B.J. Epstein is a senior lecturer in literature and public engagement at the University of East Anglia in England. She's also a writer, editor, and Swedish-to-English translator. She lives with her wife and daughter.
I’m an asshole. I don’t have any problem admitting that. Everyone can be an asshole sometimes.
Or, at least, I think most adults can be an asshole sometimes. But children? Not so much.
And…yet, I often hear people say about their young kids, “he’s a real asshole,” or “she was being such an asshole this morning.” For those who don’t favor the a-word, other words of choice include monster, pain, terror, tyrant, manipulator, jerk, dick, and so on. As often as I hear such expressions, it still surprises… >> Read More
"The Nazis were bad people who didn’t like Jews," I heard myself saying to my 3-year-old.
I immediately questioned this rather disappointing explanation. Bad people? What does that mean?…Haven’t my wife and I always told our child that people aren’t "bad" or "good," even if they do bad or good things? And isn’t “didn’t like Jews” rather an understatement? But, then, what exactly should you tell such a young child about the Holocaust? I was in this predicament because of "The Sound of… >> Read More
Opening gifts on my birthday, I cautiously shook a wrapped package and it rattled.
“I bet it’s Lego,” I joked.
My wife and our three-year-old daughter know I don’t do Lego. It’s…something that they do together. I’ve always thought I don’t have spatial intelligence to be good at building. I didn’t have Lego or other toy bricks when I was a child, and I don’t remember even doing puzzles. I’ve always preferred reading or using dolls to tell stories. So imagine my surprise when I opened… >> Read More
“Can we go back to Cyprus? I liked all the swimming we did there,” my 3-year-old daughter asks. “And when are we next going to Sweden? I want to see our friends in Stockholm. I was last there…when I was 2...so how about now that I’m 3?” I never expected to have a jet-setting preschooler (never mind one who is able to debate the relative merits of different destinations and who can find them on the map), but I’m really glad I do. In fact, giving her itchy feet is one of… >> Read More
A male colleague and I were chatting at a departmental meeting when he caught sight of the thick streak of gray hair at my temple. He sucked in his breath.
"Ooh! Are you going to do anything…about that?” he asked me. I was surprised by his concern for my vanity. “No, why would I?” I replied. “I don’t mind it.” He looked skeptical, but then wandered off in search of coffee, leaving me to ponder my hair. I’ve had gray and white hairs among my mess of dark brown curls since… >> Read More
A friend and I watched my daughter playing in the playground, heaving herself up a ladder clearly meant for older children. “God, you’re calm,” my friend said. “Look at her climbing that…equipment! If that were my child, I’d be so worried!” I had to laugh. I’m not calm. I say things such as, “Be careful!” and “Watch out!” and “Look where you’re going!” and “That seems dangerous!” much more than I ever anticipated, and much more than I would like. I’m not a physical specimen myself;… >> Read More
“This is a toy for girls,” the woman told us, pointing and indicating that we should pick that one.
I was puzzled. A toy for girls? What would that be?
We were at a county fair. There were…a variety of stands at the fair, including some run by charities. At the charity stalls, you could donate money and in turn get a chance to win a prize. Since we want our daughter to learn about what charities do and about choosing which charities to support, we decided to go to several of… >> Read More
Swedish is not my native language, I do not live in Sweden, and my ancestry is not Swedish. And yet I speak Swedish to my toddler.
That may sound odd, but here’s my rationale. Language skills…are, in my opinion, extremely beneficial to have. Besides being able to communicate when you go to a particular country/region or having an increased number of potential career options, knowing multiple languages and understanding how languages work makes it easier to learn additional tongues and is useful for your brain in other ways (I’ve read… >> Read More
“Good luck with your work, Mama,” my toddler daughter says to me as I turn on my computer and sit down in my home office. My heart breaks a little, watching her and my wife head off to go…swimming, leaving me behind with my piles of work. I feel that I’m missing out. I know this is the lament of many working parents, and even of people who don’t have children but who might like more time to spend with their friends or relatives, or relaxing taking in culture, or volunteering. We’re all… >> Read More
When you see my 29-month-old daughter, please don’t lean in to hug or kiss her. Here’s why:
You hear a lot of talk about consent these days, which is really important. I teach at a university,…and my students–primarily the female ones–have frequently mentioned not knowing how to say “no” or not feeling as though there is any respect for their wishes for how their own bodies are touched. That’s something we need to change. We need to help all people feel confident about saying what they do or don’t want… >> Read More
This is not to brag, but here are some of the words that people regularly use to describe my daughter: cute, adorable, pretty, gorgeous, stunning, beautiful.
Again, I’m definitely not bragging.…In fact, I’m complaining. I find it disturbing how much we focus on girls’ looks, while we talk about boys’ behavior, skills, and interests. This isn’t news, of course; it’s well documented that people tend to treat and talk to boys and girls quite differently, and that this affects girls’ beliefs about themselves and their… >> Read More
I was recently in a department store buying my daughter some new clothes. When I went to pay, the woman at the cash register said, “How old is your son?”
I said, “My daughter is 2.”
The…woman looked at the clothes I’d piled in front of her and said, “But these are boys’ clothes!” I shrugged. “They’re children’s clothes. And they’re for my daughter, so they’ll be a girl’s clothes.” The woman clucked disapprovingly and asked, “Are you from Sweden or something?” Now, as a matter of fact, I did live… >> Read More
I’ve discovered a secret disciplinary tool for my toddler.
