Friday, July 24, 2015


Before Nico's car obsession came to light, I assumed that boys who were into super BOY things like cars and construction equipment were pushed to be that way by their parents. Then Nico woke up one morning shortly after his first birthday, latched onto a toy truck, and didn't deviate from that course until he was about four and a half. It turns out that some kids gravitate to gender norms without any nudge from any outside force. Before I had kids, I was pretty certain that I would be a cool liberal parent and not impose ridiculous gender-based expectations on my children. Once I actually had kids I found out that:

1. The default is easy, and I like easy. I also like boy clothes, so I have always put my boys in boy clothes.

If my boys ever begin to show a preference for girls' things, I hope I am able to help them embrace it. I once did not let Nico choose a girls' coat at the store (he was two) because I honestly didn't know what to do. I don't like girly things so I didn't like the coat in the first place. I stood there and worried what my husband and dad would say if their son / grandson showed up in a purple coat with a big fur ruff on the hood and I ended up offering Nico a black boys' coat instead. I probably lost my enlightened liberal card at that moment. Nico wasn't crushed or anything - he didn't really care all that much, and it was probably dumb to even ask a two-year-old or his opinion on coats - but I still wonder if I should've just bought the purple coat. I certainly would've gladly (gleefully, even) bought a daughter a black or blue or green coat from the boys' section. Why the hypocrisy, I had to ask myself in a small, not-so-proud voice.

2. Sometimes things come out of my mouth that I absolutely don't believe, just because I don't think about what I'm saying.

I am working on this. Example: a month or so ago in the car, Nico asked me why his mamaw (who is divorced) doesn't have a wife. Absentmindedly, stalling so I didn't have to explain divorce on the fly, also concentrating on driving, I started to say, "Mamaw wouldn't have a wife anyway, Mamaw would have a husband." Which is true, because his mamaw is straight, but also NOT the phrasing that I should be using with my inquisitive five-year-old since I would like him to grow up believing that anyone should be allowed to marry the person they love, regardless of sex or gender. Luckily my stop talking, dumbass! brain alarm went off and I caught myself about halfway through and awkwardly segued into telling him briefly that Mamaw used to be married and she isn't now, but someday she might be married again. That sometimes people aren't married to someone and that's okay.

3. Sometimes I react out of worry that Nico will be mocked or bullied for something that is out of the gender norm, and only realize afterward that I may be giving him the wrong message inadvertently.

While picking out school supplies, he initially chose scissors with a crazy pink and white print. Worrying about him being teased, I asked him conversationally "Are you sure those are the ones you want?" and he ended up changing his mind. Then I felt like an asshole because OF COURSE my son can have pink scissors if he wants and we already talk a lot about how pink is not only for girls even though some people think that it is and what is wrong with me that I talked him out of getting the scissors he wanted? I worry, though, about my sweet boy. I was mocked and belittled a lot (LOT) at school growing up and was pretty miserable because of it. Nico is already awkward and sensitive and a little bit weird, and my heart hurts thinking about him being made fun of...of course it'll happen - every kid gets made fun of at some point. I'm realizing, though, that it would be better to let Nico make his own choices and then stand behind him all the way than to guide him into something he wants less based on my fears of how people might treat him.

I will not deny that white cisgender male privilege exists, but it bothers me that there is less flexibility within the societal constructs of gender norms for boys versus girls. Most of Nico's playdate buddies are girls, and no one bats an eye when the girls play with Lego or wade into a creek in search of tadpoles or stomp through ankle-deep mud. Most of the adults I know applaud this kind of non-restricted behavior in girls, as they should. I ask myself a lot, though, how much does that go the other way? How much does that extend to boys being "allowed" to like pink or boys not being mocked if they are sensitive or cry? (I overheard the neighbor kid's grandfather gently counseling him that he needed to "toughen up" once after the kid came home crying because another kid ran into him or hit him. I thought to myself, the last thing that kid needs is to get tougher. If anything, he needs to be a little more sensitive.) I don't brook a lot of dramatics when it comes to things like minor injuries and insults, and have been known to tell my child that it's time to stop crying or to take it to his room. However, I will never, ever, ever tell him to "man up" or "be a man" or to "stop being a girl." I certainly hope for their sake that no one else ever does either.

