While, back home in Manhattan and Massachusetts, everyone stayed inside and watched the snow pile up during the Blizzard of 2015, Amalia, stuck in Miami because all flights back home were cancelled, spent Tuesday going with Mommy and Yiayia Joanie to Jungle Island where she got close up and personal with
a baby alligator
a yellow python.
Feeding goats with a bottle was the part she liked best
Lunch was burgers beside a lake with a lot of flamingos, while white Ibises fought for leftovers.
Tomorrow (Weds.) Amalia and Mommy and Yiayia Joanie hope to fly back to the snow drifts of Manhattan.
I'm reposting here an essay I did four years ago. The photo of my father in 1908 dressed like a girl (in my previous post) reminded me of this essay on a subject which seems to be more in the news than ever, with all the discussion of transgender kids and how early they should be recognised as such. It also includes a link to an article that daughter Eleni Gage wrote for "Travel & Leisure" some 11 years ago about the Zapotec Indians of Mexico who encourage their sons to identify as gay at an early age.
Back in the seventies,
when I was giving birth to my three children, we young Manhattan mothers
were determined that we would not impose gender stereotypes on our
kids. (Some of the moms in my upper West Side playgroup were equally
determined to protect their little ones from encountering sugar,
television, candy or, god forbid, birthday cake.)
We were inspired by the(1972) record album “Free to Be You and Me” produced by the Ms. Foundation to fight gender stereotypes.It included such instant classics as “William’s Doll” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”
our son was approaching his third birthday, I got him a baby doll to
prepare the way for his expected sibling. (Back in those days there
was no way to know the sex of the baby before birth.)
Despite my determination not to propagate stereotypes, when we traveled to visit my
parents, who were surrounding by construction sites, Chris became
fascinated by the bulldozers and excavators and would happily sit in his
stroller all day watching them roar around and dig. He loved my parents’ automatic garage door opener andinstantly learned the names of every kind of truck.Dinosaurs became his obsession.He
collected hundreds, learned all about each kind to the point that he
was assigned to teach the segment on dinosaurs to his kindergarten
what you will, many little boys will be fascinated with powerful
things: dinosaurs, trucks, guns--and most girls will not. (I would never
allow anything resembling a gun in the house.Now
my son makes a living writing, among other things, scripts for video
games, which feature a dazzling variety of weapons. Go figure.)
point is that, despite our best efforts to be perfectly even-handed in
rearing our children, many babies get born with certain gender
tendencies written in their DNA. And as they grow up, they will
experiment, traveling all over the gender spectrum.So it’s not wise to classify them in any category too early.
today it has become the fashion to eliminate any reference to gender –
like the “Egalia” pre-school in Stockholm, Sweden, that has eliminated
the words “him” and “her”, calling all children “friends” rather than
girls or boys. Then there are the parents of the infant “Storm” who
became viral celebrities because they refuse to reveal the sex of their
third child, so as to avoid gender stereotyping.Their
two older children--both boys—are being home-schooled and encouraged to
wear dresses if the spirit moves them and to grow their hair long.It’s
interesting, I thought, that when they went on an excursion to a
natural history museum or some such, the older boy asked his parents to
tell the docents that he was a boy.
think these children are being cheated because, having them
home-schooled to avoid gender stereotypes, they are going to emerge into
the real world at the age of 18 with no skills at interacting with
other people their age. (And I’ll bet they will not still be wearing
dresses and long hair.)
New York Times recently featured an article called “Toddling Past
Gender Lines’ which approvingly gave examples of parents who encourage
their children’s unconventional behavior, such as painting boys’
toenails pink and buying boys Barbie princess dolls.Certainly the woman who wrote the best-selling“My Princess Boy” has hit a public nerve.
the article also referred to parents who take their pre-school children
to therapists, change their schools or move to a more “diverse and
understanding” community, so that their gender- bending children are not
bullied as they grow up.
In my opinion this is going way too far in anticipating the future sexuality of their toddlers.I
think we all should step back, take a deep breath, and consider how our
great-grandparents’ handled sexual orientation in small children.
collecting antique photographs, I’ve learned that gender differences in
small children were not even recognized or fussed over until children
were about five or six, when little boys started wearing pants.Up till then, boys and girls alike wore dresses or gowns .
See that child up above with the long sausage curls and the white dress and matching hair bow?That was my father, Robert Odegard Paulson, in about 1908.Nobody ever thought it weird that my grandmother spent time setting his long blonde hair on rags to make those sausage curls.
Here is a photo of Ernest Hemingway at about the same age looking like a girl.People are always blaming any issues Hemingway had with masculinity on this photo.But I’m telling you—it was normal for the period.
