Collecting Fabulous Trees: On Climate Anxiety, Adaptation, and Plants

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I have started taking pictures of trees while out on walks with my daughter. I have always loved trees. My wedding ring set is even designed to look like tree branches twisted together. This summer, however, as the trees started to leaf out more, the sun coming through the canopy caught my eye more than usual and at first I wasn’t sure why.

The park near our house mostly features grasslands with dirt or paved trails snaking by soccer fields, a canal, and homes. Where the dirt trail crosses the paved trail at the canal, old-growth trees line the path, their roots reaching toward the water.
In the afternoons, I take the stroller out for a jog on the trails, feeling relieved by the shade provided by the trees. The effort that it takes to push the stroller up and down the hilly path draws my mind toward worry and, more than anything else, I worry about the climate. After a few weeks of photographing trees, I realize that this impulse to capture their beauty is tied to that climate anxiety. I start to post my tree photos, hoping to remind my little bubble of how beautiful they are.
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Trees are not just beautiful. They are also foundational to the health of our planet, a fact so obvious that, of course, we are forced to realize it now that the consequences of the Industrial Era are starting to hit home. Trees sequester carbon, produce oxygen, cool off urban communities, provide shelter, and lower our blood pressure. New studies have discovered that trees even have wisdom and communicate with each other, as dying trees use fungal networks in the soil to transmit resources to younger trees, and different species of trees exchange nutrients so that they can achieve the balance best for each member of a diverse forest.

Recently, a study warned that by 2080, Colorado will have lost half of its snowpack and will resemble Arizona more than it does the ecosystem we know today. Already, every year seems to bring worse fires and less snow on a later schedule, even in just the six years I have lived here. I feel the anxiety catch in my throat a bit, thinking about what it would mean to the plants and animals in this ecosystem for a change like that to take place. Then, I remind myself that by 2080, I will be 93 years old. My toddler daughter will be 60. Certainly, a change like that is consequential, but it does not happen immediately. There is time along the way to adapt and to change with the climate. What will it mean, I wonder, for the old-growth trees? Some days, as I look at the afternoon sun finding its way through the towering trees next to our neighbors’ house, I wonder how old they are and if they will make it. I wonder how we are supposed to grieve heroes such as these.

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Stop Your Scroll And…

IMG_20220613_141501271I have been surprised by how much my time as a stay-at-home mother reminds me of my summers in graduate school. Each day feels sprawlingly long, with hour after hour of things to do, but no adults to talk to. I love alone time, so the solitude of this period suits me. I wouldn’t change it, mostly. But, of course, it is not really solitude. I have a little person who needs me 12 hours a day. 

The problem is that I also have social media.

When I was in graduate school, the only social media I had were Facebook and Pinterest. Now there’s also Instagram and Reddit lurking on my phone. And, instead of a dissertation, I am trying to build our small business. 

Everyone gets lonely sometimes, even those of us introverts who love being alone like I do, and research suggests that social media exacerbates that feeling. For the first time, I am starting to see that in myself. There are times when I feel invisible. As I cart my daughter to and from the library; nod to other parents at the playground; make a social media presence for our alpacas, chickens, and bees, many days I feel like I am moving through the world invisibly, anonymously. A lot of the time, that is freeing. If no one is paying attention to me, looking instead at the baby, the bees, and the alpacas, then I can just be as I am. But sometimes, when I struggle to get traction on my writing and other projects, it feels defeating and lonely. Self-doubt, tied to little hearts on a screen, tugs at me. 

No one likes to put something out into the world and feel ignored, but it is not good to dwell on it. There is always more work to do, skills to build, revisions to make, mouths to feed, books to read, sweet daughters to hug, and so on. As a fairly ambitious person, recovering from years of being told I was really going to achieve something someday, I wrestle with this feeling because 

  1. It feels a lot like pride, which is a trap I’m not trying to fall into but… 
  2. it’s a natural feeling that I’m not trying to shame myself for but…
  3. lately, the things I work most on and like the best keep sinking and…
  4. you can’t judge yourself by other people’s social media stats but… 
  5. don’t we? 

1000 Hours

On a particularly lonely night last weekend, I scrolled across an Instagram post by Hannah Brencher about completing her 1000 Unplugged Hours tracker. I was probably hooked because we are already working on 1000 Hours Outside and have completed 1000 Books Before Kindergarten. 1000, it seems, is the magic number. I was immediately sure, however, that I needed this challenge. 