Someone shared an article on facebook the other day arguing that parents need to stop using phrases like "he's such a boy" and "boys will be boys" to explain or excuse boys' behavior. At best it teaches gender restrictions / expectations; at worst it excuses asshole behavior. A few days after sharing the article on twitter and facebook and discussing how much the "such a boy" stereotyping is annoying, I took Nico to shop for school pants at Once Upon a Child. He was patient and good and tried on everything I asked him to, so I let him browse the toys afterward. He asked to see a few random things that I was not willing to buy, then I spotted a big, nice dollhouse on the very top shelf. It was tagged only $20, so we fetched an employee with a ladder to get it down for us. Nico was instantly enamored. I asked him, if I buy this, do you promise you'll try to play with it a lot and not just forget about it? Do you promise to share it with your brother? He said he would, on both accounts. He asked me earnestly, "Can you buy this with your own money?" He is learning that things cost a lot, and it takes a long time to save up dollars in one's piggy bank. I gladly paid for the house and we took it home. We didn't even have to say anything to Elliott - he spotted it immediately and came running with a toy rhinoceros who wanted to explore the rooms. Nico moved his beloved small puppies in next. I posted a photo of them on facebook snarkily tagged #boyswillbeboys #suchaboy #boymom and got a flurry of positive comments. I love that people loved it. The following day, the boys spent a good 45 minutes playing together with the house and their collection of plastic dinosaurs. Each day since we bought it, Elliott has asked, "House? Play with house?" upon waking up in the morning. I would dare anyone to tell me boys don't like dollhouses, that dollhouses are just for girls. I'm going to try really hard not to limit my boys as we grow together, whether it's pink scissors they want or purple coats.

Reading:  Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Playing:  Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. This album is so great. I don't even turn it off after I drop the kids off in the mornings. Did you know that elephants are made of elements?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

quietly sniffing new crayons in the corner

I took Nico shopping for his school supplies this evening. I thought about waiting to see if there were any better sales two weeks from now, but then decided stuff was already cheap enough. I had to go to Walmart anyway to buy stuff for work and Nico was already with me, so it made sense to go ahead and get his things. I let him pick out muscle car notebooks and puppy dog folders and a light-up Cars backpack. I can't believe my baby starts kindergarten in a month. I'm trying not to be too dramatic about it, but it feels like a big serious End to this really great gig we've had going for the past 5 1/2 years. I keep realizing all over again that from August 10th on, he will only be able to go to Pump it Up and library programs and the creek on weekends or days off school. We'll only be able to have playdates on the weekends. I'm trying to stay upbeat because I don't want him to be nervous, but * I * am nervous. I'm worried kids will make fun of him for having a folder with a puppy sitting in a pink chair on the front or for having the wrong clothes or for loving Lightning McQueen. I'm worried a teacher will be sharp with him about his unending questions and quash his immense curiosity. I'm afraid standardized testing and common core will ruin his love of learning. I have no idea where to take him on the first day of school or if I'm supposed to walk him to his classroom or where his classroom even is. I need a letter with detailed instructions! Or something! HELP ME, SCHOOL. I am REALLY GOOD at following instructions, if you'll just give me some!

Elliott will start preschool about a month after Nico starts kindergarten. I don't think that has sunk in yet. He is beyond ready. I think I'll be okay since it's the same preschool Nico attended with the same teachers. They will send me a detailed instructional letter, and I already know where to take him and pick him up. I'm sure I'll be back here hand-flapping in a few weeks when I buy his school supplies. My little birdies, leaving the nest! I briefly considered trying to rearrange my work schedule so that I can be off in time to pick Nico up from school, but the only way to do that would be to give up my Mondays off with Elliott. As nice as it would be to see N at 3:30 vs 5:30, I quickly decided to keep Mondays. It seems more fair - I have had Mondays off as my hanging out with kid(s) day ever since I went back to work after having Nico. He got his five years of Mondays with me, and I think Elliott should, too. Once E starts Kindergarten, though, I think I will try to work out a different schedule. Somebody remind me in 2018.

