Syl

Dear Syl,

One of the universal sentiments other parents expressed to me while I was pregnant with you was how quickly you will grow up.  Of course, I knew this because I’ve watched your sister grow, but the sentiment was renewed with you.   I found out I was pregnant with you at a tapas bar in Seville on a vacation that feels recent.  My pregnancy seemed short until the end, when I was so ready to meet you.  Your birth feels like it could have been yesterday.  And already my first months with you cozied up together on the couch or reading at a cafe as you nursed feel like a chapter that began and ended with the long Michigan winter, with its short days and freezing temperatures and you constantly in my arms.

At nearly four months, you rarely get into fetal position when I pick you up — your eyes don’t squint, you don’t bring your balled-up fists to your temples and tuck your knees up and cross your feet at the ankles.  Instead, you look at me and smile and sometimes you make gutteral baby sounds that trigger all of my hormones and make me want to go back to the beginning, when I held you and fed you all day.  Now you are happy on your stomach, arching your chest to the sky and pressing your forearms into the ground and taking in all that is around you with raised eyebrows.   You are happy on your back, too, and just learned to grab your toes last weekend.  You are opening.

I recognize the privilege of witnessing you grow from concept to fetus to infant, and while I would never wish for anything but your progress, your rapid development is a reminder of how fleeting life is.

One of my very favorite children’s books by one of my very favorite children’s authors came out last year:  Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers, written to his son in the first two months of his son’s life.  I gave this book to you and your sister for Christmas.  In the book, Jeffers makes an effort to introduce his child to some basic truths about Earth, science, people.  He writes, “Things can sometimes move slowly here on Earth.  More often, though, they move quickly, so use your time well. It will be gone before you know it… Now, if you need to know anything else… just ask.  I won’t be far away. And when I’m not around… you can always ask someone else.  You’re never alone on Earth.”

Like Jeffers offering his son some wisdom (and beautiful illustrations), I am excited to give this blog and these words to you, as well as your sister, in an effort to share some things that I believe to be true.  And whether these are your truths or not, I hope you know that no matter how you grow and change and test and rebel, my love for you will always be unconditional.  Welcome to the family, fierce little lady.

Love,

Mom

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Me, too.

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Me, too. I was drugged at a fraternity party my sophomore year of college. I was in denial for a long time, because I remembered so little. But I knew the perpetrator, someone the frat brothers called “cowboy,” and I know how and when I was drugged. I know enough to know what happened.

I think about it so infrequently. But fourteen years later, mother to a young daughter (and pregnant with my second) in a country where sexual violence, a form of gender-based violence, is condoned and endemic, I find myself actively searching for ways to empower her and protect her from it. I teach my daughter the scientifically accurate names of her body parts, and only talk about her body if discussing all of the amazing things it can do. We talk about how to set boundaries and how to say “no” if she doesn’t like something. I never insinuate that she is a little boy’s girlfriend or talk about a kiss between toddlers as if it’s a sexual act. As she gets older, there will be so much more sharing and teaching and learning. My partner and I are committed to instilling her with confidence and a strong sense of self-worth.

The harrowing stories of sexual violence that have surfaced in the last week are deeply disturbing, but hardly surprising. The accounts of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s repeated sexual assaults of women in the industry spanned decades, as did the network of people who enabled and abetted his predatory acts by protecting him or looking away.  Woody Allen’s unacceptable reaction gives us such clear insight into the mentality of those who allowed this to happen.  (But this response is so, so good!)

The hashtag #MeToo went viral Monday as a demonstration of solidarity with others who have survived sexual violence and to show the prevalence of this violence. I stand in absolute solidarity with those who have posted their stories, and I have chosen to share my own.

But while I’ve participated in it, the viral campaign also misses some really important points.  First, gender-based violence is about power and is part and parcel of other systems of violence and oppression, namely, white supremacy.  As a white woman, dismantling gender-based violence means also addressing my white privilege and working to challenge the power structures that support all forms of oppression.  This piece says it well and lists many questions we should be asking men and ourselves.  Second, #MeToo as a viral campaign risks fading as quickly as it began if it is left to be simply a viral campaign without appreciation for the long-time work that has gone into building a thoughtful movement that supports survivors and challenges the systems that allow for gender-based violence.

Both the first and second points are illustrated by the way this viral campaign began:  with a white female actor encouraging others to write “me too” as a status if they had been sexually harassed or assaulted to show the magnitude of the problem.   But the campaign didn’t appreciate that, in fact, black activist Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” movement over ten years ago to empower women of color to tell their stories of survival and find solidarity.  She is the director of Girls for Gender Equity and has been doing the work and building a movement of those who face intersectional oppression.  “Me Too” must be much, much more than a hashtag to have real social impact, and white women need to check our privilege and use it to make space for those most impacted by gender-based violence.

