Why #MeToo Matters

I attended an out-of-town conference earlier in the week. The conference hotel was a little too pricey, so I booked a well-reviewed Airbnb within walking distance. My host was wonderfully communicative, and the location was great, and while the building was a little shabby, the apartment was very comfortable. I left a positive review when I got home.

But I also emailed the host because of an experience I had with one of the building’s tenants.

One night, coming back from dinner, I took the elevator up to the 6th floor, where I was staying. The elevator stopped at the 5th floor to let another woman off. A man was waiting to take the elevator down, and greeted the woman warmly – they seemed to know each other – before spotting me and giving me a once over. He stepped into the doorway of the elevator – preventing it from going up or down – and proceeded to introduce himself and hit on me while the woman in the hallway called for him to leave me alone.

Eventually he stepped into the elevator and rode up a floor with me, asking me if I was alone, how could I be alone, was I was married, why I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He told me he was a decent man. I couldn’t get off the elevator fast enough, hurrying down the hall to the apartment as he called after me, hoping that he wasn’t going to follow me. I shut the door and locked both locks. I assume he got back on the elevator as I didn’t see or hear him again.

Once I was safely inside the apartment, I tried to brush it off. I chatted with my partner before bed. I took the stairs in the morning. I didn’t mention it to the host as we emailed back and forth about my departure. I didn’t mention it when I got home.

And I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it if it weren’t for #MeToo and the ongoing coverage of all of the men who have abused their power to harass and hurt.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I felt that my immediate response had been to brush it off, to minimize it, to try to believe the man’s assertion that he was a decent man. To tell myself that it was no big deal when in other circumstances, it could have been a very, very big deal. To normalize another experience where a man’s needs or desires were allowed to impinge upon my privacy, my personal space, or my safety.

I hate that it takes even one victim sharing their story to get us to take this stuff seriously. It shouldn’t be necessary. We should believe women. But we don’t, and so the harassing and hurtful behavior is normalized. And because we don’t believe women, women don’t tell their stories. And because women don’t tell their stories, the harassing and hurtful behavior has no consequences.

So I’m telling this story.

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Five minutes of appreciation

1. I am the current chair of a local professional development group, and it has been an absolute pleasure. We’ve just wrapped up a search for new members of our steering committee, and at every step, my colleagues on the committee have proved themselves to be thoughtful, generous, and engaged. I don’t know how I happened into such a wonderful bunch of colleagues, but Library UX Chicago, you guys are the absolute best.

2. My Brain Pickings book club is also the best. We met today to discuss our most recent book, but were interrupted in the middle of a really personal conversation about how reading about death has informed the ways we are choosing to live our lives right now. It takes vulnerability and openness to return to that conversation and go even deeper. I am so grateful for these friends – long-time and new-to-me – and our ongoing engagement with books and each other.

3. I am also extremely grateful for a number of thoughtful colleagues (local and distributed) who regularly challenge and support me in all facets of my life. Whether it’s texting about data points during a meeting or inviting me to a running group or sharing very personal beliefs or talking about why goat pupils are unsettling or just bringing donuts – I can’t believe how lucky I am to be surrounded by such fantastic people. If you’re wondering if I’m talking about you, I probably am. Thank YOU for the gift of you.

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For all the times my friends and I signaled to each other that a dude was getting too close in a club, that we needed help at a party or an out in a bar.

For the necessity of the late night check in to make sure that everyone made it home safe and with the right people (or without the wrong ones). For the mornings after, making sure that everyone was still OK with the previous night’s happenings (because it’s OK to not be OK, even if you thought you were in the moment).

For all of the unwanted comments about my body in all kinds of situations. For having to harden up and play deaf in order to run in my neighborhood in the clothing in which I felt comfortable.

For the unwanted exposure. For the furtive grope. Both addressed in strong enough terms that they never happened again.

For all the sex I had, in relationships and out of them, where I didn’t want to go along with it but didn’t know how to get out of it.

For the med student who didn’t do anything inappropriate, but whose specific phrasing made me want to stop doing the best job I’ve ever had. I went home and cried in a very hot bath and emailed my boss because our job was primarily to teach the students technique and secondarily how to treat patients with respect and compassion, and this one did well at the former but not the latter.

For every single fucking comment that has ever been made about my breasts. Yes, I have them. Yes, they are big, or at least they were. They serve a purpose. Right now, that’s feeding my child. Feeding my child is not about you or my breasts or my body. It’s about feeding my child.

For the relationships in which my body and my sexuality were treated as performative and property. Where I felt I had to be a specific kind of physical and sexual creature to be valued. And for the harm that caused to people I care about.

For the jerks driving by on Western Ave when my heart was full after a late night walk with someone new. My skirt may have been short, but that’s no excuse for honking and hollering. My body is not for you.

For having spent years clawing back my self image and hating to feel like covering up was necessary. Fuck you for making me feel like I am worth anything less than I am because my body is or isn’t what you think it should be.

Listen to women when they tell you these stories. Believe them. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem.

Ends and Beginnings

Out of nowhere, the three year old has abruptly started losing interest in nursing. I knew this would happen eventually – and he is right on track  – but he’s been so committed to it for so long that it was easy to forget that it would actually happen.

We night-weaned back in June. I went away for a few days, and when I came back, we decided that the night time nursing was done. It wasn’t hard. We were all ready. We get better sleep. It’s the best. Should we have done it earlier? Probably, but there were always excuses. I can’t regret what felt like a good choice, even if it wasn’t the best choice.

I’ve talked to lots of friends as their kids weaned. They talked about losing interest, getting distracted, nursing for short periods of time – or of just being done one day, with no warning. I knew materially what to expect, but I didn’t know what it would feel like, not really.

Three years and one month is a very long time. I feel extremely fortunate. So many friends have had a hard time of it, needed to stop before they wanted to, struggled with the realization that it just wasn’t going to work. It hasn’t always been easy, but compared to many, it has been effortless.

There have been windows of time when I felt like I was ready to be done, where the physical contact was just too much, where my nipples hurt, where I was just over being pawed at all the time. But there have never been windows of time when it felt like he was ready to be done – not until now, when there are as many nights that he doesn’t want milk as there are nights when he does, when I’ll ask and he’ll say “no, stories!” and snuggle up with his papa, leaving me to sit on the couch sort of blankly staring at my phone instead of holding my kid close.

He’s three. I knew this was coming. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a little wrecked by it.

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Here and there

There are a number of things I want to write about here. I should really keep a list in my Get To Work Book rather than leaving all of the tabs open in my browser so that I remember whatever it is whenever I have time to get to writing about it.

A few years ago, I tried to get myself to write more regularly by setting an intention: I would set a timer on my phone for five minutes and just write. Editing could come later. The important thing was starting. That is what I’m doing right now. We’ll see how well it works this time around.

Last week I started a mindfulness class. It’s actually intended for students, but no one objected when I registered, or when I RSVP’d with my clearly-not-a-student signature, so even though I feel conspicuous in the space, those feelings are all on me. We closed our eyes and the instructor led us through a mindfulness exercise. We learned to belly breathe – familiar from voice lessons decades ago – as well as a technique whose real name I can’t remember because the instructor made us laugh by calling it chaos breathing. She had us turn and face the wall so that we didn’t laugh at ourselves or others as we bounced up and down, flapping our arms like chickens. She closed the class with a guided meditation, breathing our breath into our feet, feeling them heavy against the floor. I had the sensation of my distractions unfurling like a coiled ribbon, then gathering back in on themselves. I needed this.

These days I am thinking about emotional labor, and minimalism, and why we don’t listen to women. I’ll talk about all of these things later. I promise.

L at Three

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  1. I have to stop referring to him as “the toddler” since he clearly isn’t a toddler anymore. “The preschooler” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, especially since he’s not going to preschool. “The three year old” may just have to do.
  2. He loves dragons. And dinosaurs. And looking for Komodo dragons (“Komo drai”) in the forest. (Note that any arrangement of two or more trees constitutes a forest.) And peeking into holes in trees to look for a baby dragon’s nest. And reading books about dragons. And seeing dinosaurs and dragons at the zoo. And correcting us about dinosaur names. (There are soooooo many dinosaurs.)
  3. He is crazy good at jigsaw puzzles. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given his laser focus on his pattern blocks earlier in the year – he would literally spend the entire day precisely placing the blocks on the patterns or making patterns of his own – but at 3, he is doing puzzles that are supposed to be for kids aged 6+.
  4. He can consistently identify upper case letters and most lower case letters, though he gets turned around by the lowercase magnets for b/d, u/n, d/a, and h/n, all of which are pretty understandable. He likes to sing a version of the ABC song. He can also count to ten, thanks to a lot of practice with a homemade acorn game.
  5. He is absolutely spoiled with educational riches in our neighborhood and our city. They go to storytime at the Museum of Science and Industry (“robot museum”) and at the wonderful 57th Street Books (“bookstore”) every week. The staff at the Oriental Institute know him by name (and he knows about pharaohs, ankhs, and the lamassu). They regularly go to the Field (“dinosaur museum”) and the Shedd, and we like to make a weekend afternoon of a visit to the Nature Museum and North Pond, especially on Cold Blooded Weekends, when he can hold snakes and dragons on his lap thanks to the Chicago Herpetological Society.
  6. Our long national nightmare of broken sleep seems to finally have resolved itself, in part thanks to night weaning back in June. Naps remain a moving target – sometimes he naps, and sometimes he doesn’t, and sometimes that’s fine, and sometimes it’s terrible.
  7. His language and conversation skills have absolutely exploded. It’s wonderful and funny and also exhausting because now that he can actually communicate well, he never stops talking. When he notices us laughing at something he’s said, he will repeat it again (and again, and again) for even more laughs. He was absolutely delighted by us singing Happy Birthday to him, and has been singing it to himself at random moments for the last week.
  8. He has started to test boundaries and assert his will. Sometimes it’s funny:
    – I asked if he wanted to nurse before bed. He said “LISTEN! Numbers first.”
    – I was seasoning my food with soy sauce. He asked for “more sauce?” I pretended to season his food. He said “No! Lid off!” Busted!
    But a lot of times it isn’t:
    – He wants his independence while walking, but doesn’t always listen when approaching crosswalks. Or he will want to hold hands, but then go absolutely limp, making us stop multiple times in a block.
    – We took a little vacation for his birthday. He screamed and kicked in the car for an hour straight. We had multiple sidewalk conversations about how he needed to be quiet (or at least not screaming) and listen (because we were in a strange place) and not hurt people (no kicking, no hitting, no jerking on arms). And then he would do it all again, and then I would stop and talk to him again. “Do you remember what we talked about?” “Quiet, listen.” “What else?” “Don’t hurt Papa.” “OK, can we try again?” Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until everyone is exhausted and in need of a pintje.
  9. He loves tofu and overnight oats and raisins and fruit and bread and tiny amounts of decaf coffee in a demitasse cup. He loves helping in the kitchen, and I’m learning to slow down and delegate tasks that are safe for small hands. We’ve done a little baking together recently – plum cake when plums appeared in our $1 bag from Open Produce, a banana cake for his birthday, topped with vegan dark chocolate ganache and rainbow sprinkles.
  10. He thrives in nature. He loves playgrounds, but he especially loves just playing outdoors – whether it’s walking his little wooden dog or collecting acorns for chipmunks (“make a little burrow” or foraging at the Garden of the Phoenix (“Japanese garden”, “See the waterfall?”). A summer full of outdoor play has made him healthy, adventurous, and strong.

So that’s three, or parts of it: delightful and exhausting, frustrating and hilarious. We’re constantly grateful and humbled by the work of parenting and the great gift of this little weirdo.

The last few months in food

While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:

The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.

Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco – Minimalist Baker
This romesco will blow the socks off your Taco Tuesday. This recipe requires relatively little effort unless you are like me and think that making tortillas from scratch is a reasonable thing to do on a weeknight with a broken finger.

Quinoa Cauliflower Tabbouleh – In Pursuit of More
Oh hello, another grain salad obsession. The combination of herbs, fruit, nuts, and a citrusy dressing is perfect for summer.

Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.

Spring Cabbage Wraps with Couscous, Za’atar, and Spicy Tahini Dressing – My New Roots
The toddler likes saying “couscous”. I like that this took about 20 minutes to put together WITH the toddler from start to finish, including making the couscous, the spice mix, and the dressing. The red cabbage we used was a little too tough, but otherwise, this was a winner.

Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff.  This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.

Fairy Tale Eggplant and Mozzarella Pizza with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Summer Squash – Blue Apron
We had two really solid pizzas in our Blue Apron boxes this summer. The flavor of this eggplant was really superb. This pizza was also nice.

Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad – My New Roots
One of many solid picnic dishes from this summer, especially with in season Midwest corn.

Watermelon Fattoush – Blue Apron
Another great picnic dish, though unfortunately this yielded a ton but didn’t keep all that well.

Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.

Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.

Summer Tian with Chermoula – Harvest & Honey
While I didn’t make exactly this, I made something extremely similar to this, and while it was gorgeous, it was also hard to serve.

Sweet & Savory Korean Rice Cakes – Blue Apron
This was interesting! I didn’t know what to expect from the Korean rice cakes, so it was a nice opportunity to try an ingredient we never would have worked with on our own.

Cod & Tomatillo Salsa with Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Hash – Blue Apron
While we eat fish, we rarely buy it, so this was a nice treat – an easy fish dish complemented by a really nice vegetable hash. N doesn’t tend to like sweet potatoes, but he liked these!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Gai Lan, Mushrooms, & Ginger Lime Peanuts – Blue Apron
A nice stir fry, but nothing to write home about. This dish sort of exemplifies my dissatisfaction with Blue Apron – the meals are generally good, but definitely not worth the $10 per-portion cost.

Blueberry Cardamom Chia Pudding – My New Roots
This was nice, but the volume did not work with our Vitamix. Alas.

Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.