Saturday, September 29, 2007

Control Freaks Unite! We Have Nothing to Gain but More Chains!

con·trol (kn-trl)
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct. See Synonyms at conduct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate: controlled trading on the stock market; controls the flow of water.
3. To hold in restraint; check: struggled to control my temper.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of: control insects; controlled the fire by dousing it with water.

freak 1 (frk)
1. A thing or occurrence that is markedly unusual or irregular: A freak of nature produced the midsummer snow.
2. An abnormally formed organism, especially a person or animal regarded as a curiosity or monstrosity.
3. A sudden capricious turn of mind; a whim: "The freaks of the psyche can no more be explained than the Devil" Maurice Collis.
4. Slang
a. A drug user or addict: a speed freak.
b. An eccentric or nonconformist person, especially a member of a counterculture.
c. An enthusiast: rock music freaks.

I didn't know that I was a control freak before I became a parent.


After a few right-turns in my life, a bit of introspection, and a few hours on the couch, I thought I had conquered that particular problem (one down, 200,000 to go).

It was really my obsession--my compulsive obsession--about my pens that drove me to this conclusion.

I've got these particular pens that I prefer to use for work (mostly grading and taking notes). For those of you who know this about me, you probably also know that these pens are usually not provided by my regular employer (I have actually gotten into a bit of a tiff with the administrative assistant about the fact that she refused to purchase these sorts of pens. Probably because people actually used them) hence, I have to purchase them myself. The issue is not that they are particularly expensive. It's just that I like to have them when I need them.

As an individual, I could only blame myself for losing pens. Within a family context, however, I find that Seven often "borrows" the pens (she too recognizes their superiority over the ample supply of ball points in the house). I often find them scattered throughout the house, tips broken or tops left off, drying out the pen.

I know this sounds crazy, but the wastefulness and absolute lack of carefulness with these pens really bugs me.

At our last ECFE class (early childhood and family education) we started talking about being "control freaks" as parents and what that term actually meant. I once heard someone describing parenting with another person as the ultimate form of control issues: you both want to control parts of your kids' lives, but probably, you have two different ideas about what you need to control and how to go about it. Hence, even more control issues, but now just about each other.

Our ECFE teacher actually complimented me for recognizing my control issues around parenting. She said that some people might behave like a fish out of water when they are out of control, but not recognize that the problem is that they're breathing air rather than water.

So I'm a good kind of control freak, I guess.

My most recent episode of control-freak recognition occured the other day when I observed Seven move a chair over to the kitchen so that she could hoist herself up and reach the gum she was desiring. It was the first time she had just gotten gum out for herself without asking for either a) permission or b) help getting it.

I don't really care that she wanted or even got the gum herself. She is wonderful with stuff like that. She'll take a whole pack and share it with the entire neighborhood. And when that pack is gone, she'll ask for another to share some more. Plus, I love why she loves gum. I know that for her, it signifies being a bit older. More mature. She thinks that teenagers have a monopoly on gum chewing.

Finally, she is much better at disposing of the gum once she's done chewing it. Once when I was far, far from becoming a parent, I had taken one of my nephews for the night. He wanted one of those huge packs of buble-gum that comes in a pack like a baseball player's box of chew. The next day, I found the empty container at the bottom of my car, and chewed up little pieces of gum under the seat, like in a movie theatre or on the bottom of a school desk. So my references to gum protocol are pretty bad comparatively.

Having said all that, I couldn't figure out what was causing the pit in my stomach about Seven taking this step forward, and getting the gum herself.

As I was telling this story at ECFE, I noticed the teacher writing a word on her little white board:


I stopped: ?

She: That's what you're doing here, you know. . . .

Me: ??

She: If she can get the gum herself, what will she need you for?

I just wish I could control the speed at which they're growing up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


BioMom and I have started a new 'date-night' tradition.

Because we're old and boring, we usually have no clue what movies are out. So, even if we look them up online to see what's playing, we may as well be reading Greek because the words and even the reviews mean little to our untrained eyes.

