Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Toddlesworth Tuesday: (A)typical Day, Bits and Pieces

We are currently out of town on a much needed vacation. I'm sure we'll be posting about vacation events soon, but for now I thought I'd post this. I started it a while back, so it is largely a snapshot at 26-30ish months.

When Lord C was out of town four days a week, we had child care some of the time, but even then I would be watching him and caring for the hotel in the bracketing hours. I would have to get up early enough to put breakfast out at 5 am. Before I left the room, I would grab the parent unit from the baby monitor and make sure I have a good view of him. This is a product we never had before, because we never had a need of it. I would quietly leave a sleeping Toddles next to an empty pillow as I slip out of the room. Even though the monitor reaches as far as I've ever seen one capable of reaching, it still falls several yards short of the front desk, much less the back of the house area. I prop it up near the coffee station and turn the volume all the way up.

I prepare and deliver, or prepare and set out, hotel breakfast, alternating between stovetop and checking the monitor to see if he's moved. If I'm lucky, he won't stir too much before I've gotten my breakfasts delivered. He's only stayed asleep until my morning desk person has arrived a few times. Usually he wakes up about 30-45 minutes earlier. On those mornings, I hear "Mommy?  Moom! Mom, where are you?" coming from the monitor. As quickly as possible, I'll make sure nothing is still on the stove and put my "away from the desk" sign up. I'll grab my keys and the parent unit and use its two way communication to assure him: "I'm on my way, baby. I'll be right there. It's ok, I'm almost there."

Toddles would have to go with me whenever I needed to do anything for the hotel before or after childcare hours. He has been with me while I delivered breakfasts or fixed many locks. He will still occasionally want to go to the office, and sometimes he will tell us "I love you, but I have to go to work. But I'll be back!" Sometimes he will sit at our computers hitting keys and declaring "I working!"

"Ow!" / "Fall" / "Hot"   We let Toddlesworth have a wide berth, but warn him in advance of any dangers. He was familiar with how cactuses were sharp, even before we fell face first into one. Now, he will still do things like climb on an end table, but he will put his hand up toward me (like 'stop') and say "It's ok mom, I'm being careful!"

"Hap-peh! Hah-pey!" one morning he woke up, looked at me, smiled and exclaimed that he was happy. It was the first use of the word, and he occasionally repeated it for the next couple of weeks, whenever something especially pleased him, always with a huge smile. (I wish I remembered when that happened... he must have just turned two . His pronunciation and vocabulary have both improved so much since then. Now, he will notice when we are not happy. He will ask "Mom, are you happy?" Sometimes I will say, "Yes, I'm happy," Sometimes I will tell him I am not happy right now, or I'm frustrated, etc. He will then look up at me with the hugest impish grin and ask "You want to be happy? You want to smile?"  It is almost impossible for me not to smile back at him when he does that, and it always improves my mood.)

In the same vein, he will tell us things like "You not angry?"  "Just calm down! Just be calm!" If we are having a discussion he deems too heated. He will also say "don't be angry to me" and tell us "I not angry." if we are raising our voices, or if he wants to assure us he has calmed down.

When Lord C was away, he got slightly more clingy than before. He would very cutely ask "Where is my mudder?" If I walked around a corner, then exclaim "Dere is my mudder!" when he spotted me. He would also say things like "Mommy! Don't Leave me!" and" Take me with you." or ask, with baby grammer, "I go with me?" which were heartbreaking when I could not comply, but also quite adorable.

When Toddlesworth got sleepy when younger, he had a few rituals he developed for comfort.

First of all, I have to point out how lucky we are that we have a toddler that will say "Sleepy! Bed?" and be ready to go to sleep at a reasonable time, most nights. (Boy has that changed! Now we have difficulty getting him to sleep before 9:30 or 10, 11 some nights. It is extra rough with me being even more sleepy than usual. We're trying to get him to sleep in his own bed, there just isn't very much room in our double bed, and I'm sick of my uterus being used as a springboard when he wants to flip over.)

"Howmaunaugh?" ="How Many"  He will grab one of our open hands and flip down fingers, asking us 'how many?' each time. (This probably happened around 2 yrs. Now, I will lay down with him on his crib matress and he will ask me to pet him, or scratch his back lightly. I'll put baby sleep music on Pandora, and he will take between 20 minutes to an hour to go to sleep. He has improved slightly in that he used to demand a 'soft blanket/cold blanket' meaning one of his baby blankets that were already too small for him. We would layer several blankets over him, and he would still toss and turn and cry out 'My butt!! My toes!! whenever a body part became exposed. He would also frequently cry "I need a cold pillow!" which meant I had to flip his pillow over and offer him the cold side.  He is overall slightly less demanding now, but there is basically no chance to get him to go to sleep before he is ready.

When he is ready to go to bed, he is so wonderfully cuddly and loving. When I would get back to the room in baby monitor days, he would request "Lay down with me?"  I would usually take at least a minute to lay down and cuddle him before getting him up for the day and bringing him back to the desk with me. In June, when he was around 2.25, we were cuddling one night when he sighed heavily and said "It's great to be home." "Yeah, it is really good to be home." I answered. "Mommy?" "Yeah baby?" "I love you." I treasure those sleepy moments and would be fine with co-sleeping longer if our bed was a little larger!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

In which Toddleworth's birth is discussed, and regarding our plan this time around

Bold Sections by Lady Covington

It's four in the morning and Lady Covington is groggily groaning. Lord Covington is drowsing next to her with what used to be a hot rice sock in his hand. In one corner of a room sits a large birthing pool making the air in the room hot and humid, though it's the middle of December. In the other corner of the room , Betsy the midwife rocks in a wooden chair. Everyone is waiting for the first appearance of Toddlesworth. 
 Our plan was to try and have a gentle a birth as possible, keeping trauma to mom and baby as minimal as possible. However, this has been the scene for three consecutive nights at “Covington Manor.”  It's fair to say everyone was well beyond exhausted: particularly Lady Covington, as our Toddlesworth has ever been stubborn. It was into this scenario that our midwife did a final heartbeat check and discovered that for the second time in an hour, our yet to be born baby had a slowing heartbeat. We were in a legitimate emergency situation. And we proceeded to the most dread of locations- the regional hospital.

To describe our collective hospital dread at this point is critical. Lord Covington is always concerned with putting his life in anyone else's hands. For Lady Covington, the hospital issue is more specific and personal.

I was always terrified by the thought of having a baby: it is a pretty scary prospect. In 2010 I watched my niece give birth. She is a young mom and was I think only 16 at the time. However, when she was ready to push, the doctors dismissed her (she had gone to complete dilation very quickly after a bit of a slowdown during labor.) They got there only just in time as she began to push, and the baby was quickly out. I was so impressed with my niece's knowledge of her own body; how she seemed to know better than the doctors when it was time, and how she accomplished such a powerful feat with no pain medication.
Immediately after the birth, they took her baby to a warming cot. It was only across the room, but my niece couldn't see or hold her new baby. She was anxious and uncomfortable and WHY THE HELL COULDN'T THEY HAVE JUST MOVED THE BASSINET TO HER SIDE OF THE ROOM? I felt terrible for her. The pointless exclusion of the mother during this most important moment struck a strong cord with me, and I wanted more than anything to not go through that.

Having been through several surgeries in my young life, I can say with certainty that I do not enjoy them. I have vague memories of them fixing my leg after the car wreck, and I had to have surgeries on both my arm and leg months after the event to remove medical hardware that was doing more harm than good. In addition, I know I am due for at least one total knee replacement in my lifetime.  Unlike Lord Covington, I don't have the luxury of deciding I will avoid hospitals for the rest of my life. When I thought about the events that had transpired during the birth experience of my niece, the possibility of avoiding the hospital entirely with this birth seemed like a no-brainer. I had assumed all my life that I would have an easy time with birthing babies, and I had dearly hoped to embrace this happy life event far away from strangers and sterile white environments. 

I of course wanted to avoid a csection, and I felt there were definitely increased risks of csection involved with having a healthy birth in a hospital setting, and at the same time I felt that if anything were to truly necessitate hospital intervention, it was very likely we could get to the hospital in plenty of time.

And so, when our midwife told us it was best that we head to the hospital, this collection of weariness and wariness swirled around us as we drove there, clutching our birthing plan, (which may as well have been thrown out the window at that point.)  Between the two of us, we had a nightmare scenario fear of a hospital visit.  As it turned out, the reality was pretty close to our fears.

       We waited while the doctor was called.  Meanwhile, we were handed consent paperwork.  The nursing staff seemed put out that we wanted to read the documents rather than just sign them.  The first issue we balked at was the line "we consent to a natural birth OR a C Section."  As a C Section was specifically what we were trying to avoid, we refused to agree to it until we found it absolutely necessary: necessity being determined by the health needs of our yet unborn Lord Toddlesworth.  Even though I knew at this point I was headed towards the dreaded CSection, I still wanted to hear it from the doctor before signing on the dotted line, and I don't think I was being unreasonable. The Doctor eventually came in and confirmed, and that's all I needed before signing.