1000 Unplugged Hours comes out to about three hours a day or 20 hours each weekend to complete it in a year, which is the goal. Truly, three hours a day does not sound like much, but I don’t know a person who does not have that itchy compulsion to check their phone, scroll, have the TV on, and so on. I hardly watch TV anymore, but my days are consumed with much more scrolling Instagram than I would like. A little space away from podcasts, even though I listen to news and science shows most of the time, would probably be healthy, too. I decided that, for me, unplugged means no technology except for music or a word processor. I waffled on audiobooks but decided to exclude them too. 

I started my 1000 Unplugged Hours yesterday. It was Sunday, so I had a bit of a headstart because my daily news podcasts were not on. I spent two hours in the morning quietly tending to the garden without earbuds, then doing housework and reading with my toddler. It was really soothing. Then, I picked up my phone and immediately realized how addicted to the scrolling I am, because I binged a lot. In the evening, I had another unplugged hour, playing a game and cooking dinner with my husband. And then I fell down a YouTube hole after the baby was in bed. This morning, I overslept and then scrambled to get through our morning activities, scrolling, listening to the news, and so on. I still owe myself three hours today. I’m looking forward to it, but because I gave in to the craving early on, I know it is going to be hard to stay away from the screen. And the afternoon political shows drop in 45 minutes! 

After one day, I have learned that it feels good to be unplugged; that, as I suspected, I have a scrolling problem; and that I need to be intentional with my mornings. I’m going to try to get up a little earlier (how many thousands of times have I said that!?) to enjoy some unplugged time with my garden. I look forward to seeing where this challenge takes me and I hope it brings more peace as I keep trying to build a life as a creative, a mother, and an alpaca farmer and beekeeper. I mean, those last two I did not see coming, so it just goes to show that sometimes the lonely periods grow surprising, lovely fruit. 

For now, I just have the official 1000 Unplugged Hours tracker, but next month, next to the time outside column, I will be adding a time unplugged column in my notebook. 

On Habits and Habit Trackers

The notebook is key. I have struggled with building routines and habits for my entire life. I don’t tend to thrive on doing the same exact thing every day, so unless I must it is not my natural inclination to do so. Rather than routine, I have found ritual to be a more fruitful way to structure my days. To me, the distinction is that I have the freedom to go where the day’s tasks lead me, but at certain times of day, I do certain things. In the morning, I say my prayers and listen to NPR’s Up First. In the evening, I clean the kitchen while my husband gets the toddler to bed. Simple little touchstones throughout my day. 

As I try to build rituals or make changes, keeping my notebook has been the most useful tool. In the front of each month’s field book, I have a writing log and a habit tracker. The writing log lists how long I write each day and what I worked on. The habit tracker is a grid on which I track various details about my day. Some habits on the tracker are simply for allowing me to notice trends. Others have motivated me to make changes. 

For example, one of my goals for the year was not to buy anything that I did not need. I have not been perfect, but I have seen a huge decrease in my spending habits since I added a No Spend box to my habit tracker. For years, my spending habits have been much, much better than when I was a clothes horse in college and grad school, but considering how much consumer culture contributes to pollution, I am always striving to spend less and less. I found that the prospect of not getting to mark off that box on my chart often stops me from hitting “checkout” on something my family doesn’t need and prompts me instead to see what I already have that will serve the need or fulfill that want. (I started reflecting on that habit after the latest episode of How to Save a Planet Podcast.) 

Other items I track vary slightly from month to month, but right now, there’s space for Wake and Bedtimes, Water Consumption, Prayer, No Spend, Hours Outside, and Exercise (what and how long). In the past, I’ve had columns for writing, spinning, swearing, and skincare. Once I feel like a habit has taken root, I swap the space out for something else, and seeing check marks fill out the page surprisingly does help keep me going. I look forward to the day that swearing and scrolling no longer need their columns. 

Have you considered building in a daily time to put your technology away? How did it go? Let me know below. 

On the Racial Politics of Baby Dolls

IMG_20210614_131745245Our daughter has a birthday coming up and I am excited to give her her first baby doll. Not only did I love playing with dolls when I was young, but research shows that playing with dolls helps children grow the parts of their brains associated with empathy and social skills (even for boys, by the way, and Manhattan Toys even makes a Wee Baby Fella). Dr. Sarah Gergson explains, “We use this area of the brain when we think about other people, especially when we think about another person’s thoughts or feelings. Dolls encourage them to create their own little imaginary worlds, as opposed to say, problem-solving or building games. They encourage children to think about other people and how they might interact with each other” (Frontiers).

