Friday, April 24, 2009

In the battle of the sexes, I side with backpack wielding little girls

It's a savannah out there.

I was sitting in my car, by the curb, waiting for my daughter to come down the path. School was out, it's Friday, and children ran as fast as they could---not so much away from school as towards freedom.

But one pair sprinted past the rest. A girl chasing a boy. In early elementary school, and often, all through it (back in my day, anyway) it always was the girls chasing the boys. My husband swears it was the other way around. But as I recall, boys would run up, tease, and run off, with a backward glance that begged, "Chase me!"

And we did. Usually laughing. Usually.

I knew both of the children. She's a first grader on my daughter's soccer team, and he's a neighborhood second grader. The girl had an uncharacteristically intense face. Normally she has a huge smile as she runs towards after school freedom, but today her face was pinched in a concentrated frown.

The boy? He appeared to be running for his life. He spotted a tree and clumsily hefted himself up into it, as high as he could, as fast as he could.

Without a sound, the girl flung her backpack up and whacked the boy on his rear end, which dangled over the tree limb that was his perch. She yelled something, and the boy shook his head. WHACK! went the backpack again. She appeared to repeat herself, the boy refused to look down. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! went the backpack wielded by a girl who, by all appearances, was actually angry.

Suddenly, I recalled that sometimes, when chasing a boy, that burn in my chest wasn't just from my lungs working hard in the endless rapid circling of the playground. Sometimes that burn was anger.

Sometimes boys went too far in their taunting and teasing and stepped on the girls' pride.

You could tell the ones who wouldn't take it, would never take it. Their faces, as they chased the boys, read clearly, "You're going downtown Buster Brown!" They weren't giggling. I recall pinning a boy, who a moment before had been laughing, thinking his taunt hilarious, until I actually, fueled by a burst of fury, caught him, and knocked him to the ground.

My knee in his chest I said, "Take it back! I mean it, take it back forever!"

"Okay, okay, I take it back I take it back!" he cried in surrender.

"That will teach you!" I said with a humph, marching back to my girlfriends.

I watched that little seven year old girl giving the little eight year old boy the whatfor, and I thought, "That is awesome."

I really, really did. Make of it what you will, but it makes me warm and fuzzy inside to see little girls not taking it from little boys.

That's because I know in a few years, before they even leave elementary school, the boys, physically progressed beyond their emotional maturity perhaps, will continue those taunts, and if girls don't fight back, they'll never learn that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and they'll think it's okay. They'll draw around them girls who twitter and giggle instead of twisting their noses, hard, like they should when boys are cruel to them. The boys will develop a sense of entitlement to taking from and treating girls any way they like.

We think as parents that we teach our children how to be, but we must also accept just how very much outside society---mostly of their peers--shapes them too.

When I thought harder, the boy I chased and knocked down hadn't insulted me at all, but had instead insulted my best friend, who cried in response. I was avenging her honor, with more verve than I might have done for myself.

I suppose, on some level, I should have thought that the girl beating the boy with her backpack was doing something wrong, and maybe I ought to have hopped out of my car and stopped it. But in truth, I know the kids, he probably teased, and she was probably defending her honor. It seemed like kids learning to work it out for themselves. I was quite sure it would get worked out, and they'd be play buddies again before we knew it. It's important to draw boundaries and ask others to respect them, and this is how children do it. Sure, sure, we parents work to teach them other, better ways, but their peers must teach them, too. That lesson is essential.

And I know little girls are told too frequently too often in too many ways to be quiet and take it.

So I sat in my car, watched her teach him a lesson, and hoped she learned one too---a good one, one in which defending her honor was fine, being angry when taunted was fine, and not taking it from boys was exactly the way she ought to live her life.

Side note: Lest anyone feel defensive about boys, the other side of the story, how girls treat boys, etc, relax. This is, in fact, just one side of the coin, but it is a true side, and I, a girl, am most concerned with this side as I raise my girls.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to be a Hero instead of a Zero (in your kids' eyes)

It's easy: take the kids to Disney on Ice: Mickey and Minnie's Magical Journey!

