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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The evil powers of a princess

Princess Power does not equal Girl Power. Actually, it seems to be Girl Power's Doppelgänger.

I know that little girls like princesses. All things princess. Or more exactly, all things Disney princess. But I have only ever seen it in small doses during playdates. This past weekend everything changed. I witnessed a Princess Party in which "Cinderella" was the guest of honor. This alone was sad because I thought the five-year-old birthday girl should have been the guest of honor at her own party. But she was out-shined by the tall demure blondie in a blue hoop skirt.

While I found Cinderella's show mildly amusing, I mostly felt disheartened by the commercialism. Instead of being uplifted by the spirit of dress-up and make-believe, I was disgusted by the commercialism. And I was annoyed at her overall message of love and helplessness and marriage. She started her show by asking the birthday girl if she was married (reinforcing that if you're not, then you're nothing--even at five).

At one point, Cinderella engaged the enthusiastic group of girls (my two boys were glued to the window watching tee-ball practice outside) in a game involving a red heart-shaped balloon. I imagine she asked for help blowing it up because it would have been unladylike to blow it up herself. While music played, the game was to pretend that the heart balloon was your very own lovesick heart beating--thump, thump, thump--before passing it to the next girl. If the music stopped while you held the heart, then you won a princess ring. I was actually surprised that their gowns weren't shredded back to rags as they clamored for that balloon (each girl showed up to the party in her very own replica of Cinderella's dress).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for love and marriage. And yes, when I was a little girl, we had princesses. We had Cinderella and Snow White and Smurfette. But we also had Princess Leia. She was bad-ass and her main objective was kicking intergalactic butt, not getting married. And she was far from helpless.

I cannot help but wonder what this kind of reinforcement of helplessness and dependency does to little girls. Women already have a tough time being unmarried in today's society. I know that this is all supposed to be in the name of pretend and make-believe, but we need more princesses who can blow up their own balloons, drive their own coaches, ask guys to dance, and who are not always agreeable for the sake of keeping things status quo.

Friday, April 25, 2008

How CS Mom got her groove back

As a woman who works out of a home office, a reason to get dressed in something that isn't cottony or stretchy is rare. Sure I have the occassional business meeting or networking event, but for the most part it doesn't matter if I'm wearing sensible shoes or a g-string. No one sees me.

I've admitted somewhere along the way that one of my favorite parts about actually going to an office to work is the outfits. I love a reason to color coordinate my favorite lipstick (although I do wear lipstick daily) with my cute businessy attire. That, and the coffee breaks with coworkers. I supposed the glory of seeing my name is print is pretty cool too.

All of this came to the forefront this past weekend during the height of Birthday Season. Many of the people we see during Birthday Season, we only see during this birthday-filled time of year. And I was shocked when I saw Computer Science Mom. She has a whole new look and she was barely recognizable. She was wearing high heels, eye shadow, a sassy low-cut top, and her hair was super cute. She looked fabulous! This is a woman who was in sweat pants nearly every time I saw her for two years. She was a frumpy, albeit comfortably-dressed woman. What's her secret for getting out of her slump? Going back to work.

For me--when I have the rare business meeting or interview--it's a reason to still own those cute clothes. And when I exercise my right to get dressed up, even without something important in my schedule, it's amazing how it makes me feel like a whole different person.

So after that birthday party where CS Mom shone brightly, I decided to take some action to make myself feel better. Sure, no one sees me but the babysitter, but I want to dress the part. I decided the part I'll be playing is that of a successful writer. Or at least the part of a super cute mom. If putting on a flowing skirt makes me feel glamorous and successful, then I'm going for it. What am I saving those clothes for anyway? If I wait too long to wear them, then they are just going to go out of style.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where are the bad times?

When my parents separated, my mom took her clothing, her family's antiques that had been stored in the attic, and the photo albums from when my brother and I were kids.

Even though it has been 12 years, she occasionally goes through those albums and wonders why she got divorced. She looks at the photos of our family vacations, our holiday feasts, my 4-H pies, birthday parties, and little treasured moments from my childhood. Then she thinks about all the good times. All the laughs. Those books are proof that those good times really happened. It's all right there in those color photos.

But there aren't any pictures of emotional neglect. There aren't any pictures of alcoholism. There aren't any pictures of the rift that grew between them over the years. That's because we only take pictures of the good times.

