Thursday, August 23, 2012

50 things that make me happy.

I'm suffering from outrage fatigue and political overload, so it's time to think about some things that make me happy.  In no particular order:

1. The sound of my daughter's laughter.
2. Cooking dinner with a glass of wine and the windows open.
3. Planning meals.
4. Making lists.
5. The smell of the asphalt during a summer storm.
6. Sweet tea in the morning.
7. Opening a new bottle of anything-- wine, laundry detergent, coffee creamer.
8. The smell of my mom's face lotion.
9. Oregon strawberries.
10. The smell of old books at the library.
11. Walking around in bare feet on the first day warm enough to go without socks.
12. Freshly-cut grass.
13. The sound of sprinklers on a balmy summer evening.
14. Sitting in camp chairs in our driveway with my husband, hillbilly-style.
15. Handmade soap.
16. Picking berries.
17. Laughing until it hurts with my mom and aunts.
18. Bear hugs from large men.
19. Snuggling with my daughter when she's sleepy.
20. Sweaty beer glasses on a hot day.
21. Pizza and beer at the end of a long week.
22. The crinkles at the corners of my husband's eyes when he smiles.
23. Sliding between freshly-washed sheets after a shower.
24. Candles.
25. Baking bread, and eating a slice before it's cool.
26. A full box of Kleenex.
27. Putting away groceries and knowing what I'm going to cook with each ingredient.
28. Fresh fudge.
29. Music.
30. Finishing a knit/crochet project and then giving it to somebody who doesn't expect it.
31. Making my dad laugh.
32. Having guests and cooking a big breakfast in the morning after drinking too much.
33. New video games.
34. The sound of the fan in the window.
35. Bright colors.
36. Soft yarn.
37. Learning a new skill.
38. Long hikes.
39. Waterfalls.
40. Singing until my voice goes away.
41. Organizing things.
42. Buying supplies for the school year.
43. Planning outfits for big events.
44. Finding a post in my RSS feed from a favorite blogger.
45. Starting to read a new book and realizing it's going to be really good.
46. Getting together with old friends after a long time apart and it's like no time has passed.
47. Wrapping presents.
48. Browsing knitting patterns on Ravelry.
49. Feeling pleasantly drained after resolving a problem.
50. Typing the last line of an essay.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

STFU Catholic Bishops

Dear Catholic Church,

Hi. I'm MJ, and I'm not a Catholic. Watching you throw your hissy fit about contraception coverage is hitting close to home for me, though, because my health insurance comes from my husband's employer, which is a hospital that lost its Catholic affiliation a few years back when the powers-that-be discovered that ladies were getting sterilized there, thus preventing them from carrying out their Church-approved destinies as walking incubators. So, but for the space of a few years, it could be MY contraception coverage you're arguing about, and I have something to say about that. Several things, actually.

First, let's talk about compensating workers. When you pay your workers, and you provide them with certain benefits, such as paid leave and health insurance, those things become theirs. When you hand over that money at the end of the pay period, the money stops being yours, and you stop having any say over how it gets spent. In asking to be exempt from the contraception coverage requirement, you are essentially demanding to be allowed to levy a sin tax on your contraceptive-using employees and their spouses and dependents. People who use contraception aren't going to stop just because you withhold coverage from them-- they're just going to have to pay more than people who have said coverage: thus, a sin tax. Because you disapprove of their behavior.

How does this make ANY sense? I get that you don't believe in contraception. I have no problem with you not using it, if that's your bag. But how does it infringe on your freedom of religion if I use it? The answer is, simply, it doesn't. You want to be allowed to use your leverage as an employer to attempt to coerce employees into not engaging in a behavior that runs contrary to your dogma.

We have religious freedom in this country. Your followers are completely free to eschew contraception and have as many babies as your god blesses them with, and it's your job to make sure they keep doing that if that's something that's important to you. What you can't do, however, is take federal funds and then get out of providing required benefits because they might mean providing contraceptive access to someone who couldn't otherwise afford it, allowing them to engage in behavior of which you disapprove. Your disapproval doesn't matter unless that person happens to be a Catholic, in which case you ought to take it up with the individual.

So, Catholic Church, I would like to cordially invite you to shut the hell up. If you're taking federal funds and employing non-Catholics, you can't require them to adhere to Catholic beliefs and teachings. The money going toward contraception coverage isn't yours-- it's compensation for the aforementioned employees, who don't have to follow your archaic rules. If contraception is really that big a deal to you, then you need to take it up with your faithful (who use contraception at about the same rate as the general population, by the way) and leave the rest of us alone.

