In an attempt to normalize breastfeeding, I’m logging all fictional books that mention breastfeeding here. [If you’ve read a book that mentions breastfeeding & I haven’t logged it, please comment & I’ll add it. Thanks!]
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez | When one sister loses her child, her husband drinks her milk during sex.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood | The Crakers nurse their babies, and since their children grow faster than normal humans, they are often seen nursing large children.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay | Breastfeeding & trauma when the main character is kidnapped & raped & her milk dries up.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee | Scout sees women breastfeeding outside the courthouse. She mentions that breasts are “friendlier in pairs.”
Beloved by Toni Morrison | Breastfeeding & trauma. A wonderful and heartbreaking read.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck | Of course this iconic ending features a woman breastfeeding a withered old man to keep him alive.
December 2016: We read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I’ve read this book at least two times prior to this. I was itching to read it again, and certainly itching to talk about it. It still a timely story in our political climate. Some books speak prophecy in that way, like Parable of the Sower and 1984. Another reason Handmaid is timely and I wanted to revisit it: there’s a miniseries coming out soon that looks dark and beautiful.
SPOILER ALERT: I will talk some details, of the middle, of the endings. Stop here if you don’t wanna know. Also, if you haven’t read it yet, you may be lost…
I knew all the tricks Margaret Atwood snuck in, or so I thought. One huge surprise I had this time around, a face-slap worthy moment, was when I discovered the Historical Notes at the end of the novel. In my previous two reads I missed them. HOW?
(This time around I also realized Offred’s name in “the before” was June. I didn’t realize it until the meeting, as my fabulous book club buddies are careful readers.)
With a simple device, these Historical Notes, Atwood adds another layer to her novel, one that casts it in a new light. All of these memories and insights and records of Offred’s life, or June’s life, were recorded on cassette tapes in no apparent order. This little detail that we don’t get until the end, did it change anything for you when you read it?
For me, it gave June a future. A fuzzy one, but at least one that ended in some act of bravery, of her taking her own life back by the throat. Maybe she doesn’t get far. Maybe she’s caught, returned, made an example. Maybe she escapes and finds her mother, or goes on to rescue her child.
During our book club meeting we wondered how Margaret Atwood wrote Handmaid, in what order.
During our book club meeting we wondered about novel’s organization, its shifting back and forth in time. What order did Margaret Atwood write Handmaid’s Tale in, we wondered. So I tweeted her. (Why not? She an active Twitter-er.) A few hours later, she answered, and I geeked:
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? Margaret Atwood, you’re a true gem, and one hell of a writer. After book club several of us were hyped up for Handmaid’s Tale tattoos. We’ll see if that happens…
Since giving birth myself, I’m starting to catalogue books I read that have BIRTH SCENES. And oh, this book has a good one.
Favorite quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale:
“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
“I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.”
“You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter. I want to be with someone.”
Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale for a bookclub? Or on your own? Let’s talk about it.
I as a white woman have seen a different world than some of my brothers and sisters.
I am a mother. I have a son with white skin. I don’t have to fear for him in the same way black mothers or white mothers to black children fear for their own. Because of his skin color, my son is safer than others.
When I’m distressed, when I’m scared or angry or hurt, I don’t often speak out. I retreat into myself, lick my wounds. I read books and am comforted by the pain of others. We all feel pain. We have all been hurt and have all felt loss. Reading heals me. The best books for me are the ones with hardness in them. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors. She writes quick and raw and true to the bone. Her novels have given me an added perspective. Her novels of black women, young black girls, and black men have given me a glimpse into an experience that was not my own. Books offer something that TV doesn’t: diverse casts.
When I learned about racism I was pretty young. I felt ashamed. I felt guilty. I felt angry and confused. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that I was treated differently because of my skin. I was confused by racism and sexism and my label as white female, and I kept reading voices of people other than me. And voices that represent some or all of my label. But I could forget these injustices here and there because they weren’t affecting me.
For the past week I have cried in the shower before bed, confused and angry and deeply saddened. And I kept thinking, what can I do? What can I say?
The recent events have been horrific, just as I was horrified and angry years ago when Trayvon Martin died, and again when his killer was not punished. I kept my anger and sadness and disappointment in the system to myself. I am not a black woman, and my husband is not black. I didn’t think I had a place to speak out. But I was wrong.
And then most recently, more killings that should not have happened. Lives that should not have been taken. People with families that love them.
