Update from brain tumor central

Everybody I know is now reading this blog.  Who knew that getting a brain tumor was the way to push blog traffic? 

I wanted to get on here for a minute and let folks know that I'm still here, and I'm still me.  Every day I'm a little more energetic--today, for instance, I didn't even take a nap.  My body's adjusting to the anti-seizure medication, and although I'm feeling somewhat less steady on my feet (because of the medication and also probably because of the major trauma my body's been through in the last week), in general I'm myself.  I can still read and think; I can still hold a conversation.  I haven't been all that up in arms about sexism in the last few days, but never fear--it's only a matter of time.  Biffle and I will both surely have ongoing feminist commentary about the medical industry, among other things.

So far the most annoying medical side effect I'm dealing with is mouth-related:  I bit the crap out of my tongue in every seizure I had, so I have a fairly substantial open wound in my mouth.  This means that my holiday diet has consisted primarily of soup, oatmeal, and ice cream.  My tongue is healing, but slowly.

Oh, I should say here, to calm the fears Biffle raised in his last post, that Dr. Hollywood is not my neurosurgeon--he was the neurosurgeon on call at Summit Hospital in Hendersonville, TN.  Due to fabulous family connections, my neurosurgeon is the chief of the division of neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center.  My brain will be in very good hands.


It's beginning to look a lot like Girl Zines...

Cindy Crabb has a great review of Girl Zines up at the doris zine blog.  I'm really glad she liked the book, considering that her work and her thoughts feature largely in it.  A cool quote from her review:

Truthfully, it usually is zines that inspire me, when I get a really great zine, or even a shitty one that is honestly looking at shit and working it figure it out - the voices of girl zine writers inspire me more than anything.


In retrospect, high points from our trip to New York

The moment we returned from New York, it was final exam time, and I started the last busy push of the semester. So I haven't had time to reflect on our trip until now. Here, three weeks later, are the high points of our NYC experience, with pictures.

    At Macy's Santaland
  • The Christmas stuff.  We saw the tree at Rockefeller Plaza and the windows at Macy's, and they were great--as magical as you would want them to be. We also made a visit to Santaland inside Macy's because Christy said it was great, but the line to get in was an hour long, and Maybelle was asleep.  I decided that for both those reasons, as well as because Maybelle is too little to care at all about Santa, we were not going to Santaland.  I was surprised, however, to see how many parents were waiting in that one-hour line with babies Maybelle's age or younger.  No thank you.
  • The food.  One thing I can say about Christy and Joel:  every time I've ever visited them in NYC, they've taken me to absolutely fabulous places to eat.  This trip was no exception.  We ate Uzbek food, truly delicious burgers and shakes, and indulgent artisan-bakery-made versions of Oreos and Nutter Butters.  The best food of the trip, though, was the ramen restaurant Christy and I went to after my event at Bluestockings.  We had pork buns, noodle bowls, and cold cucumbers in sesame oil that were all so delicious that you had to make a face and groan after every bite.  And since two of the servers were students of Christy's, we got in without having to wait the hour plus that everyone else was waiting.
  • Bluestockings 2The book event at Bluestockings.  It was terrible weather on Saturday night--cold and windy with a rainy snow falling.  Weather like that in Charleston makes the whole city shut down, but New Yorkers are a sturdy bunch, and despite the unpleasantness outside, a lot of people came out to Bluestockings to hear me read from Girl Zines, and to hear five zine creators read from their work.  I loved the whole event--and I especially loved getting to answer questions with Lauren Jade Martin, Vikki Law, Jenna Freedman, Sarah Dyer, and Ayun Halliday.  People in the audience would ask things like, How do zines negotiate between being public and private documents?  Or, how are zines different than blogs?, and several of us would weigh in.  As I'd answer, I'd be thinking of the lengthy conversations I had with each of these women three years ago when I came to New York for a research trip for the book, and I'd be tempted to quote them back to themselves.  They were all so insightful, in our original interviews and then again at Bluestockings.
  • Walking
  • The strollers.  This is something Biffle and I both commented on.  New York is, of course, a walking city, and so if you have a kid, you toss the kid in a backpack or stroller and you walk.  If it's miserably cold and snowy, you bundle the kid up, wrap the stroller in a plastic cover, and you walk.  Every day that we were there we walked long distances with Maybelle, and we saw loads and loads of other parents doing the same--hauling the stroller up and down the subway stairs, negotiating crosswalks and crowded stores.  In the burger and shake restaurant Christy and Joel took us to, they actually had a section up front for you to park your stroller, and it was overflowing.  What a great thing!  In Charleston it's easy to toss Maybelle in the car and drive someplace if we're feeling lazy, but I loved the no-car culture of Manhattan, and it was really easy to adjust to it, even with Maybelle.
  • SwingingUnion Square.  This may be my official favorite place in New York.  I spent a lot of time walking through there on my zine research trip three summers ago, and when Biffle and I came back to the city for Christy and Joel's wedding, we visited the farmer's market there--a farmer's market so impressive that New Yorkers could probably more easily buy all their food there than we can do at farmer's markets in Charleston.  There wasn't a farmer's market there the day we visited on this trip, but there was an expansive holiday market filled with all variety of funky crafts--so many cute baby t-shirts that it was only with significant effort that I restrained myself from spending $20 on an item of clothing that Maybelle will outgrow in three weeks.  And although it was super-cold, the excellent playground was jam-packed with happy kiddos in heavy coats.  It may also be worth mentioning that it was in Union Square, during our visit for Christy and Joel's wedding two and a half years ago, that Biffle and I decided that having a kid was a pretty good idea for us.  So it's a place that I value for lots of reasons.  If I ever get a bajillion dollars and move to New York, I'll get an apartment close to Union Square.


In which Alison certainly stretches the tolerance of Baxter Sez readers with yet another mention of Girl Zines

Justin Moyer, self-proclaimed "bad feminist" at the Washington City Paper gives a shout-out to Girl Zines.


The blog tour continues

A new review of the book is up over at Afrogeek Mom and Dad, this one with an academic slant. And the best title yet for a blog post about my book!


Kids with disabilities and the holidays

I've written my December post over at Girl with Pen--check it out.


Girl Zines continues to be of interest to bloggers who used to make zines

Another thoughtful review of Girl Zines, this one by Ciara over at if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.  Ciara rightly points out, as she did in the comment section of this blog, that the distro list in the book is wildly insufficient and doesn't highlight nearly enough distros created by girls and women.  I'm going to try to get a more complete and girl-centric list up on the book's website (still in production at NYU Press) and the book's Facebook site (I ought to be able to do this myself, once final exams are graded).

You should read Ciara's review just for her explanation of her love of toads in her teen years.  Very funny.  Toads = "more precious than kittens & unicorns! more adorable than a kitten/unicorn hybrid!"


The Ween Bean singing along

The singing ween bean from Alison, Walter, and Maybelle on Vimeo.

More Girl Zines news

Girl Zines was today's cover book for the Chronicle of Higher Education's weekly book list, and somebody named Jen Sabella over at the blog After Ellen wrote a nice review of the book, too (this one might be kind of old--I just found it).


