friday fan-fucking-tastic

Family!
“The Importance of Family Dinner” by mamapoekie
This subject was a tricky one for me as until very recently I revered and “enforced” family dinner (the enterprise has good intentions, of course, and is also such an awesome thing to root-toot about and we’re told if we don’t do it we’re what’s Wrong With America). Of course, my kids and husband and I still eat dinner together almost every night, except now it only happens when people want to, not because they have to or are nagged at (there’s a real difference!).

“Thoughts on Man Caves, Mom Caves, & Gendered Space” by Alexis at the Studioist
I love Alexis’ pieces as well as her rather considered responses to anyone who takes the time to work out a comment. She is a gracious hostess.

The new Life Learning Magazine is out. Well-worth the subscription (and if you write an article, you may get a discount / free subscription).

Science!
Mantid of the Week at I Blame The Patriarchy
Twisty’s been posting less, but each post is enjoyed. I think she has the most tender heart underneath all her meanie.

Porn! (not really, something way better actually)
thethickness.tumblr.com
Edit: see comments.

Halloween!
Super-easy ghost cloak at mermag.blogspot.com
I will be using this. Probably in a few minutes, actually. Yes, not everything I sew is some goddamned masterpiece.

“Scary Decor”; the Studioist (again, but I love her posts and the brief discussion of Halloween experiences in the comments; also she said I was the “best Mom in the world”, praise I sorely need  on days like today where I hardly do anything decent as a mother

“Stripes”, a how-to for making striped fabric (bonus, the tute’s by my brother’s lady J.)

Etc!
“Hey Skinny…” at Twisted Vintage. Loving those little red shorts.

Great review of a pretty spooky movie: “Re-visiting the Canon: Candyman” at PostBourgie. This movie scared me quite deeply as a teen.

Guess who I think is sexy? No, guess. But you know, I think a lot of people are sexy. I guess I’ve got that joie de vivre. P.S. I’m also a big fan of his work and think he’s a compelling performer. The last bit of it I saw was in Wives & Daughters (Netflix instant). Did you know I’m a fiend for pre-20th century British period pieces? WELL I AM.

One imagines this Elliot Smith mixtape on soundcloud is against the Rules of the Intenetz & Copyright, but I have been enjoying a listen.

***

I am a total mess today. I can’t even express how little-by-little I’ve fallen behind to where my life currently feels like a small, grounded hulk of a shipwreck. I won’t feel this way soon. But I feel this way now and I’m being very hard on myself.

Question: How do you deal with the subject of pedophilia?

Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of abuse and pedophilia.

I got a great question from Formspring today. I keep thinking I need to kill that account. Its encouraged anonymity is not coincidental to being the only time I’ve received hatey-mail. Still, besides that one bit of spew (which was quite clarifying for me, actually), I’ve enjoyed what’s been put forth.

Today:

Free range kids (“Men and boys in the locker room”) got me thinking: pedophilia is at once real and the source of way too much fear. I know lots of adult pedophilia sufferers, but I don’t want that to justify paranoia inflicted around my kids. How do you navigate this?

(Note: I don’t feel qualified to direct advice to sexual abuse survivors. The question here asked is how I (and my husband) navigate this terrain; here I’m going to express some of the limitations that mainstream parenting culture purports and my response to the suppositions of “safety” afforded by these commonalities. Full disclosure: neither my husband nor myself were victims of sexual abuse as children, although I have experience of sexual abuse and coercion as a young adult.)

Thank you for your question!

What is “too much fear”? If you mean many parents/guardian adults/teachers have an inflated sense of Stranger Danger I’d agree with you. If you seek to quantify the suffering that abuse has wreaked on children and grown children, I don’t know if we can ever say “too much”. That said, our mainstream media certainly deals in many scarepieces and/or graphic (and repeated ad nauseam) true accounts of Misery Porn and Sadistic Pervert Fables and I do think this has tainted parenting culture and village child-rearing (because the rest of the village is participating, whether they want to admit it or not) in unhelpful and harmful ways.

Yet for those of us who are able, it is very possible to parent our hopes and not our fears with regard to keeping our children safe.

Most abuse of children is inflicted by those the child knows and trusts. That can help give us pause when we worry about the lurking fellow at the library or the one jumping out of an alley (these incidents happen, but are much rarer). Compounding the misery around this topic, many abuse victims are routinely silenced, blamed, second-guessed, minimized, and even vilified. Embarking on a discussion of the relative safety of Strangers often re-injures those who were abused by strangers. Any discussion is best served by sensitivity and acknowledgment: because it is true, many have been victimized.

A re-focus on the family, where most abuse occurs, might help us respond with more compassion and intelligence when stranger abuse/violence is inflicted on children or the very rare case of stranger abduction (about 110 cases a year in a nation of 40 – 45 million children). Ironically (and tragically) our cultural concepts that families are “safe” and we can keep our children unscathed by strangers through the right amounts of control and vigilance, means not only are we frightened and teach our children to fear but we are currently responding very poorly indeed to those families who are the victims of tragedies, mistakes that could happen to any of us, or a combination of these events.

Provided your children are currently safe, we can do much for our them while they are in our care. We can help them – or rather, not hinder them! – as they develop their personal intuition, inner strengths, knowledge of autonomy, and internal convictions of right and wrong. Sadly many mainstream parenting strategies actually serve to subvert these developments or seriously compromise them as to be nearly unworkable.

For example many parental/adult discussions about “safety” for kids involve measures of external control, “rules”, and lectures. Those kinds of external motivators in fact detract from our children’s inner strength and personal knowledge of righteous anger and/or violation (or “uh-oh” sense, as I’ve heard it called) and also subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reinforce the idea they are second class citizens and grownups know best. Most kids spend their lives being told to do what grownups tell them. When someone comes along who wants to abuse them, if they have any skill and finesse at all, our children are easier marks than many would like to believe. Not to mention we are teaching future perpetrators if you’re big enough and strong enough (mentally, physically, etc.) it will be your dominion to do with others as you please.

I don’t have very nuanced advice for recognizing pedophiliac tendencies within a family or trusted friend – the lack of detailed and holistic discussion of this is sad indeed as these abuses are endemic (for instance, note the dismissive reviews and overall low ratings of a nuanced and disturbingly real, complex, and absolutely true case in the documentary Awful Normal, which I recently viewed). I do think familial abuse could almost be called commonplace – and yet it remains under-discussed. I am not very sophisticated at guessing as to WHY it’s so under-discussed. I have some theories. Culturally we undervalue women and their lived realities and the majority of sexually-exploited persons are female-bodied – but by no means all of course. Culturally we oppress children (even very loving adults/parents/carers do, because they don’t know better or are too scared to do anything but what is handed to them as “good parenting”) but we aren’t ready to admit that, of course, abuse is a tragic and inevitable result of this systemic oppression.

