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The Seemingly Impossible Problem of the Small Screaming Child

crying Lucas babyThe story about the diner owner screaming at a toddler who’d been whining and crying while waiting for her pancakes is all over my newsfeed. I’m a little astonished this is difficult to assess. It’s a classic situation and there is actually a load of literature on how different responses net different outcomes with regard to small kids who are crying/having a tantrum/whining/etc.

1. It is well catalogued that a stranger screaming at a screaming or crying toddler may quiet the child down momentarily, but it is the worst response to take. Why? Because:
a. The child may have a good reason for crying (in this case, hunger), and the screaming at the kid doesn’t change their biological need to cry in response to their need.
b. The child may have already exhausted other tactics of communication, may come from an abusive household, or may have difficulty communicating another way (e.g., the kid may be autistic), and the stranger’s screams may only serve to trigger or frighten the kid, or worse, add to the child’s trauma. Rule of thumb: If you’re the bigger person, you have more power, so use it kindly.
c. Ironically, you’re teaching the child that screaming is a terrific response to frustration. So the kid shouldn’t scream but the grownup can?
d. It’s also been shown that being nice can defuse these situations even better than yelling. “You must be really hungry, huh? Would you like these crackers, honey? How growly is your belly right now?”

2. All human behavior is temporal. It changes over time, is dependent on things like mood, learning, wakefulness, context, and so on. By all accounts this child did not enter the diner screaming, she worked up to it. If she exhibited calmer behavior earlier, then she was capable of de-escalating back down to it. Unfortunately for her none of the adults in the room helped to calm her or chose to meet her needs. So the pancake takes forty minutes? Give her a small bowl of applesauce, or some freaking crayons. But identifying this–or ANY–child only via her screaming is to dehumanize her, and I will not concede this point. The kids who take the most crap for their behavior are the ones who aren’t as traditionally “cute” looking, or whose parents are marked by some presumed defect. We do not single out screaming kids just for their screaming. Go back and read the way the diner owner talked about the whole family, and see the code: this is how she justifies screaming violently at a human being. And she’s totally lost the perspective that she was once a child, and that there was probably a moment in her life when an adult was unkind to her, and that she felt something negative from that experience. She has just pushed that onto the next generation. And this child will carry that moment forward in time with her now. What could have been a temporary moment of frustration is now an echo that will last for a while.

3. Just as small kids aren’t always screaming, parents aren’t always horrible or always terrific. Let’s not label them as such. I think I’m a pretty good dad, but I’ve had my poor moments, of course. People base their approval on this woman’s yelling because they have an issue with who the adults were as parents. That is very presumptive, and frankly, not rational thinking. If somebody had an issue with the parents, they should direct their communication to the parents. In all likelihood the owner ignored what was going on while it was escalating and began quickly getting resentful, so by the time she acted, she was also not responding rationally or carefully. Maybe she’s frustrated at having such a busy diner, or too small a space for her to work. Maybe lots of things, but what’s clear is that these weren’t regular customers that she knew, so she felt free to label them and scream at their child. Sometimes I bring my kids to breakfast restaurants and they’re not always perfectly behaved, but if the owner came and screamed at them they’d have two crying boys on their hands and one very upset parent (two if Susanne were with us). But come on, there is no defense to yelling at a small kid when who you’re really angry with is the adult at the table.

4. Small kids are among us, they’re a part of our culture. They’re also very vulnerable. They don’t always know why the grownups around them are tired, or frustrated, or mad, or sad, but they will often ask and they are great at giving comfort. These are the people who will support us all when we are in our senior years and need all kinds of care. I still find it amazing how fast human beings develop from only having one cry to having several that mean different things, to finding words, to forming sentences, to using language to think about the world around us. If children are merely a temporary inconvenience to you, I think your world view is lacking. To me, children are a joy and a fascination, and I get a lot out of interacting with them. When you have an opportunity to be kind to a kid, please try and take it and pass on the good will that has been shown to you.

Also, 40 minutes for pancakes is absurd.

