Category Archives: Gender Issues

The Princess and the Viking

As I’ve mentioned before, I walked into parenting thinking most gender norms were social constructs.

Not wanting to cram my daughter into a pink box from the get-go, I painted her room green, bought her gender-neutral toys, and avoided onesies that said crap like “I’m so pretty” like the plague.

shirtcollage4
Like THIS crap

And… I still ended up with the girliest girl that ever walked the planet.

Since she was two years old, Brontë would beeline for the pinkest, fluffiest dress she could get her tiny hands on before sneaking my lipstick to smear all over her face so she’d look fetching enough to host the stuffed animal tea parties she was constantly throwing in her room.

I didn’t think she’d even heard about tea parties, yet there she was… constantly debating the relative merits of various Disney princesses with the giant bears and dinosaurs sipping imaginary flower tea and helping themselves to the pink hors d’oeuvres she’d pretended to lay out on plates.

It was a real head-scratcher.

After she shoved enough trucks aside in favor of dolls, or screamed in enough agony when asked to put on pants, I had to start wondering if… maybe… gender norms weren’t entirely a pack of lies.

And then, her sister Bridget came along.

Whereas Brontë would throw Hollywood-worthy scenes whenever she scraped her knee, Bridget would punch the trees and walls around her like a miniature Hulk.

While Brontë would run away sobbing whenever one of the playground girls were mean to her, Bridget would literally roll her eyes, fart at them and laugh.

The hilarious thing is, while Bridget absolutely loves her sister, sometimes Brontë’s super-dramatic, hyper-feminine antics get on her last nerve. Like the time Brontë was acting out some romantic fantasy car date between a prince and princess and the moment her back was turned, Bridget replaced the prince with a giant dinosaur then laughed herself stupid after Brontë shrieked in outrage:

dinosaur
When Brontë returned to the table…

 

Or the way Bridget loves grossing out her sister. We had this dialogue the other day…

John: What should be eat for dinner?

Brontë: Pasta!

John: We’ve had pasta for the past three nights. What else would you like?

Bridget: Popcorn and salt!

John: That’s just a snack. What do you want for dinner?

Bridget: Fish cones and bone sauce!

John: What?

Bridget (miming swimming fish with her hands): FISH CONES and BONE SAUCE.

Brontë: That’s DISGUSTING.

Bridget: Fish cones, NOW!

Brontë: EWW, GROSS!

Bridget rolls on the floor laughing.

Or the other day, when the girls and I were walking home from the library when Brontë notices a dandelion in the grass…

Twirling, she says, “A candy-lion! My favorite! I want to make a wish!”

Holding her skirt with one hand, she bends over to pick it with the other. Like a Disney princess, she prances around with it for several minutes, striking poses and saying, “I wish I wish I wish in my deepest heart, the greatest wish that ever…”

And in the middle of her soliloquy, Bridget rolls her eyes, stomps over and blows all the dandelion petals away.

MY WISH!” she says, stomping away like Finally, we can go home in peace.

aurora.gif
(Reenactment of the Dandelion incident)

I’m not sure whether she was commandeering Brontë’s wish flower or if getting Brontë to stop prancing around was actually her wish, but it was pretty funny, either way.

But it just goes to show that this gender question isn’t quite that simple. Some girls roll out into a glittery cupcake universe from the start, while others are more… sarcastic.

And we don’t fall entirely into either camp. Brontë loves Legos, Outer Space and superheroes, for example. whereas Bridget also loves smelling perfume and having me paint her nails.

It shall be interesting to see how this develops…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Gorillas On The Playground

IMG_5164So, yesterday I took the girls to the local park to get some exercise, never realizing what mean-girl psychodramas were about to unfold.

Bridget immediately begged to be pushed on the swings, but I told her to GO PLAY. All morning they’d been chewing up the couch like overwrought labradors who needed to work off some adrenalin.

Which would never happen as long as I was still holding their hands. I settled onto a park bench to keep a loose watch on them. Bridget began testing her mettle against a miniature rock wall as Brontë sized up the crowd for potential friends.

I tried to get in a little reading, pausing occasionally to remind Bridget that the bucket of sand she was hauling off wasn’t hers. I smiled, noticing that Brontë had joined a group of girls, before returning to my book.

There were six little girls in the pack, of varying hem-lengths, braids and ponytails.  They were all running back and forth when the phone rang. It was John, who always calls me during his lunch hour.

IMG_5204.jpg
And here is the lizard…

We were chatting about some server issue he was having at work when Brontë came running up with this little Johnny Depp looking kid wearing a comedy T-shirt. She crawled under the table as he blinked at her from beneath his shaggy brown bob. He seemed nice enough, so I ignored them while telling my husband about finding another baby lizard in the living room.

And that’s when Johnny Depp’s mom tapped me on the shoulder.

I politely hung up to face her.

She sighed…

“Umm, I wanted you to know that those girls have been bullying your daughter. “

“What? Really?”

“Yes. They were chasing her and trying to throw sand in her eyes. They were talking about throwing grass at her too, but the tall one with the ponytail was saying it was mean. I stepped in and told them they couldn’t.”

“Oh… wow. THANK YOU. I didn’t see ANY of that. How did I miss that??”

“Well, the one with the two French braids and the pink dress was the ringleader and I heard her say ‘not now, her MOM is looking,’ so they were only doing it whenever your back was turned.”

My face felt hot. “Thank you so much for letting me know, because I had NO idea.”

She nodded. I turned to look at Brontë, who was staring at the ground.

I don’t worry too much about Bridget on the playground. She’s the type who’ll roll her eyes at anyone who has a problem with her before promptly ignoring them. It’s a quality that will serve her well in this dog-eat-dog world.

But Brontë… this hurt her. She wants so desperately to connect with other people that she leaps at them without defenseless.  Rejection trips her and casual cruelty simply doesn’t compute. She just keeps trying, as though it must be a language barrier.

But what to do?

It was over now, and she was playing with Johnny Depp. Do I talk to the girls? Do I talk to the moms, who were all sitting together in short shorts and baseball caps at another picnic table, looking mildly as though they’d just smelled a fart?