Also, it's hell on your PR. Not that I really mind that part.

Irritably yours,
MJ

Friday, March 2, 2012

We're all sluts now, I guess.

Dear Rush Limbaugh,

I'm 30 years old, married, mother of a 3-year-old, and I have used various forms of birth control for the past decade. I guess you could say, as you put it a few days ago, that I'm "into" birth control. Contrary to what you apparently believe, most mothers use birth control before and after giving birth in order to prevent and space their pregnancies. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, over 99% of women aged 15-44 have used some sort of birth control. And 99 percent? That's pretty much everybody. So when you say that women who use birth control are sluts, you are slandering all women. ALL of us-- the evangelical Christians and the Catholics, the Republican women, the ones you probably consider virtuous because they're on your side politically, they all use birth control too.

This is going to be a serious issue for you; I see you're already starting to lose sponsors as the backlash over your comments about Sandra Fluke ramps up. See, the thing is, when you lose touch with reality-- the reality, in this case, that pretty much everyone uses birth control and it is not even a little bit controversial in the real world-- your "edgy" comments wind up offending a significantly larger demographic than you probably intended. You probably thought, given the right wing pontification over "religious freedom" and "conscience clauses" and "abstinence-only education," that it would be safe to pounce on college-aged women having sex outside of wedlock. I mean, normally that impulse would be dead accurate, because there's nothing a conservative panty-sniffer enjoys more than condemning sexually active young women, but you somehow missed the part where sexually active young women aren't the only ones who use birth control. So when you called Sandra Fluke a slut and suggested that you should be able to watch her have sex if she uses birth control that was provided for free by her health insurance, all the women of the country went, "Wait, WHAT?"

Because, Rush, we're all using birth control. All those women you've slept with (and I'm sure there have been many of them) were probably using it, and likely all four of your wives were too. And you know who else likes birth control? Men who like having sex with women. Most people, in general, enjoy engaging in sexual activity without risking pregnancy every time. Most people (and I know this might be hard for some of the more conservative politicians to stomach, but it's completely true) enjoy sexual activity for its own sake, because it's fun and it feels good.

Do you realize what the larger implication of all this is? Let me spell it out for you: having premarital sex and using whatever birth control method is available is pretty much universal among heterosexual people in this country. Almost nobody is having sex only for procreative purposes, and we can all see through your hypocrisy when you bloviate on this topic as if you were some sort of moral arbiter. When almost all women use and need birth control for a variety of physical conditions-- and yes, there are off-label uses for the pill that have nothing at all to do with having sex-- it is necessary healthcare that should be covered by insurance. When there is an unambiguous public good that comes from providing free birth control to anyone who wants it (preventing unwanted pregnancy is good for society, in case you need help figuring that out), it makes perfect sense to mandate that this healthcare should be provided for free.

Using birth control doesn't make us sluts, or whores, or prostitutes, or whatever you want to call us. It makes us normal women who enjoy sex but don't always want to get pregnant. You painted with too broad a brush on this one, and hit a much larger target than you apparently realized; as a woman who has enjoyed a healthy sex life for the past ten years thanks in large part to Planned Parenthood and insurance coverage, I hope you lose what little credibility you had left. This whole episode reveals that you are not merely a partisan hack and a liar, but a misogynist as well.

Sincerely,
MJ

Friday, February 24, 2012

For parents-to-be: on sifting through the huge pile of advice

I've been thinking for a while about writing an advice post for parents-to-be, but now that approximately 17 of my Facebook friends are expecting babies (seriously, why are you all having babies at the same time?), this seems like an opportune time to finally do it.

You're going to get a ton of advice over the next few months. If there's one thing EVERYONE has an opinion on, it's parenting. Even people who've never had kids remember what it was like to be a kid, so they'll try to get in on the action too. The number one thing you have to remember is that age-old adage: "Opinions are like assholes..." Some of the advice you'll get will be great; some of it won't be. But don't ever make the mistake of feeling like you're a bad parent if you follow some advice and it doesn't have the effect you were expecting.

