents and how it affects the yet-to-be-born offspring. I didn't do a lot of research at the time and didn't follow up beyond the post. But I still haven't dismissed it. The mama who found my post wrote,

My dad had polio as a small child and was treated in an iron lung chamber. My aunts recall the doctors believing the radiation exposure is what caused his numerous bouts of cancer. My dad passed away at 40 after battling cancer most of his life.

All this attention on radiation has me wondering if I've been exposed, and what that potential danger could be. And, of course, if I could have passed anything along to my children.

I'd love to talk with someone locally about this. I don't even know where to start or what kind of doctor to call to get checked.

Do any of you have experience with this sort of thing? If you have ideas for how this mama can get tested for the markers of inherited radiation -- if that could be a problem -- please chime in! And tell us what's keeping you up at night with this disaster; I can't stop thinking about my parents' house, that would surely fall in an earthquake and slide into the Nehalem River; wouldn't my 1912 house crumble, too? There's just so much to worry about, you hardly know where to start.

Proposed HB 2228, ban for kids on parent's bikes and trailers, thinks wrong

January 13, 2011

Update: Jules Bailey tells Bike Portland he and Greenlick have agreed to alter the proposed bill to instead call for a study of family biking. I've written asking Greenlick apologize for jumping into this conversation by demonizing parents who choose to put their children on bicycles (and comparing this to the seatbelt debate in the 1950s); I hope he does so.

Representative Mitch Greenlick has sponsored proposed House Bill 2228, which would make it illegal to carry children aged six and under on bicycles, including trailers and trail-a-bikes, punishable by a maximum fine of $90. He tells Bike Portland he did it to keep children safe; while he has no statistics on children's death, he does have a study on adult males, who often are injured when they crash on their bike. He said, "if it's true that it's unsafe [for a four-year-old to ride on his parent's bike], we have an obligation to protect people. If I thought a law would save one child's life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn't you?" His email address is rep.mitchgreenlick@state.or.us; his district office phone number is (503) 297-2416. (He represents NW Portland; Jules Koppel, (503) 986-1442, represents my SE neighborhood. Find your representative here. Katie wrote this letter, inviting Rep. Greenlick to Kidical Mass on Saturday. Here's another letter.)

The four of us who founded urbanMamas didn't all start out six or seven years ago as the things we are today: competitive and eager runners, whole food-conscious, green-minded, three-kid-having, family bike activists. It's happened, as much because of the place we lived and the people we live around -- we're co-inspirators, I've said -- than because of any special long-held personal conviction. The conviction, it's grown on us, and some of it grew like a weed, accidental, perhaps meant to be after all. Native to Portland, Oregon, we're sure.


Biking has become for all of us a personal freedom, an identity, a way of glorious life. It's frugal and emission-free and it changes the dynamic of risk for transportation; instead of putting everyone else on the road in danger, we're putting only ourselves and our children. Given the statistics -- the by-far-and-away-crazy leading cause of death for children is automotive accidents, over a thousand kids die each year and many more are badly injured -- our risk is miniscule. I've looked for statistics on death as bicycle passenger, and can't find them. Julian describes the data as "entirely without denominator." Surely, one day a child or even a dozen will die as passengers on bicycles, probably in a collision with an automobile. It is guaranteed that another thousand children will die next year, and the year after that, as passengers in cars.

Continue reading "Proposed HB 2228, ban for kids on parent's bikes and trailers, thinks wrong" »

Flouride and Portland kids: news and analysis

January 11, 2011

Portland water has never been fluoridated, so most of the public concern about fluoride ingestion for kids in our city is imported from other hometowns (though we've had some past discussions about fluoride, here, here and here). I've done a little research on the topic in the past few years, helped by my dentist (an urbanMama reader who encourages even the most militant green among us to use fluoridated toothpaste because it's helpful when applied topically) and a great book, The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Kept It There. (phew.) So when I heard the news on NPR last week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency were working together to lower the maximum recommended level of fluoride in water -- to 0.7 mg per liter from its current maximum, 1.2 mg/L -- my first thought was that it wouldn't affect us, much.

Then I started reading through the articles in greater detail, compared with the information in the book I have now on my lap, and found some interesting leaps to conclusion and some great shifts from unexpected sources. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long been the leading proponent of municipal water fluoridation, arguing that the benefit of preventing tooth decay overrode the risk of toxic effects -- and according to all government sources to date, the biggest risk is fluoridosis, or discoloration, streaks and spots on your tooth enamel. The NPR story begins: "Fluoride is a finicky friend to teeth. Too little of it, and you get cavities. Too much, and it starts to eat away and discolor the enamel of your pearly whites, " and quotes a dentist with the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry as saying, "There's a cosmetic risk, not a health risk."

There are a number of problems with these statements.