I kept my eyes open to the news, my heart open to the pain. I kept silent on social media. What do I say? What can I do? The problem is nebulous and deep and layered. How can I possibly change anything? How does sharing my own pain, my own heartbreak help? Can it actually hurt somehow, for me to share? Are my feelings important, or are they just jumbling up the conversation, distracting from the injustices happening around me?
To try to find the words for this is weird, but what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t think my voice – as what we’ve labeled with our sharp lines as a “white woman” – was relevant.
A few weeks ago my dad hounded me to listen to a podcast, an episode of This American Life called The Birds and The Bees. (The podcast was on talking to your children about tough issues, namely Sex, Race, and Death. You can find it here.)
In the podcast Kadijah Means, a young black female activist, said what we need is not to be “color blind” but to be “color competent.” That hit me, it stayed with me for days. Color competent. See the colors of the skin and celebrate them. See them as a living rainbow, as a spectrum of humanity, of a diverse beauty.
Kadijah Means also says her father taught her at a young age that race is a social construct. I was chopping an onion when she said that and my eyes were already stinging from the sharp white juice. I had never heard anyone describe race in that way. A social construct. Hmm. I stopped preparing dinner and gave the woman my full attention. I listened to this podcast a few weeks before the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Diversity is a great thing. Color blindness is not real, and it’s not what we should strive for.
I live in a diverse community. My family is one of two white families on our street. Here, I am a minority. I didn’t notice until I moved out of a mostly white community that I was in fact IN a mostly white community. Now the faces around me are of varying shades. I see brown faces, tan faces, dark black faces that are almost purple. I see white faces, light brown faces, faces brown as the fertile earth. Each is beautiful in its own way. When you look in the faces, each has eyes and ears. Each is someone’s child, a son or daughter. Some, many, are someone’s parents. Mothers and fathers. Aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Each has struggles and joys that are unknown to us. We are strangers.
Yet, when you live in a community that is more diverse, or when you go to restaurants or shops of people whose faces are a different color than yours, you start talking to them. You see that they are more like you than different.
Is it hurting us that we aren’t talking about it? It’s painful and uncomfortable to talk about.
A former classmate of mine, a white man, very tall and very good at the piano, now lives abroad. He wrote on Facebook about Black Lives Matter. He was outraged that people couldn’t see what the movement really was: “a cry for help.” And it is. That’s what I feel when I hear it — please! Let us live!
To respond to “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” might feel right to you. That’s because IT IS RIGHT. We want all lives to matter. That’s all we want. All lives should indeed matter, and we all want them to. But they don’t yet.
I look at my son sleeping and I am mad that my sister, who may have a black son, could be looking down at her son too. And while I am thinking I hope my son grows into a strong man that’s also kind, she may be wishing her future hypothetical son into a quiet man who doesn’t rustle feathers. And even then, many of my black sisters and brothers are afraid for their sons’ lives. Their sons and their daughters. They are afraid he’ll be seen as a threat just holding Skittles or wearing a hoodie. Just for playing with a toy gun. Just for being black. They’re afraid and they should be. I am afraid for them, too. I am for the kids I see walking around my neighborhood. I’m hoping they’ll be treated fairly.
But to my original question, the question of what can I say? The more real question of What can I do? The answer is: say something. Say it’s not right. And now I see: my silence was consent. By not talking about it, I was saying it’s OK. And it most certainly IS NOT OK.
Our race is human, and the beauty industry tells us the color of “flesh” is closer to the white side of the spectrum. Flesh color instead is an immense and captivating spectrum. Our human race has skin deep black that is almost purple, our skin is medium brown and tan and white. Some skin is the whitest white that is almost purple. Don’t you see how it wraps back around? How it’s all connected?
To my black sisters and brothers, I am deeply sorry it took me this long to say: Enough. Black Lives Matter. I am with you.
I will do what I can. I will keep my eyes open for opportunities to end this. I will talk to my son openly and honestly about his privilege. I will work hard to give him a heart of love and inclusiveness, a heart that embraces everyone equally. I truly believe we have the power to change this, to right this wrong.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
If you know me personally, you know my husband and I make apps. You probably also know that my sister Chelsea Bates is a first grade EL teacher in Metro Nashville Public Schools. She wanted to build an app that her students and their parents could use together to practice their sight words. So together we made it happen!
Our sight words app has the 220 Dolch sight words in English, and also have a sample sentence in English with each word. We have translations of each sight word in Spanish and Arabic.
