Maybelle vs. The Memoir

It's not yet January, but the January issue of Skirt! magazine is now out in the world, and it has an article in it that I wrote.  The article is called "Maybelle vs. the Memoir," and I'll post a link to it here as soon as it's available.  One fun thing about this article is that it's a personal response to research I've been doing.  I hope I can do more of this in coming months and years:  write an academic response (which I can't help but have) and also a more personal, informal version of my response to the materials.

In my author's note at the end, I give this blog address.  So for those of you who are new to the blog and might be looking for posts about Maybelle (and my take on disabilities studies more broadly), here are some of my favorites, in reverse chronological order:
Oh, and here's a fun thing:  we got to show Maybelle her name in Skirt! this morning as we were waiting for brunch at Hominy Grill.


    Have I mentioned that we love Star Wars?

    My brother Trey got us all t-shirts onto which we could iron on our favorite old-school Star Wars patches.  (And by "us all," you'll notice that I don't mean Biffle, because Trey knows--as close readers of the blog should--that Biffle refuses to wear any t-shirt with something written on it).  Look how incredibly cool we all are!


    Christmas morning

    As a quick follow-up to yesterday's post about getting through Christmas eve, here's what this morning was like:

    (If you want to see Maybelle dancing, go here.)

    As I put Maybelle to bed last night, I said, "I'll see you in the morning" with an emphasis which she might not have noticed. Biffle woke me up at midnight to tell me that it was Christmas day and I wasn't in the hospital.  I was very, very happy to get Maybelle out of bed this morning, and so far we're having a good Christmas.


    Christmas Eve

    Well, today is Christmas Eve.  I pointed out to Biffle that making it through tonight without any emergency hospitalizations will feel to me like I'm walking through a spider web, or breaking a spell.  I will have made it through the year and into a new one, a year that's truly going to be new, starting in a different way.  He pointed out that while I'm a very reasonable, rational person, my PTSD is manifesting in some odd superstition--"Breaking a spell?" he asked.  It does feel that way.

    Here was Christmas morning two years ago:

    Christmas morning last year was encapsulated in this blog post that everyone in the entire universe has already read, so please don't feel like you have to go there again.

    I'm nearly 100% sure that this year our Christmas morning will be more like the video above, although with a person who's far more mobile and dedicated to performing with the Biffles' collection of singing snowmen (I will try to get a video of this phenomenon sometime soon).  We're having a good day today, but I am ready to be through it, to be shaking this year off behind me and moving forward.



    It's nearly 7 a.m. in Cookeville, TN, and Biffle and I are lounging on the bed.  He's reading outloud to me from the internet, stories of how fraught brotherhood is in mythology (Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, etc).  We're drinking coffee.

    How is this possible?  Maybelle is at my parents' house, and my parents got us a hotel room.

    In a hotel!  This is the first night we've spent away from Maybelle since she was born, not counting our hospital time (which in absolutely no sense signifies as vacation time).  She is (we assume) happily playing with her Nonny, and we're just lounging.

    We both woke up this morning around the time that Maybelle generally wakes up at home, so it's not that we got to sleep in, and she's on our minds.  When Biffle blew his nose first thing this morning, he thought of her, because she's delighted by the sound of nose blowing and will point to her own nose--the sound of Biffle blowing his nose is often the thing that lets Maybelle and I know that he's awake.

    We'll get to see her in an hour or so.  But for now, it's a welcome change of pace to be hanging out in a hotel together.  We've had a challenging year, and we both were ready for some simple down time together.  It feels like a radically different morning.


    Things I want for Maybelle

    This isn't a holiday wish for her, but a general non-purchasable life wish.  I want Maybelle to experience her family as a space where she never has to worry that she'll be good enough.  As I type it, this seems like no big deal, and yet I know that many people don't have this experience as kids.  Some of my friends worried as children that things they did wouldn't be impressive enough.  They had little mini-agonies of wondering how to keep their parents' attention, how to make their parents proud.

    I'm really fortunate that this wasn't my experience as a kid.  With the exception of my brief time playing softball (something at which I was very unskilled, but also--and this is the key--about which I had a terrible attitude), I knew that everything I did my parents would think was great.  This was so true that I would sort of roll my eyes at their praise, thinking, "Yeah, that's because they're my parents."  But this didn't mean that the praise was meaningless to me.  I counted on the fact that they'd legitimately enjoy the theater and dance performances I took part in.  I never doubted their enjoyment.  I just thought this was what it meant to be a parent:  you were absolutely head over heels with the stuff your kids did.  This wasn't just true for me but for Trey and Aaron, too (I'd be interested in knowing if this is their perception, but it was mine, watching my parents looking at Trey's drawings or Aaron's performances).

    The thing I've realized now is that this isn't just an automatic parental response.  It's a choice, and it's important.  So it's something I'm committed to providing for her.


    A few random good things

    • Don't Ask, Don't Tell has finally been repealed.  One more little step that challenges the still pervasive belief that homophobia is reasonable and defensible.  It's not.
    • A wonderful colleague read my Sucks blog post and brought us some chicken chili tonight.  I assured her that we're all fully functioning now, but she made extra and wanted us to have it.  Biffle's heating it up as I blog.
    • I got some eggnog at the store tonight.  What's that?  The tiniest little chink in Alison's anti-holiday vibe?  Yes, perhaps.


    Works like a dog

    Today the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston awarded degrees in WGS to three students--the first three students to have a WGS degree from CofC!  That isn't what this post is about--I'll have a separate one about that at some point.  What this post is about:  while I was walking home from the graduation ceremony, I reflected on the students who've come in and out of my life, and the qualities they have that resonate with me.  Some students are sort of naturally, inherently brilliant--ideas make sense to them automatically, they don't have to agonize over revisions or scheduling, they effortlessly produce quotable quips.  Others, like me, work like dogs.

    The back story:  I started taking classes in modern and jazz dance when I was in ninth grade.  By the time I got to college, the teachers at the dance studio told me that I was ready to be promoted into the accelerated classes--but to be in accelerated jazz and modern, you have to be taking ballet.  Those of you who know me personally may think to yourselves, "Hmm, Alison doesn't seem like the ballet type."  You would be right.  But I loved jazz and modern, and I wanted to be promoted, so I started taking ballet.

    One day, about halfway through my first year in ballet, the teacher stopped the class.  She was a tough woman, equal parts talented and demanding, and she did not take any shit.  I really respected her. "Class," she announced, "I want you all to stop what you're doing and watch Alison Piepmeier.  Alison Piepmeier hasn't taken ballet before this year, but she works like a dog."  I remember glowing with the pleasure of that praise.  I was terrible at ballet, but everything she told me to do, I tried my hardest to do it.  Not one bit of it came naturally, but I worked like a dog.  She was offering me what I immediately recognized as an incredible compliment, and one that I think of often even in my life today.

    I think this is still one of my noteworthy characteristics.  When I have a student who has that quality, the willingness to work like a dog, I feel a kind of familiarity, an attachment, and confidence.  Working like a dog won't take care of everything, but I'd argue it's far more reliable than intelligence, physical capacity, or some of the other characteristics we like to celebrate.


    A happy story, although it still involves crying

    Last night, when I was giving Maybelle her bath, she and I were singing Christmas carols.  I got about halfway through "Rudolph" before stopping suddenly and yelling, "Biffle!  'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' is a song about the social construction of disability!"

    He poked his head into the bathroom, eyes rolling.  "Um, yeah.  You're just figuring that out?"

    Yes, I was just figuring it out--or perhaps just figuring it out in the context of my life right now.  Rudolph has a nose that's so unusual that everyone laughs at it and makes fun of it.  They've made it into a disability, a stigma, a source of shame.  Santa reframes the nose, recognizing it as an example of embraceable human diversity.  Then all the reindeer loved him.  Disability is socially constructed.  There was nothing wrong with Rudolph.

    This morning Maybelle's preschool had an advent service.  The toddlers weren't performing, but all the older kids were.  The room was filled with kids and parents, and Maybelle was riveted.  She sat on Biffle's shoulders watching the kids attentively, and when they sang, she was so excited!  She clapped and cheered.  It seemed to me--and this is not just my parental bias--that she was paying more attention than many of the others in the toddler class.  It was great fun for me.  Yesterday a friend suggested I think of this year's holiday season as The Year Maybelle Was Really Old Enough To Enjoy Christmas For The First Time, and this morning I got an experience of that.

