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Archive for September, 2007

We were walking through a wooded park the other day, Martin covered in mud from his waist down, Chris from his neck up…and in his mouth…oh, and in his nose. They tore around in circles, careened down hills, clambered up trees, and toppled into the creek. I pushed an empty double stroller for when they got tired. That’s never yet happened, but I’m ready.

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Another woman passed. Walking serenely next to her was a girl, about 3 like Martin, but spotless and wearing a lovely mint-green skirt. The child pushed a stroller where her little sister sat with her own fluttery skirt and hair bow. A friend walking next to me nodded from the little girls then to Martin and Chris battling through a bush to get to a caterpillar and commented, “That’s the difference between girls and boys.”

No.

It’s the difference between two sets of siblings at one moment in time.

My perspective on whether gender differences are innate or cultural or what those differences might be changed when I looked at my first newborn baby boy. I did not want him told, outright or furtively through advertising and other cultural and social pressures, that he was supposed to play with trucks or throw baseballs unless he wanted to. Just as much, I did not want him to think that his girl friends or siblings (should one arrive) should not be up in tree. I certainly want to stay informed and analytical about the pressures of gender roles and stereotyping to maintain my vigilance and do my best to keep it out of my home and my parenting, but these are two individual boys I’m mothering, not a gender. Studies cannot convince me to accept that they are supposed to do anything because they are boys.

I am guessing that the fluttery skirts that those sisters were wearing ended up spotted with mud by the end of their walk–they, after all, were just getting started and the woods were filled with puddles.

(By the way, the point of this post is communicated in a much more fun way by blue milk in her account of playing at the park with a friend and her daughter: “The better the day, the dirtier the child.” The children in that post happen to be girls . . .)

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$138,095

I just got yet another “mommy joke” e-mail. Complete with lots of pink and animated gifs. I admit, sometimes particularly saccharine ones bring a tear to my eye–even when they annoy me, but I’m like that: easily teary-eyed.

But this one, which I’ve seen in various forms, just irritates me. It tells of a woman who is asked what she “does” and gives this long, complicated job description, social-engineer-human-development-research-director type thing, when she is actually a mother. It’s just not funny to me to have to think of cute and clever ways to say I’m a mother. Why isn’t that enough?

It reminds me of the lists of paying jobs that a parent may do in the course of a day to determine what salary ($138,095) he or she might earn. I suppose these lists illustrate certain facets of parenting that may not be obvious, but it defines motherhood (and parenthood, but these types of articles seem focused on mothers) by forcing it into other categories. Am I supposed to crow about articles like this: I really am worth a whole bunch of money! See, this list proves you have to respect me now! I may as well be a part-time laundry machine operator!

I get the reasoning behind trying to figure out a mother’s financial worth, and I get why a bunch of mother-friends e-mail these articles out when they are published, but I’m discouraged it has to be done at all.

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On my way to bring Martin to his little gym class, I was behind a car decorated with bumper stickers that advocated everything I opposed. From politics to religion to the rule of law, it was me, but opposite. I followed this car all the way into the gym’s parking lot, and we parked next to each other. A woman got out with a boy about Martin’s age, who, when he saw us, called, “Hi! Didn’t I tell you that you were my friend last week?” to which Martin replied, “Yes! You were wearing a blue shirt!” They scampered in the door together, took off their shoes, and were off.  Blue Shirt’s mother and I said friendly hellos, and aren’t-they-cutes, and then I prepared to leave.

But the aren’t-they-cute talk turned into a discussion of the beauty of 3 year olds making friends, then to why adults couldn’t hold on to that, then to the Jena 6 and the disparity in our country based on race and privilege . . .then to how we re-organized our lives to be home with our kids and how we felt about it . . .to . . . OK, now my little Chris just couldn’t bear the injustice of not being allowed on the trampoline any longer, and I really had to leave. But, barely breaking stride, she pulled out a toy train with eyes from her bag and Chris nearly collapsed with delight.  That bought us some more time to get into the negative images of women in advertising . . .

Shame on me for that flicker in my mind wondering what kind of idiot could drive a car plastered with bumper stickers advocating that kind of crap. Well, she could, she does, and she happens to be a kindred spirit in motherhood.  Go figure.

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I watch Bill Maher occasionally, but I didn’t see the breastfeeding comments until I YouTubed it after reading about the outrage women were feeling about what he said.

And I found that I really didn’t care a whole lot.

I even laughed a few times.

And over the last nearly four years, that was me you might have seen nursing in restaurants and everywhere else I felt like it. I don’t think anyone actually saw any skin, because except for one unfortunate incident when I ended up wrestling with a Baby Bjorn at an outdoor cafe, no one would have realized what I was doing. (One might be able to catch a glimpse if one stared, in which case one would deserve it.)

But who cares if people can see or not–let it all hang out if you want to, I say, but it does seem that a woman breastfeeding in public rarely shows skin. It perplexes me that people would be uncomfortable by something you can’t actually see. Now if it’s the idea of breastfeeding that freaks people out; well, that’s beyond what I can really comprehend.