As far as pedophilia goes, as long as our culture is invested in oppositional sexism, misogyny, and dominator culture, we will see a rich (if underground) environmental home for full-fledged pedophiles. Our culture supports many of the cornerstones of pedophilia – look around at images in our MSM and you will see the constant sexualization AND infantalization (meaning here enforced powerlessness) of women and girls – women turned into “girls” (or told they should try to achieve this through surgery, hair removal, “feminine” – as in docile and het-male-oriented – behavior, surgeries including labioplasty for a “young” vagina (a cosmetic procedure currently on the rise), a widespread disgust of, dismissal of, trivialization of or lack of respect afforded to women’s bodies including, notably, childbirth and breastfeeding, images of rape in television and film made “sexy” and provocative), and girls in turn given messages their sole functions are either (eventual) reproductive ones, roles of ornamentation, or to satisfy the normative heterosexual man’s tastes and preferences (this in turn gives our men poor scripts as well). The power dynamics reified in these cultural messages are staggering and speak to our complicity in the power dynamics inherent in sexual abuse. In other words Monsters don’t just hop out of closets and grab our little girls (and boys); we create them.

This all sounds very glum – but I hope any adult/parent/carer will take a few minutes to realize how vulnerable our children are and how they need our better care – and they need us to do better to change the world, not just for our children but for our children’s children and so on.

As for us and how we, Ralph and Kelly Hogaboom, have “handled it” – the answer would take many more pages for me to type. The subjects of sex, sexism, power, and bodily autonomy are ones we’ve invested in since before the children were born (because we are genuinely interested in them, not because we seek to “program” our children properly); we don’t hide these subjects from our kids but we also don’t frighten them. The in-tune parent/carer will usually see when a child is frightened or unsure or curious or playful. The in-tune parent/carer will respond when a child asks a question, then be a decent-enough conversationalist to pick up cues as to the child’s understanding level and willingness and interest to listen.

I ask my kids a lot of questions. I ask them if it’s okay to kiss someone if they don’t want you to. I listen to their responses and thoughts about marriage and procreation. I ask them if a man can be married to a man. I ask them if they know what “rape” is. I obviously don’t ask them all this at once! Rather I am condensing a series of amazing conversational moments (and much learning for all parties) over the years.

I play games with them. Some of my favorite involve asking them permission to touch them, or willingly giving them power over my body (to “control” me like a voice-activated robot, or to push me down, etc.). Sometimes I ask them permission to kiss them (and then wait). Sometimes I ask permission to PINCH them (never painfully – by the way, my son loves this game). They enjoy having power and they enjoy scaring themselves. I don’t hold them down and tickle them. I don’t make them submit to my desire for them physically (although sometimes I will beg for a hug). I come to them when they ask me to hug or cuddle them (they do this often). I let them decide how they want their bodies treated, including what medical care they’d like and what food they want to eat and what they want to wear (and no, I did not give them this much freedom from the moment they were born either… when children are babies it is very appropriate we decide what they wear and and that we lock up poisons they might try to drink and what medical care they receive – the latter is a responsibility that we often take for granted but is rather mind-blowing when I think about it).

On that note I also do not disrupt their bodily autonomy. MOST parents I know, my husband and myself included until relatively recently, are very poor at this – we disrupt children’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and bodily autonomy on a *regular basis*. Sometimes I think re-affording children that autonomy is the very, very best thing we can do to keep them safe (some amazing and wise parents/carers know to do this from the beginning). It also does wonders for the health and happiness and harmony of all family members.

How to do that, to begin to do it or learn or deprogram, is not something easily expressed and depends on individual factors. I am always happy to listen to specific family scenarios and respond. I’d like to think I’ve helped many families (and I’m told I have). You can email me at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

Good luck! You have an awesome, incredible, wonderful responsibility. Raising children has been the best, so far, adventure of my life.

daughter of the late, late rose

Today while on errands with Nels my mother called and invited us to Ocean Shores to deliver a commission she’d finished for the upcoming Irish Music Festival descending this weekend. We met her at her house and rode out with her (and her dog) in her van. It was a beautiful sunny day.

My mom didn’t raise her first kid – at all. She left my half-sister to her ex-husband when they divorced, when J. was a toddler – because (as she told me) she believed he’d fight her for custody and that he’d win (my mom is a “flight”, not a “fight”, type of person). This was, as you might imagine, rather devastating for my sister – and, in it’s way, for our mother. Today the two women have an adult friendship and my mom – at least in my presence – acknowledges her screwup (if not her regrets) while being realistic the past is – now – behind her.

My mom did far better for me – in that she stuck around, and she loved me fiercely – and better still for my brother, whom she treated quite tenderly and with great understanding (which was not true of her treatment of me). So given all this, when I hear those patently saccharine characterizations of all females as maternal and all mothers as nurturing and intuitive I know: Bullshit. I believe most of us (men and women) have that potential but I also believe many of us are damaged that we do very poorly, really; oftentimes our children are the crucible where we learn a lot about our own character – and sometimes what we learn is disappointing indeed.

That said, it does us no good to cast mothers like my own (who left her first child) as “unnatural”, or some kind of social pariah (we do not employ this judgment on absentee fathers) or (if we’re feeling generous) “free spirits” – labels and stigmas my mother either happily adopted or unhappily felt persecuted by all these years, descriptors that did not honor her as a multifaceted, flawed, three-dimensional person.

Now, my sister and brother have their own journeys with my mother but I can say for me our current loving adult friendship is one built on hard work on both our parts. That said, forgiveness is not easy and sometimes I wonder if it’s not very difficult (for most) – or even possible (for me). In part because my mother has not directly apologized for her wrongs against me (rather she’s explained them now and then, as if that’s what I need) and, in her stead, no one else has either. So to this day she can say something and suddenly my brow clouds and I know she doesn’t have the foggiest as to how she’s hurt me (and she’s not always open to hearing it when I do tell her).

So today in the van – on our way home – my mom was telling my son yes, soon he’d stay the night, but she was so busy right now – he’d stay just as soon as she had her (latest) work done.

“I’ll be so happy when this is over,” she said. “I can have my life back again!”

Ah yes. Any time with my mother is only borrowed from the endless list of Other Things she’s said Yes to, and she will be backing out the door by the end of these stolen engagements; the fact she ends up harried and complaining about these commitments does nothing for the pain of the girl who invited her for dinner in college only to have her leave earlier than she’d committed – pretending we hadn’t talked previously about her commitment – or the time I had surgery and begged my parents (3 hours away) to come be with me and they awkwardly demurred, and how lonely and scared and Dark Night of the Soul I was in those hours before surgery, and how they did in fact show up the day of, in fact a nurse told me as I was being wheeled into the operating room and I thought I might die (which was silly) but at least they were there, and how it seems I am the only family member of four who makes sure to be there for whatever shit goes down, and that doesn’t mean I’m a better person but I can not be someone else either. I always knew she loved us but I hated that she was so flighty and distracted and so scared of everything. I hated her tiny little inner trickle of low self-worth even while I loved – always have – her tenderness, even though as an adult I feel compassion for her and a deep understanding of her Worth and Value, yet still as I’ve said I cannot forgive her for her low self-regard and I have in my way internalized it such, a horrible thing indeed…

But instead, I say: “You always say that,” – a bit tired, grimly mirthful, half-hurt. (Seriously. You cannot count the times I’ve heard her say this.)

“I know, but really, I will be.” (she says, instead of getting instantly peevish.)  “As soon as this is done I’ll have a life again. Until the next thing…” she trails off.

