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kottke.org posts about Joanna Goddard

Where Did You Grow Up?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

My friend Joanna Goddard runs a website called Cup of Jo. She started it as a personal blog and has turned it into a site for women with a diverse and interesting group of contributors. However, the truly marvelous thing about Cup of Jo is the comments. That’s right, the comments. They are always good, often great, and occasionally sublime. Years and even decades after most websites have removed their comment sections for being toxic and unwieldy, Cup of Jo readers are in there delivering on the original promise of the web as a way to connect humans with one another by providing advice, reflections, stories, and support to each other.

One of the site’s best uses of the comments section are on posts that ask a simple question, like Where Did You Grow Up? (See also What Unexpected Relationships Have You Formed During the Pandemic?) I pulled out a few of my favorite comments from this post and shared them below.

My dad is a physicist and biomedical researcher, so we made a few big moves when I was growing up. From Long Island, to Chicago, and then to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (central Canada). I went to tiny town Oklahoma for college before coming back to Sask. It is wild up here, where winter days are often -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In my youth I was torn in half between my longing for city excitement and the call of the wild. These days, I am proud to be raising a 4 year old that knows the rules of camping, and how to act around critters like bears and moose. His first concert was an Inuit band who throat sang in Inuk. We danced as a storm opened up and poured rain on us, the natural light show illuminating the fractal jack pine tree tops. All three of us slept like babies that night in our tent with the storm pounding the forest in the background. The city was fun, but I wouldn’t trade my quality of life for anything. I know how to thank the Great Spirit for the grandfather trees of the forest, and how to step lightly where wood frogs lie. I know the feeling of the air changing to autumn or spring on my cheeks, before a single leaf falls or prairie crocus blooms. The knowledge of this place is etched into the fabric of my body, as it will be for my stepson.

I grew up in a North Dallas trailer park backed up to a state highway and a freeway with my older brother and young widowed mom. We lived off social security and hotdogs. I thought anyone whose mobile home vinyl siding wasn’t peppered with holes from a weed whacker was fancy.

After hours, I played in the construction materials depot next door with my brother and our little band of trailer park buddies. We got a lot of shit for being “trailer trash kids” but we all grew up to become hella cool and kindhearted: amazing parents, teachers, nurses, artists, writers, musicians, therapists, political shit-stirrers, philosophers, world travelers.

We used to catch opossums with rusty cat traps and sneak them into our bathtubs where we would feed them scraps and get hissed at. I recall chasing an armadillo down a hill with a BB gun in the blazing Texas sunshine and thinking no funner game had ever been invented.

We would dismantle the breaks from our second-hand banana-seat bikes and then race each other down the “big hill” and jump into the grass kamikaze-style at the screaming last minute where we would lay in a banged-up heap laughing hysterically in the face of death.

My brother once shot a dove off a telephone wire from our front porch and proceeded to cook it for my first-day-of-high-school breakfast, ironically, because he wanted me to be able to tell that trailer-trash story to my kids someday. I do, and they don’t believe me. I’ve raised my two kiddos in Toronto, The Netherlands, and now Colorado. They think trailers are something you take into the mountains for a glamping vacation. They are also hella cool and kindhearted. I marvel at them.

I grew up in a small town in South Alabama. I am from the land of yes ma’ams, covered dish suppers at church, and pulling over for funeral processions. I was raised on a steady diet of collard greens, pimento cheese, grits, pear salad (google it), boiled peanuts, and fried hand pies. To this day there is nothing more delicious - figuratively and literally - than the memory of homemade vanilla ice cream in an old ice cream maker with my dad cutting and dropping slices of peaches picked from our tree. I didn’t know enough to be concerned that he was cutting them with his pocket knife. I miss living somewhere that included mac n cheese on a salad bar. I have vivid memories of hearing my grandmother tell stories involving her childhood friend, Nell Lee (known to most of us as Harper Lee). One summer, I rode my horse into town almost every day and got an ice cream cone at the shop owned by my friend’s family. My dad was the high school principal and my mother was the deputy sheriff. I was the high school mascot and to this day, I highly recommend any job where the dumber you act, the more successful you are. High school adventures included bonfires in someone’s field, hot days at the creek, and constantly driving around the town square. There was one restaurant in town and it opened up late each Friday night to serve a full fried chicken meal to the returning high school football team, band, and cheerleaders after every away game. There was a wrong and a right side of the tracks. It was simultaneously both the most loving community I have known and the most discriminatory.

