Welcome.

This afternoon, as we drove past our local UU church, The Who noticed the rainbow flag that it flies out on its lawn to indicate that it is a “Welcoming Congregation” (i.e. a congregation that “want[s] to take intentional steps to become more welcoming and inclusive of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.”) He asked me why the flag was there.

“It’s a rainbow flag that shows that they are a place that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.” I started with this and waited to see what he would do with it. As far as I know, he doesn’t really have much of a context for any of those terms, although he does know that families are made up of all different gender configurations.

He was quiet for a few seconds and then he asked, “But why would they even need to do that?”

I nearly cried. He doesn’t understand why anyone would have to go out of his or her way to make sure that people knew that a place specifically welcomed a group of people. He doesn’t even know that his parents are part of this group of people. He doesn’t know that there are politicians and neighbors and teachers and friends’ parents who think that his parents are deviants, unworthy of equal treatment and access to spaces.

“Well,” I began, not sure of how the rest of the sentence was going to form. “Some people don’t want to share their space with gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer people.”

Immediately and confoundedly: “Why?”

“I’m honestly not sure, babe. People can make guesses about why, but I don’t really actually know. Mommy and I are lesbians and queer and we are happy to share our space with any kind of people. And we’re not completely sure why some people don’t want to.” (I didn’t want to start with my interpretations of how these seeds are planted and I don’t think he could digest it all anyway.)

More silence. Then: “Yeah! Me too! I will share my space with anyone! You and Mommy and Bella (his stuffed dog)! I like every kind of people.”

He is in for a rude awakening and it hurts my heart.

Barbie.

This morning, my kid and I are watching Strawberry Shortcake and yesterday, he saw a commercial for a Barbie dog toy and said he wanted it. I was inclined to buy it. Barbie. Me. Buying it. What?

So, there’s some hypocrisy for you. If I had a little girl, I think I’d dissuade her from watching insipid, pink-and-purple animated shows about teenage girls and I’d be really hard pressed to buy her Barbie, despite having grown up on it myself. But my son? Asking for a doll (even a doll as aesthetically and morally disturbing as Barbie)? I’m knee-jerk all for it. Does gender non-conformity really change the rules that much?

I’ve had a similar discussion with myself before, the first time I bought The Who pink jammies. The argument was different, then, though. That day in Old Navy when I was faced with “girl” jammies being the only ones available in his size, I found myself having a hard time buying them — worried about what people would think. Worried about what I would think. Fast forward to today, when his favorite jammies are pink, flowered Dora ones and a set of pink Elmo ones with hearts.

The Who’s older now, though, and “peer pressure” is bound to become an issue. Will his friends make fun of him for having a Barbie toy? And do we even care if he gets made fun of? I’m fairly certain that we should be directing our energy toward helping him feel secure in his choices than toward avoiding peer criticism, right?

God.

We decided, before The Who was born, to raise him Jewish. To me, that meant that he would receive a Jewish education and that he would have a Bar Mitzvah. I guess this also meant that we would join a synagogue and enroll him in Hebrew school, but that felt so far off at the time. (More far off than a Bar Mitzvah? Somehow not. Don’t question it. I was a little crazed during those months.)

Tiny Yarmulke. (Getting his Hebrew name at about 6 months old.)

I have never been totally solid on my belief in God. For a really long time, I couldn’t believe in something I couldn’t see and know. I wasn’t willing to believe that anything had more power or control than I. Letting go of the reins has not been easy for me. I have, however, always believed in the power of the universe, insomuch that it could make paths easier or more complicated — open doors to what was meant to be. (Like, for example, getting pregnant with The Who. All of it fell so easily into place that I have always known it was meant to be. The timing was right, the health issues all aligned, it only took two tries, etc.) But the universe is not God. God is heavy duty. God is religion and religion is divisive. I have long seen organized religion as a problem in our society — a fortress behind which people stand as they hurl out icy snowballs. (I think, perhaps, I am beginning to re-form my opinions on this, but that’s another post.)

So, Rosh Hashanah is coming up and The Who goes to a Jewish preschool. Much to my delight, they had a “shofar factory” program the other day where a rabbi came in and showed the kids how to make and blow the shofar. He also talked to them about the holiday and what it means and, after school on the ride home, for the first time, The Who talked to me about God.

Who: The shofar sounds like a seagull! Aarr! Aaaar! Aaaaaar!
Me: You’re right! It does sort of sound like that! Why do you blow the shofar?
You blow it up, up, up right to God.
Oh, cool. Who is God?
God is almost like a giant that’s up in the sky.
Do you know God?
No, I don’t really know him, but I know about him. He lives in the sky.
Is God a man or a woman?
God is a man AND a woman!
So, how do you talk to God?
You cry to him.
You cry to God?
Yeah, we cry like babies to God and he helps us have a good year and we help him have a good year and next week we’re gonna blow the shofar up to God for a good year.

We have never talked to The Who about God. In part because he’s three and he hasn’t asked about it and in part, I’m sure, because we haven’t gotten on the same page about it. I loved hearing his take on it, though, and I think I know what m* and I will be talking about over dinner on our date night this weekend!

 

 

 

This is Political. And Personal.

The Who was born 23 days after we elected Barack Obama into office and I remember how excited and delighted I was to bring a baby into a society I was proud of. I felt proud. I did. I felt this enormous spirit of togetherness and trust and a common desire for something good. That’s the kind of place where I wanted to raise my kid.

The Who and I had our own little inauguration party. Deep in the throes of post-partum depression, it was the happiest I had felt since he was born.

The novelty of having a president that I could actually support and get behind didn’t wear off. I loved that my kid was going to be able to say, for the rest of his life, that he was an “Obama Baby.” I didn’t even know what this president would do. I didn’t know then that he would pass universal health care reform, pass the stimulus, pass Wall Street reform, end the war in Iraq, repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, pass “The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” pass the Hate Crime bill, come out in support of gay marriage, or any of the other praise-worthy things he has done in the past four years. All I knew was that my people were going to have an ally in office. (And by “my people” I guess I mean gays and women, but I also mean anyone who is an ally to gays and women, too. Because, frankly — and I know this is not a friend-making statement — supporters of Bush (and now Romney and Ryan) are not allies to gays and women.)

I was sad when we had to retire this “Obama Baby” onesie that was given to him when he was born.

And then, y’know, I got complacent. Because Obama was in office for years and I was occupied with bringing up my kid. Working hard on doing my job and trusting that the president was doing his. But, now it’s election season again and I’m scared. I’m scared that now instead of raising my baby in a peaceful, hopeful place, I’ll be raising my preschooler in a hateful, despicable place. A place where women don’t have the right to choose and his moms don’t have the right to marry. A place where richness and whiteness and smugness rule — just the opposite of the place I was hoping for.

Politics has always meant a lot to me. As Representative Ed Markey said last night, “In Massachusetts (where I spent my first 30 years), you are born a voter and a Red Sox fan.” I proudly voted for Bill Clinton in my first election, just after I turned 18 in 1992 and I have never missed an election since, no matter how small. But there’s something about having a kid that really ups the ante. There’s so much more at stake now. It’s no longer just about me and my family and friends and neighbors and our rights, but it’s about the kind of worldview that my child is going to grow up with.

I hope we get at least four more years.

Crayons.

Yesterday I had my [apparently] monthly hormonally charged breakdown wherein one slightly overwhelming thing happens while another slightly overwhelming thing is happening and then I cry like I just killed someone and then I feel a lot better (albeit bleary-eyed and exhausted like whoa.) I have little to no recollection of these outbursts after about a week has passed, but m* remembers them. They have even moved her to start tracking and marking the calendar so she can be prepared and well-equipped to talk me off the ledge, which she does remarkably well.

So, yesterday. Yesterday was an awesome day, beginning with a morning yoga class at the Y while The Who hung out in the KidZone. Then we took a swim together and came home for lunch. Watched a show on the iPad, played with the MagnaBlocks, and played house. We were stuck home waiting for the Orkin guy from 1-5 and we were trying to make the best of having to spend the remainder of the beautiful day indoors instead of walking into town to our weekly farmer’s market, which is what we both wanted to be doing. I proposed we work on “the crayon project,” which is that viral Pinterest idea about melting bits of broken crayons into silicone muffin molds, thereby creating new, swirly crayon cakes. We set about peeling crayons and sorting colors into the fishie and sea star silicone ice cube trays I had gotten at Ikea months ago, with this project in mind. The Who sand his nonsensical alphabet song as he worked and remarked that “we sure are working like great teamwork, right, Mama?”

And then. Then we put the trays into the toaster oven and then! Then the oven heated up and then! Then the crayons started melting and then! Then they started looking so pretty and we were so excited and then! And then. Then the trays started to melt. And the oven started to smoke. And all of a sudden, I had melting wax in a melting container and an eager three-year-old and actual fire (when the wax hit the bottom of the oven.) “This is an emergency, Who! There is actual fire! Don’t talk to me for a minute while I solve this problem!” (I have to congratulate myself here for keeping it together with him. Although moments later, I would find myself shouting, swearing, and crying on the phone with Orkin, with my child I was damn near peaceful.)

It’s ok, brand-new $200 toaster oven. You’ll be good as new in no time (even though you will continue to smell for days.)

So, as I moved the melty trays to the freezer (it is now a challenge to find a piece of ice not covered in red wax) and started to attempt the cleanup (which involved removing and blow-drying the oven tray and then sticking my hand inside a hot convection to wipe wax off the inside of the door) and as The Who continued to call my name in an effort to make sense of the chaos going on around him, the phone rang. Orkin.

Chaos.

On the phone, it was not my usual technician, who knows our particular issue and has been working on it for months with us. Instead, even though I’d scheduled this appointment specifically because it was when this tech was back from vacation, it was some random dude who’d never been here, calling to ask for directions to my house. And with the broom in mid-sweep of multiple shavings of colored crayons, I unleashed my fury on this poor guy. I know he didn’t deserve it, but it exploded out of me. I may or may not have exploded with the mother of the curse words (while my 3-year-old played a few feet away) And then I called the home office and demanded that my contract be cancelled and my last payment refunded. And I may or may not have cursed at her, too. And then I cried.

Because the craaaaaaayons! And Orrrrrrkin! And otherrrrr assorrrrrrted stresssssssful thiiiiiings! 

And then it was over. I explained to The Who that I was feeling SO FRUSTRATED! And then we ordered a pizza and called it a night. But not before drawing a family portrait with the misshapen hunks of crayon that The Who was totally delighted with, despite it all.

The End.

 

Hard.

I gotta wonder about the fine line between taking care of my son’s psyche and coddling him. I got a lot of crap early on from friends and family about the kinds of choices we made for him (e.g. sticking to a rigid, firm nap schedule) and I heard things all the time like, “Kids are resilient; he’ll be fine.”

I don’t want him to be “fine.” The truth is that we never know what choices we make as parents ultimately affect our kids and in what ways. People will say, “Well, I did such and such and my kid turned out ok.” But how do you know? How do you know that the such and such didn’t affect the way he will communicate as an adult in relationships, for example? Yes. Your kid is fine. But is that the goal? Is the goal just to keep them alive and cute?

I know you can never really know what results your parenting choices will have. And I am also not saying that I am a better parent than anyone else. But I do make a lot of unpopular decisions in child-rearing because I believe that the alternative, while maybe more convenient for me or more attractive to society, will ultimately be somehow destructive in a nebulous sort of way down the line.

I think this is what people mean when they say that parenting is the hardest job you will ever do. Sure, the day-to-day can be trying. Like when it’s 4pm and your 3-year-old who has recently given up the nap is battle-worn and beat and you’re the same and all he wants is your attention and all you want is to never ever ever hear his tinny little voice again. I certainly don’t count those among my favorite moments, but that’s not what really makes parenting hard. It’s the constant worry, the investigation, the planning, the caution, the love so intense that just the thought of his pain makes your shoulders heave with sobs. And, for me especially, someone who is very motivated by instant gratification, it’s the drive to keep on making these difficult and unpopular choices, hoping that they will pay off in the long run.

Talk.

“What were you eating, Mama?”
“Birthday cake.”
“Did you have ice cream with your birthday cake?”
“No.”
“Well, ice cream is a lovely thing to have with birthday cake.”

At what point do I stop being amazed with the things that come out of his mouth and just accept that he is now a full-blown talker? The Who was, by all counts, an “early talker” and has been surprising, amusing, and stunning us all (parents, teachers, and doctors alike) with not only his vocabulary, but his seemingly innate ability to conjugate and manipulate words. He, for example, rarely, if ever, says “teached” or “goed.” It has always been “taught” and “went.” And I remember at his 2-year well visit with the pediatrician, he was looking out the window at traffic on the highway and said, “Look at all those trucks and cars driving out there!” His doctor’s jaw dropped and I said, “What? Cars and trucks?” She said, “No. Driving out there.” It was a phrase that, to her, signified a really advanced movement from thought to language, but one that I, as his mama who was with him all the time, didn’t hear as at all unusual or remarkable. I knew he was verbally advanced because people kept telling me, but I was a kid who practically came out of the womb talking and was reading by three, so his apparently ahead-of-the-curve speech never struck me as remarkable.

Lately, though, he is coming out with these complex sentences and using vocabulary in such an intuitive way that I find myself constantly reporting the things he said — in texts to m* or on Facebook or even just repeating to a nearby friend. But then this morning it occurred to me: maybe it’s not extraordinary. Maybe this is the way three-year-olds talk. Maybe I’ve been conditioned to think of his language as advanced because he started early and has always been very articulate for his age. I’m not sure. I don’t spend enough time around other three-year-olds, I guess. The internet seems to suggest that “many kids can string together 3 or 4 word sentences,” and that “you should be able to understand about 75% of what they say (“Communication” par. 8). Really? Is that the norm? Just that one ice-cream-and-cake sentence was eleven words long and that was certainly not his most complex sentence by a long shot. And I would say that I understand 99.9% of what he says and if I can’t understand it, I can ask him to say it another way and he does.

I don’t mean to be a braggart about my Precious Special Snowflake’s amazing genius. I just really don’t feel like I have a sense of what is remarkable and what just is.

What about you? Do you find yourself similarly questioning things about your kid’s development? What does your kid do that is awesome, but that you kind of take for granted?

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“Communication and Your 2-3 Year Old.” kidshealth.org. KidsHealth, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.