I say, “You know… it always hurt, as a kid, you were always so preoccupied and telling us you’d make time after you did this thing. I never felt you were all the way there. I don’t know if my kids feel that way. Probably not. But I did. It was hard.” Or, I’m thinking, the times she’d make some delicious meal for other people, decorating the top of a cake or loading up a pan of sliced lasagne, dressed for an outing, impressing Strangers or Acquaintances (she never had close friends) for their praise and esteem – and yes, a large part of it, a gift of her generous heart. We – my father, brother and I – would get the dried cake-scraps left over after she’d left with the kitchen a mess. Some time ago I resolved to give my own kids The Best or at least As Good as any fuckers in church or wherever, and that has felt very much like Me, very good Indeed.

And I repeat, “Yeah, I don’t know if my kids feel that way. Probably not.”

“Well, they probably don’t. Because they have you,” my mom says, glancing at me. And her voice – maybe it was my imagination but her voice was just so soft and loving. Like she wasn’t taking offense or coming on defensive at what I’d related about my childhood (as she has responded in the past). She was considering my children. I was considering my children. We were doing better for both of them.

“Yeah,” I replied.

And it was just that simple.

Ironically or perhaps in a way that makes perfect sense, besides my husband no one has given me as much credit and esteem on my parenting as my own mother, despite my at-times sharp criticisms or denunciations of parts of my own childhood. I think it’s pretty damned awesome that in my journey with my little ones – including some significant departures of lifestyle from my family of origin – my own mother hasn’t made it about her, and I hope I do the same for my kids if they have children of their own. Inviting her along to be a grandmother, and her willingness and joy at being a better grandmother (than she was a mother at least), has been tremendously – I can’t say “healing”, but it’s enabled me to get to know her in a better chapter of our life, one I am deeply grateful for. I can see she finds her grandchildren all the more wonderful now we’ve been living here in Hoquiam. If we were to move away it would flat-out break her heart (and probably our four hearts as well).

But, for now at least, we are together.

Later in the evening I had the honor of watching my daughter’s soccer practice. She has improved so much in the season already; more impressive to me still is her sweetness and positive energy (as opposed to some of the girls who take the game so seriously as to turn on fellow teammates during scrimmage; yelling criticisms or issuing forth with Demon-Voice: “That wasn’t a goal!” and such). She laughs and claps at other people’s accomplishments and their mistakes; she takes joy in her goals and defense but also takes joy when she is defeated soundly.

I’d want her on my team.

Phoenix Takes A Rest

Phoenix Takes A Drink

friday fuck-around

If you’re working you should take a long lunch and read all this stuff instead.

Human relations:
Sex Talk: A comic about communication, consent, & getting’ it on (part one of three) (parts two and three are pretty good too!); It is simply horrible that consent models about sex are so rare. And “Can we roleplay abstinent vampires?” is just about Awesome. (the answer in my case: no thanks)

“Where are the children?” at Authentic Parenting; Westerners do rather poorly with kids; here’s a handful of reflections on why and how.

Parenting:
“Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job!'” by Alfie Kohn; An article over ten years old but worth a (re-)read!

“Why we say ‘No'” from mamapoekie; People don’t believe you can be a parent – and sport safe, non-psychopathic children – without saying “no”, but I have a secret: you can.

Culture:
“Disadvantages of an Elite Education” by By William Deresiewicz; You ever ask yourself (or others), “Who’s running this country anyway?” This two-year old article is an incredible read.

Female Character Flowchart for cinema from overthinkingit.com; (Read this before using it). Then: some critical reactions to the chart.

“Hi. My name is Kelly. I’m a recovering Good Parent. (part 1)” at underbellie; The recent bullycides have brought many authors, bloggers, pundits weighing in; lots of people, even social activists, have a very myopic and, sadly, bully-culture supportive stance.

Breast cancer: Enough with the goddamned pinkwashing already! Much “pink” runs counter to the carcinogenic products produced by the same companies; it’s also sexist, grody, and dehumanizing. “According to Cosmetics Database, Estee Lauder manufactures at least 120 products with moderate to high hazard ratings. But a little pink ribbon erotica makes that OK.” Here’s a few questions to ask yourself (and participating corporations) before you think you’re all awesome for buying pink.

In Australia: disgust for fat kids and their horrible fat-enabling parents! Methinks the “Break the Habit” ad campaign would, sadly, go over well in the US.

Shop:
Possets, where I buy perfume in the winter months. SO. Much. AWESOMENESS! Sadly I am almost all out of Chagrin, my black licorice/absinthe scent; today’s picks: Specter, Wraith, and Sepulcri Solum.

My brother’s lady J. updates her adorable Etsy shop with some new items; I’m thinking the heart pendant may be just the thing for Halloween.

Random Awesomeness:
Curious about unschooling grownups and how they’re faring? Idzie just opened up a Skype-interview service! This is awesome news. She is an incredible human being.

“I Love My Hair”, Sesame Street via Afrobella

Halloween Instructables

“a stern look of disapproval”

for health and food, for love and friends

sacrifice, verb:
TO OFFER UP: immolate, slaughter.
TO GIVE UP: abandon, surrender, forgo, renounce, forfeit, relinquish, resign, abdicate; betray.

I think our vehicle is just about the spookiest car ever during the cold and wet weather we have to come – weather like we had tonight. There is about a half inch of standing water on the inside (in the soggy months we grow mushrooms and once, quinoa, in the back footwells) which means the window interiors are completely fogged up when you enter. A handful of stuff doesn’t work right: example, the dashboard lights, leaving it dark and inhospitable as a little waterlogged crypt. Tonight upon leaving my date with J. I peek in the back to affirm no one is lurking there and waiting to strangle me (DAMN YOU violent/scary television shows – I only have watched one of such in the last several months and it has me half-terrorized!). Then I’m driving home and it’s dripping and dank like a WWII U-Boat but without any sweaty German sailors to keep me company.

I’m a little blue, probably because I had to throw out my last pair of pajama bottoms and my second-to-last pair of jeans a few days ago, they finally fell apart. Last night I slept in a too-small t-shirt and tiny shabby men’s boxer briefs. There’s some kind of place on my little Comfort Gauge that gets tripped now and then when the variety of Needs becomes too much to navigate; I don’t mind juggling but I hate feeling overwhelmed and sad (things used to be a lot harder; I’m grateful today we can pay our bills). Like when I don’t have a single dress for winter and I’m carefully washing my four pair of socks and a friend online posts pictures of their entire closet piled with of shoes and I go count and I have six pair, including one pair of Old Navy flipflops (Doesn’t Work For Winter) and a pair of Danskos I bought long ago and don’t wear (anyone want ’em? size 39), or when Phoenix’s child friend comes over and looks in my closet and says, “These are ALL of your clothes? I have four times this many!” or when I can’t really figure out what to scrape a few bucks off to buy (because Ralph will bend as far as he can to help me be happy and would not begrudge me anything) simply because I don’t quite know where to start.

I’ve written about these feelings before, borrrring. I inwardly grown at the thought of hearing postulated “solutions” because what I mostly want to do is write about it, the writing itself moves me to clarity. Regarding less personalized dictums, hearing the frequent admonitions to mothers to “not put themselves last” and to make sure to get themselves a pedicure and have a cup of tea by themselves in the morning, it chaps my ass. First off it’s typical condescending be-ladying (Right. TEA will solve our problems! and P.S. large edifices in our entire culture flourish by mothers Putting Themselves Last, and most people don’t seem to mind). And the fact is some things have to go last, for a time at least, and sometimes they’re my things, and I have the right to talk about my feelings now and then without being told How I Could Do It Better as Wife/Mother/Laydee.

