bentangle

parenthood

Not My Place

by on Jun.03, 2014, under About Me, parenthood, The World

I’ll admit that I led a fairly sheltered childhood. I grew up in a small, semi-rural town in a small, semi-introverted family. We had small circles of friends and family that was distant. And in turn my own circles of friends have always been small and close-knit. I don’t consider myself a close-minded person by any stretch, but my experiences at least in my youth were limited. As a result, relating to the experiences of others has never been my strong suit. What I did have going for me is that I had no perceptual baggage and luckily very few inherited biases. So while I grew up in a fairly culturally uniform area, I absorbed no prejudices from it. But having had limited exposure, I avoid positing positions on cultural issues not my own. It’s not my place.

Through college and work experiences and just life, I’ve been immersed in a more diverse world. And still I’ve avoided picking up too many prejudices or preconceived notions. If anything, many of such notions I hear about often baffled me. So as I became comfortable, I’d challenge such assumptions with my fellows (at least with those I felt I was close enough to) … but not the world at large. It’s not my place.

Now that social media has changed the way we communicate with each other and the world, the opinions and views that I find myself exposed to are too numerous and contrasting to keep track of. And while I hold to the belief that most things fall into the gray, there are some ideas and practices I see in the world that are clearly in the wrong. And while I’ll stand by my fellow person’s rights and liberties, I don’t actively crusade against the wrong-headed idealists of the world. It isn’t my style, or my place.

But now I have children: young budding human beings who cannot possibly live as sheltered a life as I had or avoid the wrong-headedness that is (and really always has been) rampant. While I can teach them the right ideals and principles, good judgment and good values, it isn’t enough. I have to do more. As a parent, this is my place.

And unfortunately part of that job is to teach my kids hard lessons like: to be strong enough not to use violence and negative words against others, to be confident enough to stand by their ideas regardless of whether they are different, to be brave enough to call out others for hurtful or prejudicial behavior. I have to teach my daughter to strive for no less than she wants and deserves even though there are many forces that seem to be working against her simply for being a girl. I have to teach my son to be better than the baser instincts that are so easy to fall slave to and hold to principals of respect and fairness and equality. It will not be an easy road, but it is my place.

But this job has taught me something more – it IS my place to confront the demons of the world. If I can steer my children to a higher standard, why not others? Why not my friends, my family, my peers, my elders? We are living in a world with too much darkness, too much violence, too much victimization and not enough respect and individual responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we can make it better. We can stop tolerating the injustice and petulance of the lesser among us and start holding them to a higher standard. To live and let live. To take personal responsibility for one’s own words, actions, and station in life. To treat each any every one of us as equals regardless of gender, race, religion, body type, or capabilities. I think we can bring those values to this place called Earth and this race called humanity … if we can’t, then maybe this is not my place.

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Trek Into Darkness

by on May.19, 2013, under family, movies, parenthood

Being a fan of various shows and movies in the Star Trek franchise, especially it’s more recent phoenix-like rebirth, it would be an understatement to say I was eager to see the latest installment in J.J. Abrams treatment of the movie series. I attempted to rally the family around it (my wife and daughter were already on board, but my son seemed to need some persuasion), but when my son (probably wisely) proved too reluctant to endure the sound and fury of the theater despite how exciting the trailer looked. So my wife opted out to stay with Grasshopper while just Cricket and I made a go of it. While the movie left us with warm feelings of contentment, our post-movie conversation left me alone with a cold quiver down my spine.

As any parent can appreciate, drawing a detailed opinion out of a child (at least when it is wanted) is like drawing blood from a stone with ADD. So I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions than simple “What did you think of the movie?” Today’s Q&A went something like this:

Me: So which character did you like the best?
Her: Uhh…that’s hard to say…
Me: Okay, if you could be any character from the movie, who would you be?
Her: OH! I’d be Spock!
Me: Okay, how about if you could go out to dinner and spend time with any character from the movie, who would it be?
Her: You mean if none of the drama and stuff was happening?
Me: Yeah, just you and that person hanging out, no drama.
Her: Ooh – definitely the bad guy!
Me: Why the bad guy??
Her: I don’t know. I just like the idea of going out with the bad guy.

I had trouble coming up with any more questions after that.

My daughter has impressed me on numerous occasions with the characters that she has opted to adhere to in the media she watches. For instance last fall when we opted to go spend some of her allowance at the comic book store (her choice), she ended up deliberating at length between two POP! bobble-head hero toys. Her top choices were Nick Fury and Robin. She settled on Nick Fury and when I asked her afterward why those characters, it was because she saw them as leaders – Fury of the Avengers and Robin of the Young Justice team (based on watching the Young Justice cartoon that we until recently enjoyed watching on Cartoon Network). In this instance, it seemed no different with regard to the first question – she saw Spock as a logical and heroic character unafraid to take charge and act intelligently.

