15 December 2005

thank you, tv

James' latest: shouting "I'm a genius!" at random. I asked, and of course he doesn't know what it means, because he's a parrot who mimics any kind of catchphrase he hears. This one is from the movie "Ice Age", and the character who says it is quite definitely not a genius. Maybe I shouldn't have told James what it means -- once I told him, he seemed to think it a pretty fitting description of himself. Now he'll be saying it all the time, I'm sure, and that might get a little annoying. Although it is pretty funny to hear James announce that he's a genius because he drew a picture of a dog going through a car wash.


13 December 2005

you don't need a nanny to achieve equality

Last night I was watching one of those Nanny shows, where a proper British nanny comes into an American family's home and teaches the parents to deal with their children and with each other and generally improves their home life. (I know, but it was on after Arrested Development and I got sucked in. When you have six TV channels, one of them being PAX, sometimes you will watch anything.) I found last night's episode compelling in a train-wreck sort of way. It was a family with six children, the oldest age 8, a stay-at-home mom, and a working dad who was also really involved in church activities.

I was kind of appalled to see a family operating the way theirs does (or did, before the magic nanny). Not totally surprised, because I've seen similar examples among my very religious neighbors, although none of them have six children, which certainly makes a difference. In this family, the father was home, apparently, a couple of hours a day at most, and was totally uninvolved and clueless when it came to the children. The children were wild, out of control, disrespectful, shrieking little banshees. The mother was obviously overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted.

What really got to me was the father. He just had no idea. He actually said at one point that his time was too valuable to spend it with his children! This idea that there is no value to child-rearing, to raising the next generation to become responsible, capable, well-adjusted adults is all too prevalent in our culture. It totally perpetuates the condecension -- from both men and women -- toward stay-at-home parents and the work we do. For a husband to say this is totally disrespectful of his wife, and it's unfair to his children in that it denies them a real relationship with their father.

But anyway, one day, the nanny made the mother go out by herself, leaving dad in charge. He called his wife after an hour to ask when she was coming home. He had no idea what to make the children for lunch. He had no idea what to do with them, or how to interact. He managed to LOSE one of the children. She went out by herself and he didn't even notice she was missing until the nanny pointed it out.

Now, truthfully, I've never in my own life seen such an incompetent father. I know the particulars of this case are extreme. But I hardly think the situation is atypical. The ideas behind it, the gender roles involved, are still pretty mainstream. Children are the mother's responsibility. The father has the right and the freedom to pursue his own interests. This ties in with some things I've been reading online about whether feminism is still necessary in America. Even though women have equal opportunities in education and work, even though women are active in traditionally male fields of employment, even though women in this country are more powerful now than at any point in our nation's history -- as long as their are still culturally prescribed gender roles to dictate the differents rights and responsibilities of women and men, then I would say yes, there is still a need for feminism. We may have achieved equality in the workplace, but not in my workplace. Not in the home.

I feel very fortunate, however, that my household is pretty equal in terms of freedoms and duties. I think Greg understands by now that my responsibility is to James and Evan, to making sure that they are happy and well cared for. If some housework happens to get done in a day, great. But to complete all the housework, or even a major portion of it during a day comes at the expense of spending time with and caring for my children. That's not a trade off I'm willing to make. And so Greg helps with the housework. And he takes care of the children so that I can have the occasional night off from my full-time job. Maybe it helped that we grew up in families with non-traditional structures. I was raised by a single mother, whereas Greg had both parents at home, but his mother was the breadwinner. I think that due to these examples, and those of our siblings as well, our boys will grow up with an understanding that in relationships, in families, in households, there are no prescribed gender roles, despite the fact that we have a more traditional family structure at the moment.

The nanny, of course, ultimately solved the TV family's division-of-labor problems. She challenged the father and helped him see that a change was needed to ensure the happiness of everyone in the family. And that's what's really important in a family unit -- happiness, everyone's happiness. The rest is just details.

Imagine -- we managed to figure it out without a magic TV nanny to guide us. If only that were possible for everyone.


12 December 2005


Well, almost. Evan is trying so hard, he almost has it... if only he would take his thumb out of his mouth, it might be a little easier to get going. He's very nearly there, though. He knows where he wants to go, and he does eventually get there, albeit very slowly. And that's what's so sneaky -- if we're not watching him closely, he creeps to where he wants to go before we know it. And where does he want to go? Almost always toward James, trying to get at whatever James is playing with, or just trying to get to James himself. And if he gets to James (or me, or Greg)? He is already trying to pull himself up. He gets to his knees already, using one of us to climb on.