I rarely, ever, think about what life might have been like without children. I remember when I was just about to come off maternity leave after Phoenix was born and my husband, slated to return home to raise our child, received a rather generous employment offer from the mill where we were employed. Our combined salary would have been over six figures and that seemed like a lot to me then (it seems like a lot now!). I was sitting in my parents’ living room when the phone call came in, nursing our firstborn. Ralph and I looked at one another and my mom excitedly asked us what we’d do. It felt momentous to have to choose but at the same time as familiar and simple and fierce as who was lying in my arms.

Of course even if we’d dual-incomed this whole family business we would have still had kids and the work and commitment children require for those who take responsibility, well, I could never have imagined beforehand. Today I can’t craft a picture of my life without them and I don’t get up to much guessing or claims about it either (just like I didn’t predict the structure of life-with-kids before I had mine, either). One thing that irritates me when talking about starting a family is people act like you could have it all figured out or planned or all Awesome ahead of time. Maybe some people can, I dunno. In my experiences my kids changed my life (absolutely and finally, and for the better) and since I went down that road I’ve had to make choices I never thought I’d imagine and I’ve been challenged and surprised just about every damn day. It’s like going through some kind of Hell that is better than anything I’ve ever experienced. Even my trip through postpartum despair and mania (after Nels) helped me dig deep and now I have the gift of being able to remember myself with Awe. Events have been as formative as my DNA and no longer can be separated from my personhood.

So why should I feel silly about our car, or my steadfast and day-to-day choice to ignore the cultural messages a woman who really cared about herself would dress up, would not “let herself go”, or would perform some other task of Ornamental Femininity that involved something other than used men’s Levi’s hacked off at the ankle, and old Doc Martens carefully tended, and coconut oil as moisturizer, and a careful plate on my secondhand dresser with a collection of $3 earrings. Someday my children will be out of my home and feeding and caring for themselves (likely) and I’ll have a little more for myself (maybe) and maybe I can have some of those many Nice Things I see so many others enjoying or maybe I’ll be smart and blessed enough to have learned to not think about it all too much.

That said, the concept of “sacrifice” in order to raise children has always irritated me. Partially because it frames childraising in, surprise surprise, a negative light (and frames child as “choice” instead of part of human life). Something that once you pick means you can’t have a lot of other really awesome shit like The Cool Kids do. Like there was all this other, better stuff out there and you’re scratching it off the list with gritted teeth, to later tell your kids how you did so. (That sounds like a great way to make my kids feel pretty shitty, then they can grow up and make their own kids feel shitty.) I have no problem if other people want to frame it that way, sacrifice. For me being pissed about it or wistful or using it as an excuse to live a less-full life, it would be like having a private mental life fantasizing about other people besides my partner (or having an active physical one screwing around, behind his back). If I don’t want to be here, don’t want to do it, I don’t have to. And I know it.

Today we went to a friend’s birthday party and I got to meet some lovely new grownups. My children played and raced around and ate and picked apples and delighted me entirely. Phoenix was complimented on her name and she said Thank You. And after a beat I told the group, “She chose it herself.” (She’s never bragged on this and I think she should!) The party attendees were a little confused as it obviously did not occur to them how this could be, that a small child could have chosen their own name. I told them about the change and the adults responsed favorably, one woman saying, “That is so cool you let her do it!” And I thought to myself yeah, it really is. The thing is I didn’t learn how to be a better person on my own nor improve much upon my nature unaided. I have the kids’ help, for which I’ll always feel a deep, bottomless gratitude.

social butterflies

Today Nels asked to come along on my lunch date with three grown-lady girlfriends; about halfway through our car trip to Montesano he changed his mind because he felt bad and his stomach hurt. The poor little guy – he hasn’t been feeling well. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned he has been sick – his tonsils swollen and infected with white patches, his skin quality poor and his manner listless. He is eating less than usual (and maybe it’s my imagination but he also looks thinner than usual, which is rather thin indeed) and although he has not once complained of throat pain it is clear he is Not Quite Right.

Here is an indicator of my friends’ caliber – instead of awkwardly ignoring his quiet crying in the backseat of the car and/or waiting for it to be over they immediately offered to turn around and bring us home (yes, despite being hungry and On Our Way for a lunch date). I told them we could stick it out and I resolved (internally) to give Nels a lot of TLC while we were at the venue – as he really wanted Me and the comfort I could afford.

Nels asked me to hold him almost the entire time we were at the restaurant (which has delicious fare but is rather slow for service and food delivery). He was mostly a tuft of blonde hair on my shoulder. He was too ill-feeling even to play his laptop – and that tells you something. I ordered for us (out of five people who placed orders, it was mother-with-child – the only kid in the restaurant – who had her order botched thricely. I’m trying not to read into it but… interesting) and after his ham sandwich he felt a bit better. I had a delicious coffee, salad, and sandwich. Soon my son, wan and suppressed a bit, was talking about his favorite subjects, currently including Pink Pamfer and the cool cat’s hijinx. On the car ride back he sat quietly, a far cry from his usual talkative self.

I felt glad for the experience and grateful for my growth as a parent. I thought of the many ways I would have handled his experiences and feelings in the past, including sending him out to the car/removing him to lecture him, apologizing for his behavior to my friends (his “behavior”? Being sick? Yeah.), feeling irritated I couldn’t have a “nice” lunch date (where my child behaved like a grownup or oversized doll and sat with hands in lap), etc. I felt glad for my presence and my ability to be present for both my adult friendships and my son who needed me. I gave myself credit that really, I juggle these kinds of things often, gladly, and with much aplomb.

Not only did I handle the needs of my son well but the entire table was all the more relaxed and civil and enjoyed themselves for it. A far cry from the many times in the past Ralph and I have taken the “mommy/daddy in charge” route which has proved awkward for the other adults at the table (especially non-parents). I suppose most of us are like dogs, smelling fear/anger and responding in kind. I suppose it’s nice to have someone who knows what to do.

I don’t mean to make this a bigger incident than it was – it probably was only a blip on the screen to the other grownups there. Nels was sad and sick, that’s all. I feel sorrowful I’ve at other times in my life had fewer resources and less wisdom to give my kids what they’ve needed… and glad I am in a better place today.

On our trip back my friends (driving us) were sweet enough to readily agree, despite (rare) bad traffic, to swing through Dairy Queen for an ice cream treat which included fresh-frozen strawberries. “This helps,” Nels said, and seemed to cheer up incrementally. My children are rarely ill and when they are it’s like the most fragile but amazing little thing, an oddity, a gift almost in that we can provide care simply be administering small but essential kindnesses.

The whole experience, though not without it”s little fraughts (especially the bad – for Hoquiam – traffic) was a pleasant one indeed.

Home. A bit of writing. A swim date for Phoenix and her girlfriend. A date for Ralph and I. Back to a calm and intimate house, a little guy who needs a little more love. I’ll be happier when he’s mended.

blah blah blah, but there are two kissing bunnies at the end, promise

Daily I pore through several feed reader subscriptions, online community discussions, and email newsletters that come my way. Ralph joked the other day sometimes my posted links seem like a lot of work. I have to laugh because of course I never expect any particular reader to read through everything I post (although I am always, always gratified to hear someone tell me my output has supported, engaged, and/or challenged them). But I should mention the links and works I post here or write about in my impeccably-annotated Underbellie articles are a mere fraction of what I often digest – including those things I consume with regularity and hardly ever write about here – like the Mr. X Stitch blog, married to the sea comic, and my Yahoo groups including OttobreLost Skeleton of Cadavra, about four or five various unschooling lists, and a few more.