    Then the kids broke into "Rudolph," and while Maybelle banged on Biffle's head in joyful accompaniment, I had to rustle around in my purse for kleenex.



    In our household, we--or, honestly, just I--have a way of describing things that aren't going so well:  "This sucks a monkey's large, hairy penis."

    The good news:  I am healthy.  My brain tumor hasn't grown, and I don't have any other conditions that are life threatening.  I do recognize that this is incredibly good news, and I'm relieved and grateful.

    The bad news:  the last few days have definitely sucked a monkey penis.

    On Tuesday I had an MRI and an appointment with my neuro-oncologist at Duke Medical Center.  This means that Monday was spent driving to North Carolina, and grappling with the awareness that I was about to have a test that might let me know that the tumor was growing, and that my life was going to be far shorter than I want it to be.  This is true all the time, for all of us--we have no idea how much life we have left--but the MRI makes that vague, easily ignorable truth far more palpable for me.  When I got to my friends' house in Fayetteville Monday night and James asked me how I was, I burst into tears.  That was Monday.

    Tuesday I managed to be in a state of anxiety that kept me from being weepy.  I was wound up, wound up, wound up.  Catherine generously came along while I had my MRI (this time the nurse didn't have to go probing around inside my arm with the IV needle, looking for the vein, so that was cool), and she sat in the waiting room with me for 90 minutes until we were called back to meet with Jim.  He was great, as usual, and the appointment was generally quite reassuring, given that the MRI showed that the tumor hasn't grown at all.  Then I drove home, the relief taking the form of exhaustion.  I was wiped out.  I got home with enough energy to spend a little while snuggling with Biffle, and then I had to go to bed.  That was Tuesday.

    Wednesday afternoon at around 1:00, I was hit with an abdominal pain so sudden and so awful that I had to stagger, bent at the waist, to the door, collapse on the stairs, and say to Biffle, "I need help."  He took me to the ER at MUSC.

    I find that I want to describe the pain, or its effects, but I'm going to resist that reality-TV-drama urge.  Pain is hard to communicate--it's so deeply personal--there's no way that anyone else can actually feel the pain that you're feeling.*  Indeed, they might think that you're a wimp, or that you're faking it.  I was neither.  It was bad.  I freaked the resident out so badly (she looked terrified) that she brought the attending physician to me very quickly, and the attending was incredibly matter-of-fact about pain medication.  "Your heartbeat is fine, you're not running a fever, so you get as much pain medication as you want.  There is no need for you to be in pain."  They gave me a very large dose of something very powerful (Biffle informed me that it sells for big bucks on the street), and it lowered the pain level from a 9 to a 6, I said.  When the attending heard that I was still at 6, she gave me another dose--and that fairly well knocked me out.  Which was good.

    At any rate, after nine hours in the ER, they determined that I had an ovarian cyst rupture.  Totally harmless, nothing to worry about.  Claire, who coordinated with Biffle to trade off Maybelle and Alison duties, drove me home.

    Today I am worn out and sore.  I have done my best to answer the emails that I haven't gotten to all week because of the medical drama that is my life.  I've canceled all my afternoon appointments.  I'm going to try to relax.  This holiday season has already felt pretty challenging to me, given that Dec. 24 is the anniversary of the seizure that revealed my brain tumor.  As of today, I'm ready for the whole season just to be over.  We've had plenty of action, thank you very much.  Now I'd just like to take it easy.

    *This may sound like my own insight, but in fact it comes from a conversation with a friend who deals with a lot of pain in her life, and from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain.


    Free To Be You and Me

    There's no way to write this post so that it's not ridden with cliches, I'm afraid, so perhaps I'll summarize the initial cliches so that the main one will be more tolerable.
    • Like every person my age who had vaguely hippie-ish parents, I listened to--and loved--Free To Be You and Me as a child.  I remember rocking out in my room, with my own record player.
    • Once I became not only an adult but also a Women's and Gender Studies professor, I bought a CD version of the album so that I could play select bits for my classes.
    • The other day I read a Bitch magazine interview with Rosey Grier, the NFL player who recorded "It's Alright to Cry" for Free To Be You and Me.  I realized that I'd never--never!  How is this possible?--played any of it for Maybelle.  She has an iPod playlist that's 200 songs long, but not one song is from FTBYAM.  I then went through a week-long process of trying to find the CD until I realized that it was in my office.
    • I brought it home, and one evening when Maybelle and I were hanging out in the living room, I put on the first song, "Free To Be You and Me."
    Okay, so this is where we enter into lengthier cliche terrain:  this is an album that in many ways encapsulates second wave feminist visions of parenthood and/as revolution.  In some ways it's old news, and yet it surprised me how fresh and relevant it felt as I played it for Maybelle.  Some of the lyrics of this first song are
    There's a land that I see
    where the children are free.
    And I say it ain't far
    to this land from where we are....
    And you and me are free to be
    you and me.
    There are rivers that run free in the song, and a green country, and horses.  Potentially quite goofy, and yet the first, let's say, ten times I played the song for Maybelle, I cried.  Mind you, we also danced:  it's an excellent song with a banjo and a rock break-out at the end, and Maybelle and I are both skilled dancers (see some of the pictures from the DSAL holiday party if you doubt me). 

    But the lyrics hit me at two levels.  I remembered them surprisingly well from my own childhood, a time when those lyrics seemed incredibly matter of fact and not the tiniest bit radical.  Of course I was free to be whoever I was going to be--that was a foundational assumption in my childhood.  Listening to them as a parent, though, a parent of a child who is both female and has a developmental disability, meant that I heard the radical message in a much clearer way.  My life's work is very much about creating space where people can reach their full potential, where obstacles and oppressions are removed so that they can be whoever they're meant to be.  And I desperately wish for a world where Maybelle is truly free to be herself.  We're so much closer to that world now than we were in 1972, when the album was released.  But there's still a lot of work to be done.


    Birthday bike

    The other day I overheard a student exclaim to a friend, "Oh, I didn't see your bike, so I figured you weren't here!"  She then reflectively referred to bikes as "our totem animals"--they sort of carry a bit of the personality, the spirit, of the folks who ride them.

    Well, thanks to my parents and Biffle, I now have the perfect bike, the bike that meets all my biking needs and is an ideal kind of totem for me.  I'd hoped to have a picture of me on the bike to share, but, you know, things get busy, and a picture of that sort takes two adults and some time management which haven't happened around here.  So the picture to the left is one from the website (and yowza, this is the first time I've been to the website--I had no idea this perfect bike cost that much money!)

    Back at the beginning of October, I wrote a post called "Things I Want," and one of the things I wrote about was an actual bike of my own.  I'd been riding Biffle's, and I was increasingly feeling that I needed a bike that was my bike--a bike that I could love and put stickers on, a bike that I could drive over a curb and not feel guilty about.  Lo and behold, a week or so after that post went up, a bike arrived at our house.  My parents commissioned Biffle to find and procure it for my birthday, even though my birthday wasn't until today.  So for the last two months, I've been riding around on my very cool new bike:  truly zippy, but upright, so that Maybelle's seat will fit on it.  It's got a basket, and it's brown--with a funky brown leather seat!--so it's stylish in exactly the way that works with me.

    The first day I went out on it, I was walking it across campus, and two college guys said, "Whoa, that is the best bike I've ever seen."  I stopped and scrutinized them.  They didn't look like people I knew.  "Do you work at a bike shop?" I asked.  "No," they said, "we can just tell that you have a totally awesome bike."  I looked at them more closely, to see if maybe they were musicians, but they just looked too young.  "That's exactly what my husband told me people would say about my bike," I said.  I wondered, Could Biffle have paid them?  "Well," they replied with seeming sincerity, "it's a great bike!"

    And it is!  So there you go.  Thanks for the birthday totem, mom and dad!


    Sabbatical and the fertile void (professional musings)

    We've now reached the end of fall semester, 2010, which means the end of my very first sabbatical.  The sabbatical is a semester (or a year) for faculty to do their own research and thinking, to have uninterrupted chunks of time to pursue new ideas, to follow leads and see where they go.  It's a necessary part of the scholarly life because it's providing the space that creative and analytical thinking require.

    The sabbatical was a bit of a mystery to me from the beginning.  I haven't had uninterrupted chunks of time for research since probably 1999, my last semester in grad school.  What in the world would this be like?  I wasn't sure what to expect--yet even still it didn't go the way I expected.

