Stef Woods

Menopause

In my previous post, we learned about perimenopause (also known as pre-menopause) and that there are three stages of menopause:

  1. Perimenopause
  2. Menopause
  3. Postmenopause

Remember I mentioned how being “in menopause” seems like a misnomer since menopause isn’t a discrete event? Well, I also feel that way about classifying menopause in stages. It gives the impression that there are clear delineations between each phase and what happens within each stage. That’s not exactly the case.

  • Menopause starts when you have your final period. But if the main symptom of perimenopause is irregular periods, when your last period starts, you have no way of knowing that it is actually your last.
  • From a medical perspective, menopause is the point when a person* no longer has periods for at least 12 months.
  • Postmenopause is the period after menopause.

By the time you can be clinically diagnosed as menopausal, you’re already postmenopausal!

Who came up with these confusing delineations?**

Perimenopause may start when you are in your 30s, 40s or 50s. For some, this phase lasts months and for others, a decade. You are still pre-menopausal unless you haven’t had a period for 12 consecutive months.

Signs that you are in perimenopause include: 1) irregular periods; 2) perimenopausal symptoms; and/or 3) elevated follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels in your blood. You still can get pregnant during perimenopause, but not when you are postmenopausal. After 12 months without periods, your ovaries no longer are producing eggs.

Much like perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause impact people differently. The average age to experience natural menopause in the United States is 51. However, the age range varies with a 20-year spread. Menopausal symptoms generally abate in frequency and severity after your last period, but this also depends on the individual.

The average person still experiences menopausal symptoms for four years after their last period with a range of 1-10(!) years!

If you experience troublesome menopausal symptoms, you may wish to speak with your internist or GYN to evaluate whether you are a candidate for hormonal-replacement therapy (HRT). (And, by troublesome, this is troublesome for you. There is no objective standard here.) By restoring the hormones levels that change during menopause, HRT has been shown to successfully alleviate menopausal symptoms for many individuals. If your body responds well to HRT, consult with your doctor annually to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing the treatment. Most people stop HRT once their menopausal symptoms abate. It’s important to note that if you have a history of stroke, blood clots or cancer, you might not be a candidate for HRT.

Once your periods cease and you are postmenopausal, you are at a higher risk of:

By this point in the post, if you haven’t uttered, “Ughhhhhh!” or some variant of that, feel free to do so now. Then I recommend reminding yourself that menopause is a part of life, and you will adjust to the changes that ensue as you have to previous life and health changes. And, whatever phase you are at with menopause and your acceptance of the process, know I’m only a message or comment away!

In my next posts, I’ll write more about postmenopausal health risks, the stigma surrounding menopause, my menopause journey, and how to find community and support during menopause. Until then, be well xoxo

* Since 2008, the majority of my posts were written as though everyone with a vagina identified as female. I know better now and am trying to approach this post correctly using gender-inclusive language.

** The American Society for Reproductive Medicine classified the stages of menopause. “Menopause” comes from the Greek words for mēn (month) and paûsis (pause), and Aristotle is credited with one of the early references to the term.

Image credit: Literariness

Disclaimer: Although I wear many hats, I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is not a substitute for medical advice. Hyperlinks are plentiful in this post to help steer you toward additional information from reliable medical sites.

Perimenopause

Twelve years ago this week, I wrote my first blog post. The topics I’ve written about have changed as my life did – from my dating debacles to sexual health to cancer to parenthood to diversity in education. And, today, I’m shifting gears again to write about something that I almost avoided posting about:

Menopause.

I gave a speed talk on menopause at my 25th college reunion. I’ve written about being thrown into medical menopause after chemotherapy. But, I haven’t been that public on my rather public social media platforms about menopause and post-menopause. I felt stuck between Sex and the City and Golden Girls, and it was neither sexy nor golden.

So, why am I writing this now? Most importantly, I want my friends who feel as though they’re going through all these confusing changes alone to know that they aren’t. For people with loved ones in menopause, I hope they can learn something, too. It also is part of who I am to talk about that which is uncomfortable. Lastly, I write this as someone who is now post-menopausal with a greater knowledge base and appreciation for what my body has endured.

What does it mean to be in menopause?

“In menopause” is a catch-all term that makes the experience seem like more of a discrete event than it is. There are three stages of menopause: 1) perimenopause; 2) menopause; and 3) post-menopause. Today, I’ll be focusing on perimenopause (also known as pre-menopause or the transition to menopause).

Am I in perimenopause?

On average, perimenopause starts at 47, and menopause at 51. But, for some, perimenopause can start in their* 30s, and for others, it can start in their 50s. It’s worth asking older relatives who have been through menopause as to their age and experience with it.

