Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Last night was the Yes! I'm a Feminist party.  It exceeded our most hopeful expectations.  The event space was completely packed with people, all of whom seemed to be having a great time.  Quentin Baxter played, and he was phenomenal.  Gullah Cuisine and Sugar provided food, and we had enough alcohol there that every person could have taken a bottle of wine.  People were happily wearing their Yes! I'm a Feminist pins and shirts.  Quite the party, thanks to the Women's and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board and all the hosts who made it happen.

And now on to the truly important stuff (or, at least, the stuff I can talk about only here):  how I looked. I'm someone who hasn't worn make up since junior high.  I don't really ever do anything to my hair, other than tie it back in increasingly impatient styles that keep it out of my face as it gets dirtier and dirtier.  I'm not fashionable.  Drisana--a very generous make up artist who's also majoring in WGS--scheduled me for a hair style, and she did my make up for the party.  I also had a host of people assisting me with my clothing.  Making me fabulous was a group effort.

Here's me looking very much like my typical self:
This is a work outfit. Please notice the jeans (but also a button-up shirt!  Professional!).  It's the "before" shot.

Drisana and the stylist decided I needed a blow out.  This sounds like a huge event--"Omigod, it's going to be a blow out!"--but it means that someone is going to take a million years blowing dry your hair, while pulling it out with a brush.  Here's the blow out in progress:

The WGS Advisory Board members seemed to find my straight hair a little startling--they said they actually had a hard time finding me in the event space because they kept looking for my mass of curly hair.

Then Drisana did my make up.  She is talented--it was really interesting watching her work.  She never put just one color onto me--she'd squeeze something from one tube onto her hand, then squeeze something from another tube, and mix them together with a paintbrush before painting my lips or my eyes.  She had an enormous box full of powders, creams, tubes, brushes, sponges.  And she was quick!  Here's what I looked like--the after shot (with Drisana):

And here I am with the whole party outfit on:

Pretty fabulous, right?  I was also wearing two-inch heels, so I was impressively tall.  One of my former students said, "It's like Alison in drag!"  And that's truly what it felt like:  I felt like I was performing femininity in a very intentional way.  Like a stage act.

It was great fun, but it's not going to become a regular part of how I present myself to the world.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Motherhood and high stakes

One of the fun things I get to do in the next few weeks (actually, probably days...I think the deadline is soon...) is write a foreword to the book Mothering and Literacies, edited by Linda Shuford Evans and my childhood friend and now motherhood scholar Amanda Richey.

Can we take a moment here to acknowledge how weird and cool it is that Amanda and I, growing up in little bitty Cookeville, TN, both became feminist scholars with an interest in parenting?  We've crossed paths over the years at the National Women's Studies Association conferences, and she invited me to write the foreword to her forthcoming book.

I'm really enjoying reading the book.  The collection of essays addresses a lot of diverse things about being a mother.  One of the things that's really striking me this morning is how many of the essays address the expectations our culture has for mothers--and mothers in particular, even though the rhetoric is often the gender-neutral "parents."  The expectations are high.  It doesn't really matter what your life looks like--the idea is that you'll read to your child, stimulate your child's mind, make every moment of every day a learning moment.

I feel these pressures.  I've been feeling them in a particular way over the last ten days, when Maybelle's been sick.  If she's awake, she's wanting to do what we got to do in my childhood when we were sick:  lie on the couch and watch TV.  "Watch-a fee-fee," she'll say.  "Watch Homa" (Oklahoma--actually quite good) or "Watch Super Man" (Music Man--also quite good, except she only wants to watch the second half of "Marion the Librarian" and "The Wells Fargo Wagon") or "Watch Shosheph" (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat--as bad as the version of Peter Pan she has, and she loves it).

She's either sleeping, or we're snuggling, or she's watching fee-fee.  I'm not offering her any intellectual stimulation.  Part of this is because she's tired, and part is because I'm attempting to keep up with a full time job while staying home with a sick child.  But really, Mothering and Literacies discusses the way that most mothers are encouraged to feel guilty and insufficient for the efforts they're putting forth--efforts that probably aren't quite enough.

In the introduction, Amanda shares, "When I was a doctoral student in literacy and exceptional learning and a mother of babies, I often found myself in a dissonant journey of going straight from a discussion of empirical research about family literacy (i.e. the importance of reading to children from birth) in a night class, to my home where inconsolable babies were clamoring to nurse. I would then read a board book for the requisite 20 minutes through red, blurred eyes. Yet I did it! And now, we all love reading together. So I was a good mother, right? Right?!"

