After decorating our Christmas tree and putting up the stockings and lights, my daughter Brontë and I opened a special box together.
I watched my three-year-old daughter’s eyes widen as we pulled out, piece by piece, my treasured crèche set.
When I was about eight years old, my mother bought a bunch of Santon figurines while we were vacationing in Provence.
Santons (or “little saints”) are charming little painted terra-cotta figurines made for a traditional Provençal crèche, or nativity scene. They were first created during the French Revolution, when churches were forcibly shut down, eventually becoming a local craft.
I used to love them as a child, having appointed myself the Lead Director of Manger Positioning every year when our family decorated for Christmas. I would thoughtfully place each character, stepping back many times to assess the overall effect then adjusting the scene until it met my strict creative standards.
The manger I used for the sacred representation is far too big for the figurines. Originally part of a different set, the wooden structure was, to my childhood brain, its only salvageable element.
What was wrong with it? Well, these would-be usurpers failed both parts of my little girl nativity scene assessment test: 1. Mary was blonde, and 2. All three kings were white.
I chuckle when looking back on it now, but when I was a little girl, it was extremely important to me that Mary had dark hair. Blonde Mary seemed patently ridiculous, a blatantly-racist rewriting of historical fact.
My theories make some sense, though, given that this all was supposed to take place in the Middle East.
In Sweden or Norway, blondes might be legitimate. But in the Middle East? Natural blondness occurs so rarely there that making Mary blonde seemed to imply that holiness and goodness somehow results in lighter hair, despite its genetic unlikeliness.
And the black king… well again, this is the Middle East. If there are three kings (or “wise men”) randomly arriving from foreign parts to see the baby, I felt at least one of them should be black.
The French Santon set, with its black king and brunette Mary, was therefore the “true” set of my childhood imagination, the only one deserving of any manger. So years ago, I added the wooden structure to the French cast while quietly tucking the rest of the usurping Aryans away. I don’t know what happened to them.
Looking back on it now, however, the bizarrely-anachronistic Santons could hardly be considered “authentic.”
First, it includes a Catholic priest holding an umbrella.
Now, I’m not sure how he got past the editors, but clearly, there was no such thing as Christianity at the moment of Jesus’s birth, let alone Catholicism. It would actually be more accurate to include Pharaohs and Pharisees, given that everyone present would have been Jewish, Roman, or Egyptian at the time.
I won’t bother getting into the umbrella issue. Or the duck (there’s also a duck).
Beyond the inclusion of Catholic priests, there is also an odd mixture of costuming. While Mary and Joseph look properly biblical, many of the villagers coming to see the baby are clearly dressed in 18th century French attire. The Drummer Boy has a coat with several rows of Enlightenment buttons.
Hmm… I hate to ruin everything by pondering its lack of historical accuracy, so I’ll chalk it up to the universality of the tale: the scene becomes a collection of symbols and archetypes that have captured our imagination for centuries. It can work in different periods, like when people put on a Shakespeare play where everyone is dressed for the 19th century or in modern clothes, because the story is timeless.
None of this bothers my three-year-old, of course, who has other concerns. Watching your children reinterpret relics of your own childhood can be fascinating.
It all went down like this.
Brontë (holding up a crèche figurine with arms held in the air): AAAAH!
Me (trying to explain the presence of an 18th century French peasant woman on December 25, zero): She’s surprised. She’s a shocked villager, amazed to see the baby.
Brontë (feigning fear): No, it’s a monster! RAWR! [She picks up the black king] Who is this?
Me: That’s one of three kings. Here to see the baby.
Brontë (suspiciously): Where’s the queen?
Me: There is no queen. Except Mary… in the spiritual sense.
Brontë (grabbing a wise man with a gray beard): THIS is the queen now.
Me: Alright, why not?
Brontë (grabbing Mary): And this is the queen’s best friend. They like chickens.
The world through three-year-old eyes is a trip.
Part of me was reluctant to let her play with the figurines, in case she breaks them. Breaking the baby Jesus just can’t be a good omen for anyone. Like sneezing in holy water or stomping across graves.
On the other hand, Brontë is being very gentle with them and seems utterly fascinated by moving them around. Every day, she has been creating new vignettes, and I hate to discourage the creativity.
In this one, she carefully positioned all the animals around the baby. She likes animals a lot, so I assume they are helping guard the baby while keeping it warm.
I also imagine the idea resonates with her, since she spent much of her infancy like this:
The next day, Brontë lined up all of the adults next to the infant messiah. I’m guessing that since she kept hearing about everyone coming to see the baby, she figured she would play it out with a receiving line.
With the nativity scene rapidly becoming Brontë’s Box of Archetypes, I’m curious to see what she will come up with next…
My daughter Brontë is three years old now, just old enough to start getting super excited about Christmas. I love to build anticipation for the holidays too.
It’s fun. Also, I figure it helps give her a better sense of time, the passing of the seasons and the yearly rituals that accompany them.
She is already enjoying advent calendars. Every day she finds the right number on her calendar and eats the chocolate behind it. I’m hoping this helps her learn numbers, understand how calendars work (how long it is until Christmas), and practice moderation.
The advent calendar lesson took two attempts, unfortunately, since Brontë woke up early one morning and tore out all the chocolate at once. Since she also demolished baby sister Bridget’s calendar, we decided to give her one more chance this year, making sure to store the calendars higher from now on.
So last weekend, we finally got around to getting a Christmas tree to decorate. Brontë was ecstatic, having waited for this moment for weeks. She slapped some reindeer horns, because she loves getting into the spirit of things, and ran out the front door squealing.
Driving to a local tree farm, the kids tore out of the car and raced around the trees. Brontë strolled around for a few minutes before pointing at a tree:
“This one,” she shouted. “This is our tree!”