Dear Ms. Burkett: It’s Not About Brains

I finally read the opinion piece in last Sunday’s NY Times (I’m not going to link it, but it’s easy enough to find) by Elinor Burkett, ostensibly about Caitlyn Jenner’s trans coming out in something of a media onslaught, but which quickly descends into a diatribe against all trans women (and some trans men, but more on that later).

Look, I agree with you about brains. I don’t think men’s and women’s brains are much different. But along that thought:

1. Just because a specific trans person says they believe in any particular thing, doesn’t mean all trans people agree. Remember your oft-referred to women’s studies training—no community is a monolith.

2. Just because a trans person says something with which you disagree doesn’t mean you ought to go whole hog in throwing the entire community under the bus as trampling on your womanhood and need to be kept on the margins of culture because you personally are so offended. To reverse your example, my cis gender partner Susanne has identified as female her entire life and she disagrees that there are male and female brains, but SHE DIDN’T JUST CALL CAITLYN JENNER A MALE PRIVILEGED FAKE WOMAN IN THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES. Because all women have different opinions from each other. Isn’t that nice?

Now then, let’s move to your understanding of experience, since it seems to be a bridge too far for you to honor someone else’s life if they didn’t walk exactly in your steps. There is zero accounting for race or class difference in your brand of feminism as articulated in your opinion piece. You think you get to exclude trans women from the extraordinarily broad range of femininity and womanhood because for some portion of their life they lived as men or boys? Well I have a news flash: EVERY WOMAN’S EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT. (As I said on Facebook, if you want to see the differences in your experience as a woman from someone else’s, just go swimming in a pool in Texas.) Your experience is different from Black women, from women who come from a socioeconomic class not immediately preoccupied with career advancement but with keeping food in their cupboards, from first-generation immigrant women, from disabled women, and hell, from women with endometriosis, since you brought up period flow. (You don’t scare me talking about period flow, even if you used in such an incredibly disingenuous way.)

The wonderful, powerful thing about womanhood is that it is entirely capable of including all of these disparate experiences. It grows and flexes and rises up to meet the challenges of every modern age that has asked it to change. When capitalism asked women to enter the workforce, they did, and although there were men who mocked the riveter Rosies, they were still women. When lesbians came out of the shadows of culture and said they were their own community, there were people who railed against them, but they insisted they were still women, EVEN AS they themselves eschewed the 1950s brand of femininity that they said had previously kept them in the closet. When women in the 1980s said they wanted to break the glass ceiling and sit in the executive board rooms across America, they were labeled Feminazis, but feminists stood up and said they’re still women.

So now it’s 2015, and feminism has pushed from all angles at the notion of womanhood and here you are, drawing some ridiculous line in the sand? Now? In 2015? Ms. Burkett, that argument is over. It’s gone. You’re reaching back to the same threads of reductive hate that you yourself have fought against. It doesn’t matter that your veiled invective is aimed at a different sub-population of women, you’re still fighting against yourself as you make arbitrary and intellectually impoverished swipes at trans women. Feminism has moved on from your little corner of thought, and it did so a long time ago.

I agree talking about essential male and female characteristics is unhelpful. I wish Caitlyn hadn’t said she thought her brain was different, but it’s not a point to use against her entire identity. Many trans people are looking for validation, especially as they begin transition, as an anchor. How does a person REALLY know they’re trans? For me, I wasn’t sure for something like the first five years. It is so out of left field that I thought I was losing my mind—how could I possibly be a man? After all, I’d hit all of the so-called milestones you included in your opinion piece, the inconvenient menarche, the chronically underpaid paychecks, the fear of assault, plus I was tall and large, which oh my gosh, didn’t jive very well with some people’s notions of womanhood! Can you imagine! So when it started becoming a thought in my mind, and then a fixation, and then an obsession, that I might live as a man, that I might actually IDENTIFY as a man, I wanted some kind of evidence. There is none. At the very least, our culture hasn’t been working on helping individuals figure out their gender identity and presentation, or more precisely, it wasn’t a cultural project back in my day (I grew up in the 70s and 80s). So please forgive my fellow trans travelers if we sometimes latch onto an idea or concept that doesn’t jive with your version of feminism. It’s not a justification to say that we’re not real people in these lives we’ve worked hard to live.

