Parental Leave

Evan sent me an article today on the differences between the Danish and American healthcare systems/social policies, and it made me curious about the specific lengths of parental leave in various countries. I had heard anecdotally about how very different it is in other countries, but to see the actual numbers was a total gut-punch.

According to Wikipedia (because, duh), the US is one of only four countries (the others are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland) that guarantees exactly zero days of paid maternity leave and — of course — zero days of paid paternity leave).

I am choosing to not be depressed at this. When I went on maternity leave, I was lucky to be in a situation where I was able to cobble together 16 weeks of vacation days, sick days, state disability (note that California is one of the few US states that mandates some paid leave for new parents), and disability from my insurance company — even then, I wasn’t being fully paid, and I spent quite a bit of time during my leave on the phone with various agencies to ensure that everything went smoothly. Even more fortuitously for us, Evan was in a flexible-enough work situation that he was able to take four weeks off, followed by being on call for the rest of my THE-BABY-WON’T-STOP-CRYING-EVER emergencies. We were, and are, very very lucky indeed.

But if we ever decide to go down that path again, I can’t say I won’t be pulling up this list again, as a guide for where we should probably move to first. Maybe Denmark? Sweden? Or if we don’t want to venture too far from home, Canada offers new parents 35 weeks to split between them (in addition to 15 weeks of maternity leave), which sounds pretty good, eh? See, I’m a natural already!

(All photos of us taken during those first 16 weeks of Zoe’s life.)


Convos with my 2-year-old

Zoe will be 2 in July, and these days, depending on the moment, she’s either a complete delight or a total terror. Thankfully, at this age, both extremes are still kinda hilarious to us. One funny thing that she does now is this: whenever she can’t manage something on her own, like open a jar, turn a doorknob, or peel a sticker off the page, she grabs my hand, carefully puts it on the offending item, and then looks at me expectantly (sometimes, she exclaims, “OUT!”).

The bossiness will be strong in that one, that’s for sure.

So this adorable video is like a glimpse into my near, near future. Eek! Keep me in your thoughts, people.

PS for those interested in more toddler sass, make sure you follow the hilarious Honest Toddler account!

Pregnancy Dos and Don’ts: A Lit Review

This is a month or two old, but I didn’t see it the first time around, and it’s the perfect encapsulation of what it is to be pregnant in the era of internet “information”:

How to Have the Best Pregnancy Ever

My favorite part:

And your husband should have a suitable job, because what he does for a living at the time of your child’s conception could actually cause birth defects. So make sure your child’s father is not a mathematician, physicist, computer scientist; artist; photographer or photo processor; food service worker; landscaper or groundskeeper; hairdresser or makeup artist; office or administration support worker; sawmill operative; working with oil or gas; working in a chemical industry; printer; or operating cranes or diggers.

Two ways to look at it:

  1. You can’t win.
  2. You’re always winning!

Trying my hardest to always go with #2, especially because the chatter hardly dies down once the kid is out…

(Photo courtesy of Jezebel)

Magic Johnson and EJ(3!)

Living in LA, it can be hard to escape the presence of Magic Johnson — besides the fact that he’s obviously one of the greatest Lakers ever, he also owns a million companies, including a chain of movie theaters and, I swear, a TGIFridays that I see every time I drive home from the airport. Of course, most recently, the biggest purchase he’s been involved with is the LA Dodgers, a news item that highlighted how much people in general and Angelenos specifically seriously, SERIOUSLY love Magic.

And I get it, Magic is a great and really inspirational guy. But I don’t think I ever really had a strong opinion on him till I watched the below video, where he proves himself to be an incredible father and gay advocate. Some backstory: Magic’s son EJ(3!) was just “seen” stepping out with his boyfriend (aside: when you watch the video below, it’s hard not to realize that EJ’s TMZ moment — like so so many — was totally orchestrated in conjunction with some involvement from him, which is its own weird thing that I don’t even think is so sleazy any more (they’ve worn me down), but still a very strange part of the business of celebrity). A few days later, of course also on TMZ, a sit-down with Magic ensues where he talks more about EJ coming out (with Magic’s help!) and his support of his son. Obviously it’s savvy, great press for the whole Johnson family, but I don’t care — Magic as a proud dad makes me all snuggly inside:


PS Another great, recent insider perspective on homophobia in sports, written by one of my favorite football players, Scott Fujita (who happens to play for the Cleveland Browns, hurrah!).

(Photo courtesy of Radar Online)

The Little Reader

I’ve just emerged from a fog of sickness that descended over House Phoenix — a disgusting stomach bug that first hit Zoe, then Evan, and finally (and most whiningly) me. But those small, almost cute (stomach bug!) words don’t even begin to describe the all-engulfing, emotional, wrenching experience that was having the whole family be sick for weeks. Ugh, gastroenteritis begone — I’m just so incredibly glad to see the end of you!