Continue reading "Flouride and Portland kids: news and analysis" »

Links between autism, vaccines, and pesticides

January 05, 2011

I know that we all have our own reasons why to vaccinate our children on schedule, do it more slowly than the AAP recommends, or not at all. Many of us know now that the scientific evidence linking rising autism rates to the thimerosal preservative (which contained trace amounts of mercury) has been discarded by nearly every public health professional.

Still, today's news that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the author of the original (and since retracted) study linking autism to vaccines did not just create a bad study but "an elaborate fraud" is chilling. The British medical journal BMJ conducted an investigation, and the editor told CNN, "in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data." The editorial revealing the results of the study said it had created a long-lasting deleterious effect on public health and, worse, "perhaps as important as the scare's effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it."

Speaking of those. No one (as far as I can tell) is calling pesticide exposure a definitive cause of autism -- perhaps the study has created a scientific-community-wide crisis of confidence. But I'm chilled by results of a 12-year study of migrant worker mothers and their children in Salinas, California, the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas project. Mothers who had the highest exposure to pesticides had children with poorer attention spans.

""We have very, very high reports by the mother of behaviors consistent with pervasive developmental disorder," UC Berkeley Public Health profession Brenda Eskenazi said in comments at a neurotoxicology conference. "These include signs like the child is afraid to try new things, can't stand anything out of place, and avoid looking others in the eye. This is considered to be autism spectrum behavior."

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Ethical child transport from the New York Times & me

December 12, 2010

I know many of us transport our kids by bike through much of the year; many of my closest mama friends (and I) have done such shocking things as bike-while-heavily pregnant, tote a small baby around, put our children between our handlebars in a baby seat, or expose our young offspring to rain, wind and even, rarely, sun (ha) through miles of commuting. Many of you can remember a dozen or a hundred times you've heard another citizen of this city opine on your transportation choices. My favorite (or something) is when a woman yelled at me, "get those babies baptized!" (I had.) I've also had any number of angry men and women shouting about how "that's not safe!" I've been reminded loudly how I forgot to put a helmet back on a youngster after a stop (we stopped and put the helmet back on right away, me shaking from the vitriole of the FYI); I've been asked who's going to take care of the kids when I DIE FROM NOT WEARING A HELMET (I had a hat on, and forgot my helmet, and by the time I remembered it we were too far away from home).

After one of these exchanges I often spend the next 10 or 15 minutes of my ride composing a undeliverable response to those who question my parental responsibility, exposing the kids to the elements and the possibility of death-by-vehicle. My thesis usually looks like this: I believe not only in the superiority of this method of transportation -- which emits zero pounds of carbon per mile and has no regular monthly cost nor incremental cost, saving me thousands each year, and has an infinitesimal chance of seriously injuring any other humans than those aboard by its use -- but I believe in the power and imperative of living one's values. If I am so worried about the health of the planet that I toss and turn many nights, wondering if my grandchildren's Portland will be overrun by refugees from an unlivable California, I can hardly put them into a single-family vehicle (that I can't afford anyway) for the 13-and-some miles of daily commute.

There's a lot more, involving my own vivid fear I'll run into a pedestrian or another car every time I get behind a wheel, and the nausea that I seem to always suffer after driving. But last night, I was thrilled to see on another mama's Facebook stream a link to an official ethical scholar's general agreement with my thesis. The questioner, a Portland, Maine bicyclist with children aged four and one, wondered, "Is it O.K. to take the kids by bike when our admittedly safer, albeit not risk-free, car is available?"

Randy Cohen's answer had its usual twists and turns of humor and extreme examples. ("Different parents tolerate different levels of risk for their children. Some allow their kids to go rock climbing while on fire; others forbid them to leave the house unless they’re swaddled in Bubble Wrap.") But here's the important bit: "There is no universal and immutable scale for your ethical obligation here. But there is a better way to describe your duty: seek prudent, not utopian, transportation...  If you forswear bikes and travel with them only by car, you teach them to do likewise, promoting the sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity and other health problems, and you express acceptance of the environmental damage cars inflict even on nondrivers — two disheartening lessons."

I thought it an excellent answer and with his usual non-judgmental acceptance of most of our parental choices. Don't text while driving or biking; don't do either under the influence; wear helmets. If you really believe in biking, work in your community to support better infrastructure for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Now I have a bigger question, though: how do you communicate this to someone shouting at you on the street? I've been composing a PSA video on the topic for some time; independent filmmakers are encouraged to contact me immediately. In the interim, perhaps my usual; a sigh and a deflating of the shoulders; is the best response.

