Healthy Women Are NOT More likely to Produce Sons, YouBeauty

Do your Kegels, ladies...
Do your Kegels, ladies…

This morning, a nasty little email from Youbeauty.com, entitled “Daily Aha! Pick Your Pregnancy,” assaulted my inbox.

Intrigued by the teaser “Your health could determine your baby’s gender,” I couldn’t help but click on the article link.

According to the article, you can “defy the odds” when it comes to your baby’s gender.  Based on recent research, “women are able to adjust their offspring’s sex based on their state of health.” The author explains how healthy women are more likely to give birth to boys, because healthy women are more likely to produce dominant males.

As a female, as well as the mother of two adorable girls, this sexist tripe really pisses me off. Let me explain why.

It assumes women prefer sons.

The article starts off with the promise that women may be able to influence their offspring’s gender. Since an article published by a health and fitness website is clearly not going to advise pregnant women to make themselves unhealthy, the unspoken assumption is that pregnant woman prefer sons.

This is 2015, folks. Do we really want to keep fueling the idea that daughters are a second rate consolation prize in the world of baby delivery? We no longer live on the farm, where strong backs and upper body strength reign supreme.

It assumes mother of daughters are unhealthy

Since healthy women supposedly have more sons, the further assumption is that mothers of daughters are unhealthy. It suggests that women in top condition produce males, whereas women of inferior breeding stock are likely to produce inferior female children, as though it were an undesirable mutation.

One thing that really bugs me about evolutionary theory (fascinating though it may be), is how it constantly assumes men evolve to benefit their own individual genetic legacy, whereas women evolve for the benefit of the group.

Take monogamy, for example. Evolutionary scientists are always saying men cheat because they can effectively spread their seed and increase their number of offspring, regardless of the chaos it causes their tribe. Women, however, are supposed to be “naturally monogamous,” because they can’t indefinitely spread their seed.

How convenient. So, it wouldn’t benefit a woman to have as many resources and as much protection for her offspring that she can get her hands on? If a strong, healthy, attractive male hits the scene, it wouldn’t be beneficial for a female to ensure healthier offspring by hooking up with him? And say a nicer guy wants to bring her resources while she’s handicapped by pregnancy… it wouldn’t be helpful to ensure his cooperation?

I want to make it clear that I do not endorse cheating, by anyone. I just think if we are going to strip away all the wonderful trappings of the social contract to focus on selfish instincts, we should at least be consistent about it. It’s ridiculous to pretend one gender acts in its own best interests while the other doesn’t.

I’ll bet daughters also benefit from healthy mothers.

It assumes humans defer to a dominant male

If women supposedly increase their genetic footprint by giving birth to a dominant male, the assumption is that human society is supposed to be like, say, chimp society where the dominant male is in charge and gets access to all the fertile females. It assumes polygamy is naturally intended, so much so that our genes are wired to default to it.

This is a big assumption. For ethical reasons, you can’t conduct human behavioral experiments that honor the scientific method. Truly scientific experiments involve controlling all factors except a single variable, so you can be sure that whatever results you observe are a product of the variable. So to conduct scientifically valid experiments on human behavior, we would have to raise groups of babies in controlled settings, doing everything the same except one thing, then watch what happens.

We obviously can’t do that, so scientists often look to the behavior of animals for insight. But what animal? Dominant chimp males may be in charge, but what about bonobos, elephants, and lionesses?

Sure, there are many human societies that practice polygamy, but humans are an adaptable species that practice all sorts of arrangements. In dangerous environments where many of the men are killed off, polygamy makes sense. But in safer environments, monogamy actually increases the overall number of offspring.

So no, Youbeauty, I don’t accept the idea that we are all genetically designed to be part of some Alpha guy’s harem.

The article is wrong

Finally, I’m willing to entertain solid scientific evidence, regardless of what my personal feelings may be. Science is supposed to tell us how the world actually works, not how we would like it to work. If this research shows a clear, consistent pattern of healthier women producing more male offspring, so be it.

Except it doesn’t. Not even a little bit.

To see what all the fuss is about, I clicked on the study the article is referring to. It’s an article talking about Swiss researchers who looked at the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which states that it is “beneficial for mothers to be able to adjust the sex of their offspring in response to their own state of health,” and that “a female in good condition should give birth to more male offspring.”

The researchers observed animals species, including bighorn ewes, who usually mate with the dormant male and give birth to one lamb a year. Their findings? “Healthy females do not produce more male than female offspring.”

*Mic drop.*

So, the research cited by Youbeauty.com directly contradicts the conclusion of the youbeauty.com article? Seems pretty straightforward to me. Did the article’s author, Rebecca Spiller (really, it’s a woman?), even bother to read the study before she pumped this sexist claptrap into our inboxes?

Shut up, Youbeauty.com. You’re embarrassing yourself.

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Bridget Makes it Through an Entire Exercise Class Without Screaming

Bridget holds it together.
Bridget holds it together.

Today is a banner day. It’s the day Bridget made it through an entire exercise class without screaming.

I’ve been taking her to work out with me at Herself Moms, in Roseville (there is also a Sacramento studio). I also took Brontë until she started crawling around so wildly that it was no longer feasible, and she still remembers it fondly.

I highly recommend it. When you have a newborn at home, you really need to get out of the house. I know, I know… you’re absolutely exhausted and it feels like going to an exercise class might be the final Jenga piece that tumbles the entire structure, but trust me. It’s good for you.

