Monday, March 26, 2012

Serious and banal thoughts on picture books

First, the serious.

It really annoys me when picture books have unequal gender representation. Is that just my humorless feminist side showing? But seriously, Gus loves books and reads them (asks Jon or me to read them) again and again and again. It is a very significant way in which he learns about the world. And if we want to raise our daughters in a world where anything is open to them, we also have to raise sons who do not think that they are superior to others or entitled to certain things based solely on their male-ness. Let me explain through some examples.

Gus has a book called Tommy & Minnie's Glitter Book Learning Colours. It is a seemingly innocuous little book with a dog (Tommy), a cat (Minnie) and other animal friends in various scenes, each one of which focuses on a different colour. The animals are actually very cute. But some of the writing is appalling. The first page:
Tommy is sailing on a sailboat. Minnie waves goodbye to him.
Firstly, to me, that is kind of boring. But whatever, lots of books that Gus loves seem boring to me. More importantly, why does Tommy get to do active, adventurous things while Minnie only stands on the side, watching? As a one-off, it doesn't really matter, but it is a pattern you see across lots of books and other media. Boys do things, girls observe.

Another pair of books Gus loves at the moment is about Fergus the Patch-eyed pup. The pictures are very sweet in these, and they have dogs and ducks (as well as pigs, chickens, and a cat in Fergus and Marigold!), which Gus obviously adores. The thing that annoys me about Fergus in the Park, though, is that, as Fergus strolls through the park, almost all of the people in the pictures are men or boys. These books have quite a 1950s feel to them, so at first I thought that was the reason for this and was going to give it a pass. But then I realised that they were copyrighted in 1997 and 98. So much for that thought. Pictures like these give subtle cues to the reader that the world is only populated by men, or that they are the ones that matter. Again, one book isn't going to make a difference, but if every book that Gus reads has 80% men or boys, then a pattern starts to emerge for him.

Also, in these books, Farmer Bob is Fergus's owner. Farmer Bob has a wife, who is seen on two pages in Fergus and Marigold, and even speaks at the end of the book. What is her name?, you ask. Good question, wish I could answer it for you. She is just called Farmer Bob's wife. Why?! Can't the poor lady have her own name? I may be getting overly upset about this one, as I have long-standing issues with being referred to only in relation to my husband. I love being a wife, and it is a major part of my identity, but please, do not for any reason call me Mrs Jon Lastname. I am not sure why I hate this so much, but I can already feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it!

I am not sure exactly the best way to counteract these kinds of messages about gender that are only going to become more prevalent as he grows older and consumes a wider variety of media. The blog Pigtail Pals Redefine Girly talks a lot about media literacy and helping our children critically assess the images that are presented to them in the media. This is something I will definitely try to work in more as Gus grows. At the moment, I mostly just change offending phrases as I read the book--which of course will only work until he can read them himself. (I also do this with songs and nursery rhymes as well. My two little dickie birds sitting on a wall are named Polly and Paul instead of Peter and Paul.) Choosing different books is definitely an option, but these books were gifts so we couldn't make decisions pre-purchase, and there are other good things about them, so I hate to banish them completely. Most of Gus's books are about (mostly gender-less) animals, but a couple of books that I think have good gender representations are 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle (male and female factory workers, a female truck driver and male ship captain), The Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton (main characters are a tiny hippopotamus and her daddy), and Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt (both Paul and Judy do a variety of activities).  I like that these books just show people (or animals!) doing lots of things, and it doesn't matter if they are male or female--it is very organic and unobtrusive.

