Living naturally, most of the time.

Activist, educator, mother: spin the dial

What words would you use to describe yourself? How do those words change when you become a parent? What do your choices look like with the glasses of parenthood on? This week I felt like some of my many identities came together outside the Federal Triangle Metro station at the Moms Clean Air Force-organized rally for support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. A little history of how I got here: I first came to DC from Michigan after college graduation in 1995 as an intern for The Feminist Majority Foundation. After having done an earlier internship teaching elementary children at a place called The Environmental Schools on the southern coast of Maine, I was all about making a difference. The two internships were totally different in many ways, but in both places, I learned a lot — from people, from experiences and from many mistakes — before moving on to the next thing. In 1997, that next thing was grad school in English and women’s studies, where much of my work was about intersectionality and social justice. My final paper for my women’s studies M.A. looked at how students in a high school English class conceived of the idea of “diversity.” Then I came back to the DC area to teach high school in one of the most diverse schools (if that makes any sense) you could imagine, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. Despite lots of teaching experience, I flailed that first year. Later, even though I won teaching awards twice and co-chaired a committee on diversity in the AP and honors program whose report actually led to some positive change, I was never successful enough at establishing the boundaries I needed to care about my students and do right by them while also protecting my own health and well-being. Their problems were too big, and I felt challenged by the limits I faced in solving them. My body was breaking down, and I knew I was not long for the teaching world. What I needed was to retreat from so much outward energy and just work for myself, and on myself. It seemed the only way I might ever be able to start a family. I planned to give teaching one more year while I figured out my next step. As it happened, just a few days after that penultimate school year ended, I managed to get pregnant after all. Then motherhood was the next thing. And then getting my health back after a...

View from a purple state

This election business poses a challenge for me.  Everyone is talking on Facebook about their hopes and fears, but, when I’m standing in my kitchen talking to my 6-year-old, I don’t want to talk too much about politics. My son just doesn’t need too much of the world on his shoulders. I wonder what truly Waldorf parents do or say (as opposed to watered down, public-school me). Do they discuss the merits of their candidate, the downfalls of the other? You don’t have to be watching TV to know there is an election going on. I guess we could have lived in the woods for the past two months; how else can you avoid it? I do care, and I want him to know I care. I was moved to tears when we went to Inauguration festivities eight years ago.  There is a lot at stake for things that matter to me. But when my son says things like, “I sure hope Obama wins,” I feel less proud than I might have expected and more like he’s just a parrot. When he sees the neighbor’s yard sign and points out that they are voting for Romney, all I do is say, “Looks like it.” Yes, this election is a big deal, and yes, I care about the issues at stake. I do want my son to grow up sharing my values because, well, I value my values! But I think I care more that he grows up understanding that people do not always agree. Heck, it’s one of the reasons I have him in public school, so that he can be around people from many cultures who speak many languages at home and experience their lives in many different ways. We have been gifted with such generous friends, family and neighbors of different political and religious beliefs. At this time of year, do I highlight – dare I even say celebrate – the fact that people make different decisions on election day so that my son understands there is no right/wrong, good/bad? I look forward to him getting old enough to engage in ideas. This is why I taught high school and college. I don’t know how to talk to little kids. As I sit in front of the TV listening to talking heads, here is the best I can do for a poem tonight, with a phone photo from my departure from the polls tonight. Voting Line The girl and boy behind us did not have scooters like...

Putting a public face on “holistic”

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. *** Before I was interviewed by CNN about High Fructose Corn Syrup last year, I fretted about how to present my case in a way that would inform without preaching. I didn’t want to turn off parents who would sooner dismiss me as one of those crazy health-freak moms than hear out my concerns. I once posted about a condiment-making class on a mainstream moms club email list and found out later that one of the moms had had a fit over the teacher’s language promoting the class: “If you love them, make the ketchup!” She felt criticized and judged. So I wanted to take a stand that I was comfortable with as a “real food” advocate but not judge people who haven’t followed the same path and come to the same place. Sure, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want all parents to read labels and stop buying food with HFCS. I honestly believe we would all be healthier without this industrial food product in our bodies. But as I’ve learned many times (often the hard way), few people are swayed by someone else’s hardline position or “my-way-or-the-highway” tack. So I tried then, as I usually do when talking with people or sending email responses to more mainstream lists, to simply come from a place of personal experience. I have a better shot at reaching open minds if I share my own gratitude for figuring out how gluten (and vegetarianism) were problematic for my body and how turning to a traditional diet helped me heal (and get pregnant) than if I simply complain or preach. Everyone is different, and a how-to discussion might not resonate. But tales of triumph often do. I have shared a lot of my stories in person and online — here and on email discussion lists. In encountering moms of all stripes, I’ve heard more than once something to the effect of “you should be some kind of health counselor with all you know!” It was nice to hear thanks and often — sometimes months, sometimes years later — I’ve heard back from people how something I shared started them...

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