I'm also having a quiet oh-shit moment because tomorrow I will be mailing in my application to start a chapter of Navigators USA (co-ed secular Scouts, basically). I needed five kids to start a troop and so far have had twelve ask to sign up. I like that Navigators is super low-key and self-guided, but I'm also freaking out a little bit because that means I basically have to make the whole thing up as I go. I think I am going to adapt the requirements from the old science and nature Brownie Girl Scout badges that I spent years teaching at my previous job, and see how that goes. Any time I start to panic a little, I remind myself that we only have to do one year. If everyone hates it or it's just no fun, we don't have to keep going. Of course I'm hoping it's great, or at least mostly enjoyable. I also remind myself that a coworker of one of my best friends is raising two girls by herself, works full time, and managed to be their Girl Scout leader and PTA president, so this shouldn't be that impossible. Right? I really, really need to focus and get some meeting plans written out for at least the first few months so I don't end up scrambling and half-assing it once school starts. If any of you have kids in Scouts, would you mind telling me some things that your troop has done that you have really liked? Also, would it be easier to remember if your kid had a thing that met every other week, or if it met on set weeks, such as always the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, even if that sometimes meant having two weeks off between meetings?

And I believe I am going to send Nico to a sex ed class for kids starting in September. That seems crazy to even say. He is FIVE. But three women I know and like very much are certified to teach this OWL "lifespan sexuality education" class and it sounds pretty great. I recognize that for all my good intentions I am not well-equipped to teach my child all the things I want him to learn about sexuality and consent and respect and acceptance. I also like the idea of him learning things from appropriately-trained adults before he learns them from kids at school. I won't say the Harry Potter reminder is a downer, either. I suppose I shall report back if anyone is curious. I'd also love (LOVE) to hear about it if someone else's kid has taken this course.

Is that everything I'm quietly freaking out about today? I think so. Regardless, I should go to bed. I am teaching half-day nature camp all week, for one girl and twelve boys ages four through six. I suspect I will be very, very tired. Perhaps it'll be good immersion practice for being a scout leader.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

all you need is love

1. A new thing I love

Last year the book discussion group I attend read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King and I loved it. When Glory O'Brien's History of the Future turned up on the alternate list for our Mock Printz committee, I read that one and loved it, too. I'm not sure why I needed the universe to thump me on the head a third time, but our discussion book for July is Everybody Sees the Ants and it was also great. In the interest of full disclosure, it did make me sad / worried a bit over my kids becoming teenagers and dealing with all the shitty things that happen to teenagers. I read the whole book yesterday, most of it during two hours of Nico not napping in the afternoon. So now I've put Please Ignore Vera Dietz on hold at the library and I'm sad A.S. King only has two other books available, though there's another coming out in September.

"The world is full of assholes. What are you doing to make sure you're not one of them?" -- Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King

2. A thing I forgot that I love

Ages ago I started watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix after Jennie promised I'd love it. She was right, and I ripped through two seasons before inexplicably forgetting that I loved it. I finally started back up again and guess what, it's still great. It's not really very much about football, so you might like it as well, even if you don't care a bit about football. It's really well-written and the cast is great and I never ever understood what anybody saw in Taylor Kitsch until Tim Riggins. I also like football, so that's nice. Though season three made me cry at least three times, and it also sometimes makes me feel sad / worried about how I will possibly be able to parent my children as teenagers. Perhaps I'm just feeling a little overly sunrise / sunset this week. They're also extra-definitely never allowed to play football now that I have watched this show.

3. A thing I wanted to love

I was so happy to find out there was a new Mumford & Sons album, but they ditched all the bluegrassy instruments and it just didn't work for me. Because this really was every Mumford & Sons song ever, and that's what I liked about it.

4. Another thing I love

Back when it still felt absurd to be buying something for July, I was at the Dollar Tree shopping for work and saw a rack of silly patriotic-themed stuff. I impulse-bought headbands, star-shaped sunglasses, and glow stick wands for the boys for 4th of July and managed to remember that I had them yesterday. While I often look around our life and think we need less plastic crap in it, this time I was so glad I had spent the six dollars. This time, it was the greatest. They loved their silly things and it made people smile all day to see them decked out in their ridiculous frippery.

One more thing I love:

That viral video of the little girl and her mom dancing

Your turn...please tell me about some things you have loved recently.

(And, look - mandolin and banjo Mumford & Sons is just better. And they are totally okay with poking fun at themselves, which is always nice.)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

half is a four-letter word

Ten days later than last year, I have come to post my annual lamentation and reminder that half-ages are kind of awful. Nico's back-and-forth mind changing, defiance, and generally ugly behavior have returned to keep our summer from being too perfect. It's very much like a switch flipped and transformed my strong-minded but generally pleasant child overnight, but at least this year my reaction was less "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?" and more "Oh. This again. Time to eat some chocolate." I've been reminding myself a lot lately that the tags in his clothes still have a T on them, as in toddler, as in he was a little baby dude not that long ago. As one of my coworkers puts it quite aptly, great big emotions, very small body. It seems being five and a half is really damn hard. The horrible half-ness was at its peak so far this week, probably exacerbated by some serious fun tax owed for Nico spending all week at his first full-day summer day camp. But I'm happy to report that he was only terribly whiny and cranky on Tuesday, and only during and following my appearance at camp to lead an activity. Camp staff reported that he was otherwise quite pleasant and willing to try things, so I spent most of the the remainder of the week staying quite far away. This strategy worked out great, and I was even able to lead some activities Friday afternoon without a resulting meltdown from Nico. After work I did make a ridiculous tactical error and stopped by Dairy Queen to eat with both kids after some errands. We didn't even sit down until 7:00, when Elliott usually goes to bed. I left them at the table to go get my drink and while I was gone they had a huge throwdown over the table number. Nico almost knocked a chair over and Elliott screamed so loud everyone stopped talking and stared at us. I am surprised to say it wasn't even was just really tired kids being really tired kids, you know? I talked to them quietly but firmly and very seriously about how unacceptable it was, and they ended up being fine for the rest of the time we were there. I can't even tell if two and a half just isn't that bad for Elliott or if it is but I can't tell because it's eclipsed by the ridiculous strife of five and a half.

At the same time, though, five and a half is really great. Nico did so well overall at his week of camp that I'm sending him for another full week in July. He's finally starting to make progress in his swimming lessons. He can read now, which is just spectacular. He's more inquisitive than ever and wants to know everything about everything. He's sweet and loving and shares his toys most of the time and he loves babies and toddlers. MB took him to a monster truck show last weekend and I wish I could remember for the rest of my life the look on his face as he was telling me about it later. And two and a half! Elliott started talking later than Nico, and has just had his biggest language burst to date. He's so chatty and adorable and I want to eat him up on the regular. It's such a cliche, but these children, they are my heart.

(Bruhbuh is Grandma. We aren't sure why.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stuff I like this week

