Tagged as: parenting

Title IX and the Right to Wear Shorts to School

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By Michelle Riddell—On a Monday morning in June of my 6th grade year, right after we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful, the principal came over the P.A. system and announced that several articles of girls’ clothing had been found in the library over the weekend, and anyone with any information as to how they got there was to see him immediately.

Our teacher, Mrs. Ross, was very pregnant at the time. Very pregnant. She was hoping to hold off giving birth for four more days and complete the school year, but it wasn’t looking good. We’d had a sub all the past week while Mrs. Ross was out with Braxton Hicks contractions, and after hearing the principal’s announcement about the clothes, she held her belly and winced. “None of you know what he’s talking about, right? Good, get your math books out.”

In the cafeteria at lunch, though, it was all anybody was talking about—and on the playground at recess, and in gym class, and in line at the drinking fountain, and on the bus. By Tuesday morning, rumors about the discarded clothes had snowballed into outlandish tales of forbidden lust and a secret rendezvous—more like 6th grade boys’ fantasies than plausible scenarios. The thought of someone not only undressing in the library, but then forgetting her clothes was too scandalous not to gossip about, and the principal’s scant announcement left plenty of room for speculation. Talk of the clothes crescendoed for four days without anyone coming forward, until Friday afternoon, when the final bell of the school year rang, and it stopped. Mercifully. For, had it continued, one of us would have cracked, and the truth would have come out.

On that Monday morning in June, when the principal made his announcement, my three best friends and I froze at our desks because the clothes found in the library—four skirts neatly folded atop the World Book encyclopedias, to be exact—were ours. We had taken them off in protest of the dress code during our afternoon library period, the Friday before. At that time in public schools, girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts—boys were, but girls weren’t—and we didn’t think it was fair. Knowing we would be having a sub that day, we wore shorts under our skirts and ditched the skirts, fully intending to retrieve them later. Being that our library period was late in the day, our act of civil disobedience went largely unnoticed, but that was fine. What mattered was, we bucked the system and got to wear shorts on a hot afternoon.

That four skirts found in the library was considered a serious matter surprised us; that everybody assumed something sinful had taken place was chilling. My friends and I hadn’t formally agreed to a pact of silence, but after hearing what was being inferred by our classmates, we had no choice. As the hours and days of that last week of school passed, and the rumors became more scintillating, confessing seemed like a dangerous option. While we weren’t guilty of what they were saying, we weren’t entirely innocent, either. Fortunately, the principal hadn’t been specific about the clothing when he first made his announcement, and no one had made the connection to our shorts protest. The best thing to do was lay low and wait for summer to save us, which it eventually did. We said goodbye to elementary school with its antiquated dress codes and never saw those skirts again.

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was signed into law in 1972, and yet, seven years later, when I was in 6th grade, our public school was still following a gender-based dress code. I’m not sure when, how, or why they finally updated it, but I like to think my three friends and I planted a seed of change. Whenever I’m discouraged by how far we have to go in our quest for gender equality, I look back on this time, when girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts, and I marvel at how far we’ve come—quite a long way, baby.


About the Author

Michelle Riddell

Michelle Riddell lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in rural mid-Michigan, where she writes, edits, and teaches elementary school. Her hobbies include trying to stay positive, convincing her daughter to taste different foods, and anything outdoors in wintertime. Find her work on Facebook @ReaderWriterRunnerWife and Twitter @MLRiddell.

