Tag Archives: feminism

Two Little Arrows out in the Wide World: Musings on Children

1 May

I send our little boy out into the world with a pink and blue tutu, heedless of the consequences. I’m not concerned, although I suspect the babysitter is. Our son has very firm ideas about what he wants already, plus he loves to copy his big sister, and many of his life’s joys are the same as hers. This includes a passion for shoes and tutus, as well as an extraordinary ability to prolong bedtime by bringing more and more books to the bed with a pleading look in his eyes.

Mostly when he wears his tutu or his dress (things he has borrowed from Lucia and made all his own) strangers just assume that he’s a girl. Obviously, folks who know him know that he’s a boy, and reactions have been mixed. First folks are kind of taken aback. Some folks have a strong reaction of “WTF,” while others have a milder sort of head-shaking tsk-tsk version of it. LIke, “Why would they put a skirt on this poor boy? These strange people!” When people ask about it and I tell them he’s matching with his big sister, they seem to be a bit more understanding about it. I kind of resent having to give an explanation for my two year old’s style, but at least that keeps most people from freaking out that boys can’t wear that- at least in the presence of my children. I don’t want too many people contradicting our family values that all people can wear whatever they want.


Protesting nap time, with Lucia’s shoes on, on the wrong feet, of course. 

People thought it was weird when we dressed Lucia in hand-me-down “boy clothes” when she was little, too. People were not ever shocked and appalled, however, in the same way that some people are about Khalil wearing a tutu. I could talk my feminist theory talk about why I think Khalil is more distressing for them, but that’s not my purpose today.

Partly, I’ve just been thinking about how easy it is for me to let my children be themselves- sometimes, and in some respects. And how hard it is to let my children be themselves in other ways.

Take, for instance, Lucia’s invented new hairstyle. I’m not the slightest bit worried about the other parents out there judging me or her because her hair is like a 4 year old version of some punk-rock hair cut (it kind of looks like someone was drunk while braiding her hair). I couldn’t care less about anyone reporting her to the fashion police for her favorite outfit, which involves pants, a tutu, and a shirt/skirt one-piece all at once. (YES! Wear all your favorite things at once! Yes!)


Here you can kind of see one version of Lucia’s favorite outfit, as well as her badass hairstyle. 

It’s easy enough right now for us to plant and water these seeds in our kids’ heads- that they can wear whatever they want, that boys and girls can do anything, that girls can have boyfriends or girlfriends, and boys can have girlfriends or boyfriends. Since Lucia already has a “boyfriend” at her preschool, the who-can-be-your-partner conversation has already happened. I had to give her examples of friends of ours that are “novios con novios” or “novias con novias” so that she would believe that I wasn’t making it all up. I felt totally rewarded in the parenting department one day when one of her friends was over and I overheard her talking about how so-and-so at school could go with so-and-so, because you CAN have girlfriend with girlfriend, because her Mommy said so. Of course I worry a tiny bit about what will happen when her peers’ opinions hold more weight than mine, but I realize that all I get to do is plant and water seeds and see how they grow.

That part is easy for me. Based on my background, and my values, I have possibly too much confidence about being able to sow healthy and open ideas in my kids’ heads about many things. But I realized that there are certain other things about my kids that I just keep fighting against, and that it’s time to evaluate that.