Image Credit: Cleveland Clinic

The most obvious signs that you’ve started perimenopause are:

  1. Period Changes:
    • Your periods can become irregular in terms of the amount of bleeding, frequency, and duration. Remember when you were a teenager and you never knew when your period would come, how long it would last, and what clothes or bedding would get stained in the process? Yes, perimenopause can be reminiscent of that. Be prepared!
    • During this stage, your ovaries are producing less estrogen and fewer eggs, but you can still get pregnant.
    • For 25-30% of people in perimenopause, periods can be significantly heavier. You might wish to speak with your GYN about options.
    • If you are using a form of birth control with hormones such as the IUD or the pill, or have had a hysterectomy, you may not notice a change in your periods.
  2. Menopausal symptoms
    • During perimenopause, your body is adjusting to a decrease in estrogen. This may cause a range of symptoms, including sleep disturbances, mood changes, headaches, joint pain, slowed metabolism, bladder issues, digestive problems, and vaginal pain. Saska Graville for MPowered cites 34(!) possible menopause symptoms.
    • 85% of those in menopause experience hot flashes. During a hot flash, your skin temperature can increase by five-seven degrees. (Hot flashes do not change your core body temperature, though. If you’re wondering whether it’s a fever or a hot flash, check your temperature with an oral thermometer, not a temperature scanner.) On average, hot flashes last for four minutes.
    • Some may get many of these symptoms, and some very few. Hormonal birth control and hormonal replacement therapy [HRT] may reduce the severity of these symptoms. Talk with your GYN or internist as to whether you may benefit from these options. Also make sure to factor in your risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis into your conversations about HRT.
      • If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your doctor about these topics, my old post about talking to your doctor about sex can be adapted for menopause.  
  3. Blood tests — Blood tests can rule out other health issues with similar symptoms like thyroid problems, while checking your hormone levels. Since hormones fluctuate during perimenopause, you may need more than one blood test to look at your follicle-stimulating hormone levels (FSH).

How long will perimenopause last?

On average, this stage lasts four years, but again, every body is different. For some, symptoms are minimal and last only a few months. Others experience a multitude of symptoms with perimenopause lasting up to 10 years.

In my next post, I’ll explore menopause and post-menopause and then shift back to anti-racist resources. Until then, please comment and post.

Be well xoxo

* Since 2008, the majority of my posts were written as though everyone with a vagina identified as female. I know better now and am trying to approach this post correctly using gender-inclusive language.

** Disclaimer: Although I wear many hats, I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is not a substitute for medical advice. Hyperlinks are plentiful in this post to help steer you toward additional information from reliable medical sites.

White Privilege Resources

During the Rodney King protests in 1992, I didn’t understand how the protest on my campus related to me. I think of numerous times in my teens and 20s when I did not speak up, made biased-filled assumptions or turned a situation that was not about me into a tear-filled response.

In my junior year in college, I began to read about white privilege. A lightbulb went off inside my head, but it seemed more like a checklist item.

Recognize privilege?

Acknowledge privilege now and then?

For far too long, I didn’t connect my privilege to the larger systems of power. Even when I looked critically at how the legal system, immigration law, and academia have been structured to perpetuate racial disparities, I didn’t delve into how my career roles and my whiteness made me complicit in these systems.

I know better now.

In Fall 2015, I taught a class using an article about racial health disparities that I had used successfully in previous years. A student comment led to some tension in the class. I learned that I needed to provide more of a background on structural racism, bias and privilege before asking students to examine health disparities in particular.  I also invited two experienced speakers from the Black Student Alliance to class the following week. One student opened with, “We are all racists.” The room was silent…uncomfortably silent. But, what followed was one of the best discussions I’ve witnessed and led to several productive conversations outside of class.

I’ve been speaking up about diversity and equity issues over the past several years, and I’m always willing to field a question from friends about whether a resource is problematic. Here’s the thing, though. Everything has some bias…all research…all writing…all people…even this site. I see critical thinking as allowing us to recognize and acknowledge biases so we can better analyze and interpret a source. I’ve also found that it helps me to educate myself more before I talk to Roya. I need time to process my thoughts and feelings before I help her navigate hers, while recognizing that there are many systems that benefit me that will marginalize her.

So where to start to learn about white privilege?

Here are some resources that I’ve found useful:

  • What is white privilege? I appreciate how this Cory Collins piece for Teaching Tolerance references the 1988 Peggy McIntosh essay that coined the “white privilege” phrase. Collins also explains the importance distinction and relationship between white privilege, racism and power.
  • In the US, children learn how Abe Lincoln freed the slaves. How do we as adults look beyond the history books? This piece by Dr. Mackubin T. Owens discusses how Black slaves freed themselves and what the Emancipation Proclamation accomplished. There are strong online lists of movies to learn about Black history, but it’s worth recognizing how these films have adapted true stories for Hollywood audiences. If you’re watching these films to learn about the past, I recommend an online search and reading a few critiques first. What’s factually accurate, and what isn’t? Why were these choices made? For an example of a good critique, check out this article about the controversy surrounding The Green Book.