I started thinking about this after reading a post called, "The 2 Habits of Highly Annoyed People" over at Pen to Paper. Her two habits were: 1) she sells herself short, and 2) she compares her life and her successes to the lives of people she reads about online. She wrote:

"I'm pretty sure from the pictures of their vacations that they had a higher household income than my husband and I (although, given the amount my degrading job was paying me, that wasn't too hard)... But does that equal more success? In this country, money often seems to be the measurement of success," she wrote. Fortunately, she eventually concluded, "I'd like to think that happiness is a better measuring tool, and though I can't measure the happiness of a couple I've never met solely from their blog, I'm willing to bet that my life measures up to the success I perceive."

And that seems to be the key issue. She perceives that their lives are more successful, but what can you really tell from a blog? It's like those photos in the albums from my childhood. If you just look at those photos, it looks like we were an amazingly close-knit family eating together, going on family adventures together, supporting each other. But my dad was barely ever around. He was off with his friends doing his own thing. And at mealtime, my mom ate in the kitchen, while the rest of us ate in the living room while watching "Three's Company" or "Cheers."

People typically don't capture the stuff that makes them look bad. They capture the good times. They capture the fun. The moments. The success. All the sadness, all the disappointments, all the failures, and all the medical dramas--that stuff doesn't often make it into the albums (or the blogs) because that isn't the stuff that most people want to remember.

Or maybe, just maybe--like us--they save the worst of the worst for some other place.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nude is the new black

I should have known that something was up when Baby in Chief refused to fall asleep. I could hear him shouting and laughing and crying in between bouts of silence. I kept thinking that he would eventually drift off and let me have an hour of peace.

After about 30 minutes of his shenanigans, I went to check on him. He was sitting up in his crib with a big smile on his face and nothing on his bottom. He managed to unzip his sleep sack and remove his pants and his diaper--a diaper with four snaps. He was very pleased with himself and immediately asked, "See the penis?" I certainly did. I also saw the big wet spot it left on the sheet and could feel a little wetness on the carpet below.

I couldn't help but laugh. So much for a nap.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My mother, myself

As a little girl, I wanted so much to be like my mom. I wanted to know all the things that she knew. How to bake the best pies. How to make the most delicious spaghetti sauce. How to can tomatoes, or peaches, or pears. How to be a beautiful belly dancer. How to sew. How to be silly. How to not care what other people thought of you. I wanted to look just like her too.

Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn't want her life, her domesticity, her dependence on my father. I needed more. I needed to get away from the small town I grew up in, I needed college, and a job, and a partner that was my equal, a life that was my own. I didn't even want kids for a long time. I felt that having kids would equal failure. It would equal falling back into the roll that I wanted to escape. When I finally did have a baby, I was 10 years older than she was when she had her first baby at 19. It was almost as if I thought those extra years would ensure that my life would be different from hers.

But it's not so different after all. I haven't had a full-time job since a couple of months before my first son was born. That was more than five years ago. And I am very much dependent on my husband.

Early in Waiting for Daisy, Peggy Orenstein writes of her own mother, her ambivalence about having children, and how her childlessness made it difficult to connect with her mom who also had children early in life. She wrote, "I longed for a mother who I could be a mentor, someone I could turn to for wisdom and guidance. Her limits made me short-tempered....It wasn't just hostility I felt around my mother, it was inadequacy."

Like Orenstein, I also feel inadequacy when I think of my mom. I get so dragged down with my kids' constant needs that I sometimes find it hard to enjoy just being around them. We don't bake pies together. And my kids have logged many more hours with sitters and preschool than I ever did. As a result, I sometimes feel that having children has made the gap between us even larger.

Hopefully someday I'll figure out how to get past the fact that my mom and I are similar and different, and it isn't good or bad or success or failure. It just is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I need new equipment

Mandy went dancing this past weekend. It was the first time she'd been out dancing in years. She wrote: "It was a gay bar, so reminding men to keep their junk to themselves was not that much of an issue for me."

It reminded me of an adventure I had when I was in Portland a few weeks back. My girlfriend and I went out to see an 80s cover band (which was fabulous). When it was done, we went to another bar. It was a gay bar filled with a colorful crowd of men and women of all shapes, sizes, and persuasions.

