Boys, Girls, Bathing Suits and Inequality : a recycled post

This post originally appeared on my blog three years ago on June 17, 2010. As summer is in full swing once again, I thought it was a good time to revisit this topic. Has anything changed in three years?

My son started wearing a swim shirt for a few years (which I felt evened out the playing field a little bit and kept him from getting sunburned — win-win!), but then we had an unfortunate experience where his head got stuck in one while I was trying to remove it (the shirt, not his head!) and he pretty much vowed to never wear one again. Interestingly enough, my daughter (who is 9 now) no longer brings up this inequality issue. Perhaps it’s because she’s more aware of the difference between girls’ and boys’ bodies or culturally conditioned that breasts *should be* covered up. Hmmm, I might have to ask her about it sometime to see what she thinks.


June 17, 2010

As I was getting the kids ready for an afternoon of carefree fun at the pool today, my almost 6-year-old surprised me with this question, “Mom, why do girls have to wear bathing suit tops or shirts, but boys don’t?”

I wanted to shout, “Patriarchy!” as I like to blame most things on the patriarchy and I know it would have made Denise proud, but somehow I was pretty sure that response wouldn’t suffice.

It occurs to me now that this may be the first time she’s really had to deal with inequality in the world (or the Puritanical society in which we live). Yes, I know it’s only a shirt (or a bathing suit top), but this may be the first time she’s realized that different rules exist for different people. That’s a pretty big deal.

Back to my story. I can’t recall exactly how I replied (I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t study! I didn’t know there was going to be a test!), but it was something to the effect of blaming “the man” for making “rules” like that. She didn’t think it was fair. I can’t blame her. It’s not.

Later that evening I mentioned her question to Twitter and asked how they would respond. I received an interesting mix of replies.

I think my favorite came from Denise (Eat Play Love) who said, “Tell her breasts make people really really nervous! ;)” I have to agree. That pretty much sums it all up right there!

Emily (Mama Days said, “best answer: men have it easier in basically everything in life ;)” While I tend to agree with this statement, it wasn’t the message I’m quite ready to give to Ava.

Cassie (Cassie Boorn) said, “I totally had a fit about that when I was young. It was my first sign of feminism ;)” I get the feeling many little girls find the notion off-putting.

While Amy (Entertainment Realm) said, “I went shirtless when I didn’t have any boobs i.e. at that age. no biggie.” Interesting. I can recall my little sister toddling around without a shirt when she was 2 or 3, but probably not as old as 6.

InnerWizdom said that personally she wouldn’t enforce that “rule” because she finds it “bogus.” She added that her kids do go topless at the public pool or beach, but not in stores because nobody is supposed to go shirtless there. She also said that she doesn’t know how anyone can explain to a 6-year-old “that adults see their chest as sexual, as something to hide away, even though it looks the same as a boys.” Yeah, I really didn’t want to get into sexuality with her at that point. Also I admire her for not “forcing” her kids to do something just because that’s what society says they should do. I don’t know that I could do that.

So what do you think? What would your response be if your 6-year-old daughter asked you the same question? Would you blame anatomy? Blame the patriarchy? Blame the Puritans? Blame the American prudery (as my friend‘s husband suggested)? Or is the answer: “that’s just how it is?”

Photo credit – Flickr: bunnygoth

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The Importance of Breastfeeding in Natural Disasters: a recycled post

This post originally appeared on my blog on May 28, 2008. I am reposting it here today as a reminder of the important role breastfeeding plays in the event of a natural disaster. Whether it’s Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Chinese earthquake in 2008, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Japan tsunami in 2011, etc., breastfeeding during a disaster can save lives.


May 28, 2008

By now many of you have probably read about police officer Jiang Xiaojuan of China who became a national, and then international, hero practically over night. After the devastating Chinese earthquake on May 12, the 29 year-old mother of a 6-month-old son, was called to duty. What she encountered when she reported for duty was babies crying in hunger and that’s when her maternal instincts kicked in. Jiang breast-fed the infants separated from their mothers or orphaned from the earthquake, at one point breast-feeding nine babies.

Jiang Xiaojuan“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.”

Jiang doesn’t believe what she did was noteworthy. “I think what I did was normal,” she said. “In a quake zone, many people do things for others. This was a small thing, not worth mentioning.” The local media, however, named her “China’s Mother No. 1” and there are many others around the world praising her efforts as well.

On MOMformation at BabyCenter, Betsy Shaw wrote:

It’s stories like these, stories of ordinary people performing extraordinary, selfless acts in times of tragedy, that make all this bad news just a little bit easier to digest. They also make me proud to be a mom.

Would you do, could you, do the same if you were in a similar situation: lactating in the presence of many hungry babies?