And now the banal

In the book I mentioned above about Tommy and Minnie, the last page is about how "Tommy and Minnie are enjoying nature". Do you notice anything strange about the picture?
Tommy and Minnie are enjoying nature.
So much so that they are going to cut it down and take it home with them.
 Why yes, they are chopping down a tree!  And they seem to have already felled a couple of others. Why oh why is this a picture in a children's book, especially under the caption "enjoying nature"?! I don't think that bird is going to be enjoying nature too much once you chop down the tree that its nest--and unhatched eggs!--are in! But, at least we can say that both Tommy AND Minnie are participating in this activity :)

What are your favourite books to read with toddlers or preschoolers? Do they have any books that just annoy you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Guest Post at Catholic Newlywed: Baby-led weaning

I am very excited to say that I have written my first guest post. I feel like a real blogger now!  Mandi at Catholic Newlywed has graciously let me participate in her Baby on a Budget series. I have written a bit about baby-led weaning (solids) and how it can help you save a few pennies.
Ahh, bliss. You’ve finally settled into this whole baby thing. Breastfeeding seems like a breeze now, after the first difficult weeks. Alternatively, you’ve finally figured out how to wash the bottles so there is always actually a clean one available when baby is hungry. (Or maybe that is just my own particular fear due to my inability to keep the dishes cleaned!) But then. The six-month mark approaches and people start asking: Has baby started eating food yet? Is your freezer stocked? Mmm, rice cereal!  {continue reading}
I also included a few links at the end about getting started with solids, others' experiences with baby-led weaning, and information on portion sizes for toddlers. So if you are interested, please do head over and check it out!  Also, there are lots of good things in Mandi's Baby on a Budget series, so stay a while and peruse some other posts, if that sort of thing floats your boat!

Finally, welcome to anyone who may have found their way over here from Catholic Newlywed. I have written two other posts on BLW--my reasons for choosing BLW and a recap on Gus's first experiments with food (you might just recognise some of the pictures in that post!).

And, because I have a new camera and therefore a lot of random pictures I can't help but share: what eating looks like at our house at the moment.  Haha. No, he was just a very tired boy that day and apparently didn't have the energy to sit up to eat his snack!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quick Takes (volume 14)

A day late (and a dollar short, no doubt), but here they are anyway, in all their quick-takey glory!

Gus has been very adverse to wearing a diaper this week. Well, once he has it on, he is generally fine, but he does not like to put it on. So we have had a lot of diaper-free time this week.

Tuesday morning, we woke up and I was starving, so I left Gus to play upstairs while I went down to make breakfast. When I got back up to bring him down to eat, the first thing I see is a dirty diaper, lying in the middle of the landing. My heart stopped. All I could think about was Jen's account of the poo-tastrophe that occurred in their house. (Short version: finger painting with the contents of a diaper) Thankfully, thankfully, I walked into Gus's room, and he was busy playing with his normal toys in a distinctly poo-free manner. Disaster averted! 

For now.

Sorry, maybe I should have eased you into this post, rather than just throwing the poo story at you right at the start. Hope no one's eating their breakfast while reading this!

On a happier note, it's my birthday today! The big 2-9. When did I get so old?  Jon's away on a good friend's stag do (bachelor party) today, but he will be back in the evening. We were planning on going out for dinner as a family last night, but Gus has also not been too keen on sitting in his chair to eat, so we decided we would wait till tomorrow lunchtime to go out, when we have a bit more energy! Jon's parents are taking Gus and I out for lunch today, so it should be a good weekend overall. 

Plus, I am getting a new camera from my in-laws! I am so excited. It is nothing special, but, seeing as my current camera is 6 years old and technology has improved a lot since then, I am hoping the new one will take some nice pics and videos (with sound!).

Also for my birthday, I have asked Jon to take me to see the Hunger Games movie when it comes out in a couple of weeks. So excited! If you haven't read the books, I definitely recommend them. Very gripping with a lot of commentary on our own society, although it's not in-your-face about it. 

I am loving Gus's talking at the moment. He seems to be picking up new words every day. He loves to label things, and will point out to anyone who will listen all the birds, planes, and balls in the vicinity (of course, usually that is me, and it can get exhausting!). It is so neat to be able to know what he is thinking. He must ask where Jon is half a dozen times a day. Usually I say that Jon is at work, but last Saturday he went out running, so I told Gus that. All week, whenever Gus asks about Pa, I say at work, and he comes back with "Running?". Yes, Gus, Pa is running. He runs 10 hours every day. 

