27 March 2009

friday photos: first hike of the year edition

Last weekend was just nice enough for us to head out to a local park for the first hike of spring. Things are not very green yet, but the snow is gone and it's warm enough to leave the winter coats at home, so we're happy. We're hoping to get in more hiking and camping this year than last (Last year: no camping at all, and hiking maybe twice? Pathetic.), so we're getting the kids used to trekking as soon as we can. Some photos:

Wide open space to run around in!

James goofing around on a tiny bridge. Curiously, the bed of this little stream was literally covered in seashells.

Evan's short little legs got some assistance from time to time. He seemed to think that if he couldn't see the camera, he couldn't be photographed.

Out in the woods along one of the trails is an old rusted-out car. Our camera doesn't quite capture the robin's-egg blue of what's left of its paint.

This is what happens when I ask for a nice photo of my boys in front of the pond:

The forecast for this weekend is for more nice weather, so we're hoping to get out hiking again. Happy weekend, everyone!


23 March 2009

girl stuff

This morning Evan was, as usual, leafing through the Lego catalog, since he's apparently hoping to become some kind of human Lego encyclopedia. Usually his remarks are predictable: "Cool!" and "Look at this!" and "I want this one for my birthday!" Today, though, I overheard him exclaim, "Yuck! Girl stuff!"

I flipped through the catalog when he was finished, and I found that in the 65-page Lego catalog (which might be longer, actually, but ours battered copy is missing a few pages), two pages are drenched in pink with the proclamation "Just for Girls!" at the top of the page. This pink girly stuff? Horses, puppies, and a house with a family.

By singling out two pages that are "Just for Girls!", the implications are that 1) the "girl" toys are not for boys to play with and 2) the rest of the catalog is not for girls to play with. You may think that's too narrow an interpretation of the subtext, but take a lesson from my three-year-old son. This little boy, who's heard over and over in his young life that there are no "girl toys" and "boy toys", that anyone can play with anything no matter what gender they are, firmly told me that those two pages in the Lego catalog are "girl stuff" and "me and James will definitely never play with girl stuff!" And when I asked him if girls could play with the Star Wars Legos and Bionicles and Indiana Jones, he did not hesitate for a moment to tell me no. So even if that's not the message toy companies are intending to send, that's the message that's being absorbed by young minds.

A similar thing happened a couple of months ago when I took Evan shopping with me for a birthday present for my nephew. We wandered the toy aisles, looking for something good, trying to remember what 1-year-olds play with, when we turned a corner and were visually accosted with a sea of pink and glitter. "No way!" Evan cried. "These are the girl toys!" Girl toys, such as kitchens and horses and dress up clothes.

And, to digress for a moment, what is it with horses being designated as girly? First of all, horses are most often associated with cowboys, who are usually not only men, but like the total masculine ideal, all macho and rugged. And then there's the reality that riding horses and caring for horses is really dirty work, which is typically the exact opposite of what society encourages little girls to do! I've always found that really odd.

Anyway, this is not a new phenomenon by any means -- toys have always been gendered, in some ways -- but it's new to me, trying to teach my sons how to interpret and navigate all of this division. My instinct is to say that there shouldn't even be any division in the first place -- I mean, the Supreme Court decided decades ago that "separate but equal" is never equal. But focusing on the ideal doesn't address the problem that exists in reality.

So I keep on trying. I tell my sons again and again that they can play with anything they want to play with, they can like anything they want to like, that their choices are not limited by manufacturers' colors, and neither should girls' choices be limited that way. I do think they understand that, and believe it -- after all, they play with their toy kitchen all the time, they like to have their nails painted, they play nearly every day with Neighbor Girl, with whom they play everything from Star Wars to hopscotch to soccer to, yes, horses. I do think they both get it.

But there is still something disheartening about hearing your preschool cry, with as much disdain as a three-year-old's voice can carry, "Yuck! Girl stuff!" It's just another reminder that no matter how attentive a parent you are, no matter how progressive or idealistic you are, there is still a whole culture out there that is insidiously trying to undermine every effort you make that falls outside the mainstream.


20 March 2009

friday photos: taste of spring edition

I woke up this morning to a fresh coat of snow over the grass and the rooftops. Earlier this week we had some beautiful sunny days with warm temperatures, but I should have known it wouldn't last. This is Rochester, after all, where it's not unheard of to get a snow or ice storm in April or even May.

But we did get a chance to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, which I'm grateful for. Evan was happy to let me photograph him in action, as he jumped off of rocks over and over and over again.

It looks like there's more nice weather coming this weekend, so maybe spring is finally on its way after all!


18 March 2009

an open letter to a fellow mother

Dear K's Mother,

It's so nice that our sons have befriended each other at the preschool play class, and I'm glad to have someone to talk to about our children, the town we live in, and other mundane small-talk sorts of things.

But what I don't enjoy is your sporadic gender commentary on our kids. I find it odd that you proclaim Evan and your son, K, to be "all boy" as they are tumbling and climbing and jumping on the mats, when our friend's daughter, A, is right alongside them. I find it puzzling that you marvel at how "dainty" A is: "She even walks differently than the boys!" And when A's mother explains that A's style of walking is something she's had physical therapy to try to correct, and you recall that actually, your oldest son walked that way for a while as a toddler but grew out of it, you still have no problem finding another way to differentiate the sexes, zeroing in on the one moment when A lies down on a mat and pretends to go to sleep, cooing that "the princess is sleeping!" Oh, those boys are wild, but the little girl, she is a calm and docile princess. In this minute and this minute only, but that's apparently enough evidence for you.

I find it strange, too, that you and N's mom exchanged laughter over how rowdy Evan, K, and N were being, "such boys!", with their jumping and tumbling, commenting that all of the little girls were staying far away from the mats where our sons were being so rambunctious. It seemed that you two had forgotten the previous half hour in which little girls were climbing right there on the same mats with our boys, and you must not have noticed in the next half hour when girls were again playing with the boys.

I wonder if you would still call Evan "all boy" if you saw the way he likes to snuggle up to me, sucking his thumb? I wonder if you'd hold fast to your notions of how different boys and girls are if you saw my son's bright red toenails? I wonder if you've ever considered that part of the reason boys and girls do behave differently might be because people like you label little girls "princesses" simply for existing? I wonder if your head would have exploded had you known Evan during the phase where he liked to pretend to be Princess Leia?

K's mom, you seem like a pretty nice woman. Maybe if you can stop your gender editorializing, or if I can learn to ignore it, we could be friends. I'm not sure how likely either of those options are, though. It's too bad, because I could use a friend who understands what it's like to raise boys surrounded by so many hyper-masculine cultural stereotypes.

Evan's mom


16 March 2009

catching up, again

So soon after my return to blogging, I disappeared again. But there was actually a reason this time. The last week in our house was full of sickness. I was the only one who didn't get sick at all (knock on wood), so I got to do a lot of caretaking. Poor Evan got to experience vomiting for the first time in his life, and poor James was out of commission for 3 days, an all-time record in his short little life. And poor Greg, who turned 30 on Thursday, had to spend a very subdued birthday with no real festivities to speak of.

Luckily my mom came out to visit over the weekend, enabling me to emerge from the sickhouse for the first time in days, to have lunch with a friend and to go running. All of a sudden there are signs of spring in Rochester, and the mild temperatures and blinding sunshine have encouraged all of us to get out in the fresh air. The weather has made me so happy, despite the illnesses plaguing our home, that I feel as though a weight I didn't even realize I was carrying has been lifted. It's not that I was sad or depressed over the winter (most of the time) but spring has unexpectedly elevated my mood beyond where I though its peak was.

We've had other things going on lately that are probably contributing to my high spirits: Evan got into the class we wanted at the preschool we applied to (another cooperative preschool, which appears to be less hippie-ish than the school James went to, but still looks like it will be a good fit for us), and we joined a CSA. I'm sure both of these items will be covered in great detail on the blog once they've actually started, but for now, suffice it to say that we're all pretty excited about both.

So, as soon as we're all healthy, and provided Mother Nature doesn't surprise us with a late March (or April, or May) snowstorm or ice storm, it looks like we're going to have a pretty good spring.


06 March 2009

friday photos: summers in washington edition

We've had some warm weather here for a few days in a row, and it's making me dream of summer. I really hope we're able to make it to Washington this summer. I've been looking through old photos lately, and I wanted to post a few to remind me of some of the fun we've had there in the summertime.