In several classes, I’ve assigned a set group of resources that laid a good foundation for exploring privilege and biases and enhancing discussion:

  • I Don’t Discuss Racism with White People” — I reference this quote by John Metta frequently: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings. As a white person, I can feel and acknowledge my feelings. But, if I don’t move past my discomfort, then I’m centering myself – and my whiteness – in the conversation.
    • How can those of us who do not identify as Black look for reliable information on our own? How do we know what we don’t know?
    • If we read, watch and learn, what’s next? What does accountability look like?
    • How is this connected to the systems of power we benefit from? What can we do to help change these systems?
  • What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson — White individuals can ask Black friends for help, but it is not the obligation of any Black loved one to do so. In fact, asking individuals from a marginalized group to educate someone who benefits from racist structures of power can be further traumatizing or isolating, as explored in this journal article from Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream (PBS 2012) – “As of 2010, the 400 richest Americans controlled more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the populace — 150 million people.” I’ve found this documentary useful to show the connection between power, government and economics in the US. Why is the American Dream an elusive myth? How do current institutions protect the wealthiest few at the expense of the majority?
  • 13th Documentary (Netflix 2016) — “In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.”

If these resources are new to you, then I recommend picking one at a time and not feeling rushed to get through them all at once. In my next post, I’ll focus on talking about white privilege with children.

What resources regarding white privilege have you found to be valuable? Comment below!

Unpacking Race Cars by Jenny Devenny

Over the past few months, friends have reached out to ask about good anti-racist resources for their families. There are some valuable books and movies for adults, but for children, I have yet to find a book or show listed on a school DEI or anti-racist list that I’m a fan of. (Note that I’m sure they exist; I read a lot of children’s books, but I’m not a walking library!)

Race Cars: A Children’s Book about White Privilege by Jenny Devenny is one book that is included on a lot of local lists. I appreciate the goal of this book for preschool-younger elementary school children, but it unfortunately missed the mark for me.

Unfamiliar with the story? Read the summary or watch the video below.

Familiar with the story? Scroll down to the Unpacking the Book section.

Mrs. Broomer Race Cars Read Aloud

There’s a white car and a black car who are best friends and love to race. Chase, the black car, is a better car racer than his best friend, white car Ace. So, the race organizing committee comprised of all white cars rigs the course and rules. It gets progressively tougher for Chase to win, and the last rule change ensures that Chase can’t race at all.

At the end of the book, Chase goes to support Ace in the race. Ace decides to try the route that Chase was forced to take after the race rules changed and realizes how much tougher this made the race. Then, Ace gets lost, and the race organizers are worried about him. They ask the fastest driver in town, Chase, to go find Ace. Chase agrees and ends up saving Ace! As a thank you, the race committee awards Chase first place.

Unpacking the Book

When reading a book, I look for the positives and then move to the critique. In Race Cars, I found the use of cars to frame Ms. Devenny’s point to be a poor choice. The paperback came out in 2016 – after Philando Castile was killed after a routine traffic stop with his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter in the backseat. This book had likely gone to press before this tragedy. But, studies related to the racial profiling of Black drivers existed long before 2016. Did the author, editor or publisher question whether this example would be off-putting or offensive to some readers?

I also felt uncomfortable with Chase as the name for the black car, though I appreciate that rhyming words keep a younger audience engaged. Again, I would have chosen a different name, given the biased and false presumptions that Black drivers are more reckless or Black children aren’t as well behaved as white children. If I apply the critical thinking skills from my earlier post, I would guess the book’s target purchaser is a non-Black parent or educator. But, that doesn’t mean that the car example and name were the best choices.

The ending of the book also is problematic. The white race committee only reaches out to Chase to come back to the race because Ace, the white car, is in danger. The committee lets Chase win the race since Chase saves Ace – not because Chase is the fastest race car and not because all cars deserve the same access to entering and winning the race.

When Ace realizes how the race was tougher for Chase, Ace apologizes after Chase rescues him and then a hug solves everything. Even just adding a line in which Ace admits that he should have been a better friend to Chase and not entered the race by himself would have been something. I wish the book hadn’t been wrapped up with ease on a feel-good note.

Neha Aunty’s Reading Room Episode 3: Race Cars

The book was updated to include a brief Discussion Guide (shared at 15:46 in the above video from Neha Aunty’s Reading Room), and the last few questions ask kids to think of privileges that white people get and list them. Then, the guide asks whether the reader can find band-aids and dolls in their skin color.

