Girl clothes

I’m the mother of a little boy with an active imagination. He will happily tell me stories for hours, with incredible patience and enthusiasm, about the planet of the robots, where the fairies go to do war against villains and use their ice powers to freeze giant insects with multicolored eyes. I’m embarrassed to say that his stories are so long, so intricate, so enthusiastic, so effusive, that I can’t keep track. Often, my brain is so tired from a day of work or is wrapped up in some adult banality (or childish banality. Human banality) that I don’t even try to listen to the story. I put on my smilingest eyes and respond as authentically as I can, but it’s really a stream of, “uh huh! No way! Really?” which feigns engagement instead of actually jumping in.

My little boy has an alter ego that he values much more highly than his own natural-born self. His alter ego is 2 years older, goes to school (never daycare), and is the big sister of his primary ego. Her name is Anna, and she’s a fairy with ice powers (thanks, Frozen), and she has a sister Elsa, another sister Tinkerbell, a little brother Jean-Luc, and another little brother, Isaac (coincidentally the name of a close daycare friend). Because she is a girl, and a girl fairy no less, she has no interest in wearing “boy clothes.” Only “girl clothes.”

And as Mom, I have to figure out how I feel about this, and what I do about this.

At first, I was really happy to have a little boy who liked to twirl around in a skirt. He had a book where the central character, a little girl about his age, put on her prettiest dress for her birthday, and took such pleasure twirling around in it. I thought to myself, true! One of life’s great pleasures is twirling around in a full skirt. Why deny my little boy that pleasure, when he’s quite literally asking for it? I’d already bought him a kilt (dutiful bagpiper as I am), but the kilt didn’t twirl. So for his 3rd birthday, I bought him a big pink tulle tutu. It was a quick favorite, especially paired with his butterfly wings that Santa had brought, because butterflies had been all the rage in our house for the prior months.

That was when his first female alter-ego emerged, Zoë. Zoë wasn’t a well-defined character, just that she was a girl and liked dresses. She loved going to female friends’ houses and putting on their princess and fairy dresses most of all.

But recently my son has been doggedly interested in what it means to be a boy, and what it means to be a girl. It’s not surprising, when there are such strong distinctions, and when so many kinds of play are seemingly restricted by gender codes. My boy likes pink and purple, but finding pink clothes means shopping in the girls’ section by default. He likes flowers and hearts and stars and unicorns and fairies. He’s fascinated by magic, and wants to have magical powers. You know what? I just realized that magical powers are largely coded as feminine. Witches get magical powers. Fairies get magical powers. Witches and fairies are girls, by default. They have the ability to change reality, to make things happen, to control their surroundings, to build talking creatures out of snow, to frolic through the sky on a flying unicorn, to make flowers grow.

You know what boys get? Superpowers. Fighting powers. Strength. Danger. Sometimes (and only sometimes) these powers can be creative and productive. But they are largely destructive and adversarial. Light sabers. Flying machines with guns mounted on them. Laser beams. And my son likes these too! He’s fascinated by war (thanks, Star Wars), and imagines robot armies and cannonballs and poison forests. (I saw my family struggle with this during the holidays. This year J-L received a plethora of superhero capes and costumes, presumably the “boy” version of fairy wings and skirts that they’ve been seeing in the photos I post online.)

At this point in his young life, there’s something about being a girl that is more appealing than being a boy. Girls can play fairies with magic powers. Girls can wear twirly skirts and pink leggings and shirts with flowers and shiny stars on them. Girls can be mamas and have babies. These are things that he feels are forbidden him as a boy, and that he can embrace as a girl. I’ve tried to explain that, with the exception of the last one, which biology gets in the way of, boys can do all of those things too. Pink is just a color, not a “girl color.” There can be boy fairies! Leggings are cool for everyone, but really not warm enough in the winter, for girls and boys alike! But he doesn’t buy it, and I don’t blame him. He’s no dummy, and his whole job right now is to figure out social norms. Just because mom says pink is just a color doesn’t change the fact that no other boys or men that we see anywhere wear pink, or leggings, or twirly skirts.

And at this point in his life, he’s valuing these “girl” things as highly or higher than “boy” things. There’s admiration there, which I’m trying to prevent from turning into envy, by making sure that he has access to all these things and doesn’t feel excluded from the simple pleasures in life that he thinks would make him happy. I want him to keep thinking, his whole life, that being a girl is awesome, even if I also want him to grow into an acceptance of being a boy, and how awesome that is too. I want him to respect womanhood for what it is, as he grows in appreciation for the fact that it’s more than magical ice powers and ruffles, and to keep his love of things which are socially coded as “feminine.” I want him to be part of a generation that doesn’t say shitty things like “you run like a girl” as an insult, that doesn’t equate femininity with infantilism or weakness or pity. I want him to keep thinking that “girl” things are valuable, even if I eventually want him to really challenge the notion that they’re intrinsically “girly.” And while he challenges that, I want him to realize the subtle (and not-so subtle) differences in the ways boy things and girl things are coded and are treated as distinct — for better, for worse, for in-between.

