Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


You Are Beautiful

Sugar here.

Wow, I am not sure Facebook is at all good for me.  My FB friends seem to curate a lot of articles that are about parenting, NONE of which is a good idea to read (change it! fix it! make it better! you suck, btw!) and then there was that tear-jerker IKEA ad in Spanish today about how all kids want for Christmas is for you to spend more time with them.  Dude, Ikea, I know that, and I would love to, but I have this job thing.  Thanks for making me feel super guilty about not being rich enough to stay home.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is this other thing I saw today that pops up on Facebook on a regular basis.  It’s about how to talk to your daughter about her body.  You’ve probably seen it.  It goes a little like this:

“How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works. Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight. If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that…Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one….Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter…”

While I don’t want to troll well-meaning friends on Facebook, or to post an entire essay in FB comments, I want to say somewhere that I really disagree with this.  Really.  Very much disagree.

I do not find this to be an inspiring message, but rather one that erases joy.

Imagine how this would play out in real life.  Negative messages are pouring in from all sides.  Possibly the child herself is hearing from other actual people at school or on the street that she looks bad, wrong, or ugly.  Even if not, the whole world is telling her she isn’t good enough and doesn’t look perfect through the pervasive images and messages on every billboard, television program, and magazine ad. In this poisonous atmosphere, how is the silence of your closest family to be interpreted? As support?  Probably not.  More likely as disapproval, hesitance to voice the awful truth, shame, or disgust.

I think that much more to the point would be a countervaling and voiced opinion that the child is beautiful.  Period.

I am not saying that being beautiful should be the only thing or the main thing that a parent complements about a girl.  It would be best to mostly talk about other things — how strong, or smart, or fast, or whatever, that she is — but that sometimes, not too infrequently, it would also be nice to tell her that she is beautiful.  Beauty is something that our culture values a great deal.  One way to change everyone’s perception of what falls into that category would be to talk about a lot more kinds of people and bodies as beautiful.  With words.  Out loud.

I feel strongly about this issue because I don’t have to imagine how parental silence on this topic would play out in real life, I know.  I was “the ugly girl” starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.  To be jeered at in the halls, to be the butt of jokes, and to be certain myself of how completely awful I looked was a basic fact of my life.  I don’t know what my parents thought of my appearance. They never said.  I didn’t ask.  I assumed that compliments they gave me in other areas stemmed from their ideals (I was smart, I was good at art) but also covered up the big unmentionable dreadful thing, which was my completely unacceptable appearance.

As an adult I now realize that my parents probably had no idea of what I experienced in school.  But that is my point.  You don’t necessarily know what everyone else is saying to a kid, and silence is so vague, so hard to account for, and so easy to assign an unintended meaning to.

Now that I am nearly forty I usually feel that I am over the bullying I experienced in school.  I’ve been surprised to find that mentioning the whole “ugly girl” thing is fairly taboo.  Twice recently I mentioned (in a normal conversational context about high school, or whatever) that this happened to me, only to be met with horrified silence and a quick change of topic.  I don’t know what that is, but it feels related to the persistent assertion that if you are the right sort of person, then the best way to deal with the body and how it looks to NOT TO DISCUSS IT.  Why?  If it’s so important to the world that people be beautiful, and it seems to be, let’s try to take charge of the conversation by participating in it.  Otherwise the only voices out there are the wrong ones.


Tuesday Tidbits

I know it’s Wednesday, I KNOW, but it feels like Tuesday because I barely managed to sleep.  You know that thing where you have a tiring day and you know the next day will be SUPER tiring, so you can’t fall asleep and then you inexplicably wake up at four a.m. and that’s just it?  That.

Today I drive up to Westchester for my usual classes, plus the biweekly student meetings, plus all the biweekly student meetings I would normally come up for on Thursday.  There was an error on the schedule and by the time I realized that, I had no childcare options for Thursday anymore.

Then I RUN to the car and pray for light traffic as I drive to a part of the city one should not drive to (the train has no chance to getting me there in time — in the old days I would have just said I couldn’t make it, which is perhaps what I should have done this time) and pay through the nose for parking so that I can pay through the nose for therapy.  This one does EMDR and said actually insightful things on the phone and was willing to talk about his methods and so on.  He is a friend of a smart friend, so I figure it’s worth a shot.  Then I realized after getting off the phone that I recognized his voice because of a spot on This American Life about testosterone.  Life in New York, I tell you what.