Our Mother-Daughter Book Club: A Touchstone in New Territory


By Emily Carpenter—Almost a year ago, my friend Stacy asked me and another friend of hers I didn’t know to meet at Panera to talk about the possibility of forming a Mother-Daughter Book Club. Where did she learn about the idea? Pinterest. She introduced Marianne to me, and showed us the book, Her Next Chapter. All three of us had eldests that were in 3rd grade at the time—we were journeying together. On my drive home that night, I felt a tiny tectonic shift into a new territory of parenting. Acknowledging our 8-year-old daughters were growing and sponging everything up and now interpreting it through different lenses, deciding to form this book club as a touchstone for them is something for which I’ll always be grateful to Stacy. The girls were even more excited than we were. My daughter Zoe was drawn in because this meant she could “go out at night like a mom.” For the first few book club meetings, the moms had to do a lot of modeling of conversation, taking turns, asking each other questions, and so on.

girlsoncouchAs we looked forward to each month’s meeting, the girls were paying so much attention to different aspects of the book as they read because they knew they’d get a chance to explore all of it at book club with friends. One really fun part was noticing foods they ate in the book and then each of us picking something applicable to bring to eat at book club! I think the most interesting thing we ate was the “cut-up” we made from Turtle in Paradise. In the book, all the kids bring something—anything!—to go into the “cut-up”: avocado, onion, papaya, potato, banana, pineapple, lime juice, and hot sauce. We duplicated it! (It was one of those things you’re not sure you like but you keep eating to figure it out.)

By the time we got to My Life with the Chimpanzees (our 7th month of book club), the girls wanted to answer the call to action Jane suggests at the end. They all decided to write to Hillary Clinton as a strong woman leader. (The theme for that month was Chapter 10 from Her Next Chapter: “Girls Are Leaders! Laying the Foundation for Future Adult Female Leadership”). We explained that just because they don’t hear back from her doesn’t mean the message won’t be read—she has lots of letters come her way. Well, to our surprise, two of them had their letters published on the Letters to Hillary Tumblr. You can see them here at #10 and #33.

Beginning in October, the girls asked to take the reins. Each one has chosen a month and a book and is writing the questions and leading discussion. As a mother, the part I cherish most is that, regardless of temperament on any other given day at home or at school, they always seem to arrive at book club open and willing to share. I have found our Mother-Daughter Book Club an invaluable resource in raising an empowered, informed, and educated daughter.

I daresay, this may go down as the biggest Pinterest-win of all time!


About the Author


Emily Carpenter is a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades: blogger, organizer, digital media creator/ producer, and mother of three very different humans. A graduate of Penn State with a BFA in Musical Theatre, Emily also teaches music and performs, and most importantly never turns down a cappuccino with lots of froth on top. You can find Emily on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow her book club blog here.

Reading Aloud: It’s Not Just For Little Kids

By Emily Sexton—I read to my children every night. My kindergartner just turned 6, so there is nothing remarkable about that—we read picture books and early reader chapter series like Owl Diaries, the The Princess in Black and those never-ending Rainbow Magic fairy books, along with age appropriate-ish books about astronomy and math or whatever she is currently into.

More surprising for most people is that I still read to my rising 8th grader as well. We graduated from picture books and The Magic Tree House ages ago, but over the years it has proved to be a really fabulous experience on a lot of levels. I got the idea to just keep on reading together until he said he was ready to stop. This suggestion came from a former colleague who mentioned that he was reading A Conspiracy of Dunces with his high schooler. When my son was a reluctant reader, in part because he thought that we would stop reading to him once he learned to read, my promise to read with him as long as he wanted took on greater importance. Learning to read himself didn’t have to mean the end of reading aloud together.

There is research out there about the benefits of reading aloud to older kids, in both home life and educational contexts—kids process information differently when listening and reading aloud to them can expose them to deeper concepts and vocabulary than they might encounter on their own. But really, we just kept on doing it because we enjoy it. As he has gotten older and our lives have gotten busier, it is dedicated time for just the two of us—no little sister, no dad, no video games or mobile phones. Bedtime is still special, and it has become time when he can share things about his life that we might not talk about over the dinner table, big and small. Just the other night I told him about being on bed rest when I was pregnant with him and craving chocolate cupcakes. I haven’t a clue what prompted that conversation, but it was a joy.