Sit very close to the action:

Where the kids get to see live action Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Donald and Daisy Duck.

Then have a lot of awesome segments of the kids favorite Disney shows from Lion King...

to Little Mermaid...

to a brief moment of Mary Poppins with quick segue to Peter Pan, where you have some BIG awesome skating numbers including flying and Tinker Bell...

Catch a PRICELESS video moment of your enraptured and joyful kids clapping enthusiastically to wake up Tinker Bell (then taunt the Webz with it by not showing it because well, it's your kids faces)...

Include an adorable segment with Lilo and Stitch, including a rocket ship and incredible alien costumes (sorry, was too enthralled to remember to take photos!)...

Then wrap up with a HUGE exciting number where all the skaters come out as the favorite characters...

Take them out for ice cream afterward and you just might get, "This is exactly the type of day a kid loves, Mom!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Breastfeeding is like five whole minutes of your life, to speak


I'm speaking from the position of a person with two kids. Not babies, kids. And trust me, that makes a difference.

While they still need us on a daily basis in many ways, our kids don't need us on a minute basis.

In general, that means things such as
  • if a kid is thirsty, I can say, "Hey you know where the cups and water are..."
  • if a kid is hungry, I can say, "Hey, grab a cheese stick or apple."
  • if a kid wakes up before sunrise on a Saturday I can say, "Hey, go play in the playroom."
  • if a kid is bored I can say, "Hey, go knock next door and see if your friend can play."
Do you see a theme? I have more space, more choice. My kids are fairly independent, and I can baby them, or not. But they do still need me, and parent is still my number one job.

Recently, there has been some hoopla about a couple of articles that were semi to very critical about breastfeeding and its antifeminist yoke. I've read several bloggy responses, comments to those, and the original articles in question (Judith Warner's latest blog post at the New York Times talking about banning the breast pump and Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article about the case against breast feeding).

Do you want to know what I think? I think it's much ado.

When I first had my first baby, I joined a great mom's support group. People razz Massachusetts but seriously, it's a great state. It gets an awful lot right, including healthcare, which I still miss. Part of the service to new moms was a free, nurse-lead support group once a week. For the entire first year of your child's life.

I can't possibly express how very valuable that was, but I expect you can guess.

I promise it made all of our lives that much better. Every single place should offer that exact program.

But the very best thing about that group is the timeline the nurse drew.

One day all of us new moms were having a good, old-fashioned feel sorry for ourselves vent. We felt overwhelmed, we felt too taxed. We felt touched out, exhausted, done in. Our bodies felt off-kilter, our backs ached from carrying big diaper bags and babies. We felt drowned.

"Of course you feel that way," the kindly nurse said understandingly, "This is taxing, it's exhausting. You are done in. But let me show you this."

After agreeing that the average age of the group was about 32, she drew a line, marking off certain life highlights---first day of school (A), high school graduation (B), becoming a mother (I).

"Here's what you don't know yet," the nurse said, "But I do, because my kids are grown and I have grandchildren now." She added two lines like this:


and in between those two close together lines (I) that? That is how long your baby is a needy little baby.

J marks the spot when you----rather than your baby---are begging for your offspring's attention and affection. The rest? is the rest of your life (God willing).

Do you see much space between the two Is? That's right---not much; it's a blip.

Do you see how quickly J comes? That's right: fast.

It can feel like forever, at the time. You can think it's going to kill you, at the time. You can think you'll never be a real person with a real life again.

I lived through that baby period (I), twice. I know how it kicks your rear end. I know how it takes all of you, physically, mentally and emotionally, and then demands more. I know you cry Uncle (or just cry period) and wish for your own Mommy.

I also now know that nurse was right: it's a blip.

My kids have no round left on them; they are all length and angles. Cribs, sippy cups, toddler beds, four outfits a day, bottles, special baby food, and all the accouterments of infancy and early toddlerhood are finished and gone.

But guess what?

I'm still a mom.

