DeVos Doesn’t “Believe” In Gay Conversion Therapy, And That’s Enough For (some) Gays, Apparently

I don’t usually use my blog in this way, but the world is going to shit and we need to talk about it when the very people who are supposed to be standing up for equality act like toothless cowards. First, deep breath, here’s a cat:


In case you’ve been living under a rock, Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos, a woman with absolutely no experience working with or in public schools, as his Secretary of Education. In fact, DeVos more or less hates public schools, but she did give Trump a whole lot of money! She’s also from Michigan, where she’s been working her ass off to funnel taxpayer money into private schools for years. Regular readers will know that I reside in Michigan! Readers who are also friends will probably know that I have a lot of anxiety about the schooling options available for my family, in part because of policies that are in place because of Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos is bad news for poor kids. She’s bad news for kids of color. She’s bad news for disabled kids. She’s bad news for queer kids. And even if you, or someone in your family, doesn’t fall into one of those categories, if you have a progressive bone in your body, this person is bad freaking news. And yet…

Well, just check out this email I received last night from Equality Michigan, the largest and best known LGBT advocacy group in the state:

On Tuesday, January 17 Betsy DeVos appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for her confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. After hearing from hundreds of Equality Michigan supporters from all over the state and receiving requests from a broad chorus of pro-equality advocates across the country, Ms. DeVos spoke out in support of LGBT students.

Equality Michigan was pleased to hear her state, “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination.”  She went on to say, after being pointedly questioned by Sen Al Franken (DFL-MN) about the inhumane practice of so-called conversion therapy, “I have never believed in that.”

If Ms. DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education, we look forward to working with her and her department to put those values into action in the form of policies that protect the safety of LGBT kids and ensure freedom from discrimination. Thankfully, there are many proven policies currently in place that should be maintained. We know from direct experience here in Michigan just how successful the policies of the Office Civil Rights have been. Equality Michigan works with students, parents, and educators who rely on current nondiscrimination policies to keep kids in schools, focused on education, and healthy. These policies have literally saved students lives and we look forward to seeing them continued.

Thank you to everyone who signed the petition, spoke out, and joined with LGBT equality organizations all over the country, local and national, to highlight the need for clarity on these issues. Obviously, our work is far from done. We will all keep working together to put our shared values of fairness and equality in practice and make them a lived reality for our community.

I’m not going to mince words here. This is a fucking problem. This is dangerous, and this is ridiculous. Equality Michigan is essentially waving the victory flag over two vague statements made by DeVos during the hearing… neither of which included any indication of how her beliefs would affect education policy. Note that she didn’t say that was would outlaw conversion therapy, or even that she’s against it, just that she’s “never believed that.” Forgive me if I don’t feel the sudden urge to embroider the woman a rainbow throw pillow.

But even if she had come out in full support of LGBT students, hell, even if she’d come out in full support of LGBTQIA students (which is *cough cough* more than mainstream gay advocacy groups like Equality Michigan are ever willing to do) she’d still be dangerous. And it would still be a problem for Equality Michigan to “look forward to working with her.” This is a classic example of a failure of intersectionality, of one oppressed group being a-ok with harm done to other oppressed groups, so long as it isn’t done to their group (except in this case, it’s “as long as we can pretend it isn’t going to happen to our group”). This is abominable and disgraceful.

I haven’t yet been able to find a full transcript of the hearing that is actually readable, but here is a wrap-up of a few things she said and refused to say.

As a poor, queer, mother, all of this scares the crap out of me. As a person who actually gives a damn about other people, it cares the crap out of me. But what really scares me the most is when organizations that should have my back are “looking forward to working with” people like Betsy DeVos.

We’re living in dangerous times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Want to show your support?
Donate to the Post Nuclear Family’s Adoption Fundraiser
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Resistance and Reality

In just a few short days, the country which I call home will be swearing in a president who ran on a platform of open racism, xenophobia, and fascist ideas… and won by leveraging the fear, greed, racism, and sexism of citizens who lean conservative, with the aid of a a foreign power. It’s a terrifying time to be alive for many of us, but especially those of us who are already marginalized in many ways. I and my family are far from the most affected by the current political climate, but as a poor queer family we certainly are affected by it.

For one thing, it now is extremely obvious that any hope that the ACA would remain was folly, and my wife and I will surely be losing our insurance (look for my upcoming piece on Romper about that). To add insult to injury, our plans to use our insurance to get some long term needs taken care of while we still can has pretty much been foiled by constant illness. Ditto my plans to put a ton of my energy into protesting and other forms of resistance. This week, we need all the strength that we can, and we’re starting three steps behind.

No matter how you slice it, our lives are about to get a whole lot harder financially.

And considering how much power is being given to people with angry and fearful anti-LGBTQIA views, we don’t know what other ways our lives are about to get harder. But we’re extremely nervous, to say the least.

To that end, we are trying our best to complete our second parent adoption process as quickly as possible. It’s one thing we can do to legally protect ourselves as a family a tiny bit, and it’s something we wouldn’t have access to in the event that they managed to remove our marriage rights (which seems unlikely right now, but a lot of things that seemed very unlikely are happening, so we’re not making any assumptions). But of course, it’s expensive. And we’re a poor working class family trying to navigate a capitalist society. All of which is to say, there’s a fundraiser.

You can donate here. I hate to ask for the help, but we’re out of options, and our child needs this. Ultimately, his rights are a hell of a lot more important to me than my pride. And what is there to be gained from being too proud to ask for help anyways? Nothing. I want to believe in a world and a future where we help each other out, and support each other as a community. Crowdfunding is a deeply flawed way to get closer to that right now, but at the moment, it’s what we’ve got. If you’re a regular reader, please consider giving. Even the smallest amount matters. Here’s that link again.