As he has gotten older, in addition to popular favorites like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson, or classics like Oliver Twist, my son and I have explored series that are not necessarily on the most-read lists for tween boys—His Dark MaterialsFever Crumbbooks with strong female protagonists that popular culture would tell us boys are not interested in pursuing. Reading together has also provided opportunities to discuss how literature intersects with our lives. We were reading To Kill a Mockingbird in spring of 2015 when Freddie Gray was relatively local news and we talked about the parallels between the book and current events and how many aspects of racial politics have changed depressingly little in 80 years. We are currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents and it was my son who pointed out the similarities between the fictional presidential candidate Jarrett and certain political candidates in the 2016 election.

Overall, this has also been an amazing way to not only share some of my favorite literature with my son, but to do so in a way that is more meaningful than handing him a book, suggesting he read it, and then asking him what he thought. He can ask questions about what we’re reading in real time and we can make connections to our lives and the world around us. Just as we’ve selected books based on his interests, reading together has sparked his curiosity about new things and helped identify activities and events of interest in our community. The profound conversations we had about To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman led me to take him to the opera Appomattox, which combined his well-established interest in military history with his new curiosity about the Civil Rights Movement. The powerful messages of the opera led us to the March autobiographical graphic novels about John Lewis (that we read independently, but talked about extensively).

I am certain that the clock is ticking down for this togetherness. Before long, my soon-to-be-teenager will decide that it’s time to stop having mom read to him every night. Maybe we’ll adapt—do things more casually, just on weekends, or just when we feel like it. Or maybe he’ll quit cold turkey and just kick me out of his room for good. I will be sad when that day comes, although I will get more sleep. I will always treasure this experience we’ve had together, and, more importantly, I think he will too.


About the Author

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Emily is: poet, wannabe novelist, lawyer, mother, Grounded Parents blogger, and she could do it all if only there were more hours in the day. She can usually be found nursing a beverage and reading something. You can find her on Twitter and Goodreads as emandink.





The Frog Whisperer

By Jenna Stewart—Flowers, butterflies, pretty pink dresses and ponies with ribbons—those are things many people typically think about when they think of little girls.

Yet, what about little girls who pet frogs? Or little girls who choose a Godzilla figurine over a princess doll? Well, that was me, a small, blonde-haired, squeaky-voiced little girl with an affection for Godzilla. My dad said he was shocked when his dainty, sweet two-year-old pointed at the ugly, plastic Godzilla with love and adoration, not fear in her eyes. He laughed, said “sure,” and the poorly painted Godzilla came to live with us.

GodzillaI surprised my parents again shortly after Godzilla moved into my bedroom. I was around three years old at this point, it was summer and we were at the family cottage. From the small beach at our cottage I smiled up at my parents and said, “look daddy, I have made a friend.” And there I was, knelt down gently petting a frog! It just sat there and let me softly stroke its throat, head and back. We became friends that day, the frog and myself, and my parents once again laughed in disbelief at their little girl. Frog hunting became a staple activity at our cottage. We never kept them long, just long enough to say hi, give them a little pet, and then off they went on their way. I still to this day can convince a frog to be friends, although not with the ease and enthusiasm as my three-year-old self.

I don’t know if it was just natural to me or if my parents taught us this, but I always emphasized observing nature. To be able to just be in nature and gently interact with it, without obviously disrupting it, is a gift. I was granted this gift early on as a child and for that I am so grateful.

I was also blessed with parents who didn’t teach me about society’s version of what it meant to “be a girl.” I had a little brother, but during our childhood I was always encouraged do what he did and vice versa. Together we played with dinosaurs, batman figurines, stuffies and Barbies. There was no division as children – for children are just children.

frog in handI can’t thank my mother and father enough for this, for I had no limitations. I could do and be whomever I wanted, as long as I continued to live at the moral standard that they taught us. That moral standard included treating everyone and everything with kindness. I hope I can continue to pass on their message. Let children be children and treat the world not as yours to do with as you please, but to treasure as a shared home for all of nature’s wonders.

Remember that this home of ours is filled with magic, just not in magic’s traditional manner. I never did kiss my frog prince but that is because I never needed a prince. My frog friend was magic enough.

