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What To Read To Your Kid During The Trump Administration

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on January 20th, 2017
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My son is still a baby by but I try to read to him every day. He doesn’t understand the words yet but he likes looking at the pictures and hearing my voice. In some ways I’m glad I don’t have to explain Donald Trump to him yet, and my heart goes out to parents who do. When I was a kid I liked topical books like “How My Parents Learned to Eat” and “The Lorax.” My Dad gave me a copy of Jack London’s “The Scab” when I was about ten. And I plan on continuing the tradition of including political books with my own son. Here’s some kids books covering themes that may come up in the net few years:

For Very Little Ones
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
An alphabet board book which covers the A-Z of activism from “Advocate Abolitionist Ally” to “Zapatista of course.” Some people may balk about introducing radical politics to young children. But I love this book. I will unapologetically share my Unitarian Universalist faith with my son, and he’ll be hearing a lot of these words at coffee hour after services, or while I’m playing “Democracy Now!” in the background of a quiet day at home. So why not read him this remarkable book of rhymes about activism?

For Your Budding Feminist
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
About a year before I had my son, I reviewed this book on Goodreads: “This book is amazing and I want to buy a copy for every child I know.” Children will enjoy learning about historical figures they’ve heard of and those they haven’t. Although it’s written for children, it does not hold back. It begins, “A is for Angela. Angela Davis was born in 1944 in Birmingham Alabama into a neighborhood known as ‘Dynamite Hill’ because a group of racist white men called the Ku Klux Klan often bombed the homes of black families who lived there.”

The authors have also written a sequel “Rad Women Worldwide.”

For The Elementary School Age Peacemaker
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan
This is a simple story of two girls who are best friends, one white and one Arab, but who secretly think each other’s food is gross. You can probably guess what happens next. It’s a sweet story with charming pictures.

If Things Get Really Bad
The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss wrote this during the Cold War, and it’s an unflinching look at the prospect of nuclear war through the eyes of a child. I read it when I was about 11 in 1994. By that time, both the Berlin Wall and the USSR were things of the past. For children who lived through times where the prospect of mutually assured destruction was very real, this book was much more relatable. It’s also a good tool to teach kids about allegory and how literature can simplify real world problems into stories we can talk about.

Why I Gave My Son My Husband’s Last Name

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on November 21st, 2016
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Push the button?

Six years ago, when my husband and I got married, I did not change my last name. I’ve written about the subject and discussed it on my podcast, twice. I didn’t see a good reason to change my name – it was a lot of work for no perceived benefit and historically a sexist custom. I did ask my husband if he would like for both of us to hyphenate but he declined, considering the effort that would take. So neither of us changed our names.

“But what about the children?!” people have asked me. I did consider giving our child a hyphenated or double barrelled last name. And if either my husband or I had done that I would have done so in a second. I am fond of saying that in Latin America many people have two last names and no one bats an eyelash. It’s a great custom which preserves both halves of a child’s heritage and I have no aesthetic qualms about it. Unfortunately in the United States many of the people I know with hyphenated last names face a bureaucratic nightmare that neither my husband nor I were willing to face. As we rejected the paperwork and red tape of having two last names in a country where this is seen as an odd choice, I hesitated to give my child a hassle I didn’t want for myself.

There was the option of giving my son my last name as his middle name, a custom I also like. But I preferred to give my son the middle name of my great uncle who was a wonderful man – charming, kind, generous and who maintained his sense of humor and his appetite for candy and scotch sours until the last days of his 95 years.

And so it seems I was giving my son only one last name. It could have been mine. But I chose to give him my husband’s last name alone for several reasons. I think parents who choose to give their children their mother’s last name are doing the hard work of defying a patriarchal custom. And as I will explain, it is work.

There is no logical reason why in the United States and other Western countries we give children only one last name and it’s always their fathers. The reason is our cultural taboo about paternity. We name children after their fathers as a way of signaling paternity. Not counting astronomically rare hospital mix-ups, as a fact of human biology, mothers are certain which children are theirs. And although we could easily replace last names with the paternity tests of modern medicine, they’re just not as salient as a last name.

Imagine two birth announcements:

Ms Mary Smith and Mr John Jones announce the birth of their son, Michael Jones, born October 1, at 12 noon, 8lb 20in

or

Ms Mary Smith and Mr John Jones announce the birth of their son, Michael Smith, born October 1, at 12 noon, 8lb 20in. A paternity test confirmed that John Jones is Michael’s father.

Doesn’t have quite the ring, eh?

The feminist argument that if a woman carries a child for ~40 weeks and then goes through childbirth and recovery she should name them after herself as a tribute to the work of pregnancy is a very good one.