As for the second question, that one just felt too much like the kind of foreshadowing that I could easily have lived without. I love Cricket and enjoy that so far at her young age of 9 boy-related issues are limited to fleeting crushes. And I’ve told myself since she was a baby that I would try my best to be open and accepting of what teenagehood would one day bring. But there have already been touches of temperamental behavior that I can only assume will be exacerbated by puberty. So if there is also the possibility that she will also be a bad-boy chaser, I’m worried for my own resolve in the years to come.

Hopefully I’m reading too much into the statement and she just legitimately thought he would be the most interesting person to hang out with disregarding the potential evil streak. Perhaps like my wife she was captivated by his deep British voice that supposedly sounds like a jaguar trapped in a violin. Or maybe he seemed the safest bet as most of the rest of the characters had quite a handful of scrapes with death in the course of the movie – him comparatively the least often. Or perhaps I should just read less into the whimsical commentary of a 9-year-old and just continue to nurture the right skills and judgment in her until such fears either come to inevitable fruition or fizzle out as a vestige of an unrealized time-line.

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Shake What Mattel Gave Ya

by on Nov.10, 2011, under family, home & stuff, parenthood

Naked BarbiesAs a parent, I’ve come to appreciate the various common experiences and rites of passage of childhood from a different perspective – one that often makes me yearn to remember what it must have been like to be so blissfully ignorant of so much.  Some of these, though, are a bit odder than others.  One in particular that I was recently reminded of is related to Barbie Dolls.

I’m sure I’m not the first to come to this revelation, but I find a certain level of irony in the fact that the very point of variability between the variety of such dolls one could add to one’s collection often ends up the first element sacrificed – their clothes.  My daughter has only about 4 or 5 Barbies (she was never hugely into dolls), and to my knowledge only one complete outfit still retrievable and intact – which, due to the tedium of application often is discarded anyway during play.  While I know that naked Barbie play is a fairly common trend – I had playmates in grade school who had collections of them, I know my wife and her sisters commonly played with them as such in their youth; the only example I know of to the contrary would be my own sisters (they were surprisingly prudish about such matters at the time – I was often sent from the room when outfit changes were in order) – what I find fascinating about this trend is the creative rationalizations built around it.

For instance, just a few days ago I come home to my kids playing with the collection of unclad dolls (the one dress only inches away completely ignored).  When I ask what they are doing, the explanation is that they are shopping at a special grocery store where moms are allowed to shop naked.  In conversations on such topics with my wife, their apparent go-to rationale was that all of the dolls clothes were somehow stolen and there seemed to be a lack-luster effort put into locating or retrieving said items.  My grade-school playmate seemed to have an array of dolls with painted-on underwear (which in most cases she seemed to scrape off).

While I know that Barbie has been used as a focal point as a gateway to the unrealistic female body-images that our daughters (and sons) are exposed to, it is hard to see that affect in the eyes of these children at play that are so innocent as to not fully understand body modesty (a point also clear in the joy they get from stolen moments of naked time after baths or in the mornings).  Don’t get me wrong – I do take the body-image issue seriously.  While we encourage our kids to play and be active, it is never backed by negative messaging (e.g., you need to lose that baby fat).  Hopefully my kids will only retain the positive aspects of these experiences – imaginative, cooperative, and care-free play.

By the way, the picture in this post was found via a Google Image search that was innocent enough in nature (naked barbie doll – with safe search on), and I come to find that someone actually made a calendar full of such images made to look like a pin-up calendar … which is just a bit creepy (also, this pic was the ‘tame’ one from the spread).  I believe that I had read somewhere that Mattel may actually be suing over this, so if the image suddenly stops working there may be a valid reason.

Anyway, if you’ve got any childhood memories of quirky justifications for clothing-optional Barbie play, feel free to share.  Or if you were more like my sisters and kept your dolls chaste, I’d like to hear your stories as well. And in either case, if you feel that your dolls’ proportions influenced your own body-image feel free to discuss.  Thanks for reading!

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From Flower to Chocolate Dessert?

by on Jun.06, 2011, under family, parenthood

This weekend seemed to be punctuated by my daughter’s Girl Scout events and the resultant aftereffects.  Cricket, being in first grade, was a Daisy this year (the lowest rank in the Girl Scouts organization – at least as far as I’m aware).  The weekend begun with me having a boy’s evening with my son because the Daisies were having a camp-out (camp-out = a dozen kindergarten and first grade girls sleeping in tents in someone’s back yard).  My wife hung out with the crew for part of the evening as well.  Apparently my daughter had awoken at around 5:45 the next morning and, as is characteristic, was a little jabber-jaw (to the chagrin of the councilor who was shushing her and hoping that she wouldn’t wake any of the other girls).

