Friday, January 29, 2016

Super Links, January 29, 2016

Photo credit: USA Today

So many good stories to read this week. Have fun.

Now available: curvy, petite, and tall Barbies. Because everyone has been complaining about how Barbie was too short? Or too tall?

The most likely person to read a book? A college-educated black woman. Really blows up the idea that there are so many books about white men because the market for books is made up mostly of white men.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are the next battleground in gender equality. And it's not all about transgender people--though that is an important part of it.

An 11-year-old girl was "sick of reading about white boys and dogs," so she did something about it.

Disney princess movies may have female stars, but most of the talking is still done by male characters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Note about Someone Cool

I officially love Gene Luen Yang, our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His platform, Reading Without Walls, fits perfectly with our mission here at Oh, the Iron Man. Yang says: "I want kids to explore the world through books, to read outside of their comfort zones. Specifically, I want them – and you – to do one of three things:
1. Read a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Books are a great way to get to know people who are different from us. By reading other people’s stories, we can develop insight and compassion.
2. Read a book about a topic that you find intimidating. My pet project in this area is promoting books about science, technology, engineering, and math. Often, people think of stories and science as completely separate, but they’re not. Stories are a great way to learn science.
3. Read a book in a format that you’ve never tried before. If you only read books with words, give a graphic novel a try. If you only read graphic novels, try a prose novel, a novel in verse, or a hybrid (half graphic, half prose) novel."
Number 1, of course, is my favorite. Our next few "Books We Love" will focus on this. First on this list: Star Wars Jedi Academy. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Stay-at-Home Elephant in the Room, Part I

I've known I would have to write this post since I decided to start the blog. I've dreaded it for the same reason I dread the question, "So, what do you do?" (which is a ubiquitous and loaded question in Washington, DC).

I am a stay-at-home mom. I realize the possible irony of this—a woman who gave up her job to stay home with her child while her husband works now writes a blog criticizing gender stereotypes. If you choose to be June Clever, you can't speak with authority on gender equality, right?

I have spent a lot of mental energy trying to convince myself that I should be comfortable with staying home, that caring for my child is a job. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes I feel like a kid ditching school--guilty, aimless, like I should be doing something else, be somewhere else.

It's like I can feel a world full of my younger selves watching me and judging me. I have distinct memories of saying, maybe ten years ago, that I couldn't understand how anyone could stay home. Isn't she bored? Doesn't she want something of her own?

And then I had a child in a city with long commutes and no family nearby, and I realized I might've been too quick to judge. After my maternity leave, I returned to work part time and then, after a few months, full time. A full day of work meant I left the house by 7:10 am (my husband took Jack to day care), got to work at 8:00 am, took a 30-minute lunch and two pumping breaks (during which I would often work), left work at 4:30 pm, picked Jack up at 5:30 pm, came home, fed him, bathed him, and put him to bed by 6:30 or 6:45 pm (and also woke up two times a night to nurse). My husband usually didn't get home until after Jack was asleep.

I quickly realized this was not what I signed up for. I liked my job less and less every day, and my meager paycheck almost disappeared once we started paying for five days a week of day care (almost $1,800 a month!). I never imagined that I would see my child so little, and that I would be trading my time with him for such unfulfilling days at work. Surely, it would be better for me to stay home. I could use my master of elementary education skills to make each day like a school for one. Jack and I could go have lunch with Dad anytime, so we both would get to spend more time with the child we loved.

It all made sense then, and it still makes sense now. But then there are stories like this one from the New York Times:

[In the United States] daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers, after controlling for demographic factors, and sons spent seven and a half more hours a week on child care and 25 more minutes on housework.

If you read on in the story, the researchers define a working mother as anyone who worked outside the home before her children turned 14. I will definitely be back at work in few years. But this story bothers me because it reminds me that I always thought I would be a working mom because I wanted my children to see me work. I never wanted them to think that the office was Dad's territory and the home was mine.

Have I just traded one form of guilt for another? Will I always worry that Jack won't help out enough with his kids or that my daughter won't earn as much money because I stayed home? More simply, will my life choices teach them the opposite of what I want them to learn?

I don't regret the time I've spent with Jack, or the time I will spend with Lady Baby (you can thank my husband for that hilarious nickname), but believing that my choice was the best one for our situation doesn't erase my guilt. It just opens up my mind to a thousand what ifs.

Which is why this is only Part I.

Coming up: Will I teach my daughter to be a bad feminist? Can I teach my son to be a man? Find out next time on Oh, the Iron Man.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Super Links

The dog ate my homework. Or, more precisely, Blogger didn't save my post. So while I try to remember it all and rewrite it over the weekend, this list of good stuff I read this week will have to do. Maybe we'll make this a weekly thing.

The Library of Congress named graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang as its fifth National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Paid parental leave has lots of great consequences. Duh.

Moms in the US are getting older. So maybe I don't have to feel so ancient now.

A dad cut back on his workload to have a better work-life balance.

A dad is not a babysitter or a helper. He's a parent.

Being unattractive has consequences in the classroom—but only for women.

Friday, January 8, 2016

You Made Me Write This, Disney

A couple of weeks ago, I made a conscious decision not to write about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We didn't go the day it was released, so by the time I saw the movie, it seemed everything that could be said had been said already.

I've changed my mind. Actually, Disney and Hasbro and Target and whoever else is responsible for making Star Wars toys changed my mind. Internet outcries about Rey's presence--or lack thereof--in action-figure sets popped up before the movie came out. But now, when all excuses about not giving away the plot, blah, blah, blah, have been exhausted, the frustration has turned to outrage. Tell me, Hasbro, how, exactly, does one make a Force Awakens Monopoly game without the main character?

To help you understand why these omissions hurt so much--and, yes, hurt is the correct word here--you first have to understand how joyful I was after watching the movie. We went to see The Force Awakens a week after we found out we're having a girl. So I sat in that movie theater in Nowhere, Tennessee, with a tiny girl kicking me while I watched a strong, capable, powerful, three-dimensional female character rule the newest installment of a franchise that is essential to my very being. When we left the theater, I was visibly giddy.

It was like a glimpse into a world I could have only imagined. A world where women are just as likely to be the heroes as men. A world where a girl doesn't have to be a princess to get a little respect. A world where the lady does the saving, not the nagging. My husband said to me, "What if little Adrienne had had Rey when she was growing up?" What if...?

And then he said, "But now our daughter will have Rey." Yes, she will. She will be born into a world where Rey exists. I get teary eyed just thinking about it.

What he didn't say, what I was thinking, was, "Now our daughter and Jack will have Rey." Jack hasn't seen the movie yet. (Because it is rated PG-13, we rightly determined that it would be too violent for him. He's only three, after all.) But soon, when we can buy a digital copy, he will see Rey's awesomeness--after I fast-forward through the scary parts. And he will see a girl doing all the things only boys are supposed to do--flying space ships, fixing things, standing up for herself, rescuing people, using the Force, winning a light saber battle. As hard as I try to find them, books and TV shows and movies with girls as strong main characters are still pretty scarce. And now, with the influence of school and so many other little boys, Jack wants to watch what they watch and read what they read, which is mostly stuff about boys. And then there is, as I've discussed, my own predisposition toward all things boy. The Force Awakens turns one of the boy things I love the most into a girl thing--an everyone thing, really--and that makes my life a lot easier.

But then my life gets harder again when I look at the toy choices. There are not a lot of Reys to be had, especially ones that a three-year-old would have fun playing with. HuffPost did a search of Star Wars toys on the Disney, Target, and Toys "R" Us websites and found that Kylo Ren toys outnumbered Rey toys by two or three times, depending on the website. Jack loves playing Star Wars more than anything. It has actually started to drive both Keith and me crazy because we play it so much. After he watches the movie, Rey will become a huge part of our lives. At least she will be if her toys are available.
I can't explain everything that Rey means to me. It sounds silly to place so much importance on a fictional character in a sci fi movie. But the movie and its mythos occupy such a huge part of our lives. When I watch Jack tell his little friends everything about the Star Wars characters on his lunch box, my heart is full. I can't wait for him to tell them all about Rey, all the skills she has, how smart and brave and kind she is. I can't wait for him to tell his little sister about her, to see Rey in her, to believe that his little sister can do and be everything and anything because Rey helped me instill this in him.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Books We Love: "The Day I Lost My Superpowers" by Michael Escoffier

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier is the best kind of origin story. It reminds us why superheroes fascinate us. It's not the explosions or the ability to defeat the bad guys. It's the possibility that we can do something special.

The story begins with a little girl being thrown into the air by her father's disembodied arms. We know it's her father only because the arms are clothed in a business suit--and because, as in so many children's books, we never see him again. Her mother is there for for all the day-to-day activities that turn into displays of her superpowers. She can make cupcakes disappear...but not peas. She can even make herself disappear (by hiding under the bed). She can (sort of) talk to animals. Mostly, she makes a mess that her mother has to clean up.

Our little superhero brushes off any signs that she might not actually have superpowers. Her first attempts at flying don't work out so well, but she keeps trying. When talking to her dog seems to have no effect, she moves on to plants. But then she goes a little too far. While attempting even more daring flying feats in her backyard, she falls and hurts her knee. When the pain hits, she realizes her superpowers must be gone. And she cries.

Then, her mother gives her a magic kiss, and she feels better. The little girl concludes, of course, that her mother must have superpowers.

Stories told from the child's perspective almost always win me over. The older I get, the harder it is to remember that feeling of possibility, of hope, that comes so naturally to children. When a book can remind me of the rush of discovery, the excitement of everyday life that I know Jack experiences, I have to recommend it. The Day I Lost My Superpowers does this simply and beautifully. And it also reminds me of the way Jack sees me. To him, I am something of a superhero, able to swoop in and solve (most of) his problems with a hug or a kiss. I know my superpowers won't last forever, but I appreciate the reminder that I have them for now.