The next thing we objected to was Erythromycin, an antibiotic to prevent your baby’s eyes from being infected with gonorrhea.  From what we  had read, it sometimes stung newborn's eyes and most definitely blurred vision in those first few moments after birth when strong bonding occurs. When we told them we objected, they sent in a physically larger and more aggressive nurse to attempt to bully us into signing. The issue with this infection is that the babies get infected by gonorrhea positive moms on their way out of the birth canal. As I had only had one sexual partner in the past decade, and had never had an abnormal pap smear, I was and am pretty damn sure I've never had gonorrhea. However, even if I was ragingly gonorrhea positive. WE HAD ALREADY ESTABLISHED THE BABY WAS NOT GOING TO BE COMING OUT THAT WAY. 

We also refused the Vitamin K shot.  With These numbers:
When infants do not receive any Vitamin K at birth, statistics from Europe show that 4.4 to 10.5 infants out of 100,000 will develop late VKDB - thats .00007 %.  The chances of that being an issue are statistically nil.  I believe I also read that any bleeding disorder that occurred can almost always be caught early and fixed. Beyond that, we ok'd the oral vitamin K, I just did not feel an intramuscular injection on a newborn is in anyway justified when there was an alternative.

After confirming with the doctor that we were indeed headed to surgery, my requests were made and almost universally summarily denied. (Can I have Lord C with me? Yes. Can I have my mom with me? No. Can there be a video? No. Can Lord C cut the cord? No. Can I hold the baby right away? No. (Nursery, observation, etc. etc.)) With a heavy heart I realized I was getting almost nothing out of the birth experience that I had hoped for. Many times women who don't get the birth they wanted are told "At least you have a healthy baby!" While I am thrilled with that being the case, it is not enough to ignore that it wasn't a healthy birth experience, and that these types of births can often be traumatizing to the mothers. A healthy baby should be the minimum, and women should be able to advocate for what they want without being judged for it. In a home birth, you are the actor. It is an empowering event where you and your body lead the way. In a hospital birth, especially a CSection, you are the object that is acted upon.

 After waiting a terrifying three hours, wherein they could only *sometimes* find my baby's heartbeat, I was finally moved to surgery. I was given the spinal block, and each arm was strapped down. I started shivering, which only intensified. I think it was normal and expected due to the medicine, but I'm certain much of it was the pure terror of being in this helpless situation and having everything I had hoped for in a birthing scenario being irreparably stripped away from me. I wasn't going to be allowed to see my baby once he was removed, and they were going to take him straight to the nursery, so I kept my eyes pealed on the big silver dome mirror above me.

I couldn't see anything clearly, but I could see when the doctor lifted a sprawling red figure up. He was immediately taken to a station off and to the right, above my shoulder so I couldn't get a look at him there either.  I knew they were suctioning his nose, etc, and cried when we got to hear him cry. Then, they took him away again, to the nursery.  They were supposed to have me out of there in about 20 minutes, but after a while Lord C. followed our baby while I remained in surgery for about an hour. 
I was eventually wheeled to recovery, where I stayed for another hour or more waiting for a chance to hold my baby. Finally, Lord C got to bring him to me. I held him for less than five minutes before they ordered him to take baby back to the nursery. 
I was so physically and emotionally drained, and defeated by the entire situation. My throat tightens just thinking about it. 

I am thankful for the doctor who got out of bed at four in the morning and gave me a surviving baby. I am thankful for the two nice nurses we had contact with after the birth-one in the recovery room and one who tried to help me rig up a supplemental nursing device when I had trouble nursing. Also, I will always hold a special place in my heart filled with hatred for the two nurses that made what should have been a joyous experience into a nightmare. The bully nurse I mentioned above, and the nurse who shamed and threatened me ("If your child doesn't GAIN WEIGHT we will send you home and keep him here") into giving my child formula on day one, which I feel sabotaged my breastfeeding attempts.

This kind of event can lead you to no longer trust your own body. I want more than anything to avoid the prolonged separation with this next birth. Ideally I would still love to have a home birth, but beyond all else I want to do what I can to ensure I don't end up with another emergency Cesarian birth. I do want to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after CSection) and avoid another surgery. The doctor that did my previous C-Section won't even give me a TOLAC (Trial of Labor after Cesarian) to attempt a vaginal birth. For that reason, we are going out of our way, literally, to attempt a birth in a city 1.5 hours from our current city.

We are faced with many questions in the future: Can I find a doula to be my advocate in the hospital in case I end up in the same emotionally exhausted state? Should I be induced around my due date, rather than going over? Should I get pitocin, since my previous contractions never became difficult, and perhaps that would make labor work? What are the chances, with my previous labor being 72 unproductive hours, that we would not make it to our destination 1.5 hours away? If I get turned away or don't progress once we head there, there's no easy 'go home and come back later' where would we stay in this case?

All of these questions can wait, because the ones I'm most interested in will be answered by the end of the week. First and foremost, is our little one healthy? And secondly, will Toddles be getting the little sister he is so insistent upon?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 6

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. and continued with Monster HouseThe Little Mermaid, and ParaNorman, Here is the continuation:

Agency: Does the character act for herself? Does she make her own choices or have them dictated?
Backstory/Goals: Does the character have a past, or plans for the future?
Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
We're doing this more or less chronologically, which will also correlate with our recent increase in being critical of media.

"Coraline", based on Neil Gaiman's novella of the same name, is Toddlesworth's current favorite. When I say favorite, imagine loving a movie such that you would watch it twice a day for 2 weeks if allowed.  He is not allowed...luckily for us. This movie aces the Bechtel Test in most every scene. Granted, that's not hard to do when most of the characters are female. As discussed earlier, simply passing the Bechtel Test, doesn't necessarily imply positive or empowering roles for women.  Thankfully, Coraline is a buffet of agency in various believable ways. 

Agency: Coraline is the main character of the story; she is a young girl of about 12, who loves exploring and hates being ignored by her parents (who are too busy working to pay attention to her.) She is happy to go out on her own and explore. She bravely faces down the villain of the movie and escapes--then goes back to rescue her parents. While there are points where she has to do what her parents want her to do, the main actions of the film are at her discretion. While exploring her new house, she discovers a child sized door leading to a long dark "breathing" tunnel, which was just recently a brick wall that led nowhere.  Putting myself in her shoes, I may have been too afraid to go alone. She isn't.  Coraline crosses through the tunnel to meet the film's main antagonist: The Other Mother.  The Other Mother looks like Coraline's mom, albeit more cheerful. She appears kind and loving in the beginning, but is soon revealed to be some sort of ancient soul eating entity with sewn in black button eyes

The Other Mother shows Coraline a world of delightful toys and games and shows; and cooler versions of her weird neighbors. If anything, it's fun and exciting, until the Other Mother directly asks if she can sew buttons in her eyes.  The Other Mother herself has her own reasons for her actions. She may want someone to love, she may "just want something to eat." The Other Mother's hunting method seems to be temping children with everything they ever wanted, getting them to let her sew black buttons into their eyes, and then "eating up their lives".  While Coraline gets to escape the initial trap with the help of the Other Wybie, the Other Mother retaliates by kidnapping her true parents.

Backstory/Goals:  Both characters are shown to have a past, and plans for the future.  Coraline looks at a picture of her friends back home, and mentions that she wants things growing in the garden when they come to visit.  Her main goal at the beginning is to stave off boredom, but by the end she is faced with the challenge of escaping from the evil Other Mother, saving the souls of the ghost children, and rescuing her real parents.
We see in the dead children evidence that The Other Mother has been The Other Mother to at least three children in the past.  We know her goal is to keep Coraline with her at all costs, at first through the trickery of a pitcher plant--by seemingly offering a sweet new life. It seems keeping Coraline there is necessary to her survival, as she becomes less nice and more desperate, manipulative, and frightening at the end of the film.

Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Coraline is an explorer, who does not seem at all inclined to traditional roles. She mentions that she is too old to play with dolls, and the toys we see in her room include a squidcat and a skeletal turtle. She has many different outfits in the film, one of which is a pink striped sweater and black skirt (under a yellow raincoat), but none of her other outfits are 'traditional' pink or purple.
The Other Mother does seem to embody traditional gender roles initially. She looks perfectly presentable, and is always happy and welcoming to Coraline. She cooks wonderful meals for Coraline to enjoy, and knows her taste in clothing quite well. It is shown to all be a ruse, when under pressure the Other Mother shows her true, tall, insectoid, intimidating form.

Totally harmless....

Nightmare fuel!

Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
 Coraline as the eponymous lead is admirable for her cleverness and courage.  She has an adventurous and exploring nature viewable in the fist scene.  Moving to a new, large, and more than a little creepy house can be daunting for any child.  I personally threw an absolute fit for having to move school districts, and I was 12 years old.  Coraline is just brave. But not in a way that seems unreal.. just in a way you hope you would be if you were in her shoes. Her new house comes with unsettling people: creepy old has-been actresses, and bizarre blue Russian acrobat with a mouse circus no one but him can see. Also, the movie adds a character not present in the book, Wyborn "Wybie" Lovat, who Coraline initially despises, but eventually befriends.  While he may ultimately be the most innocuous of characters, his introduction is the most frightening (He rides her down on his bike while wearing a skeletal welder's mask.)  Coraline's reaction to all of these new things is initially boredom, and then curiosity and excitement as she discovers more unusual things. 

The Other Mother is a monster, and evil, that's a given.  However, she is still a well developed character with her own story or agenda.   She has issues with cats.  She controls the entire world on the other side, and all of the "Other" characters are just extensions of her, though they are not entirely under her control. But the Other Mother is a nuanced being with her power and her avarice.  It seems likely she really does love Coraline, as much as a thing like her can.

As an aside, Coraline's "real" mother is an excellent character for the screen time she has.  She is pretty obviously the authority in the household.  Coraline's father is more laid back.  While she is prone to be grouchy and authoritarian, she still cares about her daughter even if she is short with her. The truth of the roles of the Mother and Other Mother are hidden in the beginning of the movie. Coraline's Mother is no fun, and never lets her have her way, while her Other Mother is always pleasant, feeds her delicious food, as opposed to her mother's mid-movie offer: "How do you feel about a mustard-ketchup- salsa wrap for lunch?" The true natures of each are revealed by the end of the movie, as the Other Mother is of course revealed to be a monster, and Coraline's true mother shows the kindness she is of course capable of: she surprises Coraline with the gloves she had wanted earlier in the film, as well as going along with Coraline's plans for a garden-planting party, even though it turns out Coraline's mother really does hate dirt.

The beginning and middle of the film are full of nuanced characters, and a main character brimming with agency. The harshest criticism we could give so might be about the two extremely scantily clad actresses. But now we come to the end of the film. As we mentioned before, Wybie is the only character added from the book. We were both very fond of the book before watching the movie. There were a few minor differences earlier in the film, but nothing major and most were actually improvements. However, we  had a hard time forgiving the film for the change it pulled in the end.

In the end of the book, Coraline manages to escape the Other Mother's clutches, narrowly. The Other Mother's hand is snapped off and manages to escape the other realm and spends a week trying to get the key from Coraline. Coraline realizes life just can't go on without her dealing with the hand. She cleverly, purposefully, sets up a trap for the hand. She spends three trips going the long way round through bushes to a deep, dangerous well mentioned at the beginning of the book. She asks her mother to borrow an old tablecloth she didn't need anymore so she could have a tea party with her dolls. "I thought you were too old for dolls" said her mom. "I am," answered Coraline, "It's just protective coloration." These theme is discussed earlier in the book while Coraline is watching a nature documentary, and is obviously also the method the Other Mother uses, disguising herself to look like Coraline's mother. Coraline carefully removes the cover of the well and lays the tablecloth over it, using dolls and cups to weigh down each side. She then goes back to the house and loudly announces her intention to have a tea party, and mentions that she will be playing with the key. She makes sure the hand is following her, lures it to the tea party setup, and carefully lays the key on the tablecloth (over the uncovered well.) The hand takes the bait, jumps for it, and is trapped, hopefully forever.

In the movie, Coraline IS heading to the well to dispose of the key. However, she does not know the hand has escaped. It jumps and tries to snatch the key from her neck. Just then, Wybie roars onto the scene on his bike, knocks the hand off of Coraline and almost falls into the well himself. The hand falls in as well, but scrambles up Wybie and attacks his hands on the ledge of the well, making him loose his grip with one. Poised to attack Wybie's other hand, Coraline snatches the Other Mothers hand with a blanket she had been wearing for warmth. As the hand begins to escape from the blanket, Wybie throws a huge rock on it and smashes it to bits. Coraline bundles the rock and hand up into the blanket, ties the bundle with a key, and together the hurl it into the well.

This ending is NOT terrible. However, the ending to the book went so much further to showing just how capable and clever Coraline is.  For a character who was only added so Coraline wouldn't be 'walking around and talking to herself' it irks us endlessly that Wybie gets to be so much the hero in the end. Coraline's agency is diminished, even if not totally removed.   Even though it was a joint effort, in our minds Coraline should have been the one to either make a plan, or at minimum be the hand smasher.

For all of it's failings in the end scene, I think the movie holds up well and gives Toddles a great young female role model. Coraline is unfailingly brave, as Toddles will tell you. He will describe her as a hero. He has even asked to be Coraline for Halloween once or twice. (I thoroughly encourage this, even though I am sure he won't go with that as his final choice, because I am going as the other mother!) I am pleased that Toddlesworth might want to be Coraline. I recall from my childhood on a couple of occasions wearing a skirt or some such out of curiosity, and receiving shame and punishment. There was a frantic worry that I would turn myself gay, or something.   In my more mature view, I realize that that was never going to happen.  I was born what I am, as Toddlesworth was born whatever he will be. The only result my family's shaming reaped was to ultimately weaken the bonds we shared.  He will not be harmed by taking something from any traditionally gendered attributes.  Also, I'll be damned if he'll be harmed by someone ignorant shaming him.   In my view of a truly equal society, people determine their role models based on the quality of their character, rather than the quality of their arbitrarily assigned genitals.  For example, I want to be this young lady when I grow up!

The best lesson of all is given in Coraline's own voice. She tells us that being brave isn't absence of fear, but instead "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave."

Do svidaniya, readers!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 5

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. and continued with Monster HouseThe Little Mermaid, and ParaNorman, Here is the continuation:

Nightmare Before Christmas-- Oh, how I wish I had watched this show when I was younger. Can it be true that I was only nine when this came out? I don't think I watched it then, I was in a phase where I thought I was too old for it. I never understood how it became such a pop phenomenon (as indicated by merchandise *still* available at Hot Topic.) Anyway, if I had watched it sometime between then and now, I would likely not have let Toddles see it.  It is a neat film. A bit gritty/spooky, but not too much for a toddler--at least, this toddler. However, there are only two females that can actually be called characters in the film.  One is Shock, the tallest member of the Lock, Shock, and Barrel trio.
These three aren't extremely dimensional characters. Shock doesn't differ in action from the two boys, but she does wear the standard pink/purple for her Witch's outfit.

Sally is the female 'protagonist' in this story.
Sally's effect in the movie can pretty much be summed up in how she is characterized in the opening song "This is Halloween." The townsfolk introduce themselves via their scare tactics:

"I am the clown with the tear-away face
Here in a flash and gone without a trace

I am the "Who" when you call, "Who's there?"
I am the wind blowing through your hair
I am the shadow on the moon at night
Filling your dreams to the brim with fright"

Who is Sally?  Sally is the F*ing hair the wind blows through. She is an object in the song, and may as well be an object throughout most of the movie.

Sally is so... ineffectual I don't even know if I can properly describe it without being distracted by how much I've come to hate her.
Sally's abilities can be summed up in three points:
   Cooking/use of herbs
   Letting the men in her life control her actions, even when they go against good judgment or impair her freedom.

Cooking and herb use:  Sally cooks for Dr. Finkelstein, the mad scientist of the town. She has 'poisoned' him on several occasions, using herbs such as deadly nightshade to knock him out so she can gain a few minutes of freedom. Like an abused wife, she always ends up back in his clutches. At one point she picks an herb that transforms in her hand into a animated Christmas tree, then burns to ashes. I don't know how common premonitions are in Halloweentown, but hers goes completely unheeded. This aspect of her personality is something of a pathetic, watered down BlackWidow trope.  At least a standard Black Widow receives rewards for her behavior.  This one bemoans her paternal figure and still ends up in his possession.

Sewing: Sally is a rag doll. Thus, she has the ability to reattach pieces of herself when they come undone. At one point she rips off her arm and leaves it with her captor/creator. At another point, she throws herself out of a window, breaking her body into several pieces, to escape her imprisonment. It's ok though, she brought a needle and thread to fix herself back up and escape, so that she could give Jack a basket of food she cooked up for him.

After she jumps out of a tower and feeds Jack, she has the premonition. She finds him again, and they have this conversation:

JACK Fantastic!  Now why don't you all practice on that and we'll be in great
shape.  Sally, I need your help more than anyone's.
SALLY You certainly do, Jack.  I had the most terrible vision.

JACK That's splendid.

SALLY No, it was about your Xmas.  There was smoke and fire.

JACK That not my Xmas.  My Xmas is filled with laughter and joy and this--my
Sandy Claws outfit.  I want you to make it.

SALLY Jack, please, listen to me--it's going to be a disaster.

JACK How could it be--just follow the pattern.  This part is red, the trim is

SALLY It's a mistake, Jack.

JACK Now don't be modest, who else is clever enough to make my Sandy claws outfit.


JACK I have every confidence in you.

SALLY But it seems wrong to me, very wrong.

Obviously, she doesn't get him to listen to her. And instead of refusing to help with his plans, which she doesn't agree with, she just goes along with it.
She sings a sad mournful song after her premonition, when she is unable to stop Jack from going through with his utterly terrible plan. In it she laments that they will not end up together. I don't know  Sally, you've got a pretty good shot.. you're basically the only female in this world.

After using her disembodied leg to sexually distract the villain who is holding Santa hostage, She does warn Jack in the final battle to watch out, and afterwards, Santa Claus tells Jack he should listen to her and refers to her as 'the only one that makes any sense around this insane asylum!"
For an alternative view, here is a positive take on Sally. Though I can understand their point of view, I just can't help but see her as weak, submissive, and stereotypical.

Remembering my high school days, every other girl I knew wanted to be Sally, or at least wore her merchandise.  If you can follow the logic that she is an unhealthy image for women, then her prevalence among my generation becomes even more unsettling.

Agency: Her actions revolve weakly escaping her captor, then trying unsuccessfully to warn Jack. She seductively distracts the villain with a disembodied leg. She is not completely without agency, but it does seem to entirely revolve around men.

Backstory/Goals: She was created by Dr. Finkelstein, though we don't see that. She woefully wants to be with Jack but doesn't approach him. Her future plans seem to be poisoning her captor for a taste of freedom and pining over the town hero.

Traditional Gender Roles: She cooks, she sews, she is demurely submissive to the men in her life... She's basically a 1950's ideal housewife.

Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person? It seems many people *have* managed to form a connection with Sally, to the extent that they want to cosplay as her and buy her face on merchandise, but gosh I can't see why. I do hope they aren't looking to her as a role model.

After doing even cursory thinking about this movie, I feel mostly guilt at letting him watch it for two reasons.  I don't think I have to repeat the repulsive depiction of women is a problem.  So instead I'll feel guilty about trying to superimpose my own childhood memories on a boy trying to make his own.  Firstly, I was throwing these things at him without thinking critically about them.  Second, as I roll through my 30's I've come to realize that I have been, until recently, trying to make up for anything I was denied as a child, whether it's healthy or not.  It has lead to some metaphoric and literal gluttony, and the selfishness of my young adulthood caused unnecessary strife in many relationships.  Having a son forces me to realize that is no way to be a father, a husband or a friend.  While I certainly want to share with  Toddlesworth the benefits of cool media I had growing up ( I already think today's cartoons suck), I can and will do better than just throwing crap I watched as a teenager at him

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 4

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

Toddles is also a fan of "ParaNorman". In fact, "ParaNorman" is currently his Halloween costume of choice. (It is occasionally swapped out for bat, vampire, vampire bat, or dragon. Oh, and most recently, a sword.)
               Norman is a young boy who has the ability to speak to the dead. The opening scene has him watching a horror movie with his ghostly grandmother, which is one of the only strong characters in the film. The main *antagonist* of this film is female. The town is based on tourism surrounding a witch that is rumored to haunt the town. There is even a holiday held every year, and a play put on by students. She is eventually discovered to be a sympathetic character: it seems to be implied that she is a distant relative of Norman, who shared the same talent and was put to death by frightened townsfolk because of it.
           This is not until after a small horde of zombies terrorizes the town, which Norman and friends have to talk down from trying to destroy them. The curse, originally assumed to be meant to torture and terrorize the townsfolk, is actually meant as a punishment for the zombies; the same judge/jury that put the 'witch' to death long ago.  They plead with Norman to end the curse.
                 The theme of the story seems to be not letting fear make you lash out at others. Norman eventually faces the witch character, who is revealed to be the ghost of a girl perhaps a bit younger than himself. He helps her get to rest in peace once and for all, by sharing advice on forgiveness, particularly forgiving those that have lashed out in fear themselves.  I have read a negative view of this exchange, critiquing the boy character having the wisdom that the centuries old girl did not, but I think it is reasonable to have someone who is new to the situation but has applicable wisdom share this wisdom with someone who's earthly experiences have been clouded with centuries of fear and loneliness.
Agency: The witch (Agatha) has been being lulled back to sleep for centuries. She has finally had enough and is going to mess shit up. She's pretty powerful and I don't see that anyone can tell her what to do... only make suggestions.

        Norman's sister Courtney is a checklist of every blonde cheerleader stereotype. I'm sad to point out that she's also vegan. *sigh* I believe she was basically designed to annoy everyone they possibly could. ( Success!) She follows Norman only out of familiar obligation, and then to be close to the brother of Norman's new friend. She does have a shining moment where she stands up to a crowd for her brother, including telling him "I've cheered the uncheerable, Norman, and I'm not letting you give up now!"

Backstory/Goals: Agatha started off set on revenge. The resolution of the film revolves around her letting this goal go and moving on. While Norman certainly influences her decision, it's most definitely her decision, because she might have decided to kill him with a tree bashing to the skull.  
         Courtney's goals seem to consist of not letting her brother die and finding a guy who is  "r-i-double p-i-d"  She exists primarily to aid Norman on his quest.

Traditional Gender Roles: Agatha is a pretty powerful actor in the film, even though she does listen to Norman's reasoning, it doesn't come from a place of him being superior to her. In fact, he argues repeatedly that they are the same, drawing parallels between them.  Her problem comes from being an Elsa-of-Arendale level power of female in Puritan America: those DON'T fit into typical gender rolesSadly, she is killed for it, but not before taking them all with her and making them suffer for centuries.  The movie, thankfully doesn't take the lazier, more misogynist path and have Norman defeat, kill, or depower her.  While he does convince her to end the curse and move on, it's at Norman's asking and not demanding.  She could have just continued with her curse.
          Courtney is (according to the script) "fifteen years-old and is the bleached-blonde cheerleader archetype of every schoolboy's sordid dreams." This object of schoolboy desire comes wrapped in pink velour, and brains obviously aren't part of the bargain. The writers/directors were obviously aiming for a two dimensional character and hit the mark.

Relatability:  The viewer definitely feel sympathy for Agatha. Beyond that, her goals and actions are simplified, they amount to a supremely powerful being who is throwing a tantrum. Still, for the ghost of a misunderstood child, I think she is a reasonable character.
          I don't know that any viewers are meant to identify with Courtney. I believe she is made for the boys in the audience to want and the girls to hate.

Other than the 'witch' (Agatha) and the grandmother, who dishes out words of wisdom, the other females tend to be flat, rather than dimensional characters, like Courtney. The sassy black cop, the nerdy girl with the unibrow who exists only to help out the main characters, the drama director, "an imposing woman with spectacles and a beret who looks like she smells of too-much perfume."

We haven't set out to critique the appearance of queer characters in these films, but it is an issue that is important to us, so we will also ad that there is the notable inclusion of a homosexual character, in no way stereotyped as such or mentioned to be gay until the very end of the film. If anything, the character is a spoof on the stereotypical Lone Hero archetype.  Kudos to the movie for playing with it's audience (The reveal is in a one-liner that can be seen to be at another characters expense, but I still see it as a strength of the film.)

While this movie is much better than say "Sleeping Beauty" or  even The Little Mermaid, they could still have done better.  There is plenty good about the movie I could/ have said, but it's still left wanting for depiction of women in a positive way.    

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 3

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

I purchased the The Little Mermaid on Amazon when Toddles was just over two. It was cheap and I remembered liking it when I was little. He did like it, loved it even. He would watch it multiple times a day when we would let him. There were some immediate repercussions that were hilarious to me but at least slightly negative. He would say I was a mermaid, which was flattering, but he would be especially insistent about it when I had my top off. I discussed with him that I did indeed have some of the body parts the mermaids had, but what made them mermaids was their tails. It was just after this point that he had his brief enrollment in day care, and the teacher made sure I knew that on his very first day he had lifted the shirt on a Barbie to show the other children her 'boobies.'  I will take total responsibility for that wording. We've always been sure he knew how to refer to his penis, but I had not been so clinical about my own body parts. We have recently been updating his terminology to 'breasts.'
Agency: Ariel's agency is questionable at best: she seems compelled to chase Eric, even though I suppose it's technically a choice.  She does show agency, I suppose, in disobeying her father and going to see Ursula, but it is agency for such a two dimensional reason. It can also be argued she is only a puppet in a power struggle with Urusula the Sea Witch pulling the strings.  Also, it is Eric who defeats the villain, not our protagonist.  Eric convenietly makes that choice for her while she is a more or less passive spectator.
         Ursula the Sea Witch, by contrast, is the motivator in the movie.  She knows what she wants: "the sea and all it's spoils," and she spends time before and during the movie working towards that goal, playing both Ariel and King Triton.  Before, ya know, she's cleverly speared in the gut by a Bland-Peice-of-White-Bread-Prince steering a shipwreck.  

Backstory/Goals: Ariel's backstory consists of being a princess who sings well, but doesn't show up to rehearsal, and likes  all things humany.  This quickly revolves around exactly one human: Prince Eric.  Her interests involve hoarding and wearing bras in public. This changes not at all in two hours of "unda da seeee" adventures.
             Urusla wins the relevant race again.  Her back story is really the secret plot of the movie.  I have spent all my childhood and an embarassing amount of my adulthood wondering about this line. ( Look for it at 23 seconds in)

Ursula has goals, and realistically, she should have been able to complete them, except no one can defeat the terrible writing villain.