I still have to work out how to work, live and play without shirking my parental duties, which, for the record, are in play for the remainder of our lives.

So while these moms sit and kvetch about the "unnatural antifeminist oppression" that breastfeeding is, I will pause and wonder just how oppressive they find the rest of parenting---and if that doesn't trouble them, then I will wonder just what it is about using one's body to nourish one's child that is so deeply, inherently submersive and subversive for them.

I'm going to guess it's a matter of perspective. Or possibly lack thereof.

The timeline is a tough concept when you are mired in the midst of the Is, but keeping it in mind can help, does help, as does a sort of Zen acceptance of, "This is now, and this too shall pass."

Breastfeeding is a matter of months, literally. I know very few people who go past 36 months, and let's be honest, we all count in months until after 3, don't we? So months. Breastfeeding is a matter of months.

If these women feel oppressed and tied-down and suppressed as strong women from the few months dedicated to breastfeeding---then how in the world will they ever reconcile the lifetime duty and obligation we take on for our children when we become mothers? The compromise, the sacrifice we are obligated to make at times, sometimes too frequently for our comfort?

And that's what it is really about, you know?

When we engage in a lifetime partnership with another person, to some degree, we begin living our lives for that person. When we become parents, to an even larger degree, we begin living for those people, these people, our children.

And, somehow, we must balance that with living for ourselves. It's a condition of humanity. It really, really is. Whether you ever become a parent (or not), unless you are an absolute hermit, in some way you must balance living for yourselves with living for and with others.

If you do become a parent, that doesn't end when we wean a nursing infant, whether it's done from the breast or from a bottle.

I breastfed, a number of my mom friends did too, and a number did not. It seemed split fairly down the middle, to the best of my recollection. I could not have cared less what the other mothers did; I was too busy trying to do my own thing. But, it seems that there were freedoms and limitations to both breastfeeding and formula feeding.

For example, you know how mindless you can be when you are sleep-deprived and a new mom. If I left the house with just me and my baby? We were fine for the short period of time we could be out, you know, diaper and nap time and good humor span considered (all of which factors are relevant regardless of feeding method). If my friends did the same, they had to go back home to get the bottle, formula and water.

If my friends wanted to get away by themselves for a while, it was no problem usually; they could leave the baby with a sitter and a bottle of formula. That is, if the baby would eat from another person other than mom. And guess what? Sometimes? A baby won't.

I could do the same, but only for as long as my pain point of engorgement could stand it. I left bottles behind, too. So usually my baby and whoever cared for her was fine; it was just me.

But I found, when out for Mom's night out with fellow moms---and I did go out; I appreciated, courtesy no doubt of our support class, a culture that encouraged us moms to nurture ourselves, too--- we all had a sort of "time limit" out and it seemed to be about the same length, regardless of whether we were engorged or just tired or simply ready to be home with our babies.

What I'm really saying, I guess, is that the obligation to the baby really wasn't due to or freed from based on whether we breastfed or bottle fed. I did not personally notice a big difference in lifestyle.

Maybe it's mental---and that's a fair qualifier for deciding between breast or formula, because an okay mom is a better mom.

Me? I consider myself a slacker sort of person, in a way. I like to achieve maximum efficacy with minimum effort. For me, that was breastfeeding. It spoke to all of my needs and wants. For other moms, it's better to formula feed.

It is what it is.

At McDonalds today, half a dozen four year olds ran like wolves. I couldn't say who got breast and who got Similac. I also couldn't say who co-slept, who did not, who was sleep trained, who was not, who had a pacifier, who did not, and so forth. The children appeared happy, healthy and nurtured and I doubt a single one of them had the exact same infancy as another.

At the elementary school today, fifty seven year olds ran like wolves. I can't tell you what sort of infancy any of them had, either.

I stood to the side with the teachers, also moms. Although I can't tell you what their early days with their babies was like, in terms of specifically what they chose to do or not do. However, I'm sure I could tell you in general what the experience was like: simultaneously empowering and take you down to your knees like. That seems to be universal.