About the Author

Head shotJenna is an artist, author and teacher. In 2014, she published her first book of prose and art called There Is This Place with Insightful Communications Publishing. With this prose she hopes to inspire her readers to see the magic and beauty in life’s simplest things. She illustrates for other independent authors and creates personal drawings and paintings commissions. Her work is almost always inspired by nature; her message is to remind us to nurture and appreciate it; and her passion is creativity in its infinite forms. Jenna also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) degree from the University of Waterloo and is a certified teacher with the Simcoe County District School Board. There she brings her affection for creativity and the love of simplistic values to the classroom.

– “Sometimes, the most beautiful is the simplest.” 




Defining Masculinity as the Absence of Femininity: A Preschool Teacher’s Story


By Christie Angleton— Gender performance is something I think about a lot. As a preschool teacher and PhD student – not to mention as a mom – I have a research interest in the ways kids navigate and express gender in their lives. In my experience, girls tend to have an easier time of it when they bend, or even break, gender stereotypes. My own daughter prefers Darth Vader to Disney Princesses, and no one ever bats an eye over her preferences. For the boys in my class, however, singing songs from Frozen or sporting a Princess Leia shirt tends to ruffle feathers.

Our school recently hosted a Spring Fling, complete with a temporary tattoo booth. The next day, our class hosted a pajama day. Ben entered the classroom in his Batman pajamas, proudly displaying a Frozen tattoo he had chosen the previous night. As he excitedly approached his friends, sleeve pulled up proudly, one boy pointed to the tattoo and said, “Oh, why’d you get a Frozen one?! That’s just for girls!” Ben quickly rolled his sleeve down to cover the tattoo.


Yes, I intervened, reiterating to the group that “boy things” and “girl things” are something we’ve talked about many times before – that colors, toys, and experiences are for everybody. This is a dialogue we’ve had since the beginning of the school year. And yet, worry crept in. Because we’ve been having this conversation in many variations since August. Okay, this 4-year-old kid slipped into a common social expectation: Frozen is for girls. But I worry about the conversations that will inevitably happen when no one is there to offer support.

I worry that eventually Ben will let these comments influence the choices that he makes: Ben, who occasionally comes to school in sparkly nail polish and frequently disrupts the comments of children who categorize toys, talk, and activities as “for boys” or “for girls.” Ben, who, in addition to this Frozen tattoo is also wearing Batman pajamas on this classroom pj day, and yet, in the eyes of his peers is somehow less of a boy because he likes Frozen. I worry about the girls overhearing this exchange: how they might perceive comments about their interests as somehow less, because their interests are “for girls.” I worry about my own daughter and the choices she makes, and how these seemingly innocuous comments might influence her, Ben, and others to not be true to themselves.

For now, Ben simply rolls down his sleeve and changes the subject. But what about the next time he is offered something deemed “girls only” by his friends? Will he remember the way he felt on pj day and make a different choice, even if it’s not what he desires for himself? Will he quiet his own voice as he did on this day?

Navigating gender is tricky business, in preschool and in life. Validating kids’ lived experiences isn’t something I take lightly. But for all my hard work, the worry continues to creep in. I’m one small voice among many louder ones. But I’ll keep at it, for Ben, for my daughter, for all of the kids who won’t be boxed in – because Darth Vader and Frozen aren’t “just for boys” or “just for girls.” They’re for everyone – children – boys and girls alike.



About the Author












Christie Angleton is a preschool teacher and PhD student with a strong research interest in gender performance and expression in children. She is moderately obsessed with books, coffee, and social justice advocacy. She blogs about preschool and her teaching practice at www.looselywondered.blogspot.com.

GIVEAWAY: The Good Mother Myth


Motherhood did not arrive easily. As one of the early IVF pioneers in the 80’s, I fought tooth and nail for it. It took many years, many surgeries, many assisted reproductive technologies, and a whole lot of grit. In 1991 my daughter Charlotte was born, and she was a miracle, as all of our children are. But the truth is that I always felt I had tempted fate—in getting pregnant at all, in delivering a healthy baby after a high-risk pregnancy and difficult labor, and in almost losing her shortly after she was born…but bringing her home  from the NICU a few days later with her doctors’ blessings.

