Saturday, December 30, 2006

From A Distance: New Year's Hopes and Fears

I have to admit that one of the perks of going to a parochial school is having an actual Christmas program that the kids put on.

[As an aside, even being the Marxist that I am when it comes to religion (I'm glad that OTHER people find solace in organized religion, being the opiate that it is. I just don't need it for my own purposes), I'm getting fed up with the whole PC thing when it comes to celebrating holidays. Why is the solution to not mention ANY holiday rather than celebrating ALL holidays? I get it that one of the fears is that Christmas, for example, would get more 'air time' than Kwanzaa. But I honestly think that that would be better than not even mentioning the C word.]

The SYO's school puts on a show-to-be-remembered and the first graders are the stars. Each grade sings a song or two that represents a particular country that they study for the entire year. The first graders essentially act out a Nativity scene. It is the Gospel of Luke meets Peter Paul & Mary. 'Mary' and 'Joseph' sing to each other that they 'belong to a mu-tu-al. . . Ad-mi-ra-tion society. . . My baby and me.' And when Joseph can't find a place for he and his imminently expecting partner to sleep for the night, the entire first grade bursts into 'Hit the road, Joe! And doncha come back no more, no more, no more, no more! Hit the road, Joe! etc.'

Yeah, it is cheezy, but the singing is great and well, they are our kids up there after all. They perform it to an entire gym full of parents and relatives a total of three times in the week before Christmas.

This year, the penultimate song was the Bette Midler jingle, From A Distance.

This line nearly brought tears to my eyes:
From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.


We are currently Up North (we have historically headed up here during the week between Christmas and New Year's with last year being the exception, given Mr. Big's arrival) overlooking the currently serene, yet ultimately powerful Lake Superior.

On this day after senseless capital punishment (that was the culmination of a trial that was infinitely shorter than any death row inmate in the US enjoys and no real appeals) and the day prior to the eve of a new year, I find myself feeling undeniably hopeless and full of fear with regard to our actions in Iraq.

Did you ever experience that feeling, upon reaching adulthood, where you looked around and realized that you were IT. You were your own safety net. You were where the buck stops.

This happened to me one summer when I was going through the 'Jump' program at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In order to take the five free-fall jumps (out of a flying airplane, mind you) to pass the program (and get the shiny pin that you could wear every day on your uniform!) we had to attend forty hours of training (note: even recounting this gives me the shivers. The things you can do at twenty!). At one point in the training I thought to myself: Holy S*&T! They are actually expecting me to have paid attention to this! I mean, my LIFE depends on me having paid attention!!! What if I didn't? This isn't Calc where if I miss a lecture or two due to day dreaming, I just get a bad grade and study hard next time! I can't afford a bad grade here!

This was one small step for me, but one giant leap into adulthood.

I wonder if George Bush is having some similar thoughts.

But what seems infinitely problemmatic is that he is not alone in this, yet he refuses to accept the bipartisan wisdom and advice of some very smart, experienced and (need I say) elected people in our government.

How many bipartisan commissions and reports can he ignore?

It used to feel like just a joke to me. A setup for an SNL skit or for the Colbert Report. But now it just makes me sad and scared.

How could even one member of Congress vote to give our president full authority on this war when they can't even tell us the difference between a Sunni and a Shia? Did ANYONE do the 'buck-stops-here' test prior to engaging in this action or did they think of it like my Calc class -- something that you could ignore here and there and still end up with a 'B'?

Looking back at my 2004 New Year's hopes written here, on the shore of Lake Superior (two years younger, all of us, and Mr. Big about three months from conception), I find this prescient gem: 2. that we get out of Iraq respectfully without leaving it a shambles.

Of the entire list, only this, and well, a bit of No. 7, has not gone without a hitch. But, regarding No. 7, there, at least, we can still be the buck-stoppers for our SYO. At least for a while.

Too bad Mr. Bush can't say the same.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Story: Version 2.1: For the Girls

Instead of a Red Rider B. B. Gun, our SYO has asked Santa for only two things this Christmas. A microphone and a Barbie.

The Barbie is to the feminist as soda machines in elementary schools are to dentists.

But I've come to believe that, to this generation of Six-Year-Olds, Barbies have become innocuous. Their retro shape, occupational ideals and fashion sense fail to evoke the mother-daughter conflicts they once did.

Why you ask?

Two recent articles tee-up my argument.

The first, "What's Wrong With Cinderella?" by Peggy Orenstein.

The second, "Little Hotties" by Margaret Talbot records the rise of Bratz as the major rival to the 47 year old Barbie brand.

In the first article, Peggy Orenstein questions and chronicles the whole "Princess" culture that has enveloped little girls over the last six years.

Diana may be dead and Masako disgraced, but here in America, we are in the midst of a royal moment. To call princesses a "trend" among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. "Princess," as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls' franchise on the planet.

...

As a feminist mother — not to mention a nostalgic product of the Grranimals era — I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. What happened to William wanting a doll and not dressing your cat in an apron? Whither Marlo Thomas? I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they'd never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who warble "So This Is Love" or insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they'd concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.

More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I'm convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I've spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls' well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters' mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn't matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?

On the other hand, maybe I'm still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can "have it all." Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what's wrong with that?


...

"Playing princess is not the issue," argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers' Schemes." "The issue is 25,000 Princess products," says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. "When one thing is so dominant, then it's no longer a choice: it's a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There's the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you'll see their choices are steadily narrowing."

...

The infatuation with the girlie girl certainly could, at least in part, be a reaction against the so-called second wave of the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s (the first wave was the fight for suffrage), which fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality. If nothing else, pink and Princess have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs — doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we're sure of what we'll get in exchange?


In the 1990s, third-wave feminists rebelled against their dour big sisters, "reclaiming" sexual objectification as a woman's right — provided, of course, that it was on her own terms, that she was the one choosing to strip or wear a shirt that said "Porn Star" or make out with her best friend at a frat-house bash. They embraced words like "bitch" and "slut" as terms of affection and empowerment. That is, when used by the right people, with the right dash of playful irony. But how can you assure that? As Madonna gave way to Britney, whatever self-determination that message contained was watered down and commodified until all that was left was a gaggle of 6-year-old girls in belly-baring T-shirts (which I'm guessing they don't wear as cultural critique). It is no wonder that parents, faced with thongs for 8-year-olds and Bratz dolls' "passion for fashion," fill their daughters' closets with pink sateen; the innocence of Princess feels like a reprieve.

Maybe Princess is the first salvo in what will become a lifelong struggle over her body image, a Hundred Years' War of dieting, plucking, painting and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results. Or maybe it isn't. I'll never really know. In the end, it's not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They're just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. Maybe the best I can hope for is that her generation will get a little further with the solutions than we did.

The Gender Wage Gap Stagnates -- Especially Among the College Educated

Gender Pay Gap, Once Narrowing, Is Stuck in Place

December 24, 2006
Gender Pay Gap, Once Narrowing, Is Stuck in Place
By DAVID LEONHARDT

Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, women of all economic levels — poor, middle class and rich — were steadily gaining ground on their male counterparts in the work force. By the mid-'90s, women earned more than 75 cents for every dollar in hourly pay that men did, up from 65 cents just 15 years earlier.

Largely without notice, however, one big group of women has stopped making progress: those with a four-year college degree. The gap between their pay and the pay of male college graduates has actually widened slightly since the mid-'90s.

For women without a college education, the pay gap with men has narrowed only slightly over the same span.

These trends suggest that all the recent high-profile achievements — the first female secretary of state, the first female lead anchor of a nightly newscast, the first female president of Princeton, and, next month, the first female speaker of the House — do not reflect what is happening to most women, researchers say.