Yes, that’s right. Poetry.
The sentence “If we run our errands efficiently, we can read more poetry” is one I never…imagined I’d hear myself utter, but say it I do. And it has a positive effect, too. As does, “Let’s sit quietly and read some poetry.” I also didn’t expect that asking, “Would you like to hear another poem?” would be met with enthusiastic cheers from my 28-month-old daughter. “Another poem!” she calls. “More poetry,… >> Read More
“That’s her front bottom!” a woman told me, pointing vaguely at her daughter’s genitals.
This was a few months back, when my now 28-month-old daughter was having a playdate with another…little girl, and the girl’s mother and I were talking. The woman had been shocked to hear me casually refer to a vulva, and she requested that I not use that language when her daughter could hear. So I asked her what she called her daughter’s private parts, and I was told “front bottom.” I… >> Read More
My 2-year-old daughter was very pleased with her medal. OK, it was plastic, and it had a strangely unappealing picture on it, and the purple ribbon had broken, but nonetheless, she kept holding it,…exclaiming, “My medal, my medal!” She’d received this medal and a matching sticker for participating in the “Big Toddle” at her nursery. This was a charity walk (well, toddle, since it was for tiny children) aimed at raising money for a major children’s organization here in the UK. The children at my daughter’s nursery were… >> Read More
I just had a strange, brief moment of wondering whether my Jewish, atheist family ought to celebrate Christmas.
And it all started with the sentence, “Santa Claus brings magic to…childhood.” Recently in class, my undergraduate students were reminiscing about their childhood Christmases. They spoke about the magic and joy they experienced and how much they loved believing in Santa Claus. They said they pitied anyone who didn’t have that and that they didn’t think you could have a special childhood without Christmas. “I didn’t… >> Read More
“Read this one!”
My 2-year-old daughter absolutely adores books, and the most frequent order she gives me and my wife is, “Read this one! Read that one! Another book! More books!” That’s…fine with us, because we love to read too, and we love the coziness of sitting together, looking at books. But recently she discovered a book on the bookshelf in my office and she’s really taken to it. Mostly I’m happy to read her whatever she wants, but I’m not sure how I feel about… >> Read More
Recently, I experienced something of a miracle. I managed to go an entire week of vacation without checking my work email.
OK, that may not sound that impressive, and yes, of course, I still…thought a bit (all right, a lot) about the upcoming semester, but I managed to restrain my itchy fingers and not click “log in.” It was the first time ever since beginning my professional career that I took a vacation without checking in with my job. It felt amazing. Well, and a little scary, too.… >> Read More
“You’re so lucky to be married to a woman,” many straight, cisgender women tell me. “Women just make better partners and parents! Your daughter is so lucky to have two moms!” They then…usually proceed to complain about their male spouses, enumerating all the ways that these men supposedly fail at parenting and relationships. While I agree that I’m very lucky to be married to a specific woman (whom I always refer to as the best wife in the world), and while we spend a lot of time… >> Read More
It’s natural that friendships change over time, but I have never before experienced such a shift in friendships as I have since our daughter was born. That was one part of parenting I hadn’t…really expected. In the past two years, there’s been an exodus of friends; sometimes the ending of the friendships has been dramatic, sometimes subtle. Here are some of the types of friends we’ve lost: The friends who couldn’t have children: It makes sense that people who wanted children but found themselves unable to might be… >> Read More
On weekday mornings, my 22-month-old daughter comes with me to my office. She reads books, plays with toys, and breastfeeds while I do some work. Then we walk over to her nursery, which is on my…university campus. It didn’t occur to me that we walked slowly to the nursery until people began pointing it out. As we walk there, we often run into my colleagues or other people I know from work. A number of them have made comments about what a long, slow journey my daughter and I are… >> Read More
My daughter is 22 months old and she breastfeeds.
Lots of people phrase it as, “She’s still breastfeeding?” But I don’t understand the word “still.” She breastfeeds. No “still”…about it. We will continue to have our breastfeeding relationship until we’re both ready to stop. Around the world today and throughout human history, many women breastfeed or breastfed their children for two, three, five, or even more years. Breastfeeding is something that can stop gradually and naturally when the time is right; there is… >> Read More
My 22-month-old daughter is often mistaken for a boy. This isn’t a problem in and of itself—I don’t think it actually matters whether people know what her sex or gender is, and of course later…in life she may tell us that she doesn’t feel like a girl anyway—but what I find interesting is the reasons people give for assuming she’s a boy. And so I like to challenge their assumptions by telling them that she is, in fact, a girl. The conversations we have with random strangers usually go… >> Read More
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you have a child, random strangers will talk to you. They will comment on your child’s looks or behavior or on your parenting skills, or they’ll…tell you about their own children, or they’ll offer unasked-for advice. Sometimes the best response is to politely yet briefly engage, then move on. Sometimes. the conversation actually is interesting and you want to chat more. Sometimes, it’s worth speaking up and pointing out the idiocy/offensiveness of what they’re saying. And sometimes, you’re just puzzled… >> Read More
Before we had a child, I suffered from dreadful insomnia. I couldn’t fall asleep, so I’d read for hours. And often once I had fallen asleep, I’d wake up and not be able to sleep again. I would…regularly make middle-of-the-night trips to the kitchen for bananas and herbal tea. Sometimes I’d give up on sleep and go to my desk and do some work instead. I was generally exhausted and had dark bags under my eyes. It’s true that not getting enough sleep does feel like a kind of torture and it… >> Read More