And remedying sexual violence must be about more than empowering those who have or who are likely to be subjected to sexual violence, because sexual violence will continue without a major cultural shift in the expectations we set for our boys and men.  I can teach my daughter every defense mechanism available to her, but ultimately equipping girls and others who face sexual violence with these tools will do little if men don’t change the way they think about women, the female body, and their own power.

If men take anything from the #MeToo campaign, it should not be shock at the prevalence of sexual violence.  Instead, ask yourselves what you, personally, will do about it.  One of my white male college friends who is a strong ally to women politically and personally posted his support of those who had endured sexual violence.  He then went a step further to acknowledge ways he might have been complicit in allowing this to happen.  He then linked to a blog post written by a woman entitled, “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture.”  Indeed, often men are introduced to sexist ideas and encouraged to be hyper-masculine from a very early age.  (Parents who talk about their toddler’s “way with the ladies”: looking at you.)  What if parents, teachers, and peers encouraged and rewarded nurturance instead?  Listen to the women in your lives, believe them when they report sexual violence, and challenge yourselves and your male peers to talk and think about women as equals deserving of your respect.

Lots of women I know have posted the words “of course” when they added their voice to the #MeToo conversation. One in four girls experience sexual assault before they are 18. One in four. We have a president who bragged about sexually assaulting women, and a nation willing to vote for him despite knowing this. Pornography and its glorification of rape culture has become so mainstream, and viewing it so accepted as a rite of passage for young men. Instead of implementing inclusive sex education into school curricula, we favor abstinence-only education and place the burden on young girls to adhere to this, because, as many say (and need to stop saying), “boys will be boys.” Instead of recognizing reproductive freedom as a human right that women have to control what happens to our own bodies, we are still fighting for basic access to birth control.  We have a long way to go.

Let’s keep up our strength, support survivors, use white privilege to elevate the voices of women of color and celebrate their leadership in the movement against sexual violence, and educate our men and sons to respect women.

Goodbye, Hermione

Hermione, our family dog, will go to sleep tomorrow.

This stubborn, sweet, active dog has a personality that made all of us connect with her – she demands attention and our food, greets us with full body wags, and constantly challenges authority. This tough mutt can be gentle, too, and lets us hold her when we are upset or curls up in that perfect space between the couch and one of our bodies, often my mom, in order to connect and get in some good petting after a long day.  
Hermione was a rescue dog my mom and I found on a website in 2005, and we both knew we had to have her. This was during my senior year of college, so of course I bore none of the responsibilities of caring for a dog, but fully supported my mom’s decision to get one and my dad’s decision not to challenge my mom’s decision. Hermione was named after my sister’s character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but got lots of attention later thanks to Harry Potter’s friend. She filled my parents’ empty nest at the time, and they loved her quickly, spoiling her in part because training her was so difficult and in part because they showed her love by slipping her steak or pancakes.

For my sister and me, despite living far away, Hermione became part of what it meant to come home. My mom, a teacher, wakes up early and feeds Hermione and works while Hermione lies nearby. Sleeping at my parents means waking to this sequence of morning sound.

Until very recently, into her old age, Hermione would bound up the sand dunes behind our family cottage on Lake Michigan, her muscles straining, my dad throwing a ball down the dune over and over so she could run up and down the dune until she was completely worn out. This is when she was happiest. I love thinking of her sniffing around the porch deck as we watched the sun set over the lake, Hermione’s nails tapping against the wooden planks, briefly sticking her nose in my lap to say hi.

I appreciated Hermione even more when two years ago we introduced her to Mimi, a brand new infant at the time. She knew Mimi was mine, and as Mimi grew, Hermione tolerated all of the pinches and pulls and tumbles. She was the source of some of the greatest pleasure I’ve seen in my kid, introducing Mimi to the magical sensation of touching a furry, warm creature and having that animal respond. Hermione is why one of Mimi’s first words was “dah” and why she now squeals at the prospect of seeing Hermione. For this, I am so grateful.

Now, though, Hermione’s body has succumbed to cancer and she is thin and weak and has lost her enthusiasm for doing much of anything. She hung on just long enough for us to move to Michigan and for me to take her on walks and spend a few days, one with my sister, working from my parents’ patio while Hermione slept at my feet. I thanked her for being so good to us these last 12 years and she let me hug her and then she made eye contact with me. I’m sure she understood my meaning.

Rest in peace, sweet pup. We’ll miss you.