Blog tour: Change Happens

Change Happens, the SAFER blog, has posted a review of Girl Zines today.  Sarah Martino engages with the book and with the larger significance of grrrl zines in thoughtful ways:  this is a review you can really sink your teeth into.  She offers particular reflections on the significance of zines for women who've experienced violence, since preventing violence against women is a major part of SAFER's mission.

Thanks, Sarah!

And one more shout-out for the book, this one not part of the official blog tour:  the Feminist Law Professors blog is spreading the word.  How exciting!


Our New York experience

This picture captures our New York experience:

Our New York experience!, originally uploaded by AlisonPiepmeier.

More later.


Christmas in New York

The best Christmas tree ever
We had our first day in New York today. Once we got there, Joel took us for lunch at an Uzbek restaurant in their neighborhood in Queens. Then we took the subway into Manhattan where Christy and Joel took us on a Christmas tour, which included a visit to FAO Schwartz (a store that everyone in Manhattan was trying to get into--a little overwhelmingly crowded) and to the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. It was a great Christmas tree--really beautiful, and crowds of people were there, smiling and taking pictures.

When we came back to their apartment, Christy made us sukiyaki for dinner--really delicious. Before we got here, Christy told me, "I am a great host. I am a servant to my guests," and so far, that seems to be true. For Joel's iPhone photos documenting today's events, go to our Flickr page.

Tomorrow is the book event at Bluestockings!


Big day for Girl Zines

In addition to Martin's review of Girl Zines, which I posted about this morning, I've gotten two more links today for reviews of the book. My former high school friend, now big-time journalist Tracy Moore, reviewed the book for the Nashville Scene, Nashville's alt-weekly. And the book has also been reviewed in Book Forum. So you Girl Zines fans have got a lot of reading ahead of you.

Also, if you're a fan of the book, please come over to the Facebook page that I created after my brother berated me for being uncool. I'm posting all the links to all the press about the book on that page.

And in other news, I went to a big state meeting today in which our proposal for a major in Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston was approved! Enthusiastically! I'm thrilled beyond belief, not to mention relieved. It'll be in place by fall 2010, which was what we'd hoped. If you're looking for a place to major in Women's and Gender Studies, consider the College of Charleston.

And finally, Biffle, Maybelle, and I head to New York tomorrow morning for the first (and probably only) stop on my book tour: an event at Bluestockings on Saturday. I'll keep y'all posted.

Blog Tour: Martin

I am way behind the curve on this--sorry, Martin!--but the blog Martin has a review of Girl Zines up that you should have a look at.  I particularly enjoyed the narrative trajectory of this review, which takes us from Martin's "oh, shit!" feeling on receiving the book in the mail (it's an academic book, as it turns out) to a happy ending.

Thanks to another fabulous blogger for having a look at Girl Zines!



Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it

It's Thanksgiving, and that means it's time to raise a glass to one of America's forgotten important women, Sarah Josepha Hale.  As I'm sure you all remember, it's an annual tradition of mine to post about Sarah Hale on Thanksgiving, because she's the reason it's a national holiday.

For years Americans had celebrated Thanksgiving, but there hadn't been a set date for it, and it wasn't an official national holiday.  The only official American holiday was July 4.  Starting in the late 1830s, Hale started lobbying American presidents to make Thanksgiving our second national holiday.  She was editor of Godey's Lady's Book, the most popular magazine of the 19th c, so she had some clout, but it still took her a hell of a long time.  In 1863, Abraham Lincoln finally agreed to designate Thanksgiving a national holiday, since he and Hale saw it as an important symbolic gesture of national unity during the Civil War.

So here's to Sarah Josepha Hale, who won't be completely forgotten as long as Baxter Sez is around.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Blog tour, day 1

The blog tour is underway.  Jenna Freedman of the Barnard Zine Library Blog gave Girl Zines a shout out today!


Cutest baby ever

Cutest baby ever, originally uploaded by AlisonPiepmeier.

Wearing her R2D2 hat that my mom made for her.


Blog tour for Girl Zines

As you're all well aware, my book Girl Zines is available now.  Several fabulous bloggers have agreed to read the book and review it on their sites.  As of now, here's the schedule for the Girl Zines blog tour:

Nov. 24:  Barnard Zine Library Blog
Nov. 28:  Martin
Nov. 29:  Sassyfrass Circus
Dec. 1:  Viva La Feminista
Dec. 4:  Grassroots Feminism
Dec. 7:   CHANGE Happens:  The SAFER Blog
Dec. 20:  Doris Zine Blog
Dec. 21: Sashmo

Other blogs are going to review the book, too, including Afrogeek Mom and Dad, The Broads on Bull, and the Charleston Women's Collective blog.  I'll give a heads up when they do!

Thanks to all these bloggers for their interest in the book!


Glee, disability, and Girl with Pen

Jeez, I am blogging all over the place these days!  Check out a new post I wrote about the tv series Glee over at Girl with Pen.  Thanks to Rachel for drawing my attention to the episode "Wheels," which is all about disability.


NWSA Conference blogging

I'm annoyed with the She Writes website.  They invited my friend Heather and me to blog about the NWSA Conference and said that they'd put our posts on the main page, but instead they've got an activist campaign going, and it's impossible to find any of the blogs Heather and I have written.  So I'm abandoning my She Writes blogging, and I'll share with you all my thoughts on the conference.

It's been a really great conference--the best one ever.  No kidding.  At a panel this afternoon I was sitting next to Angela Davis, and that's got to be some measure of conference quality:  when you just happen to be sitting next to Angela Davis.

The theme of the conference is Difficult Dialogues, and several sessions have made dialogue not just the theme but also the method.  Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Jacqui Alexander, Kimberle Crenshaw and Bonnie Thornton Dill, and Beverly Guy Sheftall, Frances Smith Foster, and several others have all had public conversations as part of the conference.  We've had the opportunity to see these very significant scholars in dialogue with each other.  Crenshaw was probably the most brilliant person I've had the chance to hear from at the conference.  She's the scholar who came up with the term intersectionality that's a central component of my WGS teaching and scholarship (and basically everybody else's, too), and she spoke extemporaneously about the origins of critical race theory, particular legal cases that structured her own thinking, and the notion of race as an intellectual framework.

I also had the opportunity to see a former student present some of her research about the media treatment of the Duke lacrosse rape case.  She made a fabulous contribution to a really great panel about sex trafficking and sex work--I was so proud that she'd been my student, and I learned a lot from her paper.  For example, she discovered that in the media coverage of the case, the fact that the victim was a sex worker was mentioned five times more often than the fact that she was a college student.  Skewed representation of this woman and her value, you think?  Jamie used the concept of "intersectional stigma" (shout out to Kimberle Crenshaw and Michele Berger here) to frame her discussion of this media coverage.  Really interesting.

I also saw an excellent panel on hip hop feminism, and I bought a bunch more books, including one with the provocative title My Baby Rides the Short Bus:  The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities.

One more day of conferencing tomorrow, then tomorrow night it's home to the Ween and Biffle.