    Here's the predictable stuff:  during the semester I've read a bunch of fascinating books, most of which haven't appeared on the blog.  I'm doing feminist disability studies research, and I've read memoirs by parents of kids with disabilities, various sorts of social scientific and humanities-based research into the social construction of disability, and everything I can get my hands on about prenatal testing.  I've also identified several new favorite authors and have been tracking down all their work.  I had days when I descended into research mode and swam around there blissfully.  I've written an academic article, presented at a conference, and begun writing another article.  So this is what I expected would happen on sabbatical.

    What I didn't expect was the lack of focus, the swaths of time that I'd sit in my bat cave (the office I was assigned for my sabbatical) sort of staring, thinking, "What now?"  The days that I'd come home not really sure what I'd done all day.  I'd look at one of the many stacks of books around me, and none of them would call out to me.  Or an administrative task--even an administrative honor--would come my way, and I'd think, "Oh, I really don't want to do that."

    "But what," another voice in my head would ask, "do you want?"

    A friend recently shared that she's in what her therapist calls "a fertile void."  The instant she said the phrase, I knew what she was talking about.  It's a space of nothingness, of not knowing, of confusion--but a potentially generative space.  That's where I am.  That's what my sabbatical has been:  a fertile void.  It's provided me with the space not to know, and--more importantly--not to have to know.  I've been lifted off the treadmill, I guess:  the tracks that my days normally follow aren't there right now, which has given me the opportunity to consider what I think about those tracks.  Are those the tracks I want to be on?

    And the answer is that I'm not sure.

    Here are some things I've learned:  I love thinking analytically about the world around me.  I just love it, and I can't avoid it.  It's what I would do even if I weren't an academic.  I've also learned how much I enjoy students.  The other day I hung out in the WGS office for an hour or so, and being in the physical space with students who came in and out, sharing with each other about classes and community service work they're doing, was revitalizing to me.  I thought, "Oh, I miss you all!"  I love real conversations about ideas with colleagues and friends.  I've had a number of moments of thinking, "This is why I chose this line of work," when I'm in the midst of an intense, chewy discussion with another feminist scholar.  I'm fairly certain that these sorts of conversations aren't happening as often in other lines of work--or, in fact, are things actively avoided.

    I've also learned that I'm uncertain about some other aspects of my career, things that a year ago I would have had confident clarity about.  I think this is good news.  Meaningful uncertainty is often a crucial component of real choice.  It's not always comfortable, but I'm trying to relax in it, to marinate.  Knowing what and who I want to be when I grow up is a big deal, and if my sabbatical has opened up a way for me to look at my life differently, without my old assumptions driving the bus, then that's time well spent.


    More thoughts on Origins

    Hey, folks--I just wanted to let you know (particularly those of you who wrote long, thoughtful responses to my review of Origins) that I've posted some additional thoughts on Origins over at Girl w/Pen.  I'm talking less about the book than about the cultural pressures that surround it, pressures that your blog comments made visible to me.  Let me know what you think!


    Book review: Origins

    I just finished Origins:  How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives (Annie Murphy Paul, Free Press, 2010).  I read it because I'm doing some research and writing now on prenatal testing, and I thought this book might be relevant.

    Let me preface my thoughts by saying that Trey might accuse me of having a bad attitude.  And he might be right.  So I'll try to be reasonable, but I suspect there will be quite a lot of snarkiness.

    Here is my general review:  if you are pregnant, do not pick this book up.  I'm very glad I didn't read this book while I was pregnant.  I'm not pregnant, and yet reading it made me a bit antsy, because the whole book is about fetal origins.  It's about the ways in which the nine months in utero shape a person--and not only that person, but future generations of persons.  If you're exposed to certain sorts of toxins, or have certain sorts of bad experiences/feelings/thoughts, or ingest certain sorts of wrong things, your child could be affected--and then your grandchild, and great-grandchild, and so on.  For real.  You could fuck up whole generations of your family if you do the wrong thing as a pregnant woman.

    Paul wrote the book while she was pregnant, so she repeatedly acknowledges that this sort of research could be used to make pregnant women (and mothers) feel guiltier and more worried than they already feel.  She notes, "It's all too easy to imagine how fetal origins research could become the basis for a whole new species of mother-blame, finding fault with mothers even before their children are born."  She was aware of the dangers--and aware in her personal experience as well as in the abstract--but she expressed hope that this research could instead be used to make the world a better place for pregnant women.

    But the scientific research she cites generally focuses on the dangers, the ways in which fetuses can be and have been harmed.  So I came away from the book not feeling encouraged about changing the world, but guilty about the ways in which I might have unknowingly damaged Maybelle and future generations of Biffle-Piepmeiers.  And as a small but significant complaint, I'd like to point out that she had a lot to say about IQ.  Like, such and such behavior can lower a child's IQ.  Testing three years out shows lower IQs for babies with low birthweights, babies whose mothers had experienced high stress, babies whose mothers ate too much or too little, babies whose mothers had the wrong hairstyles.  And I get that we're all concerned about IQ; I certainly was when I was a pregnant woman, although I knew even then that IQ testing was sketchy.  Now, for perhaps obvious reasons, I'm a bit skeptical of an emphasis on IQ as a key factor that determines someone's health, well-being, and general quality of life.  Just saying.

    I know that it's not Paul's job to be a scientific researcher, but some of the science she cites struck me as dubious--like the claim at the end that a C-section might be a preferable birth for a person because it doesn't cause the baby any pain (and yet the other person involved in the C-section has a significantly more difficult healing process, right?).  So, in general, I don't recommend this book.  Pregnant women should stay far, far away from it.


    Meeting Reva at the Cracker Barrel

    We had a full, full Thanksgiving break, with pleasantly overstimulating time with both sets of relatives.  There are new pictures up on Flickr if you want to see the Piepmeier and Biffle families in their Thanksgiving glory, but what I want to write about here is an experience on our way home today.  Biffle, Maybelle, and I stopped--as we often do--at a Cracker Barrel for lunch.  While we were eating, we noticed that a woman at a nearby table was what we (inoffensively, I hope) refer to as an MOT:  Member of the Tribe--of our tribe, because she has Down syndrome.  "She's reading the menu!" I shared with Biffle quietly.  "She just gave her order to the server, and the server totally understood her.  No need for translation."  And later, "She's having a good time!  She and the woman she's with are laughing."

    When we got up to leave, we engaged in a version of the behavior that we've discovered lots of parents of little kids with Down syndrome do:  we walked Maybelle by very slowly, and let her stop and look around so that the woman and her lunch companion could see her.  I pretty obviously moved my body out of the way so that Maybelle was totally visible.  I wanted to connect with them, but I didn't want to lunge at their table out of the blue if, perhaps, they were hoping to have a quiet lunch without having to do Down syndrome outreach.

    Well, it worked:  the woman, whose name is Reva*, turned around and saw Maybelle, and her mom saw her, too, and they both smiled and waved.  We're in!  We walked over to visit with them and had a brief conversation.  We learned that we're all doing just fine.  We shared that Maybelle is 2, and learned that Reva is 39.  Her mom encouraged us to have high expectations, and we assured her that we do (as all our blog readers are well aware).  Reva agreed with me that Maybelle is a wiggle bug, and then we headed on our way.

    In the car, Biffle and I were processing (so cool to meet them!  Reva seems great!), and wondering, in particular, if there was anything else we should have said.  "She's 39, right?" Biffle asked, and I said yes.  He said, "We should have told her mom thank you."  Reva was born a year before me.  In 1971, her mom would have been told to institutionalize her.  And clearly, she didn't.  Not only did she not institutionalize her, but she had high expectations for her, and it's because of moms like that--who did what they did without the sorts of support we have today--that Maybelle has the chance to live the life she's living.

    Biffle was totally right.  We should have told them both thank you.

    *I thought her name was Rayna, but Biffle reminded me it's Reva.


    Sarah Josepha Hale

    Listen, y'all.  Three or four different members of my family today have forgotten who Sarah Josepha Hale is.  How many years have I been posting to Baxter Sez an explanation of Hale?  And is my family not reading the blog?  And why does Lincoln still get all the credit for starting Thanksgiving?

    So here's a link to one of the posts about Hale.  Go read it right now.  And please remember, as well, that Hale wrote a very famous poem for which her authorship has been forgotten.



