One Interesting Factor That Could Impact Future Family Size

Parents’ experiences with their preterm children may make them more hesitant to have more children.

Do you have kids? When are you having kids? How old are your kids?
In One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One,” author Lauren Sandler points out how our questions about other people’s children are often asked as plurals. “Kids” not “kid” is the default assumption.
“If a kid has no siblings,” Sandler writes, “it’s assumed that there’s a hush-hush reason for it: that parents don’t like parenthood (because they are selfish), or they care about their status – work, money, materialism – more than their kid (because they are selfish), or they waited too long (because they are selfish).
A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that one of those reasons is that the child’s birth was traumatizing for parents. Whether or not a child is “first” or “only” depends in part on how early he was born.
Researchers at Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) identified all 230,308 recorded singleton infants born in Finland between January 1987 and September 1990 and interviewed those infants’ parents.
The study revealed that parents of infants born preterm were less likely to have subsequent children than parents whose born at term. Infants born “extremely” preterm (between 23 and 27 weeks) were the least likely to have a subsequent sibling, but even those born nearly at term (between 34 and 36 weeks) were less likely to have a subsequent sibling. The researchers concluded that for every 1,000 preterm births, there were 142 “missing siblings” from parents who would have been statistically likely to have more children.
A THL press release put the results in simple terms: “The more premature a child is born, the greater the probability that it will be the last child in the family.”
The researchers have not determined a cause for this lowered birth rate among parents of preterm infants, but speculate that the lowered rate “may reflect the crisis a premature birth may cause for the parents and its far-reaching impact. The birth of a premature infant is often a surprise, and can place the parents in a situation where their hopes and resources do not meet their expectations on parenting or the challenges during early childhood.”
In other words, parents’ experiences with their preterm children – which may include harrowing weeks or months in neonatal intensive care units as well as lifelong health problems – may make them more hesitant to have more children. The sole exception were parents whose children born preterm died within their first year. Those parents were actually more likely to have subsequent children.
In a December post to the Pediatrics’ blog, editor-in-chief Lewis First stresses that the issue will require further study before researchers can draw a causal link between preterm birth and the subsequent birth rate.
In the interim, however, we might want to consider the pain inflicted by probing questions about subsequent children. There’s no need to ask a family member when she’s planning to have more kids. Asking a stranger at the grocery store “Is he your first?” suggests, however innocently, that a parent ought to have a “second.” Instead of asking these kinds of close-ended questions about family planning and family size, we could all do better by asking open-ended questions about the kid who is actually right there in front of us.

The Question From My Five-Year-Old Daughter That Froze Me

The weight of her question hit my heart like Thor’s Hammer, shattering ribs and going straight for the kill.

“Mommy, am I pretty?” asked my mousy-haired, keen-eyed, and kind-hearted five-year-old. She was shoving her over-sized glasses up the bridge of her tiny nose when she caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror, the one that I’ve always thought she was too short to see.

Her question: “Mommy, am I pretty?” immobilized me. It hung in the air on a busy school morning, amidst a flurry of lunch-packing and shoe-tying. The weight of her question hit my heart like Thor’s Hammer, shattering ribs and going straight for the kill.

“Mommy, am I pretty?”

“Little Bug, you are so much more than pretty. You’re kind. You’re clever. Your heart shines like gold in the sun, and your smile warms up the world.”

“But am I pretty?” She has this look. In it I see a reflection of myself when I’m frustrated. It’s the same look that I’m certain my own mother saw regularly. It disarms me.

“Why are you asking?”

“Because I have to be pretty.”

The world stopped. The world’s barbs suddenly started to chip away at the stronghold I thought I’d created. This very stronghold was designed to guard her from the expectations that a girl’s value was in what she wore and the way she smiled.

“Mommy, please. Tell me that I’m pretty.”

I get down on my knees, still knowing that time can’t stand still for these deep talks, and that school starts soon so her jacket has to be zipped up and her backpack has to sit comfy. “Little Bug, you are beautiful. You are beautiful because of all that I know you can do. You are strong, and funny, and smart. Yes, you are pretty. But that’s not the most important thing.”

“But a boy said it was.”

Motherly fear shifted on its axis, morphing into righteous fury that had to be swallowed because my daughter is five and does not understand words like “patriarchy.” This faceless boy suddenly looked like every man who’s ever commented on my appearance as if it’s the only thing I possess that they value. His face became the face of every man who has said pretty is all I could offer.

“Listen to me, Bug. The next time a boy says it’s important that you’re pretty, you ask him if he thinks his mama is pretty. Then you ask him if she is a better mama because of it.”

“You’re a good mama,” she says. “And I say that before I say you are pretty.” The epiphany was visible. “You are more than pretty, mommy! You’re a good mama! And I am a smart girl!”

We leave home. We leave shelter and expose ourselves to the world for another day. I choose not to wear makeup, and I let my brilliant girl wear her favorite ripped jeans. I would have gleefully let her shout, “Fuck the patriarchy!” if she knew the weight of those words. Instead, we listen to the Muppets sing their silly songs, and went over her letters and spelling before finally getting to school.