And take a look at the twins in this photo in their ruffled dresses and high-button shoes.On
the back of this cabinet photo is written the following: ”Left - Louise
Bertha Inez Forte, right, Louis Bertrand Forte, born June 13th, 1893 at two p.m. in West Newton. Louis was born five minute after Louise.”
(Because so very many boys in antique photos are assumed to be girls, let me give you a vintage photo expert’s hint:when the babies had enough hair to part, the girls’ hair was always parted in the center and the boys on the side.Other clues that the tot in your daguerreotype is a boy: if he’s wearing a plaid sash and/or holding a riding crop.)
As you can see from the photos above, parents in the olden days did not get worked up about“non-stereotypical gender behavior” and they did not decide that a boy in hair bows and ruffles was fated to grow up gay.(The
most shocking example of anticipating gender choices given in the New
York Times' piece is the following paragraph: “Diane Ehrensaft, a
therapist in Oakland, Calif.,said that a parentmight
say to her, "I know my child is transgender and I’m ready to go with
hormone blockers.’ Her sensible response: “Whoa, not so fast!”')
children will grow up to be gay and some will decide they are
transgender, and parents are to be applauded for accepting and
supporting those statements, but no decisions should be made by anyone
about behavior of childrenyounger than puberty.Everyone experiments with gender roles and changes often.I smile when I see tabloid headlines like,“Angelina is raising Shiloh to be a Boy!”
Angelina Jolie is just wisely allowing Shiloh to dress the way she likes. She’s five.I can’t help thinking of a friend whose granddaughter, at the age of three, went through a “Goth” phase.She would wear no dresses and no colors—only black.Nobody gave her any grief about it, and now she’s decided to wear frilly dresses as well as black overalls. I understand perfectly why Shiloh wants to look and act like a boy:her two oldest siblings are boys and to her they’re cool and she wants to be like them.
While I don’t encourage anyone to decide their child’s gender orientation when they’re still children, let me tell you about theZapotec Indians on the Isthmus of Tehuantopec in Mexico.Theirs
is a matriarchal society where the women handle the money and pretty
much call the shots, while the men busy themselves hunting prey like
Most Zapotec families hope to have a gay son who can provide help and supportthe parents.These
boys are selected (or identified) when they’re young and trained in
“female” arts like embroidery, music, hair-dressing, cooking—you get the
of these “Muxes” as they are called, dress as women throughout their
lives, others dress as men, and they all are honored by the church with a
special mass and fiesta (with dancing and parades) in November on the
feast day of San Vincente Ferrer. If you want to read an article about them written for Travel and Leisure by daughter Eleni Gage, click here.
As I said, I’m against making gender-decisions about one’s children at an early age, but it seems to work for the Muxes. But
for young parents in the United States, determined to protect their
children from ostracism and bullying before they enter kindergarten, I
think we should all step back and relax and wait to see what gender
decisions the children make for themselves when they are old enough to
decide their future.
I’m a passionate collector of antique photographs—especially
daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography, which were introduced to the
world by Louis Daguerre in France in August of 1839.
In this day of “selfies” and smart-phone videos that share
images of just about everything via the internet as soon as it happens, it’s
hard to imagine the sensation caused by the first photographs—scientifically
accurate portraits “written by the sun”.A daguerreotype is an image produced on a silver-coated copper plate,
which uses iodine and mercury to develop it.For early daguerreotypes, you had to sit very still for many minutes,
not smile or blink (your head often in a brace) and the fumes produced in the
developing often made the photographer ill.Even the touch of a feather on the sensitized silver plate would scar
the image, so daguerreotypes had to be protected under glass and housed in a
case that opens and closes like a book.
My favorite thing to do is to research the story behind an
antique image—who (or what) is the subject?When was the image taken?What is
the photographer trying to tell us?While daguerreotype photography spread quickly around the world, (and
nowhere was it more popular than in the United States), most people in the
1840’s and 1850’s, except for the famous or wealthy, would have only one image
taken of themselves in their lifetime.Often this would be a photo of a serious couple, seated side by side,
soon after their wedding.The photo was
a sort of solemn, official record that they were married.And if a child died, as so often happened, or
an old grandfather who had fought in the Revolutionary War passed away, the
daguerreotype photographer was quickly called to “save the shadow ere the
substance fade”, as the photographers’ ads often put it.
But the photographer could only do his job on a sunny day.Usually the studio would be on a top floor of
a walk-up under a skylight to capture the best light—because there were no
While I have often researched and written essays about
antique and historic photographs—(see the list of titles at right)—I have
rarely written about my own family’s vintage photos, although I have them
hanging on several walls of my house and look at them every day. I’m going to
tell the stories behind some of myantique
photographs, so that you can get clues as to what to look for in your family
photos from the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.And I’m going to do it in two parts—first the
stories of my father’s family; all of them Swedes and Norwegians, and then my
mother’s family who were Swiss-French on the maternal side and Scotch-Irish on
Here is a photograph of the family and house and possessions
of Jorgen J. Odegaard, the man with the furry hat and bushy beard on the
right.He was born in 1856 in Norway and
immigrated to the United States where he married another Norwegian immigrant,
Oline Kaurstad in 1870. They first settled in Iowa, but with no money and no
work, they headed for Minnesota (as did many Scandinavians) in search of free
land in Santiago Township.They settled
near a swamp.