So, having just advised you not to take advice, allow me to offer you some advice! Here, in no particular order, is a selection of my vast store of wisdom on the areas of parenthood that have given me the most trouble:

SLEEP

This is going to be a big deal in your life for a while, and lots of people are going to tell you lots of shit about how to get your kid to sleep better/longer/on a schedule. Don't listen to the experts. In my totally subjective and non-scientific experience, kids sleep how they sleep and there's not a lot you can do to change it; you just have to find a strategy that works for you and roll with it. Parents whose kids sleep great always believe it was because of some magical strategy they tried, but the truth is, some kids just sleep better than others. I have a kid who didn't sleep well at all, and eventually I reached a point where I wanted to punch every person who gave me advice on the topic (especially if they employed the word "just" in there, like it would be easy-- "You just need to let her cry it out and she'll sleep fine!" SERIOUSLY? Do you really think that wasn't, like, the second thing I tried?? (Sorry, I'm still a little bitter.)) I found Moxie's ideas about tension increasers and decreasers to be really helpful in understanding why crying it out just seemed to stress out my kid rather than making her go to sleep.

In addition to having lots of advice about what you should do to make your child sleep, people also have strong opinions on what you shouldn't do-- you shouldn't nurse to sleep, you shouldn't co-sleep (or you should... either way, you're probably doing it wrong), you shouldn't use white noise; it goes on and on. But those people don't know your baby, and you're in the best position to know what your baby needs, so if someone gives you advice that conflicts with your experience, feel free to reject it.

The truth is, you'll find something that works for you and your kid, and it's probably not going to be the same thing that worked for your sister's kid, or your neighbor's, or that lady at your moms' group who thinks she has all the answers. You might have to try a lot of things before you find the one that works, or you might not find ANYTHING that works, and wind up like me, waiting it out until eventually your kid grows into sleeping for a full night. (I was up almost every night for three years; it wasn't until a month after her third birthday that my daughter started sleeping all the way through the night with any consistency.)

BREASTFEEDING

Hoooo boy, this is a hot topic on ol' interwebz! While I can't say I've ever seen anyone arguing against breastfeeding, I've seen plenty of "lactivists" who lean so far to the pro-breastfeeding side that they demonize anyone who doesn't breastfeed for any reason. Yes, breastfeeding is best for babies. If you can do it, you probably should. But some women have trouble, either because they can't produce enough milk or their babies have problems that interfere with breastfeeding, or mom's employment prevents her from being able to breastfeed-- and these women are not bad people. Their babies will most likely grow up just fine. Go ahead and breastfeed yours, for as long as you want, but lay off the people who make different choices.

Bonus non-specific tip: if someone's giving advice that makes you feel guilty about how you're parenting your kid even when you're trying really hard, just quit reading/listening. Seriously. You don't need that shit.

But back to the practical aspects of this breastfeeding business. The most important thing to remember is that just because it's natural doesn't mean it's necessarily easy. The first few weeks especially can be kind of awful, and it's not because you're stupid or something's wrong with you or your baby. For example: I, personally, was determined to breastfeed and had a very enthusiastic infant, but we had latch problems (which I, as a novice, was unable to recognize as such). For the first week, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, I had some really unpleasant milk blisters, and eventually I kind of wanted to give up. But I swallowed my pride, abandoned my dignity, and bared my boob for a lactation consultant, who helped me learn how to get my hungry baby latched on properly. It took a few more weeks for everything to start feeling natural, but eventually we reached a point where breastfeeding was like breathing, and I could do it in the dark of the night when I was half asleep (which I did for two and a half years). Don't feel bad if you have a hard time at first. There's a learning curve here, as with all things, and it's a rare woman who jumps right in and has perfect success without a few bumps in the process. You'll figure it out. Or you won't, and your baby will drink formula, and everything will still be fine.

EATING SOLID FOOD

This topic is less fraught than the previous two, but it gets to be a big deal when your kid reaches the age of starting solid foods. Once again, my kid was on the more difficult end of the spectrum and was pretty uninterested in eating until she was about 18 months old (which is about 6 months later than normal), and she was (and is) extremely picky. I stressed a lot about feeding her because she was short and underweight after being on the high end for both height and weight up to her first birthday; our pediatrician talked to me like I was a moron and feeding my kid a diet of crackers because I didn't know any better rather than because IT WAS THE ONLY THING SHE WOULD EAT. At some point, I finally shrugged off the judgment and resolved to figure it out myself, and after awhile, she started eating a wider variety of things and I was able to give her vitamins, and her measurements rebounded to a normal range. The key, rather than force-feeding her stuff she didn't like or freaking out about all of it, was just to wait it out. Kids go through phases, most of them completely inexplicable, and if you wait long enough, the problematic behavior either gradually fades away or just vanishes overnight. This is especially true with babies-- if something's giving you trouble and you can't figure out how to fix it, just wait it out. Babies' phases usually don't last longer than a couple of weeks.