Clothing and appearance just keeps hitting me hard these days. The way that girls’ clothes are cut to cling to the body, are flimsy, make it harder to climb and play, tear holes quickly. Seeing skinny, cold legs in leggings and tights instead of the awesome flannel-lined jeans and khakis I bought. They way nail polish makes your hands less useful for rough-and-tumble play, starting from the 10 minutes you’re incapacitated sitting still while it dries, through every time you think about what your nails are touching so as not to chip the polish off. How sparkly headbands slip off your head while you’re running, making you stop and fix your hair every few minutes, until you find it’s maybe too cumbersome to run today. They way girls’ shoes have slippery soles that are lovely for pirouettes, but less useful for sprinting, or climbing. The way parents say, “careful, you’ll get your nice dress dirty!” and are concerned that running it through the wash will take all the sequins off. A real concern! But boys don’t have to deal with that. At the same time, they don’t get the pleasure of a sequined dress and shoes that let you pirouette. Am I wrong to try to give my son both, and navigate the in-between?

Ah, conflict. Of course. Being a conscientious parent involves always questioning your parenting choices, from day one. Am I confusing him? Am I encouraging something that will cause him problems down the line? Is some intolerant asshole going to punch my sweet baby in the face someday and call him a fucking faggot, all because his mother humored his childhood imaginative play and bought him a couple of skirts on sale at Old Navy? Is there something I should be doing differently? Is this a subtle form of acting out against family dynamics that are sometimes strained, despite our consistent best efforts to be solid and happy and secure? Worry, mama, worry.

I think we’re doing okay. I know we’re doing okay. One day at a time.


January 9, 2016 at 9:05 am 4 comments


A wordy, personal meditation on language, communication, music, and a circuitous path home.

Continue Reading April 15, 2015 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment

Cold noses

It must be getting cold out there in North America…because the top search term that leads people to my blog is “Free knitted nose warmer pattern”.

There must be some cold noses out there! Keep warm!

(for all of you who have wondered where I disappeared to, I’m still here! And I’ve got a bigger post coming up – with a link to a lovely pair of scarves that can certainly keep those noses toasty…)

November 10, 2014 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

eduroam – wifi on the fly (Harvard edition)

Strange internet in a strange city.

This post is completely off my normal topics, but I’m putting it up here anyway in the hopes that it will help wandering scholars get their internet fix!

Some hefty disclaimers: I’m not a tech expert by any accounts, so some terminology may be used inaccurately in what follows.  I’m not writing in any official capacity, only from the experience of an end-user using Mac and Apple products with the Harvard network. All  files and links I’m including are up-to-date as of May 1, 2014, but I do not intend to maintain/update this page, so use these at your own discretion, and contact your school’s IT help desk directly for additional assistance. 

Let me set the scene: A Harvard graduate student is spending time away from campus, in a city where there are plenty of other academic institutions, but she doesn’t have any affiliation with these institutions. For reasons of both work and leisure, she needs to connect to a wireless network. Where to find wifi? Starbucks? McDonalds? What about all these colleges and universities? Wouldn’t it be great if there were some kind of internet consortium that allowed traveling scholars to use the wifi networks on other campuses?


It’s called eduroam. It’s available all over the world. It’s an awesome thing. Lots of times, wandering downtown various cities or on college campuses I’d catch an eduroam wifi signal. But how to connect?

First, your home institution needs to be an eduroam member. If you’re in the US, you can check here to see if your school participates. I saw that Harvard was a member, so I knew I was supposed to have access. But what next?

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there on how Harvard students, faculty, and staff can use Eduroam. At the time of writing, Harvard’s FAS IT site doesn’t even turn up any results for “eduroam” when you search their site. A Google search led me to a registration portal, which was not particularly explanatory and seemed more targeted toward newcomers to Harvard’s campus. I wrote to Harvard’s help desk, asking them to provide better documentation, and received these instructions (which did help), but I’m writing this page to help clear up the whole process for Harvard affiliates like me who might never have encountered the term 802.1x authentication before. If you’re an affiliate with an eduroam partner that isn’t Harvard, you can read through the basics below, but the certificates and login information will be different, and you ought to check with your home institution for the particulars. With that said, are you ready? Let’s begin!

Step one: Get internet access.
This seems like a redundant, self-obvious point, but one of my biggest frustrations with setting up eduroam was you absolutely need to set it up while you have internet access, in order to configure your computer or device. But of course, if you’re trying to connect to eduroam, it’s because you don’t have internet access in the first place. Catch-22? Yes. But if you’re reading this, you’re on the internet, so now’s the time to configure everything. And really, get everything done while you’re online right now. Laptop, phone, iPod, iPad, everything. You’ll thank me later.