Landmark high school reforms passes, closing Marshall, changing Jefferson

October 13, 2010

In a 4-3 decision last night, the Portland Public School board voted to close the three academies at the Marshall High School campus, a group of Gates Foundation-funded experimental small schools, at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The school had been in decline before the switch to academies, and in recent years, "falling enrollment and rising operating costs" -- along with parents who were generally desperate to get their children in stronger "community schools," as the PPS buzzword goes -- led to the near-inevitable decision. The students in those clusters will go to Cleveland, Franklin and Madison; the teachers will be distributed; the building will be closed.

Another decision, to change Jefferson into a "powerful focus school that offers students the opportunity to earn college credits even as they complete high school," is equally expected but far less understood (and voted for with a strong 6-1 margin). Northeast neighborhood parents, left with two options, Grant and a long-declining Jefferson, often chose Grant; the privileged students went to Lincoln; Jefferson was in dire need of a return to its relatively strong identity in the 80s and 90s as a performing arts school. 

Benson was already "saved," and Grant, despite early fears by parents and community members, was never really in danger (I submit that the idea was grandstanding by Carole Smith meant to soften the blow of her eventual decision; but that's entirely an unfounded conspiracy theory :). In light of our initial discussion when the first plan was released, what do you think? Is this the best option to fix an awkward-if-not-totally-broken school system? Could equity result if everything goes according to plan? How will your family be affected?

Laboring through Labor Day

September 06, 2010

[These are the words to start the post that buzzed through my brain that couldn't sit still that skipped through the weekend that ended the summer that Sarah built...]
In the ongoing debate between 'can't wait' and 'apprehensive about' school starting, I'm firmly in the latter camp. Much though I tempt the children with excitement in my voice and hope in my heart, I'd rather it just stay summer. I've done the Labor Day holiday many ways; camping trips and barbecues and (in the investment banking days) charity picnics where everyone wears big hats; but since I've had kids going back to school, it's been a buzz of preparation and me looking at a list as long as my arm of all the things I wanted to finish, but didn't quite, this summer.

There are peaches in a box in the floor and another one with 20 pounds of cucumbers for pickling; there is a pattern I printed out for preemie-size diapers -- my sister just had a four-pound, nine-ounce baby Friday, teeny and healthy as can be; the laundry with special new clothes is still hanging on the line; the snacks still need to be put into the backpack; I haven't washed dishes since yesterday night. On errands, we stopped to pick up dill from a friend's house for the pickles, and Suzanne was busy with tomato sauce while her son played in the backyard, having already done "all the pickles I need!" on Sunday. Other friends are tallying up their weekend like radical homemaking box scores, three loads laundry, three pints zucchini bread & butters, two apple upside down cakes, 32 pints tomatoes...

Though Labor Day is meant as a break from work, we mamas seem to be mostly laboring. It's nice labor, of course, but surely not what the Founding Holiday Declarers meant. How did you labor this Labor Day?

Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?

July 12, 2010

The thing is, this day pictured here was a hard day, as days go. Many of the days are hard. My sister was babysitting, a rarity for a Saturday, and Monroe wouldn't be left behind while I biked to the farmer's market. It's easier by myself. I can really chat with the vendors, a thing that is always fascinating and lovely; I can buy all the produce and meat and cheeses I want, quickly, and proceed with photographing or browsing; I need never chase or carry or negotiate with a strong, strong-willed child. Monroe cried, fussed, screamed, begged with tears in his eyes and hope in his voice, 'go wif you?" I couldn't resist him, I went, I could barely talk with anyone, I had to rush through my list and never once got to photograph a pile of radishes.

But this picture, as so many of my pictures are, is of joy. And as I look through my photographs I see all my children's personalities, and I see many moments of joy, moments that spark out amongst the hardness. I see much work, but I see love in that work, I see that it is all work that I love, every minute of it. The washing dishes, the gardening and the bread-kneading and the lacto-fermenting, the biking and carrying and chasing children, the bringing to events both minor and major, the "talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution," these are the things I love most!

I have been reading two pieces meant, I am sure, to spark discussion and controversy. The first was a piece in Salon by Babble blogger Madeline Holler. The second -- also written about by Madeline, curiously -- is a cover story from New York Magazine by staff writer Jennifer Senior. Holler spends a lot more of her time comparing her own personal life -- and how hard, indeed, it is -- to the lives of others, specifically the "radical homemakers" of whom Shannon Hayes writes.

Continue reading "Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?" »

PSA: The mosquitos are hungry and we are delicious

July 07, 2010

As I went into my garden this evening for a little therapeutic weed-pulling and, ironically, to pick St. John's wort buds (to make more skin salve good for burns, hives, bruises... and bites), I wasn't that surprised to get a few hungry mosquitoes swarming my yummy arms. After all, I'd been heedless enough to go out with a sleeveless top. And then. I got a bit through my stretchy black cotton pants and my underwear, right on my behind. As I rubbed some of the buds I'd just picked inside my undies, another mosquito landed on my pants and went in for a snack. Ouch!