Some Lessons on Female Friendship

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Dear Mimi,

Mimi, it is fascinating to see how young you are and yet how capable you are of having meaningful friendships.   The way you relate to others now will be the building blocks for your future relationships.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you grow:

I’m reading a book called the H-Spot by Jill Filipovic about making female happiness a political agenda.  A few Saturdays ago I was on an early morning walk with Joanna, who told me she heard the author speak and that the book was worth picking up.  That very day Ti texted me a photo featuring a glass of wine, her feet crossed in front of her, and in the foreground, the cover of H-Spot.  I downloaded it on my Kindle that night.  Lesson One: when two smart women, who also happen to be two of your favorite people, recommend a book, read that book.  We can learn so much from each other.

Lesson Two:  Make true friends.  I remember your Grammy saying to me over and over:  make sure [name of girl I was friends with] is a “true blue” friend.  My first clear example of a strong female friendship was Anne (of Green Gables) and Diana, “kindred spirits.”  I have always looked for kindred spirits — you’ll know her when you find her.  They are the ones that let you be yourself, open up to you, and want the best for you.

Lesson Three:  Pass notes.  There are things we say, and then there is what we write.  Anyone who has ever written or received a love letter understands the power of the written word in a romantic context.  A thoughtfully written statement of love or admiration or congratulations is powerful also when directed to your friends.  Over the years I have exchanged countless handwritten letters with my second cousin, Emily.  We first met at a family reunion when we were young, and we have letters that date back to when we were in grade school.  By the time we started going to summer camp together after seventh grade, we had written volumes.  We were camp counselors together, lived together in college all four years, and she was the person I went to for advice when I became pregnant with you.

Lesson Four:  Build friendships with people who are different from yourself intellectually, racially, ethnically, spiritually, etc.  These friendships will likely require more of an effort to find, because you will have to travel outside of your normal circles.  But they will challenge you and make you better understand yourself and this very diverse world we live in.  I just heard Janet Mock’s podcast interview with Lena Dunham and thought it underscored how we can find our same values in people seemingly different from us, how imperfect we are, and how our friends can hold a mirror to us at just the right time.

Lesson Five:  Don’t be a mean girl and don’t make space in your life for mean girls.  Feminism requires that we empower ourselves and other women.  Remember that when people are mean, it’s because they are hurting.  Stand tall and make space for others to do the same.

Lesson Six:  Keep your long distance friends.  I’ve moved away from so many dear friends, and they’ve moved away from me.  But using technology to check in with them and airline miles to visit them feels intentional and special.  I’ve known Lindsey since college, and she is hands down the person I know who is best at keeping in touch — and it is a skill.  She visited me when I was living in rural Ukraine, visited another friend while she lived in Kenya, and makes an effort to call and check in regularly.  It takes more effort to see a long distance friend than it would a neighbor, but that effort can feed the friendship and keep it strong, especially with the right people.

Lesson Seven:  Build sisterhoods in the place you live.  Every time I’ve moved somewhere or made a big transition, I’ve met interesting, compassionate, smart women — they are everywhere.  Whether a person stays in your life or only makes a brief appearance, those friendships can add depth to your experiences.  After law school several women, some of whom I knew well and others I didn’t, started an informal lean-in-group-meets-book-club-meets-brunch-club where we discuss careers, family, finances, love, and where we laugh a lot.  We take summer trips together.  We update each other on life events via email announcement.  These women were among my first visitors after you were born.  While each friendship is valuable in its own right, the collective wisdom and support of the group is palpable each time we gather.

Lesson Eight:  Celebrate your female friendships.  In her book, Filipovic characterized friendships in a way I completely related to — but she also writes about the lack of rituals and traditions we have to celebrate female friendships and their milestones.  I started thinking about this.  How do I celebrate my friends?  How do they celebrate me?  However it looks, remind your friends why they matter and why you love them.

Love,

Mom

Photo credit: Tara C. 

Loving Los Angeles

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Dear Mimi,

Lately I’ve been taking stock of my places and my connection to those places.  I have invariably loved the places I’ve lived – my parent’s home outside of Detroit, college in Ann Arbor, rural Ukraine, New York City, Seattle, New Delhi, Seattle again.  Each exudes a unique energy and each is a part of my identity.

I also love discovering places I could live, and this is even more fun now that we are a little family.  You, your dad, and I found this connection to place and culture in Sevilla when we were there in March (more on this in a future post).  Los Angeles is one of those places for us, too.

I first started loving LA when one of my best friends, Michelle, moved there after college with her guy, Nick.  They had a beautiful wedding on the coast and worked near the beach.  Then your aunt Didi moved to West Hollywood and showed me the charms of Silver Lake and hiking Griffith Park.  Your dad and I visited one January to drive Didi’s car from LA to Seattle after she had moved back east and on that trip fell for the Armenian food and the tacos.  And when I was pregnant with you, we rented a funky, treehouse-like midcentury Airbnb in Silver Lake.  We spent hours wandering around Griffith Observatory and the Getty Museum, and drove up the coast to Santa Barbara for a day.

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LA was the first place we took you on vacation when you were seven months old.  We stayed in Marina Del Rey at our friends Michelle and Nick’s apartment while they were gone and took you to a beach on the Pacific Ocean for the first time – you loved the sand!  It was in LA that we started to learn how to travel with you.  We spent a lot of time trying to feed you and get you to sleep in the apartment, which thankfully was comfortable with a beautiful balcony that we utilized heavily.

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Last month we spent a long weekend in LA to chase the sun after a long, gray Seattle winter, have some family time, and visit Michelle and Nick and their six-month-old son.  We spent our first two nights in Venice, where we were within walking distance to the gritty, gentrifying beach and, in the other direction, to California-posh Abbott Kinney.  I loved taking an early morning walk with you the first day we were there.  We sat down with egg and cheese sandwiches and people-watched at a local breakfast spot and then visited the playground on the beach.  You noticed every bike that whizzed by, every homeless person rising for the day, every dog on a leash.  Later that day we had a fun lunch with Michelle at her nearby Google office.   (You love Michelle and insist that she holds you often.)  We had our favorite Fala Bar falafel that night, and, to your extreme delight, we dipped you in the frigid ocean.  On Saturday morning we got coffee from Blue Bottle on Abbott Kinney and sandwiches from the food truck parked outside.  We chatted with the polished, stylish crowd also waiting for their food.  You pointed to the dogs that walked by, shouting, “DAGH.”  The morning was slow and sunny and happily ended at a flea market where I bought a pair of huaraches to match my mood.

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We spent the rest of the weekend with Michelle and Nick and their (adorable) son at their home in Manhattan Beach.  They had a lemon tree out front – you loved picking up the lemons in the yard! – and a succulent garden and beautiful red poppies out back.  We walked the boardwalk with them and had a cookout and got to spend hours talking and catching up.  The next day was Mother’s Day and Nick’s parents joined us, his mom giving us gorgeous arrangements from her flower and succulent garden.  We all shared a delicious lunch on their back patio, and Michelle and I snuck away to a yoga class before we met you and the guys for dinner.  We all left feeling rejuvenated and relaxed and grateful for the time with wonderful friends in such a beautiful place in the world.

We’ll be back soon.

Love,

Mom

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What About the Children?!!! (And Other Anxiety About Climate Change)

I am so disheartened by this president’s announcement today that he will abandon our Paris Climate Agreement commitments. This post from last month reflects my thoughts today. It includes an email I wrote to my friend Lindsey and her response, published on femails.org.

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Courtney is the mother of a beautiful daughter; and as mothers do, she dreams of who her child will be, how her daughter will live her life, and how much her daughter’s world will have changed from the one she lives in today. Here’s to a femail on the future:  


From: Lindsey
Date: Mon, Apr 15, 2017 at 7:23 PM
Subject: What About the Children?!!! (And Other Anxiety About Climate Change)
To: Courtney

Dear Linds,

Do you ever have the existential fear that our kids or their kids could not have a planet to live on? You are a scientist and a writer and a parent and a deep thinker and a dear friend, so I thought I’d ask you about this.

It has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s because of Myra or maybe it’s because I feel like our government doesn’t care or maybe it’s because I listen…

View original post 1,316 more words

an april tulip adventure

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Yesterday Mimi and I took an early morning trip with our friends Caitlin and Kelly up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, about an hour north of Seattle.   I got close to them when we all clerked together, and they are both strong, smart, successful women who have supported me both professionally and personally.   They were part of Mimi’s life from the very beginning. We hadn’t seen each other for months, so this was the perfect catch-up adventure on a Sunday.

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We beat traffic and lines by arriving around 9:30 a.m. and wandered the fields at Roozen Gaarde for almost three hours.  The red and yellow and purple tulips were striking against the gray clouds and blue mountains in the distance, and Mimi loved running up and down the long rows of color.  She also loved Caitlin and Kelly, who held Mimi and taught her words related to fields of tulips and who sang “Wheels on the Bus” at least five times to get her to smile for photos.  At one point, Mimi insisted on holding both of their hands as they marched through the mud.

Back at the display gardens near the entrance we bought some kettle corn, admired the more diverse varietals, and left right before the rain started at 1 p.m. We had a relaxing brunch at Third Street Café on our way out of town, and Mimi napped all the way home.

The festival lasts until April 30, and I highly recommend checking it out.

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photo credit: Kelly Paradis
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photo credit: Kelly Paradis