So one thing that happened as a natural result of being cooped up together for days on end without visitors is a lot of contemplative conversations between Evan and me, which often devolved into sentimentalities about our little girl (blame me — I get very emotional when I’m sick… or hungry… or when it’s cloudy out…). As much as we take detailed note of all the changes that she’s going through from day to day now, it’s hard not to still dream about what sort of older kid and young woman she’ll be one day.

With that in mind, when I ran across this video of 13-year-old Nevaeh Mosher today, I found myself with really mixed emotions.


On one hand, I was a huge reader as a kid, and have all sorts of memories of not wanting to be bothered by life, because I’d prefer laying in a sunny spot of my house and just getting lost in a book. That’s a pleasure that’s really hard to describe to non-readers, and it’s one that I still enjoy so much as an adult. Reading really does open you up to so many other worlds, incredible storytelling is a thing of magic, and skillful deployment of language can be a revelation.

But at the same time: 325 books a year is a LOT, and you do wonder what else in her life that leaves time for Nevaeh to do. The video seems to suggest that perhaps her upbringing is such that losing herself in books is one of the safest things that she can do, and she truly seems like a mature, determined young woman. As with most 13-year-olds, she’s a bit absolutist, but black-and-white opinions like “without education, you’ll be a nobody” are certainly more welcome than “Joe Jonas or NOTHING.” I’m just not convinced that I’d be psyched if Zoe ended up as a 300+ books a year reader, though I can’t quite pinpoint why…

Tubing with Toddlers

This past weekend, Evan, Zoe, and I trekked a few hours outside of LA with our dear friends’ families for a snowy weekend getaway! Or so it was supposed to be — there actually wasn’t much snow on the ground and it didn’t start snowing anew until the day after we came back — but we had fun anyway.

We had FOUR children with us, aged 3 years, 19 months, 15 months, and 2 months. If that sounds pretty damned insane to you… well, you wouldn’t be wrong. But while it did seem sometimes like we were in the path of three colliding tornadoes (the 2-month-old doesn’t move much yet, thank Zeus), it was also incredibly fun to see the older three girls have a bunch of new experiences amidst what was basically a weekend-long sleepover party.

One thing we really wanted to do was take the girls sledding, especially since it’s not likely that any of our little Angelenas will have the opportunity to regularly go sledding down their neighbor’s front lawn or the local park after a snowstorm. Given the lack of naturally-occurring snow though, we realized we’d have to go somewhere where they make snow happen, which is how we found ourselves at Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park. I had never gone tubing before, since everyone I know in Cleveland just has a variety of beat-up sleds in their garages, and when I first saw it, I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work with our passel of wriggly toddlers.

Turns out: the girls loved it… for about 20 minutes. It was the first time I saw so clearly the emotional roller coaster that kids this age ride, and it was kinda breathtaking. It was still a great experience overall, even if the girls were over it well before the adults were. And having six adults around was also great for taking turns watching them while the rest of us pretended to be eight-year-olds again, hurtling down a hill and hoping that the thrill never ever ends.

(All photos courtesy of Ashley Stoner and Cece Chikhale)

Letting Children Fail

When I think about parenting challenges in my future, I think a lot about failure and perseverance. I’ve always had a natural tendency to not want to do anything I’m not good at, which is something that I’ve tried to work on in my adult years. As such, even though Zoe’s still so young, it’s very important to me to instill in her a desire to work at things that don’t come naturally to her, and to learn how to deal with failure.

The fact that some failure is an inevitable part of living a normal, well-balanced life was a difficult lesson for me to learn. Once I embraced it though, I could start learning how to deal with both the initial failure and my own reaction to it. It’s humbling work, but so important as I try to become a better person every day. It’s hard though: even now, the starkness of the word “failure” still startles me, and I am fighting the compulsion to soften it in this post by changing each occurrence to the more moderate “mistakes” or “errors” — I’m standing strong on this though, which, sadly for you readers, leads to a lot of word repetition!

All that’s just a long-winded (I’ve given up any attempt to work on my failure to ever be brief!) prelude to this fascinating article in The Atlantic, written by a middle-school teacher about the lengths parents go to to keep their children from experiencing failure, and how it can have an incredibly adverse effect on their development. I couldn’t agree more that failure and success are both integral parts in a child’s education, and that school is meant to teach kids so much more than just what’s in the pages of a book.

One of my favorite passages from the article:

But children make mistakes, and when they do, it’s vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty. Year after year, my “best” students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.

And a great point from the comments:

One of the best things that schools, teachers, and parents can do for their students is to give them a safe place to fail. It’s much easier – and, generally, far less costly – for an 8 year old to not put in the effort and not reap the reward than it is, say, for a 24 year old to do so.

So what happens when an educational system turns out huge numbers of adults-to-be who have figured out (via their parents’ help, or on their own) how to game the system so that they never have to experience failure? Of course it has an effect on their individual personality as an adult, but what about on society as a whole? Intriguing stuff.

(Photo courtesy of St. John’s University)