Its healthy to get out and be with other people. Classes like these are also designed to help get you back into shape after pregnancy without injuring you (cause squeezing a watermelon out of your body takes a toll). You get emotional support from other women who know exactly what you’re going through, and this place is even pro-breastfeeding. Seriously pro-breastfeeding. I mean, if your baby cries, you can whip your boob out and feed your baby without anyone batting an eye.

Some moms even hang around afterwards to nurse their babies in a circle while talking about whatever issues they are having. I get the feeling tribal women used to do this and it helped them emotionally handle the rigors of parenting. Now, we too often end up isolated at home, dealing with the stress by ourselves.

But possibly the best thing about this place is that if your baby throws a fit, it’s okay. You’re in a room with lots of newborns that periodically throw fits, so you don’t have to be embarrassed by or feel self-conscious about your baby acting up. Mamas constantly stop their exercise routine to nurse, change, comfort, or walk around the room their babies.

That being said, Bridget was special. Julie, the owner (who is a lot of fun), has seen a lot of babies in her line of work, and she said Bridget was one of the most temperamental babies she had ever seen. I think it was two weeks before I got to exercise much at all.

But she slowly got used to it, and today… she made it through an entire class without screaming. I couldn’t be happier. I’m also much more sore than usual, having had to actually do proper exercise this time.

I had to take a picture to capture her moment of triumph. Bridget may look like she’s relaxing, but she’s also working out. She’s doing a plank and modified cobra while skillfully working an acupressure point on her thumb.

My Daughter Projects Her Psychic Apparatus Onto Imaginary Friends

My two-year-old daughter has personified the warring factions of her psyche and is literally working out her issues using imaginary friends.

Kids are concrete thinkers. They are literalists who imagine all manner of abstractions as physical beings. Everything unknown is magic and The Dark, or disquieting unknown, is the perfect breeding ground for magic of any sort. Fears and anxieties become monsters… nocturnal monsters that can hide under your bed. 

Brontë lives in a world bursting with monsters, but also has a strong coterie of imaginary stuffed animal and doll friends.  She makes them talk, giving them unique temperaments and catch phrases.

Within her inner circle are a number of distinct personalities, roughly corresponding to Freud’s model of the psychic apparatus.

The Id

Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë's bed into a jungle gym
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë’s bed into a jungle gym

Don’t be fooled by how adorable Pink Bear looks in his little pink hoodie. He is pure chaos. He jumps on the bed, knocking everything over. He scrambles up into the kitchen cabinets to sneak honey. He pulls all of Brontë’s clothes out of her dresser and dumps them around her room.

Walk into Brontë’s room to see all the books knocked out of her bookshelf into piles on the floor? “Pink Bear did it!” she will say.

Pure chaos
Pure chaos

Pink Bear will take off whenever he feels like it, living by the pleasure principle alone. Pink Bear will unwind toilet paper all over the place. He will make a mess, just to do it. He’s a rebel without a cause.

Sometimes he even locks Brontë’s baby sister in the bathroom. Pink Bear is clearly a bad influence.

The Superego

Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess
Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess

Brontë’s Superego is embodied by “Punzel,” the princess doll. She has long blonde hair and always wears beautiful dresses. She is pretty: her hair is pretty, her face is pretty, her clothes are pretty, and all of her things are pretty. She likes to ride horses and eat cupcakes. She is friends with all other the other princess dolls and likes to invite them to princess parties.

Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land
Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land

Punzel is everything we expect her to be, as well as everything we want little girls to be. She wears frilly dresses, hosts tea parties, and talks in a pretty, soft voice. She never gets angry, never says anything ugly, and never, absolutely ever, sneaks honey out of the kitchen cabinets. She often finds herself in distress and needs rescuing, but that comes with the territory of being a glamorous princess.

Punzel does, however, sometimes come into conflict with Pink Bear. She disapproves of his mess-making and general barbarian tendencies, whereas Pink Bear thinks Punzel is a prissy little goodie two-shoes with no backbone.

At story time, which is Brontë’s favorite nightly ritual, Punzel and Pink Bear will often jockey for position next to Brontë as a book is being read. They both want to see the pictures, but don’t want to look at each other’s stupid face.

The Ego

Brontë's consigliere and best imaginary friend
Brontë’s consigliere and best imaginary friend

Chief among Brontë’s inner circle is Minnie. She is a Minnie Mouse puppet blanket and Brontë’s constant companion.

Minnie knows how to balance her public persona with a good dose of merrymaking, but also has a wild side. She will throw tantrums, draw pictures of poo, blow indignant raspberries, grab books in her mouth and throw them, and even try to bite the other animals when angry enough.

Ensconced in Minnie's comforting loyalty
Ensconced in Minnie’s comforting loyalty

Most of her antics, however, are motivated by her desire to keep the other imaginary friends in line. When Pink Bear and Punzel are disrupting story time with constant bickering, Minnie Mouse tells them to “SHUT UP” and points out where each of them needs to sit. She can be a little bossy, but without her level-headed mediation, all hell would break loose.  Someone has to step up.

The Shadow

Monster double agent
Monster double agent and all-around untrustworthy bear.

In Brontë’s imaginary pantheon of psychic dilemmas, there even exists a shadow figure. Meet Orange Bear, the traitor.

