The Month in Moments: January

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for whom the princess dress twirls

I never owned a princess dress when I was little. Never had any desire to be a princess for Halloween or in my pretend play. I didn't care for any of the Disney Princess movies, preferring The Fox and the Hound, Aristocats... anything with dogs, cats, mice, horses. People were not my thing. Specifically the kind who wore crowns and dresses and long hair that tumbled down the sides of walls. Princess stories were horrifying to me. Princess stories made me want to be a boy. Or a dog. Or a horse.

That never really went away - my quiet disdain for all things pink and girly - of wedding dresses and diamonds and all the things that are supposed to be a "girl's best friend". I rebelled against "girliness" by buying skateboards with my allowance and wearing rats on my shoulders - tarantulas on my head in the play yard when everyone was scared of spiders. I dismantled my feminine name and wrote BEX on the top of my papers. Dressed up like boys for Halloween.

Fable's love of princesses has morphed into a love of weddings as well - something, once again, I can't relate to. And when she recently asked about my wedding dress and I explained to her that I didn't wear one she looked horrified.

"Some girls don't want to wear dresses when they get married. Some girls don't want to wear veils or feel like princesses."

"But dresses are THE PRETTIEST! Especially when they have tulle!"

"And some girls feel... less pretty when they wear those things."

"But you know what? Some boys wear dresses. Some boys wear princess dresses and veils."

"Totally. There are boys who want to be princesses and girls who don't want to be princesses and I was one of the girls who didn't want to be a princess and everyone gets to decide what feels right for them, you know?"

The princess dresses are fine. Awesome, even. I can totally back the princess costumes and the princess theme parties and the dolls with their crowns in their gowns and everything that lives comfortably on the periphery of "one day my prince will come happily ever after..."

It's the princess stories I struggle with. It's the movies and the books Fable wants wants read to her over and over - of princesses and their terrible sisters and vile (or dead) mothers and how the only person who could possibly save them is a man.

And I hate them. I really, truly do. I always have.

And yet.

Fable loves them. She adores them and when we go to the library she collects them and studies them and is absolutely fascinated and enamored and I'm like, "what about this wonderful book about spiders? Or this epic tale of a cloud who befriends the sun!" and then she turns to me with the biggest eyes of all time and says, "NO THANK YOU MOM I FOUND A BOOK ABOUT A PRINCESS WEDDING!" and then I ask her if she's sure and she tells me she is VERY sure and then I smile and hold her books for her and that is that. 
I have always believed that the most important thing I can do as a parent is allow my children to find themselves in the ways that feel right and true to them  - so that they can bring themselves joy. I'm not here to teach them what to love or what not to so I tend to stand back when it comes to their interests. When it comes to their clothes, their activities, book selections at the library...

Fable's joy is my joy and I don't want her to doubt that ever even for one tiny second. I want her to know that I support every twirl and every song and every picture she draws and every idea in her head, and every veil she makes out of the tulle from old dresses and the stories she tells about princesses and princes and the pictures she draws of herself and her friends wearing crowns.

Because "princesses make me feel happy and I love to wear pretty dresses."

And with her whole heart, she does. The princess lifestyle is a magical, exciting world for her - a wonderland of beautiful sparkly dressy-uppy things that she can't wait to wake up and explore and I'm not about to tamper with that. 
IMG_7709 How could I possibly? IMG_7712 No way. 
So when Fable pleaded with me to add "Cinderella" to the stack of books I planned to read to her school on Monday, I said okay.

Kind of.

"Are you sure you want me to read Cinderella? You have so many wonderful books here!"

"Yes but I LOVE Cinderella, mommy. Please please will you read it to my class please please?"

"Okay, but here's the deal. There are a lot of things in this book that make me feel uncomfortable so if I read this book, I'm going to make a few changes. Is that okay?"

Fable didn't care what changes I made to the story so long as Cinderella got to wear a "beautiful gown and glass slippers."


So? I read the modified version of Cinderella 2013 - the story of a girl who couldn't wait to go on adventures and pursue her dreams and do wonderful things for the world along side her like-minded partner who was just as stoked on adventures as she was. All while wearing a beautiful gown and amazing shoes.

In my version the sisters were "jealous but misunderstood" and the step mother was sad and lonely, rather than cruel. The Prince? He was just a dude looking for someone awesome to travel to amazing places with - see the world...

As I read the story, Fable beamed. In the "wink wink mommy" way she does when I come to her school and her friends ask me to swing them upside down.

She was proud of me. I could tell.

And maybe it had nothing to do with my changes (it didn't. She had no idea I edited anything, she later told me) but I left the school feeling like I did right by both of us. She was happy to hear about princesses and I was happy to do my part in redefining them.