I am ambivalent about the amount of material I ingest. One one hand this is my brain food which I then process and mess about with through reflection, conversation, and writing (in about that order). On the other hand I wonder if I am synthesizing or consuming this sheer number of things in the most effective way and if this is a smart way to live my life. I guess it’s time for me to dust off that Magic 8 Ball and ask.

Still, this all seems my speed (for now). I don’t much worry about the time these materials take from my daily work. As anyone who reads here knows I do indeed have “a life” outside the internetz* which involves a lot of social time and cooking and family time and friends and neighbor kids and running and other fun fuckeries (the bodywork of running is very helpful for the active brain). And no matter how much I output, it’s very much at speed there too: my buzzing little brain and my 90 wpm typinz (& talking) skills keep me in a state of Flow.

So out of all I read and shared today, for some reason this tag-end of a parenting mini-digest struck a chord with me:

“Paradoxically, when you don’t ‘need’ your child to be happy to prove you’re succeeding, your child will eventually be much happier!”

This might sound paradoxial, or alternatively to some people Boring, but it has absolutely borne itself out in our life with our children and I take a moment to express my gratitude for this.

I used to manage my kids’ feelings quite a bit. I’ve always known this wasn’t probably the right thing to do; breaking the habit is hard. I used to get irritated with their “whining” or their lack of enthusiasm for Household Chores or what I perceived as a lack of “team” effort (such “team efforts” were usually things Ralph and I had decided and apparently expected them to get right on board with, Borg-like rather than being their own people). I admit I still get triggered by my son’s now-relatively rare verbal and loud protestations. I believe I am triggered not because he is especially loud or “unreasonable” (as people like to call children) but because I am still coming off a worldview I used to live by – that my children’s behavior was a direct reflection of my competence as a mother (not just a parent, a mother) or my worth as a person (not just a person, a woman). So Nels complaining or yelling wasn’t just a bit rattling or inconvenient, it was a referendum on my Worth that induced deep-level panic and anxiety (no matter how well or poorly I might have seemed to perform in the moment). I’m sure many parents reading here get what I mean.

Still, I have improved.  I can’t speak enough to the freedom and livelihood and ease of living we four have been experiencing together increasingly over the last – I don’t know, six months or a bit more. As might surprise exactly no one, my kids’ “whining” has gone down about tenfold since we started practicing a different lifestyle and their expressed contentment and happiness (and therefore “helpfulness”) has increased proportionately.

Today I got in a brief discussion with a Smarty McPhd-pants regarding parenting. He told me there were all these studies about “strict” vs. “permissive” parenting and my kids might benefit from “permissive” parenting but other kids needed “strict” parenting (so HANDS OFF discussing the subject, as the “well there are all sorts of ways to parent” phraseology is often used). For the record, I believe the “strict” vs. “permissive” parenting is false rhetoric predicated on the concepts there is no third way, that parents are the Authority and any strategy resulting should come from the Top-down and be managed or enacted in a sort of God-like fashion.

I am so, so glad for our sake we started finding that third way (or whatever you’d call it). It’s for that reason I love writing about it so much (sorry if it’s boring!); nothing thrills me more than to think other families might begin to experience what we have.

Before I get too New Agey or touchy-feely on this subject I will just say our household experiences more peace, joy, and liveliness than it did even a year before (and we have always rather enjoyed one another). So today when I read this parenting digest quote I see the truth. That in freeing up narratives and expectations about providing my kids with everything, including Moral Conduct Prescriptives and management for their daily lives/schedules – and in having the resources to feed and house our foursome, a position I strenuously note not every family, sadly, finds themselves – we have indeed released ourselves of quite a bit of stress and our children seem much happier.

As with most large-scale positive improvements there have been adjustments I could not have foreseen and some have not been easy. I need to write about them soon because I have not, not yet. But at this point today I’m feeling very grateful for happier children; a gift I did not anticipate entirely nor could have predicted how exactly I would have manifested. I could write many examples in how this has been lived and experienced, and maybe I will soon.

In other, even more boring Kelly Hogaboom ramblings, I am currently working on a sewing project with a very challenging fabric. It is eating away at my patience and, it must be said, my self esteem. It reminds me a bit – just a bit – of the tough work of baby-birthin’. If you get too worried about the pain of having your body contort through birth you could get scared and unable to manage the Now (I said this project reminded me of birth a little bit, remember?). I am trying to stay focused and move carefully and steadily through the challenges even though I am not happy with them.  Soon I will be working on another project, with another fabric – and I’ll feel less crabby.

I’m also going to make a request of any who might comment here.  It is not easy for me to say but I am going to anyway.  I feel a sense of overwhelm at the moment very much related to A. my difficulty in adjusting to less sunshine (I have learned over the years this really does affect me) and B. issues going on with loved ones in my life. While I am happy to keep comments on my blog open, I’m hoping for gentleness and support in any who choose to comment over the next day or so. Not-commenting is fine too – or even just sharing rather trite, winning stuff – like kittens etc. Because you know what? Kittens Etc. are important. Maybe even essential for some of us. Maybe this is why I have four goddamned cats. Who are seriously a source of joy and silliness and simple, uncomplicated rituals of mutual contentedness.

* Although it always vaguely irritates me when people pick on those whose social lives are very internet-based, as if certain kinds of friendships and social interactions are inescapably less “real” than others – bullshit.

Question: How should we handle our daughter’s “dramatics”?

A friend and reader writes me an email in late June, 2010:
[My 8 year old daughter L. has been having] periodic breakdowns (when overly tired) that are just SAD AND INTENSE. Everything comes up -including things that we talked about the last time. Specifically, the dogs dying, if I might go to the hospital with allergies and die there, why the older kids are so mean, that I like [her younger sister] R. more b/c she is littler, that [her father] C. laughs at her when she is angry, and more.  Some of these big feelings are traceable to events , some start to feel like dramatics.

We handle it the same each time.  I lay down with her in bed and she cries and talks.  She is so wrecked that her breathing is all ragged. Once she is wound down we read a story and she goes to sleep.  This morning I am thinking about it and it occurs to me that I do not make a lot of one on one with her.  I will increase that so that she gets all of my attention when she is not all upset. 

I want to be clear that I do not think L. is being dramatic or making anything up.  I just am amazed by the depth of her feelings.  I wonder if she is running this stuff through her mind all the time… I wonder how I can better support discussions about death (not my best topic) when she is not all wound up.  I wonder if I should take my kids to church so they have a spiritual foundation.  I wonder how she will manage these huge feelings when she is older and bigger things are happening?

Mostly, I wonder if you have any thoughts from your own experience to share.