Mama on the road

Today begins day three of my first trip away from Maybelle.  Biffle sends missives via text message:

"Toast, scrambee, oatmeal, juice.  New friend:  Bobo's water bowl."
"Down for nap.  Nary a tear."
"Goodnight Gorilla."
Little flags that let me know how their days together are unfolding.  I send messages back, documenting the very different pace of my days here at the conference:
"Book signing went great almost sold out!"
"I have used my research money to buy books, now lunch."
"Just got back from early meeting now going to work out before more meetings."
I wondered if I'd feel like a limb had been severed, being away from her, but fortunately, I find that I'm really enjoying myself.  This is an incredibly busy conference for me, so it would have been very difficult to bring her along, not to mention unfair to her, since I'd hardly see her.  Far better for her to be at home with Biffle, and with her normal nannies and friends.  And for me, I'm getting to run around and think and talk, go out with my friends after sessions at night, sleep in in the morning (unbelievably luxurious).  Probably not coincidentally, I have bought a bunch of books about motherhood.

I'm heading home tomorrow night, and I'll be ready.  But I'm happy that Maybelle and I are making it through this first separation successfully.


Girl Zines and the NWSA

The blog tour has started, and I didn't even know it!  The American Prospect and Jezebel both had posts about Girl Zines on Thursday.  Meanwhile, the blog tour I did know about is shaping up--I'll post the dates here very soon.  About a dozen wonderful bloggers have agreed to review the book and/or interview me.

In other news, I'm at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in Atlanta.  I'll be blogging about the conference over at She Writes, the new social networking site for women writers.


The Web Site That Wouldn't Die

I'm guessing everyone that reads this blog has seen www.bannedfromwalmart.com. Although that was mostly a grad school project which i haven't really followed up on/promoted/maintained/etc. i may get half a dozen or more emails every month of someone telling their story to me. Sadly, most of the writers want a t-shirt because they got caught shoplifting. Obviously what i thought was multivalence, or at least charming obtuseness, didn't quite come though for some folks.

Regardless, today i got FIVE emails. I knew something was up. I news-googled "banned from wal mart" and i found this story.

Thanks for the shout out Fox(crapass)News.


White people picking up litter

This morning we had a neighborhood litter pick-up in our neighborhood.  A woman down the street singlehandedly organized it, bought doughnuts and coffee, got garbage bags for everybody, and advertised by hanging signs on telephone polls.  She had maps so that we could all designate where we were going to go, so that we didn't double up, and she'd gotten permission for us to use the local elementary school's dumpster.  The effort was a great success:  lots of people came out, we hauled off bags and bags of garbage, and we got to meet each other.

And we were all white.

This is an interracial neighborhood.  My guess would be that these days it's probably 40% white, 60% black.  But it didn't surprise me that everybody who came out this morning was white.  This was an event sponsored by a well educated white woman who's lived in the neighborhood for less than a year, and all of us who came out were well educated (or in college) white folks who've lived here for five years or less.  We are the gentrifiers, but we were tired of the trash on the streets.

Biffle and I were in a great neighborhood group in Nashville.  Our neighborhood was mostly black, and it was poor and rough--the kind of place where, on a litter pick-up day, you might find used condoms or bullet casings.  Despite these very serious challenges, we actually had a very functional interracial neighborhood organization there, made possible by the efforts of a nonprofit group that exists solely to help neighborhoods organize.

In the absence of a functional interracial neighborhood group here, and a functional nonprofit that can facilitate that group's operations, I find that I'm feeling pretty cynical and resigned about our neighborhood in Charleston--a neighborhood that is in every way in far better shape than our Nashville neighborhood.  I'm aware that there are problems, but I feel unable to do anything about them.  I'm aware that it's fucked up that a bunch of white folks marched all over with their garbage bags, picking up candy wrappers and beer bottles--it could easily lead long-time neighborhood residents to say, "Who the hell do you people think you are?"  But I'm sick of the trash on the sidewalks.


Halloween 2009

This year Maybelle was Yoda for Halloween. I figure that, until she's old enough to have an opinion, I get to dress her as things that I find amusing and/or endearing, and her Yoda costume is both of those. We were at a pre-trick or treating gathering at a colleague's house, and one of the other guests saw her and immediately said, "Precious you are!" Indeed.
She was completely exhausted, so our Halloween fun was very brief. I was pleased that she kept her Yoda ears on long enough for us to take a picture--just that long, and no longer.

The nicest Halloween moment was when we got home, the sun was setting, and candlelight was shining out through the jackolanterns. She looked back and forth from one to the other and then applauded.


Blog book tour

As you all know, I've been working for ages and ages on a book about zines by girls and women. That book now exists: Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. It'll be for sale soon--early in November. I've gotten my author's copies, and they look fantastic--I'm really happy with it.

I'm writing about it here not simply to share the good news, but to see if any of you would be interested in helping me publicize. NYU Press has suggested that I put together a blog book tour. What this means is that, if you have a blog, and if you're up for either reviewing the book or interviewing me, then you can get a free copy of Girl Zines, and we'll advertise your blog on the website that the press is creating for the book.

You don't have to have a blog that's nationally prominent or has a huge readership to be eligible for this exciting opportunity. This is a very grassroots kind of way of advertising, so even your smallish blog that's read by just your best friend and your cat would qualify. Email me if you're interested--PiepmeierA [at] cofc.edu.

PS--If your cat is into nonprofessional, scrappy, creative forms of self expression, she'll enjoy Girl Zines.


Big day

Pumpkin, 10-25-09
It was a big day at our house today. First of all, Halloween is coming up, so we made jackolanterns. Maybelle enjoyed hanging out with the pumpkins, but she hasn't seen them lit up yet because she goes to bed while it's still light out.

The second thing we did was even more exciting--something I've been looking forward to since Maybelle was born. Biffle attached her bike seat to one of our bikes, and we took her out riding! She is not such a fan of having to wear a helmet--that was a bit of a battle, but we made it a little easier by putting a knit cap on her head before we put the helmet on. Since she has no hair, we thought maybe she needed a buffer. We got the smallest bike helmet we could find, but it still dwarfs her little head.

She's not sure yet how she feels about riding a bike. You'll notice that one person in the picture below looks very happy, and the other one looks pretty wary.
We got the seat that puts her in front, so she can feel the wind and see everything. I hope this excellent vantage point will help her decide that biking is great fun.


Me at Girl with Pen

Check out my first post at Girl with Pen. The topic will be familiar to readers of Baxter Sez, but I've got a little more to say about it over there than I did over here.

Now I have to go teach class.


One small grouchy request

I will preface this gripe with two disclaimers:

  1. I have been irritable lately, I think in part because we've hit the crazy-busy time of year.
  2. I can't remember what the second one was.
It's tenure and promotion time, and now that I have tenure I'm assessing other people's work. I'm currently reading a published article by a colleague (and I won't specify which department this colleague is in, because I'm on two T&P committees this fall). In the article this colleague refers to a character as "a Down Syndrome boy" and later as "a Down's child."