See that gentle grin? Those reassuring eyebrows lifted in the middle in a way that suggests harmless benevolence? Don’t believe them. Those eyebrows are a lie.

Brontë thought Orange Bear was her friend, but he was entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting her from monsters at night. He looks big and tough, so one night when she was telling me all about the scary night monsters that sneak into her room, I reassured her that Orange Bear was there to keep her safe.

The next morning, she stomped out of her room, disgusted, while dragging Orange Bear behind her. With utter disdain, she summarily dumped Orange Bear in the hallway.

Confused, I started dragging him back into her room and she had a fit. “NO!” she screamed, “NO ORANGE BEAR!”

“You don’t want Orange Bear in your room? He keeps the monsters out,” I said.

“HE DO NOT,” she shouted, “He let monsters IN my room!” And with that, she banished Orange Bear forever.

Brontë considers loyalty a great virtue. Betrayal will not be tolerated. Orange Bear’s transgression was unforgivable, and to this day, Orange Bear is not allowed to step foot into Brontëland.

Technically, the Shadow figure is an element of Jungian psychology, not Freudian. I find this gratifying, since I’m fonder of Jung than Freud. Perhaps this entire schema should be revised  in terms of Jungian archetypes. Let’s see… Punzel would be the princess. Pink Bear is the outlaw, and Minnie is the mentor?

Whoever thought that child’s play is frivolous? Seems fraught with emotional drama to me. Next time your kids (or any kids) are acting stuff out with their dolls (or “action figures” if they are boys, because obviously boys play with “action figures”), pay attention. You might be surprised by how often inner turmoil is personified into concrete characters.

Your Kids Want to Do What You Do; Grimace’s Love Child

1970546_10152508857999821_3010221393123581823_nCar rides have not been positive experiences for Brontë. While many parents take their howling infants on impromptu car rides to calm them down, our daughter tends to shriek at the top of her lungs whenever she is in a car. Since she can keep it up for well over an hour, car rides with Brontë have so far not been very positive experiences for her parents either.

Often, me threading my arm into the back seat to hold her hand is the only thing that calms her, but even this offers no comfort in a car wash. Brontë is absolutely terrified of car washes. The same child who has been bolting toward the highest slide on the playground and throwing herself down it head first, ever since she could walk, will erupt in a howling fit of terror the moment water starts misting the car.

Whenever her behavior seems nonsensical, I try to view it from a toddler’s perspective: She is locked down in a carseat, with no ability to control her surroundings, as the world whizzes past her at 70 miles an hour. Suddenly, she’s backed into a dimly-lit garage, where a whooshing hurricane appears to hit the car as a bunch of frenzied Fry Kids smack against the windows like they’re trying to break in…

Am I completely dating myself here? Anyone else remember the Fry Kids, those multicolored mops with google-y eyes that McDonald’s used to shill its French fries from 1979 to 1996?

Grew up to work at car washes everywhere
Grew up to work at car washes everywhere

While we are on the subject of the McDonald’s cast, I’d like to share a little theory of mine. Remember Grimace, that big purple guy  that ran around McDonald Land, drinking shakes all the time? He was a big celebrity for a while, then all of a sudden drops off the face of the Earth.

grimace

I think alcoholism did him in. The pressures of show business, having to constantly smile around all those hungry kids… he starts Irishing up those shakes at some point, just to take the edge off, which eventually leads to a serious problem. Hey, it was in his genes… his lesser-known uncle was Uncle O’Grimacey, who visited around St. Patrick’s Day every year to hawk his Shamrock Shakes.

Well, I bet Uncle O’Grimacey was visiting one time when he noticed how stressed out his nephew was, so he whips up some “Shamrock” shakes and before you know it, they are hashing out ancient family dramas and singing songs from the old country together.

Grimace was able to keep his work and private life separate at first, but his behavior became increasingly unpredictable, and before anyone realized what was happening, he was sitting kids down so he could “tell them what their problem is,” and you just can’t have fantasy characters acting out like that around kids. McDonald’s quietly phased him out and that was the end of his career.

But at some point before he was run out of town, Grimace had a brief fling with some unknown coworker that led to an illegitimate child. That child grew up to become Barney, the children’s pop superstar.  Think about it. He’s big and purple, like his dad, and sings with the preternatural cheerfulness that only someone who has been through a lot of group therapy will. All this “I love you and you love me” business sounds a lot like someone who has worked at hashing out their self-esteem issues and can’t handle any more chaos.  It smack of overcompensation.

This is a dinosaur in pain
This is a dinosaur in pain

So anyway, back to my car story. Brontë chews her fingers in abject terror whenever the Fry Kids assault our car during a hurricane, which seems reasonable enough when seen in that perspective, and won’t calm down despite ample reassurance. It’s part of her generalized car anxiety.

One day, Brontë and I were sitting in the car together after her dad ran into the store for something quick. I figured I could unlock her carseat to let her stretch out her limbs before her dad returned, maybe it would feel good to move around while we are parked. As soon as I let her loose, she scrambles into the front seat, giggling.

She reaches over to the seat belt, pulls it across her body, and tries to snap it closed. She digs into the glove compartment and starts flipping through the car manual. She reaches into the drink holder and holds a cup of iced tea like a grownup, sipping out o f the straw while trying to turn the radio on. She’s having a blast.

