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Where did I come from?

One of the most common questions a kid can ask is “Where do babies come from?”  It’s actually a very simple question, and one that is asked quite understandably.  But it’s often a question that freaks parents out.  The answers run the gamut from the absurd (the stork)  to the heteronormative (when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much) to the religious (God) to any number of other answers.

I’m proud to have backed What Makes a Baby via kickstarter when I was pregnant with my younger daughter.

I’m even more excited to share that it is available for pre-order from Amazon and BookDepository!.

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 7.02.18 PM

 

I think this is the perfect book to start an honest discussion with your child about where they came from.

  • It uses non gender specific language (some bodies have eggs, some bodies do not)
  • It doesn’t assume that the bio parent is the person actually parenting the child (never uses the terms mommy/daddy)
  • It mentions that sometimes the new thing made by a sperm and an egg doesn’t grow (which is important to me as the mom of a baby lost via miscarriage)
  • It notes that all babies grown differently (which is a way to open a discussion about children with special needs)
  • It notes that babies can be born via the vagina or through a special cut (Older daughter was a vaginal birth, her sister was a C-section)
  • It asks “who was happy you were born?” rather than telling you that mommy and daddy or some sort of stereotype was what awaited the child.

In doing so, it legitimizes every child.  Adopted, born of IVF, being raised by a parent and a step parent, the child of a single parent, and so forth.

I think this is a great book for kids 2-8.  Obviously as they age, they’ll want to know more, but this is the only book I like that’s out there for the youngest kids.  Please support Cory and Fiona and pre-order your copy for your child or a child in your life!

Weaning

Ms 1 and I are reaching the end of our nursing relationship after 15 months.  She’s down to about once a day, and that once is largely about comfort and not nutrition.  My supply is clearly dropping.  While I may be in some discomfort after about 24 hours, I no longer have the excruciating agony of a too full breast.  I have not accidentally wet my shirt in a few months.  The end is nigh.

Screen Shot 2011-12-09 at 2.24.05 AMMs 1 when she was less than a month old.

I always pictured myself struggling to hit six months.  That if I did make it to one year, I’d be done.  That I would “want my body back.”

The thing is that, contrary to what people told me to expect, I never felt like I didn’t own my body.  I never felt that my breasts “belonged” to the baby.  The only real difference between a breastfeeding baby and a non breastfeeding baby is that I’ll be free to wear bras (I’m lazy and found skipping a bra to make the whole thing easier-remember I live in an equatorial climate, so skip the bra, wear a tank top and just pull the neckline down-as in the photo above-has worked well for me).

At a year, Ms 1 was nursing, but not terribly frequently.  I’m still at home with the girls, so it wasn’t a huge imposition to keep nursing.  So we did.

Ms 1 is my last baby.  I’m in my mid-30’s and I have had a miscarriage and two very difficult pregnancies.  Ms 1 was a month premature for both our health.  I’m at a high risk of another premature birth, possibly a dangerously premature birth.  I’d likely be on bedrest in or in a hospital for most of a pregnancy.  It’s just not worth it.  My family feels complete at the moment, but if we were to decide to add to it, we would choose another route.

Ms 1 is also the only baby I’ve nursed successfully.  We’ve had a relatively easy relationship. A few latch/position issues in the first few days.  One (maybe 2) case(s) of thrush.  But other than that, it’s been smooth sailing.  Nursing has been very pleasurable (when you nurse, you get a rush of oxytocin-the love hormone-which for me makes me very relaxed and zen).  Now that she’s a running climbing active toddler, nursing is also one of the few times that she is happy to snuggle/cuddle close with me.

Knowing she’s my last baby and knowing that I’ll never get another chance to nurse has also been a reason I’ve yet to let go.  I’m not in a rush to have this all end.  I know my baby, and I know she’ll decide to end the relationship soon enough.  When that day comes, I’ll be sad, but proud that nursing worked out for us.

On the plus side, her slowing down to once a day has meant that we have moved her (although not her crib) out of our bedroom as of a few days ago.  If the new sleeping arrangement continues to work out, we’ll move the crib in a week or so (she’s in a pack n play at the moment-moving the crib was too big a project to do before we knew if it would work).  While I’m ambivalent about weaning, I’m thrilled to pieces at the idea of a bedroom without a crib in it.