A decade ago, it was possible to imagine that men and women with similar qualifications might one day soon be making nearly identical salaries. Today, that is far harder to envision.

"Nothing happened to the pay gap from the mid-1950s to the late '70s," said Francine D. Blau, an economist at Cornell and a leading researcher of gender and pay. "Then the '80s stood out as a period of sharp increases in women's pay. And it's much less impressive after that."

Last year, college-educated women between 36 and 45 years old, for example, earned 74.7 cents in hourly pay for every dollar that men in the same group did, according to Labor Department data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute. A decade earlier, the women earned 75.7 cents.

The reasons for the stagnation are complicated and appear to include both discrimination and women's own choices. The number of women staying home with young children has risen recently, according to the Labor Department; the increase has been sharpest among highly educated mothers, who might otherwise be earning high salaries. The pace at which women are flowing into highly paid fields also appears to have slowed.

Like so much about gender and the workplace, there are at least two ways to view these trends. One is that women, faced with most of the burden for taking care of families, are forced to choose jobs that pay less — or, in the case of stay-at-home mothers, nothing at all.

If the government offered day-care programs similar to those in other countries or men spent more time caring for family members, women would have greater opportunity to pursue whatever job they wanted, according to this view.

The other view is that women consider money a top priority less often than men do. Many may relish the chance to care for children or parents and prefer jobs, like those in the nonprofit sector, that offer more opportunity to influence other people's lives.

Both views, economists note, could have some truth to them.

"Is equality of income what we really want?" asked Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard who has written about the revolution in women's work over the last generation. "Do we want everyone to have an equal chance to work 80 hours in their prime reproductive years? Yes, but we don't expect them to take that chance equally often."

Whatever role their own preferences may play in the pay gap, many women say they continue to battle subtle forms of lingering prejudice. Indeed, the pay gap between men and women who have similar qualifications and work in the same occupation — which economists say is one of the purest measures of gender equality — has barely budged since 1990.

Today, the discrimination often comes from bosses who believe they treat everyone equally, women say, but it can still create a glass ceiling that keeps them from reaching the best jobs at a company.

"I don't think anyone would ever say I couldn't do the job as well as a man," said Christine Kwapnoski, a 42-year-old bakery manager at a Sam's Club in Northern California who will make $63,000 this year, including overtime. Still, Ms. Kwapnoski said she was paid significantly less than men in similar jobs, and she has joined a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, which owns Sam's Club.

The lawsuit is part of a spurt of cases in recent years contending gender discrimination at large companies, including Boeing, Costco, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber.

At Sam's Club, Ms. Kwapnoski said that when she was a dock supervisor, she discovered that a man she supervised was making as much as she was. She was later promoted with no raise, even though men who received such a promotion did get more money, she said.

"Basically, I was told it was none of my business, that there was nothing I could do about it," she said.

Ms. Kwapnoski does not have a bachelor's degree, but her allegations are typical of the recent trends in another way: the pay gap is now largest among workers earning relatively good salaries.

At Wal-Mart, the percentage of women dwindles at each successive management level. They hold almost 75 percent of department-head positions, according to the company. But only about 20 percent of store managers, who can make significantly more than $100,000, are women.

This is true even though women receive better evaluations than men on average and have longer job tenure, said Brad Seligman, the lead plaintiffs' lawyer in the lawsuit.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Wal-Mart, said the company did not discriminate. "It's really a leap of logic to assume that the data is a product of discrimination," Mr. Boutrous said. "People have different interests, different priorities, different career paths" — and different levels of desire to go into management, he added.

The other companies that have been sued also say they do not discriminate.

Economists say that the recent pay trends have been overlooked because the overall pay gap, as measured by the government, continues to narrow. The average hourly pay of all female workers rose to 80.1 percent of men's pay last year, from 77.3 percent in 2000.

But that is largely because women continue to close the qualifications gap. More women than men now graduate from college, and the number of women with decades of work experience is still growing rapidly. Within many demographic groups, though, women are no longer gaining ground.

Ms. Blau and her husband, Lawrence M. Kahn, another Cornell economist, have done some of the most detailed studies of gender and pay, comparing men and women who have the same occupation, education, experience, race and labor-union status. At the end of the late 1970s, women earned about 82 percent as much each hour as men with a similar profile. A decade later, the number had shot up to 91 percent, offering reason to wonder if women would reach parity.

But by the late '90s, the number remained at 91 percent. Ms. Blau and Mr. Kahn have not yet examined the current decade in detail, but she said other data suggested that there had been little movement.

During the 1990s boom, college-educated men received larger raises than women on average. Women have done slightly better than the men in the last few years, but not enough to make up for the late '90s, the Economic Policy Institute analysis found.

There is no proof that discrimination is the cause of the remaining pay gap, Ms. Blau said. It is possible that the average man, brought up to view himself the main breadwinner, is more committed to his job than the average woman.

But researchers note that government efforts to reduce sex discrimination have ebbed over the period that the pay gap has stagnated. In the 1960s and '70s, laws like Title VII and Title IX prohibited discrimination at work and in school and may have helped close the pay gap in subsequent years. There have been no similar pushes in the last couple of decades.

Women have continued to pour into high-paid professions like law, medicine and corporate management where they were once rare, but the increases seem to have slowed, noted Reeve Vanneman, a sociologist at the University of Maryland .

Medicine offers a particularly good window on these changes. Roughly 40 percent of medical school graduates are women today. Yet many of the highest paid specialties, the ones in which salaries often exceed $400,000, remain dominated by men and will be for decades to come, based on the pipeline of residents.

Only 28 percent of radiology residents in 2004-5 were women, the Association of American Medical Colleges has reported. Only 10 percent of orthopedic surgery residents were female. The specialties in which more than half of new doctors are women, like dermatology, family medicine and pediatrics, tend to pay less.

Melanie Kingsley, a 28-year-old resident at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said she had wanted to be a doctor for as long as she could recall. For a party celebrating her graduation from medical school, her mother printed up invitations with a photo of Dr. Kingsley wearing a stethoscope — when she was a toddler.

As the first doctor in her family, though, she did not have a clear idea of which specialty she would choose until she spent a summer working alongside a female dermatologist in Chicago. There, she saw that dermatologists worked with everyone from newborns to the elderly and worked on nearly every part of the body, and she was hooked.

"You get paid enough to support your family and enjoy life," said Dr. Kingsley, a lifelong Indiana resident. "Yeah, maybe I won't make a lot of money. But I'll be happy with my day-to-day job, and that's the reason I went into medicine — to help other people." She added: "I have seen people do it for the money, and they're not very happy."

The gender differences among medical specialties point to another aspect of the current pay gap. In earlier decades, the size of the gap was similar among middle-class and affluent workers. At times, it was actually smaller at the top.

But the gap is now widest among highly paid workers. A woman making more than 95 percent of all other women earned the equivalent of $36 an hour last year, or about $90,000 a year for working 50 hours a week. A man making more than 95 percent of all other men, putting in the same hours, would have earned $115,000 — a difference of 28 percent.

At the very top of the income ladder, the gap is probably even larger. The official statistics do not capture the nation's highest earners, and in many fields where pay has soared — Wall Street, hedge funds, technology — the top jobs are overwhelmingly held by men.

How Christmas Brings Out The Grinch in Economists

Holiday Is Highly Inefficient, Some Dismal Scientists Say; Analyzing the In-Law Effect

By MARK WHITEHOUSE
Wall Street Journal
December 23, 2006; Page A1

Given the fanfare and billions of dollars in spending it generates, you might think Christmas is the best thing to happen to the economy all year. But some economists say we would be better off without it.