For the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to pull weeds with dozens of mini-breaks to wildly swing at the mosquitoes. Never since I lived in Montana when I was a tween have I seen so many mosquitoes in such a short time. I ended up with so many bites I was afraid to look; I went inside and slathered myself with St. John's wort oil (thankfully, I have lots already steeped).

As I have a sister who lives in Panama and gets regular governmental notifications of such things, I realized quickly that our recent weather has been perfect mosquito breeding weather. Lots of recent rain, with a few cloudy cool days following, means lots of standing water for mosquitoes to lay their little eggies. The warm weather we're moving into now is pitocin to these biological processes! Zow!

Thanks to those weeds growing in my backyard, many of them medicinal, I was hoping I'd find the perfect concoction for a natural herbacious mosquito repellent (I've always been sensitive to the smell of bug spray and I finally decided it couldn't be good for me; I've foresworn). Sadly, I may have to suffer through. I found these recipes for catnip and rosemary repellent... lovely, but you need to let 'em steep two weeks. Also, I hve no catnip. I may try to spray myself with a rosemary tea tomorrow, it's worth a shot. If you have other ideas for more instant herbal repellents, send them my way! And dump any standing water you have around, pronto.

Budget cuts at area schools have us sick

June 25, 2010

Last week, I listened to a Planet Money piece on a financial crisis in Barbados in the 1970s. The country had to borrow money from the IMF, and in doing so, were told they needed to follow some rules in order to reduce spending -- rules that meant they'd have to reduce social services, or reduce wages. After a few of the protests you'd imagine, magically the business leaders and the labor leaders came together and, through difficult talks and careful negotiating, agreed to reduce wages instead of laying off workers or cutting important social programs. Many businesses instituted productivity bonuses and other incentives to help increase worker loyalty.

Decades later, Barbados' economy had improved, wages were much better, employment was stable and -- amazingly -- a deep sense of trust had developed between business and labor interests. Jamaica had experienced a similar crisis and dealt with it differently. In Jamaica, the economy was still bad.

Listening to this story in the background of news from the past few weeks -- in Oregon and around the country -- is sobering. I wish we were as strong and community-focused as Barbados was in the 1970s; I wish we could come together and agree on belt-tightening and shared support for the things that matter to us: people, one by one, jobs, one by one, students, one by one. But no.

In Portland, PPS superintendent Carole Smith has proposed a series of budget cuts meant to reduce the expenses by $19.1 million. In order to be "equitable," she plans to require all schools to make similar cuts. These will, if her proposed budget is approved, be to PE and library employees (126 full-time-equivalent, or FTE, positions); ESL and special education employees (52 positions); and central support and operations (25 positions).

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Scary news of lost child grips us all

June 06, 2010

Kyron_horman How could we not but hold our collective breath? All of those of us who have children in Portland Public Schools got the auto-call sometime Friday evening; a second-grader from Skyline Elementary in Southwest Portland, Kyron Horman, was lost to his family and the school sometime between a science fair before school opened, and his arrival at class. His stepmother visited the science fair with him; classmates saw him headed towards his room; when she met the bus at 3:45, he wasn't there at all. Police, FBI, and other agencies have no idea. There is no evidence of foul play.

I had wondered why the automated call I always get around 10:30 a.m. if my child is absent, hadn't triggered concern -- but the latest news from today's press conference with PPS superintendent Carole Smith is that it was such a small school, teachers usually know students and parents and the reasons for absences, and didn't have a dialer. All schools will now be getting automatic dialers (although the timeline for that change wasn't announced). It was just a slip, through a crack no one even thought to concern themselves with. And why? A safe neighborhood, a small school, a sweet child. What could go wrong?

The unthinkable. I've been thinking a lot about such typically unthinkable happenstances over the past few weeks, as I came across the news of writer and prolific mommy blogger Kate Granju's oldest son, Henry. He died several weeks after overdosing on the drugs to which he'd become addicted, and being beaten badly. And earlier today, I came across another mother searching for her 16-year-old daughter, last seen in Seattle. These things happen in lovely, loving families just like ours, and they chill to the bone and have me looking around instinctively every few minutes to make sure my boys are safe.

They are, and according to the FBI, violent crimes were down 5.5% last year and have been falling for several years. Free Range Kids creator Lenore Skenazy points this out in her blog, with great little tidbits like this one from a pediatric ICU nurse: "the real dangers are overlooked. Lock your second story windows, make sure your kids understand car and bike safety. Model safe behavior. Don’t talk and text while driving... I can tell you that I have NEVER once taken care of a kid who was assaulted by a stranger."

