Monthly Archives: November 2007

Book Review: Daring Book for Girls

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This review is part of my participation in MotherTalk.
This, and all future reviews, will be archived on the Reviews tab above.

When I was in college, I managed a small independent children’s bookstore. From storytime under the big in-store elm tree to choosing from the myriad books, puzzles and realistic animal and bug puppets, children entering our shop were encouraged to discover the wonder and adventure in reading.

One afternoon, like most, a mother and young child sat in a cozy corner reading from a small stack of books. As I went about my work, I took delight in the ebb and flow of their voices and his determined page-turning. That is, until it came to a screeching halt when the little boy — about three years old — began to shriek in protest: “No mommy! That’s a girl book! I’m not reading that!”

It was then I realized just how young children are when they learn the unfortunate pinks and blues, dolls and trucks mindset in “traditional” gender roles. I promised myself any daughter of mine would also have a truck and handle a fishing pole, and any son would have a doll and help bake a cookie or two in the kitchen. (Ya know, alongside daddy’s apron strings. Me not being a fan of the kitchen and all.)

I also was careful in future dealings with customers not to become mired in that narrow gender-role mindset; I’d show all children all different kinds of books, sharing all sorts of adventures with all sorts of readers.

Given this, one can imagine I’m not wont to pull from the shelves a book seemingly written for one gender or another. No thank you. I don’t need a bookcover or author telling me I’m an acceptable reader simply because I’ve got breasts.

Ah. But there’s now an exception to this rule of mine.

When the recently released The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz landed on my doorstep, thanks to MotherTalk and publisher Harper Collins, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being simultaneously intrigued and cautious.

But wait. Mamagigi’s getting ahead of herself. First, another personal story. (Yes, it relates. I promise. Yeesh.)

One spring, as a child, my parents bought a large, playground-grade swingset from my elementary school for our own backyard. Seems the school was planning an upgrade and held an auction to make room for new play equipment.

Now, this swingset was special. It was like no other in my little slice of suburbia. It was red. Cherry red. And big. Very big. It seemed to be crafted soley for the purpose of swinging higher than all the other shamed denizens of Swingset-land. This awe-inspiring swingset sat ready, its long A-frame legs and strong chains tempting us — and all the neighborhood kids — to hop on and give it a spin. You know, if you dared.

To put it simply, my sister and I were thrilled.

But alas. It wasn’t meant to be.

Just days after its arrival into our very own backyard, a tornado blew through my Midwestern town and twisted the beloved new plaything into a big, depressing, cherry-red pretzel.

We moped for days, wallowing in our misery and the unbelievable unfairness of it all. Suddenly, the once-promising summer shined less bright, and each day lingered longer than the one before it. This is what happens, don’tchyaknow, when one’s innocent childhood daydreams are squashed and all that remains is disappointment, frustration and — gasp! — boredom.

This continued at a painful pace until, well, until the day our mother had heard enough.

Without explanation or invitation, she simply marched into the backyard and began to climb a big old tree that had been uprooted during the tornado and landed in our backyard. A tree that for us, had only been further reminder of the Tornado That Ruined Our Life.

While our parents’ gift of super-sized, ready-made swingset fun was just a short-lived reality, that afternoon mom presented us with a much greater gift: a jumpstart of our imaginations. She was daring us to embrace an unexpected opportunity that had landed — quite literally — in our own backyard.

The Daring Book for Girls reminds me of that day. It beckons young girls to extract the iPod earbuds from their ears, close their cell phones and embrace creativity and the important role it deserves in one’s childhood.

From its unique Tiffany blue hue and silvery glitter stylings to its heftiness as a hardcover chock-full of information, stories and tips meant to empower today’s young girls, Daring offers so much more than tired and shallow tips about blotting lipstick, walking gracefully in heels and batting eyelashes at bad boys. And this non-traditional take on activities for girls is a treat, indeed.

Its vintage feel doesn’t hurt either, with marbleized inside covers and old-fashioned fonts, parents of potential young readers can’t help but feel transported to the simpler time of their own childhood. Or the childhood they wish they’d had.

Although one could argue this packaging forces the fond feelings of yesteryear, the fact is if the book’s contents didn’t live up to its packaging, moms like me would simply place it right back onto the shelf and walk away.

But that’s not a problem for Daring — it delivers.

Readers can flip to any page and learn something they didn’t know. Or, just as delightful, relish in recollections of past adventures. There’s no need to carve out hours for reading this book, either. Each page or two offers a new activity, a new tidbit of cultural information or just-for-the-fun-of-it facts. From sports (something I admit the tweeny me would have skipped right over had this book existed then) and history (our daughters should learn about all sorts of daring women that came before them, yes?) to crafts (like making your very own sit-upon — oh, how I wish I still had mine, with its now-dated greenish-brown and ivory gingham checks and long ivory plastic waiststrings) to clever tricks and tips meant to entertain, there’s little room here for boredom.

Gather your daughter. Tell her to gather her friends. Heck, gather your friends. There are good times to be had and memories to be made.

This book will have a place in my daughter’s collection. And although she’s too young now to take full advantage, I’m not. It’s also a useful tool for me, in my role as her mom, to help keep her days full of learning, adventure and creative play — the simple charms of childhood.

So for me, its purpose is two-fold: In addition to being a guidepost for my own mother-daughter adventures to come, it’s a sweet reminder of my own years as a child when the most important thing I had to worry about was what crayons to use on the sign for my lemonade stand.

That day following the tornado, when I dusted off my imagination — thanks to a not-so-subtle dare by my own creative mother — is one of several memories I hold dear. Like dancing with her in warm summer rain showers.

Or later, sitting with friends, knotting shoelaces onto sticks and dangling them above murky rain puddles. Just us girls, fishing poles in hand, chatting it up and waiting for rainfish to bite.

This book is a must-have — for us and our daring daughters.

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Filed under Children's books, For fun, Friends, Gifts, Growing up, Parenting, Reviews

Meeting Hollee McGinnis of Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute

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Tonight my local adoption group hosted Hollee McGinnis of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. A most-interesting presentation indeed — and I’m not just saying that because she drew my name as winner of the raffle for a signed copy of Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation. Really.

I’ve got more to say on the evening, but I just want to read over my notes and properly digest it all. More to come.

(And as an aside, yes, NaBloPoMo kicked my tush. Sigh. But I keep on keeping on.)

Photo credit: Pam Hasegawa

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Family, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders, Parenting

On placecards and turkeys

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Heading off this morning to make pies with Thomas’ mother. I’m not much of a fan of the kitchen, but I am all for helping out with the Thanksgiving preparations (despite never having actually made a pie before). Word is she and I have five to make so we need an early start.

Tom is thrilled because he loves his mom’s pies — and they are super delicious — so I told him not to worry, I’d pay super-close attention and be sure to remember all her tricks and secrets.

And then I’d come right home and teach him to make them himself.

One thing I enjoy a bit more than being in the kitchen is tinkering with creative projects — like this for my daughter’s day care (her first classroom was the Pink Elephants) — so when I was tabbed to make place cards for this year’s dinner with my husband’s family, I wanted to do something more than put pen to paper. Considering that recent years have numbered close to 40 people, this year’s smaller gathering of 22 made my task a bit easier.

Not sure what my mother-in-law had in mind when she asked me to make them, but as you can see, the final result involves lots of cinnamon sticks, ribbon, pinecones and lotus pods. And for the kids’ table? Pinecone turkeys, what else!(Thanks to my mom, who was determined to figure out how to transform a pinecone into something fun for the kiddos. And this isn’t even her gathering. Props to her!)

Now, I’m off to make a pie or two. Or five.

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Filed under Family, Firsts, For fun, NaBloPoMo

For the List Lover in You (Kids’ Books ’07)

Publisher’s Weekly has released its Best Children’s Books of 2007 and School Library Journal has released its Favorite 63 books from the many it reviewed this year — and just in time.

With cold weather (we had snow showers yesterday with the biggest-I-kid-you-not snowflakes I’ve ever seen), some holiday home time over the next few days, a stockpile of aged wood in the backyard and my always-willing-to-please fireplace, I’m one happy book-list lover.

It’s always interesting to see the newest authors and illustrators, and things I may have missed during the year. So, with wool socks on and a big ol’ cup of steaming tea in hand, you know where to find me.

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Filed under Children's books, NaBloPoMo

I think I can, I think I can (celebrate)!

Thanks to a fellow blogger and adoptive mom for reminding me that there are reasons to celebrate adoption. (Sound strange to some? Let me explain.) Although this is National Adoption Month, “celebration” hasn’t been a word I’ve been throwing around much.

After all, adoption is a very serious subject. There’s so much to consider, so much involved, so much to understand. There is loss. Inevitable loss, from first parents and first families to culture and more. And facing that loss, with my daughter in the forefront of my mind, is hard. It weighs so heavily on me. Add in the matter of ensuring that this and any future adoption be ethical and whew, boy! So much to think about, worry about, carry around in myself.

So for me this National Adoption Month has been about using my own experiences with adoption to educate. It’s been about taking advantage of those conversations, working to make a difference in how others perceive adoption, working to ensure that Maeve’s first mom is respected and that others understand how open adoption really works. In fact, I wrote about how I planned to spend this month in my latest AFTH column. And I stand by all of that. The month’s just half over — there’s plenty o’ educating to do!

But there is also room for celebration, too, and my sincere thanks to Judy for the most-needed reminder.

I carry around with me all the hard parts of adoption because I love my daughter. I love her so much that the hard parts impact me because I cannot help but think how they will impact her as she grows. These concerns don’t rest very often, and when they do, guilt creeps in and takes hold.

But, given all the concerns about the myriad hard parts of adoption, the truth of the matter is, adoption is how Maeve came into my life. There are beautiful parts to adoption. No, that’s not all there is to it, of course. Not by a long shot. But there is beauty and happiness in it too, and those moments mean so much.

After all, adoption gave me the most beautiful, funny, sensitive, silly, determined little girl to nurture and love each day. I am lucky enough to share my life with her and hers with me. She is my amazing daughter. My daughter through adoption.

Recognizing this — I mean actually taking the time to breathe it in and feel it — doesn’t take away the importance of all the other things wrapped up with adoption and doesn’t negate the loss involved. No, but I think it’s alright to relish the happiness she brings, that I hope I bring her, the happiness and joy in being mama to a little girl that makes my life seem like it’s playing in full technicolor.

Having this beautiful soul in my life is, quite simply, cause for celebration.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Love, Maeve, Making a difference, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parenting

Diva in the rearview

Driving home tonight with Miss Maeve in the backseat and my mother at my right in the passenger seat, I commented how quiet Maeve had recently become.

Glancing down at the clock, I reasoned that since it was just about her bedtime, and we’d just spent a good handful of hours out and about doing some good ol’ fashioned girls-gone-shopping topped off by dinner out, she surely was well on her way to dreamland. The snoring would begin any moment and since we were just around the corner from the house, I began to consider the task ahead of me: gently removing her from the car, a delicate diaper-change and then some juicy kisses as I would tuck her in, snug as a bug in a rug.

A glance in the rearview mirror, however, proved me wrong. (And suddenly had me feeling like I was on Miss M’s payroll. Her personal driver, bringing her home after a long day doing whatever it is that busy two-year-olds do.)

There was Maeve in her pink floral fuzzy coat, donning a new scarf knitted by grandma — wrapped and knotted ever-so-funkily ’round her neck and draped down her front, of course — a fleece pink hat keeping her delicious curls in check, and, despite it being very, very dark outside, there she sat, looking straight ahead, straight-faced and wearing her bright pink sunglasses.

Chillin’.

Hmm. (Like she didn’t know How Darn Cool she looked.)

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Filed under Adoption, Beauty, Children, Curls, For fun, Maeve, NaBloPoMo

NJ’s adoption leave bill lives!

Rally your troops. Circle your wagons. Write a legislator.

It’s been a year since S-2249, New Jersey’s paid family leave bill, was introduced and it still has a pulse, folks.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, the measure will face its next test as it comes up for a vote by the state’s Assembly Labor Committee. This summer Gov. Jon Corzine pledged he would sign a family-leave bill into law before the end of this year. You look at a calendar and do the math.

The bone of contention at this point seems to be the number of paid weeks off afforded to workers — it’s already been decreased from 12 to 10, and that number may fall yet again as the state’s powerful business association claims such leave is simply too large a burden for small business to bear.

Thing is — and this is most important — the paid leave program would not be financed on the backs of businesses. I detailed how it would be funded right here some time ago.

And who, exactly, would be covered? Everyone, even those of us employed by a company with fewer than 50 employees (Me! Me! Me! That’s me frantically jumping up and down and waving my arms!) — companies otherwise exempt from current state law affording 12 unpaid weeks of leave and job protection.

Here’s the thing: All newly created or expanded families — no matter how they are formed — deserve invaluable adjustment and bonding time without fearing severe financial detriment. Caring for or financially supporting one’s family shouldn’t be an either-or situation.

You don’t have to be an adoptive parent to care about this. You could know one or love one or … better yet, you could just be … a member of a family. That’s right. This bill affects you, should you ever need time off from work to care for a beloved family member. You’ll care about it then, I can assure you. Thing is, it might be too late by then. So show your support now. How? Read on.

(Not up on the issue? Doesn’t mean you can’t jump in now and show your support. Just take a gander at my previous essays in the Adoption Leave tab above for the history of this bill and you’re good to go.)

If this legislation passes, New Jersey would be the third state in the nation (California leads the pack) to offer such relief to new adoptive parents, as well as those needing to care for an ailing family member.

Find the legislators here (click Labor in the right margin for the actual committee considering the bill), and write these folks to voice your support of paid leave for families.

And if you’re not a Jerseyan, don’t think your voice doesn’t need to be heard. Write these NJ legislators and let them know what this means to families like yours, and then copy it to your own lawmakers.

We’re all in this together, one state at a time.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption leave, Family Leave, Legislation, Paid Adoption Leave, Parenting, Work