My small, grouchy request is this: if you are writing about people with Down syndrome, please call them people with Down syndrome, not "Down syndrome people." What is "a Down Syndrome boy" anyway? Not only does it not make sense grammatically, but it implies that a particular diagnosis is the primary characteristic of a person, rather than implying that this is a person first and foremost, with a diagnosis that's secondary. If you were writing about a character with heartburn, would you call him "a heartburn boy"?

I won't be bringing this up in the tenure interview because I suspect it would just make my colleague get all shamefaced and apologetic, but I'm putting it out here on the blog for you lovely readers to carry out into the world.


Slouchy professional

One of my colleagues recently decided that, for her, thirty-six is the year of pretty. She's coming to campus dressed up, with hairstyles and jewelry, and she really does look good. If you click on the link to her post, you'll see that in the comments, I shared the following story:

A student told me last week, "Alison, you always look so...comfortable!" I was gracious and said "Thanks, that's what I'm going for," but inside I was thinking, Comfortable? Doesn't that just mean I look like a complete slob?
Perhaps not a complete slob, but probably not too far from that. The other day my brother sent me a link to this article, with the subject header in the email "Dressing like an adult." If you click on that link, you'll see pictures and descriptions of 23 "staples for every woman's wardrobe," none of which I own. Well, I take that back--I have a pair of black pants, a pair of jeans, and a daily purse. But on the whole, according to this article, I don't dress like an adult. I wear Chacos or Birkenstocks most of the time. I have a number of button-down shirts that languish in my closet because the thought of ironing them in the morning is just too much. Perhaps I can play my backpack off as my "signature accessory," but honestly I think you're not supposed to be carrying a 15-year-old backpack when you're an adult. And let's not even talk about my hair, which hasn't had a good cut since I was in DC in March.

Fortunately, I'm in a profession where being sartorially challenged isn't that much of a detriment. Being a faculty member means that there's no expectation that I'll ever get dressier than khaki pants and a t-shirt. Some professors on this campus wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts every day, and it hasn't hurt their careers (although let's be clear that these particular people are men, and I do think that makes a difference).

Earlier this week a student was in my office, and she mentioned her own style, which is very polished and feminine. I commented that my look is more slouchy professional. This made her laugh, and honestly, I think it's pretty accurate. So for me, thirty-six is the year of slouchy professional.


Buddy Walk 2009

Walking in the Buddy Walk, 2009
Today was the day for the annual Buddy Walk nationwide. I was pretty nervous before last year's Buddy Walk. It was going to be my first encounter with people with Down syndrome, other than Maybelle, and I was afraid that the event would confirm all my worst fears. Of course, it did the opposite--it showed me how slim the differences are between typical kids and kids with Down syndrome. It was a great day.

Maybelle and Rosemary
Today Biffle and I got a sense of how far we've come in a year. Last year, Maybelle was in her baby sling, asleep--Biffle kept having to peel back the cloth to show her to people when they'd ask. We knew almost nobody, and we spent most of the walk watching everyone around us--it was a research trip.

This year, we attended the walk with a bunch of friends and their kids, some of whom have Down syndrome and some of whom don't. The only anxiety we had was wondering if Maybelle would wake up from her nap in time for us to leave for the walk, or if we'd have to wake her up (she woke up at exactly the right time, after we'd packed up all our gear). Maybelle was an active participant, playing with the other babies, expressing strong preferences about the foods we offered her, and laughing her head off at the dance that ended the day. She had a great time, and so did we.


The cutest thing I've ever seen

I wish I had known Ruby when I was seven.


Blogging advice

Today a friend emailed and said, "We're good, tho. busy... and somehow I have to (want to) figure out how to fit blogging into all this madness! (Advice?!?)"

It seems to me that I'm the worst possible person to give advice about blogging, seeing as how, counting this post, I've blogged a total of three times in the month of September. Blogging is a terrible idea for a busy academic, for so many reasons. It can't help me professionally, but it could certainly do damage if I inadvertently wrote the wrong thing here on this very public forum. It takes time that I seem not to have, and that I should probably be spending either on professional endeavors or on my family. It's self-indulgent. If it doesn't do damage to my career, it could easily make me seem ridiculously obsessed with baby pictures and bean pie.

And yet, I do really love having a blog. I love the fact that it's a nonprofessional public forum where I can say what I want to say. Part of the reason I went into academia, of course, is because I have things to say and I like getting to say them, and the blog provides a different venue for that. I enjoy being self-indulgent. I love the continual gratification and feedback that the comments provide--it was such fun to see what you all had to say about the idea of a class about anti-feminism. I like getting to practice non-academic writing.

So, despite the potential drawbacks, I not only continue to blog here at Baxter Sez, but I've agreed to be a blogger at Girl with Pen. Once a month--on the third Tuesday of the month, in fact--I'll be coming up with something intelligent to say about women's bodies: reproductive rights, representations of women in the media, violence against women, or the demands of motherhood and career. I think this is going to be a fun challenge, and I'll be joining a great group of bloggers. I'll be sure to post links here. And I promise there will be no mentions of bean pie.



For reasons that I won't go into here, the Women's and Gender Studies Program where I work may start offering a class in something like Anti-Feminist Rhetoric, or Anti-Feminist Cultural Discourse--something like that. I actually think this could be a very lively class. It would be interesting, and certainly very educational, to read texts by folks who either don't believe that inequality exists, or don't believe that it's a problem--or even folks who argue that women aren't fully human.

Thoughts on must-read texts?


The food of my people

Although I was raised in a puritanically healthy household, I feel that the food that defines my cultural heritage is only partly whole wheat carob chip cookies, quinoa, and lentil casserole. The other part of my food heritage is the kind of thing we've been eating this weekend. We're in Cookeville, and the Fall Fun Fest is happening. So here's what I've eaten in the last 24 hours:

  • Barbecued ribs
  • Brisket
  • Funnel cake
  • Two Ralph's butter twists (seriously the best doughnuts anywhere in the world)
  • Polish sausage sandwich with peppers and onions
  • Part of a crazy tater (an entire sliced up deep fried potato)
  • Funnel cake (another one)
  • Bites of Trey's deep fried Moonpie and my dad's deep fried Twinkies
I was remembering that when I was a kid, when we went to the fair, we were allowed to pick one sweet thing to eat. I would agonize over what to get, since most of the time sweets were strictly rationed. Sometimes I'd opt for the cotton candy (big, but not much substance), and other times I'd pick the funnel cake (smaller, but denser). One unfortunate year, for reasons I can't remember, I picked a caramel apple. I quickly realized that this was a rip off: there was an apple in there, and I was allowed to eat apples any day of the year!

This is a story I've told many times, but when I was recounting it today, my dad said, "You forgot the ending. When you ate all the caramel off and discovered the apple, you gave it to me, and I bought you a funnel cake."

Of course he did. I don't know why I didn't remember that, because it's entirely characteristic of my dad. And so this weekend that's the part of my heritage I've been celebrating.