SOCIAL SUPPORT

One of the most important things you can do to combat the isolation of new parenthood is to make sure you have adequate social support. Whether it's by hanging out with friends and family members, going to a parents' group, or even participating in parenting forums online, it helps tremendously to feel like you're not alone. It's normal to feel completely lost and bewildered for a while after bringing home a new baby, and interacting with other people will help restore a feeling of normalcy. Also, make sure to find some sources for advice that you can trust if a problem arises; I found Ask Moxie to be invaluable for general behavioral/developmental concerns, especially sleep, and kellymom great for breastfeeding problems and advice. The commenters at Ask Moxie are especially compassionate and helpful, so if you're looking for additional advice on a specific topic, don't forget to read the comments too!

The takeaway from all of this advice is simply this: as the person who is around your child the most, who loves that child more than anyone else, you are the best person to decide what's right for your baby. Trust your judgment. You're free to solicit the advice of anyone whose input you might find valuable, but you're also free to abandon any techniques that don't work for you. If you've been raised to believe that babies should be left to cry it out but it feels wrong to you, you don't have to do it that way. Do what works, what feels right, and things will work themselves out.

And tell all those advice-givers to shove it, because you've got this shit under control. I believe in you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Also, this way I don't have to do anything hard.

I'm not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I get the appeal of a "new start" and deciding to do things differently in the new year, but the thing is, the big resolutions almost never take. People are always resolving to change their habits, but by the end of February everyone's back to doing the same old crap that they wanted to change, and they feel worse for having failed at achieving a goal. I mostly prefer to avoid that business.

So this year, I'm resolving only to make resolutions that add happiness and pleasure to my life. I will not resolve to do less or be less of anything: no weight loss goals, no cutting out foods I love out of a puritanical sense of what's good for me. If thinking about my resolution makes me feel bad about myself, I don't need it in my life.

I got to thinking: what could my life use more of?

I don't know when or how or why it happened, but at some point in the past decade, I stopped seeking out and listening to new music. I think this happens to most adults at some point; you get comfortable with the music you have and like and once you've established the parameters of your taste, you quit broadening your horizons. This is unacceptable to me.

So here's my resolution: I will listen to 1,000 new songs in 2012.

I need your help for this. Send me links to songs you love (pmscapades AT gmail DOT com), tell me about up-and-coming or obscure artists whose music moves you, make me a mix CD. I'll be keeping track of all the songs I've listened to, and I'll post a weekly roundup of the ten best songs I've heard that week.

This music doesn't have to be new in a temporal sense-- merely new to me. So if there's something you think is fantstic, please send it my way so I can give it a listen!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Marginal Tax Rates Work!

With all this talk of raising taxes on the wealthy, I'm seeing a lot of nonsense about tax brackets. Specifically, I'm irked by a comment you've probably heard before: "I don't want to make more than X dollars, because that would bump me up to a higher tax bracket!"

Anybody who says this, or some variation thereof, doesn't understand how tax brackets work.

In short: when you "go up a bracket," only the amount you made over the cutoff amount is taxed at the new rate. If the rates applied to your entire income, it wouldn't make any sense to try to make more money, because higher tax rates would mean you have less money after taxes than you would have if your income had been lower.

Allow me to craft an overly-elaborate hypothetical example, because such wankery pleases me immensely.

Let's say you're a citizen of Mollytopia, in which the tax rates increase as your income doubles:

Up to $10,000: 5%
$10,001-$20,000: 10%
$20,001-$40,000: 15%
$40,001-$80,000: 20%

And so on.

A person who makes $21,000 a year doesn't suddenly pay 15% of their entire income-- if that were the case, you'd have more money left over if you made $20,000 (taxed at a rate of 10%, $2,000), than if you made $21,000 (taxed at a rate of 15%, $3,150). Instead, you pay the higher rate only on the amount of money that falls into the new bracket. So if you made $21,000, you pay 5% of the first $10,000, 10% of the next $10,000, and 15% of the remaining $1,000. Hence the term BRACKETS.