What is there to be done? Who is to blame? I don't see failings in security or parental care; I think the best answer is to be vigilant, to pray for these other family's awful predicament and the continued safety of our own, and to hug our children tight as much as we can and thank heavens for them.

Waiting for vaccinations doesn't help

May 25, 2010

Concern about mercury in vaccinations, the worry that they might cause autism, and a host of other what-ifs have many, many parents in Portland delaying vaccinations for their children -- or, in some cases, foregoing them altogether. Tales of chicken pox parties are common, and among the reviews of any local pediatrician is her attitude toward vaccinations. Results of a study that had originally been designed to study whether thimerosal produced an autism risk (this connection has been discredited) now say that children who undergo a delayed vaccination schedule, or who don't get all the recommended vaccinations, don't have any neurodevelopmental benefit -- in fact, they may do worse.

The study was conducted on children born between 1993 and 1997, and new vaccination schedules contain more vaccines that are formulated with less antigens; so the researchers believe the effect should be about the same now. It also doesn't necessarily suggest that vaccinations improve a child's brain development, as there is a correlation between parents' income and education levels, and keeping a vaccination schedule (at least in this study group -- I imagine in some neighborhoods in Portland, New York, Berkeley, and San Francisco today, the correlation is opposite, that is, parents with more education are more likely to delay vaccinations).

As a mama who generally kept her kids on schedule for their vaccinations, and has definitely suffered much in the way of neurodevelopmental delay, I'm happy to see this -- I generally don't place any of the blame for my children's brain function on the hearth of the CDC's suggested vaccination schedule. I worry more about persistent environmental chemicals, especially those to which the kids were exposed in utero or in their licensed-character jammies, than those dosed via wicked needle several times during my kids' infancy and young childhood.

The licensed-character flame retardant-packed jammies are in a trash bag, the vaccinations are up to date, and I think this news gives me some small comfort with my choices. I think it would be revealing, though, to do the study again in some neighborhoods like the ones in which many of us live, with children born in the past decade, the age of heightened autism fears. I'd bet the neurodevelopmental benefit from sticking to the vaccine schedule would be erased -- but it wouldn't mean much.

High school proposed changes announced tonight

April 26, 2010

As we listened to the announcement about changes to Portland Public Schools high schools from Carole Smith, PPS Superintendent tonight, we noted our thoughts and reactions. Please add yours in the comment section below.

The proposed changes to high schools were made with what Carole Smith called "an incredible opportunity for neighborhoods to reinvest in high schools." In talks with stakeholders, the common theme was "I want the whole thing [all the comprehensive core classes plus well-rounded electives plus engaging extracurriculars] and I want it close to home." These changes are to be effective in Fall 2011, after a process of community feedback and a chance for board debate. The final vote will be on June 21.

The way this is being created, Smith hopes, is through a series of "community comprehensive schools" whose boundaries have been slightly changed to better maintain the "cluster" approach to elementary, middle and high schools. These will be mostly as we all expected: Cleveland, Franklin, Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Roosevelt and Wilson. Each will have things for which parents and students have asked from all schools, like a full advanced placement or international baccalaureate program, a full athletics, dance, and visual and performing arts program, and a lower counselor-to-student ratio.

Marshall, a school that has struggled mightily over the past decade, with at least two very radical approaches to school design, will be closed as it now stands. In its place will be "a new focus school built upon the strengths of PPS small schools would open on the campus to all students districtwide." (I'm not exactly sure what that means: I have taken a quick look at the presentation but would love more color from our commenters.)

Benson, a school that had its heyday in the eighties and early nineties and whose perceived quality and attendance has fallen significantly in the past few decades, will change, as well. "Benson Polytechnic High School would, in fall 2011, become an advanced learning center for career-related and technical learning experiences. 11th- and 12th-grade students across PPS would have the opportunity to apply to spend half their school day or week at Benson and half at their home school, to pursue an in-depth career or technical program."

Transfers will be much more limited than they are today; language immersion programs will be created by 2013 in Spanish (Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, Roosevelt); Japanese (Grant); Mandarin (Cleveland) and Russian (Franklin). Jefferson will offer a dance program. You can look up your address here to see if your neighborhood school(s) will change with the proposed new boundaries.

Earth Day in Portland: an urbanMamas green thing

April 22, 2010

On one hand, I love the idea of Earth Day, because it gets people talking about how to reduce consumption, and cut down on waste, and it was lovely to see so many parents biking their kids to school/day care today. (I was unapologetic when I biked down Division with Monroe and Everett today: usually I feel bad getting in the way of traffic that wants to be moving faster than 15 miles an hour, but hey! It's Earth Day!) On the other hand, really? Just one day? And I worry that many with less of a feeling of weighty culpability than me (I'm not sure if guilt & fear is the answer, but I've surely got a lot of it) will bring their own cups to Starbucks for a free coffee, and plant a couple of lettuce seeds, and recycle something, and then forget about it until next spring.