“Do you want to look around for a little while and see if you like another tree better?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied, throwing her arms out to her sides, “This one is perfect.”
She clearly doesn’t have trouble making decisions.
We took our perfect tree home and decorated it with lights. Brontë passed out ornament after ornament, taking time to marvel at each before selecting the “perfect” branch to showcase them.
Brontë picked out a My Little Pony theme whereas Bridget wanted a Minion stocking. After we put them up, Bridget kept pointing at her stocking, shouting “Minion!” in her adorable, one-and-a-half-year-old voice.
This kids keep staring at the lit-up tree in the evening, mesmerized by their own private holiday wonderlands.
As a parent, one of your chief responsibilities is bringing your children up to be socially responsible citizens who more-or-less follow the rules of polite society.
You need to do this not just for the benefit of society, but also of your kids, since they will end up being miserable if they are so obnoxious that no one wants to be around them, or worse, if they can’t control their impulses enough to avoid jail or drug addiction or all manner of miserable fates.
It’s kind of like bringing up a terrier. Sure, your puppy is cute and you hate having to yell at it because it makes that sad, guilty face that puppies are so good at making, but if you never teach it to sit still and be quiet, it ends up piercing everyone’s eardrums with nonstop yapping.
Eventually, no one can stand your dog because it’s always jumping in people’s faces, nipping at them and whining for their food. People inwardly cringe whenever that obnoxious terrier shows up, and hopefully, the poor thing doesn’t end up tied up in the backyard all day. It’s sad, because it’s not really the terrier’s fault, he just needed to learn how to behave.
Well, being a parent is a more complicated version of the pet dog scenario. It’s hard, because not only are human beings extremely intelligent animals (who can think up infinitely more creative transgressions than terriers), but they are also a part of you.
You love your children and since they came from you, you can recognize echoes of yourself reflected in their behavior. While you don’t understand why your terrier insists on snacking out of the cat box, for example, you can’t help admiring your toddler’s ingenious plan to scoot enough furniture into the kitchen to reach the cookies.
And sometimes, disciplining your children can be rough. It could be because your hyper-energetic toddler has been throwing an epic tantrum when you’re particularly exhausted. Maybe you barely got any sleep and it’s all you can do to summon enough energy to enforce rules, instead of just giving in so your kid will just shut up and leave you alone.
But you know if you give in this time, your job will be that much harder from here on out. You have to head things off at the pass.
And sometimes it’s hard because you don’t like making your kid unhappy. You would much rather just have fun than play Bad Guy. You love seeing your children smile and it hurts to hear that they hate you because you just put the kibosh on another episode of My Little Pony. Being too young right now to grasp why your wishes are in their best interests, your kids are convinced you’re just being mean and you hate having to put on the cop shoes yet again.
But here’s the secret hurdle parents rarely talk about: once upon a time, most parents were cool, rebellious youths themselves. They also had fun getting away with stuff and “sticking it to the man.”
And there is no glittery parenting fairy that swoops down on you upon parenthood, touching you with her magical maturity wand and transforming you into a wise authority figure.
No, we all just figured out we’re going to be parents at some point, which meant we were going to become the rule-enforcers, the providers, the guardians entrusted with transforming feral children into responsible adults. Suddenly, WE were “the man.”
Deep down, many of us still have that sense of humor. A part of us still retains grudging respect for kids with enough backbone to try getting away with something really inspired, but we absolutely can’t let them know it, or else all hell will break loose.
We can’t let those kids see behind that parental authority mask too often, or else the entire hierarchy will flip on its head. Cats will marry dogs, chickens will be elected mayor, and everyone will find out that the Great and Powerful Oz is just a little guy behind a curtain. We have got to keep this ship running tight.
Last night, John told our daughter Brontë that it was bedtime.
Brontë doesn’t care for bedtime, and that’s too bad because Brontë is three years old and therefore can’t be making many of her own decisions. Because if Brontë were left to her own devices, then she would spend every night eating giant bags of chocolate and playing with My Little Ponies, growing increasingly overtired until she started flipping everywhere, accidentally smacking into walls like a drunken bluejay until she finally passed out around 3 AM in a pile of her own destruction then spend the next day throwing crabby fits because she’s exhausted and delirious.
That’s why we don’t let little kids make their own decisions about these things.
So, Brontë told her father that she didn’t want to go to bed. John again insisted that it was, in fact, bedtime.
“No,” Brontë said shortly, as she grew increasingly irritated.
“It’s bedtime, Brontë,” John said with conviction, “NOW.”
Brontë fixed her eyes squarely on her father’s and wrenched her eyebrows into the most impressive angry “V” she could manage before saying, “I NOT go to bed!”
John had had it. He stood up with all the dominant posturing he could, squaring his shoulders and deepening his voice: “It is… BEDTIME. I am NOT going to tell you again!”
Brontë stood up, outraged, and squeezed her tiny hands into angry fists until her face was bright red.
She paused for a moment, trying to come up with the swiftest, best, most terrifying response she could muster…
Then she threw her head back like a muppet and shouted, as loudly as she could, “DADDY…
And it was all I could do to not roll on the floor, hysterically laughing, because watching a 2-foot princess fairy scream that your husband smells like bacon farts is insanely hilarious. I don’t care who you are.
But you just can’t… you just can’t encourage that type of disrespect, so I had to quietly move into the next room so I could explode into a laughing fit, shaking until tears ran down my face, as John put on his best stern daddy voice and marched that uppity little lady straight to bed.
Please don’t hate me for saying this, but over the past year, I’ve had to gain ten pounds so people would quit accusing me of eating disorders.
And I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should write this post at all. I know how easily it could seem like one big, giant, obnoxious humblebrag (“Oh, poor baby, she has trouble keeping her weight up after a couple of pregnancies. That must be so rough.”)