School: the place where I hope she learns that her mind and heart are what matter the most.

It’s the Chocolate Apocalypse. If You Need Me I’ll Be in the Candy Aisle.

What is the world, really without chocolate? We are about to find out.

I just read an article on why chocolate is good for me. Correction. I just read another article on why chocolate is good for me. Because you don’t have to try very hard to find commentary on chocolate’s antioxidant powers and its ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve memory and stave off cancer and all the other countless things that make chocolate a serious superfood.
Google will always offer up articles with titles like “14 Reasons to Eat More Chocolate,” “7 Proven Health Benefits of the Cacao,” and “One Square a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” It’s the same reason studies will continue to prove that a glass of red wine will make you healthier and heartier and, let’s face it, a better person to be around. We like it when research works in our favor. And we will always need our chocolate fix.
It’s why there was a Golden Ticket. It’s the bribe that trains kids to use the potty. It’s the wooer of women and king of Valentine’s Day. It’s why we look for the Reese’s tree at Christmas and egg at Easter and pumpkin at Halloween. Milk, white, dark, salted, nutty, creamy, bitter, spicy – it is the universal meeting of the minds.
What is the world, really without chocolate?
We are about to find out.
According to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by 2050 our climate will no longer be conducive to the growing of cacao trees. It’s not the heat, scientists say, it’s the lack of moisture. The temperatures will continue to increase, but the rainfall necessary to keep the status quo for vegetation will not. Inevitably, the air is going to get drier and the cacao trees, which need humidity to thrive, will not be able to keep up.
But we won’t let our chocolate go down without a fight.
Scientists are working on “selectively bred seeds” with “superior drought resistance” to make a tougher species to live in a tougher world. They aim to make the cacao trees a little less temperamental. Mars, the candy company, is jumping on the bandwagon too, pledging a billion dollars towards minimizing its carbon footprint and to help fund a study at UC Berkley which uses CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically modify the DNA of our favorite tree.
In addition to these genetically altered trees, environmentalists are working to protect the current crops by preserving rain forests where the taller trees provide the cacao with vital shade, cooler the temps, and more moisture.
We are fighting the battle on all fronts, because no one wants chocolate to become vintage. But just in case, you might want to replenish that supply of Godiva in the back of the pantry. You know, for posterity’s sake.

Discovered: How My Father Spared Me My #Metoo Moment

A grown man had “noticed” me. Was I supposed to want that? To feel flattered? Abandon my teenage suspicion that I was hideous?

“Mom, I want to be discovered by a famous director.” My daughter said this with her head just reaching over the kitchen counter, her nine-year-old face still broad, rosy, and freckled.
As jarring as it was to hear this from her as we learn how exploitive Hollywood has been of many young women and men, I know that my daughter doesn’t know anything about Harvey Weinstein or Brett Ratner or Kevin Spacey. She was expressing a common enough fantasy: I want to be a movie star!
But I felt the kind of horror that comes from knowing too much – the same kind I felt when she got the Barbie Malibu Dream House one Christmas and, instead of beachy girlfriend fun, all I could imagine was Barbie and her starlet friends doing tiny lines of coke off the smooth surface of the fuschia patio table.
Although I have never actually found myself at such a party, I did grow up on the far edge of Los Angeles. And I was a girl who was once discovered by a famous director.
Thirty years ago, I sat alone in the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica while my father and his fiancé made reservations for their wedding guests across the room. I was 15, bored and sour, when a man at least 25 years my senior walked over to me.
“I noticed you,” he said, before diving into his credentials, a rush of words strewn with shiny gems I was meant to recognize: “Robert Downey, Jr.” and an upcoming film, “The Pick-Up Artist.”
I was not made up to look older or even appealing. Dragged out early on a Sunday morning, I had showered, left my hair wet, and thrown on a tired blue Esprit polo shirt. I was tall for my age, but I had to have looked young.
I remember him having dark hair and being wide, but my own appearance is more vivid to me. I remember it clearly because, afterward, I had wondered what I had done to invite this attention.
His list of accomplishments was so long that he never had time to address his interest in me. “I’m her father,” my Dad said, suddenly at my side. Dad was shorter than the other man, but he was forceful enough to rattle him.
“I saw her…I live in the hotel…Robert Downey, Jr.…”
My father chopped the air between the man and me with his open hand. “I forbid it,” he said.
The chop carried dramatic heft for a small gesture. It would only become more dramatic in the many re-tellings of the encounter: a tale of an over-protective father in the Spencer Tracy mold with the cad shuffling off in defeat. I didn’t even have a speaking role.
What would I have said, unsure as I was of what had happened?
A grown man had “noticed” me. Was I supposed to want that? To feel flattered? Abandon my teenage suspicion that I was hideous? Was this how film careers actually launched?
My Dad must have suffered his own momentary confusion, because as we prepared to leave the hotel, he offered to leave his card for the director with the concierge, in case he had stood in the way of my stardom.
I declined, as I sensed he had hoped I would.
A year or so later and a little more sophisticated, I picked up my parents’ Spy Magazine because it gave me a whiff of the East Coast snark for which I longed. The March 1987 cover read “Director James Toback is The Pickup Artist.” Remembering the man who had found me in the Shangri-La Hotel lobby, I flipped to the article.
The bulk of the piece was a chart documenting the experiences of 12 women with the director, all of which began much as my brief meeting had: an approach from a stranger, a list of his credentials, often including Downey and “The Pick-Up Artist”.
The women in the article were adults without their fathers in tow, so the interactions went further – meetings or calls with deeper discussions of potential film projects, but with Toback also asking explicit questions, suggesting sex, and being rejected. He had even invited one woman to his hotel in Santa Monica.
As I read, two realizations dawned: This was the man who discovered 15-year-old me, and this man had wanted to have sex with me.
My father had not protected me from a heartless film industry that would leave me merely disappointed. He had protected me from a sexual predator. I was at risk in a way I had not understood…sensed maybe, in the ickiness of that meeting, but definitely had not understood.
I felt a flash of shame, that I had been so naïve, but also that I could inspire such repulsive behavior. (And his behavior as detailed in the article was repulsive. To one woman he had offered, “Just touch my nipples, and I’ll come.”)
I kept the magazine from my father and never told him about it. I was too embarrassed to even be perceived as a sexual being by him, let alone one who had attracted a predatory older man.
Of course, now, when I picture him holding his firm open hand between Toback and me and saying, “I forbid it,” I understand that he had known what was happening all along.
Thanks to the Los Angeles Times reporting the sexual harassment claims of 38 women against Toback this fall, I was finally, at 45, able to talk to my father about it. We spoke the way we usually do about current events – with shock, outrage, and humor. But I also acknowledged that he had protected me when I needed him to.
That discussion and this whole fall of #Metoo has helped me let go of any lingering shame I felt for inadvertently inviting the sexual interest of James Toback, not to mention a few other men over the last 30 years.
My father’s words rang in my ears for years after I heard them, when I was a young woman working in politics, receiving a suspicious invitation to discuss my career over dinner, or pouring martinis ordered for me by a “mentor” down the sink of the ladies restroom. I had needed protecting, but my dad also taught me to do it for myself.
I hope this year marks the beginning of a new era, when my daughter will feel safe pursuing her dreams, and I will feel safe letting her, even if they lead to Hollywood. In my kitchen, I side-stepped both her wish to be discovered by a famous director and my own story. But we did talk about why it would be fun for her to be an actress. She is only nine after all.
In a handful of years, I will talk about my experience in frank terms with my daughter, and that those conversations will not be about her vulnerability, but her control – and her own ability to forbid.

Would You Order From the Original Kids' Menu?

The kids menu dates back to Prohibition. And while it may have changed a bit over the years, there’s a bleakness that seems to endure.

The children’s menu is nearly one century old. Michele Humes at Slate traces it to Prohibition. The dry laws implemented in 1920 meant that restaurants, which were used to upcharging on alcohol, had to drastically rethink their strategy. In an effort to accommodate more female diners, restaurants began writing menus for their children.
The kids’ menus then were as uniform as they are today, although the fare was much different. Most kid’s menus, including the Waldorf Astoria’s, offered a broiled lamb chop, which Humes calls “the chicken nugget of the Jazz Age.” The chop, along with a complement of other bland offerings, was the healthiest food to feed children, according to the pediatric wisdom of the time.
You can see bleak kid’s menu offerings in menus throughout Prohibition, including some of those cataloged in the New York Public Library’s expansive menu collection. The Cortile’s Luncheon menu for March 27, 1933 included Chilled Apple Juice, Cream of Spinach Soup, a Parsley Potato, and, of course, a Broiled Lamp Chop.

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Menus like The Cortile’s represented the pediatric wisdom of the time that “wholesome” food made wholesome people. A tour through the dietary wisdom of the time demonstrates that although our menu offerings have changed, our approach to kid dining needs seasoning.