Since she has spent most of her waking car hours in the back seat in a straightjacket (or “car seat,”) I didn’t think my 2-year-old daughter knew what was going on in the front. Obviously, I was wrong. She has watched her parents intently, seeing how they play with the radio, put seat belts on, fumble in the glove compartment… she just wanted to be part of the action all along.

10649696_10152508857914821_2367948547558779923_nThe takeaway? Your kids study your behavior and copy it, even if you don’t realize it. That’s why “do as I say, not as I do” isn’t very convincing.

Also, don’t Irish up your beverages at work.
10408981_10152508857704821_3978960971448724909_n-2

How To Sleep Like a Baby

This is what people mean when they say
Rare photo of Bridget both proverbially and literally, sleeping like a baby.

It’s easy. Wake up every hour and scream your fool head off. Done and done.

We have all been hoodwinked by the phrase “sleeping like a baby.”

It’s supposed to mean falling asleep quickly, sleeping soundly without stirring, and waking up fully refreshed. It refers to the glorious sleep of the innocents… The complete slumber that only those untroubled by doubts, fears, and guilty consciences can enjoy.

If you are one of the rare parents with an infant who passes out quickly and sleeps soundly for hours, congratulations. You are living the dream. Also, I hate you guys.

For the rest of us, a newborn means that you probably won’t get a proper night’s rest for at least several months, if not several years. We have all heard the jokes about how tired new parents are, but none of these jokes prepare you for the slow psychic deterioration that comes from waking up every hour, night after night, to deal with a hysterical infant.

Sleep deprivation is a recognized torture technique. This means people will turn on their allies, confess to heinous crimes, and give up the bomb location when their sleep is screwed with enough. When you’re a new parent, this happens to you… You want food? You want cash? You want me to drive you around the neighborhood in my jammies at 3 in the morning? Sure. Let’s do it, just stop… screaming…

Captured terrorists have nothing on new parents.

When Brontë was an infant, John and I would have to draw our sleepy butts out of bed, put her in her stroller at 2 or 4 in the morning, and painfully walk her around the block to get her to quit yelling. Nothing else worked. One time, a neighbor (and an experienced parent) who was watching us go about our 4 AM zombie crawl, gave us a knowing look and reassured us that “It gets better.”

That felt so good to hear at the time. And he was right, it does.  You just have to make it through this rough stage without jumping out the building and running away while maniacally laughing.

How to do that? Unfortunately, different things work for different kids. Brontë needed to be cuddled or walked around outside, whereas we discovered that Bridget couldn’t sleep unless she was put into her own room with the lights out.

On the subject of infant sleep: you are supposed to wake the baby up every couple of hours (three at the most) to eat.  The importance of doing this is drilled into your head, over and over, because babies have small bellies that digest food quickly (especially breastfed babies).

My advice? Don’t do that shit. You’re just training your baby to wake up every two hours.

I know it’s what the experts tell us, but instead of slowly unraveling what remains of our collective sanity, why don’t we apply a little rudimentary logic to this concept?

Think about it for a minute. Do you think cavewomen had alarms for waking up their offspring every two hours? When you peel back all the layers of abstract thinking, we are still animals, and animals have very strong survival instincts. If hungry enough, they will eat anything (even each other). Do you really believe we would sleep through starving to death?

I don’t either. A hungry baby will happily wake up and tell you all about it (or, not so happily). Shaking a perfectly content sleeping baby awake every two hours to cram food down its mouth is madness. A week of trying to do this crap nearly broke me, so I let it go, and both of my babies turned out just fine.

Of course, if you have a special situation (like a dangerously thin baby), this advice may not apply to you. But I’m guessing that supplementing with formula is a better option for fixing a dangerously thin baby than constantly waking him or her up, anyway.

My other piece of advice to new parents? Hang in there. It gets better.

My Husband and Daughter Duel for Pesto

It was just a matter of time until Brontë started fighting her father for food.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that whenever we eat out, my husband has been ordering food “for the kids” that he actually enjoys. For example, Brontë is a big fan of beans, whereas John is not. So when we get Mexican food, I try to order beans for her, but he suspiciously insists that *she* would prefer the quesadilla kids meal. With the churro.

This is somewhat reasonable, since he always mops up her leftovers. Toddlers frequently eat the equivalent of two grapes before calling it a day, so you have to finish their food if you don’t want it wasted. Besides, I just tell them to add a side of beans and everyone is happy (though John tends to leave the churro in the bag, where Brontë can’t see it, then *has* to eat that too once she leaves the table).

I have further noticed John’s eyebrows start to knit on the rare occasions that the kids actually eat all of their food.

By now, he’s gotten so used to eating extra rations that he looks forward to it.  After listening to him ask Brontë multiple times whether she was full yet (when she was clearly still stuffing her face with quesadilla), I thought I might make a helpful suggestion…

“Umm… Why don’t you just order another quesadilla for yourself?”

He looked back at me, slightly violated, and said, “Because that would be piggy.”

I see. Makes perfect sense. Hmm.

Not only does John have a voracious appetite (see Pregnancy Pancake Anxiety), but Brontë can also take ages to finish a meal. Toddlers don’t have a great sense of time, not having had to worry about deadlines and appointments yet, and tend to linger endlessly over everything they do, getting distracted every five seconds (this especially applies to putting shoes on).