But the thing is, I kind of accidentally learned some weight loss secrets while I was trying to shed my baby weight and I’m thinking those secrets could really help other people who are trying to get into shape.
So here it goes…
Never, not in a million years, did I expect to have problems getting “too thin.” Especially after pregnancy.
I come from a family with really efficient metabolisms, the kind that probably kept us alive through all kinds of brutal winters and potato famines, but are a real hassle in this modern day and age.
And I’ve been struggling with mine for years. While I’ve never been more than around fifty pounds overweight, I’ve been dieting off and on since junior high school.
I’ve done low fat, low carb, portion control, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, vegan… you name it, I’ve tried it.
I’ve also tried a billion different forms of exercise. I’ve walked, ran, cycled, fenced, done yoga and aerobics, and lifted weights, just to name a few.
Through loads of discipline and self-denial, I always managed to ride the bucking bronco of starvation up until about the last ten or fifteen pounds or so, then I would struggle for a while before being thrown off. I would get my bearings, jump back on the horse, and repeat the same cycle.
Over and over again. Those last ten pounds never budged, no matter how hard I tried.
Then a few years ago, when I was first pregnant, I gave up dieting in the interests of the growing baby. Predictably, my weight exploded.
I gained way more than I was supposed to and was routinely lectured by healthcare professionals about how I needed to get a handle on it. They told me to use fat-free dressing, drink diet soda, and stop eating fruit, dairy, and nuts (!!!).
It was scary. I’d worked very hard for many years to avoid obesity, and there I was, helplessly watching the numbers on the scale blow up to ever greater heights, day after day. Knowing how tough it can be to lose the baby weight, I didn’t know if I’d ever turn things around.
After my daughter was born, I got on the Weight Watchers breastfeeding diet plan, because I wanted to drop the weight but needed to make sure I could breastfeed. It was very important to me.
I ended up not only losing the pregnancy weight, but those resistant last ten pounds I could never shake before, and then another twenty pounds (about eighty altogether).
Then I did it again after having my second daughter.
Why would I have an easier time keeping my weight down AFTER having children than before? It sounds crazy, right?
But I don’t think it’s a fluke.
Because of the babies, I changed my dieting approach and found I was having a much easier time.
This wasn’t even the first time I had done Weight Watchers (or the second). This time, however, I did several things differently:
I ate a lot more fruit
The Weight Watchers diet lets you have as many fruits and vegetables as you want for free (except potato, peas, and avocados). Even though the idea was scary (I had been a low-carb dieter for years and was afraid of sugar spikes), I took full advantage of the opportunity.
I ate fruit like crazy, in addition to regular meals, often eating several bananas in a row then topping it off with an apple and a bunch of pineapple. Calorically speaking, this should’ve made a significant dent in my success.
But it didn’t. No matter how hard I pounded the fruit and veggies, my weight just kept dropping.
I’m firmly convinced now that our bodies don’t metabolize fruit the same way they metabolize simple sugars and that calories are only part of the picture.
Maybe it just comes down to how much harder it is to eat 500 calories of produce than candy, but whatever it is, I think you can eat fruit to your heart’s content (assuming you’re not diabetic).
Plus, eating fruit means you aren’t eating doughnuts. Fiber fills you up.
I didn’t try to rush the process
I used to get impatient when I was dieting. I’d get tired of always watching what I ate and having to measure everything, and just wanted to hurry up and lose the weight already. Especially when I was struggling through a plateau.
If my weight hadn’t budged, or god forbid, had gone up after a week or so of diligent dieting, I’d start playing hardball by dropping my calories even further. I’d force my weight down, using any means necessary.
But this time, I was breastfeeding my baby, so I couldn’t risk dropping my milk supply by not getting enough calories.
How horrible would I feel if my baby went hungry just because I wanted to drop a couple pounds? I owed it to my child to make sure I stayed healthy, so instead of starving myself, I’d just stick to the plan and eat everything I was supposed to. I thought it might take longer, but be worth it.
You know what? I stopped having those long plateaus. Many weeks, my weight held fast or even went up slightly, but eventually it would drop again. My weight came off much faster, in the long run, when I just held fast and ate everything I was supposed to.
Water weight changes all the time. You can bloat because of hormones, salt, swelling after exercise, or even the weather… I think when you crash diet, you start freaking your body out, so while you might initially lose a couple more pounds, you’ll hurt your weight loss over time because your body goes into revolt.
Just stick to the plan.
I didn’t try to overcompensate when I “fell off the wagon”
No matter how disciplined you are, most dieters lose control at some point. Maybe there was a potluck at work and someone brought some nachos, and you love nachos, so you find yourself diving headfirst into a bucket of cheese before you had the chance to think straight (maybe that was actually me, not you. Okay, that was me).
Or maybe it’s a holiday or vacation (I personally won’t diet on holidays or on vacations, by the way, because I believe the sense of deprivation will do more harm than good) and they drop the diet for a bit.
But whatever the reason is, after dieters have eaten a bunch of stuff they’re “not supposed to” in unreasonable amounts, they tend to have one of two reactions:
They figure they ruined their diet, so they throw in the towel, or
They try to make up for their transgression by starving themselves until they get back on track
I tended to go with the second option, but again, I had babies to breastfeed and I didn’t want to sabotage that. So I just resumed the normal diet again, waiting it out.
And I found that my weight would stall for that week, then be right back on track by the next. I didn’t fall into my typical vicious cycle of starvation and binging.
I exercised regularly more frequently but less intensely
Whenever I used to exercise, I tended to push myself too hard, too soon. “No pain, no gain,” right?
Partly, I figured you had to work hard to get anywhere, but mostly, it was about feeling self-conscious. I didn’t want to look weak or super out-of-shape in front of everyone.
Because that’s embarrassing.
I’d start a new class or routine with great intentions, get overzealous about it, then quickly burn out.