One year of Maybelle

August 2008
Maybelle Biffle-Piepmeier
Nonny & Maybelle at home!
M and Trey
M and Alison, Oct. 25, 2008
Maybelle as duck, Halloween 2008
aaron & maybelle
Excited naked baby, 12-10-08
Tummy time with Benya, 12-18-08
Sleepy, 1-13-09
With Larry
With Conseula and Brian
Happy Ween Bean at Adam and Eliza's
Eating beets
Maybelle had a very good day today
Sitting up with Daddy
Nina and Maybelle
Maybelle and Catherine work on standing up

She's been here for a full year today. Happy birthday, Maybelle!


Maybelle's first birthday party

Maybelle turns one tomorrow, so on Saturday we had her first birthday party. Obviously the first birthday party is an event for the parents rather than for the baby, and I have to say it was everything I wanted her first birthday party to be. The weather cooperated, in spite of forecasts predicting rain all afternoon, so we gathered at the duck pond at Hampton Park. The bigger kids threw loaves of bread and bags of stale cereal into the pond, while the littler kids hung out on blankets where the adults could admire them ("So big!" "So much hair!" "Look, a tooth!").

It was an intentionally low-key party. The invitation promised "No events planned," but that wasn't entirely true, because there was one major event: the birthday cake. It's a Piepmeier family tradition that on a baby's first birthday, she or he gets a one-layer cake to play with, massacre, and/or eat. I made Maybelle a banana cake with caramel frosting, the first cake she'd ever been offered before.

She started off in curious good spirits, sticking her fingers in the frosting and giving it a taste. You could immediately see her brain kicking into gear: "Holy crap, what is this stuff, and where have they been hiding it all this time?" Then she dug into the cake with commitment, scraping off handsful of frosting, grabbing chunks of cake and smearing them into her mouth, onto her face, and across her entire body. It was an incredibly luscious, sensuous experience.
She ended up with a frosting beard and a little body just coated in sugar and crumbs. She loved it. Here were Biffle's and my reactions:

One of our friends who's a pediatrician advised--when asked--that we stop her after she'd eaten about a cup. I guess she ate at least that much, and would probably have kept going. Remarkably, she didn't throw that much up, and after Biffle cleaned her off in the water fountain, she was able to enjoy pulling the tissue paper from her gift bags.

It's always so validating to be with friends and family who want to help you celebrate a milestone like this. The party was great fun for us and left us feeling like we'd wrapped up Maybelle's first year of life in just the right way: by letting her stuff herself with sugar and surrounding her with people who love her and are glad that she's here.
Singing happy birthday
Birthday hat


Shit happens

The other morning, Biffle walked into the bedroom where I was getting ready for work.

"You know that bumper sticker they used to have, that said, 'Shit Happens'?" he asked.


"You know why they had that bumper sticker?"

I hazarded a guess: "Because shit happens?"

"Yeah," he said.

I paused. "So, what happened?"

"You didn't close the freezer door all the way last night."

The deep freezer, in Biffle's wood studio. The freezer Biffle's parents bought for us for Christmas because I had so much frozen breast milk stashed away that it was filling our little refrigerator-freezer. And because I didn't close the freezer door all the way, all the breast milk was ruined.

All the breast milk



I cried. I've talked here before about the significance of breast milk, the sort of irrational importance it can take on. The fact is that Maybelle refused to drink from a bottle, so she really didn't have the opportunity to drink all the milk I'd stashed away. It was going to get thrown away, eventually. But having it all melt over the course of one evening brought back to me the hours I spent hooked up to a godawful machine, wearing a hideous (but useful) hands-free pumping bra so that I could at least check my email while the pump motor whirred away. I spent $900 on a hospital-grade pump. For the longest time I got up at three in the morning to pump, every morning, just to make sure that I had enough milk stored up. I carefully poured tiny bottles of milk into tiny little freezer trays that measured the milk into little one ounce sticks. I bagged, I labeled. The hours, the money, the dignity I spent in trying to fill the freezer with milk. All for nothing.

And the timing of this "shit happens" moment was particularly bad, because we're in the midst of a mini-medical crisis with Maybelle, who is the same weight right now that she was at the beginning of the summer. Because of her reflux, she's not gaining weight, and for me, knowing that the breast milk was there was like a safety net. We'd occasionally mix a few ounces of it into her food, trying to boost her fat and protein intake as much as possible. Again, I know that she was never going to go through it all--some of it was going to get thrown away. And the milk wasn't going to cure her reflux. But it does feel a bit now like the safety net is gone.

I'm sure there's some life lesson here, but perhaps it's just that shit happens.


Vomit report

Maybelle had a day of low vomit production, for which Walter and I were both grateful. But as the afternoon progressed, she did have several incidents of throwing up which, oddly, mapped the geographic strata of her stomach. First came the bright red of the beets she ate this morning. Then the orange of the sweet potatoes she had at mid morning, followed by the yellow of her banana-peanut-butter lunch. How were all of those still in there at the end of the day?

I'm happy to say she didn't throw up her afternoon snack, a piece of bean pie which she and I shared. I used a fork for myself, and rolled her bites up into little baby-sized balls, which she snatched up as quickly as I gave them to her. This obviously bodes well for her future entrance into the Nation of Islam.


Bean pie

Check it out. I have made a bean pie. It's actually surprisingly easy, and there are plenty of recipes on the internet. I was a little surprised by that fact--Biffle and I both thought that the bean pie was some odd food that Wali's Fish Supreme invented, but in fact it's a pretty common food for folks who belong to the Nation of Islam. According to Wikipedia (an authoritative enough source for a blog post, if not for real research), "Elijah Muhammed encouraged their consumption in lieu of richer foods associated with African American cuisine." I think a bean pie is plenty rich, though.

And a word of advice: do not eat any bean pie in front of Maybelle unless you want to share.

And here's a final bit of food-related fun for a Wednesday morning. We fed Maybelle beets long ago, but we never returned to them--until this morning. It turns out she loves them. How good an idea is it to feed beets to a baby who throws up all the time? We'll find out.
More beets


Food-related thoughts

Watching Julie and Julie has inspired me to share some food-related thoughts.

The first: The other day, Biffle, Maybelle, and I were walking home from the pediatrician's office. Biffle decided to take a small detour to a restaurant on Spring Street with a sign out front that says "Wali's Fish Supreme, World Famous Bean Pie." We've seen this restaurant hundreds of times. I've always found the sign intriguing, but I don't know that I would have ever made it a priority to go there, because it's in kind of a weird set of buildings that didn't look particularly inviting to me. But Biffle is really good at exploring his surroundings and taking risks. It was because of Biffle that we got to know Bob's Walk the Plank in our old neighborhood in Nashville--a topic that will have to be the subject of its own blog post someday.

So we walked into this incredibly clean and fresh smelling little dining room, completely empty, with some pies in a display case. Let me tell you, this place is a find! Biffle had the fish supreme--a fried fish sandwich he seemed to enjoy, but he'll have to comment on that. I, of course, had to try the world famous bean pie. It turns out it's a sweet pie, not a savory one, and it's the kind of thing that, had I not known it was a bean pie, I would have eaten thinking, "Something about this tastes a little familiar. What is that flavor?" The flavor is bean, but it comes across in the pie in a sort of caramelly-sweet potato-y way. It's rich but not overly sweet, with a texture that's not unlike a bean-infused custard. I loved it. It's a really delicious pie, and I imagine that, like pumpkin pie, I can count a slice or two of it as an actual meal, since it's made of nutritious ingredients. Charlestonians, you have to go check out Wali's.