I also have a Patreon now, if you’d rather contribute in a more general way. I’m still figuring out all the nuts and bolts, and working on how to handle the tiers and rewards, but one big thing I’d like to do with the Patreon is support this blog right here. So if you like what you’re reading here, and you want it to keep coming, consider supporting me on Patreon if you can. Expect updates in that regard very soon!

I am writing this on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I want to believe that thing about the arc of history bending towards justice. I want to believe that the people who are pushing so hard against justice are making their last stand, that this is our one step back before two more steps forward.  I want to believe in hope and beauty and resistance and resilience. But I’m also really really scared. And I need to be honest about that.

I’m not well enough to be at a march today, and I’m too behind on bills to take any time off work. But I’m going to resist oppression and fascism however I can. We’re all going to resist however we can. Right? Right.

So This Is The New Year…

When I was fourteen years old, I wanted, for the first time, to make a very big deal out of New Year’s Eve. It was 1999, and for months people had wondered if the world would end, if the computers would panic, if leaping over that imaginary line between 1999 and 2000 would somehow change everything. It seemed like it had to, it was a new millennium, not just a new year. I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse, but I certainly wanted it to be, well, something. I had done the math as a child, and had for years looked forward to this most exciting New Year’s Eve, because when 2000 came around, I would be a teenager and everything would be fun and fabulous. At ten, I had sat in my bedroom and pictured what it would be like when, in four years, my cool teenage self headed off to a totally wild New Year’s Eve party. I didn’t realize that what I was picturing in my head was essentially a Barbie commercial.

What really happened of course is that my best friend came over to spend the night, and I insisted that we watch the countdown on MTV instead of ABC (we’re teenagers now!). It was, to put it mildly, really boring. A few hours before the clock struck midnight, we all collectively remembered that time zones are a thing that exists. And as the the calendar switched over in other places and nothing imploded, we slowly marched towards anticlimax. At midnight, I tried very hard to get excited. By 12:30 I was a grumpy fourteen year old, who was angry that nothing was going according to plan. Nothing was different, so we went to bed.


I’ve been avoiding writing about the current political climate on this blog. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s very important. It’s just that I didn’t want this space to become yet another place where that man’s name appears a thousand times. I didn’t want to get swept away in the news cycle. Can you believe he said this? Can you believe he did that?

But the reality is, of course, that on November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election. And the personal is political, and the political is personal, and this spells very bad news for American Democracy in general, and my little family in specific. The reality is that we are totally fucking screwed. And since the election, I have lived with a shadow of fear constantly hanging over me. And also since the election, I’ve been more or less constantly sick. I don’t believe that these things are coincidental.


In December, as the celebrity death toll rose and rose, as things felt more and more hopeless, as it became clear that the Democratic Party would not attempt to save us, and the electoral college wouldn’t save us, and no one would save us…. folks began to personify 2016. In an attempt to cling to some tiny thread of hope for the future, every bad thing that happened was 2016’s fault.

“2016 strikes again!”

Meanwhile, many of us lived with an increasing sense of fear and foreboding. Could the new year possibly bring us anything better? It seemed likely to bring problems that were even worse.


After the year 2000 was such a bust, I lost interest in the concept of the new year all together, really. It never seemed like as big of a change as anyone wanted it to be, we all woke up on January first the same people with the same problems we had had on December thirty-first. I was done with my formal schooling by the age of 20, but I lived in college towns, and with my birthday taking place in August, the bigger “new year” change seemed to happen in late summer and early fall.

But then I fell in love with the person who would become my wifespouse. She was born at midnight, the first baby of her birth year. I love birthdays, my own and everyone else’s, so I started celebrating with her, and it started to really matter to me.

Going to a party is hard when you have a one year old, but we get out so rarely, I planned ahead to make sure it would work. We picked an event that seemed to be brimming with hope, and fun, and excitement. I was excited to celebrate the love of my life, and try to pick up a little bit of her relentless optimism in the face of oppression and fear.

Then the entire family got sick.


At 8pm on December 31st, instead of getting ready to go out dancing, we were coming home from the children’s ER, with an exhausted toddler who had his very first ear infection. He was so congested that he couldn’t breastfeed, which meant that he was pissed off and my boobs hurt. Nowhere was opened to fill his prescription, and eventually we tried to put him to bed. At midnight, instead of kissing on the dance floor, I was half asleep on our couch (where I could prop up my own congested head) while my incredible partner tried to soothe a screaming baby who just got angrier when I tried to comfort him.

For the first time I can remember, the new year feels new. Everything feels different, and it isn’t an exciting hope filled kind of different. It’s more like falling into cold water. Ten days later, I’m still reeling from it. We are still trying to figure out when we’re going to get to really celebrate my wife’s birthday. The baby can breath through his nose now, but we’re all still so stuffed up, and he’s still terrified to nurse. It may be that he never will again.

And in the midst of all of our illnesses (three cases of the flu, two ear infections, and a sinus infection!) we learn that despite what so many said to comfort us, we are almost certainly going to be losing our insurance very soon. When the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my wife and I will be left without coverage, without any kind of security in terms of health.

As a gay mother who gets sick several times a year, suffers from PTSD, and needs dental work, it’s not a particularly hopeful time. As a defensive pessimist, it’s difficult to find any silver lining in this at all. As a nursing parent, it’s traumatic to deal with sudden physical and hormonal changes on top of everything else. And as a freelancer, my bank account has taken a huge hit from my being this ill. So this is the new year, and what the fuck are we going to do?

Sorry this isn’t more uplifting.

I have a Patreon now, if you want to support my writing here, and elsewhere!

I’m More Than A Mother, I’m A…. What?

This is a post about identity. This is a post I don’t really want to write.


When I was in High School, I had this really cool art teacher. But there was another art teacher, not necessarily cooler, but younger, who used the next classroom over. She had a free period while I was in my studio art class, and a friend of mine and I used to chat with her while we were working (or procrastinating). She was in her twenties, she had a live-in boyfriend, she only taught part time so she would have time for her work. She was a feminist. She was incredibly interesting to me, as a seventeen year old artist stuck in the suburbs and unsure what was coming next. We talked a lot. One day, I don’t remember why, I told her that I had always known that I wanted to have kids, to be a mother. At the time, I considered it to be something like my second calling. I believed in fate, and I believed that I was put on this earth to make incredible artwork, and also to mother.

“Yeah but, is that really want you want, or is it just what you’ve been told you want your entire life?”

The question was like a blow. I felt insulted, I felt like my own sense of myself was being challenged. Suddenly, this woman who I had respected was under fire in my mind. Who the hell was she? She didn’t know me. She didn’t know who I was, she didn’t know what I wanted. Just because some people caved to social pressures and did things just because others told them to, that didn’t mean that was me. But it was actually a worthy question. Children, especially children who are assigned female at birth, are told so much about what to expect of our lives. The things we are told shape our perceptions (duh) and affect what we want, or what we allow ourselves to want. It is so much easier to choose from the approved list, after all.

But I really, really, wanted to be a mom.


Recently, chatting with a friend who is at a different point in her journey toward parenthood, I shared a piece of information that feels very basic to me, so basic that I forget it is surprising for others.

“I’d been dreaming about, and sometimes planning for, getting pregnant for about ten years before it actually happened.”

“Wow, really?”

If you do the math in your head, that would put me at the tender age of nineteen the first time I thought, “you know, maybe I should have a baby soon?” But in all honesty, it may have been earlier than that. I was always in a hurry, I always considered the fact that I had to wait to have kids to be supremely unfair. Have you ever known something in your bones? In my bones, I knew that I was supposed to be a mom. When I was twenty three, I got a cat and joked with my friends that it was “the only way to put off having a baby.” But it wasn’t actually a joke, the joke was that I was pretending it was a joke. When I was twenty four I started researching sperm banks. My mom had had my older sister when she was twenty one, in my mind, I had already fallen behind.

I spent all of my twenties dreaming about motherhood, hoping and wishing and praying that it might be just around the corner. When I met my wife I said, “just so you know, I probably can’t get involved in anything very serious right now, I’m saving up to get pregnant this year.” A friend, when he was something like nineteen, introduce me (age twenty five) to his mother as “mom, this is Katherine, she’s my Detroit mom.” It was clear what he was saying, “this is the person who takes care of me when you can’t do it.” Maybe I should have been embarrassed, but I found that I was beaming. I wanted to be a mother so badly it was like a fire, consuming me.

Then, at twenty nine, I got pregnant.


This is a post about identity. This is a post I do not want to write. I don’t want to say the words, because they feel cliche and weak and stupid. I am sitting at my laptop, in my livingroom, and the livingroom is so utterly and completely filled with toys and kids’ books that it looks like a tiny daycare center. The baby is napping upstairs as I write this. Next to me on the couch, on one side, is a massive pile of baby socks, yet to be paired and put in his drawer. On the other side is the sleep sack he wears to bed at night when it’s cold. I just remembered I have to switch a load of laundry over. But I am sitting down to write this.

I want to be more than just a mom, goddamnit!

A few weeks ago, there were some silly little things going around facebook, those copy-paste statuses. “Comment and I’ll tell you something I admire about you!” one said, “Give me a compliment and I’ll compliment you back!” another offered. And I bit. It seemed like it was maybe a little cheesy, but hey, anything that gets us to lift each other up, right? There’s been dark times lately, we could use a little joy, a little reflection on the parts of us that are good. Maybe it was contrived, but maybe it would also be worth it?

I waited for the compliments to roll in.

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

And I felt the metaphorical wind entirely leave my metaphorical sails.


Look, it’s not as though I don’t want to be a good mom! I am, by definition, a mom, I am mothering as we fucking speak (we’re not actually speaking, I’m writing a blog post and you, in the future, are reading it, whatever) and if I’m going to be a mom, a “good one” is certainly the kind I want to be. I like doing things well. And also, my child is a person, and a person who matters, and so doing well at raising him seems like a thing that matters. Obviously, I’m gonna show up for him, I’m going to try my best.

But there is something profoundly lonely and isolating about knowing that, first and foremost, everyone sees me as a mother. The rest of my personality, the rest of my many titles and roles, are entirely eclipsed by my relationship to this one, individual, solitary, person. He claws at my skirts when I leave the room. He spits my own breast milk out of his mouth and onto my shirt and then laughs at me. He, well not really he but more the fact that he exists, rules almost every waking second of almost every day of my life. And the people who know me, the people who are outside of that relationship, that is all they see of me. Anything else that I was or am — wife, lover, artist, friend, daughter, sister, faggot, story-teller, cat lady, slob — is rendered invisible by the heavy weight of motherhood.

It’s ridiculous for me to resent it. After all, this is me we’re talking about. For a decade I pined for motherhood. I craved it the way I crave sweets. I knew it was an important part of me, a part of my identity that was yet to manifest in the physical world, for a decade it was just out of my reach. I was so excited for it! I knew that once I could attain it, I would be whole and complete, everything in the world that I was meant to be.

But that’s just it. Motherhood was never the end for me, it was the beginning. It was never a singular identity, it was one of many. What I craved was a rich, full, and complicated life, in which I had a child or children. I wanted to be a mother yes, but not just a mother.