Picture if this book is being read to a predominantly-white group of children. BIPOC children may feel further othered or marginalized if they raise their hands. Alternatively, this may force BIPOC children to feel as though they have to educate the white children in the room. This book might cause some children to think that there is a monolithic white or Black experience. It also could send the message to White children that recognizing privilege is a checklist item without having to do or think more about the topic.

Is this a worthwhile book to teach parents and educators about white privilege? I don’t envision most young white children will make connections on their own with this book without a lot of adult guidance from adults who have already unpacked their own identities and privileges. If children are able to connect that the race course represents our lives and access to opportunities, it can’t be assumed that parents and educators will find ways to help them relate the story to their own actions and larger structures of power.

Once privilege is recognized, what happens next? That’s what’s needed for action and change. I wish the book had offered solutions or resources beyond encouraging some brief acknowledgment that racial privilege exists.

As I’m reading and watching resources included on children’s anti-racist lists, I question whether the majority of predominantly white readers/viewers will know where to find reliable resources, how these resources should be critiqued and connected to their lives and larger power structures, and whether to share them with their children. My hope is that anti-racist resources are viewed as more than a checklist item or buzzphrase.

In my next post, I’ll write more about what adult resources I recommend regarding white privilege.

What anti-racist children’s books or shows do you like? Have any thoughts about this book or other resources regarding white privilege? Comment below or on my feeds!

The White Doll and The Black Doll

R: I have a story to tell you.

Me [calling from the kitchen]: Okay, you can tell me.

R: No, I’d like you to sit down next to me while I tell you. [I move to sit down next to her.] So, back when I was in Pre-K, they used to open up the doors so the classes could play together sometimes. [I nod.] In Pre-K, I went with Friend 1 into another class to play dollies with Friend 2. There were two baby dolls in the class, and one was white and the other was black. All of us wanted to play with the white baby doll, and Friend 1 told me that I needed to play with the black doll because I’m Black.

Me: What did Friend 2 say?

R: She agreed with Friend 1.

Me: And then what happened?

R: I just went to play in another part of the room.

Me: Why?

R: Because I felt surprised that my friends would say that.

Me: What made you think of that today?

R: I hadn’t thought about it since Pre-K. But, I was thinking today about how in second grade, the teachers will open the class doors again for lunch and they haven’t done that since Pre-K.

Me: I’m sorry that happened to you. How else did that make you feel?

R: I felt confused because I didn’t know why I couldn’t play with the white doll.

Me: I would feel confused and surprised, too. Did you tell any of the teachers about it?

R: No. I just went to play with some other friends.

Me: I’m sorry. I wish that hadn’t happened to you. But, I’m glad you remembered it and told me about it now. You can always tell me anything. You realize that all toys are for everyone, not just black toys for Black children and white toys for white children. [She nods.] And, your friends are all still your friends. I just think some parents don’t understand how to have these conversations with their children.

I knew this wouldn’t just be a one-time discussion so I stopped there. I’ve read and taught about Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clarks’ study in which Black children chose white dolls over black dolls. Those 1940s findings are still the case in more recent studies of Black and white children. The studies showed a more positive association toward white skin and a more negative association toward Black skin — for dolls and children.

With this in mind, I reached out to a few friends for further discussions about how to talk about this. One wisely suggested that we also talk about families and how there’s not just one way to be a family and look like a family – from race to height to hair color to gender identity.

Roya and I also have discussed race and racism in an age-appropriate way. When I asked her how the doll incident might relate to these conversations, she knew that her friends attempted to use her color against her. Was there the expectation that saying, “You’re Black so you need to play with the black doll,” would allow her four-year-old friends to play with the white doll because either Roya would agree or she would leave? We also talked about different approaches that Roya could take in the future in similar situations such as telling the teacher, telling me, or talking with her friends.

I keep coming back to how diversity so often ends up being “diversity for white people,” and representation is often tokenizing. If studies show that children choose white toys over brown toys, then adding a black doll to a white doll collection won’t have the desired effect.

One of Roya’s classrooms in her predominantly-white elementary school had a dollhouse with only a black doll family set to play with in the house. Any child who played with that dollhouse just played with that doll family without any issue or negative association. That led me to wonder:

How can white parents and teachers choose and model behavior that doesn’t center whiteness?

Here are a few of my thoughts, but I’d love to hear yours:

  • Drawing with your child? Consider drawing a person that doesn’t look anything like yourself.
  • Reading with your child? Consider applying critical thinking skills and unpacking your books.
  • Describing a person or situation ? Consider describing based on hair color or another identifier that isn’t race. (Think about how many sources of media and entertainment perpetuate racial bias by how individuals are described.)
  • Buying items for your child to play with? Think about the items that your child has, what you might wish to do differently, why, and how to frame it. If a big deal is made that a doll has black skin or a book is about indigenous culture, then that could be othering or seem like diversity is a box to be checked off. How can toys, dolls, books, entertainment, and Legos in our homes and at our schools be framed in ways so that white does not equal better?
  • Have conversations with your child with small and big age-appropriate examples about race. (Feel free to use the doll incident above, if you’d like. I also love the You Can’t Say You Can’t Play section from “Seeing, Noticing, and Talking about Differences with Young Children” by Madeleine Rogin.)