I contacted three potential therapists this time around, and they all got back to me: the power of the end of summer, I guess.  One was busy and recommended someone else.  One was this guy.  One, recommended by two friends, called me right back but got prickly when I asked about her methods. (“Could you tell me about your philosophy and methods?” “I believe people are a combination of identity and experience. More stuff along this lines.” “So, what kinds of methods would you use for someone like me?” “I think I just answered that.”)  She was otherwise nice, though, and gave me the names of two hypnotists she thought I should try.  Digging into all this stuff while teaching the history of asylums and mental health sects in the US gives me more patience for wacky ideas (mostly because reading all this stuff brings up uncomfortable truths about how psychiatry has and hasn’t changed), but I’m going to try contemporary woo for now.

Post-woo, it’s off to Brooklyn Heights, another unparkable neighborhood, where I hope to be able to shelve the car long enough to go rehearse the Bach Christmas Oratorio with the choir I joined last fall.  Here’s hoping listening to the first part in the car counts as practice.  Then home, at the only time of day it’s ever truly hard to find parking.

I am tired already.

Yesterday, or Tuesday Part One, the kids and I almost finished making a cold frame for our garden bed.  (We would have finished, too, if I hadn’t forgotten the screwdriver.)  The Bean has been wild to have one since last winter; someone in our building had wood scraps for free and someone else threw away a poster in a huge, plexiglass frame.  Jackalope only smacked her hands down into the wet finish of the wood twice.

Everyone was exhausted when we got home.  The Bean was a certified pain in the rear about dinner.  We’ve been having more full family meals, but this time I hadn’t made one (see: carpentry), so Sugar and I were pottering about during the exhausted wailings about how he just wanted to eat, which took the place of actually eating.  I had my back turned when there was a tremendous bang, followed by screaming.  Jackalope, flat on her back, on the floor behind her chair.  Much holding.  Much crying.  Eventually, ice cream for everyone.  When she had recovered enough to pause in her lamentations:

“I jump out chair.”

You don’t say.

Jackalope talks a lot now, by the way.  Mostly English words, but also a lot of “CAMIMI,” a word of her own devising that the Bean says means “excuse me.”  She also jumps off of a lot of things and can use her scooter (“ma goot”), inherited from The Bean, shockingly well.  She’s 20 months old.  Sometimes she throws her arms around me and says, ala Daniel Tiger, “I yike you just way y’are.”  She gets away with a lot that way.

Okay.  Time to get dressed.  In closing, I leave you with this, from a friend’s new tumblr you should really check out:
Oh, hell, the embed code isn’t working right.  Click through, will you?  I’ve got to get dressed.



Hi readers, Sugar here.  I’ve taken down my last post for the time being.  It generated a bit more vitriol that Bionic and I were comfortable with, considering I was writing about someone we actually know.  I was pretty angry with that person, so possibly my tone was off.

More updates from Bionic coming soon, I hope.  Operation find a therapist who will return a message, make an appointment and then work on the right stuff is still underway.


Of children’s books and cognitive dissonance

Sugar here.  I haven’t posted in a while, but, hey, I’m still here, mostly reading along as Bionic writes.  I’ve been feeling a bit sad myself, these days.  I wouldn’t have thought of our library of children’s books as an emotional minefield, but it turns out that, yes, I can just start crying in the middle of say, Where Does the Garbage Go?  Because why?  Don’t ask kid, it’s too depressing.

Some favorites of the Bean that can really get me down while I try to read cheerfully along:

Bob and Otto: screw you, famous, successful friend

Oh the Places You’ll Go: or not. or we’re just all in the waiting place forever.

Giraffes Can’t Dance: but what if the music you love doesn’t pay enough to support you?

Frederick: isn’t this book about starving to death in winter?

Where does the garbage go? oh god, I don’t want to think about landfills.

Then there are the books that don’t push immediate emotional buttons, but I wonder about the wisdom of reading.  Sure, it’s great that the Bean loves books and loves cars and loves trains and wants to combine those loves. But. Danger at the Dieselworks, which keeps coming home from the library, has the worst subtext ever. (Don’t go hang out with those bad kids on the other side of the tracks. They are scary and mean because they are poor and have nasty stuff.  Also, they shouldn’t try to challenge authority either, because authority always means well…ahem) Does the Bean ever ask me questions about this set up? No!  Instead he wants to know why the Giraffe in Giraffe’s Can’t Dance learns to dance so quickly.  (Because he doesn’t.  He never learns to dance.  Now can we talk about systemic racism?)

I am also bothered by the fact that all books based on the Disney Cars franchise just make no actual sense.  They contain many sentences, but no sentence relates to any other.  Can it be good to read something that looks like a book, but acts like performance art?