Step two: Install configurations.
Harvard has an installation page with different OS options here: Harvard Wireless: Secure or Eduroam. Choose your operating system, follow the prompts for the installation wizard, and install the configuration profile.

Note for mobile (iOS, Android) users: I had lots of trouble getting to this page on my mobile devices, because I was redirected to a different mobile site. One thing that could work is using a mobile browser like Chrome which allows you to request the desktop version of the site. What I ended up doing in the end, though, was downloading the mobile configuration to my laptop, and emailing it to myself as an attachment. Then, on my devices, I opened the attachment which triggered the installer for the eduroam configurations. For reference, the file I downloaded (on 5/1/14) was named mac_3515.mobileconfig, for iOS.

Step three: Account name and password.
While you’re doing your initial configuration, your device will ask you for your username and password. Easy, right? Wrong. What you need to enter is unlike any other login at Harvard:

Account name: [8-digit HUID]
Password: your HUID pin

For example, if your HUID is 87654321, your login is, and the password is the same one you use to login whenever you use that HUID online. (Note: I don’t know if this works for XID users, but imagine it might not)

Please don’t ask me how many permutations of my name, HUID, and email I tried, or how many times I almost punched my computer.

At this point, you should be configured, and you should get some confirmation that the certificates are installed and valid. Congratulations! You may on occasion need to reenter your account name and password to log into eduroam, but you shouldn’t need to reinstall the certificates (as far as I know).

And you should be free to surf the internet wherever you see the eduroam network, anywhere in the world!


For non-Harvard folks: the same principles apply for every eduroam setup. You need to install authentication certificates before the network will work, and those certificates are issued by your home institution. If, like Harvard, there’s no clear information online about where to get the install packages, contact your home IT department and request their help. Also, the login will almost certainly be different. Many institutions use the email login name; I suppose that Harvard’s multiple email domains (,,, etc.) prevented that possibility.

Anyway, I hope this helps you get connected! Have a happy internet!


May 2, 2014 at 9:36 am 2 comments

The year of knitting from my head

This year I’ve decided to do the majority of my knitting from my own head, without using someone else’s published pattern as a starting point. A good friend heard me proclaim this, and thought I was crazy, what with a dissertation to write and an unfortunate dearth of free time in my life, so asked me to explain my reasoning. She raises some good points, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. Allow me to explain to you all…

Back when I re-learned how to knit in 2003, I didn’t have access to a lot of knitting patterns. I had a couple of booklets from big-box stores, and a few basic patterns I’d bought from yarn stores. So, I knitted a lot of very basic things, and used my knowledge of garment construction (from sewing and crochet) and color relationships to improvise things. The result was, at first, some very basic, often wonky or rectangular things. Eventually I discovered Knitty and some good knitting blogs and pattern repositories, and my eyes were opened. I started cobbling together different parts of patterns to make new and interesting projects. I started charting out designs in cables or colorwork and branch out in the shapes and kinds of things I knitted. Some patterns I altered on purpose, some by happy accident, and some I stayed true to, down to the smallest detail. I invented a fair number of things from scratch, and had to scrap a fair number of them, like the mesh yoga mat bag that was better suited to holding a dozen soccer balls, or the cozy alpaca shawl with dyelot issues that blocked out larger than a bedspread. But some were wonderful, like the iPod holder for wearing under my coat, or my first fair-isle hat, or the satchel with an endless knot worked in cables (which was given away with nary a photo taken). It was this kind of fearless and inventive knitting that got me a job at Stitch House, and which got my heart pumping.


Then, in 2007, after months on a wait list (get offa my lawn!), I joined Ravelry.  And it was awesome. But it also changed the way I knit. All of a sudden, patterns were not just something you could find on one webzine or in a shop. Patterns were fodder for conversation. People would recognize the patterns I knitted, and would complement me on them when they recognized them. I found that people at the yarn shop were more likely to swoon over a nice project that they recognized than one that they didn’t know. And, as a salesperson, it was in my best interest to knit things that customers could find online or in the store and buy yarn for. Saying, “Oh, I’m making it up as I go along” not only sounded strange, but it also didn’t sell any yarn. Soon, I was knitting almost exclusively from other people’s patterns, and preferring “hot” patterns over obscure ones. And it made me a little uneasy. One fantastic thing about other people’s patterns is that you learn how someone else would tackle a problem. And sometimes it’s fun to figure out what they’re doing, and make a judgement call: do I want to do it their way, or do I have a different idea I like better? But if the pattern is clearly-written and well-edited, and you don’t intend to do anything crazy like restructure the shaping or add in many new elements, often following a pattern requires very minimal mental acrobatics. And after a while, I started to miss those acrobatics.