One more thing: every time you point to a biological marker, like uteruses or penises or menstrual blood or breasts, you’re doing the same thing you’re critiquing PLUS you’re making trans women feel bad ALL OVER AGAIN about the limitations of their bodies. That’s not only unfeminist, that’s cruel. And also, you’re missing out. Trans women, no matter how long they lived before they transitioned, they didn’t experience male privilege in the way you think they did. Just as I didn’t revel in the joys of womanhood—each marker of my gender only served to make me confused, aggravated, or depressed. And through this experience, many trans women I know developed a terrific insight into gender that today’s feminism finds vital. Quite of few trans women friends of mine also have the sharpest wit, great senses of humor that are amazing to witness as, say, you’re sitting around complaining about your limited paychecks with the girls. Feminism, womanhood, identity, and the world are so much larger than your vision. They’re more generous, grand, and inclusive. They’re pushing progress in ways I never thought I would see when I was a fresh out of the box lesbian in 1990. I’m excited to see this new world unfold and I wish you would join us in it.

But madam, you have a LOT of reading and thinking to do first.


P.S.: If someone is working on reproductive rights, do you really care what their gender identity is, or whether they have a uterus in their body or not? I mean, ALEC is out there doing everything it can to stop abortion and choice in the US, how about we work with the folks who are showing up? For Pete’s sake.

This Quote from Michelle Duggar Says It All

“She [Michelle Duggar] said the fondling devastated her and her husband and made them question whether they had failed as parents.” —Michelle’s comment to Megyn Kelly of FoxNews, on the revelation that her son Josh molested four of her daughters and his babysitter

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents. Not when Josh initially molested his sisters and his babysitter, but when you learned about it and didn’t move to prevent more abuse.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you let the abuse continue for sixteen months without getting Josh treatment and without getting your daughters specialized counseling–in fact, ANY counseling–to deal with the trauma they’d experienced.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you sent Josh to work for a home renovator and then called that treatment.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you focused only on Josh’s so-called redemption while utterly dismissing what happened to your daughters.

But Michelle, you failed as PEOPLE when knowing all of this you paraded your family on national television proclaiming your vision of family as perfect and superior to so many other families who didn’t erase their own children’s trauma. You failed as PEOPLE when knowing all of this you took to the recording studio to make robocalls in a critical civil rights vote, demonizing trans women for the VERY SAME ACTS your son performed that you so callously disregarded, even though he’s done them against YOUR OTHER CHILDREN, and even though there is no evidence that trans women are ipso facto pedophiles, nor even pedophiles AS OFTEN AS STRAIGHT MEN are. You failed as PEOPLE when you covered up your family history in order to make millions off of your ruse of a family unit. And you failed as PEOPLE OF FAITH when you warped what Christianity means for millions of people with your simplistic, reductive, nonsensical value system that is really just a cover for rape culture, misogyny, patriarchal order, and emotional abuse.

I don’t believe in Hell. And the good old Roman Catholic Church even disavowed purgatory a decade ago. Good thing for you, because I’m sure rotting in your graves will be a lot kinder eternity for you than where you’d otherwise someday go. You and Jim Bob are the worst kind of parents and people I can even comprehend.

EDITED TO ADD: I was texting with a friend about this and he said, “I imagine [the survivors] will need counseling and emotional support.” And I said, hell yes:

First, they were abused, period. Second by their brother. Third, more than once. Fourth, the parents after learning about the abuse did nothing to help them. Fifth, they had to go on national television for eight years and act like everything was hunky dory. Sixth, they had to nod their heads and take it emotionally whenever mom or dad or big brother went on public tv to talk about how great they were as christians and how they needed to stop the child molesting gay and trans people.

Honestly, Just Write and Stop Worrying

I am no stranger to anxiety. Anxiety may even be something of a close friend, but it’s one of those friends who talks on and on about themselves during your coffee date together and maybe you don’t even realize it until you’ve hugged and you’re walking home and then finally you think, “I didn’t even say that my dog died/I’m breaking up with my partner/I got a new job/something momentous and totally wortpart of an interview I did with PQMonthly as a winner of their Brilliant List awards programh mentioning.” I’ll put it this way: I hate my way through my relationship with anxiety, one miserable unwanted thought at a time.