Three things before I sign off:

  1. I’m sharing all of this with R’s permission. She is at the age where I only share her stories and images with her consent. When I asked her if she knew why I wanted to write about this, she replied, “To get people to think and try to help teach people.” Exactly! I also reminded her that I’m learning, too.
  2. I don’t get to pat myself on the back for being a great mom for doing my best to navigate this situation. This is not about me. Conversations about race cannot be framed with whites at the center of the narrative. (I think about the John Metto piece in which he states that discussions about race can’t be about protecting white feelings. If you haven’t read “I Don’t Discuss Racism With White People,” I strongly encourage you to do so.)
  3. I hope this spurs conversation so please comment on my feeds or this post. xoxo

Unpacking The Bad Seed by Jory John

How have I approached unpacking some popular children’s books with my daughter? Check this post out for why this is important and some general critical thinking strategies.

Now, let’s get started with The Bad Seed by Jory John.

In this book, a darker-colored, more masculine presenting seed is criticized for being bad. Most of the good seeds in the book are lighter seeds. In the end, the bad seed starts trying to be good, but sometimes it’s still bad.

When Roya came home with this book, I explained to her why that book bothered me.

  1. First, the seed can be interpreted as a character like a person. If seeds are described as good or bad, that could send a message that a person is either categorically good or bad. (Children shouldn’t be described as bad or good, although their actions or behavior can.)
  2. Next, we talked about how what one person sees as “good,” another person might see as “bad.” I went really simplistic and used TV for my example. Roya would think watching TV all day is good, but I would think having a child watch TV all day is bad. Then we discussed why we would see the same situation differently. Ideally, analyzing good and bad relies on a willingness to learn about other individuals’ experiences, values, and lenses, and an openness to changing your mind. As Roya has started getting older, I’ve begun to connect all of this to historical and contemporary concepts of power and oppression in age-appropriate, brief ways. (This book made me immediately think of the school-to-prison pipeline and #BLM.)
  3. I expanded on my points to share that all seeds make bad decisions at times, not just some seeds. I came up with a few stories about things that the lighter seeds in the book could have done that also were bad choices. Most people make some choices that are bad, and some that are good, right?
  4. Then I talked about how some people can be scared by other individuals’ differences and view those individuals and their choices as bad.

While I was writing this post, Roya asked what I was doing.

Me: Writing about why I’m not a fan of The Bad Seed.

R: But, I love that book!

Me: I know. A lot of kids do. So, think about what the Bad Seed looks like.

R: It’s a dark seed. You’d rather the seed be a peanut or something.

Me: Yes! Now, why would I think having the seed be dark would be a problem?

R: Hmm…It’s like Carmela’s Full of Wishes. They’re books about Black kids that might make people not like Black kids.

Me: Yes, exactly! The Bad Seed might make people think that Black and brown kids are bad, when everyone makes bad decisions sometimes. And Carmela’s Full of Wishes might make people think that all Spanish-speaking families have the same life and jobs as Carmela’s family. If we read things, we might think they are true or true for everyone who looks like the characters in the books. And that could cause people to be treated differently or unfairly, which isn’t good.

I then talked about how this can lead to people making assumptions about BIPOC families and how sometimes BIPOC children, especially boys, are treated differently at schools. Want to read more about why this is important? Google the crib-to-prison or school-to-prison pipeline. Or, explore disciplinary rates by race, gender and ethnicity in your school district. (See number 11 in my post on Doing Diversity Well at Predominantly-White Schools for how to do this.)

I end this conversation with acknowledging that there are always books and shows we enjoy more than others, and that’s okay. But, it’s worth discussing what’s problematic about them, regardless of whether we like them.

What are your family’s thoughts on this book? How have you approached it? Have suggestions for future books for me to blog about? Comment below.

Unpacking Children’s Books

Last month, my feeds were filled with mentions of antiracist books, social justice movies, statements in solidarity, and diverse book and toy purchases for younger loved ones. Are any of these things inherently bad? Of course not! But, it gave me cause to pause. Tre Johnson’s Washington Post article, “When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs,” is a thought-provoking read. I find myself asking, “What’s next?” How do those of us who identify and pass as white listen, learn and contribute in a way that doesn’t center whiteness or frame diversity as “diversity for white people”?

