Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Food Deserts, Car Deserts, and City Life

My little kitchen helper:

Several researchers have released new studies suggesting that current concepts of the urban food desert may be inaccurate.  One of the Times reporters said that technically her town of Princeton, NJ would be considered a food desert.  These new studies seem highly quantitative, and I get the sense that the researchers do not take into consideration the matrix of factors that make it hard to get decent food in a struggling city.

From the descriptions of these studies it seems like the researchers are not considering some basic facts:

1.  Shopping on foot for enough food to feed a family sucks. (Even the great food writer M. F. K. Fisher agrees with me.  In her 1931 essay "The Measure of My Powers," she talks about how hard it was to adjust to shopping in the markets in Dijon, and how heavy a few pounds of food feels when you carry it for a distance.)

2. A mile may not seem far to travel if you are a researcher, but if you are a carless Baltimorean it’s far.

Approximately 35% of Baltimore households reported not having a car in the 2000 census (compare to the approximately 13% of households in Princeton that do not have a car) and Badger and I are among them.   

Our food options are actually pretty good for this area.  We have

Local/natural Coop about ¾ mile away (but dangerous for pedestrians, so we don’t take the baby)

Regular supermarket about 1.25 miles away (low quality fruit, veg, and meat)

Farmers’ Market, about 1.5 miles away, Saturday mornings in spring and summer

We spend a few hours each weekend procuring food and I sometimes don’t buy everything we need because I can’t carry it all.  So that’s all well and good until we need a bunch of bananas and some milk midweek. We work a tight staggered work schedule that just does not leave much time for a side trip to the store that takes a minimum of an hour.  No side trips sometimes means no fresh fruit or a pizza instead of a homemade meal.  Today it meant that Ladybug had cereal and avocado for breakfast—she liked it.  So for a family of two adults and a toddler, shopping on foot is inconvenient and involved limited choices, but it’s doable.

If we had a larger family, our present system would quickly become unworkable.  And if we worked non-standard hours, our system would be harder.  If you are a woman in the suburbs with a car and another adult in the house and you need to shop at night, I assume you can just wait until your kids are in bed and drive to the store.  Our neighborhood is safe enough that I would feel okay walking to the store at night, although I would prefer not to; however, I think that many women in Baltimore would not want to be walking miles alone at night.  Safety issues also mean that you can’t always take the most direct route to the store since sticking to the most well lit and heavily traveled streets easily adds a few blocks of walking.

It’s enough to make a lady say “Screw it, chicken boxes from the corner store for all.”

Our fridge on Thursday evening.   I guess it doesn't look that bare, but I've got some Mormon/survivalist thing going on when it comes to food storage. 

My big shop for the week.  It felt like a lot more food when I was carrying it.  We also got milk, eggs, oats, nuts, bread, and tortillas at the "natural store."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

You've come a long way baby, so why am I worried?

Ladybug was born at 29 weeks weighing 2lb 3oz.  She spent 67 days in the NICU.  She had many of the usual preemie issues: PDA, anemia, trouble gaining weight, and ROP.  She had one really bad episode where her heart rate dropped seriously and she stopped breathing and had to be revived, and she had lots of smaller episodes were we watched her turn blue.  But in the scheme of the NICU she was always considered a strong stable baby with a bright future.

Preemies are offered many additional evaluations and services, and LB participates in the Infants and Toddlers follow-up program, Early Intervention, and a NICU follow-up clinic, and she also gets physical therapy. I'm really glad that we have access to those programs, and overall I've been happy with the quality of services.

As I said in an earlier post, it is sometimes hard to watch LB hitting her milestones on the slow end of normal, even though overall we think she is doing really well.  Upon further reflection, I think part of the difficulty for me is feeling pressure to parent in a way that I don't believe in or want to parent. Almost every professional who LB has seen has sent us away with tasks to "work on." Some of those task, like the ones from our lovely PT, seem very sensible: practice walking on uneven surfaces, or let her climb the stairs as many times as she wants to.  Other tasks seem more like teaching to the test: one therapist suggested that we buy or make a pegboard and then have LB practice putting pegs in the board.  Now, I understand the concept of encouraging fine motor skills, but their are plenty of ways to do that without drilling the child in pegboard use.