Boiled, mashed, bland

To understand this received wisdom, we need to travel back a few years to the 1907 edition of L. Emmett Holt’s “The Care and Feeding of Children.” The free, full-text version is well-worth the read, both for the striking similarities to modern parenting and the fascinating divergences.
In some ways, Holt sounds much like a modern pediatrician. He is pro-nursing, firmly anti-bedsharing, and staunchly pro-vaccination. He writes to parents who note that smallpox is on the decline and wonder if vaccination is necessary: “It should by all means be done. It is only by the practice of general vaccination that small-pox is kept down.”
Other parts of Holt’s text show their 110 years, including his entry for masturbation, “the most injurious of all the bad habits.” Holt advises parents to be ever alert, and to help children overcome their baser impulses by rewarding their good behavior.
That same mix of timeless and dated advice permeates the section on “The Diet of Older Children.” Holt’s dietary guidance for four- to 10-year-olds begins with the nutritional value of milk, eggs, and meat, making it not all that different from modern food guides.
A closer look at Holt’s advice reveals an interesting pattern. Although “no food that we possess has so high a nutritive value as milk,” kids should never be given “the rich milk of a Jersey herd.” Eggs are “a most valuable food,” but “fried eggs should never be given and all omelets are objectionable.” Many meats are forbidden, including “ham, bacon, sausage, pork, liver, kidney, game, and all dried and salted meats.” Fried meat was out of the question.
According to Holt, a child’s first vegetable should be white potatoes (baked or boiled, never fried). Most green vegetables are okay from early age, as are carrots and beets, but other vegetables, like sweet potato and cauliflower, are best saved until a child is six or seven. Corn and eggplant are for even older kids, and under absolutely no circumstances should a child under 10 years of age be served a salad.
Holt asserts that vegetables can cause digestive trouble, but that is not the fault of the ingredient but its preparer: “It is, in fact, almost impossible to cook them too much; they should also be very finely mashed.”
Given his attitudes about the dangers of raw vegetables, it’s not difficult to imagine where Holt came down on sweets: “A stale lady-finger or piece of sponge cake is about as far in the matter of cakes as it is wise to go with children up to seven or eight years old.”
Holt’s low-fat, low-taste diet goes generally unsourced. Humes hypothesizes that “although he stopped short of saying what it was that was so inherently great about the plain ones,” Holt saw “moral danger in sensual pleasure, and damnation in indulgence.”

You are what you eat

Holt wasn’t the only believer. His advice has roots in medical practitioners concerned with people’s moral failings, one of whom was much more explicit about the role of food in curbing people’s basest impulses.
In “Plain Facts for the Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life,” which was first printed in 1877, J. H. Kellogg chronicles the moral failings of the time. He devotes an enormous portion of the work to the “solitary vice” of masturbation (which he contrasts with partnered, “social” vice). Kellogg lists among its causes all of the usual suspects: “sexual precocity, idleness, pernicious literature.”
Kellogg also includes “exciting and irritating food,” which was thought to cause erections, “amorous and exotic thoughts” (which also caused erections), and sleep disturbances (which created idle time that led to amorous and exotic thoughts which caused erections). Children with adventurous palettes were imagined to have equally voracious sexual appetites: “A boy or girl who is constantly eating cloves or cinnamon, or who will eat salt in quantities without other food, gives good occasion for suspicion.” For Kellogg, spicy food made spicy people. Bland food made moral citizens.
Kellogg’s solution to the problem of solitary vice was to feed children a diet of “wholesome and unstimulating food.” Kellogg developed these ideas while working as the superintendent at the Western Health Reform Institute. When the institute burned down, it was rebuilt as the Battle Creek Sanitarium. There Kellogg set to work making the kinds of wholesome and unstimulating foods he argued for in his book, including granola and – as you’ve probably guessed given his name – Corn Flakes.

Spicing up the menu

The medicalization of kids’ menus makes it a bit easier to understand the dishes on offer then, but also now. In some ways, the menu hasn’t changed much. Kids’ meals are still often separate from the adult offerings. Although there isn’t much “wholesome” about burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and pizza, the main offerings are, like their originators, still beige, and still largely non-vegetable.
In the 20s and 30s kids were served bland food because adults wanted to keep them pure. Although the menu items we offer them now are much different, they’re still clearly delineated as “kids” food. None of the food poses a challenge. Kids aren’t encouraged to try anything new. They aren’t even encouraged to try flatware: four of the five most popular options can be eaten without it. By giving kids all this bland food, we are producing bland people.
Now that we’re not concerned about a slippery slope from raw vegetables or cinnamon to sexual depravity, perhaps it’s time to make kid food stimulating again. Jeffrey M. Barker of The Takeout notes how insulted adult diners would be to receive a menu titled “for troglodytes with unrefined palates.” Such a menu would defy one main reason for dining out. “Going out to eat is supposed to be fun.” Barker writes. “It should be a treat, an adventure.”
One way to regain that sense of adventure stems from another byproduct of Prohibition: the speakeasy. Let’s just tell the kids that they cannot, under any circumstances, order off the grown-up menu. Not even if they’re really hungry. Not even if the food sounds delicious. Not even if we leave the table to go to the bathroom. Might they wave the server over and in conspiratorial tones ask for the chicken makhani? The pad thai? The pesto flatbread?

Actually, I Don't Want to Breastfeed in Public

There are many people standing up for a woman’s right to breastfeed in public these days. That’s wonderful, but it’s left me a bit confused as a new mom.

If you have the confidence to lift your shirt (or pull it down) and expose your breast in the middle of a waiting room, a swimming pool, a playground, a Christmas party, or at your husband’s place of work, then I truly admire you.

