Is it a Boy or a Girl?

That’s the first question people ask about a newborn baby. It’s what determines nursery themes and the attendant comments of well-wishers.

She’s got her mama’s good looks; you better be careful! (Insert jocular ribbing.)

Get a football in that kid’s hands. He’s a big one!

These are obvious gender-stereotypical comments, especially when made in reference to a newborn. But what about the more insidious stuff? What about all those memes about women shopping to relieve stress and men acting like just another child for a woman to take care of? It’s like an extension of the “boy or girl” question. We act like every behavior hinges on gender.

The memes are funny. I know I’ve laughed at them, but as they’ve gotten more pervasive, I’ve started to get an ominous feeling. It’s like we’re extracting ourselves from our old stereotypical gender roles and building ourselves new ones.

Instead of the “yes dear” housewife, we have the eternally exhausted shrew who does all the household work, complains about it and continues to enable her family by doing everything for them. Instead of “Father Knows Best,” we have the idiot husband who is oblivious to everything that goes on around him and, despite living an adult life, is helpless to fix his kids’ hair. It’s not a flattering picture for anyone.

These dichotomies do exist. It’s why all the memes are so funny to us in the first place. But as time goes on and the memes become more pervasive, we as a society start to assume everyone is just like that and has no nuance or depth to them. And then, we start to fit ourselves into those roles, or we feel weird that we’re not like everyone else.

We humans seem to be good at extremes. A person can be a boy or a girl. Men can have all the power and women can have none, or women can be smart and men can be stupid. Middle ground, people. It exists in many of my day-to-day interactions with friends and neighbors but not so much in advertising or on the internet. It’s like we can be nice to each other, but we can’t acknowledge it.

Ultimately, I’d like for the world to get to a place where “boy or girl” isn’t foremost in our minds, whether we’re talking kids or adults. Yes, gender differences exist, but they are not as concrete as we treat them. Gender is more of a continuum than a set of diametrical opposites, and we are all so much more than the set of behaviors and traits society assigns us according to gender.

What if kids’ clothing stores didn’t have “boys” and “girls”? What if they had a pants section, a dress section, a shirt section, so kids could choose what they like without feeling constrained by their biological gender? Adults clothes are trickier because our shapes vary more, but I could work with something like a “shirts for people with boobs” section. This isn’t just semantics; There are people with boobs who don’t identify as female.

I know it may take us several generations to get there, but I hope we evolve into a society that asks what a person is like, what a person can do, and gender becomes more of a sidenote. I’m pulling for it — true person-first thinking. Then, we could all stop bickering about who is better and who should wear pink and get to work on the world’s bigger problems.

When I Grow Up…

Start up
photo credit: Stock Photo, copyright, yarruta 

When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.

As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.  Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.

I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.

I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.

I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:

What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?

I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.

 

 

Happy Holidaze

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Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

I am officially hibernating. Except I’m pretty sure animals who hibernate don’t eat cookies and drink chardonnay. But in every other sense of the word…

  • very little activity? check
  • lots of naps and sleeping? check
  • snuggled up in the den? check

On Christmas day, I sat around with my parents, drank wine, talked, and watched old movies. Then we went to visit my in-laws, where we sat around, drank wine, and watched sports. Now I’m back at home, and I am sitting around, waiting for Jason to get home with the wine and whiling away the hours on my computer while the kids rot their brains with all-day video games. The TV is on, but I’m not watching it. I just can’t figure out how to turn it off with the remote not working.

I waffle between feeling like this is a nice little break and feeling guilty for acting like a slug. I also feel guilty for letting my kids rot their brains and eat whatever the hell they want. ‘Cuz that’s what parenthood is all about — worrying and feeling guilty.

I’m not sure this really qualifies as self-care. I have acid reflux from all the crappy crap I’ve been ingesting, and I’m pretty sure today’s irritability has something to do with very little physical activity. BUT…

Maybe the part of my brain that makes “good” decisions — the part that says “go for a run” and “clean up the laundry” and “eat some vegetables” — needs a break every so often. Maybe my superego is tired and needs to let my id run the show for just a little while. Id says things like “have another piece of pie” and “you are rockin’ it in the Words with Friends solo games!”

It’s possible I’m rationalizing my behavior; it’s possible I’m right. It’s also possible, though, that I’ve both enjoyed spending this extra time with my kids, and they are driving me a little nuts. I haven’t been alone in over a week. Maybe my superego is busy keeping me from shouting at people. Maybe the wine and the cookies and the sluggishness is how I cope with that. Or maybe it’s just the holidays.

When Your Kid Fails…

Little girl in climbing gear stretching out handYou know how sometimes you feel like you are the Best Parent in the World? Yeah, today isn’t one of those days for me.

My oldest decided to try out for the select basketball team in our area. He’s always loved basketball, and he’s pretty good at it. But in the midst of soccer season, he neglected to even pick up a basketball prior to the tryout. I still thought he’d do okay, though.

The day of the tryout, he came to me practically in tears. He said he didn’t want to go; he wasn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. This turned into a long discussion, and we eventually ferreted out that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to perform. On the one hand, it’s good he has Jason and me as parents — Jason understands the psychology of sports, and I (sort of) understand the complexity of Jack’s anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I upset him more by discussing all those emotions at one time, and Jason is sometimes at a real loss as to why Jack feels so intensely.

We talked him into going the tryout. And he didn’t do great. The kid I saw on the court was not the one I watched all last season in recreational league. This new kid was reserved, nervous and not giving his best effort. Normally, Jack is pretty competitive. He dives for loose balls and blocks bigger opponents without a second thought.

He didn’t make the team. Worse yet, most of his friends did. Despite his feeling ambivalent about playing for the season, he was crushed. He didn’t make excuses; he realized this was less about his talent and more about attitude and work ethic. My heart hurt for him.

I did my best to comfort him and reminded him to learn from this experience. There will be more tryouts to come. I told him failure is a part of life, and it’s how we grow. In my head, though….

I was berating myself for not signing him up for that basketball clinic earlier in the year. I was angry at myself for not making him eat before the tryout, even though he insisted he didn’t want to. I felt like I failed right along with him. He’s 10, right? I’m supposed to know these things.

When my cooler parenting head prevails, I know this experience was good for him — that it will only make him stronger and smarter in the future. It’s just that as his mom, I have the intense urge to shield him from pain. I finally understand why it made my mom so nervous whenever my sister or I tried out for anything.

We will move on. Odds are, when Jack gets home from school today, he will already be mostly over it. My oldest kiddo is sensitive and emotionally complex like me. He’s also tough, and I like to think he gets that at least partially from me as well.

Maybe it’s good I didn’t make him practice before or make him eat or whatever else I think I could have done to change the outcome. Maybe this lesson, this version of falling down, will teach him how to get back up again. Hey, maybe I learned something too.

Too Much Information: Why Modern Parenting is Overwhelming

70424540 - child annoying his tired mother with headache
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bialasiewicz’>bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I have to admit, I ignore a lot of the stuff I get from my kids’ school. I used to rant and rave about people not reading things I sent them. Then I’d get, “Wait, we’re having a meeting Friday?!” I’d sigh and lament people’s attention spans, so short they couldn’t get through a three-line email. But that was back in the early 2000’s.

Now, in 2017, I get multiple emails from the school and the district every day. Much of the information isn’t applicable to me or is a third repetition of information I already know. So yeah, I’ve stopped reading all the multi-paragraph, book-length messages from the superintendent.

The other issue, aside from the sheer volume of messages both electronic and on paper, that come from school is, usually, they want something. They want you to send in paper plates, volunteer for the Thanksgiving luncheon, sign up to be a room representative. Or, it’s about some new program your child, as student, is participating in — a leadership initiative, something to promote science skills, “home connection” notes with exercises to complete with your child to ensure their continued emotional health. It more than any one person should realistically be expected to pay attention to.

Don’t get me wrong; all these programs are useful. I’m glad we’re encouraged to volunteer, I love being able to send supplies and support the teachers and I’m heartened by the fact that public education has realized they need to address emotional well-being. There is just SO MUCH OF IT. I don’t have the bandwidth to take it all in, let alone participate in it all. So, I might occasionally miss something, because I’ve skimmed the school-wide news of the week instead of studying it carefully.

Here’s my coping mechanism as a person who wants to help and participate but does not have the capacity to consider everything that comes home in the children’s backpacks and each and every email that pings into the inbox: I ignore a LOT. I’ve picked out my things I like to do — things for which I’m well suited. I send art supplies to the art teacher every year (her budget is abysmal); I volunteer in my first grader’s class once a week, because I like getting to know the kids in his class; I chair the book fair, because I love books.

What I don’t do (like categorically don’t even consider doing, because I don’t even want it taking up space in my head): go to PTA meetings, sign up to bring food for teacher appreciation week, volunteer in the cafeteria or get coerced into being on the PTA board. I am glad other people do these things; they’re important things, but they’re not my things. I have a hard time paying attention in large group meetings, I don’t particularly like to cook and a cafeteria full of noise is overwhelming to me. As far as the board goes, I am so grateful to the people who do those jobs, because I cannot stand to be in charge of one more thing. Between work, family and the book fair, I’m tapped out.

Why am I sharing this? Because I know a lot of parents who feel the same way, and we’re not going to stop getting so many emails and requests for help anytime soon, so it’s important to work on what we do have control of: ourselves. I hereby give you permission to ignore any requests from school that are not at all suited to you. Don’t even consider them. Pick a handful of things you think are important or that work for you, and don’t let yourself feel guilty about the rest.

Now excuse me, I have 87 emails to delete without reading.

There’s NOTHING to Eat; I’m STARVING! (No, You’re Not)

"starving" children
“starving” children

I read something once, on how to raise grateful kids. A lot of that kind of advice is lofty, vague and overwhelming, leaving me thinking I ought to be doing 1,000 hours of charity work with my kids every month, but this one was so beautifully simple:

Run out of things. 

Does this sound familiar: “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!” (whiny, tortured voice) As a responsible parent who is aware it’s important for kids to ingest food, you know this is absolutely not true. But, do you, like me, feel a twinge of guilt because you haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week and it is, in deed, slim pickins in the pantry?

Instead of feeling guilty and lazy, I’ve realized this is character building. When you are out of your kids’ favorite snack for 10 days, then you finally buy it, they are sooo excited! They are grateful, and you feel appreciated. It’s a win all around.

This can work with things other than food. One time, the overhead light in our garage went out. After about a month, Jason fixed it. Then, our youngest went into the garage, flipped the switch and said delightedly, “Hey, the light works!” Big grin on his face. I tell you, it’s no small feat to get a kid these days to appreciate working electricity.

So, the next time you run out of the food your kids think they can’t live without or they complain you haven’t fixed this or done that yet, instead of feeling guilty, feel proud. This is a “teachable moment” as they say. And, it takes way less energy than running to the store every few days and repeatedly delivering the lecture about “being grateful for what you have, because some kids don’t have food/clothes/warm houses.” (Yes, I have given this speech; no, I don’t think it’s particularly effective, except for my own venting.)

Most of the kids we know have plenty. They don’t know what it is to have food insecurity or to not know where they will sleep that night. They don’t know what it’s like not to have caregivers upon whom they can absolutely rely. And yes, it’s useful to expose your children to these things through a variety of channels, but on a simpler, everyday level, you can teach them to go without certain luxuries from time to time and spare both of you the lecture.

On Houses for Dragons

5c853089215ed2df0a274cbd11298e25Almost every personality trait has both a usefulness and a challenge to it – to speak plainly, a good and a bad (though I don’t like to assign morality to it.) For instance, I am very analytical, which means I am an excellent problem solver, but it also means I can, at times, spend so much time analyzing something I never actually do the task.

There are traits generally considered positive, such as being highly social, and it’s true, being a social person means you have the ability to make connections for both personal friendship and business relations – definitely a useful trait. But, the highly social person may have trouble being alone, reflecting on their own inner nature or connecting on a deeper level. That’s not to say they can’t do these things – just that it’s a challenge for them. Also, highly social children have a habit of talking to us when we are trying to concentrate on something else (not that I know from experience or anything.)

Stubbornness is generally considered a negative trait, especially when we’re talking children. A stubborn child can turn even the most patient person into a yelling, cajoling, bribing mess.  But, when that same immovable chid faces peer pressure – bingo, suddenly it’s an advantage. The stubborn person may not be open to the ideas of others, which can hamper them in life, but they also won’t be swayed by mob mentality.

The best example I can think of is this: no one in my family likes to go to the doctor, myself included. I see my ob/gyn once a year, and barring broken bones or passing out from excessive blood loss, that’s it. My kids don’t see their pediatrician very often either. We’re six months overdue for their yearly well check.

The useful: we don’t go running to urgent care every time one of us has the sniffles. I am adverse to using the time, money and energy to go to the doctor for a virus when she will just tell me what I already know: go home, rest, drink fluids, take Advil. But…

One time when I was 25, my sister was visiting me, and she suddenly gave me a sharp look. “How long have you had that cough?”

“Umm….six weeks maybe?” (I hadn’t really thought about it until she asked.)

My sister who has mild asthma is familiar with respiratory problems. She listened to my lungs through my back and said, “You need to go to the doctor.”

I went. The nurse practitioner glared at me as I exhaled weakly into the breath-measurer thingy. “You practically have pneumonia,” she said.

Four weeks, two different antibiotics and painkillers for ribs I cracked coughing later, I was better. I should’ve gone to the doctor WAAAY before I did. So this is the best example of a trait that can go either way.

We so often judge ourselves or others for the traits we perceive as negative or positive, but it’s all situational. A trait in and of itself if rarely “good” or “bad;” it’s all in how you apply it. So, next time you’re annoyed because your space cadet child is taking for-EVER to put on his socks and shoes, mainly because he doesn’t remember where they are and, when he finds them, he’s too busy constructing houses for dragons in his head to move efficiently, go ahead and feel annoyed – that’s totally valid. But, to help you cope, imagine him writing his first novel.