But just having had a baby is the perfect excuse to take it easy. You can permanently injure yourself if you push yourself too far, because your body has been through a lot and needs to recover. Plus, everyone knows you just had a kid, so they’re impressed you’re even trying to do ANYTHING.
Since I already felt ahead of the game, I just pushed myself a little bit and took a break whenever I needed to. Since I didn’t get injured, I kept going back, and grew stronger and stronger over time.
I learned that exercising regularly is more important than exercising intensely, because the intensity will come in time. Even if you start with a light walk, just keep doing it, and eventually you’ll get into shape.
I focused more on health instead of thinness
Losing weight used to be all about vanity for me. Sure, being healthy sounds awesome in theory, but I really just wanted to look better in my clothes.
My focus changed, however, after having kids. I cared less about how I looked in a swimsuit and more about having enough energy to handle sleepless nights or play with my kids as they became rambunctious toddlers.
This shift in perspective may seem subtle, but its implications are great. If all you care about is weight loss, for example, you might as well eat doughnuts for dinner, as long as the calorie counts add up.
If you care about your health, on the other hand, you’ll make sure your meals are nutritious enough to fuel your body properly. You’ll actually care about getting enough protein, fiber, and a variety of nutrients. You’ll have an easier time controlling your appetite because your body is getting what it needs.
You will exercise because you know it’s good for your body, even without the instant gratification of dropping pounds. Over time, you’ll have more muscle, better energy levels, and have an easier time keeping pounds off.
And this stuff adds up in the long run. Getting in shape is a marathon, not a sprint.
I hope these tips will be helpful to someone who is struggling. I may have learned these things by accident, but they have made my life so much easier.
If you’re having trouble losing weight, even with diet and exercise, the problem might be that you’re actually trying TOO hard.
Pregnancy taught me that your body is a complex machine that needs love and nurturing. You’re better off gently steering it into a healthier lifestyle than trying to force it at breakneck speed. Start gently, and keep going.
I guess if I had to sum them up in a phrase it would be “try easier.” It’s the long game that counts, not reaching a certain scale weight or hitting a new exercise goal by the end of the week.
The more I watch little kids, the more I’m starting to understand adults. Because if you squint your eyes hard enough to see past all the convoluted posturing and fancy vocabulary, adults look just like the grown-up version of what I’m seeing on the playground every day.
For example, lately I’ve been noticing how many little boys love pretending to cook at the preschool my daughter attends.
Most people (in America, at least) think of play-cooking as a “girl” activity.
But as I wrote here, last week I had trouble getting a group of toddler boys to wind down their make-believe picnic when it was time to clean up for the day. I kept asking them to move on, and they kept pretending not to hear me.
And it makes sense that little boys would have fun pretending to cook. Everyone needs to eat, after all, and I’ve known a number of men who were excellent cooks.
But why is this the only place I’ve been seeing it happen? One day, the answer finally dawned on me: most toy cooking sets are made of pink plastic and decorated with Barbies and flowers.
The kitchen items at this place, on the other hand, are wood and chrome. They look like normal adult equipment (because it is). Nothing about them screams, “THIS IS FOR GIRLS.”
Kids may not have a sophisticated grasp of marketing psychology yet, but they do notice when toys are pink, sparkly and covered in unicorns. Whenever a toy commercial involves a lot of floral motifs, little boys quickly get the idea that they aren’t supposed to play with it.
And little kids care about that stuff. A lot.
Despite all of my attempts to bring my daughters up in a neutral environment, my three-year-old talks about being a girl approximately seventy-thousand times a day.
“You a girl, mommy?” she asks me, “You a girl and I’m a girl and sister is a girl too. We are princesses and daddy is a giant bear.”
Hmm, okay… this gender-blind experiment has so far been an epic fail. I’ve found that by the time they reach reaching toddler-dom, both little boys and little girls are already (dare I say it?) obsessed with what it means to be male versus female.
Interestingly enough, while these little boys and girls seem to like each other just fine (no cootie accusations here), most seem horrified by the possibility of being mistaken for one another. So any toy decorated with pink glittery princesses may as well have “boy repellant” sprayed all over it.
Fortunately, we adults are more sophisticated and have moved beyond all that nonsense. We can now judge an object or activity on its own merits, without worrying about the stereotypical window-dressing tacked up by savvy marketers.
Or can we?
Case in point: skincare products. We all have skin, and presumably, all need to take care of it. Everyone wants to look and feel attractive, right?
Yet when I was growing up, at least, skincare was overwhelmingly considered a feminine concern.
Words like “astringent” and “moisturizer” were once exclusively part of the female vocabulary. They spooked guys, like those freaky-looking eyelash curlers women have around.
A guy with dry skin had to sneak his wife’s moisturizer on the sly, because any man who kept a regimen beyond soap, water and the occasional bottle of Old Spice was careening dangerously close to effeminate territory.
Nowadays, however, one in four men is dabbling in fancier skincare products.
Why the drastic change? Many believe the rise of the metrosexual has something to do with it, but I think it has more to do with a shift in marketing strategy.
Because just as little boys don’t want to be anywhere near a pink-glitter unicorns, grown men don’t like to buy personal products with “beauty” or “luxury” written on them. (Hey, it’s not perfume… it’s “aftershave”).
As a result, we are currently experiencing a hilarious marketing trend of “butched-up” beauty products for the male consumer.
Designers are taking enormous pains to reassure men that they are still, in fact, men… even when they want to treat their their acne or eczema.
Here are a few examples of machismo in skincare promotion:
The “Road Warrior” Beard Lube from Jack Black
This isn’t just a moisturizing shaving cream, because that’s what pansies would use.
This is, instead, a “beard lube,” a brand-new title that not only brings up beards (which are masculine), but also lube, which you use on gears.
So, by using this conditioning shave cream, you’re not so much taking care of your skin as tuning up your face-car. And you need a lot of it, because you’re a man of action. You’re a “road warrior”
Glad we got that straight.
The Mr. Fix-It Antimicrobial Wound Rescue Silver Gel from Jack Black
The Jack Black brand has absolutely mastered the art of lumberjack personal product marketing.
Everything, from the font that apes a cigar sticker to the utilitarian container shapes, screams “I’m a man’s man.”
We’ve got “Mr. Fix It” in the name, which brings forth traditional images of handymen fixing mechanical problems around the house, and “wound rescue,” as though you’re helicoptering into a battle field to patch up soldiers.
This product calls itself “performance ready,” so you don’t have to worry about the protracted waiting times that a more feminine product would involve.
You’re man of action, after all, and need to be ready to “perform” on a moment’s notice.
Mentioning “silver” and “antimicrobial” is just a bonus, since it brings up images of grandfathers pouring scalding blue iodine on wounds, wounds that were undoubtedly inflicted by using heavy machinery or crashing their planes. Because that’s how the men of yore, real men, used to get injured.
Adrenaline Junkie Energizing Scrub from Billy Jealousy
Look, you aren’t just exfoliating your skin. That’s for wusses, and wusses don’t use products with tattoo-style dragons on the bottle.
No, you’re an “adrenaline junkie,” who needs an energizing scrub for all the high-energy activities you’ve planned for the day.
Maybe you’ll kick it off with some hardcore martial arts (like the dragon suggests), or want to “get your thrills by jumping out of planes or climbing Mount Everest.”
No wait, it sounds over-the-top, but that’s exactly what the product description says, along with the fact that this product will beat your “morning cup of Joe” for its ability to get your “heart racing and endorphins pumping.”
Combination Code from Billy Jealousy
But some men need an even bigger challenge than jumping out of a plane after their morning cup of Joe, and for these men, we have “Combination Code,” by Billy Jealousy.
Technically, it’s a mattifying moisturizer for combination skin, but with a name like “Combination Code,” you know this product is actually meant to help you crack a safe during your bank heist.
Your buddies brought stethoscopes and mini-explosives, but you’ll have the drop on those fools. You have the combination code, so you can not only crack the safe, but also mattify your skin’s overproduction of oil while attending to dry spots.
Facial Fuel SPF 15 from Kiehl’s
And finally, we have Facial Fuel SFF 15 from Kiehl’s skincare line. It’s basically a sunscreen, but Kiehl’s calls it a “facial recovery accelerator” for “refueling” your skin.
Protecting your delicate skin from the sun’s damaging rays sounds fruity, but accelerators and refueling are things that cars need.
Not just cars, but airplanes.
Yeah… planes. There’s a picture of an airplane on the container, so you’re not just protecting your skin, you’re being a face-pilot. This brand has been around since 1851, so it was probably beloved by those titans of yesteryear, back when they did rugged stuff like climb mountains and fly fighter jets.
It still works for this generation’s lads, however, with their heaps of testosterone bursting from every pore. Kiehl’s website features John, the “Kiehl’s insider,” who says the product’s “caffeine kick makes [him] ready to take on the day.”
There are countless more macho-sounding products on the market, of course, all suggesting that the right exfoliant will help you tackle the problems you might face as a foreign war veteran who likes to hang-glide.
And as ridiculous as it may seem to equate complicated skin regimens with wrestling crocodiles, it seems to be working.
Apparently, a lot of men have been wanting to take care of their skin all along. Just like the little boys at my preschool who want to host a taco picnic, grown men were always ready to handle the adrenalin-pumping rush that sunscreen provides.
So there I was, pregnant for the second time, after giving birth to my beautiful daughter a year earlier, and stretching my weary limbs in a prenatal yoga class. Looking out across the sea of anxious eyes from mothers-to-be reminded me how frightened I was the first time I saw a double line on a pregnancy test, how nervous I was to embark on this life-changing experience with all its unknowable consequences.
After reflecting on everything my first pregnancy and delivery taught me, I’ve decided to offer a little advice to first-time moms.
During my first pregnancy, the fatigue and nausea turned me into a sleepy vegetable. It can be a vicious cycle: the fatigue makes you weak, and as you grow weaker, you become increasingly inactive and sore. By the time I had my first daughter, I was a terribly achy mess of bloated limbs and atrophied muscles, which ended up making everything harder than it probably had to be.
I managed to get into good shape, though, after the baby was born by attending a postpartum sculpt class where you can bring your crying infant and also take a break to cuddle your baby or breastfeed at any time without feeling the least bit self-conscious.
The class was wonderful. Not only could we reclaim our shape after the ravages of pregnancy, but we could also get out of the house without worrying about our newborns going ballistic and making us suffer a bunch of awkward stares.
Beyond that, we could hang out with other new moms who were similarly stressed, sleep-deprived, and talk about our baby experiences to our hearts’ content.
For my next pregnancy, then, I decided to be proactive and take a prenatal yoga class. It kept me in better physical shape by preserving flexibility and in better emotional shape by getting me out of the house to relax a couple of evenings a week with other women in various stages of pregnancy.
My first piece of advice, then, is to attend these pre- and post-natal classes whenever possible. Television and movies do NOT prepare you for pregnancy. In Hollywood, actresses just slide a pillow under their belts, eat sardines and ice cream, and otherwise frolic around like everything is fine until one day their water dramatically breaks and –BAM—motherhood!
Without other women to share your experiences with, you have no idea if your hip pain is normal, whether you should be concerned about constant heartburn, or how to keep food down, or whether [insert random body part] is supposed to look like that right now.
Of course, having the baby doesn’t magically end your confusion, either. It’s wonderful to be able to share advice with other women whose babies are crying nonstop for hours, who aren’t getting any sleep, who don’t know how to run an errand without their infant exploding into an impromptu public meltdown. I highly recommend these kinds of classes for the sake of your well-being.
My second line of advice, however, is even more important.
One interesting aspect of the prenatal class I attended is that after every woman delivers her baby, she writes about her delivery and everyone in the class gets to read an email about her birth story. This is wonderful, especially for first-time mothers who are nervous, not knowing what to expect and undoubtedly being routinely terrorized by random women coming out of the woodwork to share every birthing horror story imaginable (seriously, when I was pregnant the first time, I don’t think a week went by without some strange woman telling me about her third degree tear, which is the last thing you want to envision throughout the nerve-wracking countdown).
Now, in a prenatal yoga class, especially one in which most members are enthusiastic breastfeeding advocates, there tends to be an inordinately high concentration of women trying for a “drug-free” natural birth. Some of them even want to deliver the baby at home, instead of a hospital. Many have watched The Business of Being Born, and regard the medical community with great suspicion.
I am more of a moderate in these matters, believing there are times when natural methods are the best tools, but other times when the scientific advancements of the medical community are the way to go. For example, I think you are much better off controlling your cholesterol with diet and exercise, if possible, than relying on a drug. I also think popping an antibiotic every time you have a sniffle weakens the immune system and breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases.
However, if your heart suddenly stops or you come down with a dread disease, you need to be in a hospital with trained professionals, because Mother Nature doesn’t concern herself with weak members of the herd. Likewise, I believe breastfeeding is by far the best method of nourishing an infant. But, like growing your own organic fruits and vegetables, it isn’t always feasible and formula has been a literal lifesaver for many.
Having given birth to one baby already and gotten to the hospital too late for an epidural, I can tell you from personal experience that doctors are not offering to numb your entire lower body via the spinal cord because labor is merely “uncomfortable” or something you can simply “breathe” away. People aren’t getting offered epidurals for gas pain or splinters…. you get them for childbirth or lower body SURGERY.
In other words, labor pain is potentially one of the most physically excruciating experiences a person can have, and can last a very, very, very long time. Yes, it is “natural,” but so is being eaten alive by lions, being crushed to death by an anaconda, or bleeding out during a problematic delivery.
And yes, you can do it without pain reducers, just like the women of yore. You can do a lot of things if you really need to, like saw off your own arm if it gets trapped under a boulder and you need to get free to survive.
But I think it is a particularly nasty form of cruelty to make a woman feel as though she somehow failed by accepting pain-management during childbirth. We don’t call people “losers” for wanting Novocain when getting their teeth drilled or numbing shots before receiving stitches, yet some people will actually point to a woman who has suffered through constant nausea, back pain, hip pain, and fatigue for nine to ten months, and consider her selfish for using pain relief to help her through what might be 20+ hours of physical agony.
These women probably denied themselves everything from booze and soft cheeses to lunch meat and too many cups of coffee for the better part of a year, and then risked their lives in order to create new ones for the betterment of the entire species. How on earth could they be considered weak?
That being said, there are many women for whom natural childbirth remains a goal. Sometimes they describe a natural birth as their version of climbing Mt. Everest, a physical achievement that gives them great confidence and an understanding of their own strength. Some want to feel connected to the many generations of women who came before them by experiencing the same natural process. Others want to be fully “present” during the birth process and believe that anything that drugs or numbs part of them will cloud the experience.
This is a deeply personal and valid decision, and my hat is off to any woman who manages to get through the entire episode without begging for the sweet, sweet release of anesthetics…
But, for the love of all that is rational and sacred, PLEASE do not attempt to do this at home. Please deliver your baby in a hospital filled with trained professionals and equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment… in case something goes wrong. Because this is the one thing home birth advocates tend to forget: Women may have been having babies without doctors for centuries, but they also used to die in childbirth. All. The. Time. Sometimes in agonizing yet preventable ways. So did the babies.
If you are in a hospital, no one is going to force you to have an epidural, you can have the baby as naturally as you want. Many hospitals now come equipped with midwives, birthing balls, and all the other nifty gadgets so beloved by the natural birth crowd.
You don’t need to have an epidural, but it is nice to have one available, in case you change your mind upon actually experiencing labor instead of just imagining it.
But far more importantly, you need to be in a hospital in case something goes wrong. What if the baby is coming out the wrong way and is going to break its arm on the way out and cause you to tear from the vagina through the anus? What if the baby’s umbilical cord gets wrapped around its neck and the baby is going to rapidly suffer brain damage and then death if no one can fix the situation? What if your placenta tears away from the baby and you need an emergency C-section because you are hemorrhaging to death and both you and the baby will die without one?
Because these things DO happen from time to time, even to healthy women with normal pregnancies. For example, one of the leading advocates of the “Freebirth” movement, a group that argues for unassisted childbirth at home, is a woman named Janet Fraser. Though Fraser demands that other women be “drug free,” she herself ran to a hospital for her first delivery to request not only epidural anesthesia, but also a medically unnecessary C-section. More tragically, in 2009, Fraser gave birth at home and her baby died of cardiac arrest. The coroner’s report indicated that the baby’s death would have been prevented in a hospital.
I believe much of the rhetoric of the natural/at-home birthing movement is akin to faith healing… the idea that childbirth only becomes dangerous or painful because you “believe” it will be implies that any suffering is your own fault and you wouldn’t be having these problems if you just had more faith in the process. It’s an emperor-has-no-clothes belief system, because any failure of its promise of painless, easy childbirth is blamed on the poor mother, who is apt to deny any problems because they would supposedly prove failure on her part, rather than the problematic belief system itself.
I suppose the ultimate show of faith is having a baby by yourself, at home, with no professionals around in case anything goes awry. But, gentle readers, this is simply a dangerous thing to do. How would you feel if something horrible happens to your baby and you then have to live with the fact that you might have prevented it if you weren’t trying to prove something?