Like the sleep thing. Lucia has had major sleep problems since she was pretty itty-bitty. She has a hard time falling asleep (my genes) and a hard time staying asleep (Conan’s genes). One night when I was putting her to bed late but happily, she told me, ever so wistfully, “I can’t wait for it to be morning.” And I thought, “Why do I begrudge her this so much?” This bright little heart never wants to go to sleep, so deeply and intrinsically, that even when she is to-the-bone-exhausted she still has an inherent resistance to sleep; she  just won’t give up on the waking world. There is too much excitement, too much to be lived. None of us should be sleeping! And that’s precisely how I used to feel- and how I still feel, sometimes. Having children taught me a new level of exhausted, one that gifted me the capacity to fall asleep nearly instantly as my head finally hits the pillow each night. And yet. Slithering my way out of depression, I find that more and more I resist sleep again. It’s like being 15 again, where I just want to stay up and smoke cigarettes and write poetry, or sneak out and drink coffee and have philosophical discussions at the all-night shitty diner at 2 in the morning. I want to discover myself, and discover the whole world, too! I want to love everything, to be enchanted and jaded at the same time, to hand out flowers to lonely-looking strangers on Valentines Day and get involved with a youth-run activist zine all over again! Except I don’t smoke anymore and no one is calling to sneak me out of the house. (I sit at the computer and smuggle myself a beer after the kids are in bed instead.) But I digress. Feeling her sleep resistance as a kindred spirit instead of as an inconvenience or a failure or something I’m supposed to fix, it finally clicked for me that my kids are going to be however they are.

Duh, right? It’s sounds so simple. Of course I’m going to keep influencing them, and doing the best parenting job I can. But that’s all I get to do. So what’s the point in fighting with them about other things? I don’t mean not setting boundaries or letting them run amok in all ways, but I do mean recognizing when they’re just not capable of meeting certain expectations, because they get to be unique human beings, too. I’ve been thinking about this extra because I’ve been reading this book about working with your kids to resolve problems, which also talks a lot about working with your child’s personality and strengths. So when Lucia told me how she couldn’t wait for the next day to happen, oh-so-longingly, pining for more moments of life, and I recognized little-girl-me in her, it finally hit me that no amount of bedtime routing is going to “cure” this child of her sleep issues. And there are going to be lots more things that I view as problems that maybe could be viewed from a different lens, for everyone’s benefit.

Like I’ve finally accepted that I don’t need to stress abut my kids’ eating habits. Yes, I still need to bust my butt to make sure there’s healthy food available for them to eat everyday. But I don’t need to stress if Lucia wants to eat just pasta for lunch, vehemently rejecting any vegetables involved. She’ll eat her vegetables for dinner. My kids are great eaters. This is not a real problem. Just because they don’t eat exactly like I do does not mean they are not healthy eaters. Khalil is not yet capable of resisting the urge to drink the bathwater when he’s pretending to have a tea party. Lucia is not capable of getting a good night’s sleep in a bed by herself. Some things I’d like for them, they’ll be capable of in the future. Some things they might never be able to do because that’s just how they are. And that’s okay, too.

It doesn’t mean I have infinite patience, either. It still makes me lose my mind when I’m running late and Khalil insists on buckling his own seat belt, which he can’t effectively do yet. It still ups my anxiety when Lucia has major panic attacks over non-emergencies. But I can deal with it all a lot better when I am compassionate about all of us being separate human beings, and doing the best that we can, being who we are. When I am kind and generous with them, and with myself, too.

I can be at my parenting best when I can keep the wise words of Kahlil Gibran in my heart. (And yes, my son is named for him! And yes, I am having a beer with myself and my writing as we speak, and delighting in every minute of it.) I’ll leave you with his words, since it’s way better than anything I could say.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