I grew up in Houston on a street full of kids. Houston was playing kickball on a dead-end street and “hide from cars” on summer nights when we were allowed to stay out after dark. Everyone lived in their front yards and garages. A dad only had to prop up the hood of his car, and every man on the block came over and started consulting. This led to impromptu pizza or burger parties. Every Halloween, my dad and our preacher staged a spookhouse in our garage that ALL the kids visited. Our neighborhood was swarmed with kids trick or treating and our group, ranging from 3 years old to 10, roamed for blocks, completely safe, until the year The Candyman ruined trick or treating forever. Every Christmas Eve, we girlfriends swam in Sam’s pool, then went caroling on our street with bare feet and wet hair. We thought that was very funny. We rode our banana-seat bikes to stores near us until we graduated to 10-speeds. We went to glossy, over-air-conditioned shopping malls. We had a lot of freedom because things were so accessible.

I grew up in Encinitas, CA (north of San Diego) when it was a sleepy, little beach town. I miss all “my” beach spots, friends, and that coastal air. It was one of those places where even if we didn’t know everyone, everyone was treated with consideration. It wasn’t always idyllic but it was a pretty lucky place to be raised. You could count on anyone being willing to help you. One time my dad’s Oldsmobile broke down on a random street. He had no problem walking up to a door, knocking on it and asking to use the phone (hello 1989!). The surfers were still zonked on the couches, but one let my dad in and let him call a friend. He told my dad to leave the car and come back for it whenever he could get a tow truck for the car. No one was mad at being woken up at 7am, they just rolled with it.

You can read the post and the rest of the comments here. I grew up in northern Wisconsin on a farm and then in a small nearby town. We rode our bikes everywhere as kids and our parents had no idea where we were most of the time. The music options were country or heavy metal — I didn’t care for either. The nearest movie theater was in a town 10 miles away and I still remember the excitement of standing in line for Ghostbusters on a sweltering June evening. As a teen, I would go around to all of the vending machines in town (there were only three or four of them) and check the coin returns for money — any quarters I found would go right into the Ms. Pac-Man machine at Erickson’s grocery store. A few people I knew had a vacation house on the lake but we couldn’t afford one. School was terrible and cliquey and I never felt like I belonged. I left after high school and aside from summers and a short stint after dropping out of grad school, I never went back. I haven’t been for a visit in nearly 20 years and only recently have I been curious about seeing it through adult eyes and revisiting old haunts.

See also this classic NY Times dialect quiz (which I took the other day and it nailed my childhood location within 90 miles) and using only food, where did you grow up? (my answer: hotdish, fried smelt, colby cheese, and summer sausage).

Three Transgender Kids Share Their Stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2021

Over at A Cup of Jo, Joanna Goddard interviewed three kids who are transgender about their experiences. Here’s Violet, she/her, age 13:

What do you wish people knew about being trans?
The main thing is that it’s not a choice. It’s a choice to come out, but being trans is not a choice. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and felt the way the wind blew and wanted to be a girl. I ALWAYS knew I wasn’t a boy. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a girl; I WAS a girl. I just had to put that into words and explain that.

Aya, she/her, age 9:

How did you tell your parents?
There was one night when my sister was like, ‘So… Mommy’s a girl, I’m a girl, Daddy’s a boy, and you’re a boy.’ But I immediately was like, ‘No, no, I’m a girl.’ And that was the first time, but there was another time. We were driving back from Mommy’s school, and she was telling me about the different words like transgender and all different words and when she described transgender, I was like, that’s me. I was five.