My kids ruined my plans for tonight

Today started off so promising.  I was feeling a bit boring and stuck in my clothing rut of shorts and a tank top (not the sexy ones you’re thinking of, sadly)–so I decided to wear a thong.  Then I put on my bracelet which carries the subtle engraving of the word “slut.”  That lifted my spirits, and inspired some sexting between myself and the husband.

Then…within the space of 60-90 minutes…

The not quite 4 year old threw  huge tantrum over dinner.  I had the nerve to serve chicken and rice–clearly I should be arrested for torture.

The not quite 4 year old pounded on the door while I way trying to pee.  No, no going to the toilet alone for you, Mommy.

The 1 year old tried to chew on a shampoo bottle while I had them both in the tub.  I sprayed myself with the detachable showerhead as I lunged for the bottle.  Again, not in the sexy wet-t-shirt way.  In the half drowned rat way.  Also sprayed-a big chunk of my bathroom.  FUN!

The 1 year old screamed bloody murder when I dared to remove her from the bath and put clothes on her.

The 1 year old protested at the top of her lungs when I had the temerity to put her in the crib so I could finish bathing her sister.

I took the 4 year old into her room and discovered she had colored all over her mirror.

Also–my 4 year old has decided that rather than call me Mommy, she prefers “Mother.”  Sigh.

By the time my partner came home, all I wanted to do was come into my bedroom, turn off the lights….and listen to loud rock music or watch West Wing.  Not so much with the interactions or the touching or the anything.

Maybe with an hour or two of alone time and loud music I’ll be ready to go find my bracelet again.  Or go to sleep.  Either seems likes a reasonable conclusion to my day.

Appropriate

You might think that as an erotica author, I probably am very liberal when it comes to sexual imagery in the public sphere.  You might also think that as a sex-positive parent, I have fairly liberal notions of what is appropriate for my daughters.  And you would be right…sort of.

I took the LM to her ballet school’s recital this past weekend.  She is in the youngest class and they were not invited to perform, so we went as spectators.  The LM had a lot of fun, as did I.

Until

A group of four eight/nine year old girls come out onto the stage.  The song “Party Rock Anthem” comes on.  They dance, and just before the line “C’mon and shake that”-three of the girls knelt down, while one girl remained standing.  She rubbed her hand across her shirt suggestively and then down toward her crotch.

The crowd roared in approval.

My hand flew to my mouth in horror.

I’m the last person to be a “clutch your pearls” type…BUT…for a prepubescent girl to pull a stripper move at an annual ballet recital?  Past where I draw the line as appropriate.  I’m somewhat horrified that amongst all the adults involved in choreographing said routine, approving said routine, and teaching said routine, no one stopped and said “Is this really appropriate for our annual recital?”

Had the girls been older (15/16 +), I wouldn’t have been thrilled at the dance move in that setting, but would’ve let it slide.  At that age, a young woman is old enough to be aware of her actions, and to know whom to address if she were uncomfortable with doing them.

Had the class been a hip-hop class, the music would’ve been appropriate.  I’ve seen plenty of ballet choreographed to rock, but amidst vivaldi and other classical music, it was jarring and just out of place.

Tomorrow the LM has ballet class, and I feel like I need to address my concerns with her school.  Do I want my (almost) four year old to take ballet from a school that has demonstrated such poor judgment when it comes to what is appropriate?

I’ve done a lot of thinking–  Was I the one who saw something that wasn’t meant to be there?  After all, the country I live in doesn’t have strippers?  Could this just be a dance move that I am putting into a Western context?  Does it matter?

And I just keep coming back to the notion that it does.