I’ve tried it. Instead of feeling empowered and proud of my body’s ability to provide the perfect nutrition for my baby girls, what I felt most was, “Oh my gosh, I really don’t want to do this in public ever again.” Of course, I did. A few times, merely due to necessity, but I didn’t like it one bit.

I don’t like the feeling that everyone around you is trying not to look at you while they’re also blatantly trying to actually look at you. Not because they’re perverts but because your breast is exposed. Who wouldn’t want to look at that?

Breasts are gorgeous! I’ve had two of my own for most of my life and I still can’t help but look at  women’s breasts when they pop into my view via real life, magazine, internet, or television.

Breasts are perfect creations – perhaps more perfect than a tropical sunset or a supremely ripe strawberry. They’re multi-purpose, too. They lure our partners to us in an irresistibly seductive way and then, nine months later, they actually feed our children!

I must say, breasts are gorgeous, and mine are too, let me tell you. As much as I appreciate positive attention, I don’t want everyone on the airplane to see my breasts. I don’t even want my in-laws or my cousins or my very own sisters or my mother to see my breasts.

I’m a grown woman. I’ve put a great deal of effort into making sure these gorgeous puppies are only revealed to those most worthy (specifically, my husband, my hungry newborn children, and, as infrequently as possible, my doctor).

There are many people – women and men – standing up for a woman’s right to breastfeed in public these days. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s left me feeling a bit confused as a new mom.

If I’m not comfortable with exposing my breasts in public to feed my child, what does that say about me? Does it mean I’m insecure? Does it mean I’m not a good mother? Not dedicated enough? Not “natural” enough? Does it mean I care more about my appearance than my child’s well-being?

Instead of baring the breast in public, I would gladly bring a bottle of formula (gasp!) to feed my child while we’re at the doctor’s office. Does this make me less of a mother?

Why would I feel ashamed for wanting to keep a part of my body private that I’ve been taught to keep private for the 28 years I’ve been alive prior to becoming a mother? For my entire life, my breasts have been something society has taught me to cover, and now, suddenly, I’m supposed to be completely okay with popping one out in the lobby of my husband’s office?

If I was at the grocery store without any nursing children of my own to feed, and I lifted up my shirt and unclipped one side of my bra, I would be on the local news and probably asked to leave the store for “indecent exposure.”

If I was in a toy store and I walked around the store with one breast exposed and my hand just barely covering the nipple (the part of my breast covered by a nursing baby’s head), it wouldn’t be surprising for the store to call the police and assess my mental health. However, once you become a mother, you’re supposed to be okay with this.

Again, I repeat: if you’re okay with exposing your own beautiful breast in public to feed your child, I think you’re one very awesome gal. When it comes to my own body and my own breasts, it’s just not for me, and that’s okay. Wanting to keep the most private parts of your body private – even as a breastfeeding mother – shouldn’t be a surprising thing. Hey, maybe it’s not, but I don’t see anybody else talking about it.

I want other new moms to know that it’s really okay if breastfeeding in public is something you’re not going to take part in. It’s okay to bring a bottle of pumped milk or even formula to the playground instead. Even if you’re in your own home and there are relatives visiting, it’s okay if you’ll only nurse in the confines of your bedroom.

I don’t want to breastfeed in public, and I don’t have to. That’s okay.

Guided by the Force, Some Traditions Are Destiny

What Star Wars has become to so many generations of fans is due to the enduring nature of its story.

Having kids means reexamining some of the ideological stances you took against cultural and familial traditions as single person. With little ones in tow, ubiquitous seasonal decorations are impossible to ignore (“Who’s that man in the red suit, Daddy?”). Four-year-olds don’t really care about a big person’s personal objections.
Yet some traditions seem to be a vast current we’re compelled to swim with.
On a weekend not long ago, I decided we needed a break from the Holiday music. I turned on the TV, muted it, and then left the room. Several minutes later, my wife came to find me and showed me our daughter wrapped up on the couch, completely enthralled.
“You’re up,” she said.
“Excellent,” I replied. To paraphrase a famous emperor, this set up had transpired according to my design.
I switched the sound over from Christmas music to the TV and the distinctive sound of a light saber igniting suddenly filled the apartment. My nearly five-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Daddy! How’d he get that light saber?”
She’d watched this scene before and knew exactly how Luke Skywalker saves himself but asks anyways.
“He used the Force,” I tell her and then pretend use the force on her. She responds by blocking my magic with her own before leaping off the couch to grab a red Kylo Ren saber, a mutual favorite.
For a self-proclaimed Grinch and Star Wars super fan, the interlude in holiday spirit warmed my heart. I’ve fantasized about this day since she was born, slowly building her up to the live action movies since she was old enough to hold a light saber.
With my daughter, the saga continues.
Rebel alliances, light sabers, and Sith lords were a big part of my childhood. I read many of the books. My brother and I (he’s not a super fan) even have a favorite line that we still quote when the situation calls for it. If either one of us asks for something, the other will offer it while affecting the Emperor’s cadence, “You want this, don’t you?”
It’s not a memorable line but it, too, is a part of my Star Wars tradition.
What these movies have become to so many generations of fans is due to the enduring nature of its story. The themes and characters are easily identifiable, and the plot isn’t overly complex but still delivers moral ambiguity. There’s good guys, bad guys, spaceships with lasers, laser swords (scientifically impossible), magic, princesses, and fuzzy bear creatures.
While it would be inaccurate to say that every single person old enough to talk in complete sentences knows Star Wars, it’s safe to assume that most Americans (and much of the world) knows of that galaxy long ago and far away.
Vader is almost as ubiquitous as Santa.
My daughter understands all this, especially the princesses and light sabers. She’s been slowly indoctrinated into the Star Wars universe since she was old enough to swing a plastic, but fully functioning light saber. She’ll chase me around with one, hissing into her hand that she’s my father.
However, unlike so many things parents realize they don’t actually have control over, especially when their grandparents and friends get involved, society and my family didn’t impose Star Wars on my daughter. I did.
Sitting on the couch watching the “Empire Strikes Back” (a personal favorite until “Rogue One” emerged from the ether), it struck me how this tradition is continuing on with her. Her fate was sealed the day she was born.
Shortly after Episode VII came out, my wife and I started acquiring functional light sabers, which I encouraged my daughter to play with far more than lesser, uncivilized toys. What toddler doesn’t love light plastic swords they can swing at unsuspecting parents?
There were other key educational items, too. Bottles of bubbles with Vader and Yoda screw caps (the caps are still popular bath toys) gave us the opportunity to practice talking like Vader and butchering Yoda’s idiosyncratic speech patterns.
Slowly but surely, the grand saga my parents passed onto me (my dad mostly) is now my daughter’s. Three generations of an unbroken tradition.
Unless my daughter reads these words some day and resents me for indoctrinating her into this tradition (cultural phenomenon really), it will continue on to the next generation, should she decide to continue it. (Also, Hollywood will likely continue cashing in on the franchise for the foreseeable future.)
This is how traditions get passed down through the generations. Many times it’s due to peer pressure. Other times, we actively want to continue a tradition. Sometimes we have no choice –  it’s as if an all-powerful, invisible Force compels us. I think you get the picture.
May the Force be with you.

Parental Coping: A Child with a Disability in a Cold World

The key to helping our children in the world after we’re gone is to help the world understand them and be accepting of who they are.

He needs to learn to order his own food. This is something that’s easy for most, but not easy for him. So, you drive up to a fast food restaurant and roll down his window, and he orders.

The teller does not understand him and asks him to repeat.

You have to prompt him to repeat his order.

She still does not understand, and this time she asks him to repeat himself in an irritated tone.

He repeats.

She still does not understand him, and this time she gets nasty when asking him to repeat himself.

He doesn’t understand why she’s treating him badly and why she can’t understand him. Your heart drops as you realize what kind of world you’re leaving your child to.

The Mona Lisa was known as one of the most timeless, beautiful paintings of all time. Please note I wrote “was.” Many eyes who have seen her consider her beautiful. People have traveled millions of miles to be astounded by her beauty in person. Yet if you show a child of this generation the painting and you tell her she’s beautiful, he would struggle to see her beauty the way Leonardo da Vinci or anyone of that time saw her.

It’s debatable that, at the beginning of the discovery of the camera, the world’s perception of people and things changed. In “The Art of Insight” by Eric Kandel, the author outlines how there is wonderment at the beginning of the camera age that gave a more prominent physical definition to the words “normal” and “different.” Prior to the camera, a painter was able to add colors and techniques to not only describe what they saw as the physical beauty of a person, but how their soul permeated through their skin. Painters allowed the world’s perspectives to be many different ones, not all the same.

However, perception of the world has been skewed but skewed in unity. Most people today will see my child struggling to order at the drive-through but cannot really see him. Like the Mona Lisa, he is different and misunderstood. Leonardo da Vinci knew the woman he painted in the Mona Lisa wasn’t perfect, but his painting attracted millions to see her through different eyes and see beauty in her imperfections. How do I leave my child in a cold world? Do I change my child or change the world?

It’s the impending worry, the question we continuously ask ourselves. The question we fear so much we can’t even let the words leave our lips, because once the words hit air, it feels so real: What will happen to my child after I’m gone? Who will protect her? Who will help her? The answer isn’t in the evolution of your child. The answer is in the evolution of humanity.

Love is the strength of parental drive that never stops. School therapy. Home therapy. 24/7 therapy. Structured environments. Trying to mold our children to fit into the world. The world watches as a parent tries to communicate with their child, engage their child, assist him in an outside environment, or to try to calm him down. The world watches as a parent feels a heavy burden and, with sadness and stress, the parent tries to force the world’s eyes off of their child. The staring creates parental depression about the child’s future, but the child never notices the watchers or the watchers’ perception of him.

The best part of our children is the unstructured part of them. Our children realize it’s okay to be just how they are, even before we realize that. They were made how they were supposed to be. The lover in them, the comedian in them, the dreamer in them, the smile on their face – if the world can’t see that, how will the world turn from cold to warm?

However, people looking is truly a blessing in disguise. As parents, teachers, family, and advocates, we’re here to protect our children and teach them, but not to change them. The key to helping our children in the world after we’re gone is to help the world understand them and be accepting of who they are. We need to give people the eyes of a mother that sees the beauty in her child, not the disability.

If we change our children and not the world we live in, we will leave our children on an earth where they will struggle. If we help our children become the best version of themselves and soften the world, imagine what their future would look like. As much as awareness for our children, it’s for humanity, because humanity is who we are leaving our children to when we are gone.

Don’t hide your children from this world. Every person who looks is an open door for you to change that person. That individual may never see your child again, but they may meet someone with a disability again one day and they will treat that person differently because they met your child.

This world needs the love of your child, more than your child needs the world. As parents, teachers, family, and advocates, we’re here to turn photographers into painters. Our children will be better off in a world full of painters, so we must teach the world how to paint. If Leonardo De Vinci can change the perspective of the world, why can’t we? There is always strength in numbers. Every parent is a Leonardo De Vinci.

Keep taking your child through the drive-through until he’s understood.

The Pregnancy Post to End All Pregnancy Posts

For the first time in my online adult life, I was experiencing something privately without making a show of it and without needing to know if anyone noticed or liked me experiencing it.

In January of 2016, I decided to stop checking my social media like an insatiable fiend. I’m a performer and storytelling teacher. Social media had always been a simple way of letting people know what I have going on. I’d grown accustomed to waking up every morning to see the who, what, and where of my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr on the hour every hour.

Who liked that Janet Jackson video I posted? How many people favorited that picture of my hair looking weird? How many people are “interested” versus “coming” to my comedy show? Why don’t more people love that Janet Jackson video? After a particularly non-productive but heavily media-filled morning of scrolling, scrolling, clicking, and scrolling some more, I wondered aloud, “What am I looking for?”

I didn’t know the answer, which was a little disconcerting. I decided to approach social media with a healthier sense of self-control and detachment. I moved the app icons from the first page of my iPhone screen. I stopped posting every other thought about Whole Foods, celebrity hairstyles, and inclement weather. I took pictures without the intention of sharing them with anyone. When I was curious about a friend, I texted them. When I did post, I made it as specific and purposeful as possible.

Very soon, I was only posting about haircuts I gave to friends and shows I was performing in. When I waited in line at the post office or supermarket, I waited like we all used to: without checking in with who was online. I started to live my life without posting my life and, needless to say, I felt more present and less busy.

Then I got pregnant. Well, I have to post something, I thought.

Impending motherhood is a big deal, but the rule still applied. If I was going to post a pregnancy post it had to have a purpose. I wanted it to be the best pregnancy post social media had ever seen. I would be loathe to post another “bun in the oven” status or a picture of my husband and I sticking out our respective bellies to tell everyone “the good news!”

Those posts had been posted before. I would not add to the cacophony of joy by doing what had been done. Perhaps I was making too big of a deal of something that I knew was a perfectly ordinary everyday miracle, but I wanted my pregnancy post to be the pregnancy post to end all pregnancy posts. Original, memorable, and hilarious.

The first trimester ended and still I didn’t post anything. I host a weekly storytelling show where I talked about my pregnancy since I was only three weeks in. I wasn’t afraid to share the developing news there, but I couldn’t think of a way to announce my pregnancy online that was groundbreaking enough for my performing ego.

In the second trimester, I thought it might be a good thing I hadn’t posted because, what if the baby died? I was 35 and every doctor and article seemed to relish telling me that I was “at risk” because I had “waited so long.” I did not want to see a bunch of sad yellow faces with tears pop up on Facebook if I posted about a miscarriage. After all, courageous and heartfelt miscarriage posts had been done before. If I was going to post, it had to be with original creative content. I was drawing a blank.

I ran into my friend and fellow writer, Kate, and she completely understood my posting dilemma. She told me that she had stopped Facebooking for a while but wanted to start up again and was unsure how to do it. She joked that maybe she should just wait until she had an engagement, wedding, baby, and a book deal to post about in one big braggy status. It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone in my quest for wow-factor posts.

I batted around a few ideas involving the Summer Olympics as well as Janet Jackson also being pregnant, but no phrasing felt quite unique enough. In desperate moments, I berated myself for even considering posting a selfie in a mirror with no caption so that the picture would speak for itself. I’ve got to be better than that! Where’s the wit? Where’s the originality?

Late in the second trimester, I thought that I should just wait a few more weeks until the third trimester when I planned on having a glass of red wine for the first time in my pregnancy. Then I could post a funny and beautiful picture of myself toasting my belly with a bottle of wine, “Happy Third Trimester!”