I'm conflicted; I like the talk but but worry that's most of it. A scientist has written a book about alternatives to cutting carbon emissions -- because, he says, although everyone seems to agree cutting emissions is the only sensible solution, we all just keep driving cars and using, and mining, coal. The fact that few governmental officials made even the smallest commitment to reducing the number of coal plants in their countries and municipalities after the latest terrible mining accident says that nothing -- not the loss of human life, not the obvious destructive effects of carbon mining on the environment during and after the coal mines come in (really? mountain top removal??? how did that ever make sense in the first place?), not the clear connection between coal-burning and climate change -- will get us off this train, the end of which seems to be dead oceans, big swaths of the world becoming uninhabitable due to high temperatures and drained aquifers, drought, starvation, and the rise of Canada's watermelon-growing industry. More of us need to stop driving; we all need to stop burning fossil fuels to turn on our lights and pouring petroleum-based chemicals into our soil, our rivers, our bodies.

So, today is an everyday for me, and I know especially in Portland, many of us feel the same. (Sharon Astyk, a writer about sustainable living and environmentalism, wrote this about the topic, focused on the "greenwashing" of corporations in the celebration.) Many of you, like those who have joined the new Portland Radical Homemaking group on Facebook, are part of the choir, right? I will do this: plant a blueberry bush, eat my leftovers, take out the compost bucket, feed my chickens something yummy, buy organic food, in bulk, with my own containers, ride my bike, start another loaf of bread, keep the TV off, make instead of buy, write about what I believe in. I will do this, too: try to relax, not worry; it's kind of crushing.

How are you celebrating Earth Day: and how do you feel about the holiday? My neighbor sent me a link to this piece on Green My Parents, an advocacy group started by a 12-year-old that encourages children to use savvy marketing tactics (those that advertise on cartoons call it "the nag factor") to get their parents to wash in cold water, ride their bikes, and stop drinking bottled water. Writes Allison Arieff, "they've designed a program that makes behavior change easy and economically rewarding for participants." Is this the answer? Would you change your behavior if your children were advocating it? Or do you feel you already do all you can?

Homemade deodorant and triclosan tales: an urbanMamas green thing

April 19, 2010

Who knew such a little post on going sans shampoo would send me down so many do-it-yourself roads? It was easy (and, as they say in Pokemon, super-effective!) to give up washing my face for the oil cleansing method and I just had one personal care product holdout: the deodorant. I've been applying my trusty stick of Dove (sensitive skin fragrance free) daily for over a decade, and after reading something about how chemicals to which a pregnant woman is exposed in her first trimester affecting behavioral problems (boy do I have those around here): well, it was time to cut the cord.

I went to the package today and read the list of chemicals I'd been avoiding. What do I know about the active ingredient, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY? Nothing. And it could be fine, or crushingly destructive. Who knows? The "inactive" ingredients were equally curious, and though sunflower oil sounds fine, I've been trying to avoid conventional almond products because of the crop's excessive use of pesticides and its contribution to colony collapse disorder (many scientists believe stress from trucking bees to pollinate the almond crops, added to the detrimental effects of those herbicides and the lack of a diversity of diet when all the weeds are whacked, is a big factor in CCD), so even one of the other things I recognized, sweet almond oil, didn't have me exactly relaxed.

There was more, too, and while it doesn't appear on my Dove package (phew), it's evidently in lots of other products: triclosan. After the first few giddy years with antibacterial soaps (I was living with a bit of an obsessive when they were introduced, he was thrilled), I became suspicious and, after a few of those usual exposes in which it is shown that antibacterial soap doesn't kill any more bacteria than Ivory, or that people don't stay any weller using antibacterial soap, I went back to the ordinary variety. According to the LA Times, this doesn't necessarily prevent me from having lots of triclosan exposure in my everyday life; a bacterial inhibitor, it's also used as a preservative in soaps that aren't marketed as antibacterial, and in deodorant, face washes, mouthwashes, and toothpaste (Colgate Total is one offending brand). Why this is scary: after having approved the ingredient since 1970, the FDA is once again reconsidering its safety after research in animals shows similar effects to the super-scary chemicals like bisphenol A, dioxins, and pesticides like DDT. That's not all: one of the reasons I tossed it in the first place, the potential for it to hurry along the development of superbugs, is also a concern.

Instead of spreading chemicals of unknown quantity, quality and harm onto our skin (the best way, incidentally, of getting the chemicals into our bloodstream), why not rub on a mixture of things you know and wouldn't actually mind eating, if it came to that?