Part of being a sex positive parent is empowering my children at an age-appropriate level.  For the LM (who is 3 going on 4) that means clearly stated information about where babies come from, the proper names for her body parts, and permission to be familiar with her body (although we’ve had to talk about where is appropriate–bedroom, yes…grocery store, no).  I don’t particularly play edited music around her (although I did turn off the soundtrack to Book of Mormon when they got to the song that included the lyrics “fuck you in the cunt, God” and I’ve stopped playing “First of May” by Jonathan Coulter around her–she’s not old enough to understand satire, and I don’t want her repeating the lyrics to FOM at school–but I’ll take my chances with Lady Gaga)

I think that there is a key difference between empowering your kids with regards to sex, and sexualizing children.  The four year olds on Toddlers and Tiaras?  Objectified and sexualized.  Dressing your four year old to do a Pretty Woman send up is just bad judgment, not cute.  Having just recently bought the LM some new bathing suits, I can also say I was less than thrilled by the bikinis with padded tops for her age group.  Suggestive dance moves?  Hell no.

The reality is that she (like that girl who was dancing at the instruction of adults) are still little girls.  They are not yet old enough or mature enough to process the world around them independently.  They need to rely on adults to draw boundaries…and one of our jobs is to decide what is appropriate.

With that in mind, I’m not sure there is a good explanation to be had, and that we are perhaps better moving the LM to another ballet program.

Raising daughters…princesses and all

I am the mom of two young daughters.  As a cis-woman, I am painfully aware of what it means to grow up female in our culture today.  I am well acquainted with hating my body.  I have had many illusions about “happily ever after” shattered.  And so I worry.

My three year old is deep in throes of a love affair with the Disney Princesses, particularly Ariel.  For a far better summation of my issues with this movie than I can articulate here, see Nostalgia Chick’s takedown of it here.  Part of me wants to just say “no, bad…no princesses!”….but that would make me far too much of a hypocrite.

Although the Disney Princess brand didn’t exist when I was a kid, I grew up on Disney (although I was 10 or so by the time The Little Mermaid came along–I still caught many of the “Disney Renaissance” movies in the theater).  I read fairy tales.  I played at fairy tale and princess play.  I owned barbies by the box full.

My love of fairy tales and princesses eventually parlayed itself into a love of the fantasy genre.  I did not gravitate to stories with passive women–I’ve gravitated to stories and movies with strong feminist and powerful women.

I think that part of what contradicted the negative aspects of fairy tales and princess culture for me as a child was my early exposure to Wonder Woman, Xena, Buffy, and Madonna.

I sang unedited Madonna songs by heart right from the get-go.  While I had no idea what any of the lyrics about sexuality meant, I think it planted the seed of feminism early.

So when it comes to my girls…I don’t hesitate to play unedited Lady Gaga.  I feel like she’s a far better model of feminism and sexual empowerment than most female musicians (I also like Taylor Swift, although she’s not so much the “sexual empowerment” role model) AND she has a killer voice (and can play music).

We also talk, constantly.  That they don’t need a prince.  That they can grow up and marry another princess (or not get married).

I *could* eliminate princesses, I suppose.  But, in truth, I like The Little Mermaid.  I like sharing my favorite stories from childhood.  I think that it’s a big part of childhood, and that she would miss out on a lot if I did.  Also, gateway drug to awesome fantasy literature (Tamora Pierce is the ultimate goal).

But she’s still 3.  As she gets older, we can teach her to be a more active and critical media consumer.  But I figure Lady Gaga’s a good start.

When your kid doesn’t care where babies come from…

The LM was fascinated by the idea that I had a baby in my uterus.  She was curious (ish) about how the baby was going to come out.

She never once asked me how the baby got in there.

I will admit to being a bit deflated over this as I had my sex positive, age-appropriate answer all ready to go.

But just as sometimes our kids will ask us a question we are not prepared to answer, sometimes they’re not going to ask a question you are prepared to answer.  The struggle is to know when to push to have a discussion and when to let it go.

The LM just turned three, so I’m okay with her lack of interest in how the baby got into my uterus.  If she were five or six, I might have made a point of asking her if she had any questions about how the baby got into my uterus or what she knew about how babies get into a mommy’s uterus.  With an older child, I might use a pregnancy as a jumping off point for a discussion about safe sex and having children when you want them.

If your child hasn’t asked you about sex, think about how old they are and question where they ARE getting their information from.  Because chances are it’s probably full of misinformation.  When I taught sex education to middle school students, I heard plenty of old myths that persist; you can’t get pregnant your first time (yes, you can), you can’t get pregnant when having your period (rare, but not impossible depending on your body’s fertility cycle, if it’s a true period as opposed to breakthrough bleeding, etc), and so forth.  Knowledge is power, and it’s important to arm your child with age appropriate knowledge.

For now, it’s enough that the LM knows that babies grow in a woman’s uterus, that they can come out through the vulva or sometimes a doctor has to cut into the Mommy’s uterus (BG was a C-section so it was a necessary discussion) to take the baby out, and that they can drink milk from a bottle or from Mommy’s breasts.  When she’s ready, we’ll bring up how her baby sister got there.

 

It’s Your Vulva

Originally Printed by Carnal Nation October 5, 2010

Note–January 27, 2011.  Although this was written several months ago, we have not yet made progress in toilet training the LM, who is a stubborn child.  I’m not a fan of creating wars I can’t win, so I haven’t pushed her.  However, we are hoping to try again soon.

I was 19 years old before I learned that urine does NOT leave the body via the vagina. I successfully repressed that humiliating memory until a few months ago when we began to think about attempting potty training with our daughter, the Little Mistress.  I took out our “Once Upon a Potty For Girls” kit (complete with a “girl” baby and a toy toilet). We curled up on the couch, and I began to read the book aloud to her.  Moments later, I realized why there is a school of parenting that advocates previewing books and materials before handing them to your child — When I read aloud the following sentence “[I have] a pee pee for making wee wee.”

 

I “borrowed” the baby doll from my daughter and took off the diaper to see that the vulva in all its glory — Labia Majora, Labia Minora, Clitoris, Urethra, and Vagina — had been reduced to an embroidered asterisk (just like this: *) between the doll’s cloth legs.  It was at that moment that I realized potty training is, for many women, the beginning of the misinformation — and missing information — about our bodies.

 

A disclaimer—I am a ciswoman, and my daughter is biologically female.  This article is therefore going to talk about potty training and the experience of trying to make sense of female genitalia from that perspective.  I’d love to have other authors contribute articles from their perspectives, but I can only address this from mine.

 

Toddlers are concrete.  They want labels, they are freaks about routines, and they have a limited ability to process information. (Example: the LM does not understand that her fingers are both part of her hands and are also a body part called “fingers.”)  Information needs to presented to them in a simple, straightforward manner.  Female genitalia doesn’t really fall into the category of “things that are easily explained with simple vocabulary.”  As a sex-positive mom, this creates a conundrum.

 

Unlike a penis, which is easy to see, and easily explained (I’m projecting, the grass is always greener, I suppose), female genitalia is neither. I have been blithely told by many a mom of an equivalently aged boy that potty training is all about tossing some cheerios in the potty and telling their boys to “sink ‘em” with their pee (also attempting to teach the extremely important skill of aim).  As the mom of a daughter, while I don’t agree with it, I can see how generations of sexual repression, religious guilt, ethnic and cultural taboos, or simple lack of information press down on a mom in the moment when she points to her daughter’s genitalia or her own and an infantile, non-threatening word like “coochie,” “taco,” “privates” or “pee-pee” comes out of her mouth.

 

My daughter is weeks from turning two years old.  That means that she needs broad terms to use for the moment.  Although I feel it’s perhaps too broad, I decided to use vulva generally, although when she’s masturbating I make a point of saying that she’s touching her clitoris, and when I clean her I name her labia.  I think the urethra, much as it is the correct term, is going to have to wait until she’s old enough for me to pull out my big stuffed vulva, name the various parts, and hand her a mirror (which I’m confident will be in the next 8 years).

 

Having decided there was something to this whole notion of previewing, I began to look through the other potty books.  There was a lot of emphasis on “feeling like you need to ‘go’” and “sitting on the potty” and “I DID IT!” and in some the reward of no more diapers.  There isn’t a lot of naming going on except of the pee and the poop, regardless of whether the book is supposed to be bio-sex neutral or bio-sex specific.  Realistically, I imagine it’s because using a specific name for a body part will appeal to one audience while possibly (probably?) alienating a larger reading public.  Hence, the emphasis is on the process of feeling the urge to use the toilet, using the toilet (but not where the urine or feces is coming from), and being rewarded.

 

What about parenting guides?  What sage advice did they have for parents regarding naming body parts?  I saw discussions and disagreements over when to train, methods of training, whether to incentivize training or not (giving them an M&M, a sticker, whatever), how to handle accidents, etc.  It was the same focus on what’s coming out of the body and where it lands, rather than where it’s coming from.

 

The only time genitalia comes into play in the parenting books and articles is the reminder that girls are more vulnerable to Urinary Tract Infections, so you should wipe their genitals front to back, although there’s not a lot of discussion why that’s so.  Occasionally someone advises to use the names for body parts that are “right for your family,” which is the publisher-friendly cop-out, I imagine.

 

I find this avoidance of correctly naming female genitals surprising, because this is the age group where children are verbal and asking questions.  They WANT to understand.  They’re not embarrassed, unlike a teenager who would rather be ignorant about something than admit to not knowing it.  No one seems to be comfortable talking about the body parts involved, at least when it comes to girls.

 

If this word avoidance were a momentary trend, easily chalked up to toddler’s developing ability to comprehend, it wouldn’t be all that important.  But it’s not that simple. Grown women have trouble correctly naming the various parts of their genitals. Magazines like Cosmo print the word “vah-jay-jay” as if it were an adorable breezy alternative name, rather than another infantilization of women’s genitals.  As recently as 2007, a Florida woman successfully got a sign for the play “The Vagina Monologues” changed to “The Hoo-Hah Monologues” because it was inappropriate for young (9-year old in that case) girls to even SEE the word “vagina.”  Which makes me ponder how “vagina” even became the default word for our genitalia.

 

I have many concrete, tangible goals for my daughter.  Among others, regardless of whether she grows up to be cisfemale or not, I want her to be able to correctly label and identify the purpose of the female and male genitals for practical, reproductive, and pleasurable ends.

 

At the absolute least, I am determined to spare her my level of confusion as a teenager. Regarding that whole urine comes out of your vagina misunderstanding of mine? At 15 or 16, I decided that urine must not affect the fibers of the tampon or that the reds, purples and browns of my menstrual blood simply eclipsed the yellow of the urine.  I instinctively knew that my explanation couldn’t be right, but in my pre-Internet days of the early to mid 90’s, it was the best explanation I could come up with.  It wasn’t until I took a safe sex workshop in college that I learned my female genitalia included a separate opening for urine, as opposed to the single opening in the tip of the penis from which urine and semen both issue. (Although, again until that workshop, I had some confusion about how that worked, too. Did a guy pee semen into you?)

 

My mom had NO IDEA that I was confused.  I just shared the story with her as I was writing this column.  She paused, and in a thoughtful voice said that she’d never wondered about it.  Then she asked me to explain it to her.  Which just goes to show that I wasn’t the only woman in my family lacking crucial information.

 

Potty training, while not sexual, is often the first time we omit or disseminate partial or incorrect information to our kids.  Sure, it’s appropriate to omit or give partial information to a 2-3 year old, but it’s a trend that never seems to go away.

 

I haven’t taught a middle-school Sex Ed class in five years, but I can assure you that we never spent a second on the female urethra, and I was explicitly banned from talking about the clitoris and labia as they were “unnecessary to the discussion of reproduction.”  Nice to know we’ve moved on from 1989 when I was taught that “if you have unprotected sex you’ll get pregnant/get AIDS/get an STD and DIE” and “you can get pregnant just two or three days a month, but those days change, so you have to think you can get pregnant ANY TIME.”  While accomplishing the goal of scaring the crap out of me when I was 12, it did nothing to further my understanding of my body, and quite frankly I doubt I did much better in terms of clarifying understanding for the girls in my class when it came to knowing their genitalia.

 

As for us, after the LM peed on the floor, slipped in it and got a giant goose egg on her head, followed shortly thereafter by her pooping on the floor and attempting to eat it, we’ve shelved the actual potty training for the moment.  But we’re still having plenty of discussions about it, practicing with her dolls (NOT the asterisk baby doll which found a new home in the trash along with the book), and naming the dolls’ vulvas as where the pee comes from (and damn near constant changing of her doll’s imaginary poopy diapers).  It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than “I have a pee-pee to make wee-wee.”