In the cold, hard analysis of the dismal science, Christmas is a highly inefficient way of connecting consumers with goods. Squeezing a big chunk of people's spending into a year-end frenzy of gift-buying generates an abundance of ill-considered presents -- millions of unwanted ties, picture frames and toe socks that, had they found the right owners, could have brought a lot more satisfaction.

Economists call that foregone benefit the holiday's "deadweight loss."

"The economy is better off" if fewer gifts are given, says Tyler Cowen, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who riffs on economic topics in a popular Web log, or blog, called Marginal Revolution. "Most gifts are not enjoyed much anyway."

An economist?

Economists aren't suggesting Christmas be abolished. Still, in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey, more than two of three economists opined that if Christmas ceased to exist as a holiday, consumers would either spend more on themselves or spread their gift purchases more evenly across other events such as birthdays. That, in the view of some academics, would put more goods into the hands of people who truly value them and improve social welfare as a result.

"We'd be able to eke out more satisfaction from the same amount of spending," says Joel Waldfogel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business who has studied the economics of Christmas giving. "We'd have a happier material realm."

For retailers, from the local jeweler to giants such as Gap Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., life without Christmas would be pretty hard to fathom. Overall, sales tend to spike about 15% in the last two months of the year, accounting for a quarter of retailers' annual revenue. The National Retail Federation forecasts that U.S. consumers will plunk down about $457 billion this holiday season, or about $4,000 a household.

In theory, smoother sales throughout the year would be better for retailers, enabling them to avoid the extra costs of planning and stocking up for the holidays. But most tend not to see it that way. "Christmas is the lifeblood of the retail business," says Elliot Braha, who has been selling collectibles such as Swarovski crystal for 30 years as owner of Edwardo Galleries of New York. "It's a time of year when people don't have a choice. They have to spend."

Still, if people's spending were better targeted, the benefits could be significant. Prof. Waldfogel estimates that if everyone bought gifts only for themselves this holiday season, the added satisfaction would be worth more than $10 billion. He derives the number from a study in which he asked college students to place a value on things they bought on their own and on the gifts they received for Christmas. On average, they valued their own purchases 18% more highly than the gifts.

In-laws were among the most unsuccessful givers: Recipients tended to value their gifts about 40% less than they did their own purchases.

Not all of that value is permanently lost. By re-gifting or by selling gifts on eBay, people can unlock an item's value by putting it in the hands of the right owner. According to a poll conducted this month by Impulse Research and KFC Corp., about four in 10 Americans say they have recycled a gift at some point in their lives. About seven in 10 said they would return gifts if they knew that nobody would find out about it.

Gift cards have provided in-laws and other hapless givers with a way to improve their success rate. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. consumers will spend almost $25 billion on gift cards this season, up $6 billion from last year. By allowing recipients to choose their own presents, gift cards get around the problem of deadweight loss.

Even never-used cards, which by some estimates constitute about 10% of the total given, don't necessarily destroy value: They merely represent a transfer of funds from the giver to the retailer (or to the government, depending on state laws concerning unclaimed property).

Gift cards have their flaws. Some people don't get the same thrill as they do from choosing a more-personal gift, be it a white elephant or not. Bruce Kasman, head of economic research at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., says his family's decision to switch entirely to gift cards for Hanukkah has been great for the children, but not necessarily for the older folks, who no longer have the satisfaction of knowing they will be remembered whenever junior wears that tie or uses that Xbox.

"From the broader perspective of what holidays and gift-giving are all about, I guess I have mixed feelings about it," he says.

Mr. Kasman's attitude demonstrates an important point: People derive benefits from giving that transcend the material value of the gift -- which helps explain the persistence of Christmas giving despite all the deadweight loss. Gifts not only have sentimental value, but also help people reinforce social bonds, a reality noted as far back as 1925 by French sociologist Marcel Mauss in his book "The Gift."

Indeed, economists increasingly are looking for ways to broaden their concepts of social welfare to incorporate people's feelings. In the case of Christmas, some have made attempts to estimate gifts' sentimental value, a factor Prof. Waldfogel explicitly ignored.

In one study, economists John List and Jason Shogren created an auction in which they offered students money for their Christmas presents, asking them to split their price into material and sentimental value. The result: On average, sentimental value accounted for about half the total. That more than offsets Mr. Waldfogel's estimate of deadweight loss, suggesting that Christmas gift-giving might not be such a bad thing when all factors are taken into account.

"People get a whole heck of a lot of value out of doing something for others and other people doing something for them," says Mr. Shogren, a professor at the University of Wyoming who specializes in putting a value on such things as biodiversity and human life. "Aunt Helga gave you that ugly scarf, but hey, it's Aunt Helga."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Republished 12 Mo Newsletter with Pouty Pix

I am republishing the 12 Month Newsletter that referred to the JCPenney's Pictures. I just got them in the email account for your perusal. I hope these two pictures are not an indicator of future roller-coaster emotions (like his siter has!).

Follow-Up on the Angry DI Conceived Child's Column

Below I am re-publishing the transcript of an online discussion that Katrina Clark hosted as a follow-up to her Opinion piece in the Washington Post, published on Sunday December 17, 2006.

Katrina Clark, a freshman at Gallaudet University, was online Monday, Dec. 18, at noon ET to discuss her Sunday Outlook article on being conceived by a sperm donor and searching for her biological father.

