The Leading Lady's Year

One woman's quest to become the heroine of her own life

shebasilisk

shebasilisk
Location
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Birthday
December 31
Bio
SheBasilisk is a writer, history nut, artist, aspiring florist, and recovering theater geek from Saint Louis, Missouri. Her past work has appeared in StlToday.com, The Collinsville Herald, The Granite City Press-Record, The Madison County Record, LegalNewsline, The Northwest Herald, The Kane County Chronicle, The Galesburg Register-Mail, The DeKalb Daily Chronicle, the St. Louis Beacon, and other publications. She is currently working becoming "the leading lady" of her own life.

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OCTOBER 26, 2009 1:04PM

"Two Mommies,"an egg and a sperm,am I a prude or just queasy

Rate: 7 Flag

At long last, I'm back!

I know, I know. I'm slacking. To keep the explanation of my lack of posts short, here's what's been happening in my life to date: busy work days, helping my father with set construction for a high school play, cleaning my apartment, packing for a trip to Seattle, going to Seattle for six days, falling ill with some kind of flu --maybe H1N1, helping my parents cope with an itsy bitsy family crisis involving Trans-Atlantic health care.

In short, I have not had time to post.

But, now that's over as I hope to have entered that blessed assembly-line state of mind. And I've nearly plowed through I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings so you can expect that post not long after this one.

This over, let's get on with the review! For I've hit the first moment in my project when parts of me damn near agreed with those who go into hysterics over Heather Has Two Mommies.

Shocked, my dear readers? 

You can bet I was.

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It's times like this that I wish I had the wisdom (and erudition) of Dan Savage.  I really need to be a gay man with kids or a lesbian with kids right now.

Or, really, I just need to have human children right now. It's difficult at times to channel the inner parent when you don't have any excepting the furry, animal kind. And Rufus is more concerned with making sure I don't go on anymore trips and that he can lick the sofa. (Dog love, right?)

Previously, I reviewed Daddy's Roommate by Michael Wilhoite. For the complete review, click here.

I was going to review it and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman in the same posting. My initial reason for this had to do with the fact that both are pretty short picture books. Then came the subject matter, which seemed to dovetail just peachily.

I honestly had no idea of what I was getting myself into.

Let me dispense with the nuts and bolts and then, hopefully, my fellow readers, it will become clear what my difficulties are with this review.

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Review Three: Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea (accent over the last 'e') Newman; Illustrated by Diana Souza

Basic Information: Published in 1989 by Alyson Publications Inc. of Los Angeles.

Most common banning reasons: Homosexuality, inappropriate for young children

Length: 34 pages (I may have miscounted. Math and I don't get along.)

Raised eyebrow rating: (with my orange morality glasses that once again don't fit) 9 to 10; without the glasses 7.

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Yes, this is the first time my eyebrows went into my hairline. It may be because I'm a prude. It may be because I need to get with the program.

All I know is that my gut reaction to reading Newman's book was to time travel back to my great grandmother's front yard at Alaska and Bates streets where there was always gooey butter cake and where pretty European storks politely brought babies in baskets complete with the stringy plastic grass.

Never mind that the babies would choke on said grass. It's the effect that counts.

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As in my Daddy's Roommate post, I can honestly say the lesbian relationship in the book doesn't bother me at all. I also applaud Newman for getting into Heather's head, discussing the conflicting feelings she'd have about having two mothers and using the end of the book to illustrate different family constructs.

Well done there. Same goes with the book's pace and wording.

But the plot had me squirming. Help Dan! I'm a prudish straight girl with a mommy and a daddy! I am sooooooo out of my depth.

Getting down to it, my issue with the book comes from the rather graphic description (for what I think the age of the book's audience is) of how Heather came into the world. This book is written for little kids. Call me unenlightened but I don't know if I would want a small two-legged child of mine reading about "Jane's womb," "a special doctor," " Jane's vagina," and this rather blunt passage:

"The sperm swam up into Jane's womb. If there was an egg waiting there, the sperm and the egg would meet, and the baby would start to grow."

I picture a little sperm in a Speedo and swim cap meeting a bathing suit clad chicken egg all floating in somebody's stomach. They meet, have tea, and lightening strikes and 'poof!' there's baby.

The illustration is also a little much for me on that page, but overall the pictures didn't bother me.

It's just the description. Is it too much for a young child?

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When I was a little girl, my mother gave me a book called Where Do Babies Come From? I must have been about six or seven. I remember reading it but even up to my early twenties, "sex" didn't have a real concrete place in my mind.

I won't lie, something about that concrete ignorance was comforting. Especially now, as I am making that very last transition from girl to woman, I long for the days when I didn't see everyone's boobs hanging out in magazines. I miss the fact that people didn't talk about their sex lives or bodily functions in every interview I read or see.

What's more, I give the book a 7 rating because - contrary to what seems to a growing trend - I don't think sex education needs to start in a small child's picture book. Once you get them past kindergarten and maybe first grade, go for it with my blessing.

I don't think I would read this to a toddler I had. Maybe to an older child. But, I bet my face would go redder than a lava flow if my toddler talked about sperm, eggs of the non-scrambled sort, or "Jane's vagina."

I'm a prude and my future offspring can use "my private place," just like I did until my teenage years. If they need therapy for that, so be it.

--------------------

Heather Has Two Mommies has certainly drummed up its share of controversies.

- It was one of the book's at the heart of the Sarah Palin Wasilla library controversy.

- Salon's own Camille Paglia references the book in a Now Public video along with her break up and Obama. For the video, click here.

- The book was nearly banned in Wichita Falls, Tx. and saved by a narrow vote. For that story, hat tip to dallasvoice.com and its profile of Rev. Robert Jeffress, the voice behind the 1998 move. For the story, click here. Jeffress actually destroyed the book.

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As a final thought, I admit, Heather Has Two Mommies isn't to my taste. Not because of the homosexual elements but rather my own feelings about how to guide children into sexual awareness and how to discuss complicated reproductive issues with them.

I don't want the book banned (I don't agree that much with critics) but it's a book that I think parents would have to think long and hard about letting a very small child read.

Not that they shouldn't. It's a matter of what your approach to sexual education is. Mine's on the prudish side. I'm not saying it should be yours. I can't tell what my future children-spawn will think.

And, as always, read dangerously!

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Well, I'm not sure I'll be much help to you on this one. My 8-year-old son has a pretty solid understanding of the bio-mechanics involved in the creation of a human being and the proper terminology for the components involved. I'd much rather he have a solid grasp of the truth and be able to challenge or dispel playground nonsense, than see him dependent on what his classmates choose to share as "the truth".

The truth is not inappropriate. The truth is not offensive. And it is generally much more uncomfortable for the adults in question to discuss than it is for the children in question to understand.
Wordsmith, I definitely see your point. I'm not saying the truth offends me here. I will respectfully disagree with you on the inappropriate, if only because of my background and personal tastes.
It's great to have a parent's perspective on this issue. I'm 24 and childless so, I have to go with a young gut.
I'm not sure what you mean about "his classmates choose to share as the 'the truth.'" Your son is the same age I was when my school introduced sex ed. to us. What I struggled with in this review is that the book's audience seems a bit younger than that. That's where the line blurs for me.
Eight seems perfectly reasonable to me to get kids learning about the subject.
I hope more readers will weigh in. I am always curious about other views of the topic.
Thanks for reading!
Amelia, as concerns his classmates' version of the truth, the schoolyard is a veritable minefield of disinformation (much of it centered precisely around those topics where adults tend to leave gaps, such as sex ed.).
My son has had a pretty good grasp of the biology of reproduction for some years now, but I will admit that is not the more usual time line for giving out that sort of information.
BTW, I do congratulate you on daring to wonder aloud (as it were) on subjects where most would timidly keep their issues quietly to themselves.
I appreciate your wonderings aloud. One thing you may not even know to consider if how children approach these things and try to understand. Kids still get picked on for any differences and that can start in pre-school when a child gets teased for not having a real family or having two mommies/daddies. The more parents prepare them, the less likely that the child will incorporate shame into his/her identity.

I suspect the book's intent was to lay it all wide open to help parents can gauge when to broach the topic. Younger kids will not be as interested in the mechanics as they are the simple story.
what I think the world needs is another version of heather has two mommies, but with one of the mommies being the stepmother
I have a 6 year old son. I think you are underestimating little kids. Last year his preschool teacher told me about how much these little ones (3, 4, and 5 year olds) discuss this stuff between themselves on the playground all on their own. They are waaaaay more sophisticated at this age than we were. They know all the key word - penis vagina, sperm, egg, etc and in a very generally non-sexy but mechanical way how things work. The teacher told me about a conversation some of the preschoolers were having about artificial insemination and getting sperm from a sperm bank. They even knew about C sections.

I say discuss the mechanics with them before they get educated (miseducated?) by a schoolmate and before they know to be embarrassed about it all. They are already curious and asking questions. They want to know where they came from. They are already asking their parents at this age.

It might help you be less embarrassed too when they aren't ashamed about reproduction yet! However, I would save the discussions about complicated emotions and issues around sex for when they are more mature and are able to understand it. That is actually the really challenging part, not the mechanics.
my preschool age grandchildren are all familiar with "real" terminolgy, i.e. penis, vagina, uterus, womb and c-section (two of my three daughters have had so all grandchildren know about)
One of my daughters has a wife, so her daughter indeed has two mommies (she's the birth mother) -- the topic of how that female grandchild came to be, without a male in the picture, has not come up yet as far as I know but I would expect the scenario described in the book will probably be the explanation. And I, at age 70, am fine with it all, though at your age I might have been a bit uncomfortable (that would have been early 60's and a totally different mindset)
I am mildly surprised at your reaction as a young twentysomething.
Well, I'm not sure how young a "young voice" needs to be, but when I was 29 and pregnant with my second child, my then 2 year old daughter knew that the baby was in my uterus, NOT my tummy, and that Daddy had helped to make her and her sibling-to-be.

I also was raised by a mother who felt that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, so best to be ignorant. I, though, wanted FACTS, and got them when and wherever I could. I fear that you are in the minority, my Dear, and that, had your parents been more forthcoming with information when you were younger, you might not be squicked out by the words penis and sperm, now that you are an adult. Really. They're just accurate words for parts of humanity, that's all.
"God planting a seed in a mommy's tummy" isn't any more useful an answer than storks and cabbage leaves. My mother was a farm girl, no stranger to animal reproduction, and she never soft-pedaled biology to me - and her earthy advice continued even after I was married (for instance, she casually mentioned at dinner that more frequent sex was a better way to ward off my gout attacks than modifying my diet).

I never bothered to share my advanced knowledge with my schoolmates, because I knew that they'd blab and the nuns would get on my case for not believing their fairy tales. Other than the fact that homosexuality was not anywhere near the topic for discussion back then as it is now, a book like "Heather" would not have been a surprise for me.

That said, it's up to parents to judge the maturity levels of their children and allow or deny access accordingly. What's wrong is to surrender that authority to someone outside the family who is in the business of making sweeping judgements.
Oh my dears, the answer to this and all dilemmas (?) like this is one
is a blanket fact well known to almost any teacher, librarian or psychologist: after a huge amount of studies into this subject the experts in the field long ago agreed that a child will understand something whwn he/she is a chronological/intellectual age to fit the very information being presented.
Do not feel queesy, do not grimace; relax, it's out of your hands!

Above all, watch your kids and read their faces. Some of them have just ignored whatever you or they were reading-they were totally unready for this new thing at this time. If they have a question THEY just came up with, just ANSWER it with courage and however much detail seems called for (no more).

And, whatever you do, do not embarrass yourself by running to the library to ask a book be taken off the shelf! This very book will
This is really an interesting discussion! It's so nice to have such a thoughtful, active online community, don't you all think?
And, (not that I don't love everyone's feedback - I do) but I really like your point Addie! Again, thanks for reading!
.......this very book will present a myriad of opportunities to for a thrilling discussion of the facts of life and the names for certain body parts for other adults and children in your community, as long as all the parties to the conversation are ready(!) to comprehend any of it.
And, to Micki, quick thing: I'm not "squicked out" by anatomical terms. Not in adult conversations.
My question in the post and my reaction are based on what place they have in a child's world, a child I admit to not having.
My parents did a wonderful job of answering any questions I had and sharing information if I needed it from them. I did have sex ed from the ages of eight to sixteen as well.
Do not attack my parents. Perhaps you didn't intend to. But that's how I perceive it.
And, a note for my readers in general: One thing I have a particular issue with is even remotely attacking people's parents and/or family members in comments. My faults are my own. Don't bring my parents into this. If you do, fair warning, I may delete your post.
Actually, let me amend: I don't like attacks on anybody. Please be civil and keep to me, my writing or the topic in comments. That's all I ask.
I remember a grade school teacher telling me about teaching the birds and the bees to young children as required by the primary school curriculum. She said that when she finally got down to the nitty gritty and children found out how babies were made they all were totally grossed out. I think it points out quite clearly that young children can accept the realities of the situation without getting involved in the emotions of it. Children are not hurt by such knowledge if properly presented.
I think I remember reading somewhere that children of doctors and farmers are wise to the truth a lot sooner than everyone else. I also remember reading that psychologists agree that the "birds and the bees" discussion needs to be years-long, not a single conversation. That being said, I appreciate your queasiness, as I felt similarly, but we really must both admit the problem lies with ourselves and our own upbringings rather than what's the "right" way to teach this stuff to kids.

Rated for the video of Camille Paglia, whom I've never seen nor heard, believe it or not, even though I've been reading her for years. I find her fascinating.
When it comes to the birds and the bees, the parents are 100% responsible. This issue should be open for discussion anytime and for as long as it takes. Parents' instruction is especially needed here if only to protect the child from an ignorant outside environment (popular culture).

Always been a big fan of Camille Paglia.

Great report, well written.
Rated.
I'm a permanent non-parent, but have been heavily invested in child development for a very long time now. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about the issue you brought up, until somebody else mentioned her mother growing up on a farm... Hrm, and now I'm not entirely sure how to say what I wish to, without it coming out totally wrong. Let me try...

I grew up in a city/suburb; I get the impression you're the same. I had kind of double-life regarding words for one's privates, though, because some of my birth defects were/are down there. Around medical staff, I knew/used the medical terms, and felt very empowered & mature doing so; I used the little-kid terms my parents taught me everywhere else. (Sex ed was a 1-week class in 7th grade plus a book Mom gave me.) So I'm on both sides of the fence, and wasn't really harmed by either.

Then someone's comment made me realize that something being what we're used to (i.e. indirect words) doesn't mean it's the best approach, and it's sure not the natural one. Until the mid-1900s, most kids learned about reproduction from seeing animals mating on farms. The older seniors I've known that grew up like that were very well-adjusted, resilient, and polite (aside from the racism/sexism issue), seemingly much more so than the urban generations that followed. While obviously a lot of elements made them that way, this one evidently didn't hurt.

I've heard that some little kids are being teased for using the "baby" words, which seems like a good reason to stick with the medical terms. The one thing that I have learned is that being a really good parent (or working in pediatrics) requires dealing with many things from the first day onwards that benefit the kid but make you uncomfortable. Being covered in feces, vomit, urine, all three at once, giving the sex talk to the pre-teen, explaining death to a little kid if a grandparent dies & dealing with their painful questions just when you're at your lowest. If that's not for you (any more than screaming was for me), then you might reconsider whether parenting is really, truly how you want to dedicate a couple of decades. :o)
I know a lot of people have weighed in on this, many expressing similar views to mine, so I won't repeat. I would, however, like to offer one additional thought about why I used the real, anatomic names for all of my children's body parts from birth.

Many (many) years ago, I was a preschool teacher. One day, a 3-year-old came into the school and told her teacher that her nu-nu hurt, that her daddy had hurt her nu-nu. Well, as you might imagine, there was a lot of running around and hand waving. Social services and the police were called in. Only to discover upon further questioning that the child's nu-nu was, in fact, her elbow.

It is incredibly important that your children can easily and accurately describe their body parts. When a daughter tells you she hurts "down there," it's a lot harder to figure out how to proceed than if she can be more specific. And you sure as hell don't want to find yourself being called into the school for a hurt nu-nu.
Great review, much enjoyed.

Personally, I'm very much for using facts and penis, vagina, etc. for terms throughout early childhood. If I had read that book as a small child (say 4-5), I don't think the terminology or detail would have fazed me (I'm 26 and childless, so reasonably part of your demographic) since I would have already known, but maybe a kid who has NO IDEA what a vagina (versus a "pooty" or whatever the kids are calling it these days) is would be confused. That said, kids tend to gloss over parts of stories they don't "get" and sort of fill in their version. Those lines are so dry that I'd bet a lot of kids just move on and ignore them, and the kids who know how babies come about wouldn't be shocked, either.
As a librarian, I find this redux review of _Heather Has Two Mommies_ somewhat surprising. Twenty or so years ago when the book was published it caused such outrage that it rocked the world, at least the world of libraries. It is no exageration to say that librarians' jobs were lost, or nearly, by the subject matter--OMG, gay parents. It's nice to see that we've moved past that thought.

I'm not sure that the book or its companion _Daddy's Roommate_
was altogether intended for a general audience. Kids who grow up with gay parents rarely see their own lives reflected in any media (or they sure didn't 20 years ago). To a large degree, these books were meant to allow those children to have books that mirrored their own homes. HHTM and DR provided an opportunity, too, for opened-minded parents who wanted to expose their children to the concept of alternate families. There are books for divorced families, Black families, Hispanic and Asian families, and blended families. Removing the shock value of gay families was a good thing.

As always, the selection of reading material for children and for parents reading to children is completely subjective. Parents should know and be making active choices about what their kids are reading. Summing up the 20 year old response to criticism of these books: if you don't want your kid to be exposed to these books, don't get the books. Don't, however, choose for someone else's kids.
Two things......I do not believe that Micki was judging your parents, Amelia. Threatening to delete her post sounded like "I'll take my dolls home if you don't play like I want you to play".

I have a 4 year old grandson and a 6 year old granddaughter. Last year my daughter bathed them together. They played with bath toys and splashed one another and in general had a good time. After the bath was over and they were getting their clothes on, King said to Stella, "do you want to see my penis?" and Stella turned her nose up and replied "don't you know that I saw it in the bathtube?" My grandchildren all use the correct words for genitalia. No "winkie, va jay ja" for us.
Pat: Respectfully, I did not threaten to delete Micki's post.
It did provide me a point to make clear what my policy on staying civil is. I'm certainly not, "taking my dolls home," as evidenced by my latest post on "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
In my work as a journalist and experience with Salon.com, there are some comment threads that quickly turn into name-calling or attacks. I don't want that to happen on my blog.
I perceived Micki's post differently than you do. I can respect that. As I'm sure you do.
The comment discussion on this post has been enlightening from my vantage point.
I enjoyed your comment as well. Thanks for reading!
When you have to insult yourself 5- 10 times in a blog you might wonder if something is wrong. You seem to already know that your attitude is hopelessly childish and extremely naive. You didn't know about sex until your 20s? Kids today are much smarter. As a child raised by gay parents I am glad this book is out. It is important kids be told the truth and that gay raised kids do not have to hide and feel ashamed. Wake up, not everyone is so terrified of the body we all have and the amazing repro process. It is nothing to be ashamed of, the younger they know the better.
I should clarify something for my last commentor. I thought I had in the writing, but I guess not.
I knew about sex. I had sex ed from age 8 to 16. I passed with flying colors.
I did not personally have sex until my twenties. That's what I meant in writing about first hand knowledge. I think you would agree that it is one thing to think of sex in the abstract. It's another to experience it.
I enjoy some self-depracation. I find too many blog posts and columns take themselves too seriously. I'm trying not to.
Thanks for reading.