Of the 73 responses there, the vast majority said they would do the same and breastfeed another woman’s baby, though interestingly enough, many also said they would not want a woman they did not know breastfeeding their own child.

A few of the people who commented at BabyCenter, as well as one at Milliner’s Dream expressed their concern about the possible transmission of HIV/AIDS through breast milk. There is conflicting information on what the risk of infection is if the woman is HIV positive, but, as another commenter at Milliner’s Dream noted, Jiang would have likely known her HIV status having just recently given birth 6 month ago.

Over on Broadsheet on Jiang was named “Hero of the Day.” Sarah Hepola says:

As the death toll soars past 50,000, it’s nice to have a little good news to celebrate. You can remember Jiang next time someone complains about the evils of women popping out their boobs in public.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at The Moderate Voice found the story to be “beautiful” and said:

Most every night, I stay up late-late, long after everyone else is sleeping. I fly over the internet, looking, looking, trying to find something beautiful or restorative to share with you here at TMV, so either you go to sleep with a beautiful idea or image, or wake up with one.

Tonight, finding something beautiful in this wide and groaning world, was easy. Because there is Jiang Xiaojuan, a young provincial policewoman.

She went on to add:

As a mother who nursed til her offspring was practically old enough to go to school, and as the mother of a grown daughter who while nursing her own child also gave her nourishing milk to my ailing elderly father (expressed, not nursed), I feel certain we stand with many mothers worldwide who salute Jiang Xiaojuan profoundly.

It’s a mystery women don’t often speak of publicly, what it’s like to nourish another human being or many from one’s own blood and bones. It is, one of the greatest honors in the world.

I think, despite the restrictive and suspicious regime of China, it’s people like Jiang who really represent the true spirit of modern China, the compassionate soul.

Tonight, it was easy to find a beautiful story to tell you. I would that it were as easy on all other nights too.

It is stories like these of this selfless mother that remind us not only of the power of human kindness, but also how important breastfeeding can be in an emergency or natural disaster.

Melissa Kotlen Nagin notes on the Breastfeeding Blog on

Unfortunately, natural disasters are out of our control, but women like Officer Xiaojuan remind us about yet another important benefit of breastfeeding. We’re typically so focused on the health benefits and lose sight of the bigger picture. Here is the International Lactation Consultant Association’s position paper on Infant Feeding in Emergencies, which is a wonderful resource.

Tanya at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog recently wrote a post dispelling some myths about breastfeeding in emergencies. She also shares:

In a disaster such as the one in Burma, breastfeeding can be a life-saving act. Why? In emergencies f*rmula is often not available. If it is available, water supplies are often compromised. F*rmula mixed with contaminated water can cause diarrhea and dehydration, which can quickly become life-threatening to infants. Power to sterilize and refrigerate f*rmula is also often not available.

Sometimes, well meaning humanitarian efforts result in such an influx of f*rmula that efforts to protect and support breastfeeding are disrupted. This is such a concern that in 1994 the World Health Organization adopted the following policy, urging member states to “exercise extreme caution when planning, implementing, or supporting emergency relief operations, by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding for infants,” and to ensure that f*rmula is distributed only under specific conditions.

We often like to think of ourselves as untouchable here in the United States, but Hurricane Katrina was just three short years ago and was another instance where breastfeeding saved lives. From an open letter to health care providers attending to families affected by Hurricane Katrina: The Role of Human Milk and Breastfeeding:

Human milk is a valuable resource that can not only protect the vulnerable infant from disease, but can also promote psychological health and comfort during stressful times. Human milk reduces pain and promotes more rapid healing after injuries and infections. While maternal health is of great importance, it should be recognized that even the malnourished mother will produce milk of good quality for her infant.

To learn more about the important role breastfeeding plays in emergencies, please visit the links below.

I will close by adding that I think what Jiang did was amazing and I’m so glad to see breastfeeding receiving such positive attention. I hope she has already been reunited with her son (that relatives were caring for) or will be soon and that her breastfeeding relationship with him can continue to thrive.

And lastly, just a friendly reminder that BlogHers Act/Global Giving is continuing to accept donations for the Chinese earthquake victims as well as other maternal health causes.

More information:
Keep Abreast – Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster
Black Breastfeeding Blog – Breastfeeding Saves Babies During Natural Disasters
La Leche League International – Keep Breastfeeding: Supporting Mothers After Natural Disasters
KellyMom – Infant Feeding In Emergencies

One more important breastfeeding note – The Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned women not to use or purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream, marketed by MOM Enterprises Inc. of San Rafael, California.

The cream, promoted to nursing mothers to help soothe dry or cracked nipples, contains ingredients that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants, the agency said.