When Gus talks about something, he often will just say every word he knows about the subject. We have a little birdhouse in the back garden, and some birds have been coming to it this week. One day we could see the birds in the box, peeking their heads out of the hole. I told Gus, "Look, they are playing peekaboo with you. The birds are hiding in the box." Ever since then, if he can't see any birds in the yard, he will just start saying "Bird? Peekaboo. Hide. Peekaboo. Hide. Box? Bird?" Ad nauseum. It is very sweet, but he gets quite worked up about it, and will often ask me "more?". I can't quite seem to explain to him that I cannot make the birds come back. Hopefully they will be visiting more often as the weather gets warmer!

The feast of St Joseph is on the 19th, so don't forget to start a novena for husbands today.  I get my novenas from, and they are emailed to me so I don't forget. I am still so bad at novenas that I usually miss at least one day, but it's getting better!

Also start planning your Italian feast to celebrate the day. Obviously St. Joseph wasn't Italian, but they do love him over in Italy. So it gives us a good excuse for some delicious antipasti, pasta and garlic bread. Yum yum.

One week till my brother-in-law's wedding!  I am very excited. Jon is best man, Gus is a pageboy (with an adorable little outfit), and I am doing a reading, so it will be a busy ceremony. But we are very blessed to have such a great family, and I think it will be a really good day. Please keep Tim and Becky in your prayers this week!

Hope you all have a great week! And, as always, thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What is Natural Parenting: An Introduction

In my “About me” section, I write that I am (learning to be) a natural parent. Natural parent isn’t a term that is heard regularly—I had never come across it until I stumbled upon the Natural Parents Network shortly after Gus was born. As I read about natural parenting and read the blogs of self-described natural parents while my newborn slept in my arms, I realised that this was a parenting philosophy that really gelled with the type of parent I wanted to be. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that parenting a baby/toddler comes naturally to me, or that I am going “back to nature” to live like some mythical primitive woman.  Basically, natural parenting is striving to “live and parent responsively and consciously.” (NPN) Or, to use my favourite word to describe my parenting goals, it is saying that I parent intentionally.

That’s what a philosophy regarding parenting is, really, a set of goals and priorities. It certainly isn’t a list of things that I do perfectly day in and day out. We all have goals for ourselves as parents, for our children, and for our relationships with them. For myself (and Jon! although I do much more thinking about this sort of stuff than he does), I have found thus far that the ideals of natural parenting give me a good framework for setting my own long and short-term priorities.

You might also be wondering why, in the “About me” section, I have the parenthetical rider learning to be.  This is not because I think there is one right way to be a natural parent which I hope to emulate. It is more about the idea of parenting as a learning process. I do not think of myself as The Parent with All The Answers. Instead, Jon, Gus and myself (and any other children we might be blessed with in the future) all work together to figure out this thing of raising a person. I am sure I will make (have made!) mistakes, and there are things I will do differently as I go forward. But this is all part of the journey. The learning to be helps remind me that I am not going to get everything right every time, but there is no reason to beat myself up about it. With an effort to do things intentionally and a conviction to keep going and try to improve when I make a mistake, I set out to be the best parent I can.

I know that a lot of people don't like labels, as they can be restricting or perpetuate stereotypes. Personally, I like to have a label for this sort of thing because it helps me organise my thoughts around the issue and connect with people that might have things in common. I don't look at it as something that I (or anyone else) need to stick to religiously, though.. Over the next several weeks I am going to be writing about how the values of natural parenting are lived out in our family at the moment.

The Practices of Natural Parenting (from the NPN website)
  • Attachment Parenting
    • Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
    • Feed with love and respect
    • Respond with sensitivity
    • Use nurturing touch
    • Ensure safe sleep
    • Provide consistent and loving care
    • Practice gentle/positive discipline
    • Strive for balance in personal and family life
  • Ecological responsibility and love of nature
  • Holistic health practices
  • Natural learning

As this is not only a series on natural parenting, but on my own personal parenting goals and values, I am going to take the liberty of adding an additional practice encompassing the spiritual component: Raising a holy child of God.

I was hoping to write a bit about attachment parenting as a whole and its first principle, preparing for birth and parenting, today, but apparently I had too much to say by way of introduction to the series as a whole. I look forward to sharing those thoughts with you next time!