The transcript follows.
____________________
Mom-to-be, Rockville, Md.: Your article seems to be less about donor sperm and more about the consequences of single motherhood by choice. I am a married woman preparing to conceive using donor sperm. My child will have a FATHER - my incredible husband - regardless of DNA. I'm sorry that this is something you were not given - but it bothers me that your misguided criticism will affect loving couples like myself who can provide that ideal life that you described - if only biology hadn't stolen it from US. Do you recognize the distinction?
Katrina Clark: I do recognize the distinction, as I have networked with many other donor conceived people from a wide variety of family backgrounds. I do also see the similarity in most of us for the desire to at least have the option of knowing the identity of our biological fathers. Some interesting situations I have come across regarding donor conceived people in a two-parent, mother-father household include being concerned about admitting the want to know the biological father's identity for fear of hurting the "social" father (aka, the dad) or not being aware that they are donor conceived at all. Both instances, I believe, were brought about by some lack of communication on the parts of the parents to encourage their children to be OK with talking about their feelings regarding the circumstances surrounding their conception.
Much of my own bias is simply due to the fact that I have never really had a sufficient father-figure, and I do realize this (I was raised well all the same). I also realize that this is not limited to one-parent or same-sex parent households. I cannot and will not blanket the opinions of all donor conceived people or future donor conceived people with my own opinion, but I can share what I have experienced personally and observed from other donor conceived people from every walk of life.
_______________________
Detroit, Mich.: One item I did not see addressed in your article was if you have discovered other children conceived with the sperm of your biological father (thus possible siblings).
Also, though I can sympathize with the feelings you describe, I have personally seen people with far worse situations into which they have been born: abusive parent(s), severe dysfunctional families, poverty and lack of parental support such that children can never obtain a reasonable education, etc. Families are seldom the "ideal" situations often depicted on television shows. The realization of that helps with coping with one's own situation.
Katrina Clark: I have not come into contact with any half-siblings as of yet, if I even have any; there is no telling.
Everyday their are countless people conceived in less than ideal circumstances. All the examples that you have listed are absolutely correct, and they are also absolutely not encouraged for anyone involved. Interestingly enough, artificial using anonymous donors is the exception.
_______________________
Alexandria, Va.: Although you say you aren't angry at your mother, your portrayal of her is rather bleak--"she allowed herself" to become pregnant, she sat back, "lonely and tired" with a "weak smile." Honey, none of us asks to be born, with one parent or two. How did your mother react to your search--and did you do it with her knowledge and help? Has your relationship with her changed after you found your donor/dad?
Katrina Clark: My mother has been awesome throughout this process. She understood the yearning to know the identity of my biological father and simply to have adequate medical history information. At my request, she let me search alone as I updated her anytime something changed in my search. Don't worry, she kept tabs on me, especially as I was coming into contact with an adult male stranger.
I do believe our relationship has grown stronger from this experience. I appreciate her so much more now than ever before. I cannot thank my mother enough for being open with me from the start and letting me find my own way to come to terms with everything regarding her choice for my conception.
_______________________
Washington, D.C.: Katrina,
Thanks for your thoughtful article. I am currently pregnant with twins conceived with the help of an egg donor. She is a "known donor" we found via the Internet. She is open to meeting our children if/when they desire and having an ongoing relationship with our family. I feel that, given the choice we made, this is the best we can do. And I am wondering how you view this arrangement. Before choosing this method of conception, we agonized over how our child/children might feel about it. I'm curious to hear if you have any suggestions.
Katrina Clark: The "known donor" programs nowadays is really a big step forward in the exercise of human altruism. I applaud those willing to come forward for the sake of the children. I am rather curious myself about the effects on the children of having the "donor" in their life from a young age and knowing this person as they grow into adults.
I do think it is awfully risky for recipients of anonymous donors to seek out their donor before their child or children can understand what it means to be an anonymous donor. This is especially true if the anonymous donor does not want to be found (hence the title "anonymous"). Starting off with a known donor is probably the best solution to this dilemma. My favorite program is when the offspring and only the offspring can have the option of accessing files containing the identity of their biological father/mother when the donor conceived person reaches age 18. This lets the child decide for him- or herself if they even want to know. Not everyone does.
_______________________
Arlington, Va.: How did you resolve the possible conflict of interfering with the biological Dad's life ?
Katrina Clark: I let him lead when it comes to being in his life. The contact between us is mutual. We respect each other and go with the flow. There have been some obstacles thus far in learning how to fit each other in our own lives, but I think we're doing well with what we have.
_______________________
Capitol Hill: Should single women be prohibited from using donor sperm to conceive?
Katrina Clark: That's a tough question that I do not feel I am credible enough to answer. I do know from my own experiences that I would not have the way I was raised any other way. I am certainly not 100% against the idea of single women or same-sex parents, for that matter, being artificially inseminated using donors. Situations and abilities vary from case to case, person to person. I would just hope that these women would be willing to use known donors.
_______________________
Washington, D.C.: Hello. What exactly is the law about finding the donor dad? It seemed all the states have different rules, regulations and policies but no law.
Katrina Clark: It is curious you should bring up such an inquiry. In the United States, as of now, there are no such widespread laws regarding donor conception. Every set of rules varies from each physician and each sperm bank. As parallel as donor conception can be to adoption, it makes me wonder why the states do not use that as a model to "conceive" laws about donor conception.
And this is a warning for the donors... If they are not willing to be found, there is certainly no law stopping the offspring from this prerogative.
_______________________
Silver Spring, Md.: What makes you think that having a known father would have made your life better? Ask someone whose father was an alcoholic who beat his family. Ask someone whose father sexually abused her. Most nuclear families are not the Waltons.
I think my parents were wrong in not divorcing since their constant fighting was like living in a war zone. My husband's son is angry that his parent's divorces since he thought that if they stayed together his family would become like "Leave it to Beaver."
Were you abused, hungry not given an education? What you fantasized as a family does not exist.
Yes you have a right to know you genetic history although many who have had father's that abandoned them do not have that luxury. What you think you missed just does not happen.
Katrina Clark: Believe me when I say that I know it's not always "peaches 'n cream" behind closed doors. As a little girl, I did fantasize occasionally about what my life would be like, or at least what I hoped it would be like with a father figure in the mix. Now, I would not want my life to be any other way. I am genuinely happy and grateful with how my mother brought me up and I am proud to say she did it all herself, regarding parenting, anyway.
The one conundrum left is the right for everyone to know their genetic roots. Some people simply cannot take advantage of this right and that is very unfortunate. Let's not make donor conception an unfortunate circumstance, either.
_______________________
San Francisco, Calif.: I felt the need to comment after having read your article. I was conceived by donor insemination 22 years ago when my lesbian mothers decided to start a family. My donor is one of the 'identity release' mentioned in the other article on the page with yours. Me, and my younger brother and sister have always had a loving and stable family, and have never felt as though we were missing anything. When people ask me how it was growing up, I say just like any loving family.
Though I always knew that when I turned 18 I would have the option of finding out the identity of the sperm donor, it was never more than a curiosity. When people ask me why I haven't yet, nearly 4 years later, the best answer I can give them is, "I guess its just not that important to me?" While knowing medical and genetic history do interest me, and are probably no more than a phone call or an email away, I simply haven't done it yet. My brother and sister just turned 18 (they're twins), so we'll see if either of them contacts the sperm bank.
I guess that what I'm getting at is that not all donor-inseminated children share your opinion, and most especially, that no parents should feel disheartened by your article, because there are many many happy families with children conceived by donor insemination, some that we know personally, and I would hate for any parents, same-sex or otherwise, to be discouraged from starting a loving, happy family.
Katrina Clark: I definitely agree with you. I never meant to construe my opinion as "the" opinion for all donor conceived people, internationally, even. I think it is great that you have access to that kind of information, as I think all donor conceived people should have! That was were my frustration can be found, in not having a choice, though my familiar circumstances were not entirely unfortunate (no more than most people, anyway). Now that I am in contact with my biological father, there are some things I could ask him, but choose not to, just as yourself. I do love that freedom of choice much better than being stuck with what doctors with good intentions set that part of my life to be back in the 80s.
_______________________
Arlington, Va.: I really applaud you for your honesty in writing this article, since it must have been difficult to write about your childhood fantasy of a perfect dad/family. I think your point that individual moms (or dads, in the case of a surrogate), who yearn for babies using a sperm donor really, really need to think about how the use of an anonymous donor will affect their children's lives down the road is a very important one.
Having said that, it seems as though this technology is here to stay. And as long as -college aged- students are solicited and paid to donate eggs and sperm, it seems abundantly clear that the donors may well have substantially different views about their biological offspring when they grow up.
It seems especially obvious that it's a genuine crapshoot whether a college-aged man who donates sperm is going to grow into a thoughtful father with a compelling interest in the lives of say, up to thirty of his biological offspring - raised by different mothers/fathers/partners that he's never met, and may not have anything in common with.
Katrina Clark: I do believe you've hit the nail on the head.
_______________________
Alexandria, Va.: Do you know if your biological father has sired other children with donor sperm, and if so, would you like to meet them, or have you met them?
Katrina Clark: Neither I nor my biological father have yet to come into contact with any half-siblings of mine. I have no idea how I could have, if any at all. If I were to find siblings one day, I would love to meet them. I have become a bit protective of the slowly budding relationship with my biological father, but my no means would I ever deny another offspring the right to join the relation beyond DNA.
_______________________
Md.: Please let me say first I have no frame of reference for your experience. I have not walked any mile in your shoes. I found your article very well written and thought provoking but was dismayed by the level of anger. Do other kids conceived in this way harbor the same resentments? I would hope you could somehow find a degree of peace and closure so that you don't go through life as bitter and furious as you sound now. Otherwise we will have lost a very articulate writer.
Katrina Clark: Perhaps it was not entirely clear in the article that I no longer hold resentment against any persons involved in my conception. That is not to say I have never felt such resentment. I have, obviously, but it was mostly due to the fact that this part of my life, knowing any information about my biological father, was outlined for me by people with the interests of the adults in mind at the time of my conception. Since I have worked around the system and found my own way of obtaining the reigns to access such information, it has left me a better person. Had I still been holding onto any anger, I do not think I would be much help to people when it comes to understanding or at least pondering the perspective of the children (or adults) that are donor conceived.
_______________________
Dupont Circle: Your piece was certainly an eye-opener. But as I read it I couldn't help but feel a little bad for your mom. I felt you took a bit of an unsympathetic tone toward her and her decision 18+ years ago.
While you honored her by discussing how she raised you with little resources, it seemed as though you feel she's one of the those who didn't think through the implications on the child. Given how intelligent and thoughtful you are, I imagine she's a smart woman, too. Did she think through the decision in the way you would have wanted? I wish you had acknowledged that and included her feelings in the piece a little more.
Thanks for the opportunity to share a thought.
Katrina Clark: Sorry for any part of the article that seems to be cut off. It is quite difficult to condense such a broad topic into a limited word count (just ask the editor).
Naturally, my mom and I have talked deeply about her role in my conception, especially since I have become so outspoken about the issue. My mother is, indeed, an incredibly intelligent woman and she did give thought to how I may react. She predicted that there was a possibility I may grow to strongly resent her in my teen years. It is interesting that she understood this to be a possibility (though slim at best), yet still chose donor conception. One thing that needs to be understood is the lack of good arguments against anonymous donors back in the 1970s, 80s, and even the early part of the 90s. The deciding factor in any and every case was the intentions for the donors and recipients mainly due to no clear information as to how offspring may be affected. Now there is and I hope this new information for most will be taken into consideration more often or, ideally, every time the issue is brought up.
_______________________
Chevy Chase, D.C.: Katrina:
I found your article very interesting but I am intrigued by your sense of entitlement. You state that you have a basic "right" to know who your biological father is. I am not so sure. My wife is adopted...so she has no idea who either of her biological parents are. I think she would confess to some curiosity but has never claimed a "right" to know. Do you think that the rather strident position you have taken could reduce the number of donors or people's willingness to put a baby up for adoption if they were, for whatever reason, concerned about their privacy?
Katrina Clark: In the United Kingdom, there is currently a ban on all anonymous sperm donations. Since this policy has been enforced, the number of donors has decreased dramatically and sperm banks are desperately seeking out more donors. In the same respect, those wishing to conceive who are frustrated with the limited options in the UK are now going to other countries to conceive all for the "guarantee" of anonymity.
Certainly my particular stand point (being synonymous with many other donor conceived people) of absolving anonymous donations would be in the United States, as it is now in the United Kingdom, a deterrent for the whole donor conception industry simply because it would force donors, recipients, and everyone involved to seriously mull over and give thought to more possible ramifications of their actions. Imagine that.
_______________________
Katrina Clark: I would like to give a word of thanks to everyone who has given me feedback about your own thoughts on the issue. It has never been my intention to criticize or insult anyone with an opinion on the subject at hand. I simply want people to be able to ponder artificial insemination using anonymous donors with more depth than what was previously possible. This has happened, I do believe. Thank you all for taking the time to read of my story and I hope it allows for better applications of such critical reproductive technological advances.
All the best,
Katrina
_______________________
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And Neither Are In Need Of Their Two Front Teeth