Even if she didn't hear me.

Even if she never does.

It turns out it's just as important for me to be true to my self as it is to applaud Fable for being true to hers. I seem to have misplaced that truth over the last few months so afraid was I to rain on Fable's tulle parade.

(It turns out, that's not possible.)

There will be many moments in my tenure as a mother that will make me feel twitchy. There will be people who come in and out of my children's lives who I'll have a hard time loving, let alone relating to. There will be choices my kids make that will challenge me. That I'll feel are wrong. And there will be times when I'll have to stand back and let them go. But there will also be times when standing back is not an option. And on a small scale, even though it sounds kind of silly as I write this, this felt like one of those times.

Oh and PS? I totally like Cinderella now. This new 2.0 version we've been reading these last four days? She's my kind of chick.

"Mine too, Mommy. Her dress is so twirly."


Dr. David Woolf PhD/Hero

Today my brother David presented his thesis on Near-Field Optical Forces in Coupled Wavelengths: Photonics, Plasmonics and the Casimir Effect (I have zero idea what any of that means. D- in Physics right here) and received his PhD from Harvard University. Twelve years of college, seven and a half of those years in graduate school and I couldn't be more proud of him.
l_21e5a502e2314d889ccce97a78228fcb Doctorate? More like ROCKtorate!

This May, all six of us (!!!!!!) will be flying to Boston to be there for David's actual graduation ceremony but today he gets to officially bask in two decades of hard work and determination and I am so happy for him it's ridiculous. I honestly feel like I might explode.

I love you so much, David. WE love you so much! Congratulations. 
Favorite Photo Ever


IMG_8192 Bo & Revi in the mirror

Bo and Revi have adopted a recent fondness of mirrors. Specifically putting hats on, wigs, headbands, anything they can drape over their heads and scampering over to the mirror to laugh at each other because YOU ARE SO FUNNY AND I AM SO FUNNY AND WE ARE SO FUNNY TOGETHER. And they are so funny together. They're the clowniest.
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This has little to do with this song of course but when I see them knocking their heads against the mirror together I think of their strange kind of mirror and how every day they spend in their side by side cribs and their side by side strollers and their side by side yoga moves is another day they become more learned as partners as well as people. Pretty incredible, that. 

152. Strange Kind of Mirror by: Birds & Batteries


Several of you have asked why the numbers on these posts. Here's what I wrote when I started with what I called "track tuesday" in 2009.  And why I kept going after track 100. Today's post is the 152nd track in an epic mix tape that is coming up on its fourth year in the making. I so appreciate when good music is passed on to me (many of you have sent me songs throughout the years, and I'm grateful) and the hope is that some of these songs make it onto your soundtracks as well. I also like that what started as 100 songs in 100 weeks is reaching toward 200 with no plans of stopping. No limits = lesson learned. 


She-Section Week 2: Not in His Name?

First of all, thank you for all of your awesome comments in last week's post. Even my Nana came out to comment about her multi-volume set of the unexpurgated version of Arabian Nights, Burton's beautifully written Victorian pornography. It reminded me of the time my mom offered to buy me a vibrator in high school because she didn't want me to get (ahem) pregnant unexpectedly and "the best birth control is masturbation."

I was mortified at the time, of course. But also relieved that sexuality was something almost mundane in its normalcy. So, when people try to tell me that "these conversations should be reserved in private friend circles," I call bullshit. If my blue-blooded Grandmother can talk about her pornographic novels and disapproval of threesomes in a public forum and my mom can preach the gospel of masturbation as birth control, then it is my familial obligation to talk about sex until I'm 100 years old. Because simply put, there's nothing to be ashamed of.


Moving on to names. NAMES. Ah, the million dollar question, right? The "you're damned whatever you do" conundrum of getting married and having kids. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I never put a dog in the "my last name, too" fight. Or at least, it was until a few months ago, when my mind changed and I finally let go.

Before Hal and I married I agreed to take his name. Or at least, I told him I was fine with it. I liked Isaacson and thought Rebecca Isaacson had such profound biblical appeal (Isaac was married to Rebekah in the Bible, which in my world, is, like totally a sign) I was willing to trade in the name I had spent twenty-three years attached to. Not that I was willing to ditch Woolf entirely. Woolf was too good. Too strong. Too literary and cool and nice try, marriage. Nice try. The plan was to keep Woolf professionally and adopt Isaacson as my legal name.

So. On our way home from Vegas I recorded my new outgoing voice message. "Hey, you've reached Rebecca Isaacson, leave a message and I'll get right back to you. Thanks so much! Bye"


The beep was my mind blowing to smithereens.