A week or so ago, our trusty sitter (1 of 4) had planned on coming over after the kids were asleep so that we could head out into the world as a couple. Pretending to be childless for a few joyful hours. It had been a long day and we had each had plenty of time alone, so we had decided to see if we could reschedule for a more needed date and time. Trusty sitter, however, has just started high school and, with that, a revitalization in her own social life. This meant that she was free that night only, for quite some time.

We jumped on it.

So, instead of reviewing possible movies online and planning it all out, we literally showed up at the local indy-movie palace and just saw what was there.

We have now done this twice and been thrilled at each movie.

The first, called Once, was just mentioned by Dooce. She agrees with our review. It has an added bonus of being filmed in Dublin so, those of you interested in seeing some great scenery, go now.

The second, called Eastern Promises was equally enticing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another Sage

Big and I went downtown today to explore the extraordinary toddler section at the Central Library, only to find out that it, due to our increasingly minimalist public funding, the main library, like our local rinky-dink library, closes on Mondays.

Having paid the parking fee, we decided to spend a morning downtown, window shopping and enjoying the energy, sights and sounds of Nicollet Avenue. Big's vocabulary is beginning to burst (we counted 26 words last week and I'd bet he's already up to 40) and he could be heard atop my shoulders while, I could only surmise by the rocking of his body, pointing this way and that to "Bus!" and "Car" and "Guy!" etc. etc. We browsed books at the local Bunns and Noodle (see Allison Bechdel for her witty renaming of the book chain), and visited the Mary Tyler Moore statue, slowly meandering our way back to the car.

Pardon the trite observation, but there is absolutely nothing like a toddler to force you to stop and be present for the smallest, loveliest moments in life. And it's not just their innate joy in all-things-new that is contagious. It is also that their pace, so much slower compared to our own, allows for such a rich perspective, if you allow yourself to be taken up in it all, as opposed to fighting for your own agenda.

At one point we stopped by a man warming up to play his trumpet for the noon-hour pedestrians on their way to lunch. Big threw in a coupla bucks and we sat down to hear him play for a while. He was mesmerized by the sound and when the guy broke into that old Celtic song "Danny Boy" which I happen to sing to Big nearly every night (changing the words, usually to "[Big's first name] Boy") I am fairly sure I saw a hint of recognition in his eyes.

We had not requested the song, or even shared a word with this man, yet, somehow, he choose a song that Big and I share when we are extremely close -- those moments before sleep. While I am no longer surprised by that sort of connection that living beings have with one another--I believe that we truly feel one another at some deep level that is infinitely more powerful than our formal forms of communication--I was, nonetheless, moved deeply.

He played it a second time and we sat for the entire rendition, only a few feet away from our soloist, Big tucked under my arm, watching, me softly singing along in his ear.

And then we moved on, Big pointing out buses, police cars and our little tram, climbing and jumping off of planters, taking our time back toward the car.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gender and Socialization: A comment from the front lines

MimiSmartyPants has a recent entry in which she reviews the book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity .

SmartyPants' one quibble follows (bolds mine):

"In one chapter Serano writes about how it is misguided (at best) to assume that a woman's pull toward the trappings of femininity is always socially constructed, and uses her own experience growing up as a boy as a very logical example. Despite feeling metric tons of pressure to express herself as male, she felt naturally drawn to feminine gender expression, which means that wanting to be feminine has to be at least partially inborn. Also, to assume that women are somehow "tricked" into stereotypically feminine gender expressions is insulting and misogynist, etc. And of course that's true. My only problem is that I think it is impossible for a cissexual woman to separate what is a "natural" pull toward femininity and what is years of near-constant socialization messages about How To Be A Girl. I mean, you can yell all you want about how you "naturally" feel pretty in high heels and makeup and a push-up bra, and maybe you do, but how do you know it's natural? None of us were raised in a cave. In some ways trans women have the best claim to "legitimate" desire of all things pink and girly (if indeed they do desire those things, since of course not all trans women do), because the desire is felt no matter how severely its expression is restricted. The rest of us get many subtle and overt cheers and props for doing the feminine thing, and for some women they want to do it anyway so it all works out fabulously. It just seems hard to know for sure that the path was freely chosen."