Then there’s the work of changing the pronouns in Good Night Good Night Construction Site so that every other vehicle is a girl (come on, would it have been so hard to have even one girl in that book?).  I keep imagining a scenario where the Bean is old enough to read, catches me out, and tells Jackalope, who also loves trucks, that all the trucks in the book are really boys.  I hope he proves me wrong on this one.

Finally, there are books that fall into the category of questionable psychology.  For instance, Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day confuses me.  His day is bad.  It doesn’t get better.  Alexander was published in 1972.  I have this sense that in the 70s gritty, slightly depressing realism was thought to be good for a person, kind of like eating fiber but for the brain. But does this hold up? Do we still need to do this?

Perhaps the 80s were worse: In Gregory the Terrible Eater (published 1980) a goat’s parents encourage him to binge eat so that he will feel terrible and stop overeating.  Not only is this MESSED UP, but, as a former binge eater, I can tell you it won’t work.

It is not all horrors, of course. The Bean recently became enchanted with The Z was Zapped (the only difficult question — what is kidnapping, mommy?) so I am anticipating beginning to reread some books I really loved, like The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.  And the Bean made an awesome book for the Jackalope the other day, for when she needs to be cheered up, he said.  It is called Peekaboo Daniel, has two pages, and features a surprise picture of Daniel Tiger (Jackalope’s favorite) when you open it up.


Updates (actual) 

In list form, because darling Jackalope was up from roughly 12:30 to 4:30 last night and slept thereafter only while nursing.  No apparent reason, and she bit my right nipple so hard at about one that it hurt the whole time.  Even when I tried to ignore her and she came and sat on my rib cage.  Woke up fresh as a daisy, altogether too early.

Item: It appears I do not have thyroid maladies nor anything else weird in the blood test arena.  On the one hand, boo for the loss of a sensible, treatable explanation for the sudden rise in crazy.  On the other hand, yay for not having a serious physical health problem.  Dr. Wonderful says she will send me to a cardiologist if I really want, but that she really, really thinks I am healthy.

Item: It has meanwhile occurred to me that there are two things on top of my chest that could be implicated in the acute (but not agonizing) pains I am getting, namely my ribs and my boobs.  Is it possible some of the physical stuff is rib cartilage gone awry? My posture and so on is awful, and I spent a lot of the summer carrying a heavy baby and huge amounts of beach stuff in less than ergonomic ways.  Or could this be milk duct shenanigans?  As a side effect of My Summer Adventures With New Phobias, I discovered that my nipples no longer spasm at this level of nursing (yay) and therefore stopped taking the nifedipine.  But possibly there is still some spasm action at the duct level.  But this doesn’t really feel like that, so I don’t know.   I might go get a massage; I have a gift certificate and I don’t have to teach on Tuesday, thanks to the large Jewish population of this city. Edited to add: I mean thanks about Tuesday. To be clear, the gift certificate is from Sugar, though I am not opposed to gifts from entire peoples. Interested parties should inquire via email for terms.

Item: Welcome back, ability to safely eat grapefruit.  I missed you.

Item: I have met with Friend’s Therapist twice.  She is nice, even if she does have a slightly annoying poster about how great breastfeeding is.  The kind with 80’s drawings of glowing women.  Very Park Slope.  I want to take red pen to the parts that are overstating what the research shows, which is to say all of it, or at least say that isn’t the least upsetting thing to hand next to a therapy couch, but those minutes are expensive.  

Item: She is not ridiculous or annoying, and she has had one or two insightful things to suggest in terms of what kinds of things bother me.   

Item: I think I have to break up with her anyway.  

When we first exchanged emails, I said I was looking for someone who does CBT. She lists that on her website, but she cautioned me that she doesn’t primarily do that.  At the time, I was so desperate and relieved that someone had written me back that I said I didn’t care, but it turns out I care.  Her method of approaching this problem seems to be 1) techniques for feeling better right at the moment, and 2) talking a lot about the past.  The trouble with 2) is that I already have a degree in writing, which I increasingly think covers a lot of the same ground as this kind of therapy, and that the roots of my current problems don’t seem terribly complex from a literary perspective.  My mother died unexpectedly, suddenly, and alone, leaving me feeling very, very not okay; I subsequently develop a panic problem based around the belief that I am suddenly and unexpectedly dying (poison, heart attack) that is made worse by feeling terrified about leaving my children.  A disgusting amount of education went into making such a simple mind.