Back to Bill–don’t get me wrong, I get why people are infuriated about his comments–he came across as arrogant and ignorant when he was talking about nursing, especially when he got more serious at the end talking about breastfeeding activists. Of course it was offensive to people. How to tie dogs, Hooters, narcissism, and laziness (Ha! That’s a part that made me laugh.) with breastfeeding in public is beyond me. But that’s how he does that “New Rules” thing at the end. Yeah, it deals with serious issues and current events, but it’s comedy, too, and comedy with a major shock factor. The jokes he’s made about politics and religion–wow, even I was shocked a few times (even when I agreed, and even when I laughed). So that’s the show, that’s the man, and the breastfeeding comments fit right in. I know what I’m getting when I watch, which I’ll continue to do, so that’s why it didn’t really get much of a reaction from me beyond, Ew. What a jackass. And, yes, a few laughs.  (And wishing he was sitting at my kitchen table with me so we could really get into it.)

That’s just me, though. More power to the people who want to write letters and start petitions. Just because something is supposed to be comedy doesn’t mean everyone should laugh it off or ignore it–there’s a lot to a joke sometimes. That’s what so exhilarating about free speech. He can say it, people can respond, and now everyone’s talking about it. It’s what’s so thrilling about freedom in general, and why we should celebrate when breastfeeding laws are passed. Bill Maher can sit next to a nursing mother in a restaurant and freak out, and hopefully, that will be OK, because she will be in a state or location where her rights are protected.

I hope every instance of a mother being told to stop nursing in a public place gets as much attention at Bill Maher’s comments. Those are the situations that really make my blood boil.

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Get Us Outta Here

You know when you can’t play Candyland or pretend to be a crocodile one. more. time.

I needed freedom today. I wasn’t going to get it.

So I got us all some freedom. We went out in a field by a pond. They ran. I sort of stumbled behind them. They fell in the grass and rolled around. I fell in the grass and lay there. But their sparkle returned–which wasn’t there at home with a very tired mother just mumbling her lines when asked to be a monkey, or a beetle, or a bus.  We jumped after grasshoppers and dove towards butterflies. We fed the ducks and talked to the turtles. No following playground rules out here, no need to be quiet, no saying, “Be careful! Watch out for the baby! Don’t touch that!”  In a world of playgroups and gym class and picnics and museums and storytime: freedom.

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Opinion #8,472,196 On Britney

If I have to hear one more time that Britney looked fat in her outfit at that MTV awards show, I’ll scream.

No, she didn’t. I don’t even have to get into whatever “fat” means, or get into the whole body image/culture thing, because she didn’t even look Hollywood fat. The talking heads in the news seem so gleeful, seem to be crowing about how fat she was and how badly she screwed up. Fat! Bald! Bad mother! Stupid! No underwear! Fat! (Wow, this is fun!) Fill the papers with it, because there’s nothing else going on.

I don’t know her; I don’t know what’s true in the constant stream of rumor about her. But, still, there’s something about her…

Maybe it’s the question about whether she suffered from post-partum depression. Maybe it’s the way that she seemed to be so sexualized so young in the media. What does that do to a girl? Maybe it’s that in all of the news about her, it’s difficult to figure out who she has in her corner.

There’s a lot in the papers to break my heart without having to worry about a pop star and her problems, but still, there’s something about her.

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I Finally Left Him

My little baby, my first born; I left him in the care of not-family members in a public place for over an hour. He’s three years old, and I’ve never done this before today; it was high time.

He’s taking one of those kid gym classes, and all of a sudden it’s without parent participation. I had prepared him for the fact that I would be leaving, and when we got there this morning . . . he’s gone, not so much as a good-bye–he’s climbing up something, then leaping over something else, then diving into a tube. OK, so now is when I leave. Here I go. Bye. Or I could stay and watch. But then my little guy starts taking off his shoes and struggling to get out of the stroller, calling: “I jump now! I jump now!” He knows there’s a trampoline over there; he won’t stop until he’s on it. OK, now I’m leaving. As I’m backing the stroller out of the door, the little guy is hanging onto the frame, screaming, “Broooooother! Brooooooother!” I have wrench his little hands from the doorway to get him outside. I could easily sit down next to him and scream, “Son! Son!” but I don’t. Not out loud, anyway.

We walk to the bagel place, but this usually bubbly, happy little boy keeps dolefully crying, “Broooooooother!” so I pack it up and we go. Now we’re walking along the shops near the gym. In my head, I’m calculating the odds of someone rushing in off the street and grabbing a kid right out of the gym class and running away. Not huge odds, but really, if there’s even a slim chance, shouldn’t I keep watch? I stroll by, and peek through the window. He’s still in there. I can see him tearing around in a circle with the other kids. Now I’m feeling braver; I’m ready for the next step. I’m going to get into the car and drive around the parking lot. I do, but it’s a confusing parking lot, and I end up on the street. I can do it. I’m just going to drive until it’s time to get him.

But then I see an ambulance. Even though it’s headed in a different direction, it turns my stomach. And I realize, with an actual start–like, I really jumped a little–that the gym people did not mention what they do about alternate people picking him up. Oh, god, that means anyone could just walk in there with an elaborate story and take him. I’m having a little trouble breathing at this point, but a car accident would make things so much worse, so I focus. I manage to get back to the gym building. He’s still in there. I almost can’t believe it. I abandon all pretense and park right in front of the door until class is over.  Next week’s assignment:  leave the premises entirely for the whole hour.

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