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Archive for the ‘“Say What?”’ Category

I now lie to strangers when they ask me (and my alarmingly enormous midsection): “Do you know what you’re having?”  I say: “Nope.”

(I do know, though.  It’s boy #3.)

The top five reasons to lie–especially when Boy #1 and Boy #2 are with me…and listening:

5. “Another boy?  Well, you can just keep trying!”

4. “Oh, no–you are going to need plenty of patience!”

3. “I hope it’s a little girl in there!”

2. “Don’t lose hope!  My [insert family member or friend] had 3 boys before finally getting a girl!”

1. (And my favorite–from just last week…)  “Oh, God is playing an evil little trick on you!”

But to the lady at the plant store yesterday:  I forgot to lie to you when you asked, but you said: “Oh, that’s wonderful, because you make such adorable boys.”  Thanks.

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I hope that Kris will not mind if I add these excerpts from Garden Varieties.  Often, when I get frustrated with all the boy/girl/expectations stuff–especially when a poor baby hasn’t even been born yet, I think of these two so perfectly-put ideas from her blog:

From her post called Three:

[I could substitute “boy” for “girl” in the following…or keep “girl”…either way…it’s just so right on.]

I’ve never understood why people want a girl. You don’t get a girl, you get someone so unique, so unexpected, so utterly and completely themselves, there’s not much connection to whatever it is we think a girl will be.

I wanted a child and I got a Lu, and she is exactly the right Lu for me.

And, also, from her post called “Forces of Nature,” which I love:

As Lu and Nell grow older cultural expectations will become more pressing, throwing acceptable differences between boys and girls into sharp and disappointing relief, but I love that at the moment they are simply themselves with no thought of what they ‘should’ be.

Thank you, Kris.  These posts have always stuck in my mind…

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If you know me, or read this blog, you probably know that I have always valued myself above all else–I don’t really care much for my family and friends or strangers as long as I get my way. I’m also very uncomfortable about being a mother at home, mostly because of things I don’t understand, and I’ve only a residual feminism left–sort of like the flour that I’m trying to brush off my shirt after making pizza dough with toddlers this morning.

Wait a second. Actually, that’s not right at all. Although, if one reads my responses to bluemilk’s ten questions about feminist motherhood, and takes bits out, and twists and turns them to suit, I suppose that this is the impression one could create. At least, this person did on his self-proclaimed conservative web site. The post has the feel of a jigsaw puzzle completed with no attempt to actually make the pieces fit together. He read responses from several mothers, and slipped some impressively condescending language into his analysis–if “an analysis” means “a mis-understanding and mis-reading.”

This person, or anyone else, is welcome to anything I read or say, and welcome to use it or abuse it. No problem at all.

A word of advice, however.  Better evidence and more convincing data for the conservative and/or anti-feminism stance must exist than, say, my life, or it is an even less credible viewpoint than I thought. Manipulating a few details of these feminist mothers’ lives into an erroneous portrait of who they are will not further any anti-feminist crusade because, very simply, the conclusions are incorrect.

I don’t want to speak for the other mothers mentioned, but in the little section devoted to me, I found such ludicrous conclusions made about my life that it amused me. The section I’m referring to is tacked onto the end of this post, but it would be too tiresome to go through and explain how wrong it all is sentence by sentence. Instead, I can sum it all up pretty easily like this:

1. The most amusing conclusion, perhaps, is that I’ve valued autonomy and independence above all else. That seems lonely. I’m glad it’s not me. (The “Me do it myself,” anecdote was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that I have not needed or valued assistance in carrying out my responsibilities successfully so much until now. There’s no lunch break or sick day when you’re taking care of children, and I’m very lucky to have the support that I do. Parents who do not have reliable support, and can still do this, are remarkable in their strength and capabilities.)

2. There’s nothing residual about my feminism. Having children was, for me, one of the life experiences that made me more feminist than ever, and more aware of oppressive gender constructs–for boys as well as girls–than ever.