And, in some ways, I’m not just a mother. Since my child was born, I have built, for the first time in my life, something like a career for myself. I’m a writer, I write words for a living. Once, I applied for a regular contributor position (which I didn’t get, but no matter) and the editor responded with “oh, I’m very familiar with your work.” I have work. In fact, I work my ass off. I happen, however, to write a lot (though not exclusively) about parenting. Writing about parenting, especially if you are a mother, is seen as a hobby, a side-hustle, not real writing, something us moms do on the side. I have a blog that is at least in large part about having a child.

I’m in a livingroom fucking covered in toys.

So I can see why “mom” might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me. I’m not doing a whole lot over here to give you much else to work with, I realize. Maybe it’s fool-hearty in the extreme to whine about people only seeing me as a mother when I am constantly performing motherhood. Maybe in part I’ve thrown myself headlong into parenting because I wanted it for so very long, maybe it’s because the odds are very good that I will have only one child and I want to mother the crap out of him. I don’t know. I feel embarrassed to even be talking about it.

But I’m more than just a mother, I’m also something else, something else I don’t have time to think about right now because the baby is going to wake up soon and I have about three thousand things to do first.

Going Out, Staying In

On Monday morning, when I am bleary eyed and exhausted, and I check facebook way before I’ve had my coffee, I see the notification.

You have 17 events this week with Chet Clover and 53 other friends.


This isn’t exceptional. I’m not particularly popular, we just happen to be a part of a community that’s always doing things. There’s a show, a fundraiser, a potluck, a party, an art opening, a community meeting… it’s endless. And almost all of them are scheduled for approximately our baby’s bedtime. So just like every week, I laugh. Sometimes, I genuinely find it funny (ha ha I’m not going to any of these ha ha!) and sometimes it’s the laughing you do to keep from crying.

This week, it’s the second one.

This week, I miss going to things and seeing people.


We tend to talk about American parents in this particular way. Parenting takes over your whole life, parenting is boring, parenting is all soccer games and no bar trips and rock shows. Especially for young white middle class Americans, there’s an assumption that life before parenting means going out and having fun, and life after parenting means staying in and being painfully boring. And we see this as a lifestyle issue. Parents would rather talk about dirty diapers than have a good time, what the hell is wrong with them?

I certainly wasn’t immune to this way of thinking.

Before having a child, my wife and I talked about the things we liked about our life. We talked about what having a kid would add to it, and what having a kid just might take away. We agreed that while we were committed to parenting, we were also committed to self-care, to continuing to be ourselves, and to not dropping out of our community. We’d find a way to make it work. Whatever was going to happen, we assured ourselves that we wouldn’t end up like those parents. You know who those parents are! You used to see them all the time, they used to be so involved, then they went and had kids and now it’s like they don’t even care about you. I mean what is their problem?

Their problem might be capitalism.


As I get older, I notice more and more that so much of the “lifestyle differences” that we pretend are about preference or ideals are really about class and money. Almost a decade ago now, I dated a young man who came from an affluent background. Whereas I went to high school in an area where most people had more money than my family, he went to high school in an area where most people had less money than his family. He was, apparently, picked on and mocked for being “the rich kid.”

He firmly believed that being mocked for being “the rich kid” was just as bad as being mocked for being “the poor kid.” As though being rich and being poor were equal things, just different, as though the very concept of wealth and poverty wasn’t based on inequality in the first place. When I tried to explain that even if rich kids and poor kids experienced the same exact hatred from “middle class” peers… rich kids still get to go home to a life of privilege and comfort… he dug his heals in. In retrospect, I should have probably broken up with him then.

It’s comfortable to assume that many differences from person to person, from family to family, are just personal choices. The thing is, that assumptions rests on the idea that everyone has the same choices. And we know that they don’t. We know that, despite what we are told, not everyone has the opportunity to go to college. Not everyone can buy a new couch if they want to. Not everyone can run a marathon. Not everyone can pack up and move. We are divided by circumstances and privileges, not only class but raise, gender, orientation, ability, location, etc. Some things we get to pick. Other things are chosen for us.

Before I had a kid, I used to assume that when parents stayed home all the damn time, it was because they had lost interest in everything else. I assumed it was a lack of effort. When parent friends said “finding a babysitter is so hard” I thought, “well, sure, that’s why you have to try hard and plan ahead!”

I was an asshole and an idiot.

Finding a babysitter is hard even if you can afford one. But for many of us, we can’t. For some of us, it’s basically impossible.

Continuing to “have a life” with a baby or small child requires resources. It requires time and energy and money, things than many parents of young kiddos are seriously lacking. It stops being a matter of lifestyle and preferences and starts being a matter of survival. My wife and I both work. I work from home, sometimes late into the night to get enough done to keep us on top of our bills. Freelancing allows me to work and avoid the cost of childcare, which allowed us to move into a house that we don’t hate, which is great! But it also means that for me, time is money in a very direct way. And I have to prioritize money, because we live in a capitalist society and money is what we use to pay for things like food, or heat. Sometimes, when I say “I don’t have time to hang out” it’s really not that I’m being a boring parent-type who’d rather stay home folding those adorable little baby pants. Sometimes, it’s that taking time to spend with friends, any time, feels like taking food out of my child’s mouth. It feels that way because it kind of is.

These are uncomfortable things to think about.

And most of the time I don’t complain (well, I complain to my wifespouse, but I don’t complain like this). Most of the time I shrug and remind myself that I chose this life. I chose to become a parent, I chose to become a parent knowing I was broke, knowing it would be difficult, knowing it would mean sacrifices.

But this week? This week it is too much. I’m sick and tired of staying in each and every time something is going on, of missing literally everything, and of wondering what people think about me for that. I’m sick of being congratulated when I do make it out, like it’s some kind of personal accomplishment when really I just happened to get lucky.