The sight words app is available for iOS and Android. It’s free! (Or, if you’d like an ad-free version, you can buy it for just a dollar!)
We are still working on some translation kinks, and we want to add several more languages (including Kurdish, Mandarin, Tagalog, and more). We also have a way for users to request a language through the app, so please let us know if there’s a language you want to see!
I’m so proud of my sister for being such a caring, enthusiastic, resourceful teacher. I am also proud of my husband Mark for building and designing such a cool, useful app. As a lover of reading and writing, I’m excited to have helped build an app that empowers kids to learn to read.
Have you downloaded it? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Also, sharing is caring. If you know someone who would love this app, we would be so appreciative if you’d pass on the word.
This month we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
It was a great read, a hard read, perhaps, if you aren’t into downfall of society, anarchy, post apocalyptic shit. But I am, I guess, so it was a fantastic read for me.
We touched upon many themes, including:
Lauren Olamina’s Earthseed vision,
the privilege of community programs like firefighters & police,
packing a go bag,
protecting children in a savage society,
the ramifications of prevalent violence,
being hungry and what it might make us do,
love & sex,
choosing your community & travel companions,
procreating in desolate times,
seas of people walking on an empty interstate
It was a good discussion, and I’m putting the second book in the series, Parable of the Talents, on my to-read list. Sadly Ms. Butler didn’t get to finish her trilogy, so Lauren’s fate is undecided. I’ll leave you with a quote that I really enjoyed from the book:
God is neither good
God is Power.
God is Change.
We must find the rest
of what we need
in one another,
in our Destiny.
Join us next month (in person at Atmalogy in Nashville or virtually, if you wish) for the novel Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. It’s supposed to be a dark, well-written thriller. I’m excited.
Since Dax was born (almost a year ago now), I have learned a tremendous amount. I have learned about babies, about the female body, about birth, about motherhood, about parenthood, about partnership.
I am happy to be able to see my son as much as I do. I never thought I would be a “stay-at-home-mom.” The label sounds weird, even. I thought I’d work a full time job. At one point I even defiantly stated that I’d never have kids. (I said I’d never get married, too, but here we are. I’m happy to be a person who can change her mind.)
One thing though that I truly misunderstood about becoming a mother, though, was the amount of time and energy it takes. It’s crazy to even say this, but I really thought not a whole lot would change. That’s for another day, though.
What I’m trying to talk about is productivity. As a nursing mother whose son refuses a bottle (which is, by the way, totally my fault), I don’t get much alone time. I relish the moments (many many moments) where he naps on my body and I’m pinned to the couch and my arms and legs are numb and throbbing. I know soon, very soon, he will no longer need me this way, with this urgency. And on the days where I can’t believe how long it takes to load the dishwasher or wash, dry, and fold just one load of laundry, I can get frustrated. But really, what’s the rush?
I think of the work I want to do, the writing projects that are just gathering in my brain, the clubs I want to form, the cool things around the city I want to do, the people I want to connect with. I think of yoga and dancing and painting and meditating. I get frustrated.
Then I stop. I take the minutes one at a time, the snapping of the diaper as its own meditation. The nursing a reason to stop, breathe, and surrender to this beautiful boy and the smooth wheels of the firetruck that he rolls over my skin. I am everything. It is all inside of me.
I think of his growth, his capacity for words and their meaning, the way he points at signs like he knows they show a secret language and he knows it won’t take him long to crack it. I will never forget these things. And even if it takes me weeks to finish a simple poem or scribble a sketch of a woman on warm paper, everything will get done, and I’m growing a human, a fresh piece of life. In a few years I’ll still want to draw pictures and write things and read. By then he’ll probably be lost in his own head, too, an artist.
Yesterday our book club met to discuss City of Thieves by David Benioff. Have I mentioned our book club is baby-friendly? Dax had a fun time discussing the book. Just kidding; he hung out with his cool Aunt Maggie who came to visit from Vanderbilt next door. Thanks, Aunt Maggie! The book is set in a stark and unforgiving landscape — Leningrad during WWII. Lev and Kolya go on a quest to find a dozen eggs for a colonel’s daughter’s wedding. If they find the eggs — a rarity during this cold, harsh winter war where literally everyone around them is starving — Lev and Kolya’s lives will be spared. You really must read it to find out what happens! I don’t want to spoil it for you. The writing is beautiful and image heavy, and we discussed how even in times of incredible cruelty, you can find beauty and peace.
Join us in February! Grab a copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, and join us for our discussion Sunday, February 22 at Atmalogy.