Mothers whose children may have suffered adverse effects because of this product should contact the FDA’s MedWatch at 800-332-1088. – CNN report

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Just call me the goat doula

Childbirth is one of those amazing things in life that’s nothing short of a miracle and leaves me in awe. Whether it’s reflecting on the birth of my children, hearing about a friend’s birth or reading the birth story of a total stranger, it simply amazes me.

Animal births are just as amazing, perhaps even more so, because they follow their animal instincts and simply. give. birth.

A week ago I received a text from my friend Michelle, who has a small farm, letting me know that her Nigerian Dwarf goat Truffles was in labor. I knew of the impending labor and had been hounding asking her daily for a week if the babies had come yet and was beginning to feel like the annoying friend of a pregnant lady — “Are you in labor yet? Did you have your baby yet? Are you getting close? Any news on baby?” Eventually I told her as long as she promised to tell me when they were born, I would stop harassing her.

I expected a text after they’d been born, so I was both surprised and elated when she was kind enough to text me to let me know the babies were coming…imminently.

I hadn’t given it any prior thought, but when Michelle said Truffles was in labor and it was only 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, I thought maybe, just maybe I could hang out at her farm and actually be there FOR the birth — you know, like a goat doula! I didn’t want to impose, but I had to ask.

Our conversation that evening went like this:


I was so excited! I was going to get to attend a birth. :)

It wasn’t more than 20 minutes later that she texted,
“Better hurry! She’s pushing.”
Quickly followed by,
“Just park outside the gate and run back!!”

It was then that I threw on some warmer clothes, jumped in my car and headed to her farm which is thankfully only about 5 minutes away.

As I pulled into her driveway I got the text,
“One out.”


I hightailed it to the barn out back where Michelle, her husband and their two boys were oohing and aahing over the first of the babies (or kids if you want to be technical) – a doeling. She was tiny and dark and beautiful and precious.

Truffles took a break then before birthing babies # 2, 3, and yes 4! Smart mama. :) Perhaps she knew she still had a lot of work ahead of her.

I took on video and flashlight duty while Truffles birthed baby #2 and 3. Then, as Truffles birthed baby #4, Michelle called me into the pen with them to help and I got to fulfill my role as a goat doula. :) I helped dry off the new babies, keep them all straight (it gets confusing with 4 babies), help them nurse and of course, love on them. It was the perfect way to get a birth and baby fix.

And that’s how I became a goat doula. I wonder if there’s a market for that?? ;)

Here I am loving on one of the sweet babes.
Amy and a goat baby

Truffles ended up with three girls (doelings) and one boy (buckling). Michelle was very pleased.

The video below is of Truffles birthing the third doeling (which came out breech). I don’t know if it needs a warning. It’s not excessively graphic, but it is a birth so, you know… If you don’t want to watch the birth, scroll down for pics (that my friend Sara from Walk Slowly, Live Wildly) of the little sweeties when they were two days old.

Here’s mama Truffles with some of her kids when they were two days old:
Truffles and Her Kids

Mama Truffles and all four of her kids:
All Four

A close up of one of the adorable kids – the buckling:
Little and Fuzzy

A chicken keeps watch over Truffles and her kids:
Checking In

Now that the kids are a little over a week old I really want to go back for a visit. Michelle tells me they are adorable as can be and bouncing all over the place, even on top of their mama! Who can pass on that kind of cuteness?! I hope to head that way for some more goat snuggles soon.

Photo credit: Big thanks to my friend Sara (who blogs at Walk Slowly, Live Wildly) for letting me use her photos (the bottom four) in my post. Sara is embarking on a new farm adventure of her own soon (and blogging about it) and is just as smitten by Michelle’s goaties as I am! :)

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Just when ya think you’ve got it all figured out…

We’ve been unschooling for a relatively short period of time, but over the past couple of months I felt like things had really started falling into place. I felt like I gained an understanding of what unschooling is all about — and what it isn’t. Like I was saying YES more often than saying NO and it felt good. Like I could let go of the little things and not sweat the small stuff. Like I started to really “get” what my kids needed from me and how to provide it. And we were all getting along SO. WELL. And it felt great. And perhaps I started to get a little self-righteous ’cause I knew what I was doing (or at least I thought I did). That’s where I made my first mistake — thinking I had it all figured out.

And then this thing happened that shattered my confidence in my skills as an unschooling mama and as a parent in general…


The long and the short of it is that there was a misunderstanding between me and my 8-year-old daughter Ava and it turned into an ugly, UGLY, sad battle of wills (good Lord, we are both stubborn as hell!) that left both of us in tears.

I thought my husband had told her one thing and I was trying to support what I thought he’d said. Turns out (I learned the next day) that he never said it. (Had I just asked him what he had told her instead of assuming, I’m pretty sure the whole thing could have been avoided. Yes, that is what you get when you assume.)