And this part is uncomfortable.

But I’m sick of people telling me how wonderful they think my family is, how brave they think I am for having a child, how great a mother they think I am, and never offering any help. Obviously, some people have and do offer help and we are immensely grateful. This isn’t about that. This is about the number of childfree people who say they support parents and families, but when it comes to engaging with that in their own communities, they act like libertarians. This is not articulate. I am not articulating this well, and I am not articulating it well because I am hurting.

What I know is that, before I had a kid, I saw friends with kids begging for babysitters on social media. And sometimes I responded and other times I didn’t. And lots of times I felt like I was too busy, too busy to take on anything else, busy the same way everyone was busy.

But your parent friends? We aren’t busy the way “everyone” is busy. We aren’t busy because of the glorification of busy in our society. We are busy in a totally unique, totally bone crushing way. We are busy in a way that you cannot even imagine, or at least that I could not imagine before I did it. And we only have one child. We have neighbors with five children. That is so many children.

And if you believe that families shouldn’t live in nuclear isolation. And you believe that capitalism is crap. And you believe that we should be sharing the load to make the world more like the one you’d like to see…. then you need to stop excluding families with kids from that equation.


There were three events I wanted to go to this week. I begged for babysitters on social media. No one responded. I downgraded it to just one event, I’d like to go to this one thing for once in my life, would someone please just watch netflix in my livingroom while my child sleeps for three hours?

“I sure hope you find somebody!”

I guess I’ll see you all in eighteen years.

Post Nuclear Book Review #1: Secrets Of Feeding A Healthy Family

This week(ish), we have not one but two book reviews to get to. They are the first ever Post Nuclear Book Reviews, and I want to do them in the same week because they’re on similar topics. I’m excited to be talking about books, but don’t worry, there’ll still be plenty of other content (like the rants you’ve all grown so accustomed to!) on this here blog.

But this week we’re talking about books. We’re talking about books about food. We’re talking about feeding, eating, and cooking, and how we do those things, and where they intersect, and why it matters. I had typed up a whole long introduction, but truthfully, this is going to get too long no matter what I do, so let’s just dive in.


Post Nuclear Book Review Number One

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family

by Ellyn Satter

Post Nuclear Rating: 4/5
I loved: the division of responsibility in eating, “health at every size” type attitude, loose definition of “family”
I liked: equal use of gendered pronouns for children, real life stories
I strongly disliked*: really awful recipes, lack of social analysis

CONTENT NOTE FOR THE BOOK AND THE REVIEW: discussion of dieting and disordered eating, classism, cultural appropriation


By way of a preface to the uh, meat, of my review, I will say that I went into this book wanting to like it. Years and years before I had a kid, a friend sent me some of Ellyn Satter’s work, and I was very taken with it. It might seem weird that a childless twenty-something would get excited about the work of a nutritionist primarily known for her work with children, but it made perfect sense in my life. For one thing, I’m a huge nerd, known for geeking out about things that seem odd to others, and for another, I had been, as a child, one of the pickiest kids you can imagine. I was so picky, there were so many foods that I just loathed to eat, that at the age of ten I actually wondered if there was something broken in me, maybe I just didn’t like food.

I knew that I wanted to have kid/s one day, and I didn’t want to pass on that horrible experience to the next generation. Nor, frankly, did I have any interest in dealing with it from the parental side of the equation. So anyone who had something to say about how to feed the choosiest of children, well, I was listening.

But I didn’t go out and buy one of her books until my kid was eating solid foods. In fact, I didn’t get the book until he had been eating solid foods for a good six months or more, and was finally starting to show some preferences. Suddenly I felt like I needed backup, guidance, I got the book.

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, or as Satter refers to her own book in the text, just Secrets, is broken into three sections: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eatings, and How to Cook. There’s some repetition between the three sections, and they certainly play off each other and affect one and other. Of course you can’t totally overhaul the way you feed your kids/family without also changing the way that you, yourself, eat to some degree! Right at the beginning, she encourages you to read the book in the order that you are most interested in, so I started with the “feeding” section, then jumped to “eating,” finishing up with “cooking.”

I was a little concerned that all she had to say about child feeding in the book would be repetition of what I already knew about her approach, but I actually found it to be helpful and enjoyable to read about in book form.

This big takeaway here is the division of responsibility in feeding (link goes to author’s website). I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s all about identifying who is responsible for what in the feeding relationship. In general, parents do the what and the when (we set the mealtimes, do the shopping, prepare the meals, and put them in front of kids), and kids get to decide how much to eat and even whether or not to eat. This idea is the backbone of most of Satter’s work, and honestly it’s the basis on which I feed my own child. It’s also sort of, especially when it comes to very young children, deceptively radical. Most American parents, I have found, participate in a certain amount of micromanaging of their children’s eating. Ellyn Satter is telling you not to do that. Just do your part, and then let it go. Stop asking for “three more bites” or telling the kid they can only have dessert if they finish their peas. It is nail-bitingly unfamiliar to sit back and watch your child eat an entire meal composed entirely of salsa (I did that last night). But yes, that it what she is saying you should do.
The idea is that your child has a biological drive to survive, so if you offer enough variety, your kid will get curious, nutrition will work itself out. Remember, she’s not getting these ideas from nowhere, she’s worked as a nutritionist. She says that when you look at a child’s diet over a week (rather than a day, or a meal) all those weirdo meals balance out into.

Oh, and you have to have structured meals and snacks. Apparently kids need it, and she’s super against grazing. So that probably kind of blows for people who are used to handing their kids a snack and letting them go do whatever, but we already only feed our toddler in his high chair, so it’s no big.

Her goal, in all of this, is not to produce a child who will eat their vegetables tonight necessarily, but rather to develop what she calls “eating competency.” Eating competency isn’t just cheerfully eating whatever is put in front of you, it’s being comfortable around unfamiliar foods, being willing to work up to trying them (even if you have to work up to it really slowly) and eating a wide variety of foods overall. There’s a lot of focus on this in terms of feeding children, but it’s also what she’s talking about when she gets into teaching adults how to eat, as well.

What I loved about her writing on child feeding was that, on top of that theory (some of which I already had) she offers a ton of examples and anecdotes. It’s all well and good to just say “offer the food and let them eat what they will” but what happens when your child is older? You may think you’ve set up your kid not to be obsessed with sweets by simply never allowing them to have them, but eventually they’re going to go to the corner store with their little friends, and when that happens they’re going to gorge themselves on oreos because they’re special and forbidden. Ellyn Satter recommends incorporating “forbidden foods” into your meals and snacks occasionally, to neutralize their weird power. I have an issue with sweets (more on that later) that I do not want to pass on to my kid, but without even realizing what I was doing I was trying to keep them completely out of his life. Since then, I’ve learned that I can actually give my child a cookie with dinner. Usually he’ll eat a bite of it right away, then focus on his other food. Most of the time, when the meal is done, half of the cookie is still sitting on the table.

If the section on feeding kids was helpful and informative, the section on eating was a mini existential crisis. I’d never thought of my own eating as disordered before, but now I’m realizing that I’ve adopted some pretty unhealthy patterns. Satter recommends a very similar thing for adults as she does for children, it’s still a balance of discipline (meals) and freedom (eat as much as you want) the difference is adults provide both parts of the equation. And of course, adults have had a lot longer to develop baggage and hangups with our food.

For me, it’s all about sweets. When I was a kid, my mother hated grocery shopping, and would put it off. We always had food, but it was a lot of pantry staples. Then, when she went grocery shopping, she would be hungry, and all the sweets would come home with her. One glorious day there would suddenly be icecream, cookies, snack cakes, you name it, all in the house at once. You’d be overwhelmed trying to figure out what to eat first. And then we would all descend upon it, and then it would be gone. If you complained that you never got any of the swiss cake rolls or whatever, you’d just be told that you should have gotten one while you had the chance. So I learned to eat my favorite foods (sweets) as quickly as possible. As an adult, this pattern has persisted. If I buy icecream, I eat all the icecream the same day. My “solution” has been to just not keep sweet foods in the house, but in reality that just makes my adult household even more like my childhood one. The sweets only come in once in a great while, and then they are instantly gone.

And then I silently hate myself for not having “self control.” Even though I don’t actually think there’s anything morally wrong with eating a lot of icecream, I still emotionally punish myself when I do it.

Satter recommends eating foods you like (you actually absorb more nutrients from foods that are familiar and enjoyable, apparently) and eating until you feel satisfied and just, well, done. She refers to this as “finding your stopping place” and the emphasis is that it has to be intuitive, you cannot impose a stopping place on yourself. I could probably write five blog posts about all of the nuts and bolts of these ideas, and all of the horrible and wonderful “aha!” moments I had reading them, but suffice to say that most of us have been restricting our own eating for so long that we don’t know how to eat without restrictions (even if we aren’t dieters) and then we look for ways to cheat, because you really can’t expect yourself to go hungry for the rest of your life, it turns out.

She comes right up to embracing the idea of health at every size, but doesn’t use the actual language. In fact, now that I mention it, a lot of her language use in the book feels just a tiny bit weird and… out of date? She says that you should eat a variety of foods, and eat as much as you want, and your body will be whatever size it will be, but she seems unaware of the body positivity and health at every size movements. The book was written in 2008, and she mentions “food fads” more than once, but she never once mentions kale. She adamantly sticks to some of her own definitions for things (a picky eater is normal, a finicky eater is a problem) and while her research seems sound and her ideas seem good, she seems very stuck in the role of white midwestern grandmother.

We are about to get into the reasons that I gave this book four out of five stars. Bear in mind, that it is always more interesting to talk about the things you don’t like as opposed to the things you do. I loved this book. It’s not an overstatement to say it has already changed my life for the better. If you have children, I am evangelizing to you right now, I want you to read this book. I will happily lend you my copy.

The final section of the book is called How to Cook, and it is the reason I had to give the book four out of five. No matter how great the rest of the book was, no matter how many lovely things the other two sections offered up, they could not make How to Cook go away.

Unlike in the prior sections, wherein she assumes you have some experience with putting food in front of a child and/or into your own face, How to Cook starts off with the premise that you really having no goddamn clue what you are doing in the kitchen. Maybe that’s handy for some people, but I found the “you CAN boil pasta!” attitude more than a little condescending and off-putting. Plus, there are recipes, and the recipes are bad.

In the introduction, Satter says that a reviewer of the first addition of Secrets said “There are better cookbooks out there, but there isn’t a better book on feeding yourself or your family.” Satter then cheerfully adds that she is “not entering any cookbook competitions.” Which is fine, but I guess I kind of feel like if you know your recipes are not that good maybe try to write slightly better ones?”

Which I guess betrays my bias, but the first recipe is literally for tuna noodle casserole, and the second recipe is for a sort of DIY hamburger helper. The rest are all in a similar vein. There are no vegetarian recipes for main dishes (those that seem like they would be vegetarian all include bacon). It’s fine you if want to eat these foods and learn how to cook them, but the fact that they are all that Satter imagines begins to feel like she’s writing this book specifically for one demographic, and I’m not part of it. Then, digging deeper in, when we get to her second tier of recipes, there’s one for black beans (with bacon, naturally). At the top of the recipe, is this little gem:

…June came back from several years in Brazil with a craving for black beans and rice and a conviction that this to-me-exotic dish was to Brazilian children simply a familiar and well-liked food. Comfort food, you might say. It has since occurred to me that gourmet cooking is, in many cases, our attempt to duplicate some other country’s everyday cuisine.

…”The darker the beans, the greater the flavor,” says June. If June says it, it must be so. However, these beans and the liquid they cook in are really black, so they might be challenging for your eaters at first, especially in the variations I suggest. Black bean tacos are a little strange. To make this recipe more accessible, try it with red beans or pinto beans instead.

Awe, look, she discovered cultural appropriation!

And that, for me, is where the dam broke, and I realized what the problem with Secrets that I was having such a hard time putting my finger on actually was. There is literally no social analysis. She says time and time again that eating and cooking are social things, but she fails to recognize or grapple with the social realities that we all live in. She is well aware that you have to have enough to eat before you can have the energy to try to expand your palette, but she has zero interest in talking about or acknowledging that many adults and children simply don’t have enough to eat. She’s aware that different cultures eat different foods, but she’s not interested in expanding her perspective to make her work more accessible to more people. No, Satter is writing for primarily white, working or middle class people, with enough money to feed themselves decently and consistently, and a culinary background similar to her own. That is consistent throughout the book, but it is never more clear than it is when she gets into the specifics of what to eat. And while she’s able to editorialize about her feelings about school nutrition programs (she doesn’t like them, no surprise there) for some reason she has nothing to say on things like food stamps programs, which could make her feeding methods accessible to many more families.

Also, I’m sorry, but this edition was written in 2008. Chipotle had 500 locations in 2006. But Ellyn Satter still thinks your children might faint if they see a black bean?

After slogging through the recipes, there are some helpful tips as far as shopping and meal planning go, but it took me forever to get to them because I mostly just wanted to throw the book (which again, I LOVED) across the room in frustration. Her section on nutrition is somewhat helpful, and definitely evidence based, though there again she betrays her own biases. Popular ideas and attitudes about foods are all “fads,” which might largely be true, but when her answer is to eat like it’s 1955, it sounds a little bit too “back in the good old days” for me.


In conclusion, I mostly think this is a great book and everyone should read it immediately, but I also think that if you don’t like bland American casseroles, you should skip the recipe section altogether so you don’t end up screaming into your book, and taking two weeks off reading it while your toddler chews the pages, which is what I did.

I have a lot more to say, but this is already one zillion words, and anyways I have to go make sure I have five thousand side dishes to go with this pasta I’m serving my family for dinner.


Gender Is For Toddlers, Apparently

I bet you thought we were done talking about gender for awhile. Maybe you even hoped we were. Maybe you thought that we had exhausted the topic of how gender affects babies who can’t articulate gender for themselves and we wouldn’t have to talk about it again until the child was three or four and asking questions about it. I sort of thought that.

But I should have known better.

Today, I have two vignettes for you beautiful humans, all about how gender, or rather gender assumptions, play out in our lives now that we’ve entered The Toddler Years.



Part One
No Shirt No Shoes No Pronouns

For those who might be dropping by the blog for the first time, let me lead with the fact that my kiddo is a little over a year old, is apparently male (I say “apparently” because the way we define biological sex is tenuous at best) and wears a variety of colors, including blue, green, orange, purple, and yes, even pink. I’ve written extensively on the subject of babies and gender here in this blog, and why his mother and I think it is important to give him as many options as possible.

When he started walking, he got a snazzy new pair of sneakers. Since he is actually beginning to show an interest in choosing thing (what to eat first for lunch, what toy to play with, etc) I thought it would be nice if he had a hand in picking out his own shoes. As it happened though, the only ones he was really excited about were a pair of pink glitter covered mary janes, AKA dress shoes. I felt for him, I mean, those are probably what I would pick too! After that he decided he just wanted literally anything that came in a box. In the end, we ended up with a three-tone pair of athletic shoes. They’re pink, blue, and electric green, but of course because they have pink in them they are “girl shoes.” He’s still on the fence about wearing them, and so we’re trying to get him more used to them by putting them on him for short bursts.

So recently, the whole family was at the drugstore, and we had a bit of a wait. He was wearing dark blue baby jeggings and a black and white striped shirt. The shirt happened to be from the girls’ section, and if you looked closely you might notice that it has slightly capped sleeves, which aren’t really a feature of boys’ apparel. But we’ve found that since male is considered the default in our culture, and since so many girls his age are dressed with multiple gender markers (parents add a headband or a flower hair clip, pants are pink and have ruffles) that oftentimes he reads as a boy even when he’s dressed in clothes that would feel too femme for my wife. He also, and this is the important part, wasn’t wearing his shoes.

A store employee, a woman, walked by and smiled at him. “Oh what a beautiful little boy!” she said. My wife thanked her, and that was that.

Soon after, he wanted to walk around, so we wrestled him into the shoes. Then, in the kind of desperation that I’m sure other parents of toddlers know only too well, I ventured to the kids aisle to see if there was a book he could pretend to read. There were only three board books.

Disney Princesses
Pirate Jake
and Doc McStuffins

We don’t really do the TV thing, but I’ve heard decent things about Doc McStuffins, so I grabbed that one. He was thrilled.

The same store employee then walked by us again.

“Oh are you reading, little one? How precious!” and then, turning to address the grown-ups, “she’s not talking yet, is she?”

He kind of is, actually,” I responded, and then gave a short list of words he currently knows. I’ve learned from experience that it’s important, in these circumstances, to use male pronouns repeatedly until they hear you. People get extremely embarrassed about misgendering children, and if you aren’t explicit, they often feel you’ve deliberately misled them.