After an evening of research on the best dolls for young children, I decided on Wee Baby Stella by Manhattan Toy Company. Then, things got admittedly more complicated than necessary. Because of my background in girlhood studies, I knew that a baby often sees their doll as an extension of themselves, so, I wanted to get my girl a doll that looked like her. The Wee Baby Stellas that were available were either peach with blond hair, which she is not, or beige with brown hair. In the reviews of the beige Wee Baby Stella, a few parents of biracial children commented that the beige doll is darker than expected, more of a brown (there is also a dark-skinned Wee Baby Stella). Our baby girl is half-Puerto Rican, and although she looks like her dad, she is closer to my olive-but-white skin than to her father’s brown skin. What this all will mean to her in the future I don’t know, but I don’t want to tip the scale. Hmm. 

Then, well, then I got carried away. I had a coupon and I ordered a custom Wee Baby Stella with the peach skin and brown hair. But, they also released a Wee Farmer outfit that I wanted and it only came on a beige doll, not as a separate item. We generally try not to buy a lot of toys, aiming for quality over quantity, but I really wanted to get this right. I figured, we could give her the second doll later when she was ready for her baby to have a friend. (Do you see this turning into Mama wanting the outfit for the doll?) At any rate, I now had the two dolls side by side, and a baby who looks somewhere between them. 

I enlisted her dad’s help in choosing. Without batting an eye, he chose the beige doll and that settled it. 

doll-testThe Doll Test

“Who CARES?!” you might say. Well, I also knew about the fraught history around race and dolls. Here’s the story. 

You have probably heard of the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education which decided that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In this ruling, the court struck down the idea of separate but equal, based in part by the testimony of psychologists and sociologist that through segregation, Black children were internalizing negative ideas about themselves based on their race. Perhaps now the most famous part of this testimony, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark spoke about the “Doll Test” they had conducted 14 years prior. 

In the experiment, the Clarks worked with Black children, presenting them with white and brown dolls (which were actually white dolls painted brown because they couldn’t find a brown baby doll) and asking them to describe the dolls, identify which they would rather play with, which was good or bad, and which one looked like them. 

The majority of the children preferred the white, blond doll and ascribed negative, often racist, ideas to the brown doll, casting it aside. 

“All of the children tested were black, and all but one group attended segregated schools. Most of the children preferred the white doll to the African-American one. Some of the children would cry and run out of the room when asked to identify which doll looked like them. These results upset the Clarks so much that they delayed publishing their conclusions.” (History)

The Clarks, however, concluded that children form their ideas of their racial identity by the age of three and the racist ideas that the children were internalizing were damaging their self-image. 

Chief Justice Warren wrote in the opinion, ““To separate [black children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” 

The Doll Test has been repeated with similar results. Recently, Toni Sturdivant of Texas A&M, herself an African-American woman and mother to a little girl, conducted similar research opting to instead observe the way that pre-school-age girls played with a diverse lineup of dolls over the course of a semester in school. She found that the Black dolls were mistreated by the children, including Black children, in ways that the dolls of other ethnicities were not. 

She concluded, 

Back in the 1950s, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, used the Clarks’ doll test research as evidence for the need to desegregate schools. Yet in my own doll test study, more than half a century later in an integrated setting, I found the same anti-Black bias was still there.

Children are constantly developing their ideas about race, and schools serve as just one context for racial learning. I believe adults who care about the way Black children see themselves should create more empowering learning environments for Black children.

Our Wee Baby Choice

It is entirely possible that this choice of a first birthday gift was a moment in which my education made something more complicated than it needed to be, but I’m not sure it was. Play is how children learn, and I want my daughter to feel good about herself and to be loving and accepting of the people around her. After her dad chose the beige doll, I set about putting it in the cute outfit I’d chosen. Then, with both diapered dolls sitting in front of me, I decided to let Baby Girl choose. I knew that by the time her birthday rolled around, she’d probably forget, so I held up both babies to her. She looked them over carefully, patted peach baby on the head, and chose the beige doll. And that was that. 

Now I just have to go about waiting for her birthday so we can play with her doll. 