3. I’m not conflicted or confused about my own decision to follow
“a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood.” (Although . . . is it awfully traditional in a conservative definition of “stay-at-home motherhood” to be spending all this time writing and reading about feminist motherhood? To have feminist principles central to our childrearing practices?) It is, instead, the stereotypes and the mistaken conclusions about mothers and parents at home with children that piss me off and leave me without a whole lot to identify with out there–thank goodness again for the mothers I can communicate with through blogs . . . and the rare alone and relaxed conversation time with mother friends in real life.

An excerpt from the post to which I was referring:

Marjorie was the second feminist mother interviewed. She too is a woman who followed an autonomist culture by valuing independence above all else, by intending to remain childless and by intending to return to work once she had children. Again, though, after she had children she began to value family more highly than these forms of autonomy:

I am shocked and bewildered by how much I love my kids and love mothering them. I have a vague recollection of swearing I would never have children (and double- and triple-swearing that I would never have children), but I can’t remember why now …

I have also been surprised that I absolutely need my husband and family and friends to get through it all. I think I first said, “Me do it myself,” at two years of age and said it until the moment before Martin was born. I absolutely need them to help me.

I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed my career in a negative way because the alternative was sacrificing this time with my children, which, to me, would have been the worse option. I thought I was going back to work, but I didn’t even consider it once I had the baby.

The one aspect of patriarchy theory Marjorie still clings to is that of gender being an unnatural, oppressive construct. Yet, given that she herself is following a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood, she feels conflicted:

I sometimes feel compromised and have trouble identifying as a feminist mother since I get so bogged down by the stay at home mother/housewife stereotype.

It’s a pity she doesn’t realise that once you no longer hold autonomy to be the one, overriding value, there is no reason to judge the traditional female role as inferior and therefore no need to attack gender as an oppressive construct. Her residual feminism is making her feel unnecessarily uncomfortable in what she is doing.

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Foxnews.com “reports” on a sickening author and cleric who was broadcast on Saudi and Kuwaiti television giving advice to men on how and when to physically abuse their wives; he references how to assault a child as well.

The first sentence of the article reads: “Move over, Dr. Phil, there’s a new relationship expert in town.”

Then the segment is described. An example: “‘Woman, it has gone too far. I can’t bear it anymore,’ he tells the men to tell their wives. ‘If he beats her, the beatings must be light and must not make her face ugly.'”

The article’s last sentence: “Take that, Match.com!”

I don’t even know where to start with this–this man and his repugnant advice, or the news outlet who sees a flippancy to this story. Hideous all around.

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I was pushing the stroller along the sidewalk one morning last week. I made a right turn into my neighborhood from the main street. Suddenly, I hear a truck pull up next to me. I turn, sure this is finally the kidnapper that I have been ready for, and about to go into stab-his-eyes-with-my-keys mode, when a large man with a scraggly head of hair and beard leans over and yells, “Don’t care about anyone but yourself, do you, bitch?” before screeching away.

I don’t have a clue why. I perhaps slowed him from making the turn because he had to wait for me? He certainly wasn’t there when I looked both ways, and then again, before turning.

I was just about paralyzed with shock, and managed to force my mouth closed when the “F#*& YOU!” was begging to go screaming out of me. I didn’t want to retort, get confrontational, yell back, do anything that would further upset the two little guys in the stroller. My mind was already getting ready to explain, lamely, “Well, boys, some people are so very angry that they are mean to other people. What else could this man have done when he was feeling so angry? What do you think is making him feel so angry? Can anyone think of a reason why Mommy should not follow him home and break his windshield with a bat?”

I’m always trying to figure out the balance between what I really want to do and what would be the best example. Now, it’s probably best that any temptation I had to engage this nasty man was tempered by the presence of my kids. A person who would scream like this at a mother walking around with two little kids is probably someone I should just get away from. Not that I need any protected-species status since I have kids–I can take whatever this scumbag can dish–but to do what he did in front of little kids? It forces me to go into protective-mode–get them away from this guy and try to temper what they’ve seen and heard with some explanation and comfort.

I take a deep breath, put the brakes on the stroller, and go to pull back the sun shield, thinking I will see two pairs of tear-filled eyes . . . and they’re asleep. Damn it. I whispered-screamed a resounding “F#*& YOU!” in the direction of the dust cloud that was all that remained of the truck.

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Good Riddance

“Now, what I’m about to say is a really big deal coming from me, because I really don’t like boys.  They’re too vigorous and frightening for me.  So when I tell you how much I just love Martin, and how we just think the world of him, that means an awful lot.  He’s such a nice boy, and so well-behaved.  I never have to worry that my little girl is going to get run over or scared.  And I can’t stress enough to you what this means coming from me, because I just don’t like little boys.  I never have.”

-Parting words from a mother who is moving from my area to me, a mother of two little boys, who, fortunately, doesn’t make a practice of public brawling at children’s play areas

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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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I was at a friend’s house, sitting around the kitchen with maybe eight adults while a few babies and toddlers roamed around us. A friend-of-a-friend, a father of four, was letting us know his views on breastfeeding: it’s totally gross to breastfeed after about six months, and beyond disturbing to nurse a walker or a talker: “You shouldn’t nurse someone who walks up to you and asks.” He gave the whole body shudder at imagining a little person toddling up to his or her mother to nurse. Over his right shoulder, I saw my nearly-two-year-old headed my way. ‘Uh, oh,’ I thought, ‘this man is about to get a live demonstration.’ To my slight disappointment, my little boy did not run up and stick his head under my shirt. That would have been kind of fun. Instead, several of my friends, who are, of course, aware that #1 nursed until 18 months and #2 shows no signs of slowing down at 22 months, looked at me and grinned. I raised my hand and said, “I still nurse.” The anti-nurser said, “Wait–who do you nurse?” I really wanted to tell him it was my three year old, but I guess there’s only so much he could take. Plus it would have been a lie. I told him the truth, that I still nurse the little guy. The man turned three shades of pink and began to stammer a little. Awww, poor guy–he’s actually a pretty nice person. I didn’t really want to see him suffer. “Hey, no problem,” I said, “I totally get that lots of people think lots of different things when it comes to this, and I’m fine with that.”

To some breastfeeders out there, I let that guy off too easy. But here’s my dirty little secret: I actually do get where he’s coming from. To be very honest, I was a tad grossed out myself, even while pregnant, to imagine breastfeeding a baby. I didn’t get how it would work and how it would not be uncomfortable and how it would not be just plain weird. I remember my mom nursing my sister, and I certainly have always been a vehement supporter of the right to nurse in public with no exceptions, so it didn’t weird me out for other people to do it. But to think of doing it myself (perhaps because of a certain friend’s story–something about the breast pump expelling pink milk from her bloody nipples) did not particularly appeal to me. I decided not to decide until I tried. I didn’t want to set myself up for a disappointment if it was horrible.

And, really, there’s not much of a story once the baby was born. I had outstanding lactation people helping me in the hospital, and calling constantly, even a year later, to check on us and gently support us. I just didn’t have any real problems with it, and happened to like it.

But that’s me–I wonder if this man’s attitude might have affected his wife’s choice to breastfeed or not, or when to stop. I’m guessing she didn’t get a whole lot of support from him if it turned out to be something she wanted to do. On the flip side, the boundary between support and pressure can be tough to call. A friend of mine felt very put upon by the lactation consultants after her baby’s birth. She did not want to breastfeed. So she left the hospital not just exhausted and in pain, but with a huge helping of guilt. A month later, she admitted to me that she thought of throwing her infant against the wall when she was up with her in the middle of the night. I’m not blaming the breastfeeding pressure, but this new mother didn’t need the extra stress, and none do. Another friend really did want to breastfeed, but it just wasn’t working, and was making her miserable, but she felt so much pressure to keep trying. She called me when the lactation person told her to try to get support from a breastfeeding friend. Maybe I was supposed to give her some magic trick to get it working or to talk her out of quitting, but I told her to give herself the choice to stop if she wanted to. I can’t help feeling that heaping unhappiness and stress on a new mother doesn’t qualify as breastfeeding support.

So, yeah, the breastfeeding-a-toddler-is-gross guy got off easy–I could have started a great argument, or at least a lively discussion. But, hey, if he doesn’t like to see that, that’s fine with me. But next time he hangs out with me, he just might.

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