It wasn't right. It didn't sound right. It wasn't me. I assumed it was just one of those "time will make it seem more kosh" situations but weeks went by and then months and then...

"How long did it take you to get used to Woolf when you married Dad?" I asked my mom.

"I don't know. A few weeks?"

One day Hal asked me when I was going to change my name and I burst into tears.

That was it. He was fine with it. I changed my outgoing message back to Woolf and never looked back. Not until a few years ago, anyway, when I was pregnant with Fable and asked what Hal thought about her taking my name instead of his.

I knew we were having a girl and it just made sense to me that the boys would get Isaacson and the girls would get Woolf. After all it was IsaacSON not IsaacDAUGHTER, you know what I mean?

"You want our kids to go through life with different last names?"

At the time I did not. I wanted them to feel united. I didn't want them to have to explain themselves.

And yet.

Why his? Why his last name and not mine? What kind of message was that sending them? 

I panicked soon after Fable was born. That the word "son" tacked on to the end of her name was somehow cruel and unusual. I became obsessed, even fixated on "..son" as an archaic misnomer.

"Bec, it's just a name."

Hal was not allowed to speak on the subject, naturally.

"It's just your name, you mean?" said I, burning my bra.

This continued for years. I would bring it up and Hal would feel terrible and I would guilt him and he would roll his eyes at me and when we found out we were pregnant with twin girls I got even MORE pissy about the whole thing.




That's when Hal was like, "you need to either get over this thing or we need to go change all of our names."

But I didn't want Hal to have my last name (for the same reason I didn't want his) and Archer was used to his name and Fable was used to hers and hyphenating Isaacson with Woolf sounded wordy and I didn't like that either.

ED: All of the same-sex parents we know hyphenated their kids' last names which makes sense because there is no sex differential as default (womp womp) aka hyphenating is definitely the "our names both matter equally" way to go. Of course, then you have your kids' futures to think about a la what happens when THEY have children with potentially-hyphenated-four-times-or-more-names.

Basically? We all lose, girls.


I came to peace with the fact that I would live the rest of my life resentful of Hal for having a penis and being the default last name person.

That was the case until a few months ago, when my in-laws were out visiting for Bo and Revi's first birthday and my father-in-law, in all his master storytelling ways, sat down to tell me the story of his grandfather's immigration from Poland to New York by way of Ellis Island.

"His name was Wolf, you know."


"My grandfather's name was Wolf."

"Wolf Isaacson?"

"Originally his name was Wolf Poloahjshadkjwitz. Something like that. Very Polish sounding but it was too hard to pronounce and his father's name was Isaac, so when he came to New York, they renamed him Wolf Isaacson. Because he was Isaac's son and that's the way they did things in those days."

I promptly burst into tears.

It was a sign. And even though Wolf was spelled differently and had nothing to do with me at all, I felt like, suddenly, everything was...  connected? I guess?

I thought of the similar origins of the Woolf family, immigrants from England who were able to keep their names because they were easy enough to pronounce. I thought about all of the names that had been changed through the years. Not because of marriage but because of travel, change, necessity, even survival. I thought of strangers who couldn't pronounce Poloahjshadkjwitz and I felt, for the first time, at peace.

In the Bible, Isaac's son was Rebekah's son as well (Sons, actually. They had twins.) and in real life, Isaacson was also Wolf. That's like a double rainbow in the sign department. Or not. Maybe they're all just names and stories and I'm just doing what I do, trying to fit the pieces together in a way that makes me feel better about things that make me feel impotent as a mother, wife, and yes, feminist. Maybe I'm just like any other person trying to justify our very patriarchal naming system.

But it's what works for me.

Names have always been hugely important to me - the need to give my children names with meaning. And yet, the more I experience the more I realize there's meaning in absolutely everything. That behind the scenes of every name are a thousand others. And those names have names and three point one four repeating dot dot dot.

Before sitting down to write this post I asked myself, if I could go back in time and hyphenate Archer's name, would I? If I could go back and make some kind of cool fusion "Isaawoolf" name to give my children would I want to?

And I don't think I would.

Not anymore.
Mama Woolf, Daughters Isaacson

Someone recently asked me if it was weird for me that my kids have Hal's last name.

I used to say, "yes."

Now I explain, in my long-winded way that I feel like they have mine, too.

And strange as it sounds, that's exactly how it feels.


What about you guys? Did you keep your name when you married and/or committed to your significant other? Do your children have your name? Your partner's name? Both? How did you decide on this? Do you regret it? Any advice and/or insight for those grappling with how to go about this? Cannot WAIT to hear from you on this one. Pass the popcorn, please.


bird by bird, buddy

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life