Obviously, our tax system in the US is a lot more complicated than this, what with the deductions and credits and various other crap that makes it all really confusing, but in general, this is how marginal tax rates work. So the next time you hear somebody talking nonsense about tax brackets, tell them to shove it. Or just, you know, correct them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In order to form a more "pagan" union...

Let's talk about sex!

I'm sure you know me well enough by now to realize that I don't mean that in a salacious way. I'm referring, of course, to public policy. This article has my panties in a twist today, and it's got me thinking about a jumble of different issues, which I will now attempt to unravel.

First, for those of you who don't want to read the article, a summary: while certain hyper-conservative, usually religious, groups have in the past opposed birth control that they claimed caused abortions, the public discussion of this issue has shifted so far to the right that they are now openly calling for an end to public funding of all birth control. To quote Jeffrey Kuhner, "Promoting widespread contraception is essential to forging a pagan society based on consequence-free sex."

We'll return to that idea of "consequence-free sex" in a minute (and ignore that government free of the influence of Christianity is not the same thing as "pagan"). First, a point of logic. Public funding for contraception is a sound policy stance: pregnancy is more expensive and dangerous than abortion, and abortion is more expensive and dangerous than contraception. It makes sense, both fiscally and socially, for the government to subsidize birth control and expand access to everyone who wants it; a woman who gets pregnant because she couldn't afford birth control is unlikely to be able to afford an abortion, and almost certainly can't afford to support a(nother) child, so guess who's going to need public assistance? It's just plain cheaper to prevent that pregnancy.

The social/religious aspect of this issue is the one that really bothers me. A person who would refer to protected sex as "consequence-free sex" is someone who perceives the issue from a very narrow perspective, where sex is only acceptable in very specific circumstances, for very specific purposes (i.e., between a legally married man and woman, for the purposes of procreation). This is unrealistic and un-American.

I'm in favor of religious freedom. Any person who believes in the aforementioned narrow view of sex should be free to engage in unprotected sexual relations only with an opposite-sex married partner if that's what they feel is right. Freedom of religion, however, also means freedom from religion for those of us who don't believe, or who believe a different way. Public policy should be firmly grounded in reality rather than tied to religious ideals, and reality tells us that people will have sex whether you think they should or not.

(Disclaimer: I grew up in a conservative religious household with views that hew closely to the mainstream evangelical perspective of today. I feel like I can speak with some authority on the subject of evangelical/conservative views of sex because I used to be one of them, and these are the opinions I grew up with (and out of).) The idea that sex should have "consequences" is based in a sex-negative, misogynistic, patriarchal worldview. This worldview sees sex not as a normal, healthy expression of affection between consenting parties, but as a marital duty that a wife endures for a husband. There is no room in this view for female pleasure or desire; women are assumed to take pleasure in pleasing their husbands rather than a genuine enjoyment of sex. When faced with the problem of unintended pregnancies, the conservative solution is to prevent sex rather than prevent pregnancy, which is clearly unrealistic.

Now, just because many people believe this way doesn't mean they necessarily act according to their beliefs. Of the 43 million sexually active women aged 15-44 who are fertile and do not want to become pregnant, 89% practice some form of contraception. Over 99% of women in this age bracket who have ever had sex have used at least one contraceptive method. Obviously, some of that number must be religious conservatives. This leads me to believe that all this talk of the "consequences" of sex is really only applied to people who are having the kind of sex of which the anti-contraception forces disapprove: pre-marital, homosexual, basically anything other than what George Carlin called "good old man-on-top, get-it-over-with-quick sex." Put simply, people who oppose contraception oppose sex for pleasure.

As I've said, I'm completely in favor of the anti-contraceptive folks having whatever kind of sex they think is right, but I'm also in favor of sex for pleasure. Because I understand that people have sex because sex feels good and is fun and free, I am in favor of government-subsidized contraceptives for anyone who wants or needs them. Frankly, I don't care what kind of kinky shit people are into, as long as they're able to do it safely. Contraceptives, including condoms, help to reduce the social cost of unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

These "consequences" are going to happen whether the anti-contraceptive camp approves of the behavior or not; to deny people the means to prevent them out of some twisted self-righteous disapproval is not just cruel and short-sighted-- it's downright un-Christian.