I think this point is absolutely true and important -- how do we know what is nature and what is nurture. However, I am not sure that transsexuals have the corner market on helping to illuminate this. Aren't all transsexuals also equally socialized with the rest of us? Admittedly, the socialization may affect them differently, but we all grow up within some similar social context.

Here's what I am getting at. I am not a trannsexual, however, I feel much more aligned with the masculine end of the gender continuum. And while, for the most part I suppose, I was discouraged from exploring my particular gender identity by the general population, I believe that I still receive(d) some accommodations for my masculine(ish) identity. This is to say that I don't believe that social approbations work linearly -- i.e. social pressure increases exactly opposite to the degree to which one expresses oneself outside of the social norms.

It is possible that people get implicitly rewarded to the extent that they "do gender" (to use Butler's term) correctly, regardless of their sex. The closer we approximate our stereotypes of gender (again, regardless of sex) the more comfortable people are around us. As an example (admittedly idiotic and simple), once a guy figures out that he doesn't have to open the door for me, we're okay.

I also wonder if this may be more true for masculine women than for feminine men. Our society is highly oriented toward the masculine, so any social kudos would be more likely to go toward people with more masculine gender expressions.

So, all I am saying is, we are no closer to solving the nature/nurture dilemma.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mind The Gap


Sorry for the lack of posts as of late. It's been a bit busy here what with the back-to-school festivities that at least two of us have going on. That and my first attempt at the "Short and Fat" mountain bike race at the Chequamegon National Forest in up-state Wisconsin.

I helped to make some lemonade from lemons as a friend's knee went bad while training for the race. She was kind enough to let me take her number (which, incidentally, reported my results in a category that was 10 years my junior!).

How was the race you might be asking?

Well, I'm a usual regular biker (at least for much of the summer) but with full-time care of Big and Seven, I got in (literally) less than 50 miles. That is, 50 miles THIS SUMMER! Including the round-the-lake-with-Burly-in-tow-for-a-picnic variety. So let's just say that the race, for me was mostly about either snailing my way up a hill or just hanging on (on more than one occasion I would look down to see my saddle actually between my legs. . . That is, without my rear end on it as it was FOLLOWING my bike down the extremely steep and rocky hill at hand).

I'm up for it again next year though, hoping to beat my 1 hour 40 minute time and my 607/824 placing.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Irregular Monthly Newsletter: 21 Months

You've turned 21 months now, Big. Not a big month per se, but still.

One cute new addition to your repertoire is that you sit down in different places and pat the seat next to you (emphatically) to indicate that you want someone to sit next to you. Often, your pats are in places where an adults rear-end could never fit.

Your spacial skills are somewhat absent in other areas as well, as I have seen you try to cram yourself into Barbie vehicles, and put your feet into cottage cheese containers (empty or otherwise).

Both you and your sister have gone through growth spurts lately. You literally grew eight teeth in the last three months and she has been falling all over herself due to the extra inch or two that she grew over the summer--a real Lucille Ball we have here. If she becomes an actress, her forte will surely be in physical humor.

I have, in the past, posted some great children's books that we've happened-upon from the library. The following is one that brought tears to our eyes. It is titled You Are My I Love You by Maryann K. Cusimano and Satomi Ichikawa.

It goes like this:

I am your parent; you are my child.
I am your quiet place; you are my wild.
I am your calm face; you are my giggle.
I am your wait; you are my wiggle.
I am your carriage ride; you are my king.
I am your push; you are my swing.
I am your audience; you are my clown.
I am your London Bridge; you are my falling down.
I am your carrot sticks; you are my licorice.
I am your dandelion; you are my first wish.
I am your water wings; you are my deep.
I am your open arms; you are my running leap.
I am your way home; you are my new path.
I am your dry towel; you are my wet bath.
I am your dinner; you are my chocolate cake.
I am your bedtime; you are my wide awake.
I am your finish line; you are my race.
I am your praying hands; you are my saying grace.
I am your favorite book; you are my new lines.
I am your night-light; you are my starshine.
I am your lullaby; you are my peekaboo.
I am your good-night kiss; you are my I love you.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Maybe the Baba Experiement Has Not Yet Failed

Yesterday was my first day back at work. I'm going in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Big is spending the days with Mom-of-Four down the street (plus some time on Wednesdays for me to prep).