My father told me that Jorgen had the first pair of matched
horses in the county.You can see them
tied up on the left.In photographs of
this era (1880’s) an itinerant photographer would come by, with his camera mounted
on a tripod, knock on your door, and if you wanted a photograph, the family
would be arranged in front of the house, with the most valued possessions in
view.This photo with the rare pair of
horses is like a photo of a man leaning on his brand new sports car.From the same period is a photo I have of the
farmhouse I now live in.The whole
family and farm hands are standing in front of the barn and house with the
prize bull tethered front and center and the ladies in their frilly hats and
long dresses standing in front of the horse-drawn buggy.
The little girl in the white pinafore or apron above was Jorgen’s
oldest child and my grandmother—Ida Odegard (the second “a” in Odegaard fell out
somewhere). The baby in his mother’s arms is John who, I discovered on Google, “married
in 1905 and then operated the first Ford agency in the area in 1912.He offered free driving lessons with every
sale, as no one knew how to operate motor vehicles.He often accepted livestock, buggies and
other items in lieu of cash.”
This photo of Jorgen’s family is not an original— it’s a
simple photocopy which has no value as a photograph, but to me it’s priceless.
Compare it to this photo of the same family around 20 years
later. This photo is an original and printed at the bottom is “Residence of J.
O. Odegard, Santiago, Sherburne Co. Minnesota, June 7 1902”.The little girl in the white pinafore in the
previous photo is now the married lady sitting in a chair in a white dress, her
hand touching her first of four sons—my uncle John Paulson.She had married my grandfather, Par Paulson,
who is seated at the far right. Her parents, Jorgen and Oline, who’s 45 in this
photo, had nine children in all and the little girl toddler between her parents
is a sibling to her married sister Ida. So the toddler on the left is the aunt
to the toddler on the right—and she is the same age as her nephew. I’ve been
told that the house in this photo is the same as the small shack in the first
photo, but it has now been expanded to house the growing family (nine
children!), adding a second floor and two chimneys and lots of space.
The wonderful names of Jorgen’s children are: Ida, John, Mathilda, Edwin, Julius, Oscar,
Olga, Alma, and Odin.
At the top of this post is a wedding photograph of my
grandmother Ida Odegard, marrying my grandfather, Par Paulson, around
1899.I have always thought that large
floral bush on her head looked fairly ridiculous but I showed it to a friend from
Norway and she told me that it is a traditional “Blomster Krans”.
The wedding photograph is a cabinet card –a photograph
mounted on heavy cardboard-- which has been embossed in ornate silver
script“E. S. Hill, St. Cloud, Minn”. Cabinet
cards, 4 inches by 5 ½ inches, were very popular from 1870 to about 1900. Photos
of actors, politicians, freaks and famous people in this format were sold and
collected in albums.
I knew my grandmother Ida well—she let me gather the eggs
from her hen house and, after she beheaded a chicken every Sunday for dinner,
we would de-feather it together.I
didn’t know until I was older that Ida was a very strong-minded and independent
woman who shocked her family by marrying Par Paulson, a Swede instead of a
Norwegian!, and then divorcing him after they had four sons. She moved with her
college-age sons to Minneapolis where she opened a boarding house and became
known for her apple pie. Then she married another Swede, John Erickson, who, like
her first husband, was a mail carrier.I
adored John Erickson, my step-grandfather,who taught me to shoot his rifle across the Mississippi River.I only met my real grandfather, Par Paulson,
once.He was totally deaf.To "talk" to him you had to write on a blackboard
Here is my grandmother Ida holding a blonde cherub with
sausage curls, a white dress and a bow in its hair.That child is my father, Robert Odegard Paulson,
born April 3, 1905.It may seem shocking
that he’s been dressed and groomed like a little girl, but back in the day,
little boys and girls were dressed alike until about five or six years old. If
you want some clues as to how to tell the boys and girls apart in vintage
photographs check out the post I did called "Tots with Antique Toys--Boy or Girl?"
This photograph is printed on a nine-inch round tin plate
embellished with beautiful flowers.I’ve
seen other, similar photos on tin, dating around the turn of the century, but I
don’t know what they’re called.(They’re
not proper tintypes or ferrotypes—that’s another thing entirely.)In tiny letters under the left corner of the
photo is written “copyrighted 1908 by Crover MFG.”My father would have been three years old in
In my next blog post I’ll share the stories and photos of my
mother’s French-speaking ancestors, some pre-dating the civil war.