Works Cited

Playing with a variety of toys leads to appropriate growth for girls and boys

That’s My Baby: How dolls promote emotional development in both sexes

A Revealing Experiment: Brown v. Board and “The Doll Test”

What I learned when I recreated the famous ‘doll test’ that looked at how Black kids see race

How a Psychologist’s Work on Race Identity Helped Overturn School Segregation in 1950s America

Civil Rights and the Doll Test

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Cultural Genocide at Indian Boarding Schools

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Students at Carlisle Indian School

More than 700 unmarked graves found at a former residential school in Canada A headline that is horrifying, but not entirely surprising if you know much about the history of the residential boarding school program. Designed to “civilize” indigenous people through education, the residential schools were a way of killing a culture rather than continuing to fight the Indian Wars.

(A brief note about my qualifications and my lack there of: I did my dissertation on school girl narratives and cultural citizenship in American literature. I did research for a chapter to be focused on the Native American boarding schools in the U.S., but the chapter ended up getting scrapped for various reasons. I am not, however, an Indigenous person so there are naturally limits to what I can say with authority. There are excellent sources about the boarding schools. Please see the list below.)

The residential schools were abusive at best. There’s no way around it. As Dr. Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in a recent history chat on the topic, the people who set up the schools believed they were doing good, saving souls. The process, however, was traumatic from top to bottom, built on a paternalistic belief that white people’s culture and white people’s systems were better for indigenous children than their own communities could offer. Children were essentially stolen from their families, treated harshly, not allowed to speak their own languages, and punished for practicing their own cultures. Over and over in the literature about the residential schools, there are violent scenes of the children’s hair being cut off. In many Native American cultures a person’s hair is sacred, an important marker of their identity.

I say this with all due respect to the survivors: these schools were designed to be Genocide Lite.

So now that the mass graves are being discovered, we really shouldn’t be shocked.

Education is a form of “soft power,” a way to push an agenda, build a culture, and mold citizens into what the dominant voices think a citizen should be. These residential schools, however, were not the same thing as sending Native American kids to a public school where they would be forced to pledge allegiance to the flag or play pilgrims and Indians at Thanksgiving. They were a hostage situation. Children regularly disappeared after trying to run back to their families. They were a means of kidnapping the future of a civilization.

“Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” was the slogan put forth by Cpt. Richard Pratt, a key figure in the founding of the Carlisle Indian School. Genocide with the thinnest veneer of good intentions.

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior (the department that houses Indian Affairs), the first Indigenous person to serve as a secretary in the Cabinet, announced earlier this week that her department would launch an investigation in the the residential schools in the U.S. She said, “The interior department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be. I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”

It would be naive to think that the investigation will not uncover tragedies as horrifying as those being unearthed in Canada.

As I said, I do not have personal experience with the trauma of these schools, but I have created a brief list of sources if you would like to learn about this chapter in U.S. history.

Books About Indian Residential Schools

They Called It Prairie Light : The Story of Chilocco Indian School

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors

Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School

Articles

American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many (NPR)

U.S. Indian Boarding School History

Death by Civilization (The Atlantic)

History and Culture: Boarding Schools (Northern Plains Reservation Aid)

Marcus is not the new Jess Mariano. Ginny is.

Marcus is not the new Jess Mariano. Ginny is.

When Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia dropped, almost immediately the internet broke out in articles comparing it to Gilmore Girls. The comparison to Gilmore Girls is fair, if superficial. Sure, both shows feature a single mom who had her daughter when she was a teenager and take place in a quaint small town. Sure, both mothers have complicated on-again-off-again romances with their daughter’s father. I do not really think Ginny & Georgia is that similar to Gilmore Girls beyond those broad strokes.

I definitely do not think that Marcus Baker is the new Jess Mariano. In fact, I think if we are going to compare anyone to Jess, it should be Ginny.

Bustle compared Marcus to Jess in the headline for an article that mostly focused on the actor, Felix Mallard, who plays Marcus. Seeing that headline had me looking for similarities as I watched the show. Both are brooding teenage boys. Okay…

But when we look at Ginny and Jess, there is far more similarity. Both Ginny and Jess are readers with a critical eye. Both Ginny and Jess have complicated relationships with a flighty mother. Granted, Georgia is a much stronger figure than Jess’s mother, but both teens had childhoods spent moving from place to place at their mothers’ behest. Both Ginny and Jess have commitment issues and leave an earnest, goodie-goodie romantic interest hanging. Both have a mentor who runs a restaurant and gives them some occasional tough love while they pine away for one of their best customers who also bosses them around…

So, if we’re comparing anyone to Jess, make it Ginny, not Marcus. It’s easy to fall back on the tropes that there’s the bad boy neighbor causing romantic trouble for the smart girl next door, but Ginny & Georgia is working beyond those categories in their portrayal of Ginny, a smart complicated character. Let’s not force that dynamic on the story. 