Only she didn’t seem to notice. In fact, we saw her three more times before we got out of the damn store, and each time, we carefully used he/him pronouns, and she explicitly used she/her. My wife and I kept raising our eyebrows at each other, wondering if and when she might catch on, but also not wanting to make a huge deal out of it. I mean, why should it have to be a huge deal? But it just kept happening. It was like, once she saw the pink shoes (they are also blue and green!) and the cap sleeves, and the pink book in his hand, her brain got the GIRL message, and that message wrote over everything else, including our earlier conversation with her, and also what we were currently saying at that moment.

I don’t think most people take it quite that far, but it did get me thinking about how our brains cling to gender expectations, and how we articulate that. One time, I saw an infant in a stroller, wearing a perfectly gender neutral outfit, and yet without asking I exclaimed “oh she’s so cute!” The baby’s father said “actually he’s a boy, but don’t worry, we get that a lot, it’s because his hair is so long.” Was that what I was responding to? I have no idea, but I think about that day a lot as I raise my own kid. Because the fact is that our culture is so invested in the gender binary, that we, without thinking, studiously examine tiny little kids for gender markers, and then we use those markers to decide how we talk to them. In some cases, maybe the gender markers are louder in our brains than anything else. And while we may feel that we need them to assign “appropriate” pronouns (most people still wouldn’t default to using the singular they with a little kid) I always wonder what else we are assigning to them.

When I headed to the cash register with a lipstick, as well as our other items, our new friend said “oh did she pick that one out for mommy?” And I found myself wondering, much later, if the same question would have been asked had she assumed (or remembered) that our child is male.

Which brings me to our next story.


Part Two
Size Matters

We were taking the kid for a walk in the stroller, when a woman sitting on a porch said hello, and then followed it up with “what a cutie! Say, how old is that baby? Seven months?”

My wife and I both suppressed chuckles. Seven months? It was my wife who answered her, “Nah, more like fourteen.”

Fourteen? Well, she’s just a tiny little thing, ain’t she! Er, or he?”

We stared at each other.

When our child reads as male (which is most of the time, honestly) people are constantly telling him what a “big boy” he is, and how large he is for his age, and how you can just tell he’s going to be huge. And while I’m sure these comments have always been somewhat gendered, I usually don’t think about them too deeply. The thing is, he has been on the larger side for his age most of his life. When he was around six months old, he stopped being able to receive hand-me-downs from babies we knew who were six months older than him, because he was currently wearing the same size as them anyways and their old clothes wouldn’t fit him.

As we walked away, my wife said “wow, I’ve never heard that one before!”

“I actually have!” I replied. And then I realized, that the last time my child was called tiny by someone who had just asked for his age, I was out with him alone picking up supplies for his birthday present, and yeah, he was wearing “girls'” pants. I looked down at my kid in the stroller, sure enough, the size 2T pants he was wearing were bright pink.

People only call him small when they think he is a girl.


And it actually makes absolutely no sense. Look, if people expect girls to be smaller (and according to the weight charts, baby girls are, on average, just slightly smaller than baby boys) than if they think my kid is a girl, he should look even more surprisingly huge to them, right? And yet, the opposite is true. They assume my kid to be a girl, inquire about age, I tell them, and they reply with “oh she’s so tiny!” Then, when I say “actually he is in the seventy-five percentile for boys weight for his age” or whatever, they dig their heals in. They are convinced my child is small, and nothing I say will sway them, so I just shrug and move on. Now that I think about it though, the really odd thing about these exchanges is that once the person knows my child to be male, they no longer say “tiny” affectionately. No, they suddenly sound worried.

It’s almost as if being small, being diminutive, is considered a characteristic of femininity in our culture. Little girl, big boy, girls are small people! So they attribute that characteristic, and it’s related adjectives, to my child, without really seeing him. Because girls are small. Then, once they realize that their gender assumption is incorrect (well, maybe it is! My kid could be a trans girl! Literally none of us know yet!) they can’t back down on the size thing. So instead they assure themselves, “no, I’m positive that baby is to small to be a year old.” That part makes a certain amount of sense. Who wants to admit their implicit bias? Who wants to admit they thought a person was one size, but now that they know that person has a penis, they can see that they are a totally different size? Nobody.

We don’t want to think we’re sexist. We especially don’t want to think we’re sexist when it comes to children. We are deeply invested in convincing ourselves that we treat boys and girls the same, yet we almost never actually do. My parents came very close to treating me the same they would have treated a son! My mother was practically famous for the level of tomboy she achieved in childhood, and she sure wasn’t going to push her girls to be feminine. And yet, a son would have been pushed harder to play sports. A son would not have been told he would make a beautiful bride one day.

I had to look up the stats on toddler sizes for this post, because writing this, it feels like I’m losing it. It feels a lot like gaslighting, and I find myself questioning my own perception of my child. “Well, maybe he’s not that big.”

I looked it up. He hasn’t been weighed in a bit, but he was exactly the average size of a fourteen month old boy two months ago. A seven month old girl, which is what that woman guessed my child was, weighs at least five pounds less than my kid.


So here we are. My child is growing and changing. He loves throwing a ball as hard as he can at the hardwood floors, and he loves cuddling his baby doll and giving them their bottle over and over and over again. The older kids on the block love playing sports and other “boy” games and I am bracing myself to end the world of childhood athletics way sooner than I could ever possibly be ready for.

But I also can’t stop noticing this stuff.

I don’t want to turn this into a blog about my kid’s gender. Partly because it’s his gender, and he is the one who gets to decide what he wants to do with it and how he wants to talk about it. But I do want, and on some level I think I need, to share my gender related observations. Because if you just accept it as normal, if you take it as a given, you are going to miss things. And what the hell is that doing to our kids?


Ok, next week we’re talking about food.