Another author, Jill Bryant, articulates the same anxiety: “The unexpected pressure of being a parent and feeling responsible for the growth and development of my own child made the stakes seem much higher."

The book is quite encouraging:  it's not a book that's encouraging me, as a reader, to feel guiltier--to try harder--to pull out the white board this morning and get my daughter to read a few words.  Instead, it's a book that's inviting me to be skeptical of the expectations that surround me, and to recognize that much of what I'm already--even automatically--doing with Maybelle is encouraging her to learn, to be "literate," to be a thoughtful and happy member of her community.

And obviously, it's important for any four year old to be able to sing all the lyrics to "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sick Maybelle and the work/life balance

This shit is hard.

We are very, very fortunate that Maybelle has been a robustly healthy child.  Probably sort of unbelievably healthy.  She almost never gets sick.  That has changed in the last seven days.  Last Thursday she got sent home from school because of a fever.  In the two times I've taken her to the pediatrician, I've been reassured that nothing dangerous is happening, and that's been useful, because there have been many moments I've thought, "Is now when I'm supposed to call 911?"

I've felt explicitly unqualified to be a parent.  The experimental nature of this whole parenting project has been quite clear to me.  Friends with kids have been constant resources during this time.

Some things I've learned:

  • Maybelle being in pain is awful.  It's awful, and I know that all she has is a nasty--but not at all dangerous--virus of some sort (although at 4am that virus sometimes, in my mind, becomes the not-yet-discovered leukemia).
  • Sleeping is better that crying in pain, but it, too, can be very freaky for me.  She fell asleep Monday at 5:30pm and didn't get out of bed again until Wednesday morning.  She woke up periodically to take Advil and to drink from her sippy cup, but then she went right back to sleep.
  • Advil is a miracle drug.  I want to write the company a letter.  It eases her breathing, brings her skin down from the flaming heat it has otherwise, allows her to relax.  Her pediatrician gave me the go-ahead to keep using it:  it's isn't making her heal any faster, but it's making her comfortable, and there's nothing wrong with that.
  • The Target no-drip sippy cup is also a kind of miracle.  She's been sleeping with it clasped in her arms.  She can drink without sitting up.
  • This is all much less complicated for me because she's an only child. When she wants to lie in the bed "snuggling" (which we're doing right now--it means she's mostly, although not completely, asleep, and my body is pressed against hers while I'm reading or typing on the computer), we can do it.  If child #2 were wandering around the house, this wouldn't be possible.
I've also been getting good practice in prioritizing work responsibilities.  I've gotten all the major things done this week, but because of limited available childcare (and let's face it, limited financial resources to pay for childcare that's over and above what we're paying for her preschool), I've had to reschedule meetings, rush in late to meetings, start class late, advise students over email rather than in person, and be less prepared for lots of things than I'd like to be.  So far that's working out, but it's challenging.

There's a larger political point that I could make here, one about the fact that everybody has a job and a life, that all of us are trying to manage this balance and we need more structures in place to support us in doing so.  But right now I don't have it in me.  I'm worn out.

Update:  I'm canceling a sort of important meeting to take her back to the pediatrician today.  In writing this post I discovered that I am actually more worried than I was allowing myself to realize.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The good, the REALLY good, and stuff related to fashion

The good:  I'm having an article published in this spring's issue of the journal Feminist Studies.  They're having a special issue on reproductive rights, and my piece, called "The Inadequacy of 'Choice':  Disability and What's Wrong with Feminist Framings of Reproduction," is apparently a good fit.  In the piece I use some of my interviews with parents of kids with Down syndrome to talk about the way that we make reproductive decisions--that the term "choice" doesn't begin to encompass the complexity of these sorts of decisions, particularly when prenatal testing is added into the mix.

The REALLY good:  This week I got a contract from NYU Press, which is going to publish my book, A Choice with No Story:  What Prenatal Testing and Down Syndrome Reveal about our Reproductive Decision-Making.*


This is the book I've been working on for eighteen months (and will continue working on for another nine months, probably), the book for which I'm interviewing parents of kids with Down syndrome, women who've terminated their pregnancies because the fetus was identified as having Down syndrome, and healthcare professionals.  I'm just thrilled that NYU Press is publishing it.  For one thing, they have an impressive list of books on disability studies.  For another thing, they do a great job with books that have crossover potential--smart academic books that thoughtful mainstream readers might like, too.  And more importantly, I get to work with Ilene Kalish, who edited Girl Zines and is in large part responsible for what's good about that book.  She is amazing.