But it ignores the cultural context in which we live and asks women to push the large red button labeled “PATERNITY TABOO.” People will quickly assume that a child named after their mother was named thusly because their father was absent at the time of birth, or that her current partner is not the biological father. They may even go on to assume that the child was the product of infidelity.

I was more than willing to take any ignorant or sexist comments for not changing my name when I got married. But I’m unwilling to take an action in the name of my feminist ideals which may cause people – however uninformed, or malicious – to reflect poorly on a child who cannot consent to my political action. And I do believe that under the current political climate, giving a child their mother’s last name is a political act. I would also prefer not to be put on the defensive about my fidelity to my husband for the rest of my life. I appreciate that some families are willing to take this on, but I do not want to take on the burden of signifying my resistance to patriarchy in this way. My choice is not feminist. Just angst savingly expedient.

Why I Bowled For Abortion Access While I Was (Trying To Get) Pregnant

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays, Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces on September 28th, 2016
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Note: This piece has been corrected. See below.

I’ve taken part in the New York Abortion Access Fund Bowl-a-thon for four years. In 2015 I bowled while I was trying to get pregnant. And this year I was in the middle of my second trimester. I even wore a shirt like this one to the event.

In 2015, no one knew I was trying to get pregnant, but this year many of my friends and family knew that I was pregnant while I made facebook and blog posts, and tweeted asking for money to pay for other women’s abortions. When I had just started to show, I organized a comedy show at my (Unitarian Universalist) church to raise money for the cause. This is probably something few others can say they’ve done!

I dreaded someone calling me out for a perceived hypocrisy or heartlessness. I see my fundraising activities as wholly compatible with my desire to be a mother and my compassion for other people. Reproductive justice means that everyone should be free to make the decision to parent or not. And my decision to become a mother does not mean that others must or should make the same choice. My freedom is bound to everyone else’s, and so raising money for abortion funds fits with that belief.

Being pregnant for this year’s NYAAF event was especially hard because their email list was somehow leaked or hacked [SEE UPDATE BELOW] to antichoice extremists who took the opportunity to harass those fundraising. I was sent disturbing bloody fetus pictures (which FYI are often photoshopped or pictures of miscarriages, not abortions) and a picture of a sonogram with a though bubble saying “I hope I can grow up and go bowling one day mommy.” Was I upset because I suddenly realized abortion was wrong? Not in the least. As I progressed into my second trimester, this kind of rhetoric did not reassure me that people were looking out for the “life” within me. Rather, when I heard people going on about late term abortions, what I heard was “If something goes wrong with your pregnancy at this point, you deserve to die.

That is exactly the mindset of Catholic hospitals which turn away women with life threatening complications from miscarriages. Antichoice extremism hurts women, and in cases like Savita Halappanavar‘s, it kills them. In fact, we know that defunding Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States has led to an increase in maternal mortality.

I did many things to give my baby the safest and healthiest pregnancy I possibly could. And raising money for abortion funds was something I did to both protect my own life, and to create a world where everyone is free to make the best decisions for themselves and their own families.

UPDATE: See the following message from Heather K. Sager, Volunteer Coordinator – New York Abortion Access Fund

In the piece you mention that our email list was “somehow leaked or hacked.” I want to take this opportunity to clarify that in fact, it was not NYAAF’s email list, but rather the entire fundraising website for NNAF that was hacked. This was the work of a malicious attack on the larger web server, which ultimately meant that email addresses were accessed, rather than internally or purposefully leaked.

I know that immediately after the attack we were able to share information on the security steps NNAF took in order to ensure that this is prevented and that everyone’s security is protected going forward. This included immediately hiring a security specialist, providing Q&A sessions on cyber security for those whose accounts were affected, and ensuring that additional resources were and continue to be available. I am more than happy to discuss these with you should you have any questions on this.

On behalf of NYAAF, we would also greatly appreciate it if you could correct the language in the article, so that it does not imply that anyone at NYAAF or NNAF was complicit in the attacks. The piece is really great, but I do want to be clear that no one in either organization had a part in the server being hacked.

Coming Soon: Thinkpieces About Pregnancy And Motherhood

Posted in Pregnancy And Motherhood Thinkpieces, Site News on September 15th, 2016
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So as you may have heard, my husband and I welcomed a son last week. I am so happy that we are doing well and slowly getting the hang of this new phase in our lives. I do intend to keep blogging and podcasting, and there’s a few things I have to say about this process which I’ve been kicking around in my head for many months. I still want to write about politics and pop culture but I have a new lens with which to view the world that I want to explore. I hope you will indulge me!

Why I Bowled For Abortion Access While I Was (Trying To Get) Pregnant

Why I Gave My Son My Husband’s Last Name