Overall, I'm a fan of holistic learning and I think the things young children need to learn and grow are loving caretakers who include them in everyday life.  Badger and I also provide a language rich environment with lots of talk and books, but I'm not even convinced that that is a necessity for cognitive development.  Books and talk help with pre-literacy skills and make the transition to school easier, but as long as kids feel safe and are able to interact with the world around them, their brains can grow and develop.

But then I hear the voices of the therapists whispering in my ear, or I read online about a preemie mom who insists that a regime of daily flashcard drills is the reason that her preemie is ahead of the curve (and ahead of LB).  And I worry.

I hate the feeling that every game I play with LB is a learning exercise, that we can't simply delight in the joy of playing together.  We've tried to make our home the opposite of the harsh lights, beeping sounds, and monochromatic colors of the NICU.  I've tried to let LB lead and give her what she tells me she needs.  I want her to be her silly self without being a pushed child.  I know that her happiness and wonder is more important than putting pegs in a pegboard.  But if she would just hurry up and walk and talk that approach would feel much easier.

Ladybug at work.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's a gendered gendered world

And I guess I already knew that, so maybe the point of this story is how lucky we have been so far in mostly avoiding the princess industrial complex.  We do get plenty of pink clothes and dresses, but for the most part the girly stuff has been pretty under control (except for all those cheerleading outfits, but that is another story).

Last week, Ladybug's PT suggested getting her some more supportive shoes to see if that would help with her walking.  In our neighborhood you can buy baby soft shoes, but no other kind of kids shoes, and who knows where you can buy baby shoes in this city, so it was time for a trip to the mall.  One Zip Car later and we landed at Nordstrom's having misjudged the opening time of all the other stores.  We picked some inoffensive girly shoes and let LB try them out.  Then, avoiding all the pink monstrosities while we still can, we looked in the boys section and found some cute black and white sneakers.  I gave them to the salesperson and she became increasingly flummoxed, asking who we were getting the sneakers for and what size she should bring out.  When I told her that we would need a size 4, because we would also try these shoes on LB, she helpfully pointed back to the display of girls shoes, "But you didn't see anything you liked over there?"  I had a total 1970s flashback to the salesperson in the Buster Brown store telling my dad, "You know those are B-O-Y shoes," and my dad saying, "She can get whatever shoes she wants." I guess it never gets old.

Ladybug celebrating gender normativity.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

She's a walker (kind of)

Ladybug is now 17 months and she has been in PT for at least seven months.  PT has definitely helped, but it is still a slog for her.  She started cruising before Christmas, and she's still cruising.  The good news, according to her PT, is that LB has no major issues.  She has some minor weakness and low tone, but she is gaining strength and has no particular physical problems.  The bad news is that she will not walk.  I told Badger that LB cruises more than a gay man in the 1970s.  To facilitate the transition from cruising to walking, our amazing PT lent us this walker, which will help LB maintain a more upright position while still walking with assistance.

So that is all good, but it is still weird to see her with something that looks like piece of medical equipment, just like it was weird when her PT suggested that LB might need leg braces.  We are just hanging out in this inbetween space between a baby with problems and a baby with no problems.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's tax day, so we're lying

because the federal government tells us to.  For our family, it's not about the money.  Our tax penalty as single filers is negligible, and our finances aren't complicated enough (aka rich enough) to make separate filing burdensome, but it still irks me.  I consider myself an honest person, and that makes it really hard to check the box labelled Single, when I know that Badger and I have a marriage certificate.

It didn't help when I learned that in states with common law marriage, straight couples who publicly hold themselves out as married can legally file both state and federal as a married couple even if they have not been formally married.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why Call It Marriage?

I just started reading this blog, which I like a lot.  The author is a lesbian from a conservative Christian background.  I don’t know how she currently identifies herself, but it seems like she is still pretty religious.  I read this post

and it got me thinking, once again, about why marriage matters.  I’m a secular feminist, and if I was straight it is very likely I would not be married, so why does it matter to me that I am (gay) married and not civil unioned? 