In thinking about children’s books in particular, there are significant concerns about how Black writers are treated and paid by the publishing industry and the lack of diverse representation in the field as a whole. 86% of children’s books have white main characters. This is the case despite the fact that children’s books with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) main characters sell, as reported by Dashka Slater for Mother Jones.

I hope that children’s books are unpacked with children. How do parents learn what and how to unpack concepts of race, gender identity, ableism, and class? We need to do our own work first. Read anti-racist resources. Complete an implicit bias test. Research to learn more. I’m thankful for those friends and students who were willing to teach me, but I had to do my own work, too. As a cisgender-heterosexual-white female, I’ve needed to unlearn biases and messages that I’ve received throughout my life.

A book or movie is more than just that. When we read or watch things, they become part of our moral imagination. We began to envision a world like we read or see. What we read or watch can reinforce or challenge our thoughts about ourselves and the world. (For example, there was a student who wrote their capstone on how the casting of a black male as US president in the television show, 24, helped prepare viewers for a black male president before the 2008 election.)

There’s also a downside to our moral imagination at times. How do we read stories by a variety of voices about a myriad of experiences and not assume that one person’s experience is representative of all experiences? How many stories that don’t play into problematic tropes and stereotypes get published? Again, I see this as unlearning biases and discussing what and why tropes are problematic. There’s also a need to recognize that one voice or character is just that — the voice for that one real or fictional individual — and not representative of all experiences of individuals who look or identify similarly.

How can we apply critical thinking skills to how we consume information? I approach children’s texts similarly to how I approach texts that I read or teach. Both what is and what is not included in a writing are important. And, parents and caregivers can also unpack the text as it does or does not apply and relate to their own lenses, values and experiences. If you notice in the questions below, it’s imperative to ask not just who and what, but the why.

Next, I think about how I can unpack all of this in an age-appropriate way with my seven-year-old daughter. I typically let her read books on her own, do a fast skim of what she’s reading at some point, and then discuss the text with her at a separate time.

I’ll find a time when we have five-ten minutes to talk that’s not too late and ask her to share her thoughts about the book. I’ll ask a few follow-up questions to discuss the why behind the characters’ decisions or feelings. Then I’ll share my thoughts about the book. If the text warrants multiple conversations or is a longer chapter book, we’ll talk more about it at later points.

Obviously, you know your child best. But, what books and entertainment you expose your child to and how you frame them are worth considering. If you’re reading a fairy tale, can you take a few minutes after to talk about how cisgender women don’t need saving or provide a few examples of people who found their happily ever after without being in a relationship? If you’re a white family and you’re reading a book with a main character of color, how can you discuss the book without centering whiteness or viewing the character as representative of all BIPOC individuals?

How have I approached unpacking popular children’s books? Click here for my thoughts on The Bad Seed by Jory John.

How have you approached these conversations? What resources have you found to be helpful? Any questions? Please comment below xoxo

Doing Diversity Well at Predominantly-White Schools

In my previous post, I asked whether predominantly-white schools center whiteness in a way that “others” black families. I hear from fellow white parents that their children’s school does diversity well. But, how do we know? How does the school know? Is diversity code for diversity for white people?

Here are my thoughts to help spur conversation and hopefully action:

  1. Definitions: What does diversity mean at your child’s school?
    • Does diversity just refer to race or is it more comprehensive? The National Education Association includes “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status” under the dimensions of diversity.
    • Is there a difference between diversity, inclusion and equity (also known as DEI) in practice at your child’s school? Should there be and if so, in what ways?
  2. Strategic Plan: Is there a strategic plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at your child’s school? If not, why not? Should there be? If so, take the time to read it, noting questions or comments.
  3. Benchmarking against Other Schools: What are similar schools doing with respect to DEI? (By similar schools, if your child attends a parochial middle school in a suburb, then other parochial middle schools would be most similar to your child’s school. But, there is a lot to learn from schools that don’t fit the same criteria, too. )
  4. Facilitated Conversations for Educators: Are administrators from your child’s school in conversation with their peers at other schools about DEI? Who facilitates those discussions? (Ideally, there will be opportunities for individuals to learn and not feel judged by their mistakes. But, there also needs to be some outside facilitation to challenge the status quo and provide more objective assessment.)
  5. DEI Work: Who leads or should lead DEI efforts at your child’s school? How should DEI responsibilities be allocated? What are the responsibilities and limitations of a formal position?
    • Is it worth establishing a Task Force or committee to have more people from different roles at the school (staff, teachers, administrators and parents) involved in these efforts?
  6. Benchmarks and Accountability: What are benchmarks that are or should be established? Having a plan is good, but how do you as a parent or school administrator know if that plan is working?
    • Is there a timeline to meet specific goals?
    • How are or should benchmarks be assessed, and by whom? If the assessment is done by someone at the school, are there checks and balances to ensure that this is done well?
    • What does accountability look like?
  7. Buy-In: Is there buy-in for this from administrators, faculty, staff, the board, and the PTA? (Note that these groups are not monolithic. Every person within each of those groups has their own life experiences, knowledge base and interest in DEI. )
    • How much buy-in is needed for these efforts to be successful?
    • How will buy-in be assessed?
    • What support and resources are needed to effectuate a plan or the designated benchmarks? Recognize that support and resources involve time, money and an open mind.
  8. Parent Education: What expectations do parents have for the role that the school will/won’t play in educating their children and parent education?
    • Is it worth setting up a survey (possibly anonymous) to help check the pulse of the community?
    • What programming is of interest for parents, for children and for the whole community? Should the school encourage and provide a space for parent/family education such as a monthly book club? There could also be a secure parent education portal with vetted articles and resources divided by topics (like disability, class, race, gender identity, intersectionality, talking to kids about [X] topics, etc.). This could be a standing and living repository.
    • Are PTA meetings and newsletters accessible to all parents regardless of technological access, visual and hearing impairments, and English-language literacy?
  9. Curriculum: How does the curriculum work with DEI goals? Ideally, the DEI strategic plan and assessments will work with the larger strategic plan and assessments for the school.
    • Love Sees No Color: For some, in-class exercises and books that stress how we’re all the same on the inside are viewed as good thing. But, what is problematic about these exercises? How can DEI be taught in age-appropriate and more realistic ways? How can DEI incorporate discussions of power, agency and oppression?
    • Curriculum audit: Has there been a curriculum audit to evaluate what is being taught and whether the sources, lessons and pedagogical practices further the school’s DEI goals? If so, what has that audit revealed and what are the next steps? If not, how can an audit be done, and who is in the best position to conduct the audit, evaluate the findings, and recommend improvements?
    • Community service: How can community service, volunteering and service-learning be connected more effectively to DEI and curricular goals? This could be anything from presenting on othering language to discussions about power and wages
      • Can there be a fact sheet or myth busters to connect with community-service assignments? How can the community (parents, students and staff) be educated along with their children? How can service be framed in a way that doesn’t perpetuate othering and the white-savior complex?
    • How can DEI be infused in the curriculum and programming throughout the year (not just MLK Day or Black History Month, and not just related to race)? Why is this important?
  10. Grading Equity: How does your child’s school currently assess grading and feedback? How does/should that assessment factor in bias?
    • Should professional development for administrators and teachers look at bias in grading and feedback (everything from the words we use to describe work by girls over work by boys to evaluating non-native English speakers to racial bias)? In his article in Education Week, Joe Feldman provides the following example: In classrooms taught by white teachers, African-American students are typically rated as poorer “classroom citizens” than their white peers, and thereby are more likely to have a lower grade for those behaviors because of the teacher’s biased perceptions.
  11. Discipline and Opportunities: How does your child’s school approach student discipline and which children have access to certain opportunities (advanced coursework, leadership roles, etc.)?
    • You might wish to go onto Ed.gov’s Civil Rights Data Collection to search for a public school in the US. I find the site easiest to navigate by just searching by zip code and then clicking on the link for a specific school.
    • What are the demographics of the school you chose? What are the rates of AP classes by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What are the rates of school suspensions by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What does this data tell you?
    • If your child’s school is on this list, are these numbers that could/should be improved upon? If so, how and by whom?
    • If your child’s school is not on this list, has the school gathered and analyzed demographic data on disciplinary action and access to gifted classes and leadership roles? If so, what has the data shown, and what are the school’s next steps? If not, is there a plan to do this, and by whom?
    • Whether or not your child’s school is on this list, what are the school’s objectives related to this item?
    • Does your school utilize healing circles or restorative justice practices?
  12. School Demographics and Retention: What is the school’s demographic breakdown in terms of student body, teachers, staff, and administrators? Are those percentages similar or different from comparable schools? Have these percentages been stagnant?
    • Is the school retaining teachers, staff and students of color?
    • Is the school promoting and hiring teachers and staff of color for administrator roles?
    • Are administrators and staff trained to prevent or reduce bias in student admissions, hiring and promotion decisions?
    • Are there exit interviews when families and school employees leave the school?
  13. Bias Reporting: Is there a clear procedure for reporting bias concerns? Are these procedures the same or different for students and school employees, and why? Who handles bias concerns? Are school employees required to report bias concerns to someone in their chain of command? How are bias concerns addressed?

Again, my hope in writing this post was to start a dialogue. What did I miss? What are your thoughts? What are schools (without naming them) doing well?

Decentering Whiteness

As a white parent in Upper NW DC, my feed has been filled with discussions about how to be an anti-racist parent. But, how do we know what we don’t know? How can we recognize our biases? What does accountability look like to know we’re getting it right or that we need to do better?

My intent in writing this series of posts is to start a conversation, not write a definitive treatise on anti-racist parenting. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender parent and educator, I need to listen and learn, too.

Parents and educators can and should talk to young children about race, as Katrina Michie recommends. But, before talking to children, you might want to think about how that statement centers whiteness. What do I mean about that? Think about how and why whiteness is viewed as the default and the norm.

For example, a publication only mentions a person’s race if that person isn’t white. Or, a show has a token or short-contract character of color, or your workplace has very few black individuals in leadership roles. Think about which parents teach their children about colorism and racism to survive and which parents teach their children about colorism and racism to be a (seemingly) better person. Then think about the why behind these realities and how they relate to systems of power and oppression.

How are and how can you model anti-racist behavior? There are so many examples, but one from Rachel Garlinghouse is: Do you have true friendships with others who don’t share your race, religion, age, or ability?  Margaret A. Hagerman asks parents to think about who they invite over, what media and books they consume, how they handle race questions, who/what they roll their eyes at, and when they lock their doors.

I think about how whiteness is centered in what books and entertainment are labeled as “multicultural” or “diverse.” A children’s book by a black author with a black child as the main character should not be regarded as a “diverse” book. A box of crayons to represent a range of skin tones shouldn’t be labeled “multicultural.” Books or lessons that talk about how we’re all the same on the inside ignore how racial differentiation was created to serve social and economic purposes. How can parents unpack what our children read and play with in age-appropriate ways?

At predominantly-white schools, is whiteness centered in a way that “others” black families? I hear from fellow white parents that their children’s school does diversity well. But, how do we know? How does the school know? Is diversity code for diversity for white people? Check out my next post if you’d like to explore this topic more.

Join me if you’d like to share and learn about resources and approaches. Comments and criticism welcome.

Most importantly, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well. And, a special thank you to my former students and colleagues who helped me become a better educator, person, and parent. I wouldn’t be where I am on my journey without you. xoxo

Isn’t It Tough To Be A Single Mom?

I see you with your head tilting to the side and your eyes expressing pity. I hear you with your well-intentioned “I’m so sorry” comments…your “I can’t imagine how tough this is for you” rhetoric…your “Don’t you want to get married so she can have a Dad?” questions. If I know you well enough, I’ll reply honestly and thoroughly. If I don’t, I keep it brief and extricate myself from the conversation. Not because I’m uncomfortable, but because I’m unsure if you are comfortable.

Some people value a certain type of family structure more than others. Some (or many?) people place more validity and carry positive associations with a two-parent household over a one-parent household. I find myself wondering why.

In 2015, I remember a lunch when I was out with several girlfriends and one person I didn’t know that well. We spent the first hour talking about how little their husbands did around the house and with their young children. When the person I didn’t know that well learned about my situation, she was incredulous at my relationship choices. I replied:

I just spent the last hour listening to you all vent about your husbands and giving advice for how to make things a little better. I don’t judge you for staying in your relationships. You all were partners before you were parents. So, don’t judge me for leaving someone who wasn’t in a position to parent. I wasn’t married so I didn’t feel obligated to stay with someone who couldn’t handle the responsibilities.

Five years later, I don’t regret my decision at all. I feel confident in how I parent and am thankful for my support system. I don’t see my home responsibilities as different or more difficult because I’m the only one. (As an only child, I think it’s actually easier since what I want and how I want things done are the way things are done.) Roya knows who is in charge and sees herself as having a large family of loved ones with me at the center. She knows that we are whole and complete as we are because that is how I’ve messaged my choices and our family.

I’ve found myself having to explain my thoughts a few times during this pandemic. There are lots of reasons why self-isolating with your family unit can be difficult. It shouldn’t be assumed that being a #100PercentParent makes it tougher, though. For some, it definitely is! But, for others like me, it isn’t.

So, here’s my friendly unsolicited advice… If you want to know how a single parent is doing or if and what they might need, ask them! Their answers might not be what you expect. Also think about why you view a certain family structure as better than another. Respect that your values work for you, but think about whether you are truly accepting of family units that don’t resemble your own. (You might even want to take Harvard University’s Implicit Bias test to explore your own unconscious biases even more.)

With respect to the larger societal issues, I think about what impacts families in different ways such as the gender pay gap, NCTE’s findings regarding the wage discrimination that many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals experience, and how factors such as race and ethnicity further exacerbate disparities. I also question why certain professions are valued financially more than others and who has access to healthcare, childcare, and family medical leave. And, I continue to unpack how the US criminal justice system and discriminatory policing and sentencing policies have impacted families and communities.

If you ask me what I need or ask Roya what she wants, none of our responses would have to do with changing our family unit. We are thankfully safe and well, and hope that you and your loved ones are, too. xoxo