That said, I am a product of no fewer than half a dozen terrific therapists and my neuroses are down to a dull, annoying grumble in the back of my head. I recognize frenemy Anxiety as soon as it pops itself into my consciousness, and sometimes I can stamp it out even when it’s bumbling about in my semi-conscious, because things like my body will send up an alert, and then that decade of therapy kicks in, and well, if I have to Goldberg Machine my way to functionality, so be it. It’s working for me. I’m even past the point where I tell myself to fake it till I make it. Read More…

Ridiculous Ways Viewers Think Mad Men Will End

Don Draper holding a fedora in one hand and a briefcase in the other, standing on steps at the side of a TWA plane.Mad Men has been a strange, amusing series, replete with historic moments like JFK’s assassination and the moon landing, full of smoking and daytime drinking, and loads of human foibles, chief among them our ability to compartmentalize (and I’m not just talking about Dick Whitman). Beyond the character arcs and season-long plot points are some meta-analyses of the show that have kept me watching, fascinated. I’ve posted before about how I see Dick/Don as a kind of trans narrative but there are other interesting interpretations of the show, like the limited ranges of success, nay, life, for women in the characters of Betty, Joan, and Peggy (and how they differ from what we know will be the options for Sally), the clash of generations over cultural meaning and production (“What is the Carousel?”), and ultimately, where is meaning itself? That’s the question Dick/Don has been asking at least since he accidentally blew up his commanding officer in Korea, and perhaps since his youth at the brothel after his mother died. While Dick/Don in last night’s penultimate episode seemed to be finally coming to terms with an answer for himself, we the audience are in full-plummet mode as the series finale looms. Read More…

Child detained at Lego store

When do we decide that humans have autonomy? When is a person capable of making her own choices? Why do we imprison ten-year-olds for crime but not let a nine-year-old walk through a store by himself? Our culture’s understanding of age and agency is twisted.

Author Interview: Audrey Coulthurst

I had an opportunity to speak recently with writer friend and colleague from the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Audrey Coulthurst, about her new two-book deal with HarperCollins. I also wanted to find a way to communicate with the public about how much Audrey likes horses, so hopefully by the end, her potential readers are clear on that.

Audrey wearing a unicorn mask in the foothills of LA

Not exactly a muse, but close.

Congratulations on your publication news with HarperCollins! What was your path to publication?

Thank you! My path to publication was fairly straightforward. After the first draft of A Hidden Affinity was complete I spent a long time finding critique partners and revising. As part of that I participated in the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writers Retreat. Studying with Malinda Lo and having a group of very talented writers discuss my work was a true gift.

Once I felt the manuscript was as strong as it could be, I entered a couple of online contests and got some agent requests through those. Then I began to query in earnest, and then a few months later my fabulous agent pulled my query out of the slush and offered representation. We made some more revisions and then she sold the book.

I should probably note that while this whole process can be summed up in a few paragraphs, it took a very long time. The first draft of A Hidden Affinity was written in 2010. Read More…

Fetal heart beat bills and the babyfication of the embryo

As always, quality medical opinions from a doctor who knows her stuff.

Dr. Jen Gunter

The Ohio House just passed a “fetal heart beat” bill, which is the first step on the road to legislation that would ban abortion after embryonic cardiac activity.

The pro-life version of am embryo The pro-life version of am embryo

Embryonic cardiac activity is typically seen by 6 weeks gestation (42 days into the pregnancy or about 2 weeks after a missed period), which is before many women know they are pregnant and certainly before many have really had time to consider what being pregnant means for them. Thus this kind of legislation really has one goal – to eliminate abortion.

This type of bill has been tried elsewhere and while it hasn’t become law anywhere, typically because some politician decides it won’t hold up to in the Supreme Court against Roe. With that in mind, why keep churning these things through State Legislatures wasting tax payer dollars?

Possibly the “pro-life” forces that support this…

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The Metaphor Translations: Terrorists

This is an occasional series on metaphors in narrative. Earlier editions focused on doomsday scenarios, androids, and monsters.