And let’s not compare Joe to Luke while we’re at it. (Even though I sort of just did.)

 

(Book Review) Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

“Son, one of the biggest lies ever told is that Black men don’t feel emotions. Guess it’s easier to not see us as human when you think we’re heartless. Fact of the matter is, we feel things. Hurt, pain, sadness, all of it. We got a right to show them feelings as much as anybody else.” (Concrete Rose 163-64).

Concrete Rose, the prequel to Angie Thomas’s hit book, The Hate U Give, is a moving coming of age story that focuses on a young Maverick Carter in the aftermath of finding out that he has a baby son. He thought that the baby belonged to his best friend, King, but when a DNA test reveals the truth and the baby’s mother leaves the three-month-old boy with Maverick, he has to grow up fast. Mav renames the baby Seven, the number of perfection and a number significant to theories about the recently departed Tupac. For those who loved Starr in The Hate U Give, this book leads up to the time just before her birth. Mild spoilers ahead.

This book was amazing. Thanks to my own daughter taking an uncharacteristically long nap, I read it in one day. I couldn’t put it down.

I really like Angie Thomas’s style as a writer in general. I think she handles heavy topics with prose that is light with hope and youth and then hits hard when the moment is right. That is true of this book as well. Whereas The Hate U Give dealt with police brutality and had Maverick’s history with the gang on the side, this book deals with the difficulty Maverick faces as a young father whose own father is in prison. Maverick struggles to make ends meet, to go to school when his son keeps him up all night, and with grief after his cousin is killed in a robbery.

I think what is especially noteworthy about this book is the focus on a single father. Usually, when a book handles teen pregnancy, it follows a young mother, her decisions and struggles. In Concrete Rose, however, Maverick becomes a father in an instant and struggles to learn how to fill that role. The result is funny and very touching. We also get a vivid picture of the inner life of a conflicted young man that is tender and surprisingly sweet. I thought the metaphor of a rose worked beautifully, as Maverick has to grow, pruning parts of his life. It had the double meaning also tied to Tupac’s The Rose That Grew From Concrete. Finally, as Maverick focuses on becoming a man, he is surrounded by male role models who provide different sorts of guidance. His cousin, Dre, another young father in the gang, encourages him to take care of his child while also providing him the love and support of a peer. From his boss, Mr. Wyatt, Maverick receives discipline and a more traditional model of masculinity. Maverick’s father, Adonis, serves as both a model of the type of father he doesn’t want to be and as a source of advice when it comes to Maverick’s evolving role in “the set.”

I do not usually enjoy prequels very much, so my expectations going into this book were limited. I was so moved, however, by Maverick’s story and the inner life that Thomas gives him. This was such a beautiful read.

The Parenting Problem with My Cellphone

When Julio and I did our weekly check-in on Monday night, one of the prompts was “I will do less…” and my answer was immediately “messing around on my phone.” No question or pause.

As a person and, more specifically a mother, in 2021, my cellphone is obviously a big part of my daily life. It’s how I contact friends and family. Send silent memos to Julio from across the house. Shop for our grocery pickup. Read books. Listen to podcasts or music. Track baby meals and naps. Keep track of library books. Play Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. You get it.

For a long time, my daughter didn’t really notice the phone. Then, when I started to take pictures of her, she would stop what she was doing and stare, her face saying, “What is that?” Now, she reaches for the phone. In my defense, reaching for the phone emerged during phone or video calls with family members. But still. When she reaches for the phone, I just picture battles over screentime down the road. I do not want that. As an older millennial who can remember what her brain was like before the internet, I do not want to plant the seeds for an obsession with gadgets. But I am modeling it.

This afternoon, when my girl did not go down for her nap as scheduled, I snuggled up with her in the bed for a “chat.” She babbled at me and I asked her questions and we looked at each other’s faces and it was perfect. It was the exact carefree timelessness that I envisioned when I said I wanted to do less messing around on my phone.