But today, the kids ran madly and happily, and the women, all of us working, stood on the side and had intelligent cogent conversation about things.

Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pacifiers, sleep training and all the weighty decisions of infancy are a phase for you and your baby.

Those will give way to other weighty matters, such as "my kid is six and not reading yet, is this an issue?" and "oh no Mean Girls!" and "Gifted and Talented: to test or not to test" and "ballet and soccer, just enough extracurricular activity or too much?" and "holy crap are we saving for college yet?" and so forth.

If you feel so oppressed by the charge of feeding your child that you make it a Big Fat Political Issue on Par with Lack of Fair Pay and Piss Poor Family Leave protection...let me assure you that the ONE THING that never changes is hungry offspring demanding food and weighty parenting challenges. The issues change and kids get more independent...but they will always demand nourishment in some way.

If nourishing a child is oppressive to the level of being felt as anti-feminist to you, then I don't know...maybe it's not for you.

And that's fine.

That's what feminism is: choice for us as women, freedom to choose.

Yeah, there is the common choice, the popular choice, the choice generally regarded as ideal and bucking that method is sometimes tough, but if you're happy with the choice you made you should sit within satisfaction in that, okay?

The rest of us are probably way too self-absorbed and mired in our own choices to be spending much time judging you and yours.

And if not? Oh well.

It truly, truly is like the the quote from Hamlet that I used in my last post says:
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 2 scene 2
Oh yes, easier said than done, trust me, I know.

But how much wiser we can be in our reconciliation if we know and accept that, I truly believe.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Friendly Word

Oh they are great and wide, these swaths of our minds and imaginations. We think, sometimes, that what we know and experience is the sum total of the world, that it is what we think it is---when we are deciding things. When we are figuring out things. When we are determining.

If you ever asked us, I think most of us, well, the ones I know anyway (just proving my point) would acknowledge a broader understanding of a Hamletesque world.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 1 scene 5

The other Hamletesque point I'd like to make might surprise you:

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 2 scene 2

Thinking, hmm, is that the real problem? Or is it the underlying assumptions we make about events and people that is the real problem?

"I hate her! She's a mean girl!" my daughter said, very angrily, the other day.

"Is she mean, really, all the way through her heart?" I asked, "Is this really about her, or is it about you? Mean is a pretty serious accusation. Let's talk about what happened to make you say this, and figure out what's what here."

As we delved into the event, I came to understand that what had happened was that a friend had hurt my daughter's feelings. In struggling to deal and understand, my daughter slunk home in anger and despair. By the time she arrived home, her mind had firmly fixated on the idea that she was the poor put-upon child harassed by a mean friend. The offending incident? My daughter, arriving later at the friend's because we'd run errands, was initially not included in the game that had already started. She'd lashed out, then was told that she could never play.

Her entire world suddenly centered on that one event, and it was the new outcome of her entire life.

"Shhhhh," I said, "Listen, do you hear the birds, look, see the cardinals at the feeder?" She sat on my lap, something she can still do at this age. I stroked her hair.

When her heart and mind slowed a bit, we talked about how in every angry situation and fight between people, everyone contributes something. We talked about feelings, and how feelings can seem like thoughts, but aren't really.

My feelings get hurt, too, when I feel left out, I told her. Sometimes when a friend leaves me out a lot, I think that friend is mean and doesn't like me anymore, and I feel sad. And when I act on that, I usually regret it, but then I don't know how to undo it, if I even can. That's because those were times when I let my feelings be my thoughts.

Ego. Pride. These are the things that always get in the way.

When we create expectations of others in our heads, then sit back and wait for them to fulfill our desire of them, we have created a path to failure.

"What did you picture in your head," I asked my daughter, "When you went to your friend's house?"

"That we would play and have fun!"

"That's reasonable, but then that didn't happen, so..."

"I got mad! She should have let me play!"