Hello,

I thought quite a bit about what you wrote to me about L. I think the situation has some complexity and there are a few factors involved. First I want to speak about parenting girls (especially firstborn daughters), secondly some of my observations and thoughts around L. and your family specifically, and finally some of my similar issues with my daughter. I hope you can take a few minutes to read, respond, re-read and digest. And I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I have come to believe our culture is horrid at raising girls in a healthy way. I would go so far as to say once you step outside the door it’s an anti-girl zone. Even our societal shortcomings might be navigable (and as it turns out our social landscape would improve) if more parents were aware of just how girl-toxic it is out there and sought to supplant these harmful effects by giving their daughter their compassion, shelter, and support of her inner resources. Yet it is a rare mother, father, or carer who are fully nurturing and protective enough to best raise a strong daughter. Success is bestowed when we raise a daughter who functions well (and is convenient to others), but this is not the same thing. The academic- or career-achieving “good girl” etc. is created often at the expense of her integrity, happiness, internal awareness, and autonomy.

I don’t want to raise a well-functioning daughter anymore (although this is what I started with when I first had my child). I want to raise a strong and happy daughter. The funny thing is such a child likely will appear well-functioning to others. But if “well-functioning” is my only or primary goal there is every chance I will limit her severely.

It sounds noble and it sounds like every parent/carer’s goal to raise a “strong girl” but it is very difficult in practice because we are working against our culture and (usually) our own upbringings. We have a tendency to highly-socialize girls, expect more from them (in terms of manner, performance, and pleasing others), and boy do we not like their “displays” of unacceptable behaviors, including “throwing fits” or having “drama” (or bullying or rudeness etc etc.). We are so much more forgiving and have a sense of humor about this stuff regarding boys.

This brings me to your family in particular and L.’s wind-ups or wind-downs or what have you. First, a couple observations. Since L. was a very young infant/toddler, I have noticed when she has emotional displays you frequently tell her she is over-tired or over-hungry. Even in this email you cite her over-tiredness and seek to on one hand call her behavior “dramatics” but on the other hand seek to distance her behavior from “drama” (it seems clear you think “drama” is a bad thing).

I don’t know how L. experiences this but I can tell you as a young girl I experienced this kind of minimization (usually from my mother) as extremely condescending and infuriating. There were many variations of this diminishment growing up. I was told I was “too young” to understand (when I wasn’t), or “too tired” or “too hungry” or “going to start my period” (this was especially annoying as I was told this for FOUR YEARS before I ever did start my period). As an adult I think about the “fits” and the displays I had and honestly, they were usually for a good reason! Yet I was belittled so much. Now, I have empathy for my parents and I believe they were ill-equipped to handle emotional displays (my mother believes this as well and admits this now) and so they (esp. my mother) sought to “cure” me of my undesirable behaviors. Unfortunately the sum message – especially when compounded with cultural messages of “niceness” and virtue and unselfishness – was that I was an asshole and my “drama” was not appreciated nor would it be listened to, much. Hence I learned to sacrifice authenticity or else be shamed, I learned to subvert my feelings, to sneak around and hide, and to foster resentment which turned venomous over time.

I don’t mean to make it sound like my childhood was horrid because in many ways my home was a nurturing and loving one. Just that as an adult female of 33 I am still prone to second-guessing myself and it has not helped me in any way. Being tired or hungry is still an issue that crops up in my adult life, but it hardly makes my emotions and thoughts invalid. In fact sometimes being over-tired or over-hungry or what-have-you reveals deep-seated issues I”ve been repressing, and can serve as a divining rod to things I need to address or bring awareness to (And hello, I tend to think women’s so-called PMS can actually have the result of peeling back the veil and being a woman’s pretty goddamned valid expression of self). I know neither you or I want our daughter’s to feel so restricted and/or candy-ass or be a “play nice” adult (who is devious and resentful, or viscous behind her friends’/coworkers back). But if that’s true we have to do some hard work in the here and now.

(In contrast to the treatment I received as a young/preteen/teen girl, I recently wrote a bit about some different ways I’ve responded to my own daughter here: [ link ]).

L. may be experiencing the following as minimizing and frustrating: Her father’s laughter at her anger, the suggestions she is “tired” or “hungry”, or the admonitions that she won’t be listened to unless she can say or express it better or nicer or more articulately, etc. Even if she is not (yet) experiencing these as condescending or frustrating, I’m not sure these responses A. honor L. as a person with genuine feelings that are OK, no matter how strong or startling, or B. help her find out for herself when she is “tired” or “hungry” or what she needs.

Also, a rush to comfort a distraught child or a fear of their display sends the message: “You are out of control and I am unhappy with this,” (abandonment, heartbreak, conditional love may be experienced by the child) or “You are out of control and I don’t know what to do either!” (may be scary and/or alienating for the child) or “I do not trust you to handle yourself” (may undermine self-esteem and self-worth and/or foster resentment in the child). In other words any fear you feel at her displays are sending her the message something is Deeply Wrong with them. I encourage you to check every iota of baggage on this.

Another caveat: if you are NOT taking her emotions seriously – well, that’s almost worse. In other words if you view her displays as kind of “cute” or “childlike” or “drama” only and therefore laughable or beneath mention, this is a serious infraction (I have this tendency with my son Nels). This sends the message: “I will decide when something is important, and you have no say” or “You are less of a person than the adults in this house.” However I don’t think this is very You – it’s just worth mentioning as it runs in my family (especially my mom’s side).

Obviously this is all a tricky business and in similar scenarios I have responded quite poorly to my daughter’s displays (and more rarely, my son’s) – I’ll talk more about my struggles in a minute. However as the growunps we have the opportunity to regroup and come up with better strategies (as your email evidences you are doing).

Before I talk about my own experiences, a coda re: death in your household: the subject of death comes up when she is “all wound up” for a reason, not as a coincidence. She has, through her exposure to you and C.’s attitudes, developed a picture of death as frightening and overwhelming and perhaps a bit sentimental. By your own admission you have a hard time with death (as do many, if not most, people I know – except maybe my 512-year old dyed-in-the-wool Christian friends and neighbors) and I wonder if C. does too (he is a lot like you after all). As long as you both struggle, your children will pick this up too either some of the same fears and sentimentalization, or as a way to manipulate response (and I don’t mean the latter in a bad way). E.g. when L. is sad and overwhelmed she will refer to death because this is heavy emotional currency in your family. She is either just as fearful of death as you are and genuinely needs help, or she is “using” death as a way to communicate how Big A Deal her feelings are. When our kids tell us how Big A Deal their feelings are – by “drama” or hitting or strong words or the silent treatment – we are handed a supreme gift. They are still trying to communicate with us, and they are giving us their most vulnerable part. If we blow it, and continue to blow it, we risk hurting them or we risk them shutting down.

One more thought about death. Death is a subject that is not innately traumatic or horrid for children, but often they are made to experience it in that way. My children have been there for several deaths, sometimes graphic ones (we lost our first hen last night, BTW, FML). Most notable for us was my father’s death (right up close in the home) and our matriarchal cat Blackie’s death (lingering illness then euthanasia at the vet). I cope with death very well (I’ve had lots of practice I guess); my husband less so although he is improving. Our children have responded by being present and sorrowful but also strong and stable on the subject, and they have rarely evidenced nightmares or fears around it, even when “over-tired” or what-have-you. Now I can’t tell you or C. to just “get over it” and cope better. It is a highly personal issue. But to the extent that you struggle your children likely will as well. If your daughter brings up death when she is “all wound up” I would view this as a natural expression given your home and it’s unique challenges and emotional subjects. How to handle it, well first I’d have to hear some more details of your own feelings and I am open to the conversation and interested as well.

Now I want to talk about my own daughter a bit. I fall prey to poor parenting strategy regarding my daughter often. It is taking a lot of focussed work to improve. I wrote a bit about some recent stuff in the blog post I linked to above. I have many more thoughts on my daughter and her state of emotional health and I’ll share some.

I would say it is hard to know when Phoenix is doing well, because she gives the appearance of socially functioning well (as in, is “well-behaved” and doesn’t “act out”) even when she is unhappy. She is very subtle to me and thus I’ve had to grow new antennae. This is still a work in progress. Up until a couple years ago she was well on her way – thanks to me, her father, and school-environs – to being a “good girl”. In other words she was performing well in school and I was still socializing her to be polite and mannered. She got praised by her school staff often and at parent-teacher conferences the teacher would talk about the TINIEST MINUTIAE EVER – further ways Phoenix (then Sophie) could “improve” or be better. Because you know, it’s not enough to have a good girl at the top of the class who is a genuinely nice person, when she could be just even more perfect and well-behaved. I began to see the potential problem for my daughter wasn’t that she’d be “bored” in public school (b/c of her academic accomplishments) but that she’d start to thrive on praise and external validation. I’ve been there done that and could write tomes on the negative effects of this experience (but I’ll spare you for now).

Concomitant to unschooling at home I began to tolerate her “fuss downs” (her phrase) with less sharpness and irritation (for the child, our intolerance can be experienced as minimization, humiliation, and conditional love). I have noticed that in working against an intolerance for Phoenix’s emotional displays and focussing on being present for her these displays have decreased. She genuinely seems more happy and centered than she ever has before. Her name change was quite a good sign to me and the calm way she has owned her new name with steadfast determination is not something I would have predicted a couple years ago. She is gradually shedding her Good Girl upbringing and I hope to continue to assist her in doing so. Along with her happiness she seems more resilient to standing up to me and telling me “no” (which I’m aware can’t be easy). My job is to realize her “no” is her right and allow her that “no”. Of course, paradoxically, this makes her all the more willing to respond “yes” when it is something that will help me. She is also more honest about her mistakes, more proactive in apologizing, and more willing and able to make amends. Rather than these being rote duties she performs due to training, they are genuinely stemming from a place of gladness and a sense of responsibility and integrity – her own (not mine). A core of resentment she’d held towards me (from my more controlling parenting) seems to be dissolving and is now hardly evident.

To prove I am not a saint or awesome mom I can illustrate some failures on my part. Unfortunately I still respond to her sharply at times because I am often overwhelmed by the difficulties I have. One problem is I am still sensitive to strangers giving me the glare (or my perception of it even if it isn’t there) if my kids are rowdy in public. Sometimes I will suddenly abandon my mellowness and snap at them, take out my anxieties on them. The other problem is Phoenix often feels overwhelmed by her brother (who she will play with all morning and love so dearly, but when they have a spat it’s like a cage fight) and I feel unsure of how to help them and upset by their fights. I sometimes feel plagued with guilt when Nels hits her – like it is my fault. This is a short-sighted response because of course Nels’ hitting is only his poor strategy at having his needs unmet. Still, I feel such judgment and terribleness when this happens I become in my way paralyzed. And finally, I am pretty responsive and present with my kids alone but less so when there is an event or activity or friend I want to be with. I tend to wish my kids could operate well-mannered while I socialize or (like yesterday) get my haircut even when apparently this isn’t always realistic. I have still not let it sink in I am a Mother Full Time and that most especially includes when the kids are physically with me, whatever other activities I wish I could engage in. Also, frankly, our culture is just SHIT when it comes to helping parents with young kids – especially mothers. How many times in a world organized for Adults Only do you see strangers get that fart-smelling look at the “bad” child (sometimes even a very young baby!). I haven’t yet reconciled myself to this reality (and maybe I shouldn’t) so it is a strain in my life.

I am still working hard to re-program and I continually make mistakes. I wish I’d had even the slightest clue about all this when I first had a baby. But I didn’t, and I’m doing my best now.

For L. it doesn’t sound like you are handling things poorly with her crying etc., but I do think no amount of nurture and love in those moments is going to be the solution. These are issues deeper and will take some time to sort. I suggest adopting a long-view on this. If L. doesn’t have a crying jag tomorrow and the next day it doesn’t mean the factors I cite (or others I’ve missed) aren’t at play. My daughter’s gradual change from tension and performance to relaxed authenticity was not overnight, and it is still progressing. Handling the “crisis points” (like crying jags or in Phoenix’s case, the silent treatment) well is good enough, but getting to the roots of it to diffuse the crisis in the first place is harder work and may take a while.

I agree with your thoughts that one-on-one time is a good thing but it need not necessarily be “quality” time like crafting or whatever. Even just driving to the grocery store together, in fact especially mundane errands that take you out of the house and away from R. or C. or whatever, will foster healing for L.. You can try something more special like going on a hike or beach walk with just her, no one else and no distractions. I am fortunate in that Hoquiam/Aberdeen is big enough that when we go somewhere I don’t run into four hundred people to gab with, so I can be primarily with my child. So keep this in mind that an errand out with L. may be imperiled by the typical shoot-the-shit I know you and C. enjoy so much.

When Phoenix and I are alone together we often spend our time in companionable near-silence. It’s been wonderful and healing.

You can also think on what you think C. may or may not be adding to this. For instance Ralph is very nurturing and sweet to Phoenix and is often experienced as her respite and her supporter. He continually makes errors with Nels and I am all up in his business about this. He is improving with time. I know some people instruct one shouldn’t “manage” the relationship of a spouse with a child. But in my own life Ralph and I absolutely intervene when we think the other is fucking up. You are probably in a good place to weigh in on C. but maybe after you and L. are in a more stable place.

Additional reading material – I know I’ve recommended this book to you but I’m not sure if you’ve read it: The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons. I would actually love more reading material on our girl-socialization because this book, though excellent, is limited to teen interactions with peers, and the only one I’ve read about contemporary girl-culture toxicity.

Please keep in mind I’ve thought deeply and responded based on what I know from my experience in my family and around yours. If I’ve said something that doesn’t ring true for you and your family by all means discard what I said or correct me.

Thank you for sharing with me and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

***
Editor’s note: my friend – who wrote this in the capacity of friend-to-friend, not so much as a reader of my various writings on children, parenting, culture, and unschooling – was courteous enough to agree I could post this letter (blog/journal-related emails and queries are subject to my Policies on publishing, although anonymity may be requested). I am not interested in comments weighing in on my friend’s unique circumstances nor guesses as to how she and her partner might be failing their child. I specifically posted this so that parents – especially parents of young girls – might engage in discussion of their own observations on parenting girl children, their own difficulties therein, and any gentle and respectful commentary re: this particular scenario.

In short, my friend had the benefit that I know her and her family very, very well over the years since we’ve had children. You don’t (know them). If you wish to comment, proceed with caution.
***

Question: A callous parent?

On May 30th a reader writes:
So, I was thinking about your post yesterday after a little accident on the beach yesterday. [My friend] G. and I make a great team with her kids. I know her kids and I know how she parents, and since we’re together all the time she gives me the right to draw boundaries and set consequences if need be for her girls. It works for us. Her kids are tough and if one hits the other and the other punches back, she just sits back and waits for them to work it out. I’ve learned to be comfortable with that.