I try not to rush her, because I don’t want her to mess up her hunger signals by teaching her to cram food down, but can get ridiculous. She sits at the dinner table, playing with her food, playing in her chair, taking a minuscule bite every five minutes before launching into a discussion about why Pinkie Pie is obviously the best My Little Pony. Eventually, even the most patient of parents starts checking their watch.

You see, not only is such a drawn out meal tiresome, but it cuts into our evening break. After dealing with work and house upkeep and endless toddler demands from sunup to sundown, John and I look forward to watching a nightly grown-up show before going to bed. It’s the only time of day we can relax our parental vigilance and just be a couple again.

Because the kids are in bed at that point, it’s also the only time we can cuss and watch adult things. After a long, hard day of being super cheerful and listening to kid songs, sometimes parents just want to hear the F-word again. Just to shake off “The Wiggles” a bit. This is our window in which to catch shows like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, or whatever else you can’t turn on with the kids around.

So, when John watches Brontë take over 90 minutes to finish a bowl of chow, he is not just seeing precious food growing ever colder, but also the diminishing chance we will get to see how Rick plans to defeat the Governor before hitting our grinding routine again.

The other night, John made fresh pesto pasta. It was delicious, and also a family favorite. Brontë started out eating pesto (or “green pasta,” as she calls it) at breakneck speed, but slowly wound down into her familiar game of staring blankly at the wall for minutes on end while wiggling an errant noodle in the air.

“Don’t play with your food. Eat it,” John says. Brontë eats a single pasta strand, then begins playing in her chair.

“Quit playing. Eat your food,” he tells her. Brontë grabs another single strand of pasta and shakes it as she stares at the ceiling. John sighs. “Are you done?” he asks.

“NO, I NOT DONE!” she yells, grabbing her plate with both fists before slowly turning her head and staring at the wall some more.

I watch John mentally calculate how much time it will take to brush Brontë’s teeth, read her a story, and get her into bed as he ponders why Rick isn’t fixing the precarious prison wall. He finally decides to take action.

Distracted by something toddler-fabulous on the wall, at first Brontë didn’t notice her father sneaking strands of her pasta and eating them. She kept lallygagging at the kitchen table as her green pile quietly and mysteriously started shrinking. She stared at her fingernails as John nabbed bits of her pasta on the sly.

But John made too sharp a movement and suddenly, she caught on. Raising her fork, she deftly parried his with a *clink*  (Hmm… she must’ve picked up some of my fencing skill. This has great potential as a training technique). He moved his fork toward her plate again, and she answered it with another clink of hers. “Don’t eat my green!” she yelled.

“FINISH YOUR FOOD OR I’M GOING TO EAT IT!” he shouted, frustrated. Their eyes locked in a standoff. John held her gaze for several minutes before she looked down, ate a couple more strands, then announced she was finished. Guess she wanted to be the one to call it.

Last night we had pizza, and Brontë launched straight into molasses mode. She kept getting up from the table and running around the kitchen (we are working on this). Finally, after lapping the kitchen island several times, she looked over and saw her slice hanging out of her father’s mouth.

Her eyes bulged. She walked over with exaggerated authority, slammed both fists on the table, and said, “DADDY?”

“What?” he asked, mumbling through pizza gulps.

The coast is clear.
The coast is clear.

She locked his eyes in quiet toddler fury before slowly saying:

“DON’T.

EAT.

MY.

PIZZA!”

Let the food wars begin.

The Great Mason Jar Experiment

Lunch for the week.
Lunch for the week.

Once you have children, you may look back on your former, childless life and wonder: How on earth did I ever think I was so busy? I had loads and loads of free time on my hands…

Sure, you may have had a lot going on, but kids are a giant black hole of time suck. Sometimes they sound like this: MOMMY I’M HUNGRY OOPS NOW I POOPED I NEED SOME WATER I NEED A SPOON. NOT THAT SPOON, THE PINK ONE. WHERE’S MY BEAR? I NEED MY BEAR! (Pretend this dialogue keeps up for five straight hours until nap time).

Now that I have two children, I wonder how I ever thought I was busy with just one. Having two kids is not twice as hard as one, it’s about four times as difficult. They want different things at different times. They have different sleep schedules. They get into arguments with each other…

It’s rewarding, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also exhausting. You’re putting out fires all day, so you learn to prioritize (baby’s overflowing diaper trumps toddler’s need to find the yellow bunny). I can’t even imagine how people manage three or more… at least with two, we can assign one parent to each child when we are out, but what happens when parents are outnumbered?

Those parents are saints. Or insane. Or both. Man-on-man coverage must change to zone.

Then again, maybe human laziness is like a gas, filling any shape or sized container evenly (with container size representing the amount of free time. Work with me here). Most people seem to feel overtaxed, no matter what they have going on. Lately, I’ve heard a surprising amount of retirees complain about having way too much to do, and I’m thinking Okay, no job, no kids, no deadlines… why all the stress? (Still, they throw up their hands and say they just can’t get a spare moment to relax. Hmm.)

I’m guessing we just adapt to the amount of work we have going on, becoming more efficient as everything piles up. You have to do things faster.  No more fiddle-farting around unless you want to end up like Lucy at the candy factory.

lucy and ethel

My latest move in the constant struggle for greater efficiency is to attempt the Mason Jar lunches that everyone has been talking about. It’s an ingenious idea. You can make up a whole pile of lunches for the week, putting your sauce in the bottom of a Mason jar and layering the ingredients on up. You want the heaviest, least-absorbent layers on the bottom and your salad greens on top.