More about that in the coming months, for sure.

Stuff related to fashion:  This isn't really bad news.  But it continues to complicate my already complicated fashion life.  I got an email from the Gap today happily informing me that my new black pants, 12L, with their exciting 36" inseam, will be arriving...Feb. 28.  Two days after the Yes! I'm a Feminist event that I bought them for.  So you know what this means?  It means I'll be wearing my old, old, familiar gray pants to the party.  I don't know for sure, but there's a chance I wore these very pants at my CofC job interview eight years ago.  They don't have any holes yet, and they still fit (remarkably--Old Navy uses spandex, folks!), so they're coming to the party.

I will also probably be wearing the beautiful silk shirt Claire loaned me.  The same shirt, in fact, that I wore to Bion and Gayley's wedding two summers ago.  Along with those gray pants.  So at the Yes! I'm a Feminist party, I will look exactly like I looked at their wedding reception:

Alright, then, that may not be such bad news after all.

*Remember what I said earlier about how bad I am with naming?  The title for this book is currently 17 words long.  That's too long, friends.  I'm going to need something a bit more concise and punchy.  Thank you, though, to fabulous scholar Rachel Adams for the essay that coined the phrase "a choice with no story"--I have no complaints about that part of the title.

Friday, February 15, 2013

No fashion sense

We're having a big Women's and Gender Studies event at the end of this month.  The WGS Community Advisory Board is hosting our first annual Yes! I'm a Feminist event--a huge party and already a very successful fundraiser with tons of amazing people coming.  I can't wait!

Because I'm the director of WGS, I'm going to have to look like a respectable adult at this event.  In fact, I'll need to look like more than a respectable adult--I'll need to look a tiny bit upscale.  And "a tiny bit upscale" means HUGE overhaul for my fashion.

Normally I wear jeans and some sort of shirt to school.  Often the shirt buttons up. Sometimes it's a tshirt with a logo that's vaguely appropriate to my job (i.e. Princess Leia).  I very often wear Chacos or Birkenstocks.  If need be, I dress up by wearing chinos and one of two pairs of professional shoes I've owned for the last decade.  In fact, both pairs of shoes I wear to conferences and public presentations are shoes I wore to my job interview at CofC.  I've been here eight years.

Obviously, my work clothes aren't right for this party.  How I'm going to look at the Yes! I'm a Feminist party has become a bit of a public cause.  One of our WGS majors is a renowned make up artist, and she's going to do my make up for the event.  One of her colleagues is doing my hair.  Let's all ask ourselves:  have we ever seen Alison in make up?  If you didn't know me in high school, then the answer is no.  I mean, really NO.  I'm a tiny bit concerned that I'm going to become a Barbie head, but it also sounds kind of fun, so I'm agreeing to their very generous offer.

So, what clothes am I going to wear?  Obviously black dress pants.  I felt confident in that decision.  But what shoes?  My black professional shoes have really begun to show their age.  Even I'm noticing it.  So I went on Zappo's today and ordered some new black shoes.  Here they are:

I showed this picture to a WGS major and a WGS alum today, and I was told that they're "fine."  Not cute, not nice, not stylish--but fine.  When I asked for more information, the WGS major said, "They look just like your old shoes."  Which is true--that's why I liked them!  She continued, "They look really early 2000s."  Again, probably why I liked them.

I'm baffled by fashion.  On the whole, that's the best way to put it.  I don't necessarily even have opinions--the whole enterprise just confuses me.  The alum showed me some shoes she might buy:

I'm not opposed to those shoes. I just don't understand them. So, they're cute apparently, but I have no means of assessing them.  I suspect I'd look ridiculous in them--but maybe I'm going to look ridiculous in the other ones.

I've made very little space in my world for fashion.  I want my pants to be long enough.  I want plenty of Star Wars shirts that don't cling too tightly.  I want clothes that can be washed if somebody wipes her nose on the sleeve (not me--I usually wipe my own nose in a more appropriate manner).  I like clothes that are fairly androgynous (button up shirts and chinos, for instance).

What I realized in talking with the alum and the student is that I'm not interested in looking cute (or "sooooo cute!" as Maybelle says about her own fashion).  I'm not interested in having an identifiable style.  I'm interested in looking appropriate.  And by appropriate I mean, I want my clothes to be unnoticeable.  I don't want them to stand out, because really, we've got other things to focus on.

So, as it turns out, "fine" is actually the ideal descriptor of my clothing.

