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Archívum - 2021. július

Get it together, CBeebies!

2021.07.25. 19:23, andors

A conversation that was started when Arwyn wrote about sexism in children’s literature, and continued here and here (and also on twitter and by email – if you’re not twittering – why not?) has had me thinking for weeks now.

No matter what we say to our pre-schoolers, they’re going to encounter the mainstream at some point, whether that’s through television, friends, school, nursery…

The most privileged members of society are also usually the most mainstream.

How do we counter that?

And what if their home environment matches up with what they see on television, in magazines, in books? My son will grow up child to a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, married, able-bodied couple. Will he ever even think to question his priviledge? Will my voice disappear in the baying of the other voices telling him exactly what is “normal” and what is “other”?

Looking at the darling of UK pre-school children’s programming, CBeebies, the majority of the presenters are overwhelmingly white (there was a very brief couple of days where Sid and Skye were the main presenters but this ended far too quickly). And in the programmes themselves, the vast majority are headed up by men. A quick tally count (off the top of my head – but I am a bit of an expert!) reels off 18 male-fronted shows, and three female-fronted ones.

Of course there are some shows, such as Charlie and Lola, where arguably the character that is given the most air time is the female one, or Balamory and Me Too, where the starting character is a woman (interestingly enough, in both cases, a Nursery Teacher), but then we’d have to start counting programmes like In the Night Garden, where Iggle Piggle is the starting and ending character, as male dominated.

I can’t think of a single programme on CBeebies where the central character is not able-bodied. And as for GLBT characters? Whilst I do appreciate that programming for pre-schoolers tends not to explore issues around relationships, would it really be that much of a leap of imagination for, say, one of the children in Charlie and Lola, for example, to have two Dads, just as an “aside”? I’m not entirely sure how one would “depict” a trans person as opposed to a cis-gendered person, in cartoon or puppet format, but at least as a tiny starter would it really be too difficult to have a young boy that wears dresses, as in this book? (I appreciate that in itself comes with some very negative connotations, so any suggestions welcome.)

I know there was a big hoo ha (or should that be ha-hoo?) over ten years ago now with the arrival of the Teletubbies and Tinky Winky, the big purple one with the handbag and occasionally tutu, and the “ZOMG our kids will be turned gay!!!” reaction that ensued, especially in the more right winged parts of the US. But as I say, that was over ten years ago now. Surely we’ve moved on by now. If we can have an openly bisexual character in older children’s TV programming in the form of Captain Jack Harkness, surely we can tweak a few things in CBeebies?

Otherwise I might even have to start turning off the television.

We are all alloparents part three: what can you do?

2021.07.24. 23:36, andors

In part one of We are All Alloparents, I looked at why alloparenting was necessary, and in part two, why a world without alloparenting is bad for everyone.

I now want to look at what people who want to help, who want to stick it to the kyriarchy by modelling “how not to abuse privilege” to the next generation, can actually do, on a real, day-to-day level.

But I can’t speak for all parents, obviously. And I certainly can’t speak for children. You know; privileged person speaking on behalf of oppressed group, that doesn’t go down so well. I suppose it is slightly different than other privilege/oppression dichotomy in that I was once a child myself. But it was a long time ago, and as someone who has had many long years of adult privilege, I can’t completely trust myself to put myself back into that way of thinking.

So I’m going to keep this short. A few things I’d like to see, and then turn it over to you. As a parent, how could your life be improved by other alloparents? What would you like?

Here’s my two pence worth:

Understand basic child behaviour. “Tantrums” (or the less demonising “episodes” or “meltdowns”, as I’ve heard them called) are normal. They’re not naughty behaviour, and they don’t need to be dealt with or the child taught a lesson. They’re often a response to over stimulation, or not yet having the emotional ability to cope with disappointment. If you see a child having a tantrum, don’t tut or glare. If anything, it’s this that causes the frazzled parent to feel obliged to discipline, harshy, their child. A sympathetic smile goes a very long way. An offer of help – “do you need a hand?” – even longer. It can be hard to intervene if the parent’s already at the point of shouting.  But even there, walking on by and not staring is better than looking and making the parent feel even more uncomfortable. Meltdowns are normal. High pitched laughing and screaming is normal. Not wanting to be touched or patted on the head is normal. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take it as an insult if a child hides behind Mum when you approach. Saying “aw, is she/he shy?” is just irritating. How’s a mother meant to say “no, s/he’s not shy. Just natural healthy weariness at a stranger approaching”.

Offer to help with non-baby stuff. A new mother often has no shortage of friends and relatives who want to “help” with the baby (carry it, coo over it, cuddle it) but this leaves her, often worn out and exhausted from the birth, doing the drudge work; cooking, cleaning, tidying, washing – while others can claim they were helping. Tidying up, at the very least after yourself after a visit, is a start. Wash the dishes you’ve used. While you’re at the sink, why not wash a few more? Don’t expect to be waited on. You know where the kettle is. Why not bring your own food? A lot of this applies even after the child is out of babyhood. Offering to help with the child is good, don’t get me wrong; but offering to help with housework might be even better. And if you’re offering to take the baby for a bit so a mother can get some more sleep… why not do a quick whizz round the house picking up toys off the floor while you’re doing it? Besides, the government in the UK seems determined to stop informal babysitting arrangements (thanks, UK government, for legislating against alloparenting) so this might be the only way you can go anyway!

There are certain types of “help” that are never good alloparenting. I once had a man think I needed “help” to pull my dress down at the back after putting Bertie up in the sling had made my dress ride up at the back (which I knew, and which I was about to rectify). His help consisted of pulling down my dress without my permission, and in the process, ripping it. Also, I don’t need directing to a “private room” to breastfeed in. No, I’d not feel more comfortable there. Especially not if it’s the disabled toilet, as it often turns out to be. If I’ve chosen to sit down and nurse my child there… I’ve done it because that’s where I want to do it.

Over to you. How could good alloparents make your life easier?

Sticky Words

2021.07.23. 15:14, andors

I’d begun a fledgling friendship here in our new town. Coffee dates, common interests, laughter, possibility. We were planning a family cook-out together, a pool party.

And a short while back, my 15-year-old came home and said my new friend, while driving him home, had called his 17-year-old brother an asshole and a douche. “It was kind of said in jest,” Gus explained. “She laughed when she said it, but I don’t think she was really kidding. I kind of think she meant it.”

I was stunned. Seriously taken aback. I asked Gus to repeat the story over and over, certain that he’d misunderstood, convinced that the story was being misrepresented. He is, after all, a 15-year-old boy, and I’d only heard his interpretation of the story.

Gus reiterated: “She said we all needed to come over for dinner soon but that Sam wasn’t invited because he’s an asshole. She said he’d been a real douche lately.”

And then I panicked. What had Sam done? Was he disrespectful to my friend? To her husband? I mean, I love my kid and he’s generally a trustworthy, polite, fun-loving teenager, but as Chris always said about the high schoolers he was responsible for, given the opportunity, good kids can make bad decisions.

And none of us are above hurting others.

Of course Sam can be an asshole. I can be an asshole, too. So can Chris (although he might disagree). So can the rest of our kids. So can every single human being on this planet. Chris and I are the first ones to call Sam out when his behavior dips into assholeness (as it often does in the early morning hours). But that doesn’t mean Sam is an asshole.

As a worst case scenario girl, I was convinced, though, that my boy was at fault, and I was ready to make him right his wrong, to repair what he might have broken.

But as the story unfolded, this is what I discovered from both sides… nothing happened. Sam simply wasn’t paying enough attention to my friend’s daughter. According to my friend, Sam used to hang out with her daughter, but he doesn’t anymore. Sam’s friends talk to her daughter, but he remains silent. No harsh words had been spoken, no altercations had occurred, no throw-downs had taken place in the junior locker bay.

I asked Sam why he and this girl weren’t friends and he shrugged and said, “Because she creates a lot of drama. I don’t want to be a part of it.”

That was it. That was his grievous crime.

I’m never, ever okay with my kids being mean to other kids (or any other humans or animals, for that matter). I’m not a fan or cliques or exclusivity or “you’re invited, you’re not.” But I’m totally on board with my kids deciding who they want to interact with on a daily basis. I’ve been involved in enough unhealthy relationships to understand that choosing who gets to be an integral part of your life is a sacred step, not one to be taken lightly. And I also trust my kids enough to be able to make those decisions, to have the skills to determine who is good for them… and who is not. It’s part of growing up, part of navigating relationships, part of learning how to advocate for yourself.

Could Sam have handled the situation better? Maybe. I don’t know because I wasn’t there. It was Sam’s situation to handle, not mine. My job was to walk him through the kindness factor again, to make sure he wasn’t being mean or nasty or dismissive, to remind him that common courtesies (such as a hello or a goodbye or a thank you) should always be part of his repertoire, to reiterate that he should treat others — always — as he wants to be treated.

After all was said and done, my friend apologized for the name-calling. She knew she spoke in haste and without thought and expressed her remorse. I appreciated her apology, and I accepted her apology. Heaven knows I’ve often wished I could shove reckless words back into my mouth… numerous times.

But what was blossoming between us is no longer. Not because I am angry or unforgiving, but because I am unwilling to intimately open my life to her knowing how she feels about my son, understanding how easily he was thrown under the bus in the name of defending her own. And it makes me sad, this knowledge. She’s not a bad human being, and I had looked forward to what might have been. But what’s vital to me in any friendship is that I feel safe and loved, that I feel my family is safe and loved. Of course conflict occurs in any relationship. It’s how we choose to navigate that space that matters. This did not, in any way, from any angle, feel safe. It felt like a driver’s side T-bone at 40 miles an hour when your eyes are focused squarely on the road ahead. I’m not ready to get back in that car.

Here’s what I learned from the whole scenario… it’s never okay for an adult to stick a hurtful, derogatory, demeaning label on a kid. Never. Especially when it’s done in front of other kids. Especially when one of those other kids is his younger brother. And although he’s tall and his voice is deep and his armpits are hairy, Sam is still a kid. What was said about him can’t be unsaid. What he heard about himself  and his character is part of him now.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he’s since said to me. “I don’t care what she said. It’s no big deal.”

But it is a big deal.

What happened made me think about instances when I’ve said to Chris, “That kid is a jerk,” or “I don’t like that little shit,” or “Get that maniac child out of my house NOW!” And I’ve said those things many times over the course of my 18 years of parenting. But it’s not okay. (To clarify, it’s okay to remove a maniac child from your home, but it’s not okay to call him names in the process.) The kid in question might have been a shit to my kid, but that doesn’t mean he’s A Shit. Labeling someone that way changes how we see them, how we view their possibilities. And if they hear us say it, it changes how they see themselves.

We don’t get to tear other kids down to make our own kids feel better.

We don’t get to tear other humans down to make ourselves feel better.

Ever.

Our choices, instead, exist here:

  1. Communicate. Be honest, open, authentic. Resolve the situation… or not. But talk to someone, not about someone.
  2. End the relationship. It’s okay to say, “This is not what I want in my life.” Boundaries are healthy; vindictiveness is not.
  3. Take a deep breath. Step into someone else’s shoes. Grab a different lens. Look inside. Perhaps the problem is not external.


Words matter. Whether we’re using them to describe ourselves, our friends, our enemies, our loved ones — they stick. Choose wisely. Pick the ones with the soft edges, the ones that don’t leave scars.

Making someone else feel smaller will never, in the end, make you bigger.

 

Giving Thanks

2021.07.21. 12:39, andors

I cannot deny that these past two years have been hard. Soul-crushing, fetal-position hard at times. Let me begin by saying this, by owning this: I know that if I threw my problems into a pile with all the other problems of the world, I’d grab mine back as quickly as I could. I know that in the big scheme of things, I am blessed beyond belief with abundance and joy and gifts that cannot be measured by miles or with a checkbook.

But I also refuse to minimize the challenges that we’ve faced over the past couple of years. To brush them under the rug is to deny that life hits us — all of us — hard sometimes. Harder than we’d like to admit. I’m here to fess up — for you, for me, for all of us.

There is a great deal of shame in owning our faults, our weaknesses, our failures. When we expose our Achilles heel, it is made even more vulnerable to those who might want to strike it… even if — especially if — that someone is us. But there is no honor in pretending all is well and perfect when it is not. It doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve me.

In the past two years, our lives have been turned upside down. At the beginning of our journey, I thought I was going to lose my husband. He was working a job that was slowly bringing him to his knees, that pecked away at his soul one little piece at a time. He was carrying the weight of 1,600 kids and 3,200 parents on his shoulders. Some of those fabulous parents supported and encouraged and lifted him. Others, well… didn’t. On his best days, he might please 50% of those he worked with. On his worst, he stood alone. He is a good man with a good heart who was trying to do the right thing in a world where right and wrong aren’t always so easily defined. By the end of his tenure, he was a man I didn’t recognize — beaten down, angry, defeated. His stress level was through the roof, his physical health in decline. With doctorate in hand, he admitted that he could no longer do it, that he had to find another career path.

And so our journey began.

In Mississippi, I got my husband back — the one who laughs loudly and easily. For that I am eternally grateful. But there were prices to pay, are always prices to pay. I lost my dream home — literally, financially, emotionally. (In all honesty, it was never Chris’s dream home to begin with. He went along for the ride because I loved that house and he loved me.) The beautiful home we built and painted and decorated and planned to raise our children in, gone. I get nostalgic for my double-sided fireplace and my cloffice, but the bills were too high, the income too low. We sacrificed our hometown, the only place our four young children had grown and prospered in for a decade. He needed a change of scenery, could no longer live in the fishbowl. I supported that. We supported that.

We uprooted our family, moved four states away, and began a new life in the South. There was adventure, there was excitement, there was promise and possibility, and there was a hole in my heart as big as the Grand Canyon. I cried as I watched our family and friends grow smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Cried for days, months. It’s a challenge to traverse relationships across a span of 500 miles. Yes, there’s the phone and the internet, and Facebook. But the gift of proximity is lost. There are no soul-refreshing walk/talks through Eagle Creek Park, no last-minute lunches in Broad Ripple, no impromptu Friday night neighborhood gatherings, no dinners at Amore when spouses are attending board meetings, no one walking in — unannounced and always welcome — through the garage entrance after having punched in our “private” code for entry.

Adjusting to our new income — the one that’s 50% less than the previous one — was also far more challenging that we’d imagined. We cut our expenses, paid off debts, tightened our belts. But ultimately, we still had four kids who needed food and clothing and school supplies and doctor visits and extracurricular activity fees and heat and water and electricity.

Begrudgingly, I went back to work full-time. It was not my dream. It was not my desire. It was my necessity. Writing — the kind that fills my soul, not the kind that pays the bills — had to take a back seat. Instead of being my primary focus, it got to fill in the cracks of what was left after work, after the kids, after my familial responsibilities. Was I bitter? Oh, you betcha. And then came the anger, the resentment, the Why-Do-You-Get-To-Be-Happy-At-My-Expense conversations.

It wasn’t pretty.

I’ve been a reluctant Mississippian, slow to warm, hesitant to make friends, willing only to dip my toes in the South. This was to be my “two-year vacation.” We were going to re-evaluate after that. No reason to make connections when they would most likely be severed again shortly. And so, I set myself up for more loneliness, opened the door and invited it in. I am so very grateful for the few true friendships I’ve made here, those who didn’t allow me to completely go into hiding. (Hiding, after all, is what I do best on my cloudiest days.) These women have sustained me in my Southern town, have given me something to hold on to even while I insisted on looking back.

I’m not easy to love sometimes. As Joni Mitchell so eloquently sings in “The River”…

“I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad…”

That’s me. All me. I need, I need, and then I need some more. I need more love, more reassurance, more hand-holding than the average bear. I am eternally in fear of being left behind, abandoned, despite all those who have chosen to stay. I’m frantic and unreasonable and over-dramatic. And I get too sad, stay there for too long. The friends who know this and embrace this and honor this are so brave and strong and cherished and special.

And on the flip side, I love hard. I’m a balls-to-the-wall friend. After the leaning, I stand in support. When I’m strong, I’m rock steady. My arms are always open. And I’m great fun at a party. Somehow, in some way, I hope that balance serves those who are forever locked in my heart and in my soul. Extra-salty tears and extra-hard hugs… that’s what I have to offer.

Over the past two years, I’ve been living in limbo — somewhere in between Mississippi and Indiana… but not necessarily in Tennessee. I’ve been trying to maintain two residences, to live two different lives. I’ve yet to figure out how to simply be… and to trust that I’m where I am for a reason. Oh, I know it and believe it in my heart, but living it? That’s an entirely different issue, one that I face every minute of every day.

And what of my writing? That’s been a disappointment, too. It looked promising here and there — a Midwest Writers Fellowship, a Notes & Words contest finalist nod, a few full-manuscript agent reads of “Three of Eva,” a gig with “Indy’s Child” magazine, some blogging accolades. But my vision of supporting my family through my writing? Not yet realized. Yes, I’m supporting them with words about marketing software and ROI, but that’s not exactly the vision I had in mind. (I know. I know. God is up there laughing at me. “YOUR vision?? Ha! Ha! Ha!” I know.)

So, in the glass-half-empty view, it’s been a more-than-challenging couple of years filled with heartbreak and loss and loneliness. There have been far more tears than I would have liked. Too much food, too much wine, too much weight gained, too little balance.

And on the glass-half-full side, there is an overwhelming abundance of things to be grateful for. My beloved kids. Damn. I am so very, very proud of them and their tenacity and their resilience. They have all made their way, found a place, carved a path. It wasn’t easy for them, either. I’m sure on certain days, it’s still not. But academically, socially, athletically, they’re knocking it out of the park. Chris is so much happier, too. He’s doing work that he loves, despite the dismal pay. (What is it about this country that rewards those involved with athletics substantially more than those involved with academics? How is it that my husband, with his doctorate, tasked with educating our future leaders, can make so very little when the coaching staffs make so damn much?)

In my glass-half-full world, I have beautiful, supportive, cherished friends in both Indiana and Mississippi (and in many other states as well, right California and Tennessee?). I have a job that came knocking at just the right time, that pays well and helps me support my loves during this ongoing transition. I have a healthy family. (And trust that I will never, ever, ever take that for granted.) I’m married to my best friend, the one who gets to ride the roller-coaster every single damn day. The one who, despite the nausea, chooses to get back in that line again and again.

I’m stretching. I’m growing. That’s always a bittersweet endeavor. Change is hard, friends. It’s fucking hard at times. It’s lonely here. Overwhelmingly lonely at times. On certain days, I feel isolated, remote, forgotten. For a girl who’d grown accustomed to activities every night, neighbors at the bus stop in the mornings, impromptu drop-by coffee klatches, parties on the weekends, black tie events, couples’ dates, football parties, poolside gatherings, book club meetings, and firepit soirees, the silence can be daunting. I try to embrace it, but oftentimes, it swallows me whole instead.

Then there are those days that the silence and the slower pace comfort me, and I feel blessed, loved, grateful beyond measure. It’s the biggest sustained challenge I’ve ever faced, this life of change. Staying put would have been easier in so many ways. And staying put would have been harder in many ways, as well. Choosing something safe would probably have been less stressful. But ultimately, the reward is in the journey. I’m learning that. Bit by bit by bit. Step by painful step — blisters and black toenails and all.

There is no growth in standing still. Even the tree, confined to one, solitary space reaches through the dirt with its roots, stretches its branches upward, upward as its leaves bloom, change, fall, and bloom again.

But sometimes I miss the luxury of the known. The home, the yard, the money, the neighborhood, the (perceived) security — the things that don’t really matter in the long run can make life seem a little easier.

Or not.

The choice is always, always ours. Because we are not our homes, our cars, our friends, our family, our successes. We are individuals, finding our solitary paths, contributing to a greater good.

I’m choosing happiness and growth whenever and wherever I can. But I can guarantee it will not be sunshine and roses every day. There are some days, weeks, months, I will still wallow in woe-is-me. It will be ugly and messy and uninspiring. It’s not fun to watch or to participate in. It’s not who I want to be. And yet, it is. I’m okay with that. It would be inauthentic of me to live it any other way. I’m a girl of extremes, and life is made of ups and downs and choices. Sometimes the choices we make are easier than others. Sometimes the choices we’re offered are not the ones we were hoping for. It takes time for me to wrestle with that, to reconcile with it. Good days, bad days, neutral days… all ultimately part of the equation.

The next moment can always be better.

In this particular moment, I choose gratitude. Today, I choose to teach my kids — and anyone else who might be listening — that it’s okay to feel lost and out of sorts with this world, to feel that you don’t really have a space to call your own, to feel like you’re trying to build a house on shifting sand. That they can fall down and still get back up, that skinned knees and skinned hearts eventually heal, even if they do leave a scar. Scars are the tough, pink, jagged-edged, external reminders of our internal strength. Everyone has those battle wounds. No one walks through this world without damaging the perfect physical package he or she was granted at birth. Everyone breaks in different places, at different times, in different ways. The gift is in the healing, the recovery. Standing back up, taking the next step — that’s what’s important. That’s what matters. Giving of yourself, your heart, your time, your beautiful vulnerability — those are gifts that money will never be able to buy. That currency is what’s important. Those are the things that matter most.

I’m learning. We’re learning. About scars and skinned knees and the lovely, human mess of it all. Onward. Always onward. To the next flawed, imperfect, and glorious adventure.


 

Faker

2021.07.20. 13:22, andors

As George and I were heading home from basketball practice last night, the one question on his mind was, "What's for dinner?"

Because we had four kids running in five different directions last night (yeah, it really is possible), it was a frozen-pizza, eat-whenever-you're-home night.

"What kind of pizza are we having?" George asked.

"Tombstone," I replied. It is, after all, the cheapest version of the frozen pizza. And my kids eat like vultures when it comes to cheesy carbs, so we always have to stock up.

"I have something to tell you, Mom," he sighed.

"What is it, Geo?" I inquired.

"I don't really like Tombstone pizza."

"What?" I replied. "You all like Tombstone pizza! You've always eaten it! When did you stop liking it?"

"I never really liked it," he admitted. "All these years, I've been fake-liking it."

He's been fake-liking it.

"Why did you fake-like it, George?" I asked. "Why didn't you just tell me you didn't like it?"

"Because I didn't want you to be mad," he said. "And you would have made me eat it, anyway. It was just easier to fake-like it."

"Wow," I said. "Is there anything else you fake-like?"

"Yes," he sighed. "I don't really like that meat that looks like chicken, but it's not chicken, and it's square, and it kind of looks like it's in a cube."

Hmm.

"Do you mean chicken nuggets?"

"No. It's not chicken it just looks like chicken."

Hmm.

"Are you talking about pork chops?"

"Yes! That's it! I fake-like pork chops. Well, I like them when Dad cooks them on the grill and puts sauce on them, but I don't like them when they're cooked in the oven."

"What else?" I asked.

"Salmon."

"You don't like salmon?" I asked. "You always eat salmon."

"You always make me eat salmon," he replied. "But I do really like tilapia. And snow crab. Just not salmon."

"What else?"

"Cheez-Its."

"Why would you fake-like Cheez-Its?" I asked. "I don't make you eat those."

"Sometimes they're the only snacks we have, so I fake-like them when I have to."

"Anything else you fake-like?"

He thought for a moment.

"Nope. That's it."

"Do you fake-like peas?"

"No, I really like peas."

"Do you fake-like me?"

He giggled.

"Or do you just genuinely not like me at all?"

More giggles.

"Sheesh, Mom, I LIKE you for real, okay??"

Thank God for small miracles.

 
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