I had always told Badger that I wouldn’t get married, so I had to get past some issues in order to feel comfortable with marriage.  The history issue is a huge one—historically marriage is an institution based on and designed to reproduce the unequal status of women, so when I think marriage I think coverture.  I also think marriage is a distinctly stupid way to distribute rights and privileges—why should marriage affect the amount a person pays in taxes, for example.  I find the consumerist aspect of modern marriage off-putting.  And of course, there’s Joni Mitchell’s classic argument that “We don’t need no piece of paper/from the city hall/to keep us tried and true.” I guess that last one is where I go so far to the left that I end up on the right sounding like a libertarian.

But, despite all that, I got married.  Mostly because I love Badger so dearly, and I was happy to tell the world.  And I got married because of the court case Flanigan v. University of Maryland Hospital

In this case a California man was visiting Maryland with his male domestic partner.  His partner became very sick and was admitted to the hospital.  Despite having evidence of their registered domestic partnership and despite the fact that the men had the correct paperwork to show that they designated each other as respective medical decision makers, the hospital claimed that “partner” did not qualify as family, and denied Flanigan access to his partner during that man’s last lucid moments. 

What this case says to me is that as long as marriage means so much to the people who hate us, it better mean something to me.  You can have all the civil unions in the world, and those civil unions can carry with them all the rights in the world, but if you show up at the hospital any person sitting behind that registration desk can deny you because they believe that only a marriage is a marriage.  Those same people see power in the word marriage.  Because it means so much to them, they are reluctant to deny the same rights that they would deny a person with a civil union.  I wish there was a way that those who don’t wish to share marriage with gay people could have their institutions, while still protecting our rights, but I think we tried that, and those same people did everything they could to make sure we would be not only separate, but unequal.

So now I have a lovely wife, a daughter conceived a month after we married, and a kitchenaid mixer—how conventional can you get?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Swag

Thankfully the Easter Bunny seems to really like secular lesbians.  Ladybug was in heaven after her first taste of Easter candy, and then Badger and I realized we had made a horrible tactical error.

This week includes a birthday, our anniversary, Easter, and opening day for baseball.  Sadly for Badger, tickets to opening day are not my idea of an awesome birthday or anniversary present.  However, we still have baseball on tv, a lovely ham, and a boatload of candy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Own Worst Enemies

Back before Ladybug, when I thought about lesbian families and custody rights I assumed that the threat to our families came from outside.  When we started doing our wills and guardianship paperwork before LB was born, the lawyer made sure to ask us if our families are hostile about our relationship (thankfully they are supportive).  During the ten days I spent in the hospital before delivering at 29 weeks, I spent some amount of time crying because I was worried that if I died we wouldn't be able to complete LB's second parent adoption and Baltimore City would whisk her off to foster care.  Badger told me that was all crazy talk, and even if the authorities challenged her right to LB, my parents would have supported her fully and they would have worked everything out together.  True enough, but it was one more stressor in an already stressful situation.

Come to find out that the usual lesbian custody battle isn't with DYS or even with homophobic relatives, but between lesbian moms.  If you look at the family law cases on the NCLR website,

they are almost all related to lesbian moms breaking up or divorcing and the gestational mom (GS) seeking to deny the non-gestational mom ) NGS access to their child.  Law scholar Julie Shapiro posted about a case in which a lesbian mom argued that the woman who was in the delivery room when she had a baby and supported and cared for that baby for years was just a babysitter and not a mom

The findings in the full opinion are depressing and infuriating (and I love JS's blog, it is so smart).

A few things seem to facilitate this mom denial

1. Homophobia clearly, and desperate GSs seeking to deny custody to a former partner sometimes turn to the worst sort of anti-gay legal organizations for support.

2. The emphasis on community respectability among gay advocates means that they only publicly address this issue in very coded language, presumably because they are concerned about providing fodder for negative stereotypes.

3. Laws and courts that do not allow us to formalize our family relationships (or make the process expensive and time consuming).

4. And personal ties of friendship and community make it very hard to call out individuals when they are behaving badly.

Thankfully, our state allows second parent adoption, so for only $1,750 and countless hours of paperwork, we can be assured that even if I lost my damn mind and try to deny her rights as a parent, the law would acknowledge Badger as the full parent that she is to LB.  I'm normally a pretty "live and let live" kind of person, but I do think that as a gay community we need to have some sort of social sanction among lesbians who deny that a former partner is a child's parent.  What a cruel thing to do, not only to a mother, but to a child.  We need to take a page from our straight sisters and remind each other that "She may be a jerk, but she's still your child's mother."