Traditional Gender Roles: Our female lead wants to land a man.  She is handed from her father to Eric by the end of the movie. She embodies traditional feminine roles like a paid endorser.  Ursula is less traditional, but still follows this trope to the letter. I think Disney can (and to some extent has) done better.

Relatability: Like Anna, Ariel begins the movie as a naive 16 year old red head in search of a boy.  Unlike Anna, every action in the film revolves around the boy.  Her reward she is given (she doesn't go get) is: boy.  While again, 16 year old me can relate, adult me is a little nauseous and leery.  
           As I've never had a serious desire to enslave everyone and rule over them as a terrifying  god ( I swear), it is  difficult to relate to Ursula.

               Our current feminist critique has been sharpened by Anita Sarkeesian's Vlog "Feminist Frequency" .   However, even before looking at it from deconstructionist-feminist point of view, when I watched the movie with Toddlesworth again, it was a Agency Eyesore (yup, just made that up) that Ariel is clearly not the hero in her own story.  Shes a POV supporting character in the Heroic and Studdly Badass Adventures of Prince Eric the Blandificent.  Toddles reaction, while flattering, still concerns me.  We watched this movie at a time, when, he still referred to every youngish male character as "daddy,"  so in his developing mind, I was Prince Eric: Hero.  Aside from this specifically boring one dimensional hero, this is as flattering as when he thought of me as Superman.   However, the reverse is also true: the disenfranchised female lead was "mommy".  His treatment, whether in part a result of the media or not, has been markedly different post age two.  He is far more likely to throw a fit at Lady Covington than myself.  I consider it as sacred of a duty as potty training to steer his thinking towards gender equality. 
          My current attitude on this film is overwhelmingly negative.
          I don't really know what else to say about this movie. The music is fun, the villain is unique, and it would fail the Bechdel test if there were 100 women in it, because Ariel would only speak on the subject of Prince Eric. Ariel had long been a fan of the human world, but it took an instant infatuation with the prince to catapult her into action.
I still haven't seen The Little Mermaid 2. It might be interesting to see how different the critique would be for the next generation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 2

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

Your wife is so fat she...... died and animated a house?
You'll notice a theme soon; Toddles is still a fan of horror and we started trying to find children's animated horror movies for him pretty early. The first was Monster House. We took it to Houston with us in February and he watched it several times while we were hanging sheet rock at Lord Covington's mother's house.

Monster House is a mixed bag for me. Two boys, DJ and Chowder, witness what they think is the death of their crotchety old neighbor, Nebbercracker, and they soon realize the house next door is alive. They assume it is haunted by his ghost, but realize it is haunted by the ghost of Nebbercracker's wife.

Agency: There are three main female characters in the film.
       The first is 'Zee,' DJ's babysitter. She likes to use traditional "sweet and pink" as active camouflage if DJ's parents are around. When they are gone, she ditches the 'nice female' camouflage for a shirtless black band shirt, and pulls her hair loose to reveal a punky asymmetrical cut. She sends DJ to his room so she can hang out with her (jerk of a) boyfriend. Soon afterwards, she kicks the boyfriend out, proclaiming "You have no respect for women!"
       The second is Jenny, who we meet while she is cleverly going door to door trying to sell candy to procrastinators. In their exchange, first they barter over buying candy with the babysitter 'emergency fund' in a way that will net them both money. Zee gives Jenny advice along the lines of "If you see a boy you like, give him his burger, not your phone number." Jenny, while sucked into their nerdy pre-pubescent boy world of video games and peeing in bottles, not only adapts well, but ends up heroically saving them both with her wits and understanding of anatomy.  Once her more well grounded logical mind accepts that there is, in fact, a Monster House, she begins applying her knowledge to the house, reasoning that  net-bag of lights in the foyer is most likely a uvula.  Later, when the House has captured DJ and Chowder, Jenny's quick wits save all of the major characters.  While the boys are hanging by a ledge about to fall into the mouth, Jenny dodges the house's tongue and leaps on the "uvula," gambling successfully that the house will have to spit them out.  While the critique below takes issue with Jenny not being the one to destroy the Monster House single handed at the climax of the movie, I think it's fair to say the House absolutely would have had two tween snacks that night if not for her courage under fire.
        The third female character is the house itself, animated by the ghost of Nebbercracker's wife. It turns out Constance Nebbercracker was once a giantess (fat woman) at a circus side show, before being liberated by Nebbercracker. she died in an accident while rabidly trying to fend off young vandals during the houses construction.
I don't know how I feel about this caricature of a woman being used as the monster.  Here is a strongly worded critique I found.  I'm not sure I would be quite so harsh, but I certainly don't think her villainous portrayal in this movie does fat women, or women in general, any favors.
    While I acknowledge the above critique as valid in this case, my initial and lingering reaction to Constance is that she is a tragic character.  In the real world, several usually traumatic events put a person where she was when we first see her: morbidly obese, locked in a cage, and tormented by strangers.  The way she reacts to the children who throw eggs at her while she was still alive was at that point, largely an unavoidable automatic response.  My reaction was not "she's fat," but "she's injured."  I would take larger issue if she were the only woman depicted in the film

Backstory/Goals: We learn that Zee was kicked out of the prep school that Jenny goes to. Zee doesn't seem to have any plans for the future other than having a cool boyfriend.
        We don't learn anything about Jenny's background, or future, from what I remember of the film. She obviously has plans, and is willing to follow through with them, as her candy selling scheme shows. Unfortunately, Jenny ultimately is only advancing DJ's goals in this story.  She doesn't get any extensions of her own subplot ( presumably clever candy scamming), she just works toward DJs.  I feel this is possibly the most negative message of the movie, and one I feel Toddlesworth and I must have a conversation about.
          We see Constance's backstory and the actions that led to her death. As a human, her goal was to protect her house, which I could believe was the first thing that had ever been hers. As the monster, her goals basically consist of consuming anyone that might be a threat to her house, and taking whatever belongings cross her property line. When the children trespass and truly wake her up, she even uproots herself from her foundation and chases them off the property.

Traditional Gender Roles: Zee is in the traditional role of teenage caretaker, but she flips it on its head in a bad way by pretty much being awful. She has rather stereotypically fallen for the bad boy. Though she kicks him out, by the end of the film there is an interaction that leads me to believe she will go running back to him.
      When Jenny next tries to approach the 'Monster House,' the two boys who have been watching the house must run to rescue her. The boys tend to compete for her attention. She is generally shown as more savvy and knowledgeable than the boys, and I assumed she was older, though she is listed as being younger. I do feel that she is basically used as inspiration to keep the guys going. DJ comes up with the plan to use cough syrup to put the house to sleep. Chowder says  "I don't want to steal drugs from my father, I don't want to go inside a monster, and I don't want to die!" Jenny says "This seems worth a shot..." And chowder immediately switches his stance to "Yes, I agree, lets do it."
      Constance/Monster House was rescued by Nebbercracker. She is violent and angry and overprotective of her household. The critique I linked above mentions how she is the embodiment of the 'woman as household' trope.
That same link above critiques that Jenny becomes a cheerleader rather than being the one to end the monster once and for all. I am not sure I agree with that completely. I do detest that she kisses him as part of her encouragement. I don't feel the need for her to take over and do it for him... it is DJ's movie... DJ is obviously the main character, The Monster House is the house across from his house, not Jenny's. All the same, I would like to see more movies where that particular critique is not needed because it is a female main character and hero.

       I think many of us have been Zee at one time or another. Being a strong, progressive woman, doesn't mean you won't go stupid over a boy. She's a relatively minor character in the film, but I liked her.
       I really liked the initial appearance of Jenny. She was decisive, intelligent, and quick witted. I don't think she gets to show those attributes off consistently later in the film.
      Constance: I feel like this character is treated more like a rabid dog than a person. As a human, she is shown first basically as a caged animal. She is excited to be freed and to have a place of her own, and then she shows anger. Anger is shown to be her only emotion as the monster house. At one point Nebbercracker talks her down, and even says 'Good girl!" and I just really got the feeling that his is how you would treat a housepet gone bad, not your dead wife. I am not sure the film wouldn't have been better by not making the house a 'character' at all. If there were some other reason the house animated, there wouldn't be a need for  a backstory of a character who just basically falls flat.

        In conclusion, I think with a more critical view of movies as messages, there often comes the complaint of "ruining my childhood."  While we are taking a feminist perspective on our media, specifically in the context of Toddlesworth's viewing, we are not immune to the feeling either.  It is frustrating to think about shows I loved as a child, wanting to share them with Toddlesworth (He Man is basically out, for example), and having ethical qualms about it.  However, I suppose while I am sacrificing some childhood memories, the childhood I am saving from the ruination of bad default paradigms is his.  If that's the tradeoff, I will make it with a confident smile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 1

Bold sections by Lord Covington, regular text by Lady Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. I thought it fair that we also discuss movies. While you may think movies or a single movie can't have as much influence as several seasons of a tv show, I ask that you keep in mind that these are movies a child is watching over and over.... and over....and over...