We started exploring the difference between being under the sheet and not under the sheet. When I pulled the sheet up over our heads, the afternoon sun shone through the flannel and we could see the floral print from the other side. Baby girl reached up to the sheet, feeling the fabric and looking at the flowers. It was a perfect moment. I tried sneakily to take a photo. Immediately, she tracked my phone and reached for it. I decided that I had to just paint a mental picture or write it in my notebook, because if I kept trying to get a photograph, the moment was going to stop being about the sensory play we were engaged in.

This, of course, is a 21st century quandary. For most of human civilization, babies have been born and grown up without every day of their lives being photographed, documented, and shared. I get that. And there are days that go by without me pulling up the camera. But many times, this child I so fervently hoped for is so sweet and precious and I want to drink up every second of her infancy and childhood, saving it in a little digital archive to keep her forever. Of course, the risk of this impulse is living her childhood through the filter of technology, not being in the moment with her. As in most things, I am sure the key here is balance.

This post is not a full-fledged essay or a post with anything resembling answers. It’s just a quick reflection on a small problem I’m facing while trying to be intentional about how I parent my child. Julio and I have an Unplug Box for our cellphones to go into when we are having family time, but it currently sits on the coffee table in a room we use less frequently. Maybe the first step is to move the box.

Yoga with Adriene: 4 Cycles in 4 Seasons

Trigger warning: we’re going to some dark places, including miscarriage, but we end up in a good place. 

Last year, Adriene Mishler was crowned “The Reigning Queen of Pandemic Yoga”. In a time when yoga studios were closed and when people were staying home to flatten the curve, more and more people turned to the online yoga community Yoga with Adriene, where the mantra is to “Find What Feels Good.” For many of us, Adriene had already been a staple, an important voice in our quest for self-care and wellness. What follows is not so much a review of Yoga with Adriene (which for the record, I think is great, but often slower than what I want. More power yoga, please, my love!) as it is the story of my journey with yoga over the last four years, through the use of Adriene’s annual 30 Days of Yoga series. It’s a story of grief, healing, illness, more healing, walking away from my yoga mat, and finding my way back. Spoiler alert: I find what feels good.

Season One: Revolution and My World is Rocked by Grief 

I first jumped into a 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, the annual thirty-day program hosted by the yoga superstar each January on YouTube, in January 2017. At that point, I had practiced yoga off and on for half of my life (starting with Rodney Yee DVDs before getting ready to go to high school), I had even followed Adriene for years, but I had never developed a daily practice. That was my goal. Oh, little did I know. 

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Girls in the Civil Rights Movement

As Black History Month begins, there are a plethora of lists circulating on the web of resources to use for learning more about Black History. Black history is American history. 

In this space, I wanted to briefly share the stories of some girls who were visible parts of the Civil Rights Movement. When I wrote my dissertation, my focus was girlhood narratives and discourses about citizenship in 20th Century American literature. With that topic in mind, naturally, I spent a lot of time studying the role of youth in the Civil Rights Movement. The young people involved are personal heroes of mine. So, here are some of the stories that were big parts of my research, in case you want to study up on some of these amazing people. 

Claudette Colvin

When Claudette Colvin was 15 years old, she refused to give up her seat on the city bus home from school, where she had been learning about Black leaders like Harriet Tubman. The incident happened nine months before Rosa Parks’s famous arrest, but Civil Rights leaders felt that Parks, who was an adult and more middle class in ethos, would be a better test case, so Colvin’s story was largely forgotten until recent years. 

Read/hear more about Colvin’s story at NPR: https://www.npr.org/2009/03/15/101719889/before-rosa-parks-there-was-claudette-colvin 

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges inspired the famous Norman Rockwell painting “The Problem We All Live With” that was recently referenced in images celebrating the election of Kamala Harris as the first Black woman to serve as Vice President. More importantly, Bridges was a key figure in the desegregation of public schools. When she was in the first grade, she became the only Black child to go to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. The images of hateful crowds screaming at her and U.S. Marshals escorting her to school became iconic.  During her first grade year, so many parents kept their students out of class at William Frantz that Bridges spent most of the year learning by herself with her teacher. Her family was sent a Black baby doll with a noose around its neck. The wrath that was directed toward Bridges is shocking to this day. The picture of Bridges that Rockwell painted would eventually be hung in the Obama White House. 

Elizabeth Eckford

The Little Rock Nine

Ruby Bridges integrated her school in 1960. In 1957, the Little Rock Nine ( Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNie, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals) made headlines as they desegregated their high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High did so as a test case for Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case from 1954 that found school segregation was not legal. After Brown, not much was done to integrate schools, so it became clear that the issue would have to be forced. The Little Rock Nine were a big part of that movement. On the first day of school, September 4, 1957, the governor of Arkansas sent troops to block the students’ entrance. President Eisenhower countered, sending federal troops in to escort the students to school. One image that became particularly emblematic of this movement is that of Elizabeth Eckford, looking awfully cool and collected in some killer shades, walking into school as an angry mob screams at her. Eckford was 16 at the time, so it is understandable that whereas people could look at her picture and see the strength and resolve, seeing the same sorts of images featuring Ruby Bridges at their center would be a degree more shocking. 

Sheyann Webb and Rachel West

Sheyann Webb and Rachel West

One of my favorite texts that I wrote about in my dissertation was Selma, Lord Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil Rights Days by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West. In the book, Webb and West recount their childhood experiences living in Selma, Alabama during the movement for voting rights and the infamous Bloody Sunday march. When watching Selma, I scoured crowd shots looking for some representation of these two brave little girls and did not see them. The truth was, they were part of that march. They were witnesses to that violence, escaping by being scooped up by fleeing adults, including Hosea Williams. Their account is sometimes very shocking. For example, they describe laying awake at night thinking about the fact that they could be killed. More often, however, they emphasize how proud they are to have been part of the community and for the fight for their rights, even though they were years away from being old enough to vote. Another element of their story that I find fascinating is the initiative they took in their involvement with the marches in Selma. Their parents were busy trying to pay the bills, so they did not get the girls involved. Instead, the girls skipped school to participate, doing so because they felt so strongly about the actions their community was taking, defying the adults most directly involved in their lives to do so. Because of their youth, the girls were given special attention by some members of the Civil Rights Movement. The recount meeting Dr. King, and have several wonderful stories about Rev. James Reeb who was ultimately killed in Selma. It looks like their book is out of print, but I very seriously suggest finding a copy at the library or a used book store and giving it a read. 

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair

The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

Four little girls were the victims of one of the biggest tragedies of the Civil Rights Era. The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing happened on September 15th, 1963 when four KKK members in Birmingham, Alabama planted a timed dynamite bomb beneath the steps at the church. Up to 22 people were injured and four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, were killed. It took decades for justice to be done in the case, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” The tragedy was a turning point in public opinion in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Diane Nash

Diane Nash

I have put Diane Nash last because I do not think she could really be called a girl, but she was incredibly important to the involvement of youth in the Civil Rights Movement. Along with John Lewis (RIP), Nash was a founding leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and also involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1961-1965. Nash was arrested dozens of times. She was instrumental in recruitment for the Freedom Riders and faced up to two years in prison for her role. She was four months pregnant at the time of her arrest and ultimately ended up spending 10 days in jail in Jackson, Mississipi, not two years. Later, Nash split from the SCLC over issues she had with the leadership, including the near exclusion of women. 

Black girls continue to do amazing things in American life today. The first who comes to my mind is Mari Copeny who made headlines for her protests about the Flint Water Crisis. Conversely, Black girls also continue to be discriminated against. We have seen the images this past year of girls marching during the Black Lives Matter protests and grieving their fathers and family members. Just yesterday, news broke of a police department telling a nine-year-old Black girl that she was acting like a child before pepper-spraying her. I feel like nothing I could say would be sufficient, so let me say this: Black girls do not have to do extraordinary things like the ones above did in order to deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and love, and our culture so often fails them.

Mugshots of Freedom Riders

Further Reading

Library of Congress: Youth in the Civil Rights Movement

PBS News Hour: Children Who Marched for Civil Rights Inspire a New Generation

Books on School Integration

Books for Talking About Race with Kids

10 Things Everyone Should Know About Diane Nash

Diane Nash Refused to Give Up Her Power

Breach of Peace: Portraits of the Freedom Riders

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Resources and Reflections on Prenatal and Postnatal Core Workouts

38 weeks pregnant, teaching my last barre class before baby. I think a core ball is essential for pre and postnatal abs, but if you do not have one, a pillow can work as a support too.

Before the pandemic, I taught barre fitness classes at a local studio. I loved it. After years of doing cardio and crash dieting, learning how to build strength, particularly lean muscle, changed my relationship with my body and with food. I found myself focusing more on strength and stamina, through yoga, barre, and running, and more on good nutrition than on calories. It was a paradigm shift that worked wonders for me. Exercise is essential to my mental health. Movement is medicine.

Fairly regularly in my classes, I would encounter a pre or postnatal woman who was concerned about her abs. Sometimes, the postnatal woman was very postnatal and still did not feel like her core strength was anywhere near where it was before babies. If you spend any time in women’s group fitness circles, you’re going to hear about two things 1) diastasis recti and 2) pelvic floor dysfunction. These issues are very common for women who have carried a baby and failing to address them can cause years of problems including back pain, the “mommy pooch” in the abs, incontinence, and/or peeing your pants when you sneeze. There’s a lot of jokes out there about the last one. I don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s a shameful sign of our culture’s inattention to women’s health that so many women feel like they have to just accept incontinence as a fact of life—the price you pay for having a baby. It’s not.

So, all that said, when I got pregnant I felt really good and strong and I went into the physical experience of carrying my daughter focused on good core and pelvic floor health so that I could deliver her and recover from it as best I could. I would like to share some of the resources I used along the way. If you are postpartum and experiencing issues with your abs or pelvic floor, it is never too late to work on healing.

A Note About Exercise Philosophy 

I am a certified barre instructor, but I do not have certifications in pre- or postnatal training. I am also not a medical doctor. It really is best to talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have about your core or pelvic floor. If you have pelvic floor issues that are really troubling you (incontinence, painful sex, etc.) there are pelvic floor physiotherapists out there who specialize in these issues. 

I am not going to lie to you and say that my appearance was not part of my mindset in this area, but what I tried to focus on in my training was function. My body has to carry me through my whole life. In my prenatal training, I was focused on the function of my body to carry and deliver my daughter. In my postnatal training, I focused on healing my body so that it could carry and support me through my days. I wanted to feel at home in my body again, when so much in my life had changed so dramatically. This was a mind-body issue as well, so getting my self-talk in order was part of the process. My daughter is almost 5 months old and I am within five pounds of where I started my pregnancy, but more importantly, I feel strong and I feel like myself without having tortured or deprived myself. 

ETA: Also, upfront I want to acknowledge that birth experiences can impact recovery in ways that are beyond our control. Recovery from a c-section can look totally different from my experience below. My labor left me feeling really adrenaline high, so I started on my recovery pretty quickly. Take things at your own pace. Finally, I am at home which gives me a certain degree of flexibility with my time. Often, when I have time to do something for me, exercise is what I choose. You do you. 

Okay, let’s get started. 

Prenatal Core Tips

There is some debate about whether or not women should do ab exercises when they are pregnant. Those who say women should nix it are on that side because they are concerned about the aforementioned diastasis recti—separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically caused by thinning of the connective tissue between the two sides of your rectus abdominus (the six pack muscles). There are a ton of resources out there (links below) about this issue and I am not an expert. So, I will be brief. Some separation of the abs in pregnancy is moreorless inevitable because there has to be room for the baby belly to grow. Problems can arise when the separation in that connective tissue does not heal properly. 

Abs and arms are my favorite areas to workout and I taught barre until I was 38 weeks pregnant. If I had still been in the studio, I would have likely just cued verbally and sat out much of the ab section of my classes, but with COVID I was teaching over Zoom and had to demo. Sometimes my sweet husband was a fitness model for me. Sometimes I pretended to do the exercises. A lot of the time I just modified. That was my approach to prenatal abs—MODIFY. The way I saw it, a strong core would help me carry the baby without putting too much strain on my body and then would help me push her out. 

I treated preparing for delivery like training for a race. Labor is kind of an extreme sport, after all. So, as soon as I got pregnant, I started doing more core exercises during that first trimester, trying to get my core as strong as possible before I had to modify. My midwife told me that after 16 weeks, I didn’t really have abs anymore. So, during the second and third trimester, I no longer exercised the rectus abdominus and focused on my obliques, the muscles along the sides of your core. These muscles help with stability and support. What I visualized was the obliques forming a corset or a cradle holding the baby up. I was helped in this by the fact that I carried my daughter pretty high, but my focus was on maintaining stability in the core for that purpose. 

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