Names and Identity, Part 1

When I read Against the Name Change: A Polemic, it gave me second thoughts about my decision to take my husband’s name. This wasn’t an ill-thought-out or hasty decision, but this post made me wonder how many of my reasons were justifications for simply following tradition because it’s easier.

Let me say first off that I have a very egalitarian marriage. We both cook, we both clean, we both try to support each other in that whole “working outside the home” thing and fairly juggle errands and taking care of the fuzzy children.*

And when Mr. Thinkstoomuch and I were engaged, I had examples of all sorts of not changing your name. A friend who was going to keep her name, with no hyphenation, another set of friends where the man was taking the woman’s name. (I actually know *two* guys who’ve done this–it’s a tiny minority, but it is becoming more common.) I knew a number of people who hyphenated, but I’ve never been a fan of hyphenation. If either original name is longer than two syllables, it gets really clunky.

My reasons for name change were personal and idiosyncratic, but I don’t think invalid. I like the assonance and alliteration of my first name with the new last name. And after two years of teaching and a lifetime of answering calls from telemarketers, I was sick of hearing my last name mangled. So, the idea of a shorter and more easily pronounced name was really appealing. (Though I totally underestimated the number of people who can get a simple, but uncommon, name wrong or need it spelled for them.)

There were also identity-based reasons. When Mr. Thinkstoomuch graduated from college and I left my teaching job several hundred miles away, his parents let us stay with them until we got jobs and got settled in our own place. I felt very much a part of his family and wanted to honor that too.

And yet, if I had it to do over again, I might choose differently. The paperwork is a ginormous pain. I still don’t have my bank account stuff straight, because the times I’ve gone, there’s been some requirement they’ve neglected to mention the last time. Sorry, you need to bring your spouse with you. Oh, no, we need a copy of the marriage license.

But the point where I felt a real pang of regret was at my brother’s wedding. He was talking about how many [Last Name]s were there (not many) and described me as “one who left.” Dude, I didn’t leave, I’m right here.

This is getting long, so I think I’ll break it into two posts, with the primary point for this post being that the “easy” choice where the woman changes her name is not, in fact, easy. It’s *traditional* which makes it easy in some respects. And as much as I like having a name that ties me to my in-laws, my new family, it feels as though I’ve some how replaced my family by giving up the name that ties me to them. In reality, of course, I haven’t, but names are symbols and symbols are important.

*No, we’re not goofy people who treat our pets like kids. But like children, they’re cute and dependent, and need a lot of looking after. And it’s a term of endearment.

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A quickie on vitamins

One of the ideas that I’ve touched on here is that there’s not always one best, perfect choice as far as healthy food, that different people at different times need different things. The idea isn’t mine; I got it from Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist. But I do keep being exposed to examples of it in the wild.

Case in point: Breakfast. I like breakfast, I don’t function without breakfast. But recently for me, breakfast has become a challenge. See, I have to wait a half hour after taking morning meds to eat. But not too long, if I don’t want to start feeling really sick. (The “must eat breakfast shortly after waking up” thing is not new…it just adds a layer of complication with the meds.) Because of those same meds, I’m also limited in what I can eat in the morning. No major sources of calcium or iron before 10:30. So, the quick go-to breakfast of cereal and milk, maybe with some toast or fruit or an English muffin? Yeahno. Too much milk.

Anyway milk is one of the quintessential breakfast beverages right up there with coffee and OJ. And they all pose their own difficulties. A bit of milk in my coffee is okay, but dairy-laden espresso drinks are right out. And orange juice is often fortified with…CALCIUM and IRON. Luckily, I can usually find the non-fortified, even in my preferred pulp-free version, but it requires some label-reading. I would run into the same issue with fortified cereals if they weren’t already off the table due to milk. It does mean that if I’m eating handfuls of dry cereal in the morning, I need to check the label of said cereal, or I may as well just dump milk on it.

Now, you’d think that adding vitamins to something makes it healthier, right? Vitamins are good for you, yes? Well, not always in every situation, which is my point. An attempt to make orange juice healthier actually *removes* it from my breakfast options.

Bye, Bye Happy Meals

I have pretty mixed feelings about the San Francisco ban on Happy Meal toys. Putting a toy in a meal is a cheap advertising ploy, and little kids are really sensitive to that sort of stuff. So, I’m all for banning advertising that manipulates children.

My problem is that the law sets calorie, fat, and sodium guidelines for meals within which it’s okay to manipulate children. That is, if the nutrition data for the happy meal was tweaked a bit, it could still be offered. Or if another chain wanted to offer a lower calorie kids’ meal, they could.

The reasons this bothers me are many. First and foremost, kids should not be counting calories, parents should not be counting calories for their kids, children are growing and need energy and need to actually learn to listen to their internal hunger cues. I also don’t like the reduction of “healthy” to “low-calorie.” Health is complex and multifaceted. For a kid going through a growth spurt, a Happy Meal might actually be better than a salad and a fruit cup, because they need the calories. Are there better ways to get the calories? Sure. But in the situation where time is really limited and dinner comes from the drive-through, the lowest-calorie option is not the one and only always right answer. Or how about a kid who had tonsil surgery or teeth pulled and it hurts to eat, but you need to get some calories into them somehow. Suddenly a big thick chocolate milkshake looks like a fantastic idea. Point being, there’s way more to health than calories, and the oversimplification is BS.

Secondly, it’s the parent’s place to decide what their food priorities are for their kids. I know people who really like the ban because it cuts down on the amount of begging they’ll have to withstand–at least until McDonald’s tweaks the Happy Meal a bit. And, since their issue with McDonald’s is corn products and overprocessing and HFCS, a 500-calorie Happy Meal isn’t going to be any higher on their list of things they want their kids to have. But those priorities aren’t everybody’s priorities, and I think the government oversteps when it says “these are the meals that are okay to market to children, and these are the ones that aren’t.” How about just “don’t market to children”?

Third, anything that feeds into our culture’s diet mentality bugs me. Kids will be aware when Happy Meals go away, don’t think they won’t. And they’ll know that it’s because of “too many calories” because calories are bad for you and you shouldn’t eat them. (Yes, this is exactly how the diet message sounds to a six-year-old.)

Finally, this leaves a big fat loophole for manipulative advertising of low-calorie (not necessarily the same as healthy) meals to kids. I can easily envision a Skinny Princess meal with a salad, a Diet Coke, one of the 80-calorie Disney Princess snack packs (which should not exist!) and a cute pink toy, marketed to little girls. This would meet those standards as “healthy” without giving a kid the energy they need, having all the HFCS and non-organic stuff that some people are concerned over, oh and teaching them to diet at the age of five.

For more on this topic, there’s some really good discussion going on over at the Family Feeding Dynamics blog.

America: Love it or, well, don’t

I’ve been thinking a lot about patriotism after having gone to support the family and friends of a fallen Marine whose funeral was protested by the Westwacko Batsh*t Crazies, who I won’t dignify by calling a “Church.” About 3000 of us lined the area around the church where the funeral was held, waving flags and singing God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner. Later, people got upset that it was referred to in the media as a “counter-protest” because we weren’t protesting anything. Well, no, but we were there to *counter* a *protest* so the term applies.

Anyway, I found that deeply moving. Love and gratitude and support triumphing over hate. The Wackos couldn’t get anywhere near the church, and they packed up and left forty minutes into the funeral.

To me, it was an odd and somewhat nice dichotomy, to be standing shoulder to shoulder with friends who I disagree with *seriously* on political issues and with random people from all walks of life and all ends of the political spectrum, but all united in something meaningful and important. And, yes, patriotic.

I was walking out to my car when I saw an “America: Love It or Leave It” bumper sticker and it momentarily spoiled my warm fuzzy moment. Because usually when people say “Love it or leave it,” that translates to “If you criticize America or anything America does, you’re not really a patriot, and you should move somewhere else.

First of all, I view loving your country as similar to loving your family. It works as an analogy, because in most cases, you don’t choose your country. A small number of people emigrate out of the country of their birth, but for most people, whether you’re singing The Star Spangled Banner or O, Canada is just a circumstance of birth. In the same way, you don’t choose your family. You don’t pick the people you’re born to, or the people who raise you, and it’s them, not you, who choose whether the first and the second are the same.

So, you love your family and your country, not because they do no wrong, or because they are, objectively and empirically the best family or country *EVER* but because they’re yours. Because they raised you and provided you with a place to live and sent you to school and all that stuff.

That love doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to disagree with them. That’s not love, that’s messed up and dysfunctional. I think my parents and brother are pretty awesome, and I’m blessed with wonderful in-laws too, but they aren’t perfect. And acknowledging or being frustrated by their faults doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I’m not a bad daughter if I wish my dad would quit yelling at baseball games before he has a heart attack or my brother would stop using “gay” as an insult. Nor are they cruel or unloving if they wish I would *chill the heck out* and quit taking everything so seriously. We’re just imperfect people who live in the real world. Similarly, I get mad that my country is quite okay with having gay people fight and die for it, as long as they lie about a fundamental piece of their identity, or that my country is okay with what amounts to sexual assault to prevent terrorism on airplanes but doesn’t appear to care at all about home-grown terrorists who kill doctors. That doesn’t make me ungrateful or unpatriotic, it just makes me honest. Just like true familial love doesn’t mean allowing or ignoring whatever bad behavior a family member feels like pulling, true patriotism doesn’t mean agreeing with everything your country does. That blind acceptance is dysfunctional in a family and fanatical in politics. Either way, not a good thing.

I also don’t think love is owed. There are parents who abuse their children; those children aren’t required to love or to have a relationship with those parents. And to extend the “country as family” metaphor, the US has been a pretty decent parent to me, a straight white Christian, but it’s played favorites pretty heavily and has treated its minority and Muslim and Wiccan and poor and disabled and LGBT children pretty poorly. And when the Republican side of the family is running things, doesn’t even acknowledge that those groups *are* part of the family.

So, I wouldn’t say to anyone who’s been screwed over in one way or another that they’re obligated to love their country. Any more than I’d tell an abuse survivor that they should love their abuser. Love and forgiveness are good for the soul, sure, but they aren’t owed. (That’s a hard thing for me to say from a Christian point of view. I don’t mean to discount or devalue forgiveness, but it’s totally not my place to be telling other people when or whom they need to forgive.)

A quick follow-up on reward

One thing I neglected to mention in my last post was that sometimes the difference between a pleasurable reward and the obnoxious thing you have to endure to get a reward is all in how you look at it. For example, there have been a number of studies showing that if someone receives an extrinsic reward for doing something (like getting paid to complete a task or a kid getting points toward a pizza for every book they read), they report enjoying the activity less. Basically, once something becomes a means to an end, the intrinsic reward gets lost. A perfectly cooked and seasoned plate of broccoli isn’t a pleasure–it’s what you have to suffer through to fit into that next smaller jeans size. A book isn’t a relaxing escape–it’s just something you put up with to get pizza.

Which is a huge part of why people actually eat better–more nutrients, more variety–when they give themselves permission to eat whatever they feel like. If broccoli isn’t obligatory, then it ceases to be penance. If a donut is just a donut, not a dreamed-of forbidden luxury, or a reward for an hour on the treadmill, then there’s a lot less temptation to finish the whole box.

Reward and Punishment

One of the reasons that I think trying to lose weight is a bad idea is that when “weigh less” becomes your goal, it becomes easy to do unhealthy things to reach that goal, and drop healthy habits that don’t further that goal. I mean, how many people do you know who’ve started exercising and eating better only to give it up when it didn’t result in weight loss, or they gained the weight back? Or women who don’t want to lift weights for fear of gaining “too much” muscle mass?

Back when I was dieting, I hung out on a diet forum that encouraged some extreme and obsessive behaviors. It wasn’t pro-ana or anything, but it was definitely in disordered eating land. Most people in the group saw no problem with feeling light-headed during the beginning of the uber-restrictive Phase 1. They described it as “detox,” but I’m pretty sure now it was just hunger and tanking blood sugar. And I went to some pretty foolish extremes myself. I was so set on the fact that I *had* to eat only the foods on the diet plan, because I *had* to lose weight, that if I didn’t have “South Beach-legal” food available, there were times I’d just deal with the hunger pangs until I could have something “allowed.” The worst example of this, the one that I’m embarrassed to admit because it was just that stupid, is when I thought a single cheese stick constituted an acceptable breakfast before going for a bike ride. After a bit, I felt weak and dizzy (no huge surprise there) and almost passed out. A random passerby called me an ambulance (no small feat since she didn’t have her phone and there was no cell coverage*), and the EMTs checked me over and took me home.

Really dumb, I know. I can’t be too critical of myself for this, though, because we are constantly sold the message that dieting is healthy, that anything that leads you to weight loss is good for you, as long as you eat over 1000 calories a day and don’t force yourself to throw up. Also, amazingly enough, your brain needs food to function. When I’m hungry, I get really dense, much like when I’m tired. So, combine weight loss as a goal and reduced brain function from hunger and, well, goodbye common sense.

For me, once weight loss stopped being my reward, it made it easier for me to exercise, because I didn’t have to worry about whether it was “working” or whether it was “enough.”

One of my main theories of life, the universe, and everything is that cultivating new habits (and influencing the behavior of others, for that matter) is very much like training a puppy. My dog knows, for example, that if I say “Sit” and she plants her fuzzy little butt on the ground, good things will happen. Praise is guaranteed, scritches are likely, and there’s a decent chance of a treat. People function a lot the same. A stimulus occurs, and we respond to it in a way that we think will result in something good.

Granted, we can think longer term and more complexly than a dog. Like, the average adult knows that visiting the restroom before a long car trip is a good idea. My dog hasn’t yet grasped that her walks will be longer if she “goes potty” before we leave our property, or that if she does her business away from the house, we turn around and head home once the person on the end of the leash has picked up after her.

So, if “lose weight” and the associated rewards of “have people compliment you on weight loss” or “avoid dirty looks or snide comments from your trainer/doctor/skinny coworker” are foremost in our thoughts, it only makes sense that we’ll focus on the actions that lead to those rewards. Whether or not they’re good for us. And avoid things that prevent us from getting that reward. Again, whether or not they’re good for us.

For example, I recently read an article on how yoga doesn’t burn enough calories to be effective for weight loss. If that were still a goal of mine, I’d find that incredibly discouraging. Here’s this form of exercise that I like, that’s building my flexibility and balance and strength and helping me relax, and I can easily see judging it as a waste of time because it won’t make my butt smaller.

Another article, though I no longer have the link, is about a woman with depression who found an antidepressant that worked wonderfully and made a huge difference in her life, except that it caused weight gain, so she went off it. Better to have an untreated illness, to be deeply and profoundly unhappy than to be fat. Wait, what? Seriously?

*Edit: I realized upon rereading this that it made no sense. The woman who stopped, who didn’t have a phone with her, flagged down another car. That driver did have a phone, but had to drive down to the corner to actually get a signal.