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.