    "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

    And now here's a guest post from my brother Aaron:

    Another little-known fact about Mrs. Hale is that she was the first full frontal feminist. Now, to the readers of Baxter Sez, this type of feminism is old hat, but for those living in the days of Lincoln this was very taboo. The only other full frontal activity around at that time was rodent related (another blog post to come) and mainly concerned the patriarchy. This rodent-focused lifestyle totally bored women, who were concerned with much more important non-rodent frontality, and Mrs. Hale choose one december to fix this problem.

    On December 11, 1808 Mrs. Hale walked into the center of town, with her little cute hat held in front of herself, and proceeded to shine her feminism, frontally, to the entire village. Much was changed that day. She realized her full potential and the other women in town fell in behind this natural leader to challenge the status quo.  After that day, the focus of her career switched to improving the status of turkeys - the unknown national bird of feminists.

    Turkey trot

    The Biffle-Piepmeiers are in Tennessee to visit with both sets of families for Thanksgiving.  A huge bunch of Piepmeiers have gathered in Cookeville--it's been a wonderful sort of overstimulation to hang out in a house full of 18 aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  It turns out that Maybelle is quite extraverted and has quickly learned that she can make almost anyone bend to her will.

    This morning we all did the Turkey Trot, a 5K run/walk.  Several of the Piepmeier gang ran (and did surprisingly well!  Without injury!).  Maybelle and I walked with my mom, and although this picture makes it look like she walked the whole race herself, Maybelle was actually in the backpack until the last 100 yards.  At that point she saw other people speeding up, and she cried, "Run run run!" (which in Maybelle speak sounds like "Wo wo wo!"), so I let her down and she trotted over the finish line.  She was applauded, of course, which she seemed to take as her due.  She stopped, smiled, and offered her own bit of applause, as well.  Like, "Yes, we're celebrating!  Everyone's looking at me!  That's about right."


    Biffle is a musical genius

    You all know that Biffle plays music almost continuously around Charleston--playing bluegrass, folk, country, and Irish tunes for lots of bands.  He's the kind of musician who can play things with strings (so far guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin on a regular basis for money), and he can follow almost any song.  Like, he's never heard it before, it's in a genre he's not familiar with, and he can play it.  Quite well.  He's sometimes surprised when other people can't do this, but I think it's a pretty unusual skill.

    What you might not know (or remember) is that Biffle's greater talent is in songwriting.  Here lately he, Maybelle, and I have been listening to some newish Dan Wilson songs (you know, formerly of Trip Shakespeare).  I'm really enjoying his work, but it has struck me on multiple occasions that Dan Wilson is almost as bold as Biffle in songwriting.  He's not quite as willing to layer on the vocals and sounds, to go over the top with harmonies.  I listened not long ago to one of Biffle's older songs, called "Fire," and I was astonished at the harmonies--what, like twenty voices singing different notes?  Crazy stuff, stuff that couldn't be sold to a mainstream market, and so satisfying and brilliant.  (Maybe we can get that song online soon so you can hear it.)

    And what do you know, but last week, while I was at the NWSA Conference, Biffle wrote a new song.  It's called "Sabotage," and it's the kind of work of Biffle's that I can't get enough of.  I guess I've listened to it 57 times by now.  I'm feeling moved to interpret it (the complex emotions of the lyrics and how they interact with the sound), but I think I'll just leave it to you as listeners to figure out.  Or perhaps I'll blog more about it later.

    Mother blogger

    Debbie Siegel over at She Writes recently put up a column listing her 10 ground rules for writing about her kids.  While I agree with many of them, they've raised some questions for me.  Her very first rule, you might notice, is not to use her children's given names in her public writing, and her second rule is not to post pictures of their faces.

    Jelly on toast out at a restaurantWell, dear reader, if you've been here for any length of time, you know quite a bit about Maybelle.  Like, her full name, her birth date, the city in which she lives, the places where her mom and dad work, her mom's license plate number and all her bumper stickers, and how Maybelle looks and sounds while playing the drums.  You've seen and heard her in various contexts over the 26 months she's been alive.  And I'm not sure that's something I want to change.

    I certainly agree that there should be limits:  when she's old enough to have a private life, I want to respect that, and I will definitely give her veto power over what I publish about her on the blog or elsewhere.  (Does a two year old have a private life?)  I try to be thoughtful about what I post here or on Flickr--no naked pictures, for instance, despite the absolute adorableness of her little naked self.  And of course she's my child first and not just raw material for my blogging brilliance, and almost everything I post is upbeat and encouraging.  But I find that I don't mind her being public, nor do I worry about it, the way that many other mother writers do.

    Is this the kind of Facebook foolishness I find students sometimes engaging in, where they put all kinds of things on their Facebook pages, forgetting that they've friended their professor and that I'm seeing them now in compromising situations?  Am I truly not being careful, or have I made a rational decision?  It feels rational to me, but I welcome reader feedback.


    NWSA news

    Alright, I've been back in town for two days, so it's time for me to provide my write up of the National Women's Studies Association Conference that happened this past weekend in Denver.

    The overarching thing I want to share is that this has become exactly the conference those of us on the Governing Council hoped it would become:  it's the place to be.  If you're a scholarly type with an interest in feminism, then you don't want to miss this conference.

    I got to hear a number of truly outstanding scholars--Andrea Smith, Astrid Henry, Juana Maria Rodriguez, among others--present work that wasn't familiar to me and that introduced me to new ideas.  Equally important, I heard newer and emerging scholars trying out their works in progress, folks like Amanda Richey, Kimberly Robertson, and Michael Gill.  It was so exciting!  I had the opportunity to connect with colleagues from around the country whose work I admire, and we all marveled at the scholars who are now regular attendees, scholars like Chela Sandoval, Banu Subramaniam, and Angela Davis.  Yes indeed, Angela Davis, who was a keynote speaker last year, was so impressed that she decided to come to this year's conference as a regular attendee.  You don't get to be much more of a feminist rock star than Angela Davis, and the fact that my friend Astrid was working out in the fitness center next to her was super-cool for all of us.  We tried to pretend it was no big deal, though.

    The issues scholars were taking up at this conference were rich and diverse, but here are a few that I noticed coming up again and again:
    • Motherhood:  Obviously feminist scholars have been examining motherhood since the 19th century, but this is a topic that's recently become pretty popular.  Most of us who are feminist moms are well aware that motherhood is overburdened and under-recognized, even today, and so we're having a closer look at how it's structured and how it functions--with an eye toward making things more fair.
    • Girls:  Girls' studies is a significant field emerging in feminist scholarship, and it's based on the obvious, and yet still sort of radical, notion that girls' voices, experiences, and creations matter.  My Girl w/Pen colleague Elline Lipkin is one of the leading names in this area, and she and I discussed, among other things, whether girls' studies is linked in some way to motherhood studies.  Is it a coincidence that the two seem to be especially popular at the same moment?
    • Intersectionality:  This is not new, but it's finally getting more attention--the recognition that every person's identity exists at the intersection of multiple categories (race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual identity, bodily ability, etc).  None of us is simply anything, so it was exciting to see session after session (and book after book in the exhibit hall) examining who we are in complex ways.  In fact, this was less a topic that scholars were addressing and more a foundational assumption underlying much of the scholarship being presented.
    The conference energized me in exactly the ways I hoped it would.  I got useful feedback on my own presentation, in which I took issue with memoirs written by parents of kids with disabilities.  Multiple friends made connections with publishers.  And most importantly, I felt surrounded by a community of people eager to think, question, and examine the world in the ways I do.

    Plus, I was reminded of how much I love a gender-neutral bathroom.

    Cross-posted (and edited--a better version!) over at She Writes.


    Andrea Smith

    Andrea Smith was one of the keynote speakers last night at the NWSA, and jeez, was she amazing.  In a way, I'm glad she doesn't teach at the College of Charleston, because she's so dynamic, smart, compelling, and energetic--and seems so much like a person I'd love to hang out with--that I fear she'd throw off my whole vibe, my bumbling attempts to achieve a work/life balance, my efforts to accept my own hypocrisy, etc.  If I were to hang around her, I think she'd bump everything up to a new level in ways that would be transformative and amazing, but also, you know, exhausting.

    This post should be titled "Tired feminist blogger doesn't think she can change the whole world just yet."  Andrea Smith, though, seems like someone who is absolutely in the process of changing the world and having a great time doing it.