When it’s time to eat, just shake up the jar and dump your ingredients into a bowl. Supposedly, the mason jar keeps food fresher than Tupperware, and your salads should be good for five days.

For my experiment, I tried making Caprese salad and taco salad jars (just to mix things up. I don’t like eating the same thing every day). You can find them here, though there are also endless recipes on Pinterest.

My take? Pretty awesome. You bust all the work out on Sunday, then have great lunches for a week. Ones that even include greens.

By the end of the week, I’ll admit the lunches weren’t quite as fresh as in the beginning. They weren’t wilted or stale, just not quite as crisp as when they started. Still, they beat the pants off the microwave mac & cheese disasters I had been resorting to when pressed for time. Thumbs up.

The Secret to Happiness

genie_bottlesImagine picking up an old brass lamp from a flea market. It’s pretty, but tarnished. You take it home, pull out some polish, and begin rubbing away at the stains.

Suddenly, a puff of smoke… a genie appears, all decked out in a turban and silk pants. He is prepared to grant you three wishes for releasing him. What do you ask for?

Power? Wealth? Extraordinary beauty or intelligence? Eternal youth? Most of us believe one of these things, or all of them, would make us happy. Marketers have built fortunes on the idea, at least. Endless books and advertisements beckon us with promises of ageless skin, career success, luxury cars, a perfect body…

But do these things really make us happy? Celebrities have beauty and wealth, yet we constantly read about celebrity divorces. Beauty, fame and wealth did not guarantee them lasting love or secure relationships. Many extremely successful people are miserable.

While it’s true that a certain amount of wealth makes you happier, it drops off once you have enough money to stop worrying about paying your rent or putting food on the table.

But what about a huge change in life circumstances? Do you think winning the lottery would make you happy? It would, for a little while. Researchers studied the mood effects of both lottery winners and people who became paraplegic after a devastating accident. They found that while these life-changing events initially changed happiness levels, well-being returned to baseline after just a few years.

You might be wondering how winning the lottery could possibly have no greater chance of making you happy than becoming paraplegic. The answer lies in the human tendency to adapt to circumstances… Simply put, we get used to things.

Beyond that, people have an urge to improve, to fix problems, to make life better. This can be a good thing (we have gone from living in caves to inventing microwaves and air-conditioning), but can also make us unhappy, since we are often much more focused on what we don’t have than what we do.

The secret to happiness, then, lies in perspective. Or more specifically, gratitude.

I realize this may sound preachy, or guilt-inducing (“You don’t want to eat your peas? You know how many starving children would love to have peas?”). But the truth is that always obsessing over everything you wish you had is the path to misery.

Think of something you don’t like about your body… let’s just say, for example, you don’t like your thighs. You look in the mirror sometimes and just hate on your flabby, dimply thighs. Why can’t I have those lanky, coltish thighs like supermodels, you might think, That look awesome in short shorts and never jiggle when they walk?

Now imagine you get in a devastating car accident and have to have your legs amputated. Now you have no thighs. You’ll never walk again. You’ll never run through the shallow waters at the beach or dance at a club or climb stairs. You remember lovely walks in the woods, dancing with your lover, and ache to be able to move so easily again.

I bet you wish you had your thighs back. Bet you wouldn’t give a crap what shape they were.

It’s all about perspective. Why miss your thighs only after they are gone forever? Why not appreciate then now, when you are lucky enough to have them?

My daughter Bridget has been stuck in a baby’s body for months. She was helpless and bored. She couldn’t even flip over at first. She needed someone to move her, to feed her, to change her, to dress her… it was hard for her to even turn her head or put her hand to her mouth.

I would watch her struggle, day after day, to wriggle her pudgy body and pull her giant head to the side. She would lay on the floor, stretching her arms and legs out with all her might, trying desperately to move herself, then collapse into frustrated wails.

Pretty pleased with this new turn of events.
Pretty pleased with this new turn of events.

Finally, one day she was writhing, face-down, when she worked her knee under herself and propelled her little body forward. She worked the opposite knee under her belly and propelled herself forward again. She kept at it, and suddenly she was crawling!

She squealed in pure, unadulterated triumph. She crawled across the floor. She crawled back again. She crawled over to a toy and grabbed it, then erupted into endless baby giggles. She could crawl! In an instant, her world became exponentially bigger.

My children are teaching me the secret to happiness. I’m not saying the secret to happiness lies in having children, though I love them dearly, but that watching their reactions to things we have long taken for granted is changing my perspective. Being able to crawl, then walk across a room. Seeing a cat walk by and feeling its soft fur. Seeing the ocean for the first time. Snatching a forbidden cookie. All of these things bring my children ecstasy.

The Secret to Happiness is already within us. We just need to remember. 10423985_10152776927564821_3734326810028525683_n

How Black People Became White People

Where it all started
Where it all started

It’s summer here in Sacramento, which means lots of 100+ degree days (yes, it’s a dry heat, but so is an oven). If global warming kicks up the thermostat any further, I think this place may become truly uninhabitable.

Being the dutiful mom I try to be, I slather my wriggly, pale offspring in heaps of sunscreen every time we leave the house. My diligence has even caused their Southern grandma (John’s mother) some concern. “Are they healthy?” she once asked me while visiting, “They are so fair. Are they getting outside at all?”

“Of course they are,” I replied, “I just put a lot of sunblock on them. Because we are white people. And we may as well get used to it.”