So this year, I’m knitting from my head. I no longer have the pressure from working at a yarn shop, and, like the year in Russia that ignited the spark of my most creative early knitting, I’m knitting to keep sane and happy more than to show off my pretties to others. I’m not saying that I won’t knit anything from a pattern this year, because I’m happy to be carried away by something beautiful. There are a lot of gorgeous patterns in my queue, and I’ll be happy to work on some of them. But I’ve also got a lot of gorgeous ideas in my head. Knitting from my head means taking those ideas, and instead of going to Ravelry to find some close approximation that someone else figured out, it means going to my sketchbook and figuring out what my vision for the project actually is. It means swatching, and calculating, and trial and error. It means stash-down, it means cold-sheep, because I can tailor my projects to my yarn stash and not the other way around. And it means taking more control over my spare time, and using it to feel awesome about myself and the things I do. When I knit from my own head, I’m allowing my own interests to shine, and embracing the puzzles, the tricks, the difficulties. And the beauty in figuring out the solutions to those problems. And the pride of successfully having untangled the Gordian knot.

And, maybe I’ll make some lovely patterns to publish and share with all of you in the process!

March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

New Growth

The winter is on its way out. Take heart, everyone, it really and truly is. Even if the thermometer doesn’t necessarily agree, the sun does.

Every day, my southwest-facing kitchen window gets a little brighter a little longer. This week I installed an extra shelf on the windowsill, to make more room in that sunny and warm spot for the houseplants that are thriving in their little oasis (this window also has a baseboard heater below it!), and for the seedlings that I hope will be taking root in their little egg-carton cups to make a fine balcony vegetable garden this summer. The first sprouts were spotted this morning!


Lettuce sprouts!

Some of you readers might remember a post in the summer, where the cockles of my heart were warmed by the eagerness of my houseplants to brave the transition to a new land and put down roots. Well, they just keep making me smile. My little cuttings have turned into real plants. The Christmas cactus is due for a repotting, as the cuttings are overtaking the pot. The baby rubber plant has turned over a new leaf, so to speak, and instead of monochromatic green leaves, now sports beautiful, glossy light and dark leaves. My jade is more circumspect, and is taking its time to grow, but even so is doing well. A retrospective in photos:

The plants I gave up in Cambridge:P1050806 P1050805 P1050804

The transplants, after a month in Montreal:

P1050882 P1050883 ChristmasCactus

Today, 8 months in:

xmascactus greenery jade

And what’s more, I planted some grocery-store sprigs of mint in the summer, and they’ve turned into a sprawling bush of mint. I chopped off some sprigs to try to tame the growth, stuck them in water, and within a couple of days have set out roots with abandon:


Things are growing!

March 1, 2014 at 8:17 pm 2 comments


With the days getting ever so slightly longer, I’ve been feeling phenomenal lately. My academic writing’s been going well, and I’ve been baking up a storm (nothing adventurous, but my family never says no to a batch of tried-and-true cookies). I’ve bought seeds to grow a garden! Just when it couldn’t get much better, I had a brilliant idea that would make my life oodles better: redesigning my winter hat.

You see, my warm winter hat was a gift a few years ago – a white wool “Kaldi” hat from 66˚North, with fuzzy lining and earflaps. It’s a lovely hat, but has a few problems. It’s always been a little snug on top, and the peak of the crown is sort of pointy, making an egghead shape. And, the seams are on the outside. Maybe it’s “traditional”, and it was a look that was super trendy some years ago, but I never liked outside seams (and don’t get me started on inside-out fair-isle).

66N Kaldi Arctic Hat

So the other night I took my stitch ripper and performed some fuzzy-hat surgery. I undid all the seams on top and restitched them by hand with a narrower seam allowance, making the hat roomier and bringing the seams to the inside and out of sight. I also changed the crown shaping a bit to fit my head and eliminate the peak. I changed the way the front flap folded up a bit, making it rounder and smaller. And I took off the designer label, just because.

Hat with new seams

Hat with new seams

And then, I got an idea. I’ve been thinking for some time of decorating the hat, because a large white hat is nice, but couldn’t it be nicer? Embroidery? A dye job? Knitting a cover for the whole thing? As I was staring in the mirror, it came to me. Cat ears. CAT EARS! I grabbed my yarn and knitting needles and set to work.

These ears are the same as the ears of Hibou the Owl, just bigger and felted. I cast on 60 sts, and worked 3 double-decreases evenly spaced every other round until all stitches were used. Then I felted by hand a bit, but eventually just tossed them into the washer and dryer with my other laundry. A little shaping, a little stitching, and then, voilà, ears!



Ready for the cold!

February 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm 2 comments

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