As a result of the short night’s sleep, Cricket was in rare form most of Saturday – breaking down in a handful of whining fits throughout the day and finally falling asleep mid-afternoon in my bed.  Ironically this happened while I was at the grocery store getting the makings of burgers to grill at her request.  I made the burgers nonetheless and hers still sits in the fridge to be eventually consumed or tossed.  My wife and I had considered eventually moving her to her own bed, but instead took advantage of her absence to get her room to an actual clean state.  Officially, we didn’t throw away anything except a few pieces of actual garbage, unofficially we filled at least 2 garbage bags – one with donation items.  We also collected a wardrobe’s worth of laundry and a classroom’s supply of pencils from her floor (and don’t even ask me how many hangers).  I then opted to sleep in her bed in her stead – it was fairly relaxing until the kids came in in the morning and were literally running circles on the newly clean floor.

Yesterday things were generally more even-keel.  The kids were in good spirits and properly rested.  They even played well together at times (not all the time, but some of it).  We enjoyed some time at the park and went to pick out some paint for the loft bed I plan to build Grasshopper.  Things only got hectic when dinner preparation ran long requiring us to eat fast – a feat that is nigh impossible it seems for children under 8 – so that we would make it to Cricket’s bridging ceremony on time (bridging ceremony = groups of Girl Scouts walking across a plank of wood situated next to a blue tarp resulting in the need to re-accessorize in a new vest color).  As my daughter’s troop marched up to the staging area, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the patches on the backs of their vests depicted as achievements (e.g., bowling, s’more-making), but I guess at the ages of 5 to 7 you can only expect so much.

The local den mother (or whatever you call the senior officiant for all of the levels of troops) took a moment to point out that the Girl Scouts was undergoing a drastic program change next year, thus making the patches and honors currently awarded soon to be ‘collector’s items’ (i.e., it’s a profit deal).  Once the ceremony of it was over and my daughter was officially promoted to the Brownies, the kids all got sugared up on cake and then shortly thereafter were literally running around the auditorium at top speeds.  Incredulously there were few if any injuries and we were able to drag our kids home without any complaints for them to settle to bed without too much hoopla.

It is easy to see that very little of my life as a father any longer revolves around me.  But I’m perfectly content with that.  I love my kids and I couldn’t imagine things any differently.  Among the various kid-centric events of the weekend, I got to spend rare one-on-one moments with my son, and I got to take pride in the continuing growth and accomplishment of my daughter.  I can ask for little more in life.

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Dawn of a New Day

by on Sep.08, 2010, under family, parenthood

This week my wife received a rare gift – freedom.  For the first time in at least 4 years my wife had the benefit of time in a day without a kid in tow or a phone-call away from needing to be picked up.   You see when we discovered we were having a second child, it quickly became evident that daycare costs strongly outweighed the benefits of a second income (at least at the level of income we were accustomed to earning).  So my wife drew the short straw of being the stay-at-home parent and has subsisted at some level of harried-ness ever since (I could often gauge that level by how early in the day I’d get the IM asking when I’d be coming home – 5:00=relatively good day, 2:30=pick up gin on the way home).  But this week that all changed.  This week both children started a new school year – Cricket in first grade and Grasshopper in pre-school.

Tuesday was Cricket’s first day.  The night before seemed to require a number of pep talks due to nerves and fears over the changes to her routine (new teacher, new room, some new classmates).  After my wife’s pep talk seemed to leave her more skittish, I gave her a relate-able story from my own youth that got her not only out of her funk, but looking forward to school.  She was all set in the morning in her pink flowery outfit and sporting her new princess backpack (the pink fedora got nixed in favor of pigtails despite her pleading).  As a family we all walked to her school (it is only a few blocks away within our neighborhood), got her in the right line into the school, and made the trek back home where I hopped in the car and headed to work and my wife and Grasshopper got to some fun mommy-son time (probably involving sword-fighting).

Wednesday was Grasshopper’s first day.  Though his was somewhat abbreviated as it was an orientation day and he insisted that I be the one to go with him to it (good thing my office is fairly flexible about when I get in).  So he and I got to play in his new classroom with all his classmates and their moms.  Since it is the same pre-school that Cricket went to, several of the teachers and administrators came and fawned over him as the young male version of his sister (it won’t take them long to figure out how different they are from each other).  He played at almost every station in the room with the possible exception of the dress-up station (which I took with relief as I knew he would likely have put on a cape and possibly started to refer to himself as Captain Cockwarts – I have no explanation for this one, he seemed to just make up this persona this weekend).  At the end of the day, mommy came to pick him up so I could jet on to work from there.

So going forward, my wife will have Tuesdays and Thursdays with just Grasshopper, and the rest of the weekdays to herself until after lunch.  I’m sure she is already planning how these slots of time will be filled.  I’m also sure she is bittersweet about it as it is time she will miss spending with her babies (I almost said angels, but that would be grossly inaccurate).  I’m fairly certain that I won’t get nearly as many 2:30 pleas as to when I’ll be coming home, but I’d also be willing to bet I’ll get a lot more IMs from her before lunch (if I worked closer to home, maybe I’d go home for … lunch).  The point is that she will finally have a share of personal freedom in her life to do with as she pleases.  My calendar, however, already seems to be filling up with more items (e.g., back-to-school nights, parent events, taking the kids to YMCA classes).  Ah well.

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