I am not ready for this. My last baby is supposed to be a baby for a little longer.


08 December 2005

on santa

Now that James is almost 4, we are at an age of learning to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Now that the Christmas season is upon us, we are facing the Santa issue. What to do?

I don't really feel comfortable telling the Santa story to James as if it were truth. When I was a kid, the tags on the gifts said they were from Santa, but we knew it was Mom. We recognized her handwriting. That, and she never really tried to convince us otherwise. So I knew from early on that Santa was a myth. Yet I was a kid who really enjoyed fantasy, and I pretended to believe because I wanted the magic.

This year is the first year that James has really had questions about Santa, and I hesitate in my answers, qualifying them with statements like "some people believe" and "the Santa story says". Earlier this week after I'd been shopping for Christmas presents, he asked me why I got the presents instead of Santa. On the spot, I couldn't really think of a good way to answer, so I told him that Santa is pretend, a story, and that we buy gifts at Christmas for the people we love. After all, if he thinks that Christmas presents magically appear, how will he learn the joy of giving gifts? I thought maybe that would be it for Santa.

Then, today, in the car, out of nowhere, James tells me, "Mom, I believe in Santa." I said okay. Then he asked if today, we could ride the Polar Express to the North Pole. I told him that the Polar Express is pretend, there is no train to the North Pole, and even if there was it would take days to get there. And James just didn't believe me.

So I think in our case Santa is less of an issue than I was expecting. I tell my son the truth, and he doesn't believe me, because books and TV and movies tell him Santa is real, his friends (and lots of grown-ups) talk about Santa, and everywhere he looks in the month of December he sees Santa.

I think James is turning out a lot like I was as a child, at least in instances like this, insisting on fantasy even when he's aware of the reality. In my family, there are two famous stories about my denial of reality: my insistence that my Cabbage Patch doll was a real baby, and telling my second-grade teacher that I had a baby brother. In my mind, these were not lies or delusions; these were things I wanted to be true and so pretended they were. James is very creative and imaginative, and it looks like he's heading down that road of trying to create his own reality. I can't say that I see anything wrong with that.


05 December 2005

pet peeve

The way adults talk to children really irritates me sometimes. And I'm not talking about the high-pitched voices or the baby talk, although those are certainly annoying. I'm talking about many people's inability to realize that mother and child are separate people.

Example: today at the library, a librarian was cooing at Evan, which is fine. "You're so cute! Look at those fat little cheeks!" And then, in the same high-pitched baby voice, "And how old are you?" Sorry, lady, but the drooly gurgling lump in my lap is not going to answer that question. If you were asking me, then ask me and not the baby. It just feels disrespectful when someone expects a response from you, yet doesn't look you in the eye or speak directly to you.

And I'm annoyed by the reverse as well. James is obviously old enough to speak for himself, yet I'm constantly fielding questions about him: how old he is, how does he like the baby, does he go to school. I've taken to redirecting questions about James to him, so if someone asks me how old he is, I then ask James the same question, and he answers. Easy. I hate it when people talk about children rather to them, as if they're not there.

Conclusion: If you have a question for someone, ask him or her directly. If and only if that person is incapable of answering should you then direct the question to that person's parent. Simple enough.


04 December 2005

this stuff only happens to us

We had an Incident in Barnes & Noble this afternoon, the kind of embarrassing thing that only happens to James, or me, or James and me.

We're looking for Greg, who is browsing while we play with Thomas trains. Knowing how James likes escalators, I suggest we look upstairs. We get to the escalator, I ask if he remembers how to use it, I reach for his hand, and... too late. James steps onto the escalator... with one foot. He's pulled into a split and falls onto the escalator, which is now moving beneath him as he struggles for balance. I'm terrified that he's going to lose a hand or his nose to those nasty jagged teeth on the edge of the escalator steps. So I start trying to pull him to his feet, trying not to get pulled onto the escalator myself, all the while hindered by Evan, who I'm wearing in the sling and who is starting to tilt dangerously backwards. Meanwhile, James is literally screaming.