My deodorant is simple: coconut oil (which is a semi-solid consistency at room temperature), baking soda and arrowroot. I didn't measure exactly, but it's about two parts oil, one part each baking soda and arrowroot (I suggest looking for arrowroot in bulk at People's or New Seasons, it's probably cheaper than buying it in the spice aisle, as I did), stirred around to a good consistency with a little spoon and then spread on with my fingers each morning. Amy Karol has a lovely 'mail order' recipe book (it's #11) with a more involved deodorant, and some other great homemade personal care products, if you want something fancier.

It doesn't work quite so decidedly as the Dove, but it smells delicious and, as long as I apply it every morning, inhibits odor quite nicely. And there's something so liberating about the knowledge that (should I happen to without thinking) I can lick my fingers after applying deodorant. For some reason, that makes me quietly happy every day.

Nuggets, pink milk, and party pizzas taking the fall

April 09, 2010

I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (along with a lot of you, I know) and I can't tell if my blood is boiling hotter than my tears are stinging, or vice versa. During the third episode last Friday, I was in need of a good noseblow by the end. I think it was the stunning failure of Oliver to inspire anything like interest in real food in the kids in episode two that hurt the most, and it was the chicken nugget bit that had people talking. I wrote about it: "When he showed children how chicken nuggets are made -- grinding up the least desirable parts of a bird, gloppily straining out the bones, and adding flavorings and fillers -- he expected them to refuse to eat them. Instead, after having cried 'ewww!' and 'gross!' they each asked for a patty, answering his bewilderment with: 'We're hungry!' ...

"Though part of Oliver's stunt was pure fiction -- 'Thankfully, chicken nuggets in this country are not made this way,' he clarified before heading off to cleave a carcass into pieces -- it's part of a wider movement that's calling out processed fake food by name and calling for it to be eliminated from children's diets." What surprised me was how many of the people I know (and plenty I don't) started talking about how chicken nuggets were now off their family's menu.

There's a lot not to like in Oliver's show. There are the cafeteria workers, who grumble and complain when Oliver dares to bring real chicken and potatoes in need of a peeler into the kitchen, where the comfort food comes in a box and needs only to be heated up. There are the rules that say Oliver's many-vegetable pasta "isn't a cup and a fourth" of vegetables (he has to serve fries with his healthy fare to make it up) and that every meal needs to have "two breads" even if those breads are both halves of an extremely processed, nutrition-bereft pizza crust and that schools need to have "two kinds of milk" which often means milk that's been colored pink and sugar-added. There is all that sugar, so much sugar that Oliver himself has been making special note of it. In that post on Moms Rising, he writes, "Ask a pediatrician (or a teacher for that matter) to identify the biggest enemy of child’s health and they will answer,” sugar”. You put beautiful little kids in school, 180 days of the year, from four to 18 and nearly every choice offered to them is some version of junk food."

And there's the grocery store, where the aisles are packed with sugary treats disguised as healthy food. There's the "Froot Loops" and the happy-dippy commercials stacked five solid in our kids' favorite TV shows, the ones that say cheerfully, "part of this good breakfast!" (I tell Everett, overhearing one, "you know, that's not really a good breakfast..." "I KNOW, mom," he replies.) There is the yogurt (even the organic stuff), whose makers feel it necessary to pack it with so much sugar that one eight-ounce serving is as much sugar as the AHA recommends kids have in a day. There are the "fruit snacks," the lemonade which has no lemon juice, the trail mix with so many ingredients I have to look twice to see if there are really raisins and peanuts.

There are our kids, who eat a bunch of candy on Easter or when a well-meaning aunt or uncle stops by, or we ourselves let them go crazy at Starbucks' pastry counter, and then proceed to act horribly, fighting over Froot Loops and Skittles and Petite Vanilla Bean Scones until we cover our ears with our hands and scream, "no more candy, EVER!" (Is that just me?)

In all this craziness, I'm happy to see that more scrutiny is being placed on the harmful quality of junk food, poor quality meats, white bread and the abhorrent state of the "reimburseable meals" provided in our schools. It seems hopeful. It also seems crushing: how many cafeteria ladies will have to be convinced that kids might eat broccoli if we keep offering it to them? How many hard decisions will have to be made -- no chocolate milk, french fries once a week, a re-categorization of "food" in the food stamps even -- how will we pay for it?

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breastfeeding is best, to the tune of billions

April 05, 2010

When I first saw the news, I wanted to just, you know, sigh. It's a drum many Portland mamas have been beating for at least a decade, probably several: breastfeeding is not just great for a baby, it's cheap, and not just for a family's budget during those first several months but for society. (And I want to say here that I know some mamas want to, but aren't able to, breastfeed because of work or health reasons or adoption or just some rare bit of fate that comes between a baby and "breastfeeding success," and that I don't want to call out the mamas for whom it doesn't work out -- except to offer my sympathy and support and love.) But, says my friend and fellow finance geek Melly, a "recent study published in Pediatrics found that poor compliance with breastfeeding recommendations costs the U.S. at least $13 billion each year, with nearly all of the cost related to infant morbidity and mortality."

Well. You know if the finance geeks, the AP, the Daily Mail and Business Week and CNN and the rest of them are putting the word "breastfeeding" in headlines and -- it's not just a casual glance at the practice, they're encouraging it -- you know times, they are a-changing. And I appreciate the specificity of the facts here. Another bit from Melly's piece: "In 2006, only 13 states met the quite low 17% target set by the Healthy People objectives for mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infant through six months of age." Wow -- I know Oregon is one that easily met the target, but 17%, and we know why (poor social support, terrible workplace conditions for breastfeeding moms, tiny or non-existent maternity leaves, too many low-income working and single moms, too much -- too effective -- marketing by the formula companies). Mamas in Portland and elsewhere are working on that stuff; a press release even this weekend from the Nursing Mothers Council of Oregon offers support to businesses to give moms a place to pump at work -- see more info from Marion Rice about that, after the 'continued' link. But we can't even get 17% of moms (theoretically, quite a few more than 17% are able to stay home with their children) to breastfeed for six months, even though it's far cheaper?

Here's the part that had headline writers clucking and the news anchors squawking: "The study authors listed direct and indirect costs associated with illness and premature death due to the current poor levels of compliance compared with 90% compliance in 2007 dollars." I'll go ahead and list the ones Melly put in her piece because, they're not shocking to us who've been stressing about how easy it would be to make the beginnings of so many little lives better. Here it is:

  • $4.7 billion and 447 deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome.
  • $2.6 billion due to 249 deaths from necrotizing enterocolitis, a common gastrointestinal syndrome in premature infants.
  • $1.8 billion due to 172 excess deaths from lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia.
  • $908 million due to otitis media (ear infection).
  • $601 million due to atopic dermatitis (eczema).
  • $592 million due to childhood obesity.
Umm, wow, again. And I decided in the end that I shouldn't sigh or roll my eyes or wring my hands one more time and ask, "why? how? what the heck have we done, modern society?" but just be hopeful, because to have finance geeks and news anchors and CNN talking heads well, talking about this is an awesome way to get breastfeeding more accepted. And really, money that we all are spending on ear infections and eczema and obesity and death should get us sitting up and paying attention, and then sitting back down in our favorite cozy chair to breastfeed our babies.

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The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature

March 29, 2010

I have just negotiated a new quasi-peace in the house -- Monroe, I declare, is no longer allowed to use the iPod touch to play fruit matching games due to tearful angry meltdowns when he gets even a taste, while depriving him wholly keeps relative calm -- when I open the newest issue of Brain, Child. The cover story takes me several hours to begin; honestly, it sounds as bent for artificial controversy ("let's get mommies talking!") as any of the other mommy war-type content that has lately been flooding the journal's pages. Titled "Guilt Trip into the Woods," it starts as all long essays in mothering magazines do: with a little anecdote. Family, consisting of blogging journalist mama, dad and seven-year-old son adopted from Asia (this seems relevant to the writer), must decide where to go on vacation: nature, or New York? They pick New York, kid loves it, can't get enough of Times Square and the 10-story movie ads. He's just not a nature guy, says mama.

She's feeling bad about it, after all; she's been reading and seeing stuff online about getting kids out to nature. The focus of much of her ire is the echo of the headline, Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, with generous distaste left for the National Wildlife Foundation's Green Hour (for which, incidentally, I wrote a blog post last year). But writer Martha Nichols is not a believer. "...perhaps most disturbing for environmentalist moms and dads, I’m discovering that the nature movement—green and forward-thinking as it appears at first blush—looks an awful lot like a conservative message cloaked with some liberal fig leaves." She goes on to explain that she's feeling guilty, in the "morning when there’s barely enough caffeine in my system to cope, NPR seems to pummel me with stories about why our multi-tasking, Internet-chained pace isn’t good for kids..." but "whether nature is the only solution is the question," and though she connects with the concept of loving nature herself -- remember that pine tree I used to climb when I was a kid? she asks -- " long before I finished Last Child in the Woods, I wanted to chuck it across the room."

What comes down to it is this: her son isn't the nature journaling type. "He’s never been one to draw daisies in a journal if I suggest it. Instead he’d sketch a jousting tournament or a new comic strip, no matter how much I burble about the veins of a leaf. Or he’d rip the leaf apart—which for Louv might be just the ticket for a young naturalist—except that what fascinates Nick is the landscape inside his own head." She begins to describe the "fellow believers" of Louv as sectarians, they "present themselves as valiant nature warriors facing a horde of technology Visigoths," they're "nature evangelists," they're "polemical."

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