So, another woman comes down to the beach with her two boys. They live there, so I’m sure they are much more familiar with the terrain. She seemed largely unconcerned that her one year old was tottering around near the quarry sans life jacket. Okay. Then her oldest sits down on the swing and the littlest toddles over and gets a little too close and bam! The bar on the bottom of the swing beans him on the head and he goes tumbling several feet. I jump up because the mom is nowhere to be seen and then the whole swing collapses and falls backward, most notably knocking the wind out of the oldest. I run over and no one’s crying, everyone seems fine and the mom saunters over and asks if everyone’s okay. I tell her that the youngest got hit on the head and went tumbling and she asks if everyone is okay and then walks away, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. I do likewise. Because – it’s not my deal. I feel like it was okay for me to run to the rescue, should someone have been bleeding or unconscious, but since she seems unconcerned, I have to do the same. But I felt weird about it.

Anyway, just wondered what you thought about it in light of what you wrote.

A story like this is rather hard to get a read on because I wasn’t there. First off, of course it was okay for you to run to the little one’s rescue. Had they been hysterical and hurt, you could have helped (although most young children usually want their mommies/daddies/carers when they are hurt and frightened). When I was a child I liked knowing grownups noticed when one of us had trouble, and I was comforted when they stepped in to assist whether I took them up on it or not.

As for the mother and your thoughts on her, I will say many parents I observe run the gamut of heavily managing injuries/crying to barely reacting. If I were being judged from outside by someone who did not know me I would likely often look like more of the “barely reacting” type. Not so much my kids don’t seek me out, though: they come to me for a hug and wipe their tears on my clothes and move on, and I always give them exactly how much love they need (How do I know? While I am still there, present, holding them, they release me and move on.)

Funnily enough when the kids have a huge throwdown (like what people call “a tantrum”) I am also usually pretty calm through that too. Last night we had a dinner guest (childfree) and I could tell she was watching me like a hawk to see how I’d handle my daughter’s “drama”. But the thing is, it is the very part of me that “allows” drama that also enables my children to move through it quickly and for the most part remain quite even-keeled through many stressors (as far as I can tell). My daughter had a few upsets at the beginning of the dinner and then she was calm and happy throughout the evening beyond 11 o’clock when our guest left. Not that I think anyone has the right to judge my parenting and my child based on her “convenience” for guests; my point is that I did not need to lecture my daughter about her “bad behavior” (or whatever) for her to move on to “better behavior” – but I often feel a social pressure to do so.

Back to the beach: those kids sounded pretty young and when I had young babies I tended to react more than I do now. It isn’t just because I love(d) them, it’s because I felt expected to (or else be judged a “bad mother”). I now believe I did not need to react and rescue and moderate as much as I did. But then, I was new to the whole bit too. Now instead of social mores I have my intense knowledge of my own children. A parent in tune with their kids recognizes relatively quickly when they really do need cuddling, a bandaid, some attention, etc. and when they don’t.

Was that mother in tune with her kids? I can’t tell because I wasn’t there, but you might be able to make a reasonable guess if you think back on what happened. I do see people here where I live who seem almost callous to their children. But often these people have a look like things are rough, their lives are rough, or at least they’re having some sort of terrible clusterfuck of a day. A sort of drawn look not to mention their clothing and their cars (or lack thereof) or their tone of voice or what they’re talking about or the look in their eyes – it reminds me I have things more fortunate than many others. I am not saying everyone who’s an ass-hat to their kids has some tragic story as to why. But I’m far less likely to jump to any conclusions than I used to be.

Another possibility is the mother felt shamed for not being there or shamed/angry for having another person “infringe” on her territory (I hasten to add again, you did nothing wrong) and she might have responded from a hardened place. I just don’t know but you might have a sense.

And finally, the life jacket thing. Well this is not only cultural but varies within families and if we needed to keep our kids safe 24/7 we, well, we wouldn’t HAVE kids. Anecdotally I am very, VERY paranoid with my children around water – and they both can swim. Since they were babies I’ve worried about drowning; even when I had them strapped to my body and was crossing a safe bridge I’d have terrible fantasies about them plunging in. At a quarry I’d probably have crazy-eye with worry over my baby.

And finally, off-topic a bit, anytime I hear adults judging one another about parenting I think of this video:

http://www.break.com/index/two-year-old-toddler-smokes-cigarettes.html

The truth is parenting is a hard job and most people are doing the best we can. It is wonderful you help your friend out and you are one of those valued friends who shares family life with us. I have several of those childfree (or childless, depending on your preference) friends and they are very treasured by myself, my husband, and my children. G. is lucky to have you.

From formspring: Corporate women & breeder hate

Asked on formspring by a reader of Underbellie. Keep in mind I am no expert on high finance but was asked to weigh in on an article that concerns this world:

Along the lines of your posts on underbellie on society devaluing mothers, two thoughts – The first, best summed up here:

“Wall Street’s Disappearing Women” at forbes.com

And the second, this whole hatred for “breeders”. Discuss!

I am just now getting to this question as I found that Forbes article difficult to wade through. My first thought: even despite data, facts, and many (heretofore unimpeachable) professional women’s testimonies, it is still impressive how many people will try to come up with ANY possible reason these women “deserve” a disproportionate rate of firing and or (fake) “layoffs” (my favorite line of reasoning: new mothers categorically “lose their edge”. Complete and utter bullshyt).

The story of Rosenberg and Bostjancic at Merrill (and Bostjancic’s immediate replacement after years of “stellar” work) is a very telling (and predictable, and depressing) one. In fact all the stories are depressing(ly familiar) and I wish these fighting women luck in their suits brought against these companies. As women in powerful positions the battle they’re waging has far-reaching implications for all professional women and (I’d hope) even working- and middle-class women.

As long as women are still expected to do most of the childrearing, and then punished when they *do* have children (or evidence of family life), it’s pretty obvious how severely the deck is stacked against them. I had some of this fallout in my career as an engineer but for brevity’s sake I will not go into it now; if you’d like to chat more do re-question or send me an email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

Back to the Forbes article: compare the reactions to professional women and their marginalization especially when it comes to family life with the reactions regarding suggested changes at Downing Street (not corporate but the highest gov’t office in Britian):

http://www.fertilefeminism.com/in-the-news/downing-street-goes-family-time-friendly/

Notice anything similar? Women are expected to be doing all the at-home stuff, and expected not to lead, to be paid, or afforded status for their “less important” work.

If you are interested in more evidence regarding our less-than-egalitarian country regarding men and women’s roles in the workplace and family, I recommend adding this blog to your feed reader:

http://contexts.org/socimages/

I’m sure there are better ones but this is one I enjoy.

“This whole hatred for ‘breeders'”: goodness. This is where I lose my chipper optimism and just begin to feel despair. First of all, the hatred of “breeders” is of course disproportionally heaped on A. women and B. children (OMG you childfree grownup you are *so awesome* for picking on a four year old!). Secondly, it’s about the most short-sided kind of hatred I can think of, by turns insensitive, callous, and selfish. Only miliseconds ago according to the calendar of our Earth YOU were born and cared for and fed and raised up and clