I’m going to do everything I can to convince my daughter NOT to be a stay-at-home mom. Want to know why?

There are a lot of posts in my quiver, in my mind that I don’t write. Because… hard. You know the kind? A story you long to tell, a panegyric you need to scream out… but you don’t, because half, more, the people in your life will be grievously offended?

This is one such post.

I write it for Flora. And for your daughter, too.

We’re sitting in a coffee shop—on a park bench—on my beloved Common—in my kitchen. And you’re in agony.

Your marriage is ending—really, it’s over, it’s just a question of how, when—and you’re terrified.

You’re terrified of—well, everything, really, because all change, especially that kind of change, is terrifying—but you’re, particularly, specifically, terrified of…

What? I ask. Again. You always wait for me to ask, before you say, you say…

… you say money, you say economic consequences, you say financial vulnerability…

… you say if you took that out of the equation, you’d be able to think clearer, plan better, but you can’t. Of course you can’t. How can you take that out of the equation? It’s everything.

You say if you could be sure, if you knew, you’d be financially ok, your kids would be ok—you’d walk. You’d have left a long time ago. Or: you wouldn’t be so terrified at the thought of being left. You would be more rational about him leaving…

And I say… nothing. I make supportive friend noises, and tell you you’ll be all right. Say words like lawyers, child support payment guidelines, protection, blah-blah-blah. Meaningless, meaningless words, because I know, you know, how it will all play out.

We know that as you disentangle-separate-end, you will fight, bitterly, over his money.

It doesn’t matter that it was our money before.

Now it’s his. And it affects everything, 21st century pro-woman, pro-child laws be damned. The person who signs the cheques holds the power. Defines the rules of engagement. Has the most power.

That’s just the way it is.

I know this. You know this. We’ve seen this play out, in our lives, how many times? The circles we move in, dominated by attachment parenting-homeschooling-radical-homemaker-yes-I’m-a-stay-at-home-parent-and-proud-of-it people, however self-proclaimed in their lifestyle radicality, end up being so predictably hetero-conventional. He earns money. She “stays” home. It’s their—our!—money. We’re a team! A family! Everything is ours.

Until there’s no love, friendship, affection, respect, and only anger, resentment, betrayal, emptiness. Fury. Bitterness.

And then—ours? Ha. It’s mine.

You don’t understand. But I do. Because it’s not a male-female thing. Not a greedy-bad-selfish husband versus giving-good-selfless wife. It’s a breadwinner versus dependent dynamic. And it sucks that in our most intimate relationships who makes the money matters so much. But it does. Oh, it does.

In my family, it’s usually me—and it’s our money when things are good. But when I get angry? It’s mine and could you fucking stop wasting it?

(Sean pauses at this moment and looks at me. You sure you want to be writing this? he asks. I need to, I say. Can you take it? His eyes return to the screen.)

You’re listening, but she, she’s appalled. Do you see her? She’s there on the periphery, right there… And she screams: It’s ours, ours. We’re a team. Forever. He appreciates everything I do, everything I sacrifice.

Sure. For now. While things are good.

And now, you’re angry. Because you’re not stupid or naïve. And the decision to stop earning, to stop building a career, to become financially dependent on someone you love-trust-are-building-a-forever-life-with… you didn’t make it lightly. Or alone. You made it together. And so, for five, 10, 15, 20 years, that’s what you did… and now?

I want to tell you… I want to tell you that staying out of fear, financial or otherwise, is worse than leaving in uncertainty. I want to tell you to make your decision on the assumption that everything will be ok… but will it? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. The financial and emotional consequences of the dissolution of the worst and most dysfunctional of marriages are vast.

And really… yours isn’t so bad.

Still. I’ll tell you none of that. I’ll make my supportive friend noises. Give you contact details for lawyers and links to the child support guideline tables*** and mediators’ addresses.

And heave a great, grateful sigh of relief… that it’s my money.

That my decisions to stay and love and work and build and negotiate and change and continue and grow together—complicated though they are—they never include financial fear. Dependence on someone else writing a cheque. Paying the bills.

(Buying my compliance in the decisions he makes for our (his!) children.)

(This is really difficult to read, Sean says. I nod. I know. And yet… why? “I don’t need you. But I want you.” It shouldn’t be difficult. It should, actually, be glorious. I am free and independent, and I choose to be here, with you—when I could be, would be just fine without you. But I want you. I want this, us. But. Need? No. Not financially, anyway. And that’s all we’re talking about here, my beloved. Money.)

She —that woman over there, who is convinced that her partnership-lovership-marriage is forever? — is so angry with me. I don’t understand her, she says. Her partner. Their love. Their trust. How they’re rewriting the rules of conventional marriage… by living what looks like a conventional marriage (he at work, she at home) but what is actually radical homemaking** and how they’re going to save the world and raise a new generation of children who…

It’s a beautiful story. And why argue? She won’t listen to me anyway. And maybe, who knows? Maybe she will be one of the lucky one-in-two. After all, 57 per cent of the American women married between 1985 and 1989 were still married 15 years later. Only (only!) 43 per cent were divorced.* Maybe her guy is completely exempt from and unaffected by dominant social habits and mores. Maybe he really will believe it’s our money, and that the work she does in the house and garden, with the children and all those quotidian tasks that make his career possible is just as valuable as the work he does that brings in the money that pays the bills and buys all the things.

I haven’t seen a man—or woman, for that matter—for whom that holds true come end-game. But they could exist. They could be evolving.

But… “maybe” is not good enough for my Flora. Nor are those odds. I want her, whether she loves one partner forever or walks any other path, free. Loving and staying because she wants to. Not because she feels she has to. Staying and being in the relationship without giving up her power—her economic clout—because we live in a world in which money matters. And who makes the money matters.

Now you’re really angry with me, because… well. Because. I understand. Be angry. It’s fine. I deserve it. Your agony and fear terrify me, even though they don’t play out in the path I walk… because my Flora, my Flora, suppose my Flora walks your path? Suppose she chases a fairy tale… and wakes up in a cage?

I want her free. Independent. Making choices out of love, commitment, reflection, and yeah, reason, sure, reason. But, not fear. Never fear.

“Jane”

nbtb-NOT-SAHM

* “Marital Status & Living Arrangements: Most People Make Only One Trip Down the Aisle, But First Marriages Shorter, Census Bureau Reports.” Census.gov. Retrieved 2012-03-27. via Wikipedia

**Radical Homemakers is the title of a rather fascinating book by Shannon Hayes  … which is worth reading regardless of whether you hated every word I’ve written above or nodded furiously at each paragraph.

***Canadian Child Support Table Guidelines

 

How my four-year-old receptionist defies the uterus-less CEO… and why that’s going to change the world

The landline rings, but I don’t care. There was a time when I would leap out of the shower and race to the telephone naked, but these days, only telemarketers and wanna-be-politicians ever call on it. I’m in the kitchen (fully clothed) doing battle with the sink and a frozen chicken, and pondering whether I should say yes or no to a new project—and whether my tepid disinclination to say yes is rational and should perhaps be off-set by the disturbing state of the family bank account—and…

“Mom! Are you going to get the telephone?”

“No!”

My elder two children are ignoring it too: they were reared in the pre-cell phone era when clients and editors called me on the landline, and answering the phone in the wrong way brought the Wrath of Psychotic-Bitch-Mom. The four-year-old lacks the training and the trauma. The phone is beguiling him. Plus, the ringtone is annoying.

“Mom! Please! Can I get it?”

Oh, why not? It’s probably a telemarketer, and it’s good practice for them to experience a four-year-old, isn’t it? I turn my head from the chicken for a minute, holler:

“OK!”

So… back to the inside of my head… will I say yes? Will I say no? I think I will say no, I’m pretty sure—I really don’t want to do it, and the part of it that’s intriguing isn’t sufficiently intriguing to make up for the part of it that a lobotomized chimpanzee could do, but, on the other hand, we need to eat. And go on exotic vacations…

From the other room, I hear,

“Hello?”

…and then…

“That is not how you say my mom’s name. Are you sure you know her?”

(There are so many, many different ways of mispronouncing “Jane.”)

“I’m Ender.”

“I’m not in school, ever! I’m four.”

“Mom! This guy really wants to talk to you!”

“Ma-baby—I’m busy killing a chicken. Hang up or tell him to call back.”

“My mom is killing a chicken. Well, not really. It’s already dead. But frozen. Also, I don’t think she finished her second cup of coffee this morning. And the dog peed in the basement, and I spilled cereal all over the couch, and the plumber hasn’t come so there’s no sink in the bathroom and she won’t play cars with me. She’s a big grouch, actually. Are you sure you really want to talk to her?”

“Mom? He says to tell you his name is… and it’s important.”

Oh, fuck.

Editor.

New editor.

Who has clearly not inherited the rolodex sticky-note that said “Do not call at home; communicate by email; in emergencies, email or text to schedule a time for a phone call.” (Digression: do people have rolodexes anymore? And do those of you under-28 know what that exotic word means?)

Goddammit.I wipe my icky hands on my clothes, and make my way to the phone…

“Hello, Jane here. … Hi. … So I’m not sure that I’ve had a chance to tell you this—but never, ever spontaneously call me at home. Now… give me five minutes to anaesthetize the children, and I’ll call you back on my cell from a locked, padded room…”

My real self has this column out right now, officially titled “Changing the status quo in the Canadian workplace”—more poetically self-titled “The CEO has a uterus—wait, the problem is that he doesn’t but half of his workforce does.” Here’s its key theme:

This is a story about why I don’t work for you.

Don’t roll your eyes. You should care, because I’m brilliant. …And it’s not just me. See her, over there? She’s even smarter than I am: she can see connections in trends, economic forecasts and people’s spending patterns that would make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice if you deployed her talents on the behalf of your corporation. And that one over there? You know that hole in your talent pipeline you’re looking to fill? She’d be perfect for it. …

We all left, because—hey, here’s something you’re not gonna hear a woman tell you very often, pay attention, darling—we all left because—eyes lower, lower, love, away from my face, lower, keep on going down… see this? We’ve all got this thing there called a uterus. Your wife’s got one, your daughter too. Your mother—that’s how you came to be, you know that, right? We’ve got these things, and that’s where new people incubate. And after they’re born, well, we’re kind of attached to them.

And even if we weren’t—the survival of the whole entire species depends on us, you know, taking care of them. Feeding them. Taking days off work when they’re sick or in high need… What? Nannies, day care? Not enough, dude, not enough—and you don’t get it, because, let me be politically incorrect here and blunt, you don’t get it, because you have a penis and a wife.

(Full unedited text of the Strategy Session, Alberta Venture column here)

It’s garnering fascinating responses from readers, varying from “Yes! Thank you for articulating this!” from many women readers-leaders to the ever-so-insightful “I wouldn’t have hired you anyway, bitch” from an alleged oil patch exec.* I end it with a call to arms—asking you to change the dominant culture of most workplaces by… well, by changing it. By acting like it’s already changed. Not by seeking accommodation—but by taking what you need. Whatever that means in your family-life reality.

And—and this, perhaps is even more important—by supporting those of your colleagues who are taking what they need. Not trying to pull them down to suffering through the unworkable status quo—just because you suffered through it. Just because you… weren’t able… didn’t have the courage… or weren’t sufficiently secure-privileged-arrogant-stubborn—I know I am all those things—to demand the change you needed.

A tentative knocking on my closed door. A whisper.

“Mom?”

Louder.

“Moooom? Are you done on the phone?”

“Yes, my baby. What do you need?”

“I just need you.”**

I let him in. Wrestle him on the bed for a while. Ponder if I’m going to say yes or no… where does the money-challenge-time-fulfillment-life matrix tell me to go right now? Remember there’s a raw chicken carcass waiting for me in the kitchen, and a client-of-a-client who needs some handholding. And, of course, the project that I really want and need to focus on that always get the short-shift… Skooch the four-year-old receptionist off the bed. Bribe his siblings to look after him.

And then—go do all the things that need to be done. My way.***

xoxo
“Jane”

Four-year-old receptionist.jpg

She likes footnotes:

* I generally don’t engage. I did that time. “You couldn’t afford my left foot, asswipe.”

** They need us so much, don’t they? Lest you think I advocate motherhood-martyrhood, please also read this: On the delicate art of running away… and always coming back.

*** It’s not supposed to be like that. The real secret to working at home with children is to get the children—or yourself—out of the house. More here: The naked truth about working from home, the real post. For more of my children’s encounters with clients and sources on the landline, see The naked truth about working from home, the teaser.

Next week… a surprise.

Looking for me?  Find “Jane”

Poisonous Volvo, Redux

We were uber-heavy on Tuesday, weren’t we? Today, you need to laugh, as do I. Actually–a little secret–as you read this, I’m locked in a hotel room in Banff with my laptop. Wrestling with existential angst. And winning. Meanwhile, for you, from Life’s Archives (December 9, 2006, and first appearing on Nothing By The Book on May 22, 2012), I present… Poisonous Volvo. Flora’s 2.5 and Cinder is five (Ender is still undreamt-of cosmic dust). They’re in the tub. And, cue action:

WAIT! Stop! Warning: yes, this is one of those penis stories. I have warned you, have I not, I am never profound and wise on Fridays? OK. Penis warning completed.  Read on.

Cinder: Flora, stop trying to grab my penis. Flora! No! Stop!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It’s poisonous. Poisonous! Like the giant red milipedes in the
South American rainforest!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It will bite you!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: OK, Flora, I know you want to play with it. But you can’t. Only I can play with it. Play with your own.

Flora: Oh… no pee pee!! Brother! No pee pee?

Cinder: Oh, I forgot, you don’t have one. Well, maybe one day, if you are very good, I’ll let you borrow mine. If I can. Mom! (I’m in the next room) Can I borrow my penis to Flora for a while?

Jane: Um… no. It doesn’t work like that.

Cinder: I didn’t think so. Well, sorry, Flora.

Flora: No pee pee? Why?

Cinder: Don’t worry, Flora. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do with your… Mom! What’s Flora’s not-a-penis called?

Jane: Um… (Still haven’t decided if Flora should have a Volvo or a Gavina… OK, I know she has BOTH, but you know what I mean. Go for the Volvo today) A vulva.

Cinder: We can think of something fun to do with your vulva. Hmm. Let me think. Maybe we could attach something to it?

Flora: Yeaah!

Cinder: Or… we could stick something in it.

Flora: Nooooo.

That’s right, sweetie. You should keep on thinking that for another 15 years, okay ma-baby? Twenty, if you want to make your Daddy happy…

But wait. It’s not over yet. The next day…

Cinder: Flora! I will smite you with my poisonous penis!

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

You might think this is the punch line. But it’s not.

Sean: Well, if Flora turns out to be gay, we’ll know why.

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? I think it would make the teen years a lot easier, don’t you?

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? All I’m saying is, if she ends up a lesbian, being chased by her brother’s poisonous penis may be one of the reasons. And don’t you think you’d worry less about boys and teen pregnancy and all that?

Jane: What are you…

The punchline is coming… NOW:

Cinder: Ok, Flora. Now it’s your turn to smite me with your poisonous volvo.

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis bee...

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis beetle. It is covered in spines from base to tip. Referenced in Rönn, J., Katvala, M. & Arnqvist, G. 2007. Coevolution between harmful male genitalia and female resistance in seed beetles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 10921-1092. and Hotzy, C. & Arnqvist, G. 2009. Sperm competition favors harmful males in seed beetles. Current Biology 19, 404-407. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note: you are none of you allowed to make any kinds of connections between this post and Tuesday’s body image post. NONE. Thank you.

But speaking of which…

As you may have noticed,  Nothing By The Book’s Tuesday post  “Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. Yes, you will…”  set off a bit of an maelstrom. If you haven’t read it yet, and you’ve got a girl… or a body… give it a read. And if you do, spend some time on the comments, especially that by Tirzah Duncan of The Inkcaster.

And if you’ve got daughters and body image issues weigh heavily on your mind, check out these posts the commentators wrote/forwarded to me in the resulting discussion:

Introduction to Eating Disorders by Urban Moo Cow — Deb didn’t have any issues with her body… until her encounter with this whacked teacher

Body Image by Tao of Poop — Rachel’s daughter still loves her belly. For how much longer?

and, wow, this one:

My body is amazing from Villainy Loveless — this one arrived in my in-box via Tarot by Janine the day I was being ripped to shreds for my body image post on Reddit. Thanks, Villainy. Much love and appreciation.

And a big thank you for those of you who defended the post–and by extension me, Flora, and little girls everywhere–in the various fora where it was ripped apart. I have no stomach for such battles, but I appreciate your passion and indignation on my behalf very much.

Fight on. And love those girls.

xoxo

“Jane”

Of boys, girls, oblivion, awareness and frustration; (or why women think men don’t understand them)

It goes like this:

I.

Flora: Sophia just can’t stand Cinder, she says. Remember that time we were all playing grounders, and Cinder kept tagging her out? She still remembers that, and she just hates him.

Cinder: Who’s Sophia?

II.

Flora: Tammy hates Cinder. She’s so mad about the time the boys stole our shoes–remember?–and buried them in the gravel. She’s sure Cinder took her boots. She just hates him.

Cinder: Who’s Tammy?

III.

Flora: I think Emily kind of likes Cinder. She says she doesn’t, but she’s always asking me what he’s doing and if he’s coming out and stuff. Yup, I think she likes him. What do you think of Emily, Cinder?

Cinder: Who’s Emily?

Meanwhile, Cinder’s not-quite-three-year-old brother has a different attitude:

IV.

Jane: For heaven’t sake, Ender! What are you doing?

Ender: I throwing gravel at that little girl. And I go push her over. Hee hee hee.

Jane: I know–I saw. Why? Why? Why would you do that?

Ender: Because she so pretty. (Pause) I do it again!

V.

Ender: We sit here, Mama. Come sit here.

Jane: OK, sure. Why are we sitting here?

Ender: So I look at that girl. See? She’s so pretty!

VI.

Jane: In the car, dude!

Ender: My friend Izzy! I go give her hug, ok? And kiss. And tell her she’s so pretty.

VII.

Ender: Where we going, Mama?

Jane: We’re going to see our friends Victoria and Elizabeth and Loch and Baby M…

Ender: Oh, I love Baby M. I hug her and kiss her, and wrestle her and hug her…

Jane: I know, dude. Go easy on the wrestling, okay? I don’t think she likes it.

Ender: Oh, she likes it. She so pretty. She loves me too.

And then, there’s this:

VIII.

Cinder: Mom? You know how Creeper and Paulo and all those guys keep on talking about girls and stuff now?

Jane: Um, yeah?

Cinder: Well, I’m not really into girls at all. But… I’m starting to think boobs are really cool.

Oh, boy.

Flora

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Nature wins again

Party, party, I going to a party! My first party! I love parties!”

That is Ender, dancing in the bathroom while I try to de-grossify him. Four weeks short of his third birthday, he’s just been invited to his first official “tea” party. Flora’s friend Moxie is putting it on; Flora’s already there, and Ender can’t wait to go.

I’m struck, yet again, how different each of my children is from the others–the girl from the boys, the boys from each other. At age three, Cinder would never by his own choice go to anything that looked like a party of a crowd. I remember his analysis of his third–and for a long time, his last–birthday party:

It was ok. It would have been better if all those people hadn’t come.”

Cinder made his first friend when he was… 7. (And, oh, man, what a relief that was to me! Look! He does want to play with others!) He’s still very selective about who he spends time with. He’s got three close friends, and no room in his life or needs for more. Flora is “lonely” if she’s spent the day playing with just three friends. She just started a new music class–seven little girls, all new to her. She’s thrilled. “I wonder which of them I will like best, and which ones I will become good friends with?” she muses at the end of the first day. “Junie is really, really pretty. And Billie Joe is a little shy, but I think she’s really sweet.” In the same situation, Cinder would be … if not petrified, then immensely uncomfortable.

Ender is more on Flora’s end of the social spectrum. Everyone he meets is a friend. A new baby is crawling around at the back of our Tang Soo Do gym. Ender crawls with him. Tickles his tummy. (Thinks about pushing him over–fortunately, I catch that in time.) The baby’s not there next time:

Where my friend? I miss my friend!”

We walk home in the dark from the firepit, and a bike whizzes by. “Who that?” Ender asks. I’m not sure, I didn’t really see. But he saw enough to identify the person:

That my friend Mingo! He play ball and trampoline with me! I love him!”

“Was that Mingo, Cinder?” I ask my eldest. He looks at me. Shrugs. “Dunno. Some guy on a bike.” Mingo, incidentally, is closer in age to Cinder and more Cinder’s playmate than Ender’s. But, but–them two boys, they relate to the world in such different ways.

It’s at moments like this, when the contrast between these two boys–or all three of my children–is so pronounced, that I almost give up on investing anything in nurture. You know? Nature just seems to trump everything. Cinder is Cinder; Ender is Ender; Flora is Flora; and there’s nothing I can do to affect their essential nature.

Except, of course, that nature needs nurture. If nature is the raw material, the unalterable building block, nurture is the sculptor. Nature is the inclination and the impulse; nurture the habit and inner–first outer–“discipline.”* Nature makes Cinder an ever-moving ball of energy; nurture’s given him the tools to channel that energy. Nature’s given Flora the universe’s most tender heart; it will be nurture that will help her find ways to protect it when she must.

(I’m afraid to pontificate on what Nature’s determined for Ender. Let’s leave that one be for now, shall we?)

Party, party, party!”

Ender hollers. “Let’s go!”

I don’t have to come, right?”

Cinder checks in. Nope. Not this time. And off we go.

The Agile Gene, by Matt Ridley (book cover)

If Nature versus Nurture is an argument that keeps on popping up in your head, you might enjoy Matt Ridley’s The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture (originally published as Nature via Nurture). It’s an interesting read–and here’s a video of a Ridley lecture at Princeton if you just want a sample, and here’s Matt Ridley’s blog.

Anatomy talk, always and forever

July 22, 2005. Cinder, age 3.2: “Mommy? When you were a little girl, where you a little boy like me?”

June 22, 2012. Ender, age 2.8: “Mommy? Where your penis go? You lose it outside? I go find it…”*

and hey, while we’re talking anatomy:

January 2005. Cinder, age 2.5, witnessing Flora’s first diaper change: “Mama! Help! Flora has two bums!”

and as proof that things never change:

June 26, 2012. Ender, age 2.8: “Flora, why put Cinder’s hat on your penis?”

Flora: “For the last time, Ender, I don’t have a penis.”

Ender: “Why?”

And I leave it up to your imagination how Cinder’s hat fits into all this…

*Yes, this was a blatant attempt to sabotage bedtime. It was, after all, still light out in the Northern Northern hemisphere at 10 p.m….

Flora

Flora (Photo credit: CaptSpaulding)

I’m  in the wilds of Manitoba, and generally unplugged. I’ve got a few posts auto-scheduled for your enjoyment, but I won’t be able to respond to comments until July 15th.

“She’d make a perfectly good boy”

Cinder: Karen’s a girl, right?

Jane: Right.

Cinder: Mmm. I guess that’s why she plays so well with Flora. It’s too bad. She’d be a perfectly good boy if she made a bit more of an effort.

In Cinder’s world, that is the ultimate compliment. Just so you know. This is why K. impressed Cinder so, by the way:

English: Super Soaker CPS 4100 from Hasbro; 20...

“But I don’t want to marry a handsome prince!”

Setting: Playground.

The Players: Ursa, 3.5, as the Princess. Flora, 7.5 and “in charge” of Ursa, as the Mother. Ender, 2.5, as Everyone Else.

Ursa: Save me, Mother, save me!

Flora: Mama to the rescue! Where is that fiendish dragon?

Ursa: Is Ender the dragon?

Flora: Yes. Ender! Come and guard Ursa!

Ursa: He’s not coming.

Flora: Well, toddlers are like that. Not very obedient. Ender! Come attack Ursa!

Ender: OK!

Ursa: Aaah!

Flora: It’s okay! I’ll save you, darling!

Ursa: Now that you’ve saved me, you have to marry me.

Flora: I can’t marry you! I’m your mother!

Ursa: But you saved me.

Flora: You’re supposed to marry a handsome prince, my darling.

Ursa: But I don’t want to marry a handsome prince.

Flora: Oh. Do you want to marry a handsome princess?

Ursa: No, I want to marry you. Because you saved me.

Flora: How about we replay the game, and Ender saves you? He can be the handsome prince.

Ursa: Who will be the dragon?

Flora: That rock over.

Ursa: Save me, save me!

Flora: Ender! Go save the princess!

Ender: Attack!

Ursa: He’s attacking me!

Flora: Just pretending he’s attacking the dragon. Now, Ender, kiss her and save her.

Ursa: I don’t want him to kiss me. I just want him to save me and marry me.

… For “Ursa,” and her mom, who didn’t get to hear it. Thanks for visiting with us. We love you.

English: Ursa Major, Astronomical chart showin...

A love letter to the boy who’ll set the world on fire

Cinder turns 10 today. 10. Double digits. Join me in celebrating the boy by re-reading the love letter I wrote him when he was still nine… and in a very liminal phase.

August, 2011. Yesterday, I accidentally slipped my feet into my 9-year-old son’s shoes. And they fit well enough that I took a few steps in them before realizing my mistake. This first-born baby of mine, seven pounds eleven ounces nine years ago―the size of a grain of rice ten years ago, just part of cosmic dust before then―is now so long, so tall, so strong. Stronger than me. No longer in a sling, no longer kept safe and satisfied only in my arms―the journey has been gradual, but this year, this day, this moment, it strikes me, smacks me in the face.

I love him. When he was that babe in arms and I looked at him and fell in love with him for the first time―and then every day, every hour, all over again―I didn’t think it was possible to love anything, any creature, any person this much. And then I loved him more and more every single day, and today, when I look at his tousled, tangled head, his lanky, long legs, the eyelashes that half-cover those sometimes mischievous, sometimes sad eyes, I fall in love all over again and again, and I can’t believe it is possible to love anything, any person this much. But now I know that tomorrow, and the day after and the year after, I will love him even more.

He isn’t bliss everyday. Being a nine year old boy in 2011’s North America isn’t easy. Sure, you can dismiss this as a First World Whine―hey, he isn’t toting guns in Sierra Leone, living in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro, starving in East Africa. Over-privileged middle class white boy of over-educated parents, what are your woes? Lusting after an X-box game, having to eat roast asparagus for dinner again? Our world dismisses his … heck, call it was it is, existential angst. But it’s there, and it’s real.

My nine year old boy, my love, is searching for his purpose in life. A little child no longer, yet a long way from man, he is on a journey. He wants to be useful. He wants to work. To grow. To contribute. And it is so hard, in 2011. Were he growing up in any other historical era―1000 years ago, 500, even 50 years ago―this angst would not exist. He would help on the farm, in the fields. Chop wood. Practice hunting. Fighting.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t romanticize. We live longer, healthier, safer now than ever before in human history, for all our fears and complaints. But with this life comes the existential angst of our children. Especially such children as my son. See, he is the boy that you’d take on the hunt with you as soon as he could keep up with the men, because he’s got a strong arm and a good eye, and never gets tired. He’s the son who’d chop a cord of wood for you, then tame a colt or two, all before breakfast. He’d see the enemy coming before anyone else because he’d be up in the highest tree. You’d never lack for food―or protection―with him in your tribe.

What do you expect of this boy wonder in 2011? Well, you’d like him to sit quietly at a table and colour a pretty picture. Then cut up some cardboard and glue it, and maybe some dried up pasta too―look, we’ve got googly eyes, isn’t that cool?―to a piece of paper. Sit and listen to a story. Sit and read a book. Walk, don’t run. Write about this. Tell us about your feelings. Don’t be too noisy, don’t be too active, don’t be too disruptive.

But for goodness’ sake, don’t play too many video games, because that’s just not good for your brain. (Stop. I must digress. Video games invade my love letter, but ever wonder why today’s eight year old, nine year old, 12 year old boys love video games so much? Can you see it? Can you see the hunt, the fight, the chase? Those little buttons, those dudes on the screen―they’re speaking to their genes. They’re channeling the Caveman inside. Come full circle, video games back to love letter. I love my son. My son loves video games. I know why.)

My little love, growing so tall, so lanky, so strong. Searching. He wants to become a man, a useful, productive, important part of his tribe. What tribe? Where is it? When he was four, he decided he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: the man who starts the fire at his community’s firepit. That’s who he’s going to be. But the path is long, and it’s tough, and not very obvious. So he’s struggling, searching, misstepping. And there I am, watching―he is my heart outside of me, exposed, and I want to protect him, help him, ease things for him, but there is so little I can do. So much of this he must struggle through alone, my love, and all I can do is be there―present, supportive, unconditional. There when he needs me, in the background when he thinks he doesn’t. Loving him, celebrating him, feeling blessed and grateful that he is my son… making sure he knows that I love him, celebrate him, and feel blessed and grateful that I am his mother.

It is another day, another night, and he is silent, falling asleep. He talked a lot today, about his game, the smell of rain, the trajectory of a roundhouse kick, the peskiness of little sisters. Then silent, perturbed. The eyes close, I see the brain, spirit, soul still working. Searching. What will he be? Fully himself, fully wonderful.

I write this to remind myself―to hold myself steady during the moments when he is not bliss. To remind myself of what matters and what doesn’t. To remind myself that the work we started, the bonds we weaved when he was a babe at breast, a toddler on hip, that work isn’t over. It continues, every day. Every choice, every word, said and unsaid, builds that bond and builds that relationship. Or harms it.

I don’t like to think of parenthood, motherhood as work. It’s not. It’s life, part of life, a definition of my life, as much a part of it as eating, sleeping, breathing. But the work metaphor creeps in, because in 2011 North America, everything that requires any effort at all is work. So―this love letter is my work. Put explicit into words, to exist outside of me as affirmation and expression and reminder. I love you, my beautiful son, unconditionally, perfectly, fully, in all your moods and moments. What will you be? What you are. Fully yourself, fully full of wonder. Cosmic dust transformed into a gift, to me, to the world.

The cinder path

The cinder path (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poisonous Volvo

I just really need to laugh today, and I bet you do too.

Unedited and uncensored; anatomy talk warning. Flora’s a month short of two, and Cinder’s four and a half.

Setting: our bathroom.

Cinder: Flora, stop trying to grab my penis. Flora! No! Stop!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It’s poisonous. Poisonous! Like the giant red milipedes in the
South American rainforest!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It will bite you!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: OK, Flora, I know you want to play with it. But you can’t. Only I can play with it. Play with your own.

Flora: Oh… no pee pee!! Brother! No pee pee?

Cinder: Oh, I forgot, you don’t have one. Well, maybe one day, if you are very good, I’ll let you borrow mine. If I can. Mom! (I’m in the next room) Can I borrow my penis to Flora for a while?

Jane: Um… no. It doesn’t work like that.

Cinder: I didn’t think so. Well, sorry, Flora.

Flora: No pee pee? Why?

Cinder: Don’t worry, Flora. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do with your… Mom! What’s Flora’s not-a-penis called?

Jane: Um… (Still haven’t decided if Flora should have a Volvo or a Gavina… OK, I know she has BOTH, but you know what I mean. Go for the Volvo today) A vulva.

Cinder: We can think of something fun to do with your vulva. Hmm. Let me think. Maybe we could attach something to it?

Flora: Yeaah!

Cinder: Or… we could stick something in it.

Flora: Nooooo.

Next day. 
Setting: post-bath time. Sean and I hanging out downstairs chatting, Cinder and Flora are playing upstairs. Suddenly:

Cinder: Flora! I will smite you with my poisonous penis!

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

Sean: Well, if Flora turns out to be gay, we’ll know why.

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? I think it would make the teen years a lot easier, don’t you?

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? All I’m saying is, if she ends up a lesbian, being chased by her brother’s poisonous penis may be one of the reasons. And don’t you think you’d worry less about boys and teen pregnancy and all that?

Jane: What are you…

Cinder: Ok, Flora. Now it’s your turn to smite me with your poisonous volvo.

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis bee...

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis beetle. It is covered in spines from base to tip. Referenced in Rönn, J., Katvala, M. & Arnqvist, G. 2007. Coevolution between harmful male genitalia and female resistance in seed beetles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 10921-1092. and Hotzy, C. & Arnqvist, G. 2009. Sperm competition favors harmful males in seed beetles. Current Biology 19, 404-407. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Life’s Archives, December 9, 2006.

Spell Is a Four-Letter Word

Or, How My Boy Learns

 From Life’s Archives, June 6, 2011

I think the first word Cinder ever wrote was FART. He didn’t actually write it, if I recall correctly, but carved it into a styrofoam meat tray. For a while after that, he changed every “art” he encountered into a FART. Very joyously. Then he learned how to spell POOP. We still come across the odd random POOP smear—I mean, written on a wall, book or garbage can.

And he hasn’t precisely grown out of that phase yet. We recently started working with the All About Spelling programme, as Cinder started to stall and get frustrated with his progress, or rather lack of, with the next level of Bob Books and reading. We had been doing it fairly regularly in March and April, and then reached a frustration/stall point again, so took a break to let it all simmer and marinate, and I put it back on the table today. Flora’s working through the program with us too, of course, and I did the Step with her first, and it went sort of like this: I reviewed the concept, she repeated it or nodded her head, I read the three-letter word, and she spelled it. Then I did it with Cinder. I reviewed the concept of “sh” and “ch” and “th” sounds. He spelled “shit” to illustrate. I said ok, now we’re going to spell the “u” words from the Step. He changed “shit” to “Shut up.” Somehow—after grudgingly spelling gun, bum, and butt, and rolling his eyes at hug and tub—he ended spelling jack ass and asshole.

I was so proud. (Up to you to figure out if there’s a sarcasm sign flashing behind me).

Meanwhile, Flora was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to a book on tape and drawing rainbows, hearts and flowers.

Every Women’s Studies course I ever took? Lies. All lies.

A Love Letter to the Golden Heart

A dragonfly, broken wings, it’s dying―surely, there’s something she can do to save it. A soft bed in a safe place. Protection. But no―death comes, tears come, tenderness overflowing, and my little daughter’s life is broken, ruined, the worst day ever, nothing’s ever right… until this thought comes―Can I put it in my museum?

Rebound. Recover. But every time she looks at that dragonfly, she remembers―the attempt to save, the death, the tragedy.

She remembers everything she’s ever felt, my Golden Heart, she remembers why, and she will tell you about it, in detail. Words and stories flow from her; when she is silent, they flow too―onto paper, in colours, bold strokes, small dots.

She is my lesson, my meditation, my wonder. I don’t remember as well as she does, but I do remember this: the first time I held her in my arms and looked at those eyes, so blue, so blue―still so blue―and that tuft of red hair, but I didn’t see them, I saw Daughter, My Daughter, girl child, future mother, the future… I saw… what? Something so big and so frightening and so wonderful I still can’t articulate it: her connection to me and to all her future daughters and daughters’ daughters and my connection to my mother and her mother and all the mothers before… a feeling so big and overwhelming, love is an inadequate word. Love is just the beginning.

I love my little daughter, and she loves. She loves―well, people, of course, her family, her friends―but she loves the world in a way so intense and deep, it frightens me who loves her and who wants to protect her, shelter her, keep her safe, because I see how exposed, how vulnerable she is. She gives her heart, on her outstretched hands. She will love you as she loves the dragonfly, the leaves on the tree―does it hurt them when they fall? No? Are you sure?―the grass beneath her feet, the dandelions that she gathers into bouquets every spring.

It’s dangerous to love like that, and it terrifies me. It is is easy to hurt this precious child, to betray her. Even those of us who love her madly: perhaps especially those of us who love her madly. And those who do not really care? It terrifies me. As I hold her and listen to her speak of her heart, her loves, her feelings, I want to equip her for the scary future… but yet, every attempt to do so is a destruction of something about her that is the best thing about her, the most critical, defining feature of her.

So I hold her and I listen and I stroke her hair.

My Golden Heart, I call her, and I tell her what an amazing gift it is to feel as fully as she does. And how difficult it is to reign those feelings in, to hold them in abeyance, to reflect on them―but how necessary, at least sometimes. Does she hear? Understand? Does it help? I don’t know. The tears fall, and I hold her close, and I will myself to be patient, because my natural inclination is to not honour this aspect of my daughter most precious, to make her repress, behave, smile, bury that pain…

As she gets older, she does. I see it―and the price it terrible. It is, for her, not self-control, but denial of herself. Is there a middle way, another way? We will struggle with this, she and I forever, perhaps all of her and my life. I don’t have the answer, I don’t see a path.

So I hold her. I am her mother and I am her ally. There are plenty of enemies out there who will make her repress, bury and hide.

I will not be one of them.

A moment of pure joy, pure excitement: she feels these as fully, as dramatically as the pain and the tears. And spreads it. I feel it, the world feels it―she infects us with her love. She flies, leaps, exults. And we run with her, carried by her joy and love.

My Golden Heart, a gift to the world. I kiss the tip of her nose, her fingertips. She flies away. I watch her, with adulation, with concern, with fear. She is my lesson: will she teach me trust?

A Love Letter To The 9-year-old

Yesterday, I accidentally slipped my feet into my 9-year-old son’s shoes. And they fit well enough that I took a few steps in them before realizing my mistake. This first-born baby of mine, seven pounds eleven ounces nine years ago―the size of a grain of rice ten years ago, just part of cosmic dust before then―is now so long, so tall, so strong. Stronger than me. No longer in a sling, no longer kept safe and satisfied only in my arms―the journey has been gradual, but this year, this day, this moment, it strikes me, smacks me in the face.

I love him. When he was that babe in arms and I looked at him and fell in love with him for the first time―and then every day, every hour, all over again―I didn’t think it was possible to love anything, any creature, any person this much. And then I loved him more and more every single day, and today, when I look at his tousled, tangled head, his lanky, long legs, the eyelashes that half-cover those sometimes mischievous, sometimes sad eyes, I fall in love all over again and again, and I can’t believe it is possible to love anything, any person this much. But now I know that tomorrow, and the day after and the year after, I will love him even more.

He isn’t bliss everyday. Being a nine year old boy in 2011’s North America isn’t easy. Sure, you can dismiss this as a First World Whine―hey, he isn’t toting guns in Sierra Leone, living in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro, starving in East Africa. Over-privileged middle class white boy of over-educated parents, what are your woes? Lusting after an X-box game, having to eat roast asparagus for dinner again? Our world dismisses his … heck, call it was it is, existential angst. But it’s there, and it’s real.

My nine year old boy, my love, is searching for his purpose in life. A little child no longer, yet a long way from man, he is on a journey. He wants to be useful. He wants to work. To grow. To contribute. And it is so hard, in 2011. Were he growing up in any other historical era―1000 years ago, 500, even 50 years ago―this angst would not exist. He would help on the farm, in the fields. Chop wood. Practice hunting. Fighting.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t romanticize. We live longer, healthier, safer now than ever before in human history, for all our fears and complaints. But with this life comes the existential angst of our children. Especially such children as my son. See, he is the boy that you’d take on the hunt with you as soon as he could keep up with the men, because he’s got a strong arm and a good eye, and never gets tired. He’s the son who’d chop a cord of wood for you, then tame a colt or two, all before breakfast. He’d see the enemy coming before anyone else because he’d be up in the highest tree. You’d never lack for food―or protection―with him in your tribe.

What do you expect of this boy wonder in 2011? Well, you’d like him to sit quietly at a table and colour a pretty picture. Then cut up some cardboard and glue it, and maybe some dried up pasta too―look, we’ve got googly eyes, isn’t that cool?―to a piece of paper. Sit and listen to a story. Sit and read a book. Walk, don’t run. Write about this. Tell us about your feelings. Don’t be too noisy, don’t be too active, don’t be too disruptive.

But for goodness’ sake, don’t play too many video games, because that’s just not good for your brain. (Stop. I must digress. Video games invade my love letter, but ever wonder why today’s eight year old, nine year old, 12 year old boys love video games so much? Can you see it? Can you see the hunt, the fight, the chase? Those little buttons, those dudes on the screen―they’re speaking to their genes. They’re channeling the Caveman inside. Come full circle, video games back to love letter. I love my son. My son loves video games. I know why.)

My little love, growing so tall, so lanky, so strong. Searching. He wants to become a man, a useful, productive, important part of his tribe. What tribe? Where is it? When he was four, he decided he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: the man who starts the fire at his community’s firepit. That’s who he’s going to be. But the path is long, and it’s tough, and not very obvious. So he’s struggling, searching, misstepping. And there I am, watching―he is my heart outside of me, exposed, and I want to protect him, help him, ease things for him, but there is so little I can do. So much of this he must struggle through alone, my love, and all I can do is be there―present, supportive, unconditional. There when he needs me, in the background when he thinks he doesn’t. Loving him, celebrating him, feeling blessed and grateful that he is my son… making sure he knows that I love him, celebrate him, and feel blessed and grateful that I am his mother.

It is another day, another night, and he is silent, falling asleep. He talked a lot today, about his game, the smell of rain, the trajectory of a roundhouse kick, the peskiness of little sisters. Then silent, perturbed. The eyes close, I see the brain, spirit, soul still working. Searching. What will he be? Fully himself, fully wonderful.

I write this to remind myself―to hold myself steady during the moments when he is not bliss. To remind myself of what matters and what doesn’t. To remind myself that the work we started, the bonds we weaved when he was a babe at breast, a toddler on hip, that work isn’t over. It continues, every day. Every choice, every word, said and unsaid, builds that bond and builds that relationship. Or harms it.

I don’t like to think of parenthood, motherhood as work. It’s not. It’s life, part of life, a definition of my life, as much a part of it as eating, sleeping, breathing. But the work metaphor creeps in, because in 2011 North America, everything that requires any effort at all is work. So―this love letter is my work. Put explicit into words, to exist outside of me as affirmation and expression and reminder. I love you, my beautiful son, unconditionally, perfectly, fully, in all your moods and moments. What will you be? What you are. Fully yourself, fully full of wonder. Cosmic dust transformed into a gift, to me, to the world.

The Return of the Princess Dress

You may recall Cinder’s Princess Dress–the fluffy, lacey, floor-length Disney princess gown Flora received for her first Christmas from her Nana, and which was immediately confiscated by Cinder as his party dress, which he wore to every major party event for the next two or so years. He stopped wearing it quite abruptly–I remember feeling sad at the rise of consciousness that accompanied that decision of his, his awareness that “boys did not wear dresses” and his acquiescence to that norm. But, by the time he outgrew the dress, Flora was ready for it… and how many little sisters get to wear their brother’s hand-me-down Princess dress? “What a lovely dress,” people would say, and she’s say, “Thank you, it was my brother’s,” and people would not be quite sure what to say next.

The dress got too tight for Flora a couple of years ago, and got retired to the back of the dress up pile. Smaller friends wiggled into it, puppy Anya wore it on special occasions… and today, proud Big Sister dressed little Ender in it.

Flora had a couple of friends over today and they dressed up in a variety of costumes, uncovering the Princess dress. This evening after bath, Ender dragged Flora over to the dress up rack. “Peese?” he said, pointing. “Peese?” “Mom!” Flora called. “Ender wants the Princess dress! Can I dress him in the Princess dress?”

She did–although first, she had to let him run around the house naked, clutching the dress to his chest and bellowing, “Wheeee!” Finally, she wrestled him into it. He immediately ran to show himself to Sean. “This!” he announced, turning around. “Oh my god,” said Sean. “It’s like a … ” “He looks just like me!” Flora said. Pause. A critical look at Ender. “Only much fatter.”

She took him downstairs to show Cinder. “Oh, he’s wearing my Princess dress!” Cinder said. He tousled his little brother’s hair. Ender tried to bite him. They wrestled for a bit. “Did people make fun of me for wearing the Princess dress?” Cinder asked me suddenly. I frowned in concentration. “Not really,” I said. “I remember once, N and F did…” “And?” prodded Cinder. I remember very clearly — Cinder, wearing a Princess dress and yellow rubber boots and a baseball cap, marching into the house, getting the biggest water gun he could find, and a few minutes later… shrieks. He chased the girls with the gun, first spraying them with water, then trying to pummel them with the gun. It’s a story with a tricky moral–no one on the Common ever made fun of his Princess dress again. But, um, that whole pummelling with the gun thing…

“And… you kinda… ” I searched for the right word. “Whooped them?” Flora suggested. “Hmmm,” I murmured.

Cinder hugged Ender. “So, if anyone makes fun of you for wearing a Princess dress, you go and whoop them,” he said. “And if they’re bigger then you, come get Bubba, and Bubba will whoop them for you.”

“Wheee!” Ender vocalized. Then bit Cinder in the arm pit. And got a bit of a whoop in return.