That night I pretty much went against everything I had learned and been doing for the past couple months and I’m sure that caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration on my daughter’s part. And once we were in the thick of our “battle of wills,” I didn’t know what to do. Should I “give in” and rescind what I told her? Will that be “letting her win?” Do I stand my ground no matter what the price? Does it really matter if she does X, Y or Z? Do I even know a damn thing about anything right now??

Ugh. UGH!!!

We were obviously not going to get anywhere continuing what we had been doing. I felt terrible and was at a total loss. I had no idea what to do other than to pick up my phone, retreat into my bathroom, close the door and ask for help.

I texted my good friend Rebecca (also an unschooling mama) to ask for her advice. She listened. She reassured me. And she gave it to me straight, but without judgement. It helped me sooooo much. I also let myself feel my feelings (something I think my sister Carrie would have been proud of) and let myself cry. And I had a little talk with myself, “You don’t have to know what to do 24/7, Amy. It’s OK to make mistakes.”

Once Ava had calmed down and I had taken several deep breaths, I took Rebecca’s advice and talked with her (Ava). I let Ava see that I’d been crying. I told her how I was feeling. I apologized for our fight and told her that parenting can be hard stuff and I don’t always know the “right” thing to do. She came to me for a very welcome hug and we sat together for a while.

Eventually I asked her if she had any suggestions on what we should do (one of Rebecca’s tips). Guess what? She did! We came to a solution together and it all worked out — not the way I had thought it would when our “fight” first began and probably not the way Ava anticipated either, but it worked out and nobody was in tears. Nobody felt that they hadn’t been heard. Nobody went to bed that night feeling defeated.

I later came across this quote from Buddha that I think illustrates nicely one of the things I learned that night:

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.– Buddha

Although that night didn’t go “according to plan,” with the help of my friend, working through my feelings and talking with Ava, I conquered myself. And that kind of victory was pretty sweet.


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Make a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake at Home

If you are like me, St. Patrick’s Day always brings back fond memories of slurping McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes as a child. The green-tinted ice cream, the cool mint flavor, the whipped cream, the yum! I think it was also a welcome reminder that spring was right around the corner.

As a kid, I never worried about what nasty ingredients might be lurking in my shake. I just knew it tasted good. But now living in the information age as an adult and mom to two kids, I am more conscious about the things we put into our bodies. Sure, we eat “junk food” now and then, but I generally try to keep healthy foods in our home so we can easily make good choices.

When I saw the HuffPo’s article about the 54!!! ingredients (including High Fructose Corn Syrup, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, and artificial vanilla flavor), 820 calories, 135 grams of carbs and 115 grams of sugar in McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, I knew I could make a healthier and just as tasty version at home with far fewer ingredients and no artificial dyes or HFCS. (Read a post I wrote about the problems with artificial colors.)


I used organic vanilla ice cream, 2% milk, mint extract, and a bit of frozen spinach for color. There were 10 ingredients in the ice cream, plus the milk, mint flavor (three organic oils) and spinach makes a total of 15 ingredients! If you add whipped cream on top, that’s about 5 more ingredients or less if you whip your own from whipping cream.

Homemade Shamrock Shake Recipe

  • A few large scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • About a cup of milk (add more if needed)
  • Several drops of mint extract
  • A handful of frozen or fresh baby spinach (for coloring)

Blend until well combined and pour into glasses. Add whipped cream on top if desired. Serve and enjoy!


The kids, hubby and I all agreed that they were better than McDonald’s version (which *ahem* we did recently partake in) and so easy to make at home.

Now you don’t have to wait for St. Patty’s day to roll around once a year. You can enjoy delicious mint shakes year-round!

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What is Unschooling?


Unschooling is based on the belief that children learn best when they are internally motivated. Unlike homeschooling which is essentially doing school (following a curriculum) at home, unschooling allows children to explore their interests and learn without the restrictions of a curriculum. 

Teacher and author John Holt — one of the founders of the modern homeschooling movement — coined the word “unschooling” in 1977 to mean “learning that does not look like school learning, and learning that does not have to take place at home.” He believed, “there is no difference between living and learning…it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate.”

Pam Sorooshian explains unschooling like this: 
“Unschoolers simply do not think there are times for learning and times for not learning. They don’t divide life into school time or lesson time versus play time or recreation time. There is no such thing as ‘extracurricular’ to an unschooler – all of life, every minute of every day, counts as learning time, and there is no separate time set aside for ‘education.'”

There are many other names for unschooling including “natural learning,” “life learning,” “experience-based learning,” “delight-driven learning,” and “independent learning,” and there are a ton of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are just a few: 

Over the past couple years we started our own unschooling journey, which I plan to write a lot about in the future – including how we began on this path. However, I first wanted to provide a little bit of a background information to explain some of the ideas behind unschooling. 

I welcome your questions. I absolutely won’t have all of the answers, but I enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

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