With each instance of overcoming the odds, my faith in myself ironically weakened, and my superstitious fear that I was never meant to be a mother, and would therefore inevitably not manage the job, grew stronger. I somehow felt that the stakes were higher for me to prove I was a good mother, because I had been given a chance that some of the friends I made along the way were never given.

So I hid my fears and my insecurities. There were very few parenting books back then. No blogs. No Internet. No easy ways to connect with other mothers or hear their stories, beyond those moms who were friends in my own town and to whom I wanted to appear breezily confident. Thus I did not reach out enough for support when my daughter cried inconsolably of colic for week after week and in my deranged, sleep-deprived state I shook her one night—just a little—until I caught myself, sobbing, whispering, “so that’s how it happens.” Child abuse. It happens when a mother is exhausted to the point of delirium and has isolated herself. I began a habit of calling the nurses in labor and delivery at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, needing so desperately to have someone to talk to in those wee lonely hours, to seek information or comfort or some critical moment of distraction from self-doubt.

Was I a Good Mother? Am I now? Are you? What does it even mean?

So much has changed for mothers since I became one, and since all the mothers who came before me had their children. For better and for worse, in perhaps equal measure, we consume and shape today’s culture for moms through social media with our blogs and our Pinterest boards and the Facebooking of our lives and our children’s lives…what we wish to publicly portray of them, anyway. We construct and feed the myth that there is a single definition of what a good mother is, a foolproof recipe for success, a surefire way to win the approval of others. The Good Mother Myth.

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I read this fabulous new anthology of 35 essays, edited by my friend and colleague Avital Norman Nathman of the popular blog The Mamafesto, and found the support I’d needed over 20 years ago. What a gift for today’s moms. These stories, by a diverse group of mothers, explores the archetype of the mythical “good mother” and reveal, through collective narrative, some of the ways in which today’s motherhood culture can make women feel pressured, confused, isolated, and even burdened. I found the essays to be in turns uplifting and sobering, funny and saddening—and usually in some way relatable. There is profound validation among these pages, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you are healthy or in some ways physically or mentally health-challenged. The authors represent different races, religions, classes, and sexual orientations. The monolithic construct of the good mother as white, middle class, straight, and June Cleaver-esque is blissfully nowhere to be found here.

As I write in Her Next Chapter, I have huge concerns about the parenting culture we now have, especially for mothers. Mothers are under constant media bombardment. You cannot open a magazine or browse articles online or tune in to Facebook without reading some version of how mothers are doing it wrong. Or can’t have it all. Or should have it all. Or are not following the “right” method for potty training or breastfeeding or violin instruction or fill in the blank. Back when mothers raised children in literal villages, without the Internet but with grandmothers and aunts and sisters and village elders to guide and support them, were they better able to develop confidence in themselves as parents who could eventually rely on their own methods? And is methods just another word for instincts and communal knowledge?

One of the ways in which The Good Mother Myth positively addresses the particular challenges of modern motherhood is by setting an example of what Avi calls “intentional community.” It’s the same idea as what I call “villages.” They are the sisterhood of your own design, and the tent that you wrap around yourself when the world can feel too demanding, or worse, indifferent. By choosing strong allies, you can inoculate yourself—at least somewhat—from the mompetitors down the street, and a shaming, judgmental media culture.


Reading The Good Mother Myth is a welcome reprieve from the anxiety that can be caused by continually striving for perfection. Like Avi and like me, many of the contributing authors have created their own intentional communities for mothers online, and these are places where mothers can go to find virtual companionship and support to supplement what they can garner from their real-life families and communities. We all need that space to share and question and cheer each other on in this extreme sport called parenting.

I am so pleased to host a giveaway for one signed copy of Avital Norman Nathman’s The Good Mother Myth. Enter the contest via Rafflecopter below. The contest will run this entire week, and I’ll announce a winner on Monday, July 14th. Good luck, and please spread the word!

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