This doesn't really help me determine what slightly upscale shirt I'm going to wear with my Barbie hair and make up and my 2000s-era shoes, but it's always nice to have a personal insight, even about something like fashion.

Monday, February 11, 2013


I spent a small part of this morning as Bitchmother.  Fortunately, I have a friend (who shall remain nameless because I haven't asked her permission) and Ayun Halliday (who shall be named because she's published about this) who have told me that Bitchmother is an inevitable occurrence from time to time.  (Okay, now I've published a page from The East Village Inky without permission, so all of you please scurry over to this site and buy some fabulous stuff from Ayun.)

But back to my point:  this morning Maybelle broke a bowl.  I think it was mostly an accident, although I think it was also sort of an experiment.  Yes, if you toss it, it breaks.  And it was glass, so it broke into lots of little dangerous pieces.  This happened while I'd ingested only half a cup of coffee, and after a night in which I'd had a bunch of nightmares about things like:

  • We have no yogurt! (We actually have plenty of yogurt, because we went to the store on Saturday.)
  • We have no coffee!  (We are running a bit low, so that's frightening, but we still have some.)
  • You've forgotten something crucial that has to be done at an important meeting!  (Always possible.)
And then I went to get the broom, which had disappeared, so what I had to sweep the glass up with was Maybelle's broom--and it's about two feet tall.  This is when Bitchmother emerged.  Maybelle was sort of fascinated with the sweeping.

"You have to get out of the kitchen," I said, still mostly calmly.  "There's glass on the floor, and it could hurt your feet."

She didn't move.  I said, "Maybelle, get out.  Get out!"

Still no moving.  My fangs were emerging, and I started treating her like Gabe, the dog.  "Bye bye, Maybelle!  Bye bye!"  This is what we say to the dog to make him go away.  It actually works for him.  Not so well with Maybelle.     

I then pushed her out of the room, saying, "Bye bye!  Go away!  Go away!  Mama is really irritated!"

This is the point at which her tears started welling up.  And I swept up all the glass before I comforted her.  Bitchmother.  I'm glad I have role models to assure me that this behavior isn't going to cause too much damage.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Groceries and the bike basket

Through careful scientific experimentation, I have discovered that this quantity of groceries is too much for the bike basket:

--Three boxes of cereal (two Cheerios, one Golden Grahams)
--A dozen eggs
--One gallon of cow milk
--1/2 gallon of soy milk
--Peanut butter (Jif, of course)
--Eight containers of Chobani yogurt (enough for maybe three days)
--A tube of cinnamon rolls
--A family pack of Nutrigrain Eggos (gesture toward health there)
--A bag of clementines

Too much.  Fortunately, we only live four blocks from the grocery store, so we made it home.  But it was tricky.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A first

Snuggle bugTonight Maybelle got indignant because I was laughing. I was laughing out of enjoyment, I promised her--not at her, but because she was making me happy.  But she said, "Mama laughing, stop it!"

I was laughing because her current favorite song is the Squeeze's "Black Coffee in Bed," and as we were leaving Claire and Larry's house, she was casually singing it:  "Black black black coffee in bed."  It's rare that a four year old is singing that song, and it's pretty adorable.  But I am no longer allowed to laugh at her while she sings it.  Which is going to be difficult.

I thought it was very cool that she noticed I was laughing in response to her, took offense at that, and communicated her offense.  As far as I know, that's a first for her!  Claire said to prepare for more of that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alison in the City Paper

It's a big week for me--new blog, and a new article in Charleston's City Paper:

"We must encourage women to be more assertive in the workplace" (although maybe the title should have been "we must encourage bosses in the workplace not to be sexist assholes.")

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rock on, Big A

Welcome to my new blog. Baxter Sez is being retired. It’s a site that’s still going to have all our popular former posts—like "Hairy-legged feminist, "Reasons why feminism is a good prerequisite for having a child with Down syndrome," and of course the series of blog posts around Biffle’s MFA thesis and Alison’s brain tumor. You can visit, but the new stuff will all be here.

Let me give a public thanks to all my friends who helped to dream up titles for this blog. Options included “Warm tap water,” “Up with Pieple,” “AMP it up” (my middle initial is M), and “Rock On, Big A.” I received a few complaints from blog-title-composers that perhaps I was being a bit too picky--but a blog title is very important to me!  So a special thanks goes to Kenneth Burns, who offered up “Every little thing.” Given that this blog is a space where I’ll be sharing whatever random crap it is that I want to share, this title seemed perfect (and refers to songs by the Beatles and the Police).

I'm not finished with all the set up I'll be doing--this is a work in progress.