    She talked so fast--and coming from me, a fast-talker myself, that's saying a lot.  At times I could only barely follow what she was saying because she was talking so quickly.  But this was because she had a lot to say.  She could rattle off the phrase "white supremacist, capitalist, colonizing heteropatriarchy" effortlessly.  Here were some of the key points I walked away with:

    • 5% of people on the planet have all the guns and money.  The other 95% have a lot of people power, but we have to figure out how to work together.  And rest assured that some of those 95% are really irritating, so you have to wrangle around in your own head to get to a place of love and respect.  Just because you find them irritating and even offensive, if we're going to change the world, you have to work with them.
    • White supremacy operates via three pillars:  anti-black racism, anti-indigenous peoples racism, and anti-"Oriental" (in the Said sense) racism.  Anti-black racism works on the notion that black people (and by extension all people) are property:  this is a pro-capitalism function.  Anti-indigenous peoples racism suggests that these people should all be killed off so that their land can be taken.  And anti-"Oriental" racism argues that these primitive folks are dangerous and need to be guarded against so that they don't take our stuff.
    • Genocide isn't actually against the law.  When people invoke the law and the Constitution, it's important to remember that genocide was actually foundational to the Constitution coming into being.
    • If we're going to change the world, one important step is to change the way we live.  Make the revolution happen at home by radically rethinking our own communities (in her mind this meant, in part, communalizing everything--childcare, food production, teaching college classes, etc.)

    (Crossposted over at She Writes.)


    I LOVE Subaru! (and Tom!)

    I'll share news from the NWSA Conference later, but right now I want to tell you all the exciting conclusion to the Subaru dilemma I shared with you a week ago.  I had another conversation with ad guy Tom, who really is a very nice person.  I asked about the money:  "Is everybody else in this ad doing it for free?"  He admitted that yes, they were, in part because the whole ad campaign is based on the fact that these are people's unsolicited endorsements.  If they paid them, it would look a bit like the endorsements were just offered for the money.  Less unsolicited seeming.

    "But in your case," he noted, "you wrote your blog post in 2007.  Clearly we didn't solicit that.  Is the money something that might help you decide to be part of our campaign?"

    "Yes," I said, "but not for me.  I was wondering if Subaru might want to support a nonprofit that I really believe in."  I then told him about the REACH Program and the efforts to secure scholarship funds for REACH.  He asked me to send him written info, so here's the email:


    It was great talking with you!  Here's the website for the REACH Program:  http://reach.cofc.edu/.  As I mentioned on the phone, REACH is one of around 200 college programs nationwide for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities (like autism and Down syndrome). We're making our program here as inclusive as possible, which means students who are part of the REACH Program will be in typical classes with typical CofC students--they'll just have extra support provided to them to help them achieve as much as they can. This is huge and important--we don't think that typical kids are ready to live independently when they graduate high school, but our culture often acts as if kids with cognitive disabilities don't need anything else after high school. Of course they do! They need intellectual challenges, the chance to practice living alone while still getting support, the chance to make new friends and to try out adult life. Hugely, hugely important.

    I'm especially excited about this program because my daughter Maybelle has Down syndrome, and we're delighted to see how high our expectations for her should be.

    The donation would be to support scholarships for students who'd like to be in the REACH Program. Because people with intellectual disabilities aren't eligible for student loans, the only kids who can afford to go to college are those whose parents saved up--and let's face it, a lot of parents are surprised (and happy!) that their kids can go to college. But they weren't expecting it, and they haven't been saving.

    I'm happy to pull out the statistics that show how much more likely it is for people with various disabilities to be able to have jobs and live indepedently if they attend college.  Just let me know how much of a case you want me to make. Here's the bottom line, though: we're trying to create a culture in which people can achieve their full potential. This is the foundation of basically all my politics.

    Tom asked how much I wanted.  I said, "I don't know!"  He said to just tell him what I was thinking, so I said $500.  Today he called to tell me that Subaru will be donating $1500 for a scholarship for the REACH Program.


    I'm at the National Women's Studies Association Conference this weekend, so you'll be hearing some exciting travel news from me on this blog and also at She Writes (don't worry--I'll alert you with links to click when the time comes).

    I arrived super, super late last night and am now pulling myself together in my lovely hotel room, getting ready for a day of acting like a professional feminist.  Here's the news:  I just looked out my window, and what do I see lightly covering the bare branches of the trees in the park across from my hotel?  Snow!  Yes, it's snowing in Denver.

    For those of you who aren't aware of this fact, it's been around 60 degrees in Charleston recently, and I've been chilly enough to need to wear my down vest every day.  My body has fully adjusted to winters (perhaps I should write "winters") in Charleston.  And here I am in a place where it's snowing on November 11!

    I was trying to decide if I was going to feel grouchy about this, but it actually seems like a fun climate adventure.  Plus, I don't really ever have to leave the conference hotel.


    Ween Bonham

    If you haven't already weighed in on my Subaru decision, please see the post below and offer some feedback. Then come back to this post and check out the talent Maybelle has just revealed.

    Biffle came up with this video's title, but I'd like to say that I independently identified the band that John Bonham played for, and that's fairly remarkable.  Not as remarkable, however, as Maybelle's drumming skills. 

    I'm simultaneously proud and ashamed to share that we've added a kids' drum set to the Ween's wishlist for the holidays.  Honestly, what kind of unbalanced parent are you if you allow--even encourage--your child to play the drums?  And yet, Biffle and I have never claimed to be balanced parents.  Passionate, enthusiastic, political, but not balanced.


    The odd thing that happened because of the Subaru

    So, I just got off the phone with a very nice guy who is part of the group that does national advertising campaigns for Subaru.  They found this blog post, and although they've almost finished with a video they've been working on, they liked what I had to say so much that they want to include parts of it in their video.  I asked what they saw that they liked so much they wanted to put it in an almost-finished ad, and he said its warmth, its eloquence, its genuineness--apparently it's unlike anything else they have.

    I will say, it's a fine post.  And honest:  I reread it, and sure enough, the Subaru is the car of my soul.  I shared with him that he could do a print ad like this:

    Conceived in a Subaru.
    (Not on purpose, but probably true.)  He laughed, but I don't think that was what he was going for.

    At any rate, he had very nice things to say about my writing and about Subaru as a company.  He never mentioned any sort of payment or barter offers (i.e. Subaru maintenance for life!), so I'm assuming this is a campaign where lots of Subaru lovers are voluntarily sharing their love.

    So here's the deal:  I do love my Subarus, the first one and the one I have now.  And I've shared that love freely and voluntarily with the world via the expansive readership of Baxter Sez.  So should I be part of the freebie ad campaign?  It does seem like maybe I've done my freebie part for Subaru.  But does that mean that I should push for some reimbursement for them getting to make use of my brilliance?  And if so, does that make me a horrible sell out to the capitalist system?  Or something?

    Some of you lurking readers who have expertise in this arena, give me some feedback!


    Various good things going on

    Since I often use this blog to complain about the state of things in various parts of my world, I thought this morning I'd use it to recount some good things.

    Maybelle and NonnyNonny:  My mom, Maybelle's Nonny, was in town over the weekend, and she and Maybelle had the chance to connect in ways I think they both enjoyed.  Here's the trick to facilitate this connecting:  get out of the way!  I discovered that if I make my mom babysit Maybelle, then Maybelle settles in with her and enjoys her, whereas if I'm always in the room, Maybelle tends to lunge toward me rather than exploring her grandmother time.  I promise this is true and isn't just my means of justifying using my mother for free babysitting (although this is part of what grandmothers are for, right?)

    Halloween with friendsHalloween:  I already posted about the great pumpkin-hunting we did with the enormous and capable Maybelle, but if you haven't been to our Flickr site, you haven't witnessed what a fetching Yoda Maybelle was for Halloween.  She was Yoda last year, too, because I loved the costume and decided that, until she has an opinion and picks her own Halloween costume, I get to dress her in ways that amuse and/or entertain me.  As we've done for the last three Halloweens, we went to a friend's house down the street from ours for a Halloween party, and then the gang of kids there (tons of them!) took to the streets in a massive trick or treating horde.  This was the first year that Maybelle was mobile enough and able to stay up late enough to take part in the trick or treating.  She doesn't like candy, but she loves people, and she quickly learned that she could convince other people--mostly Claire, Larry, and Conseula--to pick her up, swing her by the arms, carry her around, and then put her down.  In other words, they'd do pretty much anything she wanted.  So she was an active, happy participant in the trick or treating travel, although she only got me one piece of candy (and technically, I believe it was actually Larry who got me the piece of candy).  A very good evening.