And this:

Also, fun fact: When we were watching a Mo Willems episode about drawing, he told us that his child is transgender — the one from Knuffle Bunny. Trixie is now Trix!

The comments on the post are worth reading as well — CoJ has the best comments section on the internet, quite a feat for 2021.

Parenting around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2014

For the past year, Joanna Goddard has been running a series on her blog called Motherhood Around the World. The goal of the series was to tease out how parenting in other countries is different than parenting in the US. From the introduction to the series:

We spoke to American mothers abroad — versus mothers who were born and bred in those countries — because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what’s unique about your own country (“don’t all kids eat snails?”), and it’s much easier to identify differences as an outsider.

The results, as Goddard states upfront, are not broadly representative of parenting in the different countries but they are fascinating nonetheless. I’ve picked out a few representative bits below. On parenting in Norway:

Both my kids attended Barnehage (Norwegian for “children’s garden”), which is basically Norwegian pre-school and daycare. Most kids here start Barnehage when they’re one year old — it’s subsidized by the government to encourage people to go back to work. You pay $300 a month and your kids can stay from 8am to 5pm. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it’s colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors-with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, “It’s good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers.” That’s very Norwegian — hard things are good for you.

The Democratic Republic of Congo:

No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn’t bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, “All right, ladies. Who’s got babies and wants breast milk?!” Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman’s breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.

Abu Dhabi:

There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother’s arms are the safest place for her child.

India:

In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, regardless of class. Children will usually sleep with their parents or their ayah until they are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children from middle class Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do — often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. He has a shoebox of a room in our house where we keep his clothes and crib, and he always starts the night in there, falling asleep around 8pm. That way Chris and I get a few hours to ourselves. Then, around 11pm, Will somehow senses that we are about to fall asleep and calls out to come to our bed. It’s like clockwork, and he falls right back into a deep sleep the second his head hits the pillow.

Australia:

On sleep camps: Government-subsidized programs help parents teach their babies to sleep. I haven’t been to one (though I did consider it when we were in the middle of sleep hell with our daughter) but many of my friends have. The sleep camps are centers, usually attached to a hospital, that are run by nurses. Most mums I know went when their babies were around six or seven months old. You go for five days and four nights, and they put you and your baby on a strict schedule of feeding, napping and sleeping. If you’re really desperate for sleep, you also have the option of having a nurse handle your baby for the whole first night so you can sleep, but after that you spend the next few nights with your baby overnight while the nurses show you what to do. They use controlled crying and other techniques. I have friends who say it saved their lives, friends who left feeling “meh” about the whole thing, and a friend who left after a day because, in her words, “they left my baby in a cupboard to cry.”

Chile:

Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I’ll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said “Oh, let me give you some cookies.” I said, “No, thank you.” But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, “You should give your daughter the cookies!” They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.

And then more recently, they talked to a group of foreign mothers about how parenting in the US differs from the rest of the world. For one thing, there’s the babyproofing:

Here in the U.S., there is a huge “baby industry,” which does not exist in Romania. There’s special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for “brain development from months 3-6.” Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I’m constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.

And the more permissive and involved parenting:

I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from “because I said so” and actually explain things to their children. It’s admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn’t buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn’t just stop at “no.”

Like I said, the whole series is fascinating…I could easily see this being a book or documentary (along the lines of Babies).

Update: This series is back after a brief pause with installments on Korea and the Netherlands.

Update: The installment on parenting in Cuba is a good one.

On improvising in the kitchen: We often have to be resourceful and adjust our cooking plans around what we can get. At the moment, it’s been a few months since I’ve seen chicken breasts available at the market, for example. Last year on Thanksgiving, my father-in-law and I spent hours driving around trying to find potatoes, which are a black market item. People will normally walk up to you at the vegetable market and whisper, “I have potatoes.” But, that day there were none. We were like potato junkies trying to get our fix of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving!