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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008

Progressive Parenting

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Anyonewho has children is aware of the number of resources available to new and prospective parents. But how much of those are geared toward the progressive punk parent? When activist/musician/teacher Jessica Mills became pregnant, she was struck by the lack of mainstream parenting literature that spoke to her own subculture where, as she puts it, “politics intersects with parenting,” so she decided to write one of her own.

Her book, My Mother Wears Combat Boots, is written in a manner that’s markedly different from the cooing tones of many parenting manuals. It’s “the book I wished I had access to when I first became a mom,” Mills says. Aside from providing detailed descriptions of the stages of pregnancy, she urges expectant mothers to be fully cognizant of their rights when D-day finally arrives. Her book is about empowerment; and not just for parents, but also for kids. In fact, one of the most eye-opening sections is on the gender-coding phenomenon; the ways in which the language we use and colors we attribute to our infants become signifiers of their sex. The subtleties of the sexes were even a revelation to the author herself.

“When I was doing research for my book it was the first time I’d come across this idea that gender identity exists along a continuum,” Mills says. “Things are not just girl and boy—there are varying degrees of genders along a continuum, and that was something I was speaking to in the book.”

However, despite her progressive tone, Mills advocates practices that are often very traditional. “Our generation is coming full circle and realizing, ‘Hey, what value have we lost in natural child birth,’” she says. “I think it basically comes down to not only having choices but making informed choices…and balancing needs and desires between parents and children—not just being biased by the medical authority.”

Mills comes to Broad Vocabulary on Monday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m. To read an interview with the author, go to the review on ExpressMilwaukee.com. Also coming to Milwaukee this week is award-winning writer Ha Jin. Although his novels are usually set in China, often played against the backdrop of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, his most recent work is set in the United States. A Free Life seems to be his most autobiographical work so far, revolving around a Chinese family living in the United States that severs its ties with China following the Tiananmen Square massacre.

On Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m., he’ll be reading from this and other works at the Stackner Ballroom in the Campus Center of Carroll College (corner of East and College avenues in Waukesha).
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