A Cold Conspiracy

17 Jan

I have many theories about the ways in which women (all over the world) are manipulated into submission. I have a particular theory about how women in this town are trapped in their houses as soon as they have their first child. It’s due to this belief that cold (or, in my perception, slightly chilly) weather makes babies sick. Not germs. It surely has nothing to do with all those germy hands people like to put on my child’s hand which she then puts directly in her mouth. Nor could it be related to the fact that people’s sick kids come up and kiss and hug Lucia or play with her toys, without the parents doing or saying anything. No, no. Couldn’t be that. It’s the weather, and I’ve failed to protect her from it by leaving the house (and sometimes just my bedroom) after dusk.
I also dress my daughter all wrong for the weather (in addition to often dressing her all wrong for her gender). People here put babies in about 15 layers of clothing, and then still put a blanket over them (including over their head) when they leave the house. Even in like 85 degree weather (real temperature; not an exaggeration), you can bet that babies in Juquila are wearing a warm hat, among other things. Mothers here see Lucia and freak out that she will probably drop dead from the cold any second now. I see babies here and freak out that they will die of overheating any second. It’s a mutual disapproval, although it’s an entire town against little ole me.
This weather-illness situation is also the only thing about my mother in law that I’m violently opposed to. Luckily, we get along great on most fronts, and I respect and like her loads. But I can’t stand the way she does this grandmother-knows-best thing about these beliefs. For example, if I bathe Lucia at night, she’ll say something like “Do you need anything from the kitchen before you give her a bath? You know you can’t bring her up to the cold air in the kitchen after you give her a bath.” (Our kitchen is a room made of wooden boards, so it is airier and chillier than the rest of the house downstairs, but it is by no means the ice house it’s made out to be.) And I want to (but don’t) tell her, “No, I don’t know that, and I don’t believe that. And I refuse to be trapped in my own bedroom, unable to even go to the kitchen in my own home, because of what I believe is an irrational fear about my daughter’s health.”
So sometimes I hide out and brood in our bedroom, dreaming of the day when I don’t feel like a prisoner in the place where I live. Slowly, stealthily, but surely I break the rules, too. Sometimes I appear in the kitchen anyway, and when someone says something to me, I say something like, “Oh, I think she’s okay.” Or I head out the door with Lucia already in the wrap, saying bye instead of explaining in detail that I’m going out.
Granted, I don’t actually believe that my mother in law is out to limit my liberty. In fact, she is most certainly on team feminist. But these weather-related beliefs are too ingrained. Conan reminds me that these rules and beliefs were invented for a reason- that people surely observed babies getting sick after being in the cold. While I’m a big fan of empirical evidence, I remind him that correlation doesn’t equal causation. There are more babies born in areas where storks live, too, but that doesn’t mean that storks really bring babies (it’s because storks live in rural areas, where birthrates are higher- thank you, Dr. Newman and Intro to Sociology).
These assertions about illness and weather also make me crazy because I have so many logical, reasonable responses to disprove them, but I don’t like to tell people (especially my awesome mother in law) that I think their (deeply ingrained cultural) beliefs are wrong. But really, obviously people here have not been to Ireland, for example, where there is nearly constant cold and rain and wind. Irish babies would no longer exist if these assertions about cold and sickness were true. And I can think of much colder places where I would also bet that they don’t try to keep moms and babies inside through their entire infancy. Plus let’s talk about all the really hot places, where it’s never really cold and nasty, and yet people still get sick there. Explain that, people of Juquila! Ah. There. Now I feel a little better.
Of course, the other reason I don’t bother with all these opinions and theories of mine is that someone would surely tell me that babies get sick from the evil eye, which is a whole other belief system I’m not prepared to argue against. “Le hicieron ojo”- they put the evil eye on him or her- is something I’ve heard from folks of all ages and education levels around here. And I’ve even seen with my own eyes someone suddenly (after walking by someone who dislikes him a lot) get blurred vision and other weird symptoms, which were then just as suddenly cured by some cool ritualistic-looking rubbing with an egg, and prayer, and I don’t know what else. So I reserve judgment about the evil eye, although I’m still putting my money on Lucia having gotten a cold from being passed around at a party and someone there sharing their germs. Alas, nobody asks me; they only tell me their theories (which they do not call theories, but rather fact).
Don’t get me wrong; I believe in the power of energy, I believe in the effectiveness of traditional healing and folk medicine, and I believe in the wisdom of people beyond and before “modern” medicine. But I do not buy into all those things blindly and purely, by any stretch. When I get sick, I am much more likely to take certain herbs and eat certain foods than I am to take “modern medicine”. But you’ll never convince me that staying in my room is more effective than thorough hand washing in preventing illness. Likewise, until I see fathers staying inside with the baby to “prevent illness” while mothers are free to go out whenever they want, I’ll continue to believe that these ideas about the cold are part of a larger conspiracy against women that is designed to keep us in the home, and to put the blame on us when something is wrong with our children. I refuse to take the blame, and I refuse to buy in. Even though nobody asked me.