An Organic Thank You! to Cousin

I love it when the doorbell rings and it is a nice young man (or woman) bearing packages.





A long time ago, when deciding on a career path, I made the decision NOT to be the person whom your clients do NOT want to see or who are in a bad mood to have had to have called you at all.

For example,
The tow-truck guy.
The dentist (especially in an emergency).
The "family" lawyer.
The roofing contractor.
The emergency water-heater installer.
The principal (if you're six).
The doctor to review the results of your recent test.

As opposed to:
The florist deivery person.
The UPS guy!

Today this fine young chap delivered a lovely Christmas package from Cousin: organic vodka! (Their motto: "We are social and socially conscious").

This is a gal who understands parenting.

And health!

She's right. I do, in fact, "go organic" every chance I get (except wine). But I can't help wondering what Dooce would think of organic vodka.

See her posts (original and follow-up) on organic chicken broth.

Wishfull Thinking




Monday, December 18, 2006

From The Horse's Mouth

Now THIS is what I am interested in learning about. Katrina Clark is an 18 year old student at Galludette University in Washington and a a donor-conceived child come of age. In her article "My Father Was an Anonymous Sperm Donor" she describes herself as being "pretty angry about it" for a while.

As you'll see by the below snippets, she still seems pretty angry about the whole "sperm-donor thing."

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

. . .

I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.


. . .

Growing up, it didn't matter that I don't have a dad -- or at least that is what I told myself. Just sometimes, when I was small, I would daydream about a tall, lean man picking me up and swinging me around in the front yard, a manly man melting at a touch from his little girl. I wouldn't have minded if he weren't around all the time, as long as I could have the sweet moments of reuniting with his strong arms and hearty laugh. My daydreams always ended abruptly; I knew I would never have a dad. As a coping mechanism, I used to think that he was dead. That made it easier.


That was when the emptiness came over me. I realized that I am, in a sense, a freak. I really, truly would never have a dad. I finally understood what it meant to be donor-conceived, and I hated it.




When I read some of the mothers' thoughts about their choice for conception, it made me feel degraded to nothing more than a vial of frozen sperm. It seemed to me that most of the mothers and donors give little thought to the feelings of the children who would result from their actions. It's not so much that they're coldhearted as that they don't consider what the children might think once they grow up.



Those of us created with donated sperm won't stay bubbly babies forever. We're all going to grow into adults and form opinions about the decision to bring us into the world in a way that deprives us of the basic right to know where we came from, what our history is and who both our parents are.


Some countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, are beginning to move away from the practice of paying donors and granting them anonymity, and making it somewhat easier for offspring to find their biological fathers. I understand anonymity's appeal for so many donors: Even if their offspring were to find them one day -- which is becoming more and more probable -- they have no legal, social, financial or moral obligation to their children.

But perhaps if donors were not paid and anonymity were no longer guaranteed, those still willing to participate would seriously consider the repercussions of their actions. They would have to be prepared to someday meet the people whom they helped create, to answer questions and to deal with a range of erratic emotions from their offspring. I believe I've let go of any resentment about the way I was conceived. I'm playing the cards I've been dealt and trying to make the best of things. But not all donor-conceived people share this mindset.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hometown Homophobia

Book on male penguin pair as parents riles Westby dad

See the text below.

It will never cease to amaze me that people get riled up by different forms of love for kids.

As if love is (or should be) a scarce good.

Happy Holidays, Homophobe!

WESTBY, Wis. — A book about two male penguins raising a chick will remain on the shelf at Westby’s public library, despite a local resident’s complaint it is inappropriate for young children.

The book, “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is based on a true story of a pair of male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo that adopted a fertilized egg and reared the baby.

The book is geared for ages 4 to 8.

Westby parent Peter Rau had called on the board of the Bekkum Memorial Library to label the book as controversial or remove it, saying it has subtle homosexual undertones.

“I personally don’t want this lifestyle taught to my child without my knowledge,” Rau told the board.

“I’m not requesting a book burning or even censorship, but I have to admit I was taken back and stopped short of finishing the book, which my son checked out of the library and I was reading to him,” Rau said.

Rau cited research he said showed children raised in a homosexual environment during their impressionable years can show detrimental effects.

He added he believes the book’s message goes against the country’s values.

“I’m in no way trying to slight anyone’s choice, and people should have the choice to believe what they choose, but I don’t believe this book is appropriate for children my son’s age,” Rau said.