And my second food-related thought: This will perhaps not be surprising news, but Rice Dream non-dairy frozen dessert is not nearly as good as Ben and Jerry's. If, like Biffle and I, you eat a lot of Ben and Jerry's and have started taking its creamy deliciousness for granted, just go buy some Rice Dream and give it a try. It's remarkable, the difference. We have Rice Dream at our house now because Maybelle is afflicted with the dreaded GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), which is, it turns out, the reason that she throws up constantly. We were, in fact, coming back from having learned this news when we stopped at Wali's Fish Supreme.

The treatment for GERD is a baby version of Zantac--foul, foul tasting metallic stuff. There was no way that we could get her to swallow it unmediated, so the nurse at our pediatrician's office suggested we try it mixed in ice cream. Because we're a little concerned that dairy may be exacerbating the vomit situation, we got some Rice Dream to mix with Maybelle's meds. Fortunately for us, Maybelle hadn't eaten ice cream before, so she's unoffended by eating two bowls of metallic tasting, fruity, weird Zantac-infused Rice Dream every day. We'll just have to keep her away from the good stuff until she outgrows her GERD.


Julie and Julia

Conseula and I went tonight to see Julie and Julia, a new film about Julia Child and a fan of hers who cooks every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was such a sweet movie. Meryl Streep was fantastic as Julia Child--a spot-on version of her that was human and not at all a caricature--and Amy Adams was also quite good as Julie. Although I preferred Julia.

The two things that were depressing about the film were really more about me than about the film:

  1. The Julie character blogs every day for a year about what she cooks. Every day! I'm impressed if I manage to blog once a week. Conseula pointed out that neither Julie nor Julia had children.
  2. The film celebrated good food, showed it being cooked and caressed, eaten and moaned over. And what did I have for dinner before I went to the movie theater? Frozen waffles. I did top them with Rodenberry's Cane Patch Syrup, a sort of weird syrup that I learned about on Kevin O'Mara's blog, so maybe that counts for something.


Life as We Know It

I'm rereading Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child, Michael Berube's book that combines a narrative of the first four years of his son Jamie's life with musings on the significance of representation, the history of Down syndrome, deconstruction, social construction, and the difference between memorization and understanding. Among other things. The book is both incredibly smart and readable, a combination that always impresses me.

One thing that struck me this time through the book was Berube's description of how Jamie learned as a baby. He's comparing Jamie with his first son, Nick, who's a typical kid:

With Nick, developmental milestones were fairly discrete: One day he learned to reach and grasp, the next day we had to put away every sharp object in the house, as Nick grabbed keys, pens, and ears of corn with infant abandon. Jamie, by contrast, was not only slower but deliberately slower. For many weeks after he grasped his first toy, he acted as if he were relearning grasping, a little more efficiently each time.

He goes on to give a great description of Jamie's surprise and joy when he was given a toy--surprise and joy that would kick in after he'd been staring at the toy for several moments. "I imagined that we could see all his teeny neurons firing hin order, just that much more slowly, telling him as they cleared a brand-new pathway through the brain, This is something you like. Get it."

This struck me because I've been noticing the same phenomenon with Maybelle. While my mom and Trey were in town, Maybelle finally decided to start commando crawling. This is a step on the way to actual crawling whereby a baby drags herself across the floor by her elbows, perhaps nudging herself along with knees or feet. It's slow and difficult, resulting in little thrusts forward of a couple of inches at a time, but it's mobility, and Maybelle has started doing it. I sort of thought this would be an epiphanic moment for her: she would recognize that a toy (or Benya) can be a foot or so away from her, and now she doesn't have to just scream at it ineffectually--she can go after it.

But it seems that epiphanies happen sort of slowly for her. Every day since her first successful foray into commando crawling, we've had to reintroduce her to the concept. It's sort of frustrating to her. You can imagine her thinking, "Listen, you people--why don't you just give me that toy like you always used to do?" And because she has low muscle tone, she's often just as content to lie on her tummy and watch the thing she wants rather than make the effort to go get it. But every day she seems to learn, or remember, more quickly than the day before. Eventually she's going to be able to do it without us coaching her, and then we're going to have to start thinking about babyproofing the house (and Benya's going to find that her life has changed utterly).

Because her learning is a bit slower and more deliberate, we can really see it happening and participate in it. Sometimes this is hard for me, but most days I'm able to observe and appreciate it.


Celebrity Column

So last night i was reading a magazine that was sitting on our coffee table.  It was one of several girly magazines.  That is, feminist magazines that Alison subscribes to.   Well, i'm looking through there, just kinda killing time, checking out what BUST has to say about what is sooooo cool in pop culture for this fall, when,

much to my surprise, right there on the same page as Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, is Alison Piepmeier and her new book Girl Zines: Making Media Doing Feminism. Isn't that something else?   

i'm married to her,  you know?   

Things I didn't expect about parenting

I go to bed at 10 p.m. now, because Maybelle wakes up around 5 every morning--and therefore, so do I.

We choose her food based on two criteria: 1) What we think won't hurt so much when it gets thrown up, and 2) What we can stand the smell of, when it gets thrown up.

I'm not much of a clothes person, but her outfits are awfully cute. It's fun getting her dressed.

Different small things get to me and Biffle. For him, the almost intolerable thing is how much she spits up. For me, it's when she won't take a nap. We're fortunate that one of us is able to be reasonable about the thing that freaks the other one out.

I fear that she is taking over my entire brain. I'm not a very good conversationalist anymore.

Every new skill she develops is really exciting. Check this out.


Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and Birth

I'm into thinky disability memoirs right now. So far I've read:

1. Life as We Know It by Michael Berube--really excellent, will read it again and have more to say about it here.
2. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy--also an excellent read, although I found I was somewhat less drawn in because she wasn't grappling with the issues that are at the forefront of my mind right now (disability studies in a feminist context).
3. The things I've read by Rayna Rapp and Eva Feder Kittay sort of fit in this category--academic pieces with autobiographical components.
4. Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy, and Birth by Anne Finger.

It sometimes surprises me when I come across really engaging books that I've never heard of before. I'm not sure why I'd be surprised, because there are many excellent books I've never heard of, but I guess I usually assume if something were really good it would have crossed my radar at some point. I approached Past Due with a bit of skepticism for that reason, and I was delightfully surprised to discover how wrong I was. I don't know why I hadn't read this book before, because it's incredibly interesting, and Anne Finger sounds like someone I'd like to know politically and personally.

Finger is a feminist activist as well as an activist for disability rights, and her activism often takes place where these fields intersect in reproductive rights. She was disabled by polio as a child, and she worked in an abortion clinic during the Reagan years when clinics were being bombed and set on fire. Like Rayna Rapp (who appears in the book), she's a passionate advocate for women's right to terminate pregnancies, but she's also quite concerned about the ease with which society suggests we terminate any fetus designated "defective." At one meeting of feminist activists, she gives a presentation on abortions of disabled fetuses as genocide. She reports,

When the discussion period began, I felt like a heretic. Wasn't it a terrible burden on women to have to care for disabled children? Shouldn't disabled infants be allowed to escape the misery of their lives? "I was glad when my daughter was born quote-unquote normal--do I have to feel guilty about that?"

What it all boiled down to was, did I really think that disabled people were as good as everyone else? Was I really saying that a disabled life was worth living?

And then she has a baby who has a very difficult entry into the world, who is hooked up to various machines in the NICU for almost two weeks, and who is a likely candidate for brain damage and other disabilities. They spend the first several months of his life not knowing, and dealing with competing diagnoses. She doesn't wish he was dead, but she often wishes that he would be just fine, and have no disabilities at all. She grapples with this wish, with what it says about her life and her politics: "It's my own internalized oppression that makes me fear having a disabled child, but it's not just that. It's the knowledge that being non-disabled is easier than being disabled. More so in this society than in others, but not just in this society. In any world I can imagine."

She faces her fears, faces what it would mean to have a disabled child, and I get the impression that this experience complicates but doesn't undermine her beliefs. Ultimately there's no moral to the story, but it's thoughtful and engrossing. It made me want to teach a class on feminist disability studies so that I could teach this book--and Testing Women, Testing the Fetus, too.


Testing Women, Testing the Fetus

I just finished Rayna Rapp's 1999 book Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. Although the book is a decade old now, it's still the only one of its kind, as far as I know: an ethnographic study of women's experiences of amniocentesis, based on extensive interviews. The book is outstanding, but this isn't a review--instead it's an opportunity for me to get some thoughts down.

The point of amniocentesis, of course, is to test for a handful of disabilities that are transmitted or manifested genetically. And by and large, the reason people have an amniocentesis is so that they can terminate a pregnancy that has certain disabilities that the woman or the family deems too serious. Rapp points out that "too serious" is a highly personal and contextual decision--except for Down syndrome, where she suggests there's a consensus developing. Almost all women who discover through amniocentesis that they're carrying a fetus with Down syndrome choose to terminate. Rapp herself had a late abortion when she discovered that her fetus had Down syndrome, and I suspect that I'd have done the same, if we'd had an amniocentesis with Maybelle.

Rapp treats the women and men she interviews with great care and seriousness, even calling them "moral pioneers." She doesn't make judgments about other people's decisions, but seems to try to represent their voices as fully and respectfully as possible. That makes this an incredibly rich, interesting book. It also makes parts of it very hard to read. Like this:

"One professional couple told [their genetic counselor], 'If he can't grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don't want him.'"

I was sort of glad that this couple went ahead and put it out there, because that expectation seemed to underlie a lot of the interviews Rapp reports in the book, particularly the ones with professional white people. This couple was honest, and part of why I find their statement so reprehensible (particularly the "we don't want him") is because I want to feel morally superior, but I can so fully relate to the sentiments they're expressing. Or, maybe more accurately, I think I'm moving away from that mindset, but it's still very familiar to me.

And here's another passage from the book that resonated with me:
“Ending a pregnancy to which one is already committed because of a particular diagnosed disability forces each woman to act as a moral philosopher of the limits, adjudicating the standards guarding entry into the human community for which she serves as the normalizing gatekeeper. She must make conscious the fears, fantasies, and phobias she holds about mothering a disabled child. And she frequently thinks in a vacuum, lacking much social context for what a particular medical diagnosis of a disability might really imply.”

Yes, I would have been in that vacuum, and was in the first weeks of Maybelle's life. People with disabilities aren’t visibly part of my life, or the lives of my friends and colleagues, particularly not people with intellectual disabilities. Maybelle was the first person with ds that I knew, and that’s true for many of my friends--she’s it! So I freaked out when we had her--I had no context for understanding what life with a person with a disability would be like. I was so relieved when friends and colleagues would email me and share their own connections to folks with disabilities. One neighbor emailed to tell me that her brother has cystic fibrosis--not at all the same as ds, but still reassuring because it helped me to feel that disabilities could be part of my life without unsettling everything that I was.


The Twilight series

I'm halfway through the third book of the Twilight series. Since Monday, I've had the following conversation with four different women, each of whom is in her 30s, identifies as a feminist, and has an advanced degree:

"These Twilight books, they are so badly written!"
"Yes, and they're politically indefensible."
"And you can't sympathize with the characters. What is with Bella? She's not spunky or smart or even rebellious!"
"So why can't I stop reading them?"
"I know, they're addictive!"

What is the deal with these books? One of my friends read all four in two days (and these things are sizable). Another finished the first book and immediately read it again. Another sent her husband to the store late at night to buy the next one for her (she couldn't go herself because she was sick).

And for those of you who haven't read them, let me give you a sense of the dialogue:
Vampire boyfriend: I love you so much. I couldn't possibly love you any more.
Whiny girlfriend: I don't see how you can love me, because I am nowhere near as beautiful as you are. But I love you!
Vampire boyfriend: But how can you love me when I am so dangerous! But I love you!

To make this scenario even more troubling, the books are essentially describing an abusive relationship--one that appears to become more and more controlling and manipulative as the series progresses. The vampire boyfriend shows his love by stalking his whiny girlfriend and trying to take charge of her entire life, ostensibly in order to protect her.

I am baffled as to why I and my friends and colleagues have gotten so sucked into a series that seems to have nothing at all to offer us. I know that there are theories out there about why this might be the case, and I intend to delve into them. Several faculty colleagues and I are going to be doing a panel discussion about these books in October, and by then I hope I'll have real critical thought and not just self mockery to offer.


Disability studies

I've been doing some reading in the field of disability studies. This is a newish interdisciplinary academic field that explores the social, cultural, political, and material meanings of disability. It's a field that I've been aware of since I did my dissertation back a decade ago. One of my chapters dealt with the prevalence of freak shows in the 19th century, and much of the most interesting work on freak shows was being done by scholars who located themselves in disability studies. Freaks, these scholars argued convincingly, are constructed by narrative. Bodies that might not fit typical models become "freaks" when a label and a story are attached, and the bodies are made into a public spectacle.

I was again exposed to disability studies a couple of years ago when a local Charleston activist and attorney called me on the fact that we were holding Women's and Gender Studies events in venues that weren't accessible. Initially I was defensive--"Well," I thought, "we're doing the best we can, and there aren't that many accessible buildings on campus!"--but then I realized that she was right, and I started rescheduling things. I read her autobiography, which disability studies scholars cite, and found it fascinating. Like the freak show scholarship, it forced me to consider how much of "disability" is culturally constructed rather than inherent or "natural."