“Do you think their moms saw what was happening? It was right in front of them.” I asked Mini-Depp’s mom.

“I don’t know, but I doubt they’d do anything if you told them. I hate to say it, but it’s always those cliquish little mom groups who have the bullying kids.”

“Well, I guess mean women were all mean girls once,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “I don’t get it, cause my kids would never get away with acting like that.”

“OH, I’d spank the crap out of my boys if I caught them throwing sand in some kid’s face and they KNOW it. These girls are brutal. That’s why I always played with boys growing up.”

I chuckled, thrown by her casual admission of spanking her kids, while resisting the urge to admit how I played with the boys too. It felt traitorous to spell out, like I’d be one of those women who brags about being more guy-like. As though it’s more evolved.

mean girls.jpgBut I knew exactly what she meant. Much as I loved the girl friends I had (and love my female friends today), boys were just… easier. You knew exactly how they felt about you and didn’t always have to scan their expressions for micro-hints of betrayal, just in case.

Hell, once I even made friends with a boy after splitting his head open. He had thrown an orange at my cousin’s mouth, on purpose, cutting her lip open against her braces, and I had chased after him with a stick to avenge her honor. Once he’d gotten too far away, I’d flung the stick at him.

He ducked, so it twacked him in the skull, which required twenty-two stitches to fix.

And though his mom never forgave me, he became my buddy the very next day. It was a little disorienting for me at the time, given how one misplaced comment could make a girl your arch-nemesis for life, but I guess he felt I’d acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Then I remembered how that red-haired, doctor’s daughter was always walking up to me on the playground, while I was minding my own business, to ask me questions about my clothes while smirking with her friends:

Where did you get them, she would ask. They’re awfully dirty. You look really poor. I’ve never even seen clothes like that. How can you wear them?

Her pack of friends would giggle as I ran away.

I turned to Brontë. “This park is for EVERYONE. You go where you want and you don’t let snotty little bullies push you around.

“YEAH,” Mini-Depp yelled. “It’s for EVERYONE!”

Grabbing her hand, we walked across the park and over to the table of moms, as their little girls smacked a teddy bear against a nearby tree.

Holding Brontë’s hand tighter, I walked in a slow circle around the moms until the girls noticed our presence. They paused the beatdown to find out what I would do next, the bear’s defeated glassy-eyes watching the ground as the ringleader held him by a broken foot.

I looked over at the girl in a pink dress and braids and she looked back, dropping the bear on his head.

Then she tilted her chin, clasped her hands, and spread the biggest, sugariest, most innocent smile across her face.

Teddy Bear lonely and sad alone in Love failureI stared back at her as though she were ten seconds from evisceration. I stared until her friends watched all the smugness disappear.

And then I sat down at the table of moms and stared at them too.

One of the moms popped up, cheerfully saying, “It’s time to go, kids!” They all packed up their stuff and left.

Maybe they thought I was crazy, but who cares? Looking crazy is an underrated move in the urban toolbox. Even I’m not even sure what I was trying to demonstrate, except what body language, alone, can accomplish.

Brontë squeezed my hand hard, saying, “You’re the best, mom. You protect me.”

We hugged as I thought about how in the hell to prepare her for stuff like this, how to teach her to stand up for herself without becoming a monster herself.

Because all the classic advice, that stuff about bullies just being insecure cowards in need of more approval, is truly unhelpful.

gorillas.jpgIt’s just the right thing to say. It’s the horoscope that rings true because it’s so vaguely universal: we’re all insecure at that age. We all have psychological defenses and the need to fit in.

These bullies were just alpha gorillas in lacy skirts, chest-bumping the competition right under the radar. Ruling through exclusion and fear.

But running to authority figures every time someone offends you gets you pegged as a crybaby. It wouldn’t work much longer.

Being nice to the bully doesn’t work either, and it just opens you up to further humiliation. You’re actually better off windmilling your arms until you don’t seem worth the trouble.

And we all secretly know it.

“Some people are jerks, Brontë,” I began. “Some are nice and some are mean. Some are usually nice but are having a bad day, and others… are just nasty. You can’t always tell from looking at them.”

She nodded.

“And you know what? Some grownups are nice and some grownups are mean too. You just have to find out and then be friends with the nice ones. But don’t let the mean ones know you are scared.”

“I was scared,” she said.

“That’s okay, but don’t tell them.”

“Next time I’ll tell them they’re a bunch of MANIACS!”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Or make a joke at their expense. But never be the mean one first.”

We walked home as I silently questioned the wisdom of teaching my daughter to mock other children.

The issue seemed much simpler to my husband, whose face paled when I later related the story:

“So, we’ve got to teach her how to throw a good punch, then.” he said.

“NO, we can’t teach her to punch them. She’ll get into trouble.”

“You can’t *really* get into trouble before you’re 18.”

I sighed. “Look… Yes, I’ll admit that seeing Brontë smack that girl in the face would’ve been awesome. But we can NOT teach her to get into fistfights.”

“Why not?”

“Because she will get into serious trouble. She’ll be suspended and get talked to and be considered a troubled kid. Especially as a girl. They’ll think she has real behavioral issues. We can’t teach her to solve problems with her fists.”

“FINE.”

“I mean… I get where you’re coming from. I was trying to teach her to not look scared and be confident and even insult them back if they keep bothering her. Maybe we should remind her to make sure no other grownups are listening?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Argh. I just don’t know the best way to teach girls how to navigate the female jungle. It’s a much nastier place then most guys realize.

Anyone else have ideas?

Should Couples Sleep in Separate Rooms?

usCoverIf you’ve been on the internet today, you’ve probably read the shocking news about Donald and Melania sleeping in separate rooms.

It’s everywhere right now: NO PILLOW TALK FOR PRESIDENT! His marriage must be hanging by a thread!

Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.

But I wouldn’t pin it on whether or not they keep separate bedrooms, because my marriage is doing just fine and my husband and I…

… have our own bedrooms too.

shocked.pngI’ve hidden this fact for a long time, for reasons the current media explosion is making obvious: I didn’t want people whispering about how my husband and I were probably having marital problems and were maybe even headed for divorce.