Librarian Cindy Brown-Lucus told Rau she respected his opinion, but she has an obligation to have books available that represent all patrons and recognize diversity.

“Every child’s lifestyle deserves to be reflected in a picture book. The way you view the undertones of this book might be totally opposite of another readers’ viewpoint,” Brown-Lucus said. “This book has received many respected reviews. It shows that daddies know what to do in any given situation.”

The board voted to keep the book available without label or restrictions.

Penguin book found in La Crosse schools

At least five elementary schools in La Crosse carry “And Tango Makes Three.” The book hasn’t been challenged by parents, said Darcy Maxwell, library media center director at Summit Elementary School, which just received the book for student use.

She said the book was selected, as all books the district purchases are, because of a strong review, in this case in the July 2005 issue of “School Library Journal.” The book also serves a teaching need, as many of the elementary schools study polar animals, she said.

Dorothy Jasperson is editor of the Westby Times.


Thanks to She-Who-Is-Named-After-The-Elf-Princess for the tip!

The Parenting Manifesto Project

Rebel Dad is posting parenting manifestos.

Check them out!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Dismal Science on Affirmative Action

The parent organization for all nerdy economists found some doo doo on its shoes in a recent scandal about online advertisements for jobs openings for economists ("JOE" believe it or not).

When professors at the University of Vermont sent information about a job opening to the American Economic Association this fall about a tenure-track opening, they didn’t think their notice was unusual. After describing the position, the notice said that the university “welcomes applications from women and underrepresented ethnic, racial and cultural groups and from people with disabilities.”

Those words never made it into the economics group’s job notice list because they were deemed discriminatory by the association.


?

Our ad included a little blurb that apparently passed through the AEA's wary eye: The [mid-sized state university where I am tenured] is engaged in an effort to be a leader in [the state]'s movement toward increased diversity and inclusiveness. We are committed to developing our faculty to better reflect the diversity of American society. An equal opportunity-affirmative action employer.

A Whole Lotta Firsts






Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nature v. Nurture: A Tie!

Thank goodness because as LesbianDad puts it, "I'm all nurture, no nature!"

Check out this great reference via New Economist on a paper written by Anders Björklund (Stockholm University), Markus Jäntti (Abo Akademi University) and Gary Solon (University of Michigan.

The authors examine the correlation of socioeconomic status between parents and children, and find that both nature and nurture matter. The paper, Nature and Nurture in the Intergenerational Transmission of Socioeconomic Status: Evidence from Swedish Children and Their Biological and Rearing Parents (PDF), concludes:

The adult socioeconomic status of Swedes born between 1962 and 1965 appears to be positively associated with the socioeconomic status of both their biological parents and their rearing parents, when those parents are not the same as each other as well as when they are. Accordingly, our paper is entitled “Nature and Nurture,” not “Nature vs. Nurture.” We see no logical or empirical need to choose between the two. Our evidence suggests substantial importance for both.

Note: An earlier paper by the two authors, Influences of Nature and Nurture on Earnings Variation:
A Report on a Study of Various Sibling Types in Sweden (PDF), published in 2005, used data from the Swedish Twin Registry, to examine the importance of genes and environment in accounting for earnings variation. It concluded that genetic influences were important:

Even our smallest estimates of the genetic component of earnings variation, however, suggest that it accounts for about 20 percent of earnings inequality among men and more than 10 percent among women.

However, almost two-thirds of earnings variation could be explained neither by genetics or environment:

Although our results point to a significant role for genetic variation, perhaps the most striking finding is the most obvious one – about the importance of non-shared environment. The largest sibling correlation in earnings that we estimate is a 0.36 correlation for monozygotic twin brothers. Even though these brothers have identical genes and, according to our preferred model, experience even more similar environments than other sibling pairs do, an estimated 64 percent of their earnings variation is explained by neither genetic nor environmental resemblance. In other words, much and perhaps most of earnings variation in Sweden stems from environmental factors that are not shared even by monozygotic twins.

Neither genes nor the environment in which we are raised determine (most of) our future earnings.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Birthday Numero Uno



One Year Ago Today






Irregular Newsletter: 12 Months

Three-hundred-and-sixy-effing-five-days!

HO-LY Shit, Man!

I can’t belive you’ve been around for a year.

I went back to the old external hard drive and found some pictures of that glorious day that you were born and found some pictures that I had not even really LOOKED at last year. The most spectacular one is titled “first cry” with little tomato-you, screaming with your face all crinkled up in the way that you still do, with a little corner of that doctor that both Mama and I had crushes on.

You look exactly like that now. Except bigger. Much bigger. Over 200 percent bigger.

And well, less red.

This month has been extraordinary.

You’ve mastered independent walking, which, according to Wikipedia occurs between 9 and 15 months old. You do not, however even approach our average walking speed (3 mph), but you do resemble competitive walkers with the emphasis placed on your arm and shoulders and you certainly have a strange hip movement, although at your speed you are not going to win any races. Furthermore, your body reflects your attempts at mastery with little scrapes and bruises everywhere. These are definitely the tell-tale signs of your evolution toward toddlerhood. This is the stage where you can tell parents from non-parents when we're out in public. The non-parents give me a wary eye, wondering about their responsiblity in reporting what they suspect is child abuse. Parents look at me with a knowing wink that he is obviously just learning to walk.

Today at Walgreens we picked up some glue to supplement the SYO's classroom. In order to get on with the other things I needed to get done, and to placate you and your thirty-pound-girth in my left arm, I let you chew on the unopened orange top. One man looked at you and, while pretending to talk to you (in that condescending voice people sometimes use with kids) he lectured me: You don't wanna be chewing on that GLUE do you? I joked: Gotta start 'em early! A joke which Mr. Serious didn't find funny.

BioMom and I went over to her aunt's new place for an open house and there we witnessed first hand what a four year old with a Y chromosome could be. This kid made even me - the thrilled-to-have-a-boy-to-rough-and-tumble-with - one in the family nibble at my nails. He was WILD, regularly flinging himself at unsuspecting me who, wincing with his head in my belly, imagining my body looking like elastigirl's at that moment with my spine on the other side of the room.

I kinda hope you'll be a little more (ahem) laid back.

Last night BioMom was in LA for work and we were in bed with the SYO singing and doing our "five-minute rundown". You laid between us with a little board book, content as hell. I wanted to stay there forever.

When I got up to go, you looked at me as if to say "I'm okay here. You can go. I don't mind going to bed a little early and without my bottle if I get to just stay here with her."

You are understanding more and more, and you've got this little trill/giggle that makes everyone around you laugh out loud.

You've got a great smile, still with only two bottom teeth, but you refused to share it with the photographer at JCPenny's and we'll forever own a picture of your HUGE pouty lip that you presented when she took the Christmas ornament away that you, apparently, mistook for a popsicle.




More evidence that you won't be quite as wild as that cousin of yours is that you eat like a European. Slowly. Methodically. Food is not simply a means to an end for you. Eating is an event peppered with enthusiastic and energetic conversation (however impossible to comprehend). At the start of dinner, you're just settling in. You'd prefer just a few Cheerios at first to cleanse the palate. Afterwards you prefer one taste at a time, eventually sampling whatever it is that we are enjoying, but at a much slower pace. If we sit with you, you'd love to spread the meal out 45 minutes to an hour. While we're loading the dishwasher, you're enjoying an espresso (with a twist) and waiting for the port to show up.

I suspect you're going to be a climber. When the SYO is in the tub, you do all that you can to fling yourself in there with her, clothes and all. Since having a recent little growth spurt, you can actually get your knee over the edge. I'm all inadvertenly encouraging: BIOMOM! GET IN HERE AND LOOK AT THIS! One afternoon, you slid your belly over the top and penguin-like slipped into the warm water (again, fully clothed).