I am a firm believer in regular sunscreen use. It all started when I was in junior high school and my face started exploding. Overdriven adolescent hormones endlessly pumping out oil lakes above the waist, I was cursed with cystic acne covering my face, chest, shoulders and back.

It’s not easy facing high school with severe acne. At an age when you are incredibly self-conscious about your appearance, it hurts to catch people wincing whenever they look at you.

And teenagers are not kind. I’d hear the words “pizza face” and “moon face” go by when people talked about me.  Once, a friend reported how my name came up in a group discussion where they said, “She’s so gross! Why doesn’t she ever wash her face?”

They couldn’t have been more wrong. I was obsessive about washing my face, reading any article on skincare and trying every product I could get my desperate hands on. Nothing worked.

Eventually, my parents took me to a dermatologist, who put me on a course of every acne medication known to man. Benzoyl Peroxide, Cleocin T, tetracycline… you name it, I tried it. I finally started working up the concentrations of Retin-A, which gave me some relief, but at what cost? My skin turned bright red and started peeling. It felt tight and uncomfortable. I distinctly remember looking into the mirror, raising my eyebrows, and watching a fault line of skin tear across my forehead as though a nose earthquake had just hit.

I couldn’t use any makeup to cover up the redness because it just made me break out harder, “noncomedogenic” or not. To make matters worse, the medications made me so sun-sensitive that I would burn within 15 minutes of being outside. So I had to slather on ample sunscreen, which just added to the shiny, greasy mess. I felt horrible and powerless. I would look longingly at my fresh-faced friends and the gorgeous models in Neutrogena ads, shake my fast at the heavens and wonder why am I so cursed?

But many curses are blessings in disguise and I ended up getting the last laugh. You see, while my peers were cavorting around in their careless adolescent beauty, I was developing diligent sunscreen habits. My skin finally cleared up in college, but my sunscreen use continued. Now, at an age when many of my contemporaries are battling sunspots, wrinkles, and slackened elasticity, my skin still looks pretty good. I even get carded on occasion.

Why is this? Well, because 80 % of skin aging  is caused by sunlight exposure. Although the sun provides needed Vitamin D, it also bathes us in a demon-mix of ultraviolet radiation. Sunlight is hell on your skin, especially if you’re white.

You see, all humankind arose in the African continent, where sunlight is ample. Because sunlight is so plentiful there, it’s helpful to have darker skin, which provides a ton of natural sunblock. This is why so many black people still look awesome at the same ages that sun-worshipping caucasians have started to resemble human saddlebags.

Dark skin is perfect for African living, but around 130,000 years ago, severe droughts prompted some Africans to look elsewhere to set up camp. They started migrating across continents, eventually settling all over the  globe.

In places far north of the equator, there is much less sunlight. You don’t need as much sun protection, but you still need to get your Vitamin D. So over time, people in northern areas started evolving paler skin, because it’s better for absorbing Vitamin D.

We always hear the phrase “survival of the fittest” tossed around when discussing evolution and many people misinterpret the word “fitter” to mean “better.” But “fitter” does not always mean “better,” it just means better adapted to the particular environment in which the species finds itself. People across the world developed skin tones that roughly correspond to where they lived, relative to the equator.

Problems arise when you toss a species into a different environment than the one to which it has adapted. It’s like throwing a freshwater fish into the ocean. Sunblock for white people in sunny places is like a salt shaker for freshwater fish in the ocean.

Kind of a weird analogy, I realize, because fish don’t have hands and can’t use salt shakers. But you get my point.

Fun fact: Australia has the  highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. This makes sense when you consider that many Australians are Celtic and Anglo-Saxon transplants to a tropical/desert climate. The natives are darker skinned.

All this melanoma talk makes it seem like white people got a raw deal, but black people have their own concerns. They are much more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D, which can lead to a number of health problems, and are advised to take Vitamin D supplements if they aren’t getting enough.

Armed with this information, I plan to teach my daughters why it is very, very important to regularly use sunblock. We are white people living in California. I wish I had been even better about using it while growing up, and am glad that sunblock technology is improving.

I also plan to stress why they are to never, under any circumstances, use a tanning bed. Yes, bronzed skin is beautiful. You know what’s not beautiful? Wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer, which is what ultimately happens when you cook white people in tanning beds.

Anyone besides me find it both funny and tragic that half the world is buying skin-lighteners while the other half is trying to get a tan? People, please… accept your skin tone. Roses and orchids are both beautiful, even though they look different.

My Kids Are Turning Into Cats

My daughter making side deals.
“Sorry ’bout your bird”

As mentioned in an earlier post, our cats like to babysit our children. Since John is gone at work most of the day, that leaves just me and four giant cats to raise the baby monkeys. I’m clearly outnumbered and think my kids are  starting to go native.

Case in point: Bridget loves apples (and I like to provide them,  because they keep her occupied for ages). Before eating them, however, she has a strange habit of bouncing She them a couple times.

It’s possible  she views apples as edible playthings (like a tasty baseball), but I’m convinced she just wants to make sure they are completely dead. Where else could she picked this behavior up, if not from the cats? John and I never bounce our sandwiches.

But that’s not all:

  1. They love being naked

Ever see all those cute photos of cats wearing sweaters and raincoats on Facebook? Yeah, me neither, because CATS WON’T PUT UP WITH THAT SHIT. Cutesy sweaters are for frou-frou little dogs that run in circles making little dog toenail noises. Try to force a sweater on a wriggling cat and you’re likely to end up with shredded forearms.