We laughed. We danced alone. We danced together. We danced with some of the people in that colorful crowd.

There was one guy in particular who wanted to dance with me. I figured it was for the same reason that I wanted to dance with him--he was a good dancer and being a gay bar, it was the pure pleasure of dancing with another person that brought us together. There were no sexual undertones. And he was not grinding me with his junk.

When I'm dancing, I prefer that my dance companion not touch me unless he knows how to put his hand at the small of my back for spinning and dipping purposes. Otherwise I enjoy my personal space so that I can perform my moves without someone else's moves encroaching on my fun. Eventually, my friend decided it was time to head home for sleep (her son would be up in the morning wanting attention and food, as those needy, puny humans usually do).

I thanked my dance companion and told him that I was going to head out. He then offered to drive me wherever I needed to go when the club closed. Since I don't go in cars with strangers, I declined. Then he asked if he could get my number. I was a bit confused. I then told him that I live in San Francisco and was only visiting for the weekend. Then he told me he had a job offer in San Francisco. Then I told him I am married and have two kids.

He was crushed, and then I realized he wasn't gay. I guess my gaydar is broken.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Collapsed ATA affects heart kids

For three years in a row, our family has gone to a free summer camp for kids with heart defects and their families. It's called Camp Taylor, and their summer camp in Hawaii is in jeopardy because of ATA Airlines, which abruptly shut down last week amid bankruptcy.

Camp Taylor paid $9,000 for now-worthless ATA tickets for 26 mentors and medical staff to fly from Oakland to Honolulu for camp. The camp in jeopardy is for heart kids who live in Hawaii. It is scheduled for June. Kimberlie Gamino, who runs Camp Taylor, estimated that tickets for alternative flights will cost another $17,000--money the group doesn't have, as reported by The Honolulu Advertiser.

"I can't contact ATA, nobody can," Gamino said in the article. "You just get their recorded message, same as everybody else. Maybe in three years we'll get a penny on the dollar for the value of the tickets."

If you are able to help with a donation so that camp is not cancelled, please contact Camp Taylor.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The 5th anniversary of a failed Apgar

Today my baby turned 5, and I was jolted back to the day when my regular life was tossed in one of those plastic biohazard bins along with my placenta.

When we woke up this morning, I wasn't even sure what to do--I certainly don't have much practice. My son has not woken up in our own house (and not in the hospital) on his birthday since he turned 2. I've spent the last two birthdays trying to keep people from wishing him a happy birthday. To somehow stop his birthday from coming. To somehow stop time until we were home and he was safe. Embracing the day, feeling excited about the day and the milestone, feels a little bizarre.

Life can change in a second. One day I was walking the dogs with my giant belly, and the next day my son was in the neonatal intensive care unit with a ventilator helping him breathe while they scheduled him for open heart surgery. In those first few hours, we didn't know if we would ever see him turn one week old, yet alone one year old, or five years old. But here we are. To most people, we look like a regular family with regular kids and regular problems. That is a good thing. But on the inside, I am certainly bruised. I will never be completed healed. You don't see my scars the way you can see my sons--on his neck, his wrists, his cheek, his torso. My scars are emotional, and I carry them everywhere I go.

I wish that when we were not at the hospital, I could pack up my scars and file them away the way we pack up all my son's medical paperwork. Sometimes I wish my scars were on the outside and not on the inside. Maybe then I would not feel them. They'd be numb, dead to touch because the nerves would be dead. Then if I wasn't looking in the mirror, I might forget they were even there. But it doesn't work that way. I will always be reminded of where we've been--when he gets dressed, when he gets his medicine, when we go to the movies, when I see that he runs differently from the other kids, when I hold his hand and see how blue it looks next to my pinkish skin, when he has a birthday.

Especially when he has a birthday. Will we get one more year? Will we get five more years? As every year passes, I feel like we're getting closer to the end.

I will always feel anxious about what is to come. I will always have moments of weakness when I can't get off the couch and the tears come until my sleeves are soaked. Today won't be one of those days (I hope). I won't let my mind linger in the past; I won't let my mind wander to the future--both are filled with sadness and fear. For today, I will try and just be in the moment. To laugh when he laughs. To sing when he sings. To dance when he dance. To be proud when he blows out his candles.