Then the third trimester came and not only could I not stomach the idea of having a drink but the idea of toasting my pregnant belly was no longer funny to me. Really, Julia? You wait six months to make an alcohol joke? Maybe you aren’t as funny as you think you are. Maybe pregnancy has made you dumb. Stop crying you unfunny, unoriginal, pregnant dummy.

Then, naturally, I had the baby. It was an incredible experience. A home birth no less. It was so fast the midwife almost missed it and my husband almost had to deliver the baby himself. I birthed a live human being in my dirty bathtub in my apartment in all the glory of womanhood and she was the cutest, most adorable child who looked just like my husband without a beard (who coincidentally looks like the Gerber baby with a beard). Now, surely I will post something!

But I didn’t. As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and all I did was take care of a newborn, part of me wondered if I was scared. Was I unwilling to accept this new role as a mother and so was using the desire to create a meteorically special online baby announcement as an excuse?

I expressed these fears to a friend and she showed me an article about how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did not share her pregnancy because she did not want to “perform” her pregnancy. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t need to either.

As a performer, social media was not just a way to connect but another way for me to perform. Before I decided to take a step back, every post was curated for optimum attention from an online audience. The more likes, shares, and retweets I got, the more I wanted. It was never enough.

For the first time in my online adult life, I was experiencing something privately without making a show of it and without needing to know if anyone noticed or liked me experiencing it. It took me almost a year to realize that the answer to the question “What am I looking for?” was simply this: attention.

Posting something original was never the problem. The problem was always my inevitable unhealthy reaction to the reaction of the post. My self-worth was wrapped up in my online profile and it was not dependable. I’d inadvertently curbed the need for others’ attention right when my attention was shifting to something entirely outside of myself.

There is nothing inherently wrong with posting your life and your babies on social media, but I am hyper-aware that I have the capability to become a Joan Crawford and use my child to further perform through the internet. I love and like and favorite all of my friends’ baby posts because they are able to post without using their kids for self-involved attention-seeking. Or at least, they make it seem that way.

Friends will post pictures of my baby and sometimes she is visible at the edges of my posts, but she is never the sole subject of a status. I do not want to inadvertently put my needy ego on her. So I wait, patiently anticipating the inevitable day she asks for her own social media to perform her very own ego online. I hope I will have taught her not to need the attention too much.

What My Facebook Feed Taught Me About Myself

I’m worn out from being told how to be better, do more, and be less me. The truth is this isn’t about the Facebook feed at all.

I sit in front of the little screen and begin scrolling through my feed. This is where I used to find cute pictures of my friend’s kids or a vacation I would instantly be jealous of. Now I am bombarded with an endless list of things that will make me a better version of me.

I can make this my BEST YEAR YET, the headline screams. I only need to click and see all that I can do in six easy steps to make this year better than last year. Maybe I won’t feel so frazzled, I think. Or maybe I’ll get everywhere I need to be on time. Now wouldn’t that be a miracle. Surely, this is the answer. I click to see what it will take.
If I keep scrolling I’ll see the diet that will fix it all. Actually it’s not really a diet. It’s the eating and exercise plan that will make my life amazing. I’ll lose weight and be happy and sleep well and be clear headed and I click to find the answers.
Sign me up for another course/email/webinar. Anything that will help.
The more I scroll the more I find.
The meal service that will make my family magically sit at the table for 30 whole minutes smiling and talking about our day.
The bra that will change the way I carry myself because my girls will be where they’re meant to be. And it will magically happen in a one size fits all stretchy piece of fabric because we’re all really the same and the fabric is in fact magic.
The financial plan that will make all the difference. No more debt. No more credit cards. No more money fights. Plus I will be able to buy that dream house by the ocean. All for the bargain price of…
And I’m tired. I’m worn out from being told how to be better, do more, and be less me. The truth is this isn’t about the Facebook feed at all. We’ve subscribed to the notion that improvement means overhauling who we are to become what someone else says we should be.
There’s self-improvement and there’s losing yourself. Only you can prevent one from leading to the other.
If you want the meal delivery service because it will truly help you, then give an enthusiastic YES and click to sign up. But if you want the meal delivery service because you’re trying to create a different version of your life that doesn’t even exist, it will never work.
We live in an age where anything we want to know or learn or become is literally at our fingertips. But when all we are doing is trying to become, we miss out on who we already are.
There is no perfect. There is no one size fits all formula, no matter what the magic bra says. And that’s good. Because we aren’t supposed to be the same.
Is making changes and choices bad? Absolutely not. Constantly striving to be someone other than who we are is when we lose out. The world doesn’t need us all to fit in the same bra. The world needs us to all to be the best version of who we already are.
Choose wisely, friend. As the New Year knocks on the door, think about who you are and be grateful. Think about the things that you honestly do want to improve and think about how to make that happen. But whatever you do, don’t forget that you are already amazing.