When Maybelle was born I suspected I would return to the field of disability studies, but I wasn't ready to do it for some time. Then when she'd been around for a few months, a friend sent me a link to Michael Berube's blog, to this post, in fact, a post about his misconceptions about his son, Jamie, who has Down syndrome. I remember a flood of reactions, most of them related to relief: relief that his son was able to do so many things that he hadn't expected, relief that this was a prolific academic whose career hadn't ground to a halt because of being the father of a person with Down syndrome. Almost immediately after I finished reading the post, I searched around online and found information about Berube's wife, also an academic, and I quickly confirmed that her career hadn't ground to a halt, either--so the relief stuck. (It's all well and good for one parent to get to be a super star, but if that's because the other parent has become a martyr, then that's not a model that will work for our family.)

During the spring semester I read Berube's book about his son's early years, and it was the right book for the right time. It combined personal experiences with research and scholarly musings about the history of Down syndrome, the importance of rhetoric, and the meaning of genetics. Like the freak show research, Berube's book points out that the way we describe disabilities in large part determines their cultural meaning. For instance, the question of whether someone is "retarded" or "intellectually delayed" has real world consequences.

So Berube's book has set me on a path. I'm seeking out other things like it--books and essays by academics who are grappling with disability studies from a personal as well as a scholarly perspective. I've been reading Eva Feder Kittay, Rayna Rapp, and Rosemarie Garland Thomson. If you know of others--particularly academics who have kids with disabilities--let me know in the comments section. I'm sure I'll have more to say here.


Up with People

Claire and Conseula have gotten so much pleasure from this news that I thought I'd share it with the rest of you: my parents are in Branson, MO, this week rehearsing for their Up with People reunion show, which will happen this weekend. My parents, for those of you who don't know this, met in Up with People back in the early days of the group--they both dropped out of college to travel the world performing positive, encouraging music, and they got to go to some amazing places (Europe, South America, what was then the Belgian Congo) and stay with families there. My dad was drafted as a direct result of being in Up with People (since he was no longer a college student).

My brothers and I grew up with the Up with People music (indeed, right now I could sing all the words to "Up with People," "What Color Is God's Skin?", "Don't Stand Still," and many more!). I am sort of bummed that Maybelle and I won't be going to the concert.


Father's Day

This morning, as we were sitting at the table reading the paper, Biffle asked, "So, you got anything special planned for me today?"

I said, "What do you mean?"

"You know, because it's Father's Day."

Ack! It's Father's Day! I had completely forgotten. He was mostly joking in asking whether I had any special plans for him, but I felt terrible to have forgotten--particularly since he made me brunch for Mother's Day.

And then I remembered that the reason he made me brunch was that I kept talking about Mother's Day, and the reason I kept talking about it was that people--my family, mostly, but not exclusively--kept asking what Biffle was going to do for me for my first Mother's Day. So it was on my mind, and I made sure it was on his mind. (I'm a big believer in making your wishes known--if I expect a gift or any other sort of specialness, I try to put those expectations out there as clearly as possible rather than expecting someone to know or remember.)

But nobody asked me what I was getting Biffle, or reminded me that Father's Day was coming up and that he is a father!

I don't know if this is some gender double standard, if we don't care as much about Father's Day because we consider mothers more important, or what, but I hold all of you blog readers personally responsible for not reminding me!

P.S. We ended up having a really nice day--bagels and the New York Times for breakfast, a long walk in the blistering heat, and later we took Maybelle to the beach for the very first time.


Sitting up for real

Sitting up with Daddy, originally uploaded by AlisonPiepmeier.

Within the last week, Maybelle has learned how to go from sitting with her hands propping her up, to sitting unsupported. Apparently this is a big deal for a baby's cognitive development, because it means that her hands are free to explore the world around her, and she can learn about cause and effect, gravity, object permanence, not to mention how a wider variety of things taste.


Prenatal testing and reproductive rights

Eliza alerted me to the fact that there's some discussion going on at Double X about late-term abortions. It started as a series of articles about the truth behind late-term abortions; in response to the death of Dr. George Tiller, the magazine wanted to allow women who've had late-term abortions to discuss their experiences as a way of cutting through all the anti-choice hysteria. It quickly progressed, however, into a discussion of whether or not it's a good idea to abort all fetuses identified as having Down syndrome. Some quotes from the articles:

The answer to the last question, by the way, is yes.

Commenters have gotten all hyped up--I didn't read all the comments but skimmed through enough to see that people were all over the place. But there were a number of commenters who discussed what a huge burden disabled folks put on families and how unfair it is to the families, and the babies themselves, not to have prenatal testing and not to abort disabled fetuses.

I will have more thoughts on this, but here are three things I would like to say today:
  1. The right to terminate a pregnancy is incredibly important. A woman's whole life is affected by a pregnancy and a child, and if we want women to be allowed to be fully human, we must allow them the right to abortion.
  2. Many times decisions about abortion are difficult and complex, but the woman involved (with her partner, if applicable) is the best able to make that decision. Even if we might disagree with her decision, no one else--no individual, no institution, no agency--is better able to weigh all the factors and make that decision.
  3. People need real information about life with a disabled child in order to make the best decision they can about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. At this point I think what they're getting is a lot of hype, stereotype, and misinformation. If the Double X comments are any indication, people out there seem to believe that having a child with Down syndrome will be the end of life as you know it. Everything will change for the worse, and you will rue the day you didn't abort. I thought those things when we had Maybelle. My experience as her mom so far, and my far broader understanding of life with Down syndrome, shows me how wrong I was.
I'm offended by the defensiveness I see in these articles and many of the comments. I get the sense that these folks want to justify their own decisions by making sure everybody knows how awful it would be to live with a child who was intellectually and developmentally delayed. I support their right to make their own choices about their pregnancies, but when they start talking about the burden that disabled people put on families and on the state, then they are actually making the world a worse place for my daughter.


Straight hair

Claire and I got our hair cut yesterday. It was long past time for me to have my hair cut, because I'd reverted to my old habit of wearing my hair in a ponytail everyday out of frustration. Claire actually made us the appointment--who knows how long it would have taken me to get around to it.

It seems to me that pregnancy and breastfeeding have sucked all the life out of my hair. Instead of having gorgeous curls, lately I'm mostly stuck with frizz and unruly tendrils. So I told the stylist that I wanted a better haircut, with three requirements:

  1. I will not do anything to my hair. I don't own a blowdryer, and I will not do any at-home styling.
  2. The only exception to #1 is that I'll put product (and lots of it) in my hair.
  3. No bangs.
So she chopped and thinned and layered--there was a lot of hair on the floor when she finished. And then she decided that, for her own enjoyment, she wanted to see what my hair would look like straightened. I told her it's never been done before, so she decided she would be the first. She got out the straightening iron. An hour later (yes, a full hour!), here is what I looked like:
Pretty wild, isn't it? Apparently it'll stay like this until I wash it, so I'm enjoying having a completely different head of hair for a couple of days.


The Ween and Benya

Over the months, we've posted a couple of pictures of Maybelle and Benya together, to document the Ween's growth. Here's the latest installment, showing not only how much bigger she is but also how much more active:

For comparison's sake, here's one from December and the earliest one, from September.

Looking at these pictures, it seems to me that Maybelle is staying the same size and Benya is just shrinking.