(And then there’s all the stuff about being raised with a sick mom, the responsibility/fear/resentment thing people always seem to think I won’t have realized.  I get very, very touchy about that.  Probably because: resentment/protectiveness, but also because yes, I realize that.  This isn’t the first time I am hearing this story.)

The trouble with 1) is harder to explain.  I have noticed that I am more likely to get panicky or have a true attack if I am underslept, hungry, or if I have alcohol, even in small amounts.  Likewise, places and things associated with a previous incident may raise my anxiety level and make another more likely.  Last Saturday night, for instance, we were visiting friends in Boston, where, in March, I thought I was dying from an overdose of my albuterol inhaler.  (Spoiler: I wasn’t. An extra puff isn’t enough to do that.  Moreover, I had not actually taken an extra puff.)  Jackalope had a very rough night, and I was up for most of it.  The next evening, very tired, I made myself a weak Salty Dog and proceeded to come apart at the seams.  

The following Tuesday, I sat down to talk goals with Nice Therapist.  I would like, I said, to be able to have a drink with close friends in a very safe environment without wigging out.  That’s a goal.  It’s a good goal, she said, but some people do need to make permanent lifestyle changes to avoid panic attacks.  

Look, I’m not opposed to the idea that clean living is generally a healthy idea.  Drinking less alcohol and caffeine, getting exercise, all that jazz.  But I’ve been doing that on my own.  I drink very little now.  I have about half a cup of coffee in the mornings.  And I think it’s making things worse.  This kind of anxiety appeasement just seems to make I more real, more scary.  Meanwhile, I see the sphere in which I live getting smaller and smaller, as every step outside the lines I am drawing around myself seems fraught with danger.  I’m terrified to do anything, lest my heart beat.  

Meanwhile, I watched this very convincing Scottish psychologist on YouTube make a case for a different approach.  He sends his patients out with orders to have a panic attack as soon as possible and then, rather than breathing into paper bags, telling themselves that the attack is uncomfortable but not dangerous.  I find this whole idea scary but intriguing, and I’ve been giving it a bit of a go.  It sort of works, and it’s much more appealing than teetotaling.

Item: So I suppose I will give that CBT shop another chance to find me someone at price level Mildy Outrageous. 

Item: I am not looking forward to writing this break up email.  She’s very kind, and sitting around talking about my life history isn’t unpleasant.  I’m just not sure it’s what I most need right now.

Item: What I suspect I could very most use is a whole lot more sleep.  I wonder if about 80% of what’s wrong with me isn’t 4.5 years of broken sleep wreaking havoc on my cognitive abilities.  Certainly it is true that being especially tired seems to undo some kind of executive function in charge of keeping a lid on things; I wonder if something on a grander scale no longer works properly.  

Item: But short of sending the children to boarding school, I don’t know how to make things better.  Sugar thinks I should wean Jackalope.  I’m certainly more than ready to night wean her, if only I could figure out how to do so in a in apartment with the Bean, who has just now started mosly sleeping pretty well.  Even the middling step of giving her a bottle won’t work, as she can’t for the life of her figure out how to use one, a different post for a different day.
Item: on that note, to bed.  In other news, The Bean started pre-kindergarten at our local public school, a subject about which we all have Feelings.  Be sure to tune in next time, when we analyze the roots of my crabbiness about school uniforms.



Update that isn’t 

Are you looking for something coherent?  It is not here.  This is just me, in a suburban mall burger joint, having a coke between orientation at Grad-ma mater (where I co-teach a class in Not My Field) and a faculty meeting.  I should be reading the book we’ve assigned our students as summer reading, and maybe I will in a few minutes.  It’s good, and full of the kind of history I emphatically did not get in any of my schooling.  Here, have a recommendation

We always have the students read a little of this at the end of the semester.  I love the idea of giving it to them at the beginning, as a little heads up that this isn’t going to be the history class they are expecting.  Plus there is just the greatest description of direct action in here, an eat-in, involving the welfare mothers bringing their kids to eat at the casinos (where they worked, whose owners made sure the state’s welfare laws were, to say the least, more favorable to the casinos than to their underpaid workers).  Lemme see if I can find it….

I’m feeling too lazy to type it, so here’s a picture of my favorite part: 

“Be sure not to jump on the craps tables!”  That’s my favorite part.  Can you even imagine being so brave, when the restaurant where you — and your children — have just eaten and tried to pay has called police in riot gear to arrest you?

I love this book.  It’s the kind of thing I wish Malcolm Gladwell would read before writing half-baked tripe like his New Yorker Katrina piece.  I’m tempted to assign that one to my undergrads just so I can hold forth for a good stretch on all the things wrong with it, starting with an apparent vacuum where his knowledge of history should be and a remarkable refusal to address, anywhere in the piece, black people’s right to agency.  HARUMPH.  You don’t want to get me started on the glossing over of everything problematic about firing the entire school system and replacing it with private charters, nor the casual conflation of black New Orleanians with drug dealers, white gentrifiers with “improved” neighborhoods.

Speaking of gentrification, dig this sign for an apartment broker in my neighborhood.  Yeah, that’s a tepee.  

 I just don’t understand how that waste of space got published in the same issue as Jelani Cobb’s careful and convincing Comment piece on echoes of the 1927 flood in Katrina, how social structures transform natural events into disasters. Let alone Sarah Broom’s “The Yellow House,” about why her family still hasn’t been able to rebuild her mother’s house.  Hint: it’s not because they are better off not doing so.  

I am happy to report that This American Life’s Katrina episode is a whole lot better.  I wish it suited my course (freshman comp, but with a focus this semester on how cities are made) better.  I might give them the part about predatory loans designed to strip residents of the Lower Ninth of their property, though.


Doctor’s appointment yesterday was fine.  I love that doctor, as I have said before.  I don’t know how she always seems to have so much time to talk to me, but I’m glad.  As several of you suggested, she thought it worthwhile to run a thyroid panel and, I think I saw over her shoulder, liver.  I’m having a measles titre, too, because Park Slope.  All my vitals were normal.  She said she could order an EKG and give me a halter monitor to wear, but that if this is all panic, more information is often not reassuring.  The old me would have found it reassuring, but this alien in my brain is a real asshole, it’s true.  There’s a Vonnegut (?) line to the effect that even if our brains were incredibly simple, we would still be too stupid to understand them.  The corollary here, it seems to me, is that even a very stupid brain is smart enough to scare the shit out of its person.  

Meanwhile, I have more xanax and instructions to discuss SSRIs with the therapist and call back.  I have not been impressed with what I have read about their use for anxiety, it’s true, but it is also true that this is no way to live.  So I don’t know.

In lieu of a satisfying conclusion to this post, have a picture of be-toweled, tool-wielding Jackalope.



3 a.m. Thoughts

Guess who got woken up by a ConEd truck, had/is having a panic attack, and has to teach at eight?  Two thumbs, also.

The truck was extremely loud.  What is that, I asked Sugar.  Some kind of tank, she said.  TANK TANK TANK TANK.  Clarification: she meant “a utility truck with a tank of some kind on it.” Not the “water carriers for the Tsar” kind of tank.  Oh.  How was I to assume that, on a small, residential street?  I mean.  Which is more likely?  

So now I have tea and what I am trying very hard to tell myself is not a heart attack.

I suppose, dear readers, that it gets old, hearing how crazy I am.  It gets old being this crazy, believe me.  I imagine it is frustrating, seeing me just sit here falling to pieces.  For the record, I am trying to get better, I really am.  Having spent the entire summer trying to get a therapist to call me back, I finally have an intake appointment with one on Thursday.  She doesn’t take my insurance or have a doctorate (which I toyed with adding to my requirements) or specialize in CBT, though she does do it.  

You know what she does really well, though?  Answer requests for contact.  I am at a loss to describe as ethical the many people (and clinics!) I’ve encountered this summer whose voice messages and websites promise a response within X days who simply never call or write back at all.  It leaves a person wondering what exactly she did wrong in that message/email/web form.
In the midst a very slow-paced and frustrating* series of emails with the first clinic that did (eventually) write back, a friend recommended her person, whom gmail pointed out was someone who had written a long and kind response back a hundred years ago when I had posted on the neighborhood parent board seeking PPD information for my back pocket, just in case I got it, what with the birth PTSD, the history of mental foibles, the suddenly dead mother.  (Good thing I dodged that bullet! Hollow laugh.) She responded quickly and kindly.  So here’s hoping.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with my internist tomorrow (today!) for more xanax and some kind of assurance that I don’t have heart disease, actually.  Naturally, the convergence of these two sensible appointments and the always-stressful start of the school year has led my brain to go completely bananas.

*several emails in, punctuated by too much time: “we have clinicians at the following levels/prices.  Tell me your schedule and what leve you are interested in.” Here are several potential days and swaths of time.  I would like level Spendy or Rather Spendy. EPIC PAUSE OF DAYS AND DAYS. “Hi, I work at level Extremely Spendy.  When are you available?”
IN other news, the kids and I went to the zoo yesterday.  It was hot.  So hot the night herons were sitting in the water on their bony little butts, which just looks silly.



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