In one heroic effort, I manage to yank James' arm and stand him up, without Evan toppling from the sling, and we ride the escalator to the second floor, James still crying and sniffling a bit. It all lasted approximately two minutes, but that was a scary two minutes for James and me. Evan seemed totally unperturbed by the whole thing. Upstairs, we determine that James has nothing more serious than a scraped knee. We realize Greg is not upstairs, and take the escalator back down, without incident. Downstairs, we run into Greg, who came searching for us after hearing James' scream from another part of the store. We explain, and Greg laughs at us, which is okay, since now that it's over and James isn't hurt, it's starting to seem pretty funny.

I wondered aloud to Greg that no one near us in the store seemed to react when they heard James screaming. Greg pointed out that anyone else probably assumed he was having a tantrum, which, okay, fair enough, it happens. I guess it annoys me because anyone who bothered to look in the direction of the screams would have seen that we were having trouble, and either no one helped, or no one even looked, which both suck. Are children's tantrums so common that no one takes their screams seriously anymore?

Anyway, we're well despite the trauma. We also got our Christmas tree while we were out shopping, and we decorated it tonight while listening to Christmas music and everything feels very peaceful now.


03 December 2005

chomp chomp

Our baby is teething. The first tooth broke through on Sunday, and the second is on its way. It's hard to get a look in his mouth without Evan trying to eat your fingers, so they could both be out by now for all I know. This means less sleep for me, as Evan is now waking up at least fur times a night, sometimes to nurse and sometimes for comfort.

Speaking of my son's mouth, well, I know babies like to suck and chew on everything, but Evan is about the best I've ever seen. Anything that comes near enough his mouth gets lunged at. He loves to suck on Greg's and my fingers. And his thumb! Most of you know that Evan is a thumb-sucker, and there's nothing we can do about it. We've tried the pacifier; he chews and spits it out. And he likes to suck his thumb at the weirdest times. It's hard to get through a meal without his thumb interrupting; he sucks his thumb in his Jolly Jumper, while he's jumping; he'll even pop his thumb in his mouth as I'm tossing him in the air. He just... loves his thumb. We're hoping it won't become a problem, even though we know it probably will eventually.

Anyway, he's a cute baby. The teething is going relatively well; even if I'm losing a little sleep, I can't be mad about it. He's just too adorable.


01 December 2005

the soapbox: feminist boys?

So, it's becoming pretty obvious that I'm terrible at posting regularly. I've been thinking of a lot of things to write about, but I'm not sure if I want to post them in this blog. I mean, I know it's my blog and I can write whatever I want to, but I'm really hesitant to get up on my soapbox and start spouting my views to the world. Because, first, does it even matter? I'm just one person, on one pathetic blog. And second, most of the people reading this already know how I feel about most things anyway.

But on the other hand, it's my blog, and isn't that what blogs are for? Vanity. Egoism. An inflated sense of self-importance. Spouting one's views via soapbox.

To be brief, I guess I'll just say that I've been reading and thinking a lot about feminism lately. What occupies my mind the most is the question of how to raise my boys to be sympathetic to women's issues, to view women's issues as basic human issues, to be aware of the privilege they have simply by virtue of being male. They obviously have a wonderful example from their father, which will be worth a lot. He's not what I'd call a feminist man by any means, but he does listen to me ramble about feminism and women's issues (and even tends to agree with me most of the time). He has supported me in my endeavors both to try to work and to stay home with the boys; he does housework; he does childcare; he treats me -- and the other women in our lives -- wonderfully, with respect. But I worry that a good example might not be enough. I worry that perhaps I won't even figure out just what is enough.

I've been known to complain to Greg about not having any daughters to raise as little feminists. I'm kidding, a little. I do think it would be a challenge to raise feminist girls in this day and age, where things are equal enough that they're rarely questioned by most people, and where many young girls don't fully appreciate the struggles of their predecessors. But I'm beginning to think that it might be even more useful to raise boys to appreciate feminism -- women have been advocating for themselves for years and have made a lot of progress, but I think real cultural change won't occur until people of both genders are demanding equal rights and responsibilities for all adults.

So how do I accmplish this, raising boys to be men who are in favor of gender equality? Who even recognize that there is still inequality that needs to be dealt with? These are the questions I'm pondering lately. And now that I've decided in favor of the soapbox, you can expect to hear more about gender issues in the near future.