Thursday, April 21, 2016

Creating a Comic Book with a 4-Year-Old

I've been thinking about how to make a comic book with Jack, but it took me a while to figure out how to do it. He can't read or write and he mostly just draws shapes, all of which is a bit of hurdle. But he loves to tell stories, so I wanted to figure out how to make this work.

First, I downloaded a free DIY comic book pack. The PDF has several different comic book page layouts, speech bubbles, and explosions and lightning--a good start.

I was surprised to find that Jack jumped in with both feet when I gave him the blank comic book pages. He has really made a leap in his drawing skills in the past couple of weeks. And the night before I gave him the pages, he made up a Walrus Man character while playing in the bathtub (the place for inspiration).

Walrus Man is just a head with big eyes and arms and legs and two tusks sticking out, but I love him. He also, in Jack's mind, uses many spiky weapons and builds traps (which he draws plans for first). Jack would draw and then tell me about his drawings. I would add words to the speech bubbles, explosions, and lightning based on what he told me.

Jack even created sidekicks for Walrus Man and a tag line: "Adventures...and beyond!" (Obviously a play on Buzz Lightyear, an appropriate 4-year-old pop culture reference.) He made more pages the next day, each growing a bit more abstract and less story driven than the next. But it was good start.

The next step is to keep him focused on one story long enough to create something that has a beginning, middle, and end. I learned from teaching elementary school that the concept of "beginning, middle, and end" is very difficult for young children. Surprisingly, it's not necessarily the most natural way to tell a story. It has to be learned.

So my next steps are

  • Take pictures around our neighborhood and around DC and print them out in black and white to create backgrounds. I could even let Jack help me take photos. (As you might have noticed if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, Jack has suddenly become interested in taking photos of himself, so why not use that?)
  • Take pictures of Jack's Lego people and action figures, print and cut them out, and let Jack glue them onto the backgrounds. With multiple photos of each toy, I can keep him focused on a few characters. When he just draws what he wants to draw, he's constantly creating new characters, gadgets, and story lines, so having a limited number of characters will rein him in a little. 

I will let you know how this works.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why Do I Care?

I've been stuck during the past couple of weeks, not only because Jack got sick but because I have a post I can't finish. The post is about teaching my son to be a man, and I've been working on it almost as long as this blog has existed. The problem is, it caused a little conflict with someone back when I first started writing it, and I haven't been able to get over that.

I started asking myself why I care so much about gender. I am a white, straight woman with a husband, (almost) two children, and a nice house in a very progressive city. I am so white mainstream liberal that I will never understand or encounter the discrimination many people face because of their gender identity, sexual identity, or race.

No matter how much I talked or wrote, I couldn't seem to articulate what it was about living life as a girl and a woman for almost 35 years that had made me so determined to change gender norms for my children. Then, I watched this little video, and I felt like it said all the things I couldn't say.

This Is What It Would Be Like If Women Acted Like Men In The Workplace
Posted by SOML on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I almost started crying when I watched the video. (Having someone say, "I can see you're really emotional about this," when all you're doing is stating your position rationally--that is my life.) This is it, I thought. This is how it feels.

I can't point to one defining gender-discrimination moment in my life. I can't say I write this blog and I think this much about gender because I was sexually harassed, fired from my job, or discriminated against in some horrible way. For me--and I would wager for most women--it's the small daily slights, added up over a lifetime, that make us feel the way we do. Because of all these moments that happen day in and day out, we can empathize with those who experience more extreme forms of gender discrimination. The discrimination doesn't have to happen in one big moment to profoundly affect your life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Super Links, March 18, 2016

*Note: I originally linked to, my original home improvement blog I started in 2009. I moved the blog to many years ago, so I meant to link to the Tumblr blog. I have serious baby brain right now, so please forgive me. I have corrected the links in the post.

Two sick days with Jack have really eaten into my writing time. I have a post that is finally almost ready, but I'll have to finish it over the weekend. The little guy needs my attention now.

I have some interesting reading for you this week, but I also have a plug for my sister site, 4929, which I haven't updated in a while--until now. I started 4929 soon after we moved into our house in late 2009. It is a record of all the work we've done on the house so far, and it will soon include my plans to update the nursery for Baby Chu #2 (a.k.a., Lady Baby Chu). The latest post is a round-up of our most recent improvements, including refinishing the upstairs floors (oh, lovely heart of pine) and getting a new dresser for Jack's room.

Alright, now that you're finished enjoying our home improvement escapades, here is your reading list for this week:

This one was hard for me to read, because I hate making people uncomfortable--and even reading about someone making people uncomfortable makes me squirm. But I totally agree with the author, even if I can't live her philosophy as fully as she is. The small things, the little gender imbalances and slights, add up over time, and it's so unfair that little girls have to put with so much of it so soon. We have to stand up for them if we want their world to be better than ours.

McSweeney's never fails to make me laugh, and "Reasons You Were Not Promoted that Are Totally Unrelated to Gender" is no exception. "You don’t smile enough. People don’t like you. You smile too much. People don’t take you seriously."

This article is a great starting point for discovering mostly forgotten great female writers. I want to attempt to do a semi-regular feature of my own on feminist writing, starting with "The Yellow Wallpaper." (I am writing this now so that it will actually happen.)

And let's finish things off with a little education soapbox reading. I briefly worked as an elementary school teacher in a low-income school, so I know how administrators are obsessed with homework. But study after study shows it has no benefits for elementary students, so it's time to stop forcing teachers to do extra work that only makes administrators and parents feel better without having any actual impact on student learning.

But wait. One more thing. I want to read this comic book so badly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Super Links, March 11, 2016

Here's this week's reading list: a sad one, a weird one, and comic-book one.

We've all done it. An overweight person sits next to us on a plane, and we sigh, maybe roll our eyes, shift our bodies to avoid touching them as they take up just a bit of our seat. But do we ever think about how that person feels? Well, now we know, and we should all feel horribly guilty.

And on the other end of the body-image spectrum there is a story about fat men's clubs in the early 20th century. "Weigh-ins were a competitive event. A New York Times article from 1885 describes the crestfallen reaction of a member of a Connecticut fat men's club upon stepping on the scale. 'I must weigh over 300 pounds now,' George Kapp boasted. Alas, he came in at a disappointing 243. As the Times reported, 'His friends thought he shrank at least 20 pounds more from grief before evening.'"

Finally, because this is Oh, the Iron Man, I present to you a glowing review of The Legend of Wonder Woman, a retelling of Wonder Woman's famously bizarre backstory. I'm definitely putting this on my reading list.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Best Thing I've Read This Week. No, This Month.

from Buzzfeed
Mira Jacob made her son's obsession with Michael Jackson into an amazing little comic-book style Buzzfeed article. I adore it. I've included a couple of photos, but you need to read the whole thing. Kid logic is the best the logic.

from Buzzfeed

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I Can Grow a Human and You Can't: Part I

My newest podcast obsession is The Longest Shortest Time. Today I listened to the most recent episode, "Kicking Ass While Pregnant," and I couldn't wait to post about it. The host, Hillary Frank, interviews the writer of the newest iteration of Spider-Woman, a Marvel comic book character that has existed for 40 years. The writer, Dennis Hopeless, decided to convince Marvel that Spider-Woman should be pregnant. (His wife had given birth to twins five months earlier, so the power of pregnancy and parenthood was fresh in his mind.) To his surprise, they loved the idea. So, for the first time, Marvel had a title character that was with child. How perfect for Oh, the Iron Man is this?

Though I believe strongly in gender equality, there is one biological reality separating men and women that I cannot completely reconcile: pregnancy. Men can't get pregnant, despite what Arnold Schwarzenegger has told you. And seven months into my second pregnancy, I am feeling this gender separation pretty strongly. My husband can sympathize, he can try to help, but he doesn't know what it's like to (somewhat) willingly lose control of your body, to feel elated and trapped at the same time, to feel powerful and powerless all at once, to feel another living thing bouncing around inside you. And he will never know how those things feel. It is biologically impossible.

What does that mean for gender equality? Will we always be in a "separate but equal" situation because of pregnancy? The most viable way to level the playing field is to eliminate pregnancy altogether. Science could someday bring us to a world where no one needs to carry a baby for nine months. But having done this pregnancy thing twice, even with all the weird and inconvenient side effects, I would never want to lose the privilege of being pregnant, of giving birth, of breastfeeding. These biological realities are almost magical in their effects.

If anything, I would want the world of Junior, where Arnold Schwarzenegger can, against all biological realities, be pregnant. Imagine if husband and wife could decide who wanted to the carry the baby. Imagine if they could take turns: you carry the first child, I'll carry the second. What problems would be solved in this country and this world if men had to worry about pregnancy as much as women? If men had to experience the mood swings, the constant trips to the bathroom, the contractions, those little kicks and somersaults in the womb? Arguments over abortion and birth control would effectively end. Our snail's crawl to reasonable family leave policies would transform into a sprint. The gender pay gap would close.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that doctors and scientists should just drop whatever they're doing and start figuring out how to get men pregnant. Right now. This is your only job, ladies and gentlemen. Get on it. If we work hard enough, the world of Junior could become our reality.

But what do we do in the meantime?

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Super Links, February 22, 2016

I am long overdue for a post...again. Here are some things I've been reading.

We're happy to name our baby girls Blake or Charlie or Dylan, but we would never name a boy Sara or Annabelle. "Might it be because, despite all our talk about gender equality, we still believe deep down that the worst thing a boy could be is like a girl?"

Why do we teach girls that it's cute to be scared? "According to a study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology last year, parents are 'four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful' after mishaps." And this translates into timidity and deference when girls grow up.

I started reading the novel Dietland by Sarai Walker this week. I'm not that far into yet, but I love it so far. Walker is a gifted writer, and an obese female protagonist is such a rare thing to find.

If you are a parent--or just a lover of children's literature--you should be reading The Ugly Volvo. The blog is clever and funny and doesn't take anything too seriously. The author's sort-of series in which she critiques the weird illustrations in some great kids' books is just genius. See "All of My Issues with the 'Goodnight Moon' Bedroom" and "The Seven Things I Can't Stop Noticing Whenever I Read 'Knuffle Bunny.'"