The movies that Toddles has been watch-on-repeat obsessed over in the past year include:

Monster House
Little Mermaid
Nightmare Before Christmas

We're going to try to give a summary and critique of each movie.  Originally intended to be a single blog, it became a Viking Edda ( long) and we have gone into enough detail that we feel each movie merits its own shorter post.  We do feel more strongly about some than others, so our apologies if we go long!
         The framework we will be using will look into the major female characters of the movie in terms of their:
Agency: Does the character act for herself? Does she make her own choices or have them dictated?
Backstory/Goals: Does the character have a past, or plans for the future?
Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
We'll do this more or less chronologically, which will also correlate with our recent increase in being critical of media.

We watched Frozen in the theater before Toddles turned two, and he loved it. I don't think he was capable of staying put for the whole movie, but he got pretty close. He loved the music and tried to sing it after watching only once. I knew I would be buying it on Amazon the day it was available, and as soon as I did it became his favorite movie for quite some time. He can sing many of the songs, with his favorite of course being Let It Go. I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with how Frozen turned many Disney tropes on their heads, and I love the inclusion of adopted families and the emphasis on familiar love.
Bechdel test pass? Frozen passes the Bechdel test in its adorable opening scene.
Agency:  The film continues to provide powerful examples of women with agency. (Even when Elsa is isolated as a child, and fights against her 'curse' I see this as an active move she is doing to protect her family, even though she hates it.) Elsa runs away and chooses further isolation to try to keep her kingdom safe. There is the expedition by Anna to find Elsa, which is her choice even though it is heavily advised against by all the men around her. Finally, there is the willingness to self-sacrifice she shows when Anna throws herself in front of a blade for Elsa. Rather than be the passive object of somebody else's kiss, she ends up being the actor in the act of true love that breaks her curse.
Backstory/Goals: The backstory of Anna and Elsa is shown in the film, which is a good indicator of how their characters developed. They each have goals, Elsa tries her hardest to be a good ruler, and Anna begins just wanting to be social and maybe meet a boy. Her character is quite dynamic, she goes on the quest to find her sister, and ends up heroically saving her sister, and her love shows Elsa how Elsa can save the kingdom. Though Anna had two male interests in the film, her choices did not revolve around them, but rather her relationship with her sister.
Traditional Gender Roles: Both women are in dresses, but they are not traditional colors.  Both women are seen in leadership roles. I cannot recall another Disney princess giving a direct order, while both of these princesses do. They behave like they were raised to be authority figures.
Relatability: Anna is extremely naive in the beginning, but in a way anyone who has been a teenager can relate to. To me, Elsa's fear of her 'curse' in the beginning and fear of being a bad ruler is relatable to general fear of failure. Both women grow and change as the film progresses, making them realistic characters. Anna's eventual love interest spawned from partnership and shared experiences with Kristoff, rather than the love-at-first-sight she had with Hans. After all,

This is about as progressive a movie as Disney has made to date, we say happily.  It is not without it's flaws but it's still a huge leap for Disney.  If we are going to have Toddles watching the Disney kids cartoons ( instead of, ya know, locked up like Elsa, for example), then at least we have one not so much cringe worthy.  In Elsa, we ultimately learn that great powers come with great responsibilities.  Anna redefines Disney's usual narrative for love and focuses it on siblings rather than romance.
All in all, I hope Toddles has gained some important ideas about being a leader, and about being a sibling from this movie.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A quick art post

Here is my recently completed attempt to recreate a picture of Toddles. I definitely got off on the angles... I wish I could have seen it in the beginning phases, but that is a skill I am still developing.  As an 'inspired by' piece and not something that is trying to be a reproduction, though, I like it!

I wanted to experiment more with a palette knife, but hated the lack of detail in the face/hands. I decided I would start with my brush and get the detail parts done in a way I was familiar with, and went back and did the clothes and flower and background with the knife. I love the balance of detail and texture I achieved, and I love the idea of painting things with depth of field. I hope to experiment with these things more in the future!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Toddlesworth Vegan Vindication

Bold by Lord Covington

While the health reasons are myriad, our veganess comes from an origin of ethics.We do not believe you can truly be a good person and endorse the torture of another being for your convenience or enjoyment. Since even the most casual research into factory farms (where most Americans get all of their meat) shows you that the animals suffer greatly, we can't in good conscience be a part of that.

From twelve to my early teens, I referred to myself as a "dedicated meatgan."  All the while, I would experience nausea from eating meat, but thought everyone felt the same way.  At this point in my thinking I was probably a Young Earth Creationist, so clearly, I had multiple ideas not based on sense.  About 18, I had a moment, about to  eat a Taco Bell Taco when I finally listened to my body and just put it down and decided not to pick it up again.  Midway through college, I was sitting around the table while people were talking about why vegans were stupid, because 'you have to kill something to eat.' Always one to argue for arguments sake, I explained it wasn't about killing, it was about suffering. I paused, dumbstruck by my own reasoning, and then said "I guess I can't consider myself a good person unless I'm vegan. I guess I'm vegan now."

(And now Lady C)

He got up from the table and announced this to me, who, unbeknownst to him, had been vegetarian for all of a week and vegan for three of those days. I was actually grilling my own vegan quesadilla at the time, and musing about how I would not want to date someone who was not vegan. He was probably not expecting my reaction of a thrilled hug.  I had tried to go vegetarian once before, when I was a preteen. I didn't live in the most conducive environment for it, and so failed immediately and repeatedly, (As in, I would be eating a turkey sandwhich, realize this, and think 'man, I was not going to eat animals anymore!  I guess I will try again tomorrow.) Eventually it slipped my mind entirely until my intro to moral issues class in college brought the subject back up. A few days into my being vegetarian, I mentioned to Lord C. that I would probably be going vegan soon. When he asked me why, I thought for a moment to come up with the most concise explanation of all the reasons I had recently been exposed to. I am not a naturally eloquent person, and the best wording I could come up with was 'Because hurting things is bad." 

People asked us even years before we were ready to have kids how we would raise them, so no one in our family and older friends circle was surprised that we are bring up Toddles vegan.  We have had the occasional person remark that we are forcing our son into our way of life. That's a pretty ridiculous claim, since all people everywhere default to teaching their kids their way of life, but especially when a balanced vegan diet is shown to be much healthier than the Standard American Diet.  I mean, shouldn't everyone bring their children up as smokers? They might want to smoke anyway, when they are older.

We haven't face much opposition to our lifestyle from our families, but it does occasionally show itself in ignorance (many years ago: "Condensed milk is ok, right?") or some misplaced concept that someday something will make us go back to "normal" (Several people in my family remarked to Lord C while I was still unconscious after my car wreck that I might want to eat meat again when I woke up. In fact, the hospital had been feeding me through a feeding tube in my nose, and one of the first acts I did upon waking up was to pull it out of there!) I will admit that it is frustrating when my mom makes holiday cheap toy and candy baskets for all of her grandkids but packs the same non-vegan things into Toddles'. (This is one of the instances where I'd prefer nothing to having to unpack dozens of tiny plastic packages, check the contents, and weed out bits of chocolate...which then lay around for a week until I find someone to take them.)

In general, when people see Toddles interacting with food they are impressed by his willingness to pick up and eat a raw carrot or tomato (often on the way to the register). We never have problems getting him to eat his vegetables, and he requests "tofu and vegetables" as often as "French fries and tater tots." We believe that the ethical lessons began to pay off just before Toddles hit 2.5.

We had some issues with day care on our brief foray into public care for Toddles. We had to provide a note from his pediatrician stating he was on a healthy diet (Thank you doctor, for that.), and we (or I, while Lord C. was out of town) made and packed lunch for him each day that was as similar as possible to what the other kids would be eating. There were some slip ups getting everyone on board, especially with the number of different teachers he had on various days, but overall it was clumsy but worked.  He told the teachers that we don't eat animals because it hurts the animals, and if he wanted something the other kids had that was not vegan, the teachers told him (as we asked them to) that it had cow in it. They told me a couple of times when this had happened and he always just said "oh, ok." and asked for something different.

Basically this is the way we handled teaching him about being vegan. Especially when younger he would grab random food things, and we would sometimes have to take them away and tell him why we didn't eat it, and redirect him to a food we can eat.  ("That is cow milk, it comes from cows. We drink soy milk, it is made from plants." "Yes, that is chicken. We don't eat chicken. Do you remember why?" ("It hurt the chicken") "That's right. What sounds do chickens make?") One day when he was he was behind the front desk where we store our breakfast food for hotel guests. He grabbed a prepackaged sweet cake and held it up to me in one hand: "Can I eat this?" "No baby, it has cow in it."  "Oh. This?" he asked as he held up the banana in his other hand. "Yes, of course!"  "Ok!" he proclaimed, and happily put back the sweet cake and ate the banana.

We are trying to be sure that Toddles grows up to respect animals in other ways as well. He went through a phase when he was a bit younger where he would chase our cat and try to pull it's tail. He would also hit the dogs if they (ok, mostly just one) growled at him or made him angry.  When this happened, we would react in the same way we would if he had hit one of us.. remove him from the situation, remind him that we don't hit people, that hurts people, and get him to apologize.  We feel that by elevating our animals (rather than diminishing Toddles by saying "oh, he's just a baby, he doesn't know any better") and making sure that he understand they have the right to their own emotions and space, we are helping to teach him respect for all life.

By the way, the dogs usually accept his apology by way of face licking.

In all seriousness, though, of course we hope Toddlesworth will choose to continue being vegan as he ages. It is a deeply held personal belief for both of us, and is the closest thing I have to religious beliefs. While we don't intend to attack anyone for their food choices, we do hope we lead some people to at least question them. We both very strongly believe that being vegan is the morally correct choice, otherwise there is little impetus for anyone to choose this way of life. We do also though tend to see everything in this world on a spectrum. Someone who participates in Meatless Mondays is still doing some good, Meaty Mondays (Where people DON'T eat meat the other 6 days) are of course even better. I feel there is no way at this point that Toddles can slide so far away from how we are raising him that he would end up at the default Standard American Diet. And so, we believe that teaching Toddles respect for all life and introducing him to the default of not harming animals by consuming their bodies or byproducts is another way in which we are trying to set Toddles up to have the best possible future.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Big News and the Big Brother's Reaction

In short:

The longer version:
We made the decision to try for another baby at the beginning of the year. With our track record we thought we'd be due in October at the latest. We were so sure of it I bought some Halloween baby clothes on clearance last year. I was just being practical, right?

Things took a bit longer than we'd expected, especially with Lord Covington being out of town most of every week for three months.

In July, I took a pregnancy test on a reasonable date and got a negative. I was becoming used to this, so we waited and waited to get to try again. Finally, I realized an entire month had passed and took another test. It came back positive about as dark and sudden as a test could get. It turns out the first test may have just been a few days too early, and I hadn't taken another out of some misplaced fear of 'wasting' them. A couple weeks later we were able to pinpoint things with an ultrasound. I was about “8weeks” along before I realized, and I hadn't had any symptoms. (Of course they developed immediately after taking the test!) At the time of the ultrasound, I was10wks and 4 days, (and I am 12 wks at the time of this posting.) It was pretty amazing to see our baby look so babylike so early. When we first got to see Toddles he looked more like a tiny fish.

We had been 'prepping' Toddles for this event for a while. Before we were anywhere near trying, we had a book in rotation called “The Bear's New Baby” In it, an older sibling to be anxiously awaits the arrival of her new baby sister. “It seems like it is always soon and never now!” She is disappointed to find that her sibling is actually a brother, and not nearly as fun as she imagined, even asking if he can be returned. She learns to appreciate her little brother as he becomes a little older and more fun, but in the end tells her family she wants to keep him, but she wants the sister kind too. After reading this book countless times, it seems fitting we can tell Toddles “The baby will come in the spring!”

We have been asking Toddles for quite some time if he would like a baby brother or sister. For many months, his answer was a very adamant “NO I DON'T WANT!”

One day, about three months ago, I asked him the question I'd asked about once a week: “Toddles, would you like a baby brother or sister?”
“Weeellll....” Started off Toddles, with the drawn out pause that meant he was really considering it “...a sister!” he concluded.

It was almost like a running joke at the time, so I was a bit shocked and very pleased with his answer. Since then, he has wavered back and forth between wanting a brother or a sister, and occasionally still reverts back to not wanting one at all. Generally though he is accepting and even quite considerate. He asked for coffee one day and I told him I wasn't going to be getting any. He got frustrated and Lord C told him I wasn't going to have coffee because it could hurt the baby. (I don't have anything against moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy, I just didn't feel like having any right then.)  Toddles rubbed my arm and said “Oh, I sorry.” I told him it was fine, and he hadn't done anything wrong. A few days ago we were laying in bed and he was rubbing his feet across my belly. Since his usual foot-belly interactions involve kicking while turning over at night, I asked “What are you doing?” “The baby like this?” asked Toddles. “Aww, that's sweet! The baby is too small to feel that right now. Later, you'll be able to feel him move and he'll be able to feel and hear us.” “Ok!” said Toddles.

A couple weekends ago, we made a three hour drive to Dallas to pick up a fancy stroller found at a great price on Craigslist. Lord Covington supervised Toddles pushing it to the car. Later, he told me Toddles had said “This for my baby brother or sister!”

Obviously we're very excited to welcome a new family member to our tiny household. We have known for some time that our 'home office' was going to be moving us to a new hotel in a different city, once it is built. Construction has started, so it will be interesting to watch the progress of the building as compared to the progress with my belly. If the move date fall within a month on either side of my due date, it is going to make things very.... interesting. If it falls after my due date, then we will have an interesting bit of time where we are a family of four living in one room.

There are also considerations to be made when it comes to our birth plan this time around, which we will be discussing in more detail on our next post!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Grappling with Gender Grief in Toddlesworth Television Traditions

Bold Text by Lord Covington, Regular Text by Lady Covington

A quick note on where we stand, philosophically.  Lady Covington and I both identify as feminists: speficially "Third Wave" feminists.  As such, even though Toddlesworth displays mostly hetero-normative / cis gendered tendencies, it is important to Lady Covington and I that he understands that he has many options, that no one of them is more "correct," and we will love him regardless of his choice of gender expression.  My only two real "have tos" are strength and honor.  As we are working with the philosophy of Attachment Parenting, and because we try always to manage the narrative he receives, we believe we are more vigilant that most about what our child watches and comes into contact with on a daily basis. However, it seems some things have slipped in under our radar.

Toddles has always said "Mom, she is like you!" about the main female character in the shows he watches. (Rapunzel, Ariel, Elsa, Sally). It is expected to be identified with the feminine, and actually very flattering to be compared to a princess. However, it didn't stop at feminine identification and went on to be stereotypical gender expectations.
For a while now, Toddles has been telling me "You like pink! I like blue!"  When I would tell him I did not like pink, or that I in fact like blue and green, the best I could get him to agree to was a compromise of purple. Not only is it always infuriating when your toddler orders you to have opinions, but it is doubly so when those are seriously gender stereotypical.  More recently, he has decided that I MUST be a witch for Halloween. I will not be being a witch, and I insist I will not each time he brings it up, but we'll have to see how the actual night goes down when he realizes I will not choose my costume on his expectations.
The most shocking thing I have witnessed happened quite recently, when we gathered him to take him home for the day. We asked "What do you want to do today?" He turned to his father and said "You fight bad guys!" (video games) then immediately turned to me and said "You wash dishes!"

Just today, Toddles chased a little girl (about a year older than him) around a play area, trying to put a flower in her hair so she could be 'A lady.' She clearly didn't want the flower , and he backed her into a corner and tried to force it on to her head.  

Again.... really?

This is yet another a signal that we have a duty to address this as parents.  It is important for us to teach him that other people have agency, and that their desires matter, even if they are refusing something he thinks of as a gift.

All of these things have led us to be even more critical of the shows we have been allowing Toddles to watch, as well as making us reexamine our own relationship dynamics.

      We feel we are very close to 50/50 on cleaning, though Lord C does play about 85% of the video games.
When we talk about clothing, William will insist he doesn't wear pink, he wears blue. He will continue to insist this, even while he is wearing a pink shirt! (We have tried to include a variety of colors in his wardrobe, even though we have distinct color preferences that don't run to very colorful.   Lord C will tell you about the dubious interactions he had when he picked out a purple diaper cover for William one day!)
          We realize that we are bumping up against the dominant hetero-normative paradigm every time we interact with anything at all.  I once went diaper cover shopping in Abilene (We used cloth versus disposable), and the sales person seemed visibly uncomfortable by my choice of purple for a male child.  She put on her best tolerant smile and said " Maybe you want him to be a little different... ok. "  If I had been alone, her confused-displeased-subtext would have been amusing in a way that made me feel smug.  Since I was with my son, I resented what I perceived her narrative push into my choices.   
           I will concede that I generally dress business casual; I wear dresses and skirts and almost never pants. However, my color scheme is dark, almost all black. I do want to try to include more color, but William has probably never seen me wear anything pink.
Lord C. Wears a similar color palette, Blacks, Greys, blues, and one red shirt. He does stand out from the stereotypically masculine in that he has long hair.  We have never cut Toddles hair, and he has never thought he needed it cut. I imagine his dad having long hair helps him see that as normal.

In our interpersonal interactions, we are both managers, so he does see us actively give direction to others almost every day. I felt the need to point out to Lord C that Toddles does see our employees do a lot of cleaning, and most of them are women. Lord C thinks that I am more likely to give orders within the household, but we both think that while we are both "Authoritative" parents, I lean slightly more towards permissiveness and he leans slightly more towards authoritarian.