Because sleeping in separate bedrooms is strangely taboo. It makes people think your marriage lacks intimacy.

So I kept it quiet until the day I moved next door to the kind of neighbor who would march through your house, taking inventory, until she couldn’t help noticing two master rooms with giant beds in them.

She’s exactly the kind of neighbor I’ve desperately needed. The kind who knows everyone in the neighborhood: where they live, what they do, how they’re currently fixing up their house and what kinds of BS problems they’ve been having with the school district. The kind whose confident, direct approach could be the perfect Yang to my Yin-like ballet of barely grasping what color car anyone drives and fretting about how anything I might say could possibly offend someone. (Did I say ‘hi’ wrong? Did they just give me a weird look?)

Well, I respect that kind of of forthright honesty and couldn’t bring myself to counter it with a bunch of lies. We were going to be living next door to each other for a long time and I could tell we were going to be friends, so why start out with some Three’s Company-style charade?

That’s John’s room, and mine is upstairs…

She looked at me sideways until I told her, “He snores, and I’m an insomniac.”

And that’s pretty much how it happened, how I came out about our separate bedrooms deal.

How it all began

My husband and I never intended to sleep in separate rooms. We slowly evolved this peaceful arrangement after our bedroom had turned into a nightly battlefield.

You see, I’m a hardcore night owl, chronic insomniac and very light sleeper.  He, on the other hand, is a champion snorer who can wake you up through three closed doors, from a different story of the house.

He also considers his sleep utterly sacred. “Like a religion,” to quote him exactly, which makes him prone to extreme grumpiness whenever woken up in the middle of the night by my tossing and turning or because, say, I needed him to roll on his side because my ears wouldn’t quit bleeding.

I used to stare at him at 4:30 in the morning, irrationally resenting how easily he could just drift off like that and reminding myself how wrong it would be to shove a pillow over his face right now.

I felt horrible about being mad at him for something he couldn’t help, but I was just…

so    t i r e d.

insomnia cat
(My sleep-avenging insomniac superhero fantasy self)
We tried everything. Earplugs, nose-strips, even sinus surgery. None of it worked. Turns out, they’d have to reset his entire jaw to fix the problem and it wasn’t worth the risks.

It finally all came crashing down one night when I was pregnant, in that brutal late period of pregnancy where nothing is ever comfortable and you find yourself overheated, aching and flipping into broken starfish positions across your bed, trying against hope for a few sweet hours of oblivion as your baby keeps digging her foot into the underside of your ribs…

It was during these painful hours of sweaty exhaustion, when his spoon-in-the-garbage-disposal snore was pushing and pulling two inches away from my ringing ears like Satan’s own accordion, that I finally snapped:

“I’m sorry, but you have GOT to GO.” (Before I kill you, darling.)

Either pitying me or fearing for his life, the poor guy relocated to the couch.

Well, the couch kept happening until it turned into a futon that turned into the office converted into another bedroom. Then we ended up buying a house with a serendipitous second master bedroom and could finally stop pretending that this sleeping apart thing was a temporary deal.

Some unforeseen perks

Although my husband and I started sleeping in separate rooms for purely practical reasons, we’ve discovered the arrangement offers real  perks beyond being able to get a decent night’s sleep.

You see, one of the coolest parts of being single is having complete dominion over your own territory. Being married means companionship, but you can sometimes lose all of your personal space, which is probably why couples tend to carve out man caves and femme dens.

On the other hand, having your own room means:

 

unicorns
(My room)
You can express your decorating style without having to compromise with anyone. My bedroom involves a bathtub with peach curtains and chandeliers. I keep fresh flowers on my coffee table, next to a tea set and whatever fluffy indulgences make me happy.

My two daughters call my room the “girl clubhouse” and like to hang out on my flowery bedspread with all of our cats, purring in harmony around the throbbing pinkness of my rose-strewn monument to glittery estrogen. The whole place reeks of vintage movie stars and unicorn magic.

Meanwhile, my husband can put up that monkey-drinking-booze poster that that he finds hilarious without me giving him crap about it. His place is one big Testoster-oni treat of electronic wires, open closets, spread-out zombie comics and tiny hair shavings.

He can leave his underwear on the floor or refuse to change his sheets until they don’t bend anymore if he wants to and I don’t have to care, just as he doesn’t have to deat with having a thousand throw pillows in his way.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 5.40.32 PM
“Hold on… I need a sec before we get started”
We don’t have to watch each other clip our toenails or nose hairs, because we have separate, private places in which to do these things. Kind of like when we were dating and didn’t have to watch every nasty step of each other’s transformation. We can still pretend to just wake up like that.

Having separate bedrooms doesn’t mean we can’t still visit. Or even stay a while.

But it’s not a given. You’re on boy or girl territory with a temporary visa.

Maybe that sounds cold, but it’s actually fun. It keeps you courting… you can’t juse scratch your butt before Dutch-ovening your partner while knowing they’ll have to put up with it. Unless neither of you minds, I guess.

Keeping a little mystery can bring dating excitement back to the marriage. You still have private territory. Your own identity. Your own refuge to think or read or do whatever without having to entertain anyone else. 

Maybe we should rethink the separate bedrooms taboo. It may not be right for everyone, but it doesn’t obviously mean a marriage is falling apart.

So stop being so judgey, people. You just made me defend Donald and Melania Trump.

 

 

Let’s Call A Truce For International Women’s Day!

It’s International Women’s Day, but you’d hardly know it from the way endless arguments about women’s choices keep exploding the internet.

In fact, many women are on strike today, which will undoubtedly receive ample criticism in the days to come.

Why? Because we keep shaming each other like it’s an Olympic event. Both the left and right accuse recent women’s marchers of showing their privilege, Adele fans are fighting with Beyonce fans, and Emma Watson made everyone clutch their pearls at her topless Vanity Fair cover, many demanding that she hand in her feminist card.