They are everywhere, plotting, planning, building in the moldy recesses of basements and garages where apparently they are never discovered until there are mere minutes left on the digital timers, receding separation between life as we know it and cataclysm. If there’s one big difference between narratives about terrorists and narratives about the previous topics in this series, it’s that terrorists really exist in the world (vampires, seriously, vampires do not exist, folks). And while I suppose it’s technically feasible that a volcano could rise up from an unstable fault line, it’s not likely to happen in the middle of Los Angeles, so although some doomsday scenarios (The Day After Tomorrow, asteroid stories, for example) are a remote, remote possibility, they’re not realistic in the same way terrorist and terrorism stories are.

Judging from the scripts, some of these narratives have wrestled with the news reports of terrorist activity and the attacks that occur across the world. The attacks on September 11, 2001, basically ended The West Wing’s idealized portrayal of White House politicking and policy making. These days Homeland articulates a reasonable take on the way in which government analysts sort through data on terrorist cells and actors, even as it occurs within a larger paranoid fantasy (i.e., anyone could be a terrorist, even your Congressman!). NCIS, and Covert Affairs cover plotlines that stretch much further from this approach, including stories with terrorists as more like love-torn stalkers with a political interest.

Whether the narrative at hand is an attempt at realism or further afield, it still presents a threat to our culture, which makes it similar to narratives that feature attacking monsters, zombies, aliens, and the like, but there is a notable difference to the fantastical tale. Typically terrorism narratives include a lot about our response as nation-states, as governments with caring and dedicated employees who are working against all odds to stop the threat (think 24, A Most Wanted Man, Spooks), and in this way they reinforce the idea that the tactics our actual governments use are good, be they waterboarding, phone surveillance, or the near-omnipresent security cameras in our cities. The sheer number of plot lines across terrorist-themed shows and movies that include phone tapping, police stakeouts, computer programming to listen for terrorist plots, face recognition software, partnerships between the CIA, MI-6, and Interpol, and so on become a kind of system of justification for presuming our government is on duty for its citizens. Sure there may be a bad apple here or there (and always the double-crossing agent to watch out for), but the narrative of the fight against terrorism nearly always ends with the agents from the government thwarting evil. Read More…

Humor as Discomfort

A couple of years ago I picked apart Seth MacFarlane’s performance as emcee of the Academy Awards for his blatant and frequent sexist and racist comments. I wondered openly why anyone expected he’d do anything different, given his history as the “offend everyone” writer behind Family Guy and other television shows. Late last year I was somewhat surprised and ultimately disappointed when Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson came to Walla Walla to deliver an uninteresting and Islamaphobic lecture, and I remembered that Seth MacFarlane was the executive producer of the Cosmos: A Space Odyssey series on Fox that featured Tyson. For in the Hollywood universe, there are a few individuals who drive cultural production under the guise of many studios, production companies, agenting firms, and talent. It’s the old boys’ club of popular culture at work.

Last weekend we saw something a little different. I wouldn’t climb up on the soapbox with Maggie Gyllenhaal and proclaim it “revolutionary” (and evolutionary) as she did, but it was a crack in the edifice that Hollywood normally supports. At the Golden Globes, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Margaret Cho, Lily Tomlin, and even Jane Fonda (in a brief turnabout from her foray into conservative political stances) poked fun at this boys’ club and made those boys decidedly uncomfortable. Here is the Fry-Poehler opening monologue:

Tina’s very first line, calling everyone in the audience a bunch of “minimally talented brats” signaled a critique of Hollywood culture and production. The line about Joaquin Phoenix calling award shows a bunch of bullsh*t and then the well timed, “Oh, hi, Joaquin!” was a direct calling out of his hypocrisy (and pointed at a performer who once pretended to not care about Hollywood anymore, all for the publicity). From here they made a segue way into the North Korea threats around The Interview which would form the frame of a running joke in the form of Margaret Cho as a North Korean dictator and culture aficionado. From the mention of North Korea there were more jabs at the film and fellow actors that looked at first like the usual stuff of celebrity roasts: Read More…

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