He had a fabulous time yesterday, as evidenced by the screaming as Grandpa tore him away. So fabulous that, when BioMom checked in with a phone call later that night, MofF reported that Big called her "Mama" all day long.

Maybe I'll still be Baba someday afterall.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Gender Identity

I just read this great graphic story (check it out here as well) about a family dealing with a (male) toddler wanting to wear skirts and who prefers pink by Rutu Modan.

Enjoy. It is fabulous.

Baba's Bedside Companion

I fell for the hype and bought the book The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden. (Of course, kids of all gender stripes could enjoy it, not just boys).

For as much fun as it is, it should be titled: A must read for all current and former tomboys, and current and future Babas.


The Butterfly Effect or Watch Out What You Wish For

Because you might get it.

Its funny. As a parent, I think, you simultaneously grieve their growing up, and are anxious for them to grow up.

It seems to happen too fast and not fast enough, all at once.

Our enigmatic Seven oscillates between wanting to be 13 years old and wanting to be turning 2, like her little brother will soon.

It is not the desires themselves that rubs on BioMom and I. It is just that the desires seem to be in areas that require extra effort or work on our part. For example, when it comes to bathtime (until very recently) she would prefer to be 2: running away and hiding when the bathwater starts, exhibiting an inability to wash herself in any way, once in the tub, refusing to get out of the tub, etc. etc. etc.

She doesn't want to be thirteen when it comes to helping to clear the table after dinner, or perhaps by helping with kitty care by feeding the two cats in the family. (No, we're not asking much on the chore-front.) She wants to be 13 when it comes to staying up too late, to watching pg13 television shows or movies, and wearing makeup (!).

We've given her the "bwa bwa... bwa bwa bwa bwa" Charlie Brown talk about how growing older is accompanied by both increasing freedoms and responsibilities "bwa bwa, bwa bwa bwa bwa." Which, naturally, goes un-listened to, if not unheard altogether. And I regularly try to cajole her into washing herself during the bath routine as Big is enough for a grown adult to handle in the tub (he treats it as his own little aquatic gymnasium).

Me: But FofF takes showers and baths all on her own!?!

She: She's unique!

Me: You know, there will come a time for you to bathe yourself, right?

After a night spent at her cousin's house (filled with older girls ranging from 9 to 15, with one 18 year old just off to college) she returned with an independent streak!

She: Today's the day! I'm going to start taking showers on my own!

This was a great turn of events, thought BioMom and I! She is taking an interest in her own hygiene!!!

Little did we know how one person in a family's actions could force the whole household to evolve.

She has now taken to taking a shower rather than a bath during our normal evening routine as well as taking a shower in the morning prior to going to school. Given our history, we thought "why not?. . . You can't get too clean, right?"

So, last night, after coming in from playing outside after dinner (I write this detail to emphasize the obvious: a bath in-and-of-itself is no fun, but precede this with having to a) stop playing and b) come in from outside, well, you get the idea) Big absolutely freaks when he realizes that his big sister has, for some unknown reason (I suspect he imagines she is getting out of bathtime) has disappeared upstairs. He refuses to take a bath.

"Okay," I think. "He just wants to be with her and take a shower."

I was half right.

He freaked in the shower.

Okay, so once past that hurdle, we negotiated with Seven about the new bathing routine.

Me: Okay, so at night you can get in the tub with him, and just play. No need to wash twice!

She: Sounds good! I was missing playing with him anyway.

First problem: FIXED!

So this morning, at SIX a.m., she comes bounding into our room with some information about the impending school day about which she was ecstatic.

She: Okay, I'm ready to take a shower now!

Us: Harrumph!

She: Mom, (speaking to BioMom), can you come in and keep me company???

BioMom, refusing: I'm waking up slowly, honey. I don't want to come in and sit on the cold toilet at 6 a.m. to keep you company. Lay down here for a little while, I'll do it later.

She: No! Now!!!

And the spiral began. At six a.m.

Moral: the household has a delicate balance. Even though you may wish for improvements in some areas, beware that small changes can have large effects.