1. Do all Targets have the same things in their dollar spot section, or does it vary by region? I suppose there's no way to know unless we conduct a carefully-timed reconnaissance survey. I bring it up because some of you may have children who use water bottles frequently, like mine. We have a bunch of plain colored plastic bottles we bought at Michaels, which are a pleasing color variety, size, and spout shape, but they leak if they lay sideways in the diaper bag or lunch box, even with the spouts completely closed. We also have two Zak brand bottles which don't leak from the spout, but which have started to not close correctly where the lid snaps (or doesn't snap, anymore) onto the bottle. Recently I spotted licensed character bottles with screw-on sport-spout lids in the $1 section at Target and decided to give them a try. I bought one Paw Patrol and one Ninja Turtles even though my kids don't watch either. The bottles will spill if the spout is left open and the bottle falls over (or the child upends the bottle on purpose and shakes it, ELLIOTT GLENN), but so far they are great if the spout is clicked closed correctly before stowing. I like them so much that I went back and got one with the little alien guy from Home and one with a Despicable Me minion, even though we haven't seen those movies either. The kids don't care, and are happy to claim the bottles by color (Nico wanted the green Ninja Turtles and the lavender Home alien, so Elliott got the blue Paw Patrol and yellow Minion). Overly long story short - if your kids like / use water bottles, I recommend the one dollar character bottles from Target, if your Target carries said one dollar character bottles.

2. After a long absence, I went to Goodwill on Saturday with the hope of finding a pair of jeans, since I'm down to one nice pair that I can wear to work. The location Nico and I went to is the largest one in town and used to have the best stuff, but in recent years the clothing has typically been very iffy. However it was apparently my lucky day because I found a pair of jeans, a pair of really nice Gap pants in a light olive green fabric that is corduroy-like but not as textured, plus a lightweight sporty zip-up jacket and two yoga-type long-sleeve tops that I love. Nico wanted a toy and initially asked for a super cheap plastic car on big wheels. It was only a dollar and I was going to let him get it even though it had peeling stickers and is similar in size to a dozen other toys he already has and therefore would probably get played with for a day and then forgotten. But then I noticed a big blue Jeep that I knew he'd like and suspected he'd play with a lot more. As I was getting it off the shelf to show him, I realized it was a Barbie Jeep and mused that it was a bummer he didn't have any toys that could fit in it...but a moment later it hit me that of course, two of his very favorite tiny stuffed dogs would fit just fine. Well worth three dollars, I'd say.

(Semi-related - my mom went to Goodwill a week or so ago and found a really cute plastic dollhouse that opens in the middle and she got it for the boys to play with at her house. They have a whole pack of small stuffed dogs that live in the various houses, garages, and barns and they love them. It makes me a little sad I didn't know they'd like a dollhouse back when I saw a super nice Plan toys one on clearance after Christmas.)

Yesterday I was off work but had a dentist appointment in the morning, so E was at my parents' house and N was at morning dinosaur camp. After my appointment finished, I had an hour left before I needed to pick up N, so I drove over to the Goodwill closest to the university, which typically has the best selection of clothes. I ended up finding two more pairs of jeans I really like, another pair that I plan to chop into capris / shorts, and three pairs of pants for Nico. One was a pair of brand new jeans from Children's Place, so that alone was probably worth the drive. I'm pleased to have more jeans to wear, and to have spent only $5 per pair on them.

3. For any fans of Terry Pratchett, I am almost finished with a short story collection of his that just came out, A Blink of the Screen, and have really enjoyed it. There's a really nice Granny Weatherwax story that I particularly liked. And! And! I found out that there is going to be another Tiffany Aching book, coming out in August. I may spring for the hardcover, which I never do, because of all the stories lost when he died, her rumored final book was the one I was most sad about. And now it's not lost, it was finished after all. I will admit that I actually teared up a little when I found out. If you haven't read the Tiffany books, I wholeheartedly recommend them. I also wish I could buy a set for every ten-year-old girl in the world. They're so great. I also recently read and liked a Neil Gaiman short story collection, Trigger Warning.

4. We saw Jurassic World with friends on Sunday night and I loved it. I'm not going to tell you it was a brilliant piece of cinema or a perfect film, but I loved it. I have loved dinosaurs literally as long as I can remember, and my mom took me to see Jurassic Park at the theater when it came out, and this one did not disappoint. We went with two other couples, the ladies of which are dinosaur fans like me, and we were all pleased. I'm even glad we spent extra to see it in IMAX 3D, which we've never done. When it comes to the second-run theater in town, I may pay to see it on the big screen again.

5. Spray parks are probably one of the greatest things to happen to childhood since I don't know what. The one at the Y where Nico has his swim lesson also includes big umbrellas for the parents to sit under, and it may end up being our favorite summer hangout spot this year.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Hey, June

1. Fun tax

On days that I have the kids, we usually stay busy. I used to worry that I was overscheduling them, but Nico always asks me what we're doing and if I only list two things he'll say "What else? Is that all? That's not very many." so I think they're okay. I suppose they get four low-key days a week with my parents, who don't do Outings, so perhaps that balance is what makes it work. This past Saturday, we only had a half a day scheduled. In our half a day, we went to the Home Depot to build little wooden trucks, ate a hilariously early lunch at Panera because we were all hungry, went to the mall to get a birthday gift and ride the carousel, went to the toy store so Nico could spend his piggy bank money, and ran another quick errand. After that we went home and the kids crashed out and napped since we'd been out until 11 PM the night before visiting friends. After the nappage, Nico and I went to a birthday cookout dinner. Just another Saturday!

The prior Saturday, I took the kids to a tiny farmers market in the next town over in the morning. There wasn't much to buy, but they had fun walking around and playing down by the river. We met MB for lunch and then went to the Y, where they played in the pool and splash pad for four hours. Once we got home they were acting like cranky little jerks, and I was also a cranky jerk, and suddenly it dawned on me, something so obvious I felt dumb for never putting it into words before: we were paying the Fun Tax. My kids weren't being whiny jerks because they were ungrateful for the big fun day we had; they were being whiny jerks because we had a big fun day and they were TIRED. And I was being less-tolerant than usual of their whiny jerkiness because I was also TIRED. It's all so clear now: you have the fun, you pay the tax, and the tax is worth it because you got to have the fun. I think our summer - indeed our lives - will be easier for having had this small epiphany.

2. Garden reclamation

The long-neglected / half-assed garden finally reached the point where we needed to either reclaim it fully or let it go back to grass again once and for all. I'd put too much work into building the beds to want to tear it all out, plus I do still want to have a garden with the kids as they get older, so I decided on reclamation. It's slow going since I pretty much only have time to work out there on rare weekend afternoons when we are home and in the evenings after the kids are both in bed. One night I built two whole raised beds in the dark, which turned out surprisingly square. Another night I laid cardboard as the daylight failed and then shoveled and moved seven wheelbarrows of mulch in the dark. There hasn't really been much drawback to working in the dark, honestly - it's cooler and so far the mosquitoes haven't been unbearable. It's quiet and the stars are really nice even here in the city and I feel righteous and slightly exercised afterward. I don't think I'll get done in time to really plant anything this year, but I'm hoping my new strategy of laying cardboard and then covering it with six inches of wo od chips will finally keep the grass at bay. And the scrawny blueberry bushes I planted when Nico was a baby and then benignly neglected have fruited this year! I'm STUPIDLY excited over this.

As usual, I can't find a true "before" photo. The first one here is after MB spent a few hours de-grassing the left side of the garden with a hoe. The second one is what it looks like now - almost half recovered, I think!

3. Muffins

The children suckered me into buying a pound of strawberries at the farmers market which they immediately decided they didn't want to eat, then MB came home from work with a big bowl of more strawberries from his coworker's garden. In an effort to not waste all the strawberries, I baked these muffins on Saturday afternoon. They are very tasty, and I think I'll make them again (though I may try pulverizing the strawberries in the food processor rather than chopping them into bits by hand next time. Be warned, however, that the predicted yield of 16 - 18 muffins is ridiculously inaccurate. I suspected it had to be a typo going into the venture, since the recipe does call for three cups of flour. It made 5 mini muffin trays plus another dozen. I don't think it would be too tricky to halve the recipe if you want strawberry muffins but don't want to be eating them for weeks.