"Hmm," I said, thinking. I have become ambivalent lately, or maybe I mean confused, about this overarching expectation of all inclusivity all the time. I am weighing the issue. What is our obligation to one another? What about when our own needs conflict with a friend's? Is it a clear right and wrong?

I thought about a string of comments I'd heard recently from friends, expressing disappointment and displeasure in friends who had not met expectation. Friends who were, the upset person threatened, on the verge of being reclassified as "not friends." If they didn't shape up. By which, I assume they mean, become who that person needs and wants them to be, on some level, to some degree.

Each time I hear this I think, oh dear. Yes, just that articulately.

I think we are on guard, vigilant really, for a terrorist in our own lives. The Disappointing Friend. People make a living writing and speaking about Toxic People in our Lives. Are we unhappy? Who is it, exactly, that is poisoning us to be unhappy?

Maybe the real question is what is poisoning us. Maybe Shakespeare had it, back when he said hundreds of years ago through Hamlet---the ultimate poisoner in a way, the archetypical self-absorbed character who could be classified as Toxic Friend, and yet who, usually, we sympathize with and feel empathy for, largely because he speaks so truly---that thinking is the bane of our existence. Thinking, by which I assume he meant, really, assuming and expecting.

I say this because the full exchange between Hamlet and Rosencrantz includes Rosencrantz retorting to Hamlet's observation, "Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind."

More specifically, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2:
243 Denmark's a prison.

244 Then is the world one.

245 A goodly one, in which there are many confines,
246 wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the
247 worst.

248 We think not so, my lord.

249 Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
250 either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me
251 it is a prison.

252 Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
253 narrow for your mind.

Do we, with our words and expectations, lay confines, wards, and dungeons for others? And, therefore, for ourselves? Simply by thinking it so?

"I think maybe that 'playing together' should be the hope rather than the plan..."

My daughter stared at me, confused.

"I mean, maybe next time she says you can't play, maybe you ask her why not, and ask her when you can, or you step back and watch a minute, and think of a way you can fit in to the game," I said.

My daughter's mind worked.

"They were playing pet shop," she said, "But only had three cages. That's why I couldn't play."

Therein lay the key to release from the dungeon, the opening of the confined mind.

"Have we got something here you can take to build a cage, so you can be a pet in the pet shop?"

Her brow furrowed.

"What are the others using?"

"Beach towels."

"Ahh," I said, "Well we have plenty of those."

Ask next time, I had said to her. Communicate. Step back. Think. Find a way. Release from the confines of a narrow ambition. Can we, the adults, do that?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doesn't take much to make me happy and make me smile

I am driving in my car, with the windows down because it is a beautiful day and I don't care if the wind messes my hair. It is sunny and 60, my favorite. The sky is an even blue sheet above me, and the road is a blur below me. Lily Allen is singing "Smile" on my iPod and I do, because I am old enough to know it is complicated, how she means it, not ironic. That's what we do: we just smile. Plus it's a pleasant and light tune.

I'm still in my workout clothes, fresh from the track and my laps. I sped along that track, relishing the fresh laid gravel, still damp from yesterday's rain, so the dust and pebbles didn't kick up so much. I circled past the sea twinkling back at the sun, over and over. I watched seagulls and pelicans fish the schools who risked the surface to catch some of that warm shine for themselves. The huge birds dove, scooped, then rose---the only white specks in the otherwise spotless sky. Triumphant, they tickled their full bellies along the tops of the tall wetlands grasses that grow out from the coastline. After my laps, I did a cool down walk, circling the trees and hibiscus bushes, and I wondered if I looked to some creature the way the birds looked to me.

In my car, I am less a part of the ground and more a part of the air. I am dog happy with the breeze in my face. Now Lynard Skynard is singing about Alabama, and I think about the South in the Spring and feel a little sorry for my Northern friends. Spring comes early and stays a while, late even this year. It smells different, damply verdant today thanks to the welcome rain yesterday. A front from the west temporarily pushed the humidity out to sea, so it is perfect, perfect today. And that makes me smile. Although sometimes it is hard to come by, it doesn't take much to make me happy.

Just watch this joy: