My Life as a Ghost

I’m a ghost.

Not a real ghost, really (I think I’d just be able to type cryptic messages if that were the case). More like…what exactly are the people from Dead Like Me Called? You remember that show, where Ellen Muth became an undead/grim reaper-type being that worked a normal office job, except when she was instead culling the souls of the recently deceased.

The resemblance is uncanny, though I don’t actually have a desk job, thank goodness.

Well, okay, I haven’t culled any souls yet (though Jetpack was both angry and mournful when I accidentally crushed a grasshopper the other day). But otherwise, life is often like being the same person—in a different body.

Over the summer, Jetpack attended (for a few weeks) a large camp at the local nature center. Once, as the sun beat down on us and the bugs buzzed their merry mindless tunes, the Mister and I dropped Jetpack off together. We stood next to the car as he gathered his things, watching him put on his itty bitty backpack with pride.

From behind us, a voice greeted the Mister. It was a coworker from something like six years previous. She was dropping off her daughter at the same camp. We’d seen her once, shortly after Jetpack was born, and then we all fell out of touch.

She gave me a once over, and then briefly spoke to my partner, and we followed her in to camp. I said a friendly word or two, which she didn’t even respond to, and as we parted ways, I caught her giving me a look again. It was only as we were settling Jetpack in his room that we realized—she saw ours as a broken family. The Mister had dumped his wife for a young, bearded buck, and even the kid was okay with this. The nerve!

A friend (who I’ve known forever, and who transitioned about a hundred years before I did) and I were spending time in a park (with Jetpack). A nanny and two small children were playing on the play equipment as well. He and I leaned toward each other.

“Do we know her?”

“I think so.”

We awkwardly mutter for a few more minutes. At some point in the afternoon the nanny talks to us, introducing herself in that way you do at parks. She’s very friendly, and very much considers herself a stranger.

These moments are flattering, in a way. Pretty nice. And it allowed us to avoid any number of awkward conversations that might come up, and honestly, summer camp, or a beautiful day at the park, is not where I’d prefer to be having trans101. I’d rather be with my kid, my friends and family. And, on the other hand, if you’re actually interested in talking to said person, do you make it abundantly clear who you are, to everyone’s discomfort? Do you miss out on an opportunity?

What do you do when your sister’s friends look at her and say, “I didn’t know you had a brother.” Suddenly, you’ve killed Model01, and replaced them with Model02. How many science fiction stories have used this?

Image

If only transition were as simple as compressing a glowing ball of magical energy…

Of course, I get to be Buffy AND Faith. Ha.

And there’s the HUGE privilege inherent in getting to choose whether to come out. There’s a huge privilege inherent in feeling more or less safe to do so in many situations. I am incredibly lucky that I can choose to be a ghost.

Being trans can be pretty confusing! And being a ghost is pretty awesome. Except when it’s not.

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Make up magic spells/ We wear them like protective shells

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Driving down the busy divided street that leads to our new house, past HyVee and to the highway, where the YMCA snuggles up against bridges and fast-moving cars. Traffic in my lane, the lane closest to the sidewalk, stops abruptly, and I change lanes in order to escape the snarl. And then I see a mama, about my age, dragging a dark blue stroller onto the sidewalk from the shoulderless street. Her older kid—Jetpack’s age, Jetpack’s proportions—stares, his expression unreadable, as his mom cradles the baby in the stroller. I can see her shaken, crouching, her face twisted with relief and horror and fear like I’ve never felt. Everyone’s okay. Traffic resumes, the baby is unharmed, everyone is okay.

But the scene has gnawed at my insides. If. If. What if.

I just can’t get that moment out of my head. I’ve seen car accidents, and put in my heartfelt wishes for the safety of everyone involved. I can remember what seems like a thousand international and horrors, waiting and hoping that the body counts were low.

This wasn’t a massive incident. This was a moment, an accident, a second when something terrible might’ve happened. If the driver hadn’t stopped. If she’d been on the phone or texting. If her brakes were bad. If the stroller had rolled further into traffic. If.

IF is a terrible place to live.

I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Jetpack. Our brains reach the end of that road, and I think they just turn off. Nope. I don’t know what I’d do. I can’t know what I’d do.

I think that’s what that momma was thinking, that day, in front of the YMCA. Or maybe what she thought later.

Moments like those remind me why we grasp so hard at religious understanding. To blame sudden, painful changes on something—on the Fates, on Sin, on demons or deities—gives us some way to understand. Those aren’t understandings that I subscribe to, but I can see the draw.

And maybe this is even a religious thought, a prayer to toss into the aether. Wherever you are, I’m glad your baby was okay, YMCA mama, and I wish you all the best. You are in my heart.

———-

I wrote this weeks ago, and just haven’t had it in me to post it. Too depressing, I guess.

To add a kick in the gut, I’m going to go all topical. As Mark Twain said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

Politics aside, there are a lot of people who are going to be hurting due to this political game that Congress is playing. WIC isn’t funded, some smaller food access programs are closing down, and food programs for low income seniors will not be funded. People won’t be bringing in paychecks. If you’re not a federal employee, and/or if you aren’t hurting from this charade, now might be a good time to donate, to food banks (often, they prefer money, not “the canned goods from the back of your cupboard”). And keep an eye out for ways you can help, as the shit, as they say, continues to roll downhill.

Giving It Up For…You.

An aside I can’t figure out a way to put in this rambly and sub-par post: our very own Dylan got doored by a car on his bike last week. All good and healing thoughts his way!
I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I started this from the doctor’s office. I’ve just gotten done with my visual field test—my third—for a problem I have called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. It’s fun. Right now, I have to take a pill every day, and it keeps the fluid around my brain from pushing down on it and giving me headaches, vision problems, and hearing problems. After the visual field test–where you stick your head in a machine that looks like HAL’s rear end:

I'm sorry, Dave.

I’m sorry, Dave.

After that there’s the part where they shine bright lights in my eyes, in order to see every crack and crevice of my optic nerves. I gave up contacts, in part, because I just couldn’t stand things coming at my eyes, long before I had IIH. So I get to have these every couple of months. For funsies!

I’m here during Jetpack’s brief time at preschool. Lately, his time at preschool has been taken up with purchasing a house, seeing doctors for my upcoming abdominal surgery, and not on writing or catching up on important other things like that. I’m behind on my email, behind on my writing, behind on the (unpaid) work I do with some non-profits.

I can’t imagine doing this while I worked full time. Or as a single parent. On the poverty line. In a rural area, or a larger city. Between caring for my sister, taking care of other family needs, Jetpack, and then somewhere in there, myself…I just don’t know how I’d do it.

I don’t have much of a good blog post this week, is what I’m saying. I’m moving in the first week of September, and in between now and then, I have to get my house packed up, and then do work on the new place, and a dozen other little things.

Parenting is hard when this kind of stuff is going down. Not only, like, making sure dinner gets on the table (not gonna lie, tonight we had fast food. It’s been a long time, but I just could not pull my shit together enough to get something else out there). But being the kind of parent that has the energy to explain for the sixth time where lightening comes from, to not let him have freezy pops all day long, who smiles and laughs and asks how his day was.

My point, though, where did I…whoops, it’s over there. Excuse me, all I’ve had today is a can of pop. And I don’t usually drink pop, but it was there, and I had just gotten out of fat-shaming-neurologist, and…right, right, the point.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

I can do this, because someday I’ll be done moving, and I can come home after the doctor’s to the Mr and cry on his shoulder if I need to, and Jetpack has preschool, and I have the spare cash to buy us fast food when dinner is just Too Damn Much.

So this is my massive nod, my bowing at your feet, my buying-you-a-beer-or-coffee, virtually.

To every parent out there who makes it, every goddamned day. Who gets shit done, clothes cleaned, homework enforced, dealing with or putting aside our own mental and physical and socio-economical blockages. We deserve so much respect and love for the good we manage to do.

Hugs!

So, y’all, go out and hug a parent. Ask first, though.

Huuugs

[Lit Crit] 3 Links, 3 Books

Some small links ahead, before your proper post:

  • Y’all should check out the new www.villageq.com site. I’m thinking there’s some familiar faces out there…

Now! Book post! We have one disappointing book, and two fabulous books. I’m not sure why the photos are so grainy, besides that the camera is new and I must have some settings off…also, Vanna Jetpack wasn’t real patient with this photo shoot 🙂

Anyway.

First book:

Who's in a Family cover

I flipped through this book and bought it, both for research, and because Jetpack liked it at the bookstore. I was excited. Scanning mindlessly, it looked like a fabulously perfect book.

Who’s In A Family was published in 1995. I’m a little surprised, actually, because I would’ve pegged it at a late ‘80s publication. The back gives a good summary: “Who’s in a family? The people who love you the most! Chances are, your family is like no one else’s–and that’s just fine.”

Good start, right? It doesn’t pidgeonhole (And Tango Makes Three is a great book but I want something a little queerer, too!). It shows different families (almost like small family stories on single or double pages) and also different types of animal-family configurations.

It starts to fall apart on page three.

Who's in a Family? Whitey.

The main text reads “Families are made up of people,” and then the next page says, “and animals have families too.” So…I’m not sure why the author and artist thought this page was necessary. In a book showcasing different types of families, this one starts with a definition of family–mighty white, heterosexual, and nuclear–which takes a dump all over that.

Who's in a Family moms Who's in a Family dads

Here’s our two main lesbian/gay appearing families. On the left, the text reads, “Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy. It takes all four of them to give Daisy a bath.” On the right, the text reads, “Robin’s family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad’s partner, Henry, and Robin’s cat, Sassy. Clifford and Henry take turns making dinner for their family.”

Now, if Henry is the fellow with the porn star moustache, I guess I can understand some reticence in claiming him as dad (I jest). But there seems to be a huge disregard for the family unit on the right, versus the family unit on the left. There’s also a page which states “Lots of children live in families with their mothers.” But nothing similarly sweeping for father-led families.

Who's in a Family lions

Similarly, there are awesome showcases of animal families (Jetpack picked his favorite to show everyone). But not one is father-led (hello? Seahorse dads are badass. Or any of these animals, really). There’s no mention of adoption (at all). And step- or blended-families are glossed over.

In conclusion: if you run across Who’s in a Family, by Robert Skutch, just keep on going. There’s better books out there.

other books

These books, though. They’re not about families, but they’re really great books, and kind of subversive in a way that makes my writer-heart happy. And here, Vanna Jetpack was bored with holding books entirely, so please excuse the lack of inside pictures 🙂

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes, is about two mouse best-friends, Chester and Wilson. Yeah, it’s two boys who are super close friends. I feel like this is a rare occurrence in kids lit, and I love how great the friendship between Chester and Wilson is. A new kid–Lily–moves into town, and Chester and Wilson learn about tolerance, and friendship, and it’s sweet and adorable. It doesn’t moralize, but it’s a very positive and has a lot of meaning.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, is a story about a bull who doesn’t like fighting, but instead wants to hang out and smell the flowers. Seriously. Everyone wants him to fight and be hyper-masculine like the other bulls, but he wants to be peaceful. His mom worries that he’s unhappy, and when she discovers that he’s not, she just lets him do his thing. It’s a great book, the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and it has another fabulous message. Plus, it was banned in fascist Spain and burned in Nazi Germany. Who can argue with that kind of a resume?

A Political Soapbox in Three Parts (Blame SCOTUS)

I'm not actually confident Batman would help with these problems.

I’m not actually confident Batman would help with these problems.

I’m just going to start this out by coming out of the closet an eensy bit: I’m legally married. Yes, the Mr and I have been together and hitched since we were 19 and 20, an astounding nine years ago this August—long before babies, before transition, before we were anything besides those weird awkward kids that got married too soon.

I put that out there right away because there’s an aspect of being queer, of having a family especially, that I’ve never had to worry about. When the Mr broke his ankle in 2008 and required surgery and an overnight stay, I slept in his hospital room, and no one blinked once. As the Mr and I have traded employment and unemployment, there’s never been a question of being unable to insure each other. Our taxes are easy, and Jetpack’s birth certificate has both of us listed—we never even blinked at what to put, or whether it was legal.

Privilege, y’all. It’s the thing that often keeps me from bringing up this topic, as a white/married/masculine-identified individual. But now I need to talk about it. So here it is, in three parts.

One: I am super happy for everyone to whom the DOMA/Proposition 8 rulings will be a blessing. I am happy for same sex couples attempting to secure citizenship. I am happy for the queer families of color who might find their lives made better because of it. I am happy for this guy and his complicated feelings. I am even happy for the filthy rich white folks who will have a little bit easier time because of it, because somewhere in my (vaguely socialist, vaguely anarchist, and vaguely misanthropic) heart, I think that their happiness matters too.

Two: I am also Really Not Happy about the culture that surrounds the rulings. Why, you ask? I’ll start out with my feelings about the Human Rights Campaign, because I shudder when I see those little red equal signs all over facebook. See, the thing is that the HRC has a history of being anti-trans and anti-immigrant. For the rest of my reason for being Really Not Happy, I’ll point you to a friend’s incredibly well written blog post, Why I Oppose Marriage Equality

I will never deny that marriage can provide concrete, material benefits to some poor, working class, and lower-middle class people, and I’m not passing judgment on individual choices about whether to take advantage of those benefits when your life would kind of suck otherwise. I am generally in favor of people having shit they need, and of short-term solutions for short-term problems.

The problem is that the marriage equality movement, which is the real subject here, is not about individuals and it is not interested in other solutions. The marriage equality movement, like the institution of marriage itself, is a major distraction from the fact that our government refuses to sustain social services and public benefits in the first place — a process the marriage equality movement is now mimicking by stealing all the money.

I could just excerpt the whole thing, but I’d rather you stop reading this and go read it. Go. I’ll be waiting with point number three.

Three: I was out to breakfast with a friend when the DOMA/Prop8 rulings trickled in. We had both stayed up way too late the night before, and were issuing a mutual play-by-play of the Texas legislature’s live feed—fawning over Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, mostly. And we talked about our good-faith struggle to find joy in the SCOTUS rulings.

But it was really hard, folks. Because the day before SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act. And because it felt…it felt a lot like we’d just traded the rights of a bunch of people to vote for the rights of a few people to marry. Because Tuesday, and Wednesday, I saw a lot of people talking about DOMA/Prop8 who were not talking at ALL about the rights being taken away from people—and y’all, I’m disappointed in you.

Despite the length of all that marriage talk up there, that’s the point of this post: not that marriage is awesome or bad, not that I’m excited to see where lgbtqia rights are going, but that we have SO MUCH MORE WORK TO DO. Because here in Wisconsin we have gotten a taste of voter suppression, and it tastes NASTY. So don’t stop kicking because you have tax breaks. Don’t stop pushing against a system which is pushing against everyone. Do everything you can to ensure that we all have a voice in this country, now that yours is a little stronger.

I’m going to end with someone else’s words here, because they’re better than mine: Black Girl Dangerous’ Calling In A Queer Debt: On DOMA, the VRA and The Perfect Opportunity

This is a call to all the people who assured me and so many other people of color and queer people of color that even though they are happy about the repeal of DOMA, they are still very upset about the blow to the VRA. This is a call to all the race and/or class privileged folks who insist that it doesn’t have to be an either/or, that they can rejoice in the new rights of LGBT people while at the same time raging over the further disenfranchisement of folks of color and poor folks, many of whom are LGBT. This is a call to all y’all.

This is a call for those of you who have said that gay is the new black. That gays not being able to get legally married was like black folks having to sit at the back of the bus. That the Marriage Rights Movement was the same as the Civil Rights Movement and why didn’t black people see that?

This is a call to all of you who told undocumented queers and trans* activists not to talk about immigration status or wave trans pride flags because it wouldn’t look good for your mainstream movement. This is a call to all of you who told all of us to wait. And wait.  Until you got yours.

Well, now you have it. […] Will you speak up for us, while the cameras roll? Will you speak up for all the people in this country whose rights are being taken away while yours are being increased? Or will you be silent?

It is not enough to acknowledge your privilege. Acknowledging it will never make it better, will never, ever change anything. At some point, you must act against it. This is that point.

So,come on. Whatchu waiting for?

Book Burnin’, Pearl Clutchin’, and Idea Evolvin’

(Please read title in the voice of Arlo Gutherie, because that’s how it sounds in my head)
These shoes really have nothing to do with the blog, except that they're absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

These shoes really have nothing to do with the post, except that they’re absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

Last month, I attended a feminism-and-social-justice oriented science fiction convention—specifically, Wiscon. I’ve been going since I was 18.* It’s always been an amazing and thought-provoking experience, and this time was no different. While there, I picked up a copy of Rad Dads: Dispatches From The Frontiers of Parenthood and am looking forward to diving into it soon. I also picked up a picture book for Jetpack. I wasn’t paying attention to the writer (whoops) and discovered, when I sat down to read it to Jetpack for the first time, that we’d picked up a fully innocuous kid’s book written by a rather gross transphobe—Derrick Jensen.

Oops!

Jetpack loved it, but I (when I realized who I’d supported) felt horrible. Taking my feelings to Facebook, where all feelings must go to be shared,** I asked what I should do.

A surprising number of people responded firmly with “burn it.” Those words left me mentally wringing my hands, faced with a possibility that had never crossed my mind.

We teach Jetpack to have respect for books. He is chided when books are left on the floor, or thrown, or their pages are bent. Books are not to be used as the stepping stones over imaginary rivers, are not to be ripped, ended up picking written in, or otherwise maimed. Books are objects to be treated with respect. I would feel hypocritical if I destroyed it, right? That’s not what I want to be teaching him, is it?

I’ve heard this before, once—specifically when talking about the extremely large number of books at my local thrift store by Focus On Family’s anti-queer, anti-woman, good-things hater James Dobson. Then, it took me off guard, but I shrugged it off as a joke.

The book by the transphobe was, as I said, innocuous, and I think the biggest problem (in my mind) was the small bit of financial and emotional support I gave Jensen by buying it. Dobson’s work, conversely—totally offensive.*** (And, being second hand, I could hypothetically buy it without contributing to him at all…).

What do we do with bad books, though? Like, really, what the hell do we do? Suddenly I find myself with real empathy for the used bookstore employees and the thrift store employees. Can you imagine having to shelve all those used (ugh) copies of Fifty Shades of Gray? But what else do you do with them?

Who am I to destroy books? Books are precious, right? Do they deserve to exist simply for the worth of the paper they are printed on? For every Dobson book I may or may not get my fingers (or for that matter, matches) on, LITERALLY millions more exist. When the Library of Alexandria burned, it was a destruction of knowledge—if an entire library were to burn in the US today, it would be a sad financial and emotional loss, but no books would likely be irreplaceable. And then there’s electronic books—book burning may be a radical act, but what about deleting the file off your kindle?

The destruction of books is still a powerful thing. It feels historical–a high school history topic about Nazis, or maybe an English class reading the Bradbury novel. But it’s not all history. Intolerant, narrow-minded jerks still think that burning the Quran is just great (”We had a court process,” said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as judge, in a phone interview. “We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult.” REALLY). They still find the burning of paper with words on it to be a powerful and political act. The protests it spawned among Muslims prove that power as well. But the sacredness of a single, particular copy of a book, has, perhaps, a changing definition.

For the time being, I’m not burning any books. Jensen’s book is hidden. And, for the time being, Jetpack and I will continue to treat books with a high degree of respect—though I won’t be clutching my pearls when someone suggests destroying materials they find offensive. And who knows, maybe, someday, I’ll drop $50 at the thrift store and have a toasty, queer, Dobson-laced bonfire…

 
*This…maybe means that this year was my 10th year oh god I’m getting so old.
**Wait, no, that’s Twitter.
***In Dobson’s world, for example, AIDS is still a punishment for homosexuality and promiscuity. Whoops, I think I’m seeing red again.

Pre-K Microaggressions

 

jetpack, self portrait with plants

jetpack, self portrait with plants

 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a scary post, or a heart-wrenching post (not intentionally anyway!). This is a musing post. (Don’t know what the title refers to? Scroll to the bottom)

Jetpack’s bike is pink. I don’t think any of us consider him a “pink boy,” he just wanted this particular bike. And we don’t worry about gender binaries much around here. He also went to preschool today in jeans and a tutu, so. He’s a unique kid, and we like that about him.

Anyway. His bike gets him some strange looks from confused kids, but most of them don’t mind too much. He’s got two friends who have asked about it a couple times. They’re both girls, a year and two years older than him, and his closest neighbor friends. The most recent time, they were a little more forward about it.

“Jetpack, why do you have a girl’s bike?”

Jetpack, not even faltering in his bike-stride, responded, “It’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike!”

I tweeted about this at the time. I was proud of him for standing up for himself, for feeling confident. A few days later, at home, he sat down on his bike and then said, crossly, “[our neighbors] say this is a girl’s bike, and it’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike.”

I assured him that it was. We talked about how girls AND boys can like whatever they want. About a day later, we had a similarly-upset conversation about his hair. He likes keeping it longer, but informed me, with sad sniffles, that he didn’t want it to grow any longer because he didn’t want to be a girl.

!

We talked about how hair length doesn’t change gender (well, it was more age appropriate than that) and talked about all of our friends who had different lengths of hair and different genders.* I think it helped things get figured out, especially as Jetpack is still refusing to get his hair cut, so. Obviously his worries about turning into a girl (yes, that was his concern!) have lessened somewhat.

So I’m not saying in any way that our neighbor’s kids were intentionally harmful with their words. They are good kids, and they mean well. But sometimes there is power in our most harmless of words. I was thinking about this, and this HuffPo article, and how awful/scary/wonderful children are. Words have such meaning to them. As adults we like to pretend that so much language is water on our backs, that the only words that really matter are the few that really get beneath our skin. But when a kid is learning a couple new words a day** they seem like they mean something extra.

So the enemy is once again not an enemy at all, not a boogie man at all. I want the source of my child’s pain to be easily visible.

nelson

So I mean, now we’ve talked about this, he and I. I guess I was a little ill-prepared though, for these itty bitty 4-year-old microaggressions. Something about a small and really friendly preschool and a stay-at-home-parent made me hope/believe that it would take longer.

So, it’s not-really bullying, just unintentionally painful words, but it seems like the methods of conceptualizing his reactions and needs are similar to those of a bullied child. Some stuff I’ve found here on the intertubes:

10 Tips For Talking About Bullying. I liked this because it’s not quite as full on, “don’t make eye contact or react to your bullies!” as some of the other stuff out there. The first tip is “Keep your emotions in check. Parents are very protective of their children and it is only natural that you would have strong emotions regarding your child being bullied.” I’m pretty sure I need that as a tattoo across the back of my hand, like when I was in high school and wrote homework assignments on my skin.

Bullying: how to spot it. This is a little stronger, but I appreciated that it breaks stuff down by age. The questions it talks about asking your kids “when you suspect bullying” sound like really excellent questions to ask when your kid comes home from school, like, pretty much every day.

Stopbullying.gov is flipping huge and has a lot of stuff (and, uh, some dead links on the front page? Sheesh, .gov folks, even *I* know better than that…). But it’s worth perusing and keeping in the back of your head if you ever need it.

So who else has some resources? Ideas? Commiserations? Verbal eye-rolling?

 

Vocabulary! (lifted from wikipedia) Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”

*Which is actually hard when your dear friends are a lot of queers who identify as genderfluid/genderflexible/genderqueer! One in particular has a fab short pompador-esque haircut and is queer-gender identified and female-bodied. I remembered their short hair, and brought it up before thinking the whole thing through. Jetpack’s response, verbatim, was “she’s a boy.” Not useful for that particular conversation (or maybe more useful than I realized?) but awesome, nonetheless.

**I actually got this fact off of Babycenter, which is about as statistically reliable as a real baby. So.