Amalia feeling much better the day after her visit to the ER
Despite rearing three children, I had never heard the term
“Nursemaid’s Elbow” until the day after Christmas last week, when I accompanied
3-year-old granddaughter Amalia to the Emergency Room.It had been a special day for Amalia, who was
visiting us in Massachusetts with her parents for the holidays—a day that
included a ride on the “Polar Express” train from Hopedale, MA to the “North
Pole” where Santa got on board and gave each child a silver bell.Then we met for a family dinner at a
restaurant, where Amalia ate pizza.When
we all got home, she was shrieking with joy as she danced in the family room
with her grandfather—it was the “Amalia Dance” which involved “Papou” holding
both her hands and twirling her.
Suddenly Amalia burst into tears, clutching her left arm to
her chest, slightly bent at the elbow.Despite our pleas, she insisted she couldn’t move the arm or straighten
it.I was certain that it was
broken—because that’s what happened to me when I was six years old and I pulled
on my mother’s apron strings so hard that she sat down on me.I wore a cast on that arm for a long time.
We called a niece who is a doctor and she said that she thought
the arm was dislocated rather than broken, but that we should take Amalia to
the Emergency Room at the UMass Memorial Medical Center nearby.
As soon as we walked in the door with Amalia and described
her symptoms, the receptionist nodded and said “Nursemaid’s Elbow—we’ll fix her
right up.” She directed us to the
pediatric waiting room which, despite being crowded with ailing children and their
parents, was much more pleasant than the waiting room for adults.Amalia and her daddy passed the time playing
video games on one of the screens in the room.A nurse called the name of a family who had been waiting a long time and
then gestured to us, saying “You come along too.”
All of the examining rooms were occupied, so we sat on a
gurney in the hall until a white-haired gentleman came up and introduced
himself as Dr. Murphy.He felt up and
down Amalia’s forearm and asked her where it hurt—near the elbow and near the
wrist, she said.He rotated her hand
slightly and then said, “There, it’s fixed. I popped it back into place.”
I was startled, because Amalia hadn’t so much as said “Ouch!”I was expecting something like those dramatic
movie scenes where the doctor gives the patient a cloth to bite on, to muffle
his screams, and then yanks the broken bones back into place.
“Here’s the test,” said Dr. Murphy, “to see if she can hold a
popsicle in her left hand.”He went over to a nearby freezer case. She dropped
the first (orange) one, but held on to the second (green) one and demonstrated that she had
perfect mobility in her fingers, hand and arm.The whole procedure had taken only a few minutes.
“Nursemaid’s elbow, we see this all the time in toddlers
four years and under,” the doctor said, and described a typical scenario.“The babysitter takes the kid to Toys R Us
and then, when she says it’s time to leave, the toddler drops to the floor and
refuses to budge. So the babysitter tries to pull her up by her arm and the
elbow gets dislocated.In young children
the ligaments are looser and more flexible and easily dislocated.That’s why you should never pick up a small
child by the hands or arms, but only by holding her under the arms.”
He said that this could happen again to Amalia, especially
in the next 24 hours, so we should be very careful. Then he took Amalia’s daddy
aside and showed him how to manipulate the ligament back into place if it happens
again—by twisting the left hand until the elbow’s ligament pops back.(Later I learned that for some reason,
Nursemaid’s Elbow happens more often to girls than boys and usually to the left
arm—just as in Amalia’s case.)
Amalia herself was delighted with the whole ER
experience—especially the fact that Dr. Murphy had fixed her just as swiftly
and efficiently as her favorite TV character—Doc McStuffins—a six-year-old girl
who plays doctor to broken toys.
We all left the Emergency Room saying that it had been a
Christmas miracle. We also agreed that we would avoid the “Amalia Dance” and any
other games that involve pulling on arms, until she was much older.
After 40 years as a journalist, I turned 60 and decided to return to my first love--painting. I’ve exhibited watercolors and photographs in Massachusetts and have a slide show of paintings below. My photo book “The Secret Life of Greek Cats” can be purchased by clicking on the cover below.
I collect way too many things, but my great passion is antique photographs, from the earliest—daguerreotypes (circa 1840) up to 1900 (cabinet cards, tintypes.) I approach each one as a mystery to solve, and in unlocking their secrets have met some fascinating historic figures. For some of the stories, check the list of “The Story Behind the Photograph”.
My husband Nick and I live in Grafton, MA and recently celebrated our 41st anniversary. We have 3 children, now amazing adults. And on Aug. 26, 2011, we greeted our first grandchild, Amalía-- world’s cutest baby. But this blog isn’t about grandparenting (although photos of the grandkid sneak in). As it says up top, it’s about travel, art, photography and life after sixty. And crone power.