Best of all, you understand and respond to "Gimmie a kiss!" with your soft warm lips (and sometimes wet open mouth). We all fight for these semi-rare nuggets of your love.

The neighborhood is gathering to celebrate you today, sweet one.

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Up-and-Downsides of Maturity

The other day our SYO made us extremely proud.

During her last "five minutes" of the day, she gets to spend a little time with one of us talking about everything and anything before she goes to sleep.

The other night she told BioMom a story about her day. I will attempt to paraphrase.

She was at school and had gone to the bathroom while they were doing a project in which they were making some sort of wreaths for Christmas. While in the bathroom, she missed an important and emphasized instruction to NOT turn the center of their wreaths into Santa Clauses.

[I'm a little fuzzy on this part as I can't even imagine how that would seem so natural to the first graders that the teacher would have to emphasize it so, but I digress.].

Upon her return, our SYO, in working on her wreath, immediately turned the center into a Santa and went on, working on the wreath. While doing her work, the supposed-to-be-subliminated-Santa was pushed slightly onto her neighbor's desk. When the teacher saw the Santa, she punished the boy on whose desk it was found.

To our great delight, our SYO, realizing it was her's, told the teacher so, not wanting the neighbor to get in trouble for her behavior.

We got this email from her teacher:

I have never had such a heart warming experience than what [the SYO] did yesterday. It sounds like what she told you is pretty accurate. I told the class over and over that you can only take four cotton balls because then we would have enough for everyone and she was in the bathroom and missed that. Poor [kid who was sitting next to her] got in trouble and then [the SYO] told me it was her and it almost brought a tear to my eye. I am glad you were able to talk with her about it because it is a situation that doesn’t happen often. I am very proud of her for doing that and I let her know yesterday.

After the SYO finished telling BioMom her story, BioMom expressed to her how proud she was of taking responsibility for her actions.

SYO: Can I have a piece of candy?

BioMom: You have already been rewarded for what you did! Three times, in fact!

SYO: How?

BioMom: Well, first Ms. [First-Grade Teacher] let you keep the Santa; second, it made you feel so good about yourself; and, thirdly, I am incredibly proud of you.

SYO: But. . . Can I still have some candy?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Sage

The boy and I were out-and-about today, running errands and such.

On the advice of a local friend, we went to JC Pennys to make an appointment for Big's one year picture (and a retake of our SOY's 'first-grade-grin' which she chose to hide with closed lips for her school picture to our great dissapointment).

I was maneuvering the stroller into the elevator when an older guy, sitting on a chair near the elevator, apparently waiting for no one said:

I see you got lucky there.

It was one of those moments that sort of take your breath away. We were doing such an every-day-humdrum sort of activity. Nothing special whatsoever. I move through the world invisibly about 99.9% of the time. Of course, Big changes that a little (as all babies do for the lucky people around them who bask in all of their sunshine-y glory), but for the most part, we go through the world relatively unnoticed.

I literally wheeled Big around, kind of gasping at this reminder of what is true and good in my life, and, nodding emphatically, I grinned back at the Sage:

I sure did.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More Than A Box

First Birthday Presents (awaiting wrapping in the guest room): $50
Birthday cake and ice cream: $6.50
New Car Seat: $119.00
Car Seat Box: Priceless






Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Desperately Needed Lessons in Civility

I just received this email:

i would like to have a meeting about my scheudle for next semester either next monday the 27th or tuesday the 28th. I have classes on monday's from 10 until 2 and on tuesdays at 10-11 and 12:40 - 2. if i could meet you at any time other than this i would appreciate it.


I responded with this email:

Hi [Student-For-Whom-Commonplace-Civility-Has-Gone-By-The-Wayside] --

I am on leave this year and am, therefore, unable to advise students. Please contact the Dean's office to be reassigned a new advisor.

Good luck,
-[Blogauthor]

P.S. In the future, when addressing professors, etc. I would suggest writing emails more carefully. For example, using capital letters where necessary (such as for the pronoun "I" instead of "i") and having a salutation such as "Dear Dr. So-and-so" and "Sincerely, So-and-so". These simple actions will make you seem much more civil and will encourage professors to write you back and address your need.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Economist's Daughter

Wouldn't that be a great book title? Okay, maybe not the most interesting book. . . But a great title none-the-less!

GreenStone Talkshow

From a tip* from LesbianDad I just listened to Dr. Nanette Gartrell (principal investigator on the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study) and some other not-entirely informed guy on the call-in radio show on GreenStone Radio.

I think what infuriates me about discussions like that (i.e. short, so not enough time for anyone to really make a coherent point) is the platitudes that are spoken, and not followed-up on.

For example, Mr. Sprig** (the anti-gays-having-kids guy) kept talking in huge generalizations like:

a) kids with two biological parents in the household do "better" than kids in households with stepparents
b) African American kids in single-mother parent households do "much worse" than kids with two parents.

I wanted to scream! What exactly does he mean by "better" or "worse"? What things are measured? And how can he not see the confounding variables? Probably African American kids with single mother parents are doing "worse" because they don't have any money! Not because they don't have a dad! And "step-parents" are probably not great substitutes for biological parents because the study is mixing up the effects of divorce or separation. What does that have to do with being a gay or lesbian parent? How does an involved non-biological parent who has been around since conception differ from a biological parent? Does he think that adoption should be illegal--even among the hetersexuals out there? I also think that we confuse parent's sexuality with parent's gender.

There are just so many more questions out there for us to answer before we can make such definitive (and derisive) conclusions. For example: How many glbt families are formed through a) adoption, b) prior heterosexual marriages and c) donor insemination. How does family formation affect children? Is it that children need two parents with differing primary sexual characteristics or is it that children need "masculine" fathers and "feminine" mothers in order to learn correct gender roles?***

He kept getting stuck on one of the relatively well known results that the children of gay and lesbian parents tend to experiment more with their sexuality, although they usually do not end up being gay or lesbian themselves. This is such a ridiculous "concern." If anything, it tells me that if we were all free to explore the limits of our beings, that more of us would experiment. Period. What is the negative in that?

AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!

Maybe Devil's Advocates like that hit at my insecurities. Are we preparing our kids well enough to lead heterosexual lives? Will our SYO be able to navigate a relationship with a man even though she hasn't experienced it first hand yet? Am I enough of a dad? Is having two moms enough?


*From LesbianDad: Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the principal investigator on the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, about which I wrote in late October, is going to be interviewed about her study alongside a FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL guest on a call-in radio show on GreenStone Radio between 9:20 and 10:00am, PST, this Monday, November 20.

It’s streamed online, and the call-in number is toll-free. Details below. The obvious and pressing need is to counter what’s likely to be a well-orchestrated wall o’ hate coming in on the phone lines from the FRC folks.


**I didn't hear the beginning of the show, so I didn't hear what his qualifications were, but after a quick google, I am thinking that he is: Peter Sprig, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council.

***See my previous post and the link on LesbianDad's blog to George Saunders' "My Amendment" for a great editorial on "Samish-Sex Marriage" and gender roles.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Transitions



So, [Big], how does it feel to face forward in the car?

I faced backward?






Friday, November 17, 2006

The Intervention

This morning I held an intervention with the SYO regarding her eating habits after I opened her lunch box only to find the following remains from yesterday's lunch:

a) an entire, uneaten sandwich,
b) her milk container (a small Superman thermos) which, when shaken, revealed that the milk inside had not been consumed,
c) an unopened container of applesauce
d) a Skittles wrapper.

So, you only ate candy for lunch yesterday?

What?

From the contents of your lunchbox, I can see that yesterday, for lunch, you ate only candy. . . You know that that is unacceptable, don't you? Do you realize that that signals to me that I should not put candy in your lunchbox?

Um. . .

You need to eat more healthily! Your meal should have some protein (like the lunchmeat in your sandwhich), some grains (like in the bread or a granola bar) and some fruit and vegetables!

BUT I HATE THAT BREAD!


I had ventured away from our regular 7-grain Healthy Choice bread to some organic white bread from Trader Joe's that did, in fact, feel like a hocky puck.

AND I HATE THAT MEAT!

This, too, was from Trader Joe's. A healthier, turkey version of her beloved bologna.

Well, it's all I got, Sweetie. When I open a restaurant, you'll have your choice.


She, exasperated: When will THAT be?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Johnny Walker

RE: The SYO
This afternoon I was playing school with the SYO. In an unusual turn of events, she actually asked ME to be the teacher.

Being the absolutely un-creative person that I can be at times (especially when I'm tired and one becomes especially tired when an 11 month old gets up at 6 a.m.), I decided to teach a little economics.

She got the whole people-buy-more-when-the-price-falls thing (i.e. the law of demand) without a glitch, but when I went on to compliments and substitutes, it got a little more interesting.

So, what do you always eat with your ham sandwiches?

Cheetoz.

Okay, so let's say that the price of ham sandwiches increases.

Okay.

So, will you buy more or less Cheetoz?

I'd have bologna.


RE: Big
So as of Tuesday (the 14th), he is officially walking. I was standing in the kitchen, and he just walked right out from the living room. Something shifted; he no longer looked to the next stable thing to hold him up. As BioMom said, it was like riding a bike. He figured out the balance and just took off.

That is not to say that there aren't spectacular falls.

MO4 (That is "Mother of Four", who debutes in the blog today and who is soon to be a major player in Big's life as I transition back to part-time teaching at Macalester this spring) was over yesterday and Big was all puffy-chested, showing off his new skills. The SYO and her pal, FoF (Four-of-Four) headed into the back room to get some coloring tools when Big just took off following them as if to say:

Look at me! I can follow the big kids now without ANY help!


He was obviously extremely proud of himself, when suddenly: BAM! BANG! and from the SYO: MAMAAAAAAA

She and I crashed into each other, me running toward the room they were all in, her running out of the room, leaping over the fallen, Big, who was in the midst of that terrifying moment of open-mouthed silence before the wailing is unleashed. Mo4 and I scooped him up and held him out for a little head-check, only to find NOTHING. Not a bump or a scratch.

What the hell? I wondered. You'd have thought he had a hole in his skull by the sound of his screams.

Mo4 says: Oh, he's just embarrased.

What? Could this be true? I thought.

Mo4, matter-of-factly: Yeah -- he was so proud of himself, showing off for me! It's just his pride.

Relief and astonishment from me. This seems like such a boy thing. I never saw that kind of a reaction from the SYO. Either she was hurt or she was fine. She was rarely embarrased by a fall! And, how could our little baby boy have turned into a boy with real 'boy behaviors' so soon?






Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Effects Of Moving Down the Gender Scale

I was reading a very enjoyable post over at LesbianDad when I found her link to this great editorial by George Saunders called "My Amendment" that was published in The New Yorker (2004).

I think that this is, to date, my favorite comment on the whole gay marriage debate.

The story was not only a hilarious comment on the ridiculous that is our current debate on gay marriage, it also resonated with me as BioMom and I navigate our ever-morphing gender roles, especially since I have become a rarely-seen-in-the-wild, Stay-At-Home-Baba (SAHB).

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Saunders' essay: In the town where I live, I have frequently observed a phenomenon I have come to think of as Samish-Sex Marriage. Take, for example, K, a male friend of mine, of slight build, with a ponytail. K is married to S, a tall, stocky female with extremely short hair, almost a crewcut. Often, while watching K play with his own ponytail as S towers over him, I have wondered, Isn’t it odd that this somewhat effeminate man should be married to this somewhat masculine woman? Is K not, on some level, imperfectly expressing a slight latent desire to be married to a man? And is not S, on some level, imimperfectly expressing a slight latent desire to be married to a woman? . . . Then I ask myself, Is this truly what God had in mind? . . . Because my feeling is, when God made man and woman He had something very specific in mind. It goes without saying that He did not want men marrying men, or women marrying women, but also what He did not want, in my view, was feminine men marrying masculine women.

He goes on to say that this is why he developed his "Manly Scale of Absolute Gender."

Using my Scale, which assigns numerical values according to a set of masculine and feminine characteristics, it is now easy to determine how Manly a man is and how Fem a woman is, and therefore how close to a Samish-Sex Marriage a given marriage is. . .

Here’s how it works. Say we determine that a man is an 8 on the Manly Scale, with 10 being the most Manly of all and 0 basically a Neuter. And say we determine that his fiancée is a -6 on the Manly Scale, with a -10 being the most Fem of all. Calculating the difference between the man’s rating and the woman’s rating–the Gender Differential–we see that this proposed union is not, in fact, a Samish-Sex Marriage, which I have defined as any marriage for which the Gender Differential is less than or equal to 10 points.


I LOVE this.

In fact, BioMom and I have our own 'butch-femme' scale with 10 being "highly feminine" and 1 being "highly butchy" and we will rank each other's actions or outfits based on a) our subjective determination and b) our desires for any particular event! On average though, I'd say i'm about a 4 and she's about a 6. We have speculated that sustainable relationships usually aggregate to a 10 on this scale. In other words, if the individual's butch/femme scale is much below 10 (say, two "3" butches) or much higher than 10 (say two "7" femmes) would not engender a sustainable gender-balance and would, therefore, be doomed to failure.

You can imagine how we analyze the couples in "L-word" where the only real butch has decided to become a transsexual!*

It turns out that this shift in our professional and personal lives (me halting work temporarily, she gearing back up in a heretofore unprecedented manner) has resulted in many unexpected consequences. I, for example, have unexpecedly fallen in love with being a SAHB. But, this has had some repercussions on our household's delicate gender balance. How does one, for example feel butchy, or masculine (an identity one has carried throughout life and that permeates all of their socio-pscychological persona) after spending a day changing diapers, attending all-female baby classes and singing songs like "the wheels on the bus" and "bumpin' up and down in my little red wagon?" And, in the reverse, how are one's partner's feelings altered by this shift? Especially when she has kicked her career into high gear?

In the spirit of "genderology" (a term I learned from LesbianDad) combined with a little economic theory (see Gary Becker and Heidi Hartmann and each of their 1980s articles on the gender division of labor) does not what one does influence who one is?

All of this has made me increasingly interested in stay-at-home dads and the issues they face both personally and professionally. One stay-at-home dad in my 'progressive playgroup' regularly seems to come to the group a bit disgruntled and on more than one occasion he has mentioned needing to get a regular babysitter to make sure that he and his wife have more time alone to connect. He obviously loves his son, and I know that he feels that staying home with him is important and a worthwhile sacrifice, but something is missing none-the-less. I doubt that he misses the identity of his profession (although I am sure this is an issue for many if not most people who shift from work-for-pay to work-for-domestic-gratification, regardless of gender. I suspect though, that this phenomenon may hit men more sharply). I think maybe he's become a 2 wherease he used to be a 4 or even a 5, while his wife may have remained a -7 (on Saunders' scale).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that even if one recognizes and understands that a) gender is on a continuum and that b) it is fluid, changing over the course of our life and c) relative to the things around us including our occupations, that doesn't make it any easier.


*Note, please take all of this with a grain of salt. We're not serious.