My kids feel the same way. It all started when they suffered from terrible diaper rashes as babies. We heard that the best way to handle it was to let them “air out” in the buff. You want to do this in the backyard because babies aren’t potty-trained, so our kids got to spend a lot of time outside in their birthday suits. Brontë absolutely loved it and in her childish innocence, couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her immediately strip her clothes off, anywhere she went.

Eventually, I convinced her that being naked was for the backyard only, and only when other people weren’t around. But whenever she and her sister go out back, they first thing they do is strip down to their skivvies and tear around in their own private Eden, as our forefathers did before the Great Apple Mishap.

“I will brainwash your kittens, BWAHAHAHAHA”

2.  They still won’t keep their shoes on

Though I’ve managed to roadblock public nudity, my kids couldn’t keep their shoes on if they were crossing a broken-glass lemon lake. Putting kids’ shoes on is a pain in the butt. You have to find matching socks and wearable shoes (toddler shoes fit for approximately three days before they grow out of them), then you have to keep your kids sitting still while you loosen all the tiny laces, work each shoe onto wriggling feet, lace it all back up and try to make a knot that’s secure enough to last without being so tight that it’s like trying to unravel a rice grain later.

After 20 minutes or so of the Getting Both Kids Into Shoes drama, we get them both out to the car (along with diaper bags, snacks, toys, extra clothes and whatever else they need), snap them into their respective car seats, and finally start the car…  within 30 seconds, we invariably hear their shoes hit the floorboard. Sigh.

We have tried flip-flops to expedite the process, but it only makes shedding them easier. Once we finally arrive at our destination, they will take their shoes off the moment they get more than 2 feet away from us.

Every park visit includes the Where Did You Put Your Shoes treasure hunt before we return home. It’s exhausting, but parents of young children quickly learn they must pick their battles if they are to retain any sanity at all.

I’m not certain of this, but I bet cats won’t wear shoes either. In fact, I doubt anyone has ever attempted such a thing.

“First, we recruit the kids. Next, we take on those damn chickens.”

3.  They are unusually fond of boxes and bags

Sometimes I wonder why we bother wasting time and money buying our kids fancy toys when nothing makes them happier than a cardboard box. Discard an empty box on the floor at our house? Our kids will be entertained for days.

They jump in the box. They sit in the box. They stand in the box. They try to push each other out of the box. Our cats watch them the entire time, nodding, as though they completely understand how having a box at your disposal is one of life’s great pleasures.

Once, I even saw Brontë struggling to cram herself into a shoebox. It was possibly the most feline behavior I’ve ever witnessed.

Same goes for empty bags. Whenever we return  from grocery shopping, my husband and I toss empty Trader Joe’s and Safeway bags on the floor as we put away groceries. Brontë and Bridget  grab handfuls of bags and run off into the next room, giggling. They will slap the bags together, try to crawl into them, stick them on their heads, and otherwise play with them the same way I imagine cats would, if cats had thumbs.

Sometimes we overhear hysterical laughter and check on them, only to find that all the paper rustling has attracted the cats, who are jumping into the bags. If their laughter is anything to go by, this is clearly the funniest thing my kids have ever seen.

4. …And of cat toys in general

One time, we were at Petco when I told Brontë she could pick out a toy for the cats. She deliberated long and hard, wandering from aisle to aisle, then finally came back to the shopping cart with a pink feather-tailed toy bird. “Cat toy!” she announced, while dropping it into the cart.

On the way home, she wanted to hold the cat toy. She batted it around, felt the soft feathers, and made “peeping” noises. When we finally arrived home, I told her to give the toy to the cats and she shouted, “NO! This is MY bird!” before running away, clutching the toy bird to her chest.

That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d imagine a cat would say, if a cat could talk. She still keeps that bird in her toy box.

5. They eat spiders.

Well, this one is not a habit so much as an unfortunate incident. About a year ago, I was showering with Brontë when I saw a big, nasty spider crawling outside the shower door. Planning to grab it momentarily, I shut my eyes to rinse shampoo out of my hair, only to open them and discover that Brontë had slipped outside (silent as a kitty).

I scrambled out to get her, just in time to watch spider legs vanishing into my baby’s mouth. AAAAAAAAAAAAH! I opened her tiny jaws, but it was already gone.

All I can figure is that she had seen the kitties eating spiders and wondered what all the fuss was about . So the next time a spider walked by, she popped it into her mouth, then sat there, confused, as her mother freaked out and frantically tried to find pictures of common poisonous spiders on the internet.

Luckily, she was fine and hasn’t done it again. But I totally blame the cats for this.

Recently, Bridget has picked up yet another cat behavior… she asks to go outside, so I open the sliding glass door. She steps onto the door track, staring outside, and then… just stands there.  “Do you want to go outside or stay inside? In or out? You can’t just stand there. In or out?” I ask her. But she just stands there, blinking at me.

This is the same conversation I routinely have with my cats. And they have the same expression on their faces as Bridget does as I beg her to make up her mind. Eventually, Wylie (who is not supposed to go outside) jumps over her head and bolts into the backyard.

IMG_0848
“Pssst, kid! Over here. I got a deal you might be interested in…”

I think they’re in cahoots.