    Milledgeville, GA:  Not expecting that one, were you?  Yesterday I drove to Milledgeville, home of Georgia College and State University, where Susan Cumings, director of Women's Studies, had invited me to give a talk--the very first talk, I believe--from/about Girl Zines, and the 7th annual Begemann-Gordon Lecture in Women's Studies.  Right at this very moment, I'm sitting at the old-fashioned desk in the unbelievably gorgeous bed and breakfast where they've housed me.  The picture to the left is from my phone--I sent it to Biffle yesterday when I got here.  That's the huge, lush bed I slept in last night.  I just finished having breakfast that the owner of the place made for me--so good.  She set the timer on the coffee maker in the kitchen so that I had coffee as soon as I woke up this morning.  I'm ready to move in.  If GCSU houses all its campus speakers here, I recommend that all of you consider ways to get invited to give a talk at GCSU.

    As for the talk itself, it was great fun.  Lots of good questions from the audience, and two undergraduate boys stayed after to ask me a number of questions--really thoughtful questions.  One of them, after talking to me for a minute, said, "Now, would you actually consider yourself a feminist?"  When I said, "Of course!", he seemed sort of shocked and impressed.  I guess he hasn't asked many people that question--I suspect he'd be surprised at how many feminists populate his campus, because I had dinner with a bunch of them later that night.  Here are the high points from dinner:  the students--a very cool group--recognized the importance of social support to allow them to tap into their own creativity and self expression, and the faculty members, based on my encouragement (harassment?) decided to form a writing group.  (And if you all are reading this and are looking for the post I mentioned, it's right here.)

    Alright, that's it for good things in my world.  I'm going to pack up and head back to Charleston.  The rest of you:  go vote!


    Halloween 2009 and 2010

    Today we went pumpkin hunting, and this afternoon we'll carve up our pumpkin on the front porch. This is the second time we've done this event with Maybelle, and I'm very aware of how much she's changed in a year. For instance, here's how she looked last year with the pumpkin:
    Pumpkin, 10-25-09
    And here's how she looks this year:
    Pumpkin hunting
    I encourage you to see this picture as representing a thoughtful rather than a surly Maybelle--although, you know, surly is good, too.  She made her way independently around the pumpkin grounds, sitting, patting, climbing, and repeatedly tasting the pumpkin stems (not delicious, apparently, and yet something that should be tried again). 

    We followed up on our pumpkin outing with a trip to her school's Fall Fun Fest, which involved Maybelle's very first experience in a jump castle--surprisingly successful, as she found it hilarious to bounce on her bottom as her older friends jumped around her.  At the Fun Fest, she also grabbed her Nonny's hand (my mom is visiting for the weekend) and pulled her to her feet, then dragged her happily around to her own classroom.

    Okay, then, this is a post about nothing but the fact that kids get older, and isn't it amazing.  And yet--isn't it amazing?



    We all know that I've been needing some clothes.  Well, over the weekend, two shopping elves who shall remain anonymous (although their names rhyme with Catherine and Claire) took me to a big outlet mall in Charleston.  Their goal was to significantly boost my wardrobe, while keeping me from becoming immediately overwhelmed and heading home to make do with my ripped jeans, grease-stained cargo pants, and "This is what a feminist looks like" tshirt.  Their plan was clever:  one sat outside and visit with me, while the other was in a store filling a dressing room with clothes.  Then when we received a call, the two of us who were outside went into the store, and I stripped and started putting things on.

    Several different factors made this expedition work:
    1. I didn't have to look at the clothing racks at all.  I've discovered that this is incredibly overwhelming--having to prowl around in the store and choose things on racks.  Too much information, and no way to make sense of it.  I would rather be back home.  
    2. Just having a dressing room full of things, though, isn't stressful.  And I don't mind being naked in front of my girlfriends.
    3. I was allowed to say no, and no one got their feelings hurt.  For a number of items, the second it got onto my body, I said, "No, I won't wear this," and the elves said, "Alright, hand it over," and they made it disappear.  Very rarely did I have to defend a choice.  If I didn't like it, it went away.
    4. Some of the clothing was experimental.  The elves had grabbed it out of curiosity, not because they thought it was perfect for me.  Most of these ended up in the "No, I won't wear this" category, but I did get to see myself in some different options.
    It was a fun day, there were cookies involved, and I ended up with some very professional gear.  Check me out:  a blazer and pants that are long enough (I believe that's why I'm stepping on Benya:  to show off the length of the pants).  In the next month I have a public lecture in Georgia, the National Women's Studies Association Conference, and a number of other significant meetings and events, and I will have clothes to wear.  Not the most important issue, of course--the most important issue is to have things to say, and I'm good on that front.  But looking professional can't hurt.


    Is it harder to have a child with Down syndrome?

    Reader Tracy alerted me to a couple of articles (and a billion comments) recently posted at Motherlode, the NYTimes motherhood blog.  These articles and comments are exactly in line with what I've just begun researching and thinking about in a more systematic way, so I suspect I'll have more to say--here or perhaps in actual print--about them.

    But for now I wanted to share a quick reaction.  The first article was written by a pregnant woman who already has a child with Down syndrome, and she shared that she isn't getting prenatal testing this time around.  The second article was published in response to all the hubbub from the first article.  It's called, "Is It Harder to Have a Child with Down Syndrome?"

    Here's my immediate reaction:  who cares?  You know what's really hard?  Having a child.  You know what's waaaaaaay easier than having a child?  NOT having a child.  If you're trying to assess your pregnancy based on how easy the rest of your life is going to be with the person you're gestating, then you might be asking the wrong question.*

    The summer before Maybelle was conceived, Biffle and I went on a research trip to talk to a bunch of friends with kids about whether or not we should have a kid.  We got lots of wonderful, sincere, thought-provoking feedback, but one thing stands out from that trip.  I think of it often.  Paul DeHart, husband of my good friend Rory Dicker, had this to say:

    If you're interested in having an easy life, where things are under your control and you pretty much get to do what you want to do, then having a kid is a bad idea.  If you're looking for a life that's challenging but also more rewarding than you could imagine, that's rich, that opens up layers of meaning you didn't even know were there, then have a kid.**
    He was right on the money.  I have no idea if being Maybelle's parent is "harder" than parenting a typical kid, and I don't care.  It's completely irrelevant.  Our lives are rich, meaningful, happy, full--and that is why we decided to have her.

    *As you know, I am emphatically pro-choice.  I recognize that prenatal testing and pregnancy termination are very personal matters, and I respect that.  But I'll have more to say.
    *Not Paul's actual words.  Paul is super-smart and probably sounded more like a theologian than I'm making him sound.


    Some positive things

    My last two posts have been fairly grouchy, so I thought I'd end the evening with something a little more upbeat.  First, here's a picture from an article Trey sent me today:

    Mmmm, so delicious.  Harrison Ford with the perfect sexy Han Solo vibe.  Sadly, he's just not sexy to me anymore, but he rocks in Empire Strikes Back.
    Heading out into the world

    And here's the other happy picture: Maybelle wandering off on her own, exploring her world at Brittlebank Park. Now that she can walk, she enjoys wide open spaces without cars or other impediments.  Fortunately for Biffle and me, she's not that fast yet, and she's actually very amenable to coming back when she's called.  It's great fun to let her set her own path and see where she wants to go.

    Fuck all y'all

    You all know about the challenges I face as a daily bike rider in Charleston.  I've blogged before about the harassment--generally harmless, but sometimes scary, and always very annoying--that is a regular part of my life.  For instance, just yesterday as I was biking home, a motorcyclist veered around me very quickly and screamed, "Get off the fucking road!"

    This kind of behavior is pretty normal for motorists.  So normal, in fact, that one of my previous students (not Taylor, the previous student from the previous post) considered filling her bike basket with wrenches which she could launch at cars that yelled at her or side-swiped her.

    So here's the ironic thing that happened today:  I got pulled over by a police officer because I turned right onto an on-campus street that cars aren't supposed to turn right onto.  I got pulled over on my bike.  I was wearing my helmet and everything!  To the officer's credit, he was very apologetic, but he pointed out that there's a new bike ordinance in the city of Charleston that requires bikes to follow the laws that motorists have to follow.

    All well and good, and I'm happy to do so.  But I pointed out to him the extent to which my biking life is filled with car harassment that makes my right turn look pretty inconsequential.  I told him that I drive, too, and I promise that cars make life on a bike far harder than bikers make life in a car.  I told him about yesterday's motorcyclist.  He seemed sort of embarrassed and agreed that yes, he bikes, too, and he experiences the same thing.  He promised that they were going to go after the drivers.  He pointed out, as well, that the reason the city has this new ordinance is that in the last few months, three bicyclists have been killed...and they were folks following the laws.  They were killed by drivers who just weren't paying attention, I guess, or needed to get somewhere faster than the biker was going.


    The good news from this is that I learned that

    1. I can call in the license plate number of someone who sideswipes me, and they'll get cited even if the police officer wasn't there when it happened, and
    2. As a bicycler, I'm allowed to have a whole lane.  Just like a car.  This was a high point of my day, actually--maybe even worth getting cited by the police.  I don't have to scrunch over as far as possible to the right of the road to make it easier for cars to zoom past me dangerously close.  I can sit comfortably in the middle of the lane and bike along, confident that I am following the law.  Cars can be irritated behind me, they can honk and yell, but they'll have to be really aggressive and sadistic to decide to pass me without going into another lane.  I think this is actually going to be safer!  
    I know I'm going to hear anger being voiced by Charleston drivers, and here's what I've got to say:  Fuck all y'all.

    I hope Biffle's parents don't read this post.


    Grumpy feminist former breastfeeder says "harumph."

    One of my former students is in grad school at an impressive school in another state, not to be named.  She's currently shadowing a lactation consultant, which I think is super-cool.  Today I got a call and email from her:  she and the lactation consultant she's shadowing were meeting with the mother of a two-and-a-half month old baby who has Down syndrome.  The mom was concerned because the baby's not breastfeeding very well, and she was afraid that the low muscle tone in the baby's mouth was going to make it impossible for them to continue.

    Here's the deal:  my student is shadowing a person at an impressive hospital, and in that hospital, none of the lactation consultants have any experience with babies with Down syndrome.  So the consultant asked Taylor to look in her textbook (a breastfeeding textbook, I guess?) which had one paragraph on breastfeeding and Down syndrome.

    Which means that I became the expert!  The lactation consultant actually asked Taylor to call me!  These are exclamation points of exasperation!

    I'm perfectly happy to be in touch with the mom, and I fortunately have a community of other moms here who may well have good information to share, but I am by no means an expert on lactation.  I hope that the professionals at this hospital will take this as an opportunity to become a stronger unit and do some research on breastfeeding for kids with all kinds of disabilities.  Taylor, some dissertation opportunities for you, perhaps?


    Sarah Palin and the whole Down syndrome thing

    Weeks ago, Mel made a comment asking for my feedback on a speech Sarah Palin had made in which she used her son Trig as evidence for her pro-choice political and personal beliefs.  Other folks have asked me questions about Sarah Palin, on this blog and in other fora, and I simply haven't answered them.  Today I started thinking about that and thought I'd share some random reflections.

    Shortly after Maybelle was born--and I mean really shortly, like while she was still in the NICU--Trey sent me an email that said, "Sarah Palin has a son with Down syndrome."  I wrote back, "Who's Sarah Palin?" (This was August 2008, and I'd had a lot of other things going on, as you'll remember.)  When he told me, I had two immediate reactions:  the first, and strongest, was relief.  This is a woman with an incredibly important career.  If she can have a baby with Down syndrome and still be a vice presidential candidate, then I can surely keep my job (a worry I'd been having, since at the time I knew almost nothing about Down syndrome).

    The second was also personal:  I thought, "Crap, this definitely means that the whole community of parents with kids with DS are crazy pro-lifers."  I imagined myself in a room with these folks, me smiling, sweating, trying gently to slide my own pro-choice sentiments into the conversation.  I knew that I needed the community, so I was willing to work with it.  The good news here is, shortly after the email from Trey, I got an email from a woman in Charleston who had a daughter a few months older than Maybelle, and her daughter also had DS.  When I wrote her back, she saw the signature on my email:

    Alison Piepmeier
    Director, Women's and Gender Studies Program
    The College of Charleston

    And she immediately emailed me back: "I graduated from C of C in 1991 with a minor in Women's Studies...the first year the program qualified as a minor. The Women's Studies course work changed and shaped my life.  Look forward to meeting you."  We both recount now that that moment, for both of us, was a great celebration:  There are other feminists who have kids with DS!  And we live in the same town!  Rest assured that within minutes of that message coming in, I was reading it aloud to Biffle.  The woman was Elizabeth, and you all have seen many pictures of her and her daughter, Rosemary, who is featured in the news clip below, just before Maybelle.

    Okay, but anyway, back to Sarah Palin:  of course I disagree with her politics.  I could hardly disagree more vehemently.  And I understand that Trig has been a kind of political prop for her, in the way that all politicians' families are part of their political staging.  I have stayed away from examining any of that, though.  In the time immediately after Maybelle's birth, I stayed fairly far away from politics in general.  More than the "in general," though, I stayed away from Palin.  I was sensitive and vulnerable enough that I just didn't feel that I had it in me to analyze what Trig Palin "meant" politically or in terms of public discourse.  Perhaps at some level I assumed she might be as sensitive and vulnerable as I was.  I certainly was in no place for criticism of any sort about Maybelle or the way she was part of my life.

    I'm beginning to recognize that I'm not going to be able to keep ignoring the Sarah Palin issue.  I'm doing research and writing on disabilities--in particular on parents of children with disabilities and the public discourses that shape their lives, their choices, and their interventions.  And Sarah Palin is a major player in those public discourses these days.

    I suspect that Sarah Palin and I have a great deal of common ground when it comes to our children, but I also know that we have significant differences.  For instance (most importantly?), I have been and still am enthusiastically pro-choice.  While I'm very happy I didn't terminate the pregnancy that resulted in Maybelle, I recognize that reproductive choices are intensely personal ones.  I think we need much better public discourse around disabilities so that women are able to make real choices, the best choices possible, if they discover they're pregnant with a fetus that has Down syndrome.  But Maybelle functions in no way for me as an example of why pro-choice politics are wrong.  She's an example of how wonderful choice is, because we chose to have her.


    Buddy Walk 2010

    At the beginning of the Buddy WalkFirst Buddy Walk:  In 2008, Biffle and I attended our first Buddy Walk with Maybelle, no bigger than a comma, in a sling around Biffle's torso.  We went mostly to gather evidence, nervously wanting to find out what this Down syndrome stuff was going to involve.  We both remember very clearly the memory of seeing a girl riding her bike with her dad--for both of us that was incredibly reassuring.

    Second Buddy Walk:  In 2009, we three attended again.  This time we had a community and a poster, and the whole event felt much more like a fun gathering--not anxious evidence collection.  Maybelle sat and played with her friends before and after, and she cruised through the walk in her stroller.

    Third Buddy Walk, today: A one-mile walk.  A 25-month-old person who's just recently begun walking.  She walked the entire way, grinning and laughing the whole time.  Biffle and I were amazed.  We didn't bring any sort of baby-hauling device, but we figured when she got tired we'd carry her.  And then every time we picked her up, she wriggled down and wanted to walk.Girls swinging 3 The only exceptions to the walking were moments like the one documented here, when she'd get swung into the air. This photo is also useful because look at who's behind Dave, Rosemary, Elizabeth, Maybelle, and Biffle: the police cars that designate the end of the parade. In the photo above, the walk is just beginning, and we're close to the front of the clump.  By this point, we're the very last ones.  The police were having to go our speed, because we were walking, and the parade didn't end until Maybelle got to the finish line. (We know from another friend that this isn't the first time this has happened at the Buddy Walk, and the police seemed perfectly fine with driving at two-year-old walking speed.)

    It would be difficult to overstate how excited, happy, and proud Biffle and I were and are.  As we were leaving, I told her we'd be proud of her no matter what, but she makes it so easy!  Maybelle, on the other hand, seemed to think this was a good time, but no big deal.  At the end point of the parade, she gave us both big hugs, but then wiggled down to walk around some more.

    Another really cool thing about this year's Buddy Walk is that we had the chance to meet a couple who are expecting a baby in November, and who know that their baby has Down syndrome.  We were able to be some of the folks responding to their anxious evidence-collecting, offering happy congratulations and telling them what a great adventure it's going to be.

    If you want to see more pictures of Maybelle's delighted walking, I've created a set on Flickr.


    Things I Want

    Oooo, lookie, it's the weekend, and that means it's time for more fluffy posting from Alison.  Our current topic is Things I Want.*

    Just before my brain surgery, I did something that at the time felt completely random--although deeply necessary--but that I've since learned is quite common:  I gave a bunch of clothes to Goodwill.  A bunch.  Like, three garbage bags' worth.  Full sized black garbage bags.  Catherine and Marguerite reclined on the bed in the bedroom, and I hauled out shirt after shirt, pair of pants after pair of pants, not to mention sweaters and scads of underwear, and away they all went.  Catherine and Marguerite would occasionally insist I keep an item, but generally they were on my side and let me get rid of stuff.

    Much of that was stuff that truly needed to go.  As I've said here before, we Piepmeiers are a packratty bunch, and I had things in my closet from high school.  From which I graduated twenty years ago.  But it's meant that my wardrobe is now severely limited.  Which leads to Things I Want:

    • Jeans.  I have one pair of jeans, and since I'm on sabbatical, I'm wearing them almost every day.  The right knee has probably another week on it, then it's going to dissolve, and they'll be jeans I can't even wear in sabbatical mode.
    • Chinos or khakis.  I have none.  Not one pair.  I had a pair until mid-summer, when I took them out of the closet and observed that the butt had ripped apart.  I'm not always great at observations, so it's possible that I wore them a time or two with that huge butt rip.  Let's hope not.
    • Fancy black pants.  I have a pair I got about five years ago, but it no longer fits, so it's going in the next round of Goodwill stuff.
    • Work shirts!  I have five.  Yes, that's actually the case:  five professional shirts, two of which I wore on the job interview which got me hired at the College of Charleston.  Now, technically this means I have one for every day of the week, which is pretty good, but I'd like a little variety.
    • Shoes.  I love my work shoes (I have a brown lace-up pair and a black chunky high-heeled pair, which I bought at a used shoe store and wore to my CofC job interview), but they're getting scuffy enough that they don't really look like work shoes anymore.
    Let's get one thing clear:  I really do want these things, but it would be a very bad idea for anyone reading this to think they'll be nice and go buy me items on this list.  I hate shopping, but I am also impossible to shop for.  If you buy me something, there's a very good chance I won't wear it.  I'm not sure what the solution is, but generously buying me a pair of jeans out of the goodness of your heart is bound to end in tears.  Generously offering to go shopping with me might work as long as you don't make me stay in any store longer than eight minutes.

    One more thing I want that's not related to my clothing purge:  a bike.  I ride a very streamlined, expensive racing bike to school every day, but it's actually Biffle's bike that he let me "borrow" when I was having to bike back and forth eleven hundred times a day to breastfeed Maybelle, when I'd returned to work but she refused to take any sustenance that wasn't coming straight from my body.  While I'm not having to do that any more, I'm still on Biffle's sweet, sweet bike. But it recently occurred to me that this isn't fair.  So I need a bike.  The bike needs to be
    • Somewhat zippy, although it doesn't have to be a racing bike.  I do like the slick, speedy ride of this one, though.
    • Able to hold a Wee Ride.  Starting in fall 2011, Maybelle and I will be biking to school together, because she'll be in preschool at ECDC (assuming that Trinity Montessori doesn't successfully seduce us away).  In case you're looking for me, I'll be the one with a 40-pound backpack on, a 30-pound baby sitting in front of me, and a bag of baby gear in the basket on the front of the bike.  We will be the coolest.

    *I.e. gifty things, not big things like the Eradication of Sexism or the Recognition of the Full Humanity of People with Disabilities.



    As the title suggests, a theme is emerging in my thinking these days.

    I watched the movie Temple Grandin this week, the HBO film based on the books Temple Grandin has written about her life experiences.  Temple Grandin,as most of the readers of this blog probably know, is a woman with autism who's a professor at Colorado State University and has revolutionized the way that livestock are treated in the United States.  She's also revolutionized the way that autism is viewed and treated.

    We're in such new terrain with a lot of cognitive and developmental disabilities.  We're only just emerging from a world where the reaction to these sorts of disabilities was institutionalization.  Grandin's doctor urged her family to institutionalize her when she was a child, but they didn't.  Families like hers are "saints and sages," as another writer says, bucking the medical establishment and treating their children like people in the world.  Folks with autism weren't considered people in the world a few decades ago, and so it was a big surprise to lots of people when Grandin demonstrated that she was, in fact, a person--in her case, a person who could communicate her perspective on the world, and who could see the needs and habits of livestock far more clearly than folks before her had done.

    Okay, my point here is this:  back in 2002, when McDonald's started using Grandin's techniques with their livestock, there was a report on her on NPR.  I remember hearing this report, including an interview with Grandin about how different her livestock handling systems were, and how effective they were at respecting animals' peace and quality of life up until the moment of their death.  After the interview, the NPR reporters (perhaps it was just the local crew, because this info isn't on the web broadcast) were careful to make a point that I remember now, a decade later:

    One of the issues surrounding Grandin is that parents of kids with autism are seeing her as a potential role model for their kids, and doctors want to be sure that folks recognize that Grandin is an exception to the rule.  Parents of kids with autism can't and shouldn't expect their kids to do what Grandin has done.*
    At the time that this piece aired, disabilities in general weren't on my radar.  And yet this was a big enough point that I remembered it.  And as I watched the movie Temple Grandin, this point came back to me.

    When I heard the NPR piece, I thought, "Wow, what a shame that these poor parents are so deluded."  Now I'm able to recognize that the correct response is, How dare they say that!  How dare NPR tell folks listening to Grandin's amazing story that she's an exception.  Don't get the crazy idea, parents, that your kid with autism might actually be a full person in the world!  Your kid is probably way too fucked up to be helped, so don't get big ideas.

    A related point:  you'll remember the great experience I had a few weeks back at the Downs Ed conference in Atlanta.  Downs Ed is a big advocate of kids with Down syndrome being taught to read.  The visual learning skills of people with Down syndrome are generally much stronger than their auditory learning skills, and so reading is something that's often possible and a helpful tool.  Due to this research, and the urging of one friend in particular, we've been working on helping Maybelle to read for a long time--maybe a year?  In the last week or so, it's started to click for her.  She can now read probably 10 words, and since she seems to have gotten the concept, she's learning new ones faster and faster.

    I'm doing loads of videos of her reading.  Here's one from tonight (be warned that there are some graphic toast-eating moments throughout the video):

    At the Downs Ed conference, they showed us videos of kids they work with, many of whom go to public school and are labeled "exceptional readers" within their fully inclusive classrooms.  They're certainly considered "exceptional" for kids with Down syndrome.  The point the presenters were quick to make was this:
    Exceptional readers are becoming less exceptional as we train kids with Down syndrome more effectively.
    The kids they work with aren't "exceptional" kids.  They're just kids in the world, being offered high expectations and the support to reach them.  They also had this to say:
    Changing how we treat kids with Down syndrome changes the profile.  There is no reason that any kid with Down syndrome is locked into any "profile."
    If the widespread belief--and the official "profile"--is that kids with Down syndrome can't read, then you simply might not try to teach your kid to read.  If you're being told by The Powers That Be that there's no way in the world your child could end up like Temple Grandin, you might well underestimate your child and not offer your child opportunities, support, hope, and the space to grow.  But as we change our expectations and our behaviors, the profile will change, and it makes it easier for people to become the fullest version of who they are.

    Okay, that's all I've got for tonight.

    *Note that the indented statements in this post aren't quotes--just my own paraphrases.


    Random coolness

    Longtime comment-readers of the blog may have noticed thoughtful, passionate comments from Quiche.  I won't identify her since I haven't asked her permission, but I think I can safely say that she's a talented graphic artist, and it is our great good fortune that she was inspired to create some t-shirt logos based on the sign Biffle, Maybelle, and I held at the telethon protest.  The logos say "WHOLE PERSON" and "COMPLETE PERSON," and you can now put them on virtually any product under the sun at a Cafe Press website I just created:  http://www.cafepress.com/WholePerson.

    Just fyi, I have purchased WHOLE PERSON shirts for Maybelle and me to wear to the Buddy Walk.  Biffle has a longstanding policy of not wearing shirts with anything written on them, so he'll be there in some very boring shirt of his own.