And the mommy wars haven’t stopped either….

officers-celebrate-at-captured-german-canteen.jpg

Hey, we all have to make tough choices in our lives, each involving unique hardships and challenges. So instead of fighting, I’d like to take a moment today to appreciate all the other women out there. Especially the ones who are typically at war:

Child-free Women

You guys are bucking the trend, facing criticism from everyone who believes any “normal” woman’s primary focus should be on having children. You’re changing ancient stereotypes about women being walking uteri while creating more independence and career opportunities for future women everywhere.

old maid.jpg
If only you had the right lipstick…

We don’t ALL need to have kids, and I thank you for bearing with those of us who are trying desperately to calm ours down at the restaurant or grocery store. Your taxes help pay for the next generation’s education too, so I thank you for being team players who are contributing to the group at large.

 

Plus, there didn’t used to be many options for women who didn’t want to focus on being moms, and that’s unfair. Our wages were pitiful, we were locked out of many career tracks, and were eventually viewed as old maids trying our best to scrape together something resembling a life after clearly being unable to land a man.

Thank you so much for helping to change this.

Single Moms

You guys have it ROUGH. You’ve got the pro-life crowd demanding you see every pregnancy through, regardless of circumstance, while experts demand you leave dysfunctional relationships or marriages, and then your morality is considered questionable after following everyone’s advice.

I have a hard enough time raising kids with a supportive partner, so I can’t imagine dealing with a screaming kid for hours, day after day, all by yourself… no one to shoulder the burden for a bit, while you regain your sanity. I honesty don’t know how you do it, but I’m impressed as hell that you keep it together the way you do.

Stay-At-Home Moms

Kids are a nearly-endless pool of energy and irrational desires. It’s DRAINING to take care of kids all day, Sisyphean at times… you slave over meals they refuse to eat or even throw on the floor. You clean out bodies and butts that get dirty five minutes later. You spend hours trying to either figure out why they won’t stop yelling, dumping out every jar in the house, or trying to stick silverware in the light sockets, only to relive the cycle again and again.

Trying to keep a house with little kids in it clean is like trying to file a huge stack of papers in front of high-powered fans. You can spend the entire day on your feet: chasing kids, putting out high-priority fires, and never getting a break, only to feel like you’ve accomplished nothing at the end of it.

And meanwhile, everyone’s rolling their eyes about how you’ve probably been eating bon-bons and watching soap operas all day, while assuming you’d undoubtedly be doing something more important (i.e. better paid) if you had the skills for it. It’s tough to be a SAHM in a society that equates work with identity, but you’re still doing important work. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to pay other people to it.

Working Moms

You guys are troopers, taking on a full work week during the day, then spending your evenings raising your kids. While SAHM’s don’t always get to take breaks, they do get some control over their own schedules, whereas you’re locked into a sunrise-to-sunset grind from the moment your alarm first starts screaming.

The American workplace doesn’t accommodate parenthood nearly as well as the rest of the developed world. You weren’t necessarily given much maternity leave, if any at all, and may have a brutal time reconciling your work schedule with the needs of your family without either shortchanging your kids or damaging your upward mobility. It’s a constant tightrope walk.

Meanwhile, you’re being shamed about letting strangers raise your kids, as if it were always a choice. Keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table is probably a higher priority, right?

And even if it is a choice, what’s wrong with being invested in your career? Maybe you’ve worked long and hard to get where you are and didn’t stop caring about it the moment you had a baby. Why doesn’t anyone question working fathers like this?

Breastfeeding Moms

bf.jpgEven though it sounds like the most natural thing in the world, breastfeeding can be incredibly challenging. The technique is tricky to master, it HURTS for the first few weeks, and it’s very easy to get discouraged and give up.

It also takes an enormous amount of time. You have to breastfeed babies every couple of hours, which makes it tough to do much else. Doing so in public makes many people uncomfortable, which means you’re either living under house arrest for the better part of a year, or suffering lots of uncomfortable stares from people who find it disgusting.

But experts now recommend it as the healthiest way to feed your infant, so you’re working hard to do right by your kid. Good luck, and keep your chin up.

Formula-feeding Moms

food-drink-world_of_cow-cowtoons-forumla_milks-baby_formula-cow-01238016_low.jpgSince experts now strongly encourage breastfeeding, moms who use formula also face loads of social disapproval, even the unspoken suggestion that they’re lazy or don’t care about their baby’s health.

And that’s an incredibly painful judgment, especially if you really wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t build up enough milk or had a baby with latching issues. Beyond that, there’s a good chance you had to go straight back to work, which makes it exponentially harder.

Pumping enough milk takes more time than I can imagine being available to you at a full-time job, even with breaks, and women who try are looked down upon by their coworkers. It’s also much tougher to produce milk for a machine than a baby. Many moms smell their baby’s clothing or look at baby pictures when they try because the right mindset helps. I have the deepest respect for any working moms who manage it at all.

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you feed your baby formula, but don’t. Many, many generations of healthy babies were raised on formula and your kids will be absolutely  fine.

Liberal Moms

It’s a bad time right now for liberals in America. Our side lost, and the entire government is packed with members of the other team.

And now we’re fighting amongst ourselves as we scramble to understand how it all happened. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, many calling another subgroup the weak link in the chain as we splinter into warring factions. Was it racism? Was it elitism? Was it the failure to focus on the economy or the failure to do what we were doing even harder?

I don’t know, but I hope we don’t cannibalize ourselves in the process. We’ve got to keep our heads in the game, guys. That win margin was awfully narrow.

Conservative Moms

I may not be on your team, but I’m friends with many of your teammates.

In other words, we may not back the same horse, but we often have similar values. I think most of us want to live in a world where people don’t fear for their safety, where they can be productive and take care of their families, and where our kids can grow up with a good education and ample opportunity.

We both want less crime, fewer unwanted pregnancies, healthy people, and a healthy economy where we can live comfortably after putting in a hard day’s work.

We both want these things, even if we have different ideas about how we can get there. Maybe it’s naive, but I’m really hoping we can both learn to start talking to each other instead of demonizing the other side. I think we’ve probably got more in common than we realize, because it’s usually the extremists taking up all the air in the room.

Besides, we’ve kind of been forced to pick teams in the grand Super Bowl that is American politics. I’ll bet most Americans aren’t 100 % strict adherents to EVERY last position and theory spouted off by their political camp.  Most are probably more moderate than that, which means we have some common ground to logically hash out some of these issues.

In short, I think we’d all do well to recognize that while we face some hardships, everyone else has hardships of their own. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got, so maybe we could put down our arms and try to understand someone else’s perspective, while giving ourselves a break at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Pink Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky…

For today’s post, I was inspired to try something different: a freehand comic strip!

The only problem is… I don’t know anything about making panels or drawing on computers, which complicates things.

But was I gonna let my complete ignorance and total incompetence stop me? Hell no!

So here goes… and I swear I’m going to get much better at this.

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-1-18-32-am

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-1-19-07-am

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 1.19.32 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 1.19.56 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 1.20.17 AM.png

Sly Like a Fox: How An Alpha Dad Conquered the World of Fairy Farts

I really don’t think we give dads enough credit for parenting prowess.

dadOf course I’m talking generalities here, but just look at all those comedy films about inept fathers tragically left to watch the kids… all by themselves. The poor fools always end up fumbling the job, pouring waffle batter into the toaster oven while an ominous mountain of bubbles creep out of the laundry room.

And I’ll admit to occasionally gritting my teeth when catching my husband John swinging our kids around by their ankles. Watch her HEAD, I silently scream while every muscle in my body clenches. Do you have ANY IDEA how long it took me to MAKE THAT?

Except the kids are in hysterics and he hasn’t brained them once. Children are full of all these weird qualities, like boundless energy and endless optimism, and probably need to be occasionally swung around the room at breakneck speed. Maybe dads are just reckless enough to make it happen.

But a questionable regard for safety isn’t the only great thing dads bring to the table, they can also cut straight through all the Attachment Parenting BS with truly impressive Alpha displays.

legofootFor example, now that our kids are almost 3 and 5, I’ve decided it’s high time they start cleaning up after themselves. I’m tired of exploding Legos and My Little Ponies covering every inch of our house.

However, this has been a painful, months-long struggle, each victory measured in inches like the battles of WWI. Between consistent instruction, patient explanations and occasional timeouts, I’ve managed to move the kids from screaming “NO!” while running in sideways floor circles, to spending an hour logrolling across the carpet to spit single Legos back into their boxes, to finally cleaning up their messes after only being reminded several times.

And then this weekend, I watched John using the oddest approach to enlist our kids into cleaning the house…

It went like this:

John grabs our 4-year-old daughter Brontë, handing her a garbage bag then taking her outside to point out all the pink dog-bed fluff-balls that our lunatic dog had been shredding across the yard

John: Alright kid, your job is PICKING UP ALL OF THESE FAIRY FARTS!

Brontë: But I don’t… I’m scared to…

John: YOU’RE PART OF THIS FAMILY AND OUR FAMILY ISN’T SCARED OF ANYTHING. ESPECIALLY FAIRY FARTS.

Brontë: Well, I don’t wanna…

John: Quit being such a PRINCESS, because being a princess only makes MORE FAIRIES COME FART IN OUR YARD.

Brontë: I’ve got…

John: LESS TALK, MORE FAIRY FARTS.

And what do you know, but it worked. She started laughing uncontrollably while gathering pink fluff-balls.

So there’s something to be said for unconventional dad methods. Our house is now completely fairy-fart free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Points I Want The Childfree To Consider

childless-peopleI don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like there’s a growing divide in this country between parents and the “childfree.”

The childfree set are tired of hearing they’re selfish and that’s understandable. For centuries, it’s been assumed that all right-thinking women are desperate to have babies and there must be something terribly wrong with those who don’t.

So maybe a backlash was inevitable. Tired of not being taken seriously, many women tried to rebrand their glorified baby-factory image by distancing themselves from motherhood as much as possible.

But frankly, I think some have taken the backlash way too far.

Beyond choosing not to have kids themselves, many now feel entitled to an entirely childfree existence. They scowl at kids on sight, demanding we ban them from airplanes, restaurants, and public life in general.

Don’t parents, they often ask, understand how unbearable it is to have to put up with their snot-nosed brats?

Sometimes they blame the parents themselves, since they’re clearly too narcissistic  and inconsiderate to bring their little monsters to heel. These attitudes were maybe best summed up the viral story about thoughtful parents distributing “I’m sorry” goody bags to their fellow airline passengers (here).

That story was passed around for ages, inevitably followed the kinds of hostile anti-child comments that would easily be considered hate speech if they were spoken against any gender, religion, ethnicity or race.

The crazy thing is, childfree people, I used to more or less think like you do.

After spending my twenties unsure of whether or not I even wanted children, an accidental pregnancy in my thirties catapulted me straight into motherhood.

And since I’ve now been on both sides of this equation, I’d like to share my changed perspective. I’ll start by answering some of the questions I frequently hear bouncing around the childfree set:

 

1–Why must people assume women who don’t want kids are selfish? Isn’t this an outdated idea? I’m tired of people questioning my life choices!

daycareI completely understand. Beyond all the logical reasons you may not want children, it’s infuriating that society still thinks its abnormal while simultaneously thinking it’s natural for men to focus on their careers.

But you know what? The situation doesn’t improve after you have one, because you’ll then be guilt-tripped about what kind of mother you are. Going back to work means you’re materialistic and selfish, whereas staying at home makes you a lazy sell-out.

No one will call the father selfish, by the way, for going back to work.

You, however, will be judged for breastfeeding or using formula (you’re either making people uncomfortable or not trying hard enough), for what you feed your kids (it’s either elitist or unhealthy) and for how quickly you get back into shape (not fast enough).

And by the way, aren’t you going to try for another baby? Don’t you also want a boy/girl?Why not?

Fact is, haters gonna hate. No matter what you do, there will always be judgmental people shaking their heads at all your life choices. It makes them feel better about their own.

2–Why are parents so obsessed with their children, posting so many pictures and acting like bearing offspring is an incredible feat, even though animals have been doing it since the dawn of time?

I-have-a-life.pngConsidering how many people post pictures of their lunch across Facebook, do you really have to ask?

And those folks just made a sandwich. We made PEOPLE.

Let me ask you this: Did you ever grow one of those avocado seeds in elementary school? The kind where you stick toothpicks in the seed, put it in a Dixie cup filled with water, then stash the cup in a window?

I bet that little seed in a Dixie cup was the first thing you looked at every day when you walked into the classroom. You noticed every tiny change and got really excited when it started to split after a couple of weeks. It blew your mind when a little green sprout finally popped up, even though you’d already walked past thousands of fully-grown avocados in your lifetime without giving them a second thought.

But this was different, because this was YOUR seed.

Well, parenting is like that. Except instead of jamming toothpicks into a seed and waiting a couple of weeks to see it sprout, you grow the seed inside your own body for almost a year then nearly kill yourself trying to squeeze it out.

And instead of becoming an avocado, this seed is capable of abstract thought, hilarious responses, and imprinting your identity for life. We probably go overboard, but doesn’t everyone?

Because no matter how many kids you’ve seen before, it’s different when it’s YOUR kid. Kind of like how everyone thinks it’s a big deal when they’re in love, getting a promotion, or receiving a compliment, even though these things happen to millions of other people every day.

 

3–Why don’t parents *do something* about their screaming kids? Don’t they know how grating it is to hear that when you’re trapped in a grocery store/restaurant/on a plane?

crying.jpgYes. Yes we do.

Because we’re standing right next to them, where it’s even louder.

And believe me, if we knew a surefire way to stop it, we would’ve already tried it. On top of listening to painful screaming, we’re also dealing with everyone’s dirty looks and are embarrassed as hell.

If you don’t see us flinching, it’s probably because that screaming kid woke us up 37 times a night for the past 3 months, and we’re currently approaching life with a thousand-yard stare.

But quieting the kid just isn’t that easy.

Very young children aren’t rational beings. They don’t stop yelling whenever we tell them to. Sometimes, they just keep on screaming even after we’ve fed them, changed them, cuddled them, and done everything we could think of to make them shut up.

And using chloroform is frowned upon. We can’t just grab a parachute and jump off the plane. We can’t always exit the grocery store. As much as non-parents like to talk about how leaving would “teach kids a lesson,” most toddlers don’t actually consider the end of a boring errand that big a threat.

Besides, parents need to eat too. If you don’t want our kids screaming in restaurants, then you’ll have to occasionally hear it in the grocery store.

But perhaps you still think it would be more considerate to leave. Well, my kids always started screaming when they got bored, which meant we’d been at the store long enough to really pile up the shopping cart. Leaving would mean abandoning the cart, so store employees would have to put away all of our groceries and we’d still end up going home without any food.

And there’s only so many frozen pizzas a person can eat.

 

4–Why are kids nowadays so entitled? Why can’t parents act like parents instead of being their kids’ friends?

comics-cyanide-and-happiness-kids

Because we’re scared. It’s better to have an obnoxious child than be called “abusive.”

Because back in the golden days of yore, there was more of an it-takes-a-village mentality where children were viewed as a collective good and other adults helped out. Discipline was viewed as a necessary evil, since it was understood that children naturally will test your limits, trying to figure out whether or not to take your authority seriously enough to do things they don’t want to do (which includes anything besides running around naked, screaming, throwing things, eating candy, and grabbing everyone’s stuff).

Now, there’s more of an I-shouldn’t-have-to-deal-with-your-kids mentality, coupled with sky-high expectations and the belief that any parenting tool beyond using a reasonable, quiet voice is damaging.

And while I agree that it’s a good thing we’ve put the days of whipping your kid with a switch behind us, experts now say that raising your voice or putting kids into time-outs is cruel. Because it scares them, or makes your love seem conditional, or triggers abandonment fears, or isn’t nurturing their creativity or, for whatever other reason, is damaging their psyches beyond repair.

So, how would you, as a hypothetical “real” parent, handle your screaming kid on an airplane?

And what do you do when that method doesn’t work?

Because it probably won’t. All your tools for creating consequences have been forbidden until the kid is old enough to have an iPhone to take away.

It doesn’t help that we tend to view parenting in terms of personal sacrifice: you’re supposed to ignore all of your own boundaries and needs to make children happy, or else you’re a horrible person. Kids, on the other hand, should never feel uncomfortable or have to put up with petty annoyances, because that would represent a gross violation of their rights.

Just ask your fellow passengers.

5–If a woman chooses to have a baby, why should I, or my employer, bear the brunt of it? Doesn’t demanding parental benefits only make it harder for women to compete in the workforce?

maternityleaveNo, lagging behind the rest of the civilized world makes it harder for women to compete in the workforce.

You see, 50 years ago, most moms stayed at home. Now, most work. The rest of the world seems to get that.

But not us. Despite all of our wealth, the US is the only country in the world besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternal leave at all. Beyond not allowing moms proper time for recovery and bonding with newborns, this policy also slaps huge financial penalties on families with new kids and pushes many moms out of work.

And if they weren’t pushed out by our lack of maternity leave, ridiculous work hours, and lack of vacation time, the staggering costs of daycare might do the trick. Daycare now costs more than college tuition and is, by the way, highly subsidized in other countries.

Deciding to stay home is fine, but we shouldn’t be forced into it. Wasn’t feminism supposed to be about giving women more choices?

Because while not everyone needs to have kids, someone does (unless we want our species going extinct). We won’t continue having employees and employers unless we do.

Yet instead of viewing this as a collective good, we tell women they should’ve “kept their legs closed” when they start demanding reasonable work/life policies (yes, I’ve actually heard that argument thousands of times).

Many women are forced to take lower-paying, lower-status jobs because they need flexible hours, which contributes heavily to the gender pay gap. Should women really be disproportionately shouldering the economic burdens of childcare like this?

In short, while everyone thinks our society bends over backwards to accommodate children, we actually don’t. It’s a lot of cutesy lip-service drenched in resentment.

And if you don’t think you have to care about this because you don’t have kids, you’re wrong. You may end up having kids one day. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be recognized as female, and therefore as a potential breeder who might inconvenience employers and taxpayers someday. Why invest in you?

And do we really want only non-breeding women to succeed? Or to always have the next generation grow up in relative poverty? Seems evolutionarily  irresponsible to me.

I hope I’ve given everyone some things to think about. I welcome any other ideas, comments, and am even happy to throw down with you, if that’s your style.

Except I really don’t think we should stay on opposite teams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice for Men: Cracking the Fat Pants Code

look fat.jpgMany guys who have been in long-term relationships will, sooner or later, find themselves staring down the barrel of the following question:

Do these pants make my butt look fat?

According to male comedians, this is a very stressful problem. You’re not sure how to answer this question without either lying or starting a fight. It may even feel like a huge, manipulative bid for forced compliments and you’re not sure how to handle being put in this position.

Well, I’m here to help.

You see, I think what we have here is a male/female communication problem. For whatever reason, men tend to speak directly whereas women deal in subtleties. While you think it’s a loaded question, we’re not actually trying to set you up.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t wrong answers. Here are a few examples, followed by our likely emotional response:

Do these pants make my butt look fat?

 

honey-do-these-pants-make-my-ass-look-fat-no-your-ass-makes-your-ass-look-fat-8f2e4.png
Hardee har har…

1- “No, that bowl of ice cream you scarf down every night makes you look fat.”

(You bastard, calling me fat! What about you cramming down cheeseburgers while you sit on your farty butt playing Call of Duty all day!? How DARE you judge ME? Stupid photoshopped magazine women…)

2- You get all nervous and scared before saying, “Umm… no, umm… you look fine.”

(He didn’t even look! Why is he so freaked out? He obviously thinks I’m a hideous whale and now he’s LYING to me about it. He’s probably lying about EVERYTHING ELSE TOO.)

3- Without even looking, you say “I don’t know. Whatever. I don’t know anything about fashion.”

(This is obviously important to me, yet he can’t take 30 seconds out of his day to give me his honest opinion. Just like how he doesn’t  care about what color we paint the living room. He’s not invested in me or our relationship.)

trap.jpgOkay, so this seems like a trap. No matter whether you say yes, no, or I don’t care, you’re still bound to be wrong.

But here’s the thing: women who ask this question don’t actually want you to evaluate their figure.

See, women’s fashion is infinitely complicated. We’re always trying to strike a delicate balance between looking like we just stepped off a Mormon compound or looking like we charge by the hour.

We want to wear clothes that are flattering, but may not be sure whether we can pull an outfit off, so we want a second opinion. We don’t want to walk outside looking terrible, but also don’t want to be insulted. So…

We don’t ask:

Am I fat?

We ask:

Do these pants make me look fat?

The difference is subtle, yet important. We’re giving you a pants parachute. We’re saying, “Go ahead and tell me if I shouldn’t wear this, but definitely blame it on the pants.”

 

To illustrate, I’d like to share an example of someone answering this question perfectly. Granted, it was a girl, which meant she held a huge advantage in navigating female psychology.

I was attending college in Los Angeles at the time, getting ready for a party. I had put on a silver-sequined skirt and kept studying myself in the mirror, unsure of whether or not it was working for me.

So, I decided to ask my roommate Ellen what she thought…

Me: Ellen, could you please come over here a minute and give me your opinion? I want to wear this skirt to Sara’s party but I’m not sure if it looks good on me or not. What do you think?

Ellen gets a real serious look on her face before walking around me in a circle, carefully evaluating every angle of the skirt.

Ellen: Hmm. Okay, you know what? I HATE that skirt!

Me: Umm.. okay.

Ellen: Because that skirt is doing HORRIBLE things to you. It’s making it look like you have a BIG SQUARE ASS, but you definitely DO NOT HAVE a big square ass, so I’m not sure how it’s doing it.

She walks around me a couple more times.

Ellen (looking angry): You know what? Take off that skirt and give it to me right now!

I take it off, wondering what’s she’s planning on doing next.

Ellen grabs the skirt, marches over to the trash can and chucks it inside. Slamming down the lid, she says, “I NEVER WANT TO SEE THAT SKIRT AGAIN. That skirt was INSULTING YOU. It was taking your nice figure and making it LOOK LIKE ABSOLUTE CRAP.”

And then she stomped off, leaving me giggling while looking for something more flattering to wear.

Now, you see how she did that? She let me know I looked horrible in that skirt and should never, ever wear it out in public, without hurting my feelings one bit. Because she blamed it all on the skirt.

That’s the trick. I hope this helps.

One note of caution, however: I don’t recommend throwing away your significant other’s clothes. This was a bold (though highly entertaining) move that would be too risky for most guys to attempt.

 

 

My Liberal Hangover

polls“You should’ve been at the election night party. People were going CRAZY. Alice and Lindsay even started crying. Now, I’m not happy that Trump was elected or anything, but crying? That’s so over the top.”

My buddy probably assumed I’d agree with him, since I’m usually more about logical, rational discussions than a bunch of melodrama.

Except this time I understood, because I was crying on election night too.

Just a day earlier, you see, I’d taken my four-year-old daughter with me to go vote for the first American female president. And she was going to win in a landslide, according to all the polls and media pundits.

It was really going to happen. How could it not?

Hillary may not have been everyone’s first choice (Elizabeth Warren would’ve been preferable), but at least she was highly qualified and running against the least-qualified candidate in election history.

Trump had run around constantly insulting everyone: black people, Mexicans, women, the LGBT community, war heroes, handicapped people, Muslim Gold Star parents… he was championed by the KKK.

Key members of his own party were denouncing him. Paul Ryan, John McCain, all the Bushes… he even went too far for Glenn Beck, who’s got to be the Right’s version of Michael Moore.

With the deck so stacked in her favor, Hillary just had to win.

And it was about time. Unlike in Germany, Argentina, Great Britain, Denmark, and so many other places, America has never, ever put a woman in charge.  We don’t even have a history of powerful queens to look back on.

My daughter Brontë was too young to fully understand everything going on, but she did grasp the idea that we were all voting for the boss of the country and that for the first time in our nation’s history, it could be a girl.

Brontë squeezed my hand and told me she loved me just before we marked our vote. She understood something important was happening, wanting desperately to feed our ballot into the machine, so I helped.

We were making history. My daughters would grow up already having a female president. They’d truly believe anything was possible, if only they worked hard enough.

Except that’s not what happened.

Instead, I stayed up alone on election night, watching another incredibly accomplished woman slowly lose to a volatile, inexperienced man. I couldn’t believe it. All the polls were wrong.

WRONG. Just like Trump kept telling us.

And I couldn’t help sobbing.

My daughter ran up to me the next morning, asking “did she win?” before reading my face then looking down at the floor.

“Maybe we can vote again tomorrow?” she asked. “Can she try three times?”

Argh…

Now that I’ve gotten all this grief out of my system, I’m hoping to figure out where we went wrong and what we can do to change it.

Most of my liberal friends are either collapsed into utter hopelessness or full of rage, preparing for the apocalypse. They’re saying the curtain’s been drawn back on America’s true feelings to reveal all the sexist, racist, homophobic hostility that’s been bubbling under the surface all along.

I don’t know. I think that kind of rhetoric was partly responsible for what just happened. The Republicans mopped the floor with us. They got everything: the House, the Senate, the Oval Office, and before long, the Supreme Court too.

I think it’s time to rethink our strategy.

Maybe Hillary’s loss was about sexism, or maybe it was about a huge group of overlooked voters lobbing a Molotov cocktail into the White House in the form of Donald Trump. The same group we’ve been ignoring and/or insulting for many years.

I don’t think we can afford to keep on doing that. Many Americans are struggling to feed their families as the economy keeps shutting down opportunities along with countless manufacturing jobs. Arguing with them about white privilege is never, ever going to work.

Besides, I have many conservative friends whom I respect very much. There are good people on both sides of the aisle, each having their own set of priorities and rationalizations… both sides seem locked into their respective echo chambers, listening to different radio stations, watching different news, and posting different memes all over Facebook.

Maybe a Sanders/Warren ticket was the answer. I don’t know.

All I know is that telling struggling people we won’t be helping them until we’ve sorted out the world’s intolerance only makes things worse, no matter how morally decent it makes us feel. Because there is no clear solution or endpoint.

What would “recognizing” our role in inequality even mean? It’s abstract and somewhat subjective. We can’t legislate subconscious feelings. There is no vague “recognition” of bias that would automatically translate into a fairer world, anyway.

We’re better off setting clear policy goals. We need to focus on the economy, figuring out constructive ways to make lives better instead of just telling everyone how wrong they are all the time.

 

And honestly, I think we’re also better off without all the political correctness. Those rules obviously didn’t prevent people from secretly thinking whatever they thought, but it did make it harder to subject views to hard scrutiny.

I’m hoping more liberals will start asking themselves hard questions, so we can improve our chances in 2020.

I’m also hoping Trump was strategically tapping into a frustrated base of voters during his campaign and isn’t actually as volatile as he seemed.

I guess we’ll all about to find out.

My Daughter Falls for Her First Obnoxious Punk

I don’t know if people without children believe parents think all kids are adorable, but deep down, we really don’t.

Like this weekend when we took our kids to Fairytale Town in Sacramento. It’s a cute toddler theme park based on fairytales, with a King Arthur castle in the middle and several tiny bridges around its make-believe moat.

Well, I was crossing one of these tiny bridges while holding Bridget’s (my two-year-old’s) hand when this pushy kid with a skateboard runs up behind us…

We were already crossing the when he rammed in right behind us in a vain attempt to  pass. Grunting about how slow we’re going (because 2-year-olds are pretty short), he starts shoving.

Annoyed as hell, I firmly let Bridget walk across at her natural pace.

Once we got to the other side and the kid was free to run away, he swivels around instead to shout, “Oh my GOD, you guys are SO UNBELIEVABLY SLOW it’s RIDICULOUS!”

“And you are INCREDIBLY RUDE!” I told him. “Trying to knock over a baby… GO LEARN SOME MANNERS!”

Startled, he ran. Maybe I was supposed to assume he needs our love and understanding to properly blossom, but I just couldn’t help thinking he’s gonna keep acting like a jerk unless it gets socially uncomfortable.

Either way, he skated off and our 4-year-old daughter Brontë went after him. She ran up smiling, but he didn’t want to talk to her. 

Everything was fine until we were later playing in the Sherwood Forrest playground section. Brontë sees this kid again and starts following him around, fawning on him, as he rolled his eyes at her again and again.

I was

horrified.

You see, other people looked at this kid and probably saw a cute little boy holding a skateboard, but when I looked at him, my brain fast-forwarded a dozen or so years until I saw this:

breakfastclub.jpg

Okay, so those of you born in the nineties may be missing the reference, but that’s John Bender, the rules-ignoring bad boy of The Breakfast Club. Notice how he’s smoking in the library and clearly up to no good with his shoes.

And this is what makes me realize I’m really a parent now: when I look at this guy, I’m seeing the guy who could screw up Future Brontë. 

You know, the Brontë who is president of the chess club and a serious contender for the International Science & Calculus College Scholarship until she gets mixed up with the likes of HIM.

And then we’re all of a sudden hearing, “But I loooooooove him” and “He didn’t really violate his parole, they’re just out to get him! No one understands him like me!”

No, Brontë, no!

They always make jokes about dads sitting on the porch with a shotgun, but I think moms actually panic even more.

Why? Because dads think their little girls are sweet little princesses who could be led astray by motorcycle jocks like this. Blindsided, if you will.

But moms… well, moms were once teenage girls themselves, so they understand exactly how they think. We ALL thought Bender was the hottest guy in the film. We loved it when Claire, the virginal princess, falls madly in love with him.

Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, so dads with shotguns make Bender delicious. It’s just not that easy.

Yeah, Brontë may be four, but I figure defeating the Bad Boy is gonna take some serious planning.

I need to think this through.