If you absolutely, positively, insist in having the baby at home, at least be sure you are reasonably close to a hospital and DO NOT have the baby by yourself. Make sure you have a doula or midwife on hand who can figure out if an emergency situation is taking place so you can be rushed to the hospital if need be. Even in the days of yore, when women routinely gave birth at home, there was always someone hanging out with her, making sure she didn’t pass out or suddenly need assistance.
Because, dear readers, some of the birth stories I’ve read from the prenatal yoga moms have made my blood run cold, though obviously, I cannot reveal the mothers’ names without compromising their privacy. One woman labored by herself for hours, in the bathtub, while her husband was at work. She was in labor for several days before finally being rushed to the hospital. Her water had broken long ago, her baby was leaking meconium (baby poo) into her system, and she was going into septic shock.
She was given blood transfusions and an emergency C-section, which saved her life and that of her baby’s. Do any of you guys watch Downton Abbey? Septic shock is a horrible way to die.
Another friend of mine was a huge advocate of natural, at-home birth. She is young, extremely healthy, and had to be rushed to the hospital while delivering her baby because she was bleeding to death. They saved her and her son. She doesn’t like to tell anyone about the experience because: 1) it embarrasses her that the method she was so gung-ho about worked out so poorly, and 2) she feels like a failure because she didn’t give birth the way she wanted to. This is tragic, in my opinion, because women should not feel like failures after struggling through a naturally hazardous process, and also because we need to be aware of the very real risks we are taking.
I’d also like to share that of the many mothers who wanted a natural birth in my class, the majority ended up begging for an epidural somewhere around 4 centimeters of dilation, which is before things get really rough.
There is no shame in this. You cannot be expected to truly know whether you will need pain management if you have never experienced this type of pain before, and it is good to have all options available.
There are also a couple of mothers who made it all the way through… they gave birth with nary an anesthetic in sight and they feel fantastic about their accomplishment. No one forced them to get an epidural; you see… it is always your choice.
Just because something is possible, does not mean it is always desirable. Mother Nature can be quite harsh. She weeds out members of the herd by killing off members prone to physical problems and removing them from the gene pool. But Nature also made the human animal a brilliant creature who could invent new medications and methods of preventing many deaths and illnesses. So, you could also view medical practices as natural, in that they are the natural extension of human ingenuity and invention.
Some might even argue that taking unnecessary risks, rather than relying on your species’ ingenuity, makes you a potential candidate for weeding out.
If you wish to forgo the epidural, that is a valid choice. But please, keep yourselves safe.
Having kids is, among other things, an interesting social experiment. Growing up, I was always interested in debates about gender: what is innate vs. what is learned.
Figuring that much of our identities are a social construct, I tried to give my two daughters a fair shot at developing their own by not jamming them into pink boxes from the get-go. I painted their room green (instead of cotton candy pink), gave them a variety of non-stereotypical toys, and read them stories that never centered on passive princesses doing nothing except looking pretty until a dashing prince rescued them.
And despite all of these efforts, I ended up with a pair of girly-girl toddlers who are obsessed with princesses and wearing dresses that look like exploded wedding cakes. Maybe some of this stuff is hardwired, after all.
And that’s okay. I think it’s fine for my girls to like princesses and dressing up, as long as it’s what they naturally want to do, instead of something forced on them by social expectations.
My two daughters represent only one gender, however, and a very small sample size. How could I be sure sons would act any differently?
Well, as luck would have it, I ended up enrolling my three-year-old in a preschool that may as well be one giant gender-observation experiment. It’s a unique, play-based type of preschool where they provide loads of different kinds of toys (everything from chickens, hardware tools and cars to baby dolls, costumes, and art supplies) and have very few rules.
The idea behind all of this is that toddlers learn best from a hands-on, exploratory approach. There is no rigid schedule and adults try not to intervene unless something dangerous is happening (to give children a chance to learn social skills by hashing out disagreements themselves). These kids aren’t even instructed to share, since the concept of “waiting your turn” is much easier for toddlers to grasp.
So, it essentially boils down to a hands-off approach of throwing a bunch of different options at kids and letting them do whatever they want. It’s about as close to watching how boys and girls act in a neutral environment as you’re going to get without raising them in a lab (which is unethical, for obvious reasons).
It’s also a preschool cooperative, of sorts. Every parent with an enrolled child must work a shift every week, rotating through the various stations, which increases parental involvement (while lowering costs. Win-win).
This means I now watch a group of about thirty toddler boys and girls for several hours, every week.
Here’s what I’ve observed about their differences:
Boys tend to play outside more
This is a very general rule, because plenty of boys play inside and plenty of girls play outside as well. But at any given moment during my shift, more than half the boys are usually outside and more than half the girls are inside.
Or rather, the girls tend to play inside while coming outside for brief spells, whereas the boys do the opposite. I’m not sure what this means, except that maybe boys are a little more rambunctious on average.
ALL toddlers have tons of energy, don’t get me wrong, but the boys seem to get particularly aggressive when they don’t get to tear around enough, like a greyhound that chews your couch to pieces after being kept inside too long.
Boys tend to play in larger groups
The girls usually play with a friend or two (in groups of one to four), whereas the boys tend to run around with a gaggle of other boys (up to ten or so at a time).
This isn’t always the case, of course. The boys and girls play together sometimes, and there are one-on-one interactions within the larger group of boys.
I’m not sure what this means, but it’s something I’ve noticed. It seems that boys have an easier time joining a social group in the first place, but once they’re in, they have to jockey for position (“I’m digging a bigger hole than you,” or “I can jump higher than you,” for example).
Girls, on the other hand, approach each other cautiously. They don’t warm up immediately, but once they do, they expect to treat each other as equals (at least, on the surface). Girls seem more likely to break off from boasting companions than compete with them.
Boys punch you, whereas girls mess with your head
The kid that throws the most fits this year happens to be a boy. He’s a nice kid, but routinely has a crying tantrum about anything and everything. Sometimes it’s because a little dirt got on his arm, for example, and sometimes he wants to play with a shovel that another kid is using. The reasons change, but it’s always something.
Now, anyone who has ever had a toddler can tell you they are moody, emotional, and go through developmental stages of constant fit-throwing. Maybe this is just this kid’s time for throwing a lot of fits, and the adults understand that, but the other kids get tired of hearing it.
After this kid rolls on the ground, sobbing and wailing for half an hour or more, I’ve seen other boys walk up to him, embarrassed, and tell him, “Now that’s enough. You need to stop.”
It just makes him scream harder, and a couple of times, another boy has just had it with him and punched him. Or thrown something at him. At this point, adult supervisors will intervene, because violence is dangerous.
Yesterday, however, I saw this kid get on a teeter-totter with a little girl. They were teeter-tottering happily until he decided that he needed to have his shoes back on, so he starts whining and sobbing about how she needed to stop so he could get off and put his shoes on.
The little girl nodded, then put her feet on the ground and slowly stood up so she could lower the boy to the ground. But when he started to get off the teeter-totter, she pushed back down, popping him back into the air. He screamed louder and started flailing his arms.
She responded with “Okay, okay…” and started standing up again so he could get off the teeter-totter. But just as he was doing so, she threw her feet up, giggling, and thrust him back into the air.
At this point, he was going into hysterics, so I came over and helped him off the teeter-totter before handing him his shoes. He put on his shoes, got back on the teeter-totter, and then the little girl slammed her weight down so hard that she not only rocketed the boy into the air, but sent his shoes flying off his feet.
He started screaming bloody murder and the little girl couldn’t control herself anymore. She busted up in a hysterical laughing fit, so intense that tears were streaming down her face. She started lowering him back down, before popping him up at full force again, at the last minute.
He started wildly kicking the air, with every ounce of energy he had, and she grabbed her stomach because, I can only assume, she was laughing so hard at him that it was beginning to hurt.
And the worst part? I was secretly enjoying it the entire time. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m also a girl, so her machinations made sense to me, but I couldn’t help noticing how she managed to punish the kid without getting herself into trouble. I like that moody boy, I really do, but deep down, I had to wonder if she did him some good.
Lesson learned: boys may be more directly aggressive, but girls will dream up a multi-step humiliation plot at your expense. And get away with it.
Boys and girls like self-adornment
The type of preschool we selected obviously tends to appeal to more liberal, be-what-you-are kind of parents; the kind of parents that are okay with a lack of rules and rigid routines, preferring to let kids openly explore.
So, I’ve noticed that a few of the boys’ fingernails are painted. I’m assuming they showed an interest in nail polish (like my daughters have) and have parents who are open-minded enough to not respond with something like, “Boys don’t do that!”
These boys also play in the costume room, sometimes wearing very unusual get-ups. One time, this little boy ran around shirtless, wearing nothing but a pink poofy skirt (to give you a better idea).
I imagine previous generations would’ve freaked out about something like that, wondering if the boy would end up gay if people let him run around in fluffy pink skirts.
Not this place, however, where they value free expression. It brings up a number of interesting issues.
On the one hand, is it inherently effeminate in the first place? The idea of pink being a “girl” color is fairly recent in human history, and walking around shirtless with a skirt is kind of like playing a Highlander.
When you think about it, these rules have changed over time. Lots of men have worn dresses (Romans, Arabs, and Biblical shepherds), long hair (pirates, Scots, and Age of Enlightenment thinkers), and makeup (18th century aristocrats), depending on the period and place. These kids are too young to grasp fashion expectations in fine detail.
On the other hand, if it is effeminate, then it’s kind of an argument for pre-wired gender identity. Just as it’s hard to argue that homosexuality is a choice when so many gay people say they had strong preferences for as long as they could remember, it’s also tough to argue that everything about gender is a social construct while maintaining that some people are different from the start.
My take? I think we should just give people the freedom to be who they are and let the chips fall where they may.
Boys like to pretend to cook
Even though I come across an endless array of pink kitchen sets, clearly marketed to little girls, more boys at this preschool pretend to cook.
Yesterday, I had trouble convincing a whole gaggle of boys to stop putting on a pretend picnic. About five of them were intently stirring various mud-and-water combinations with wooden spoons, while a couple of others were laying out plates on a giant stump.
It was adorable, but I needed to clean up, so I tried to convince them to close shop. They weren’t having it. A little four-year-old Asian boy told me, “Wait, wait! You HAVE to try my tacos. Everyone loves them.”
It made me wonder why we market kitchen sets to girls, exclusively, when these little boys were obviously enjoying themselves. Scenes of mafia movies, where one of the gangsters talks about how to slice garlic so thin it evaporates in the pan, bounced around my head.
When you think about it, there are loads of celebrity male chefs, so why do we think of cooking as a female activity? I wondered if more boys play with the kitchen toys at this school because they don’t have these kinds of toys at home (much like I used to love playing with the neighborhood boys’ Star Wars figures, since I didn’t have any myself).
Thing is, there’s undoubtedly some confirmation bias at play. Whenever people notice a boy doing a stereotypically boy activity, or a girl doing a stereotypically girl activity, they nod in approval because it supports their world view. Whenever the kids don’t, it’s thought of as an aberration–a strange exception to the rule.
My conclusions after observing all of this? I think there are some different tendencies between boys and girls, but they aren’t as extreme as many people believe,and they don’t apply to every kid.
So we can stop pretending that we’re all exactly the same.
On the other hand, be careful about going from the general to the specific. You wouldn’t want to dive headfirst into a swimming pool, just because the average depth is nine feet.