Friday, June 30, 2006

Boy or Girl

It starts early, the need to define children by their gender. The pink or blue cards on the hospital bassinets, the color coded baby blankets and onesies. My 9 pound baby boy was described as a “linebacker” and my 9 pound baby girl was simply a “big girl”. The hospital is only the beginning…the assumptions people make based on gender never end, the need to categorize people continues throughout life. Because of all of this, I believed that the environment was the primary determinant of gender expression. I believed that, in the absence of gender expectations, there would be no absolutes. Then, I had children.

When we saw that penis in the ultrasound, we were excited by the opportunity to raise an incredible man to send out into the world. We believed that our son, raised by two lesbians, would be free to express himself in any way he chose. We would encourage him to wear pink, to slap on a pair of fairy wings, to flit about in meadows and to play with dolls. Our son would be strong and sensitive – he would take on the world but be able to process his emotions with the best of ‘em. When we allowed him to express himself, however, he became a different person than we imagined. There are no fairy wings – there are basketball jerseys and soccer uniforms. There is very little flitting about on tip toes - there is running and jumping and shouting. He doesn’t want to wear pink – he likes bolder colors. People see him out in the world and say he is “all boy”. We cringe because we know he fits the stereotype. He is the strong and sensitive boy we hoped for, though the image of what that looks like has changed for us. Ultimately, he is just Miguel. This is who he is.

When I got pregnant the second time, we assumed we would have another boy and I was excited to have a shot at a different boy experience. That was not to be – we had a girl. Zeca is only 16 months old and we don’t know who she will become. For now, she is chubby cheeks, brown eyes, strong legs and a stout package of determination. In public, people refer to her as “he” and it’s hard to know if it is the lack of hair or her way in the world. I fight the urge to tell people that she is not actually a “he”. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter because she’ll be put into a box soon enough. For now, we choose her clothes and her style but someday that will change and we no longer pretend to know what she will look like. We hope for certain things but prepare ourselves for others.

Gender expression is so much more complicated than nature versus nurture. The two can never be separated. I have come to realize that if I truly want my children to be free to express themselves, I must allow all possibilities – not just those that fit with my politics. It’s hard. I still picture that sports-shunning, fairy boy and I can’t help but hope for a girl that frowns at the frills and bows but, ultimately, they are my children and I adore them in all of their complexity.

Taking Shape

I haven't posted any pictures or updates on our addition lately. We have been busy choosing light fixtures, fans, paint colors, flooring and woodwork. The recent progress has been dramatic and it seems like most things will be finished in the next couple of weeks. They are painting the rooms right now. Next week, they are laying the hardwood floors and doing the tile. The carpet for the upstairs master bedroom will be last. They will also finish the external siding next week. Check out our new bedroom!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Apologies to Betty Friedan

This morning, as I was buckling Miguel into his car seat, I said, "I love you so much! Do you know that?" He asked, "Do you love me even though I killed a spider?" I said that I did but would prefer that he didn't kill things because every living thing has a purpose in the world. We then discussed the roles that various insects and animals play in keeping balance in life. We discussed aphids and ladybugs, mosquitos and bats and lions and gazelles. He then asked, "What do people do?" While my cynical mind turned over a multitude of terrible things we do in the world, he spoke again, "I know what a mom is supposed to do...clean the house!"

Friday, June 23, 2006

Let the Chips Fall...

Last week, I ate a bag of Frito Lay Fritos and I glistened like a shiny salt lick for the rest of the day. I don’t know why I chose the Fritos – I never ate them as a child and that is my usual impetus for bad food choices. Today, I went to grab a sandwich and decided to pick up some chips to go with it. The only chips offered at the deli were Miss Vickie’s. I had never heard of Miss Vickie’s chips and, despite the fleeting thought that Vikki eating Vickie’s chips might somehow bring bad luck, I picked up a bag of Lime and Black Pepper chips. I’ve never really come across this particular flavor combination despite Miss Vickie’s assurance that she “crafted this recipe to bring you the flavor of a less hurried time”. I’m not sure what about a black pepper and potato limeade brings back the days of old but I could be missing something, being all hurried and modern as I am. As I crunched and cringed, I did a little research on the brand. I wondered, “Who is this Miss Vickie and why is everything on her chip bags written in English and French?” Well, I did not find the answers to those burning questions but I did find out that Miss Vickie’s chips are made by Frito Lay. My bad chip choices have come full circle.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


It’s easy to drown in the details of daily life. We lose ourselves in lunches to be prepared, appointments to schedule, laundry, dishes, errands to run – an endless set of tasks on our mental “to do” lists. Sometimes, it feels like there are countless things to remember, countless things to do to keep a household with two young children running smoothly. I leave those details behind only to go to work and drown in the chaos and drama created by co-workers who have Borderline Personality Disorder. I clench my jaw and become consumed with lost files, tense e-mail conversations and fears about my professional reputation. It is easy to don the negativity like a ratty old jacket, zipped up tight. It’s easy, so very easy, to be lost.

Then, something happens. I return home and my partner is making food for a picnic and the children are excitedly circling. We go to Lake Harriet and the evening is impossibly perfect, filled with children and friends, laughter and conversation. We get to watch our goofy boy perform on stage, get to hear him sing like we know he can but hasn’t in a single rehearsal. We get to see our baby, who is becoming more of a little girl every day, walk unsteadily down a hill, lose her balance and roll the rest of the way down only to stand up at the bottom and laugh. We see our children hugging and kissing their friends, their arms draped casually over each others shoulders, a comfort that is truly a gift. We watch the children playing tag and their smiles are large enough to make my headache fade and my jaw relax and my lips curl into a smile for the first time since waking. The sun is setting over the lake and we must all say goodbye. The children call out to each other as we walk to our cars and they are content. They say goodbye without tantrums or begging because they are full, their time together has been enough. We drive home, my partner’s hand on my leg, our son sleeping in the back seat, our daughter babbling and playing with her toes and I am, once again, overcome with the realization that there is nothing more important than a sense of belonging. There is nothing more important than recognizing that you are surrounded by so much love. We carry our children into the house and they settle into their beds. The house falls quiet and, as we sit together and reflect on the beauty of this evening, I find that I am free from that ratty old jacket. My body holds no more tension and everything is in perspective…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Miguel and his friend, Luca, started at Camp Kici Yapi on Monday. Miguel loved camp so much that he came home after the first day and told us that he was sad. We asked why and he said that he was sad because there were only 4 more days of camp left. On Monday, Luisa dropped him off. Yesterday, The Mistress of the Flans dropped him off. Today, it was my turn and we talked about it this morning.

Miguel: You haven’t dropped me off at the bus yet, have you?
Me: No, today is the first time.
Miguel: Are you excited to see me ride the bus by myself?
Me: Of course.
Miguel: I go all by myself. You don’t go with me.
Me: (Miguel now snuggling in my lap) I know. Would you like to stay home and cuddle with me all day instead?

He quickly pulled back and looked me straight in the face, his smile unsure and his head tilted in suspicion. He responded, “nahhhh” and gave a nervous laugh. We cuddled until leaving for camp. We picked up Luca and, as we drove to the Y, they chanted:

Cherries on cheesecake
Cherries in a pie
Cherry bus is number 1
And we’re the reason why!
Yay Cherry Bus!

Their smiles were incredible, so full of joy and so carefree. Their bodies vibrated with happiness and I could feel it when I rubbed against their little bodies. We waited on the sidewalk for the bus to come and they did their own thing. I watched them talking to other kids, watched Miguel play so sweetly with a little girl close in age to his sister, watched them twitch and dance in anticipation. The bus arrived and before I could envelope them in my arms for hugs and goodbyes, they were out of reach. Luca was already in her seat and Miguel was on the stairs of the bus. He looked back at me, gave me the biggest smile of the day – the smile that said, “Do you see me? Can you believe this?” and I smiled back. He scrambled onto the bus and into his seat. He poked his face out of the bus window and yelled, “Did I forget anything?” As much as I wanted to tell him that he forgot to hug me, I yelled back, “Honey, you have everything you need!” The bus pulled quickly away and I could see him waving to me as they turned the corner and disappeared.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ethics 101

Good morning class. We have a very interesting ethical dilemma to consider today. Yes, in the back, Mr. Taylor is it? Yes, you’ll have a chance to argue your points. Take out your notebooks and let’s get started!

Let’s say that you decide to return to work full-time and that you must put your youngest child in day care. You have never used a day care center before, so, you search the city you live in for the ideal place for your child. You see all sorts of places that seem to have taken their decorating tips, and possibly some of their staff, from Russian orphanages. After an extensive search, you find the perfect place for your child. The environment is beautiful, the center follows the Montessori philosophy, and all of the people you meet appear to be kind, loving people. You sign up on the spot, despite the high cost.

Your child starts at the center when she is 9 months old and everything is working out well. She bonds with her caregivers. The teachers prove themselves to be the lovely people you thought they were. Your child thrives. The months pass by and your child is now 15 months old. You spend a morning hanging out in your child’s classroom and discover that your child’s teachers do not have health insurance. The management of the day care center will only pay half of the cost of insurance, so, neither of the teachers can afford it because they are also underpaid. One of the teachers is an older woman who tells you that she cannot afford to pay for the doctor’s visit to get the prescription for her blood pressure medication renewed. You ask what she will do and she tells you that she will have to stop taking the medication. They cannot qualify for Minnesota Care because the employer pays a certain amount of their health insurance costs. You may assume that the teachers did not disclose these things to you to gain your sympathy or assistance. This conversation took place in the context of a larger conversation about how the world has gone to shit…ahem, I mean that the world is facing a set of unique challenges.

Now, what do you do in this situation? Do you:

a)Do nothing because it’s not your fault and there is nothing that you can do anyway
b)Ignore the issue and spend more time talking to the teachers about the weather
c)Discuss your concerns about fair pay and health insurance with the management in hopes of creating change, though you may cause trouble for the staff or be asked to leave a day care center that you really like and your child likes
d)Research alternative health care options for the staff and present your findings to them
e)Remove your child from the school in protest, though you have been told that issues of fair pay and health insurance occur in every day care center
f)Research unions for day care workers and provide that information to the staff
g)Stop talking to the teachers and wear dark glasses when you drop off and pick up your child
h)Eat lots of chocolate

There are many more options and you could certainly do any combination of the options listed above. What would you do and why? Please leave your assignments in my comment box and, if you have questions, I’ll be in the corner eating a candy bar…

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Top Ten

When I became a parent, I knew I would say things I swore I would never say to my kids. Realistically, I knew I might let loose with the occasional "Because I said so" or "Because I am your mother" or "I've had it". Here are a few of the things I have said that I never could have imagined...

10. Stop pulling my eye lids!

9. We do not stand on top of tables.

8. You cannot go to school wearing only a belt.

7. Please stop putting your sister in that box.

6. Yes, I'm sure Spider Man has a penis under his suit.

5. Please don't rub your butt on my pillow.

4. If you lick your sister one more time, you are going to your room!

3. Spiders don't go grocery shopping.

2. No pickin', no pokin', no flickin' (boogers, of course)

And, the number one thing I never could have imagined saying...

1. When you are an adult, you can ask someone to touch your ravioli penis.