In our activities, besides videogames, Lord C is slightly more likely to want to do outside activities with Toddles, including stick 'sword' fighting. I will do the same, but I am more likely to suggest a crafting or artistic activity before an outside activity. To be fair, I push outside activities as a way to not play...I dunno ..... 10000% of the video games, or have him become the indoor child I was once upon a time.

I don't feel we have left any gaping holes in our relationship dynamic to allow tons of gender stereotypes in, so the next step was analyzing the shows we let Toddles watch.

We listed several shows we have positive feelings about and started watching them at the first episode. We decided to see how quickly each of these shows pass the Bechdel test, and additionally make notes of how the female characters are portrayed in reference to appearance/(instances of stereotypically pink clothing) and agency.

We started with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.This is a continuation of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, taking place in the land of make believe. This animated show makes good use of music to teach lessons. "If you need to go potty, stop and go right away!"
Daniel's mom is featured wearing blue pants and a white shirt with pink Hawaiian flowers. It takes a few minutes to get Daniel to school and have mom interact with Teacher Harriet (wearing a teacher type smock and all in oranges) The show doesn't get a true Bechdel pass until almost the end of the second episode when Teacher Harriet tells a female student she's done a good job.  While we aren't currently focusing on this aspect of his learning, it is worth mentioning that DTN has a healthy representation of minorities in professional and positive roles, and interracial couples as a norm.

Next was Monster Math Squad. There are three monsters who are part of the Monster Math Squad, who all share screen time about equally. This show is great about teaching math concepts, with varied vocabulary. Slope, Speed, Capacity, etc.
One of the squad members is Lily, who is pinkish-purple and wearing  a yellow hair bow. One is a large furry yellow masculine monster, and one is a green glob which is treated as young and who seems pretty gender neutral.  This show has very short episodes, about 10 minutes each. It did not pass the Bechdel test in the first episode, but the second episode the monster they were helping was a female so it passed in the first minute or two.  The "female" monster in the show actively performs math with the other two, and in terms of math skill is interchangeable with either of the others.

The next show we watched was Super Why. We like this show for how it introduces letters and spelling concepts, but we had misgivings even before this 'test.'

In the first episode, the super readers are introduced. There are two females, Little Red and Princess Pea. I would find awesome, but their appearances leave something to be desired: Little Red is dressed in an extremely short skirt/shorts, and Princess Pea is in a purple princess dress.
When they transform into their 'super' versions, Little Red becomes Wonder Red, and manages to be wearing even less... more like a bathing suit and cape, and the princess becomes Princess Presto. Her dress becomes fuller and turns pink.  There is also Pig, who becomes Alpha Pig. He uses tools to make his super power happen. Wonder Red has a magic basket. Princess Presto uses a magical wand ("cue the sparkles! Cue the music!), and In the first episode, when she first tries to use her wand, she drops it.
Throughout the first episode, the girls don't manage to talk to each other, and Wonder Red never gets to use her power at all.

On a positive note, Whyatt actively tries to engage in childcare within the first three minutes of the episode, trying to care for his baby sister Joy (dressed in yellow and blue!) Whyatts mom stepped in when he failed to soothe her, but we weren't sure weather baby Joy should count as far as the Bechdel test or agency were concerned.

After running it through the Bechdel/ Gender Equality lens, I am deeply conflicted about this program.  Toddlesworth has spent much time watching the show, and as a result, at the age of two and 8 months he is on the verge of reading.  I know this show, as well as certainly our own efforts, have played a strong hand in his advanced skills.  I also can see that it has reinforced as a hard and fast rule a paradigm I'm not comfortable with, particularly how it has manifested in him.  I am not sure the payoff is worth it.  I will continue to struggle with the two notions.  

Team Umi Zoomi attracted Toddles on TV, and it seemed a good choice for teaching Toddles about patterns and shapes.
The team is a brother and sister, named Geo and Milli, and their robot (Bot) who help a 3D (as opposed to animated) child with a problem each episode.
Geo, has the power of Super Shapes. "I can build anything with my shapes!"
Though there is a female on the team, her powers involve changing the colors on her dress (from it's default pink) to show a pattern. "I can make any pattern with my dress!" She also has long pigtails...that measure things.  In the first episode, the person who needs help is a young girl, (also wearing pink and pigtails), so it does get a Bechdel pass in about three minutes.

I find the need to mention that at this point, even with only two examples, I find it a little troubling that in each of these shows, girls are given a magical power, while boys are given a power based on "building."  These children might very well go on to be engineers, but no matter how many magic wands they pick up, I don't see it finishing any spelling tests for them.  As a side note, how lame is pattern power? I'd much rather have shapes that can build anything than a dress that can change patterns, no matter how awesome my wardrobe would be!
Who doesn't want a vegetable dress?

Bubble Guppies isn't keyed to teaching one particular thing. Instead, the episodes tackle different things the children want to learn about, and they discuss them with their teacher, Mr. Grouper.
I haven't sat down and watched many episodes, because this is one show that Toddles watches straight from TV, on the days when he is helping us do housekeeping. It is unfortunately not available for streaming on Netflix.
As such, I'm not sure how educational it really is, but I know there is a remake of The Lord of The Rings, so it has that going for it.
Bubble guppies avoids having the token female, there are three boys and three girls in the class, which also manages to be quite racially diverse. The girls have a fairly varied color palette, even though one is in purple and one has pink hair.
There is a "Hello" type exchange less than two minutes in, otherwise it doesn't get a real pass until 7 minutes. However, there is a class discussion, where the characters talk to the viewer, and a cute musical number in between.

There were already shows in our house that were outright banned in our household: Calilou we had never watched, but I heard horrible things about online so we never tried. Peppa Pig was something Toddles stumbled across on YouTube and demanded more of. Even though I didn't find it educational, I let him continue watching until the episode where Peppa Pig asks her dad why the reflection on a funhouse mirror is the way it is. He launches into a speech about the reflection of light waves, only to have Peppa's friend interrupt him and say "So it's, MAGIC!"  "Yes, it's magic..." Peppa's father answers with a resigned sigh.  What a perfect opportunity for learning wasted! At that point we resisted his pleading and put a full stop on any more Peppa Pig.

Searching for better shows in the past has led us to Monster Math Squad and Peg + Cat; (Which we did not review but will be looking at more in the future. Even though it has a female main character, most of her time is spent talking to animals, so I believe it will take a while to pass the Bechdel test.) both have higher math skills than, say, Umi Zoomi might show, and Toddles has loved them. Doing the research for this post led us to some interesting things too:

Suggested shows for Preschoolers
The Bechdel test in Disney Films
10 Kids Movies that Pass the Bechdel Test

We'll definitely be trying out some of the suggested shows, and keeping the Bechdel and agency test in mind.
 Like our decision to be Vegan, we are taking the time to analyze gendered expectations because its so easy not to consider the ethical implications of ideas and behavior that are normal for our culture. 
Toddlesworth is determined, active, outspoken and aggressive.  He is a great big slice of Cis gendered cake, with a plehtora of qualities we prize in American Culture. We are proud of his qualities but we see where, if unchecked, these attributes can lead to negative repercussions.  Even as I made him leave the little girl alone, I could see she wasn't particularly in distress.  I could have laughed it off as a " babies being babies".  Part of me wanted to, because I'm sure he must think I have this eldritch and complicated set of rules.  However, watching him use that determination, however innocuously to force someone into his understanding of gender roles is not something I, as a person trying to be a good parent, can allow.
   I am resolved to correct this course.  I will be buying a pink shirt or two , for starters.  But that's an easy fix, so of course there's more.  We are taking the time to view shows to take them of the menu if necessary.  We are beginning to pre-screen shows as well, prevention being better than cure and all.
   Also, if he already has the notions of dominant male in his brain, then I am going to use that to my advantage.  Last night, Toddlesworth and I were taking a pre-bedtime walk.  The topic of conversation wandered to Halloween costumes, a consistent favorite of his.  He reiterated how we'd be vampires and mommy would be a witch.  I tried to take this opportunity to re-frame the conversation.  Mommy could be a vampire or a ghost or a super hero.  Likewise, we could be witches if we wanted to.  The important thing was that we could be anything we wanted.  We were not restricted by gender.  In contrast to the fit he had when Lady Covington tried to explain this to him, he seemed to find this more or less acceptable.  Hopefully he saw my approach as a chance to be and do more: to do anything he wanted to do.  Further, if we have allowed him to form presuppositions about the role of our gender and the agency it brings, then I am going to use that to make him rethink things.   
 For my part, I'm not sure how much is going to 'stick' with Toddles right now, but I think it is a really good idea for US to be thinking about it, and to get in the habit of talking to him about these issues. We can get the general concepts in now and have something to build on as his understanding of the world progresses. I'll keep reminding him that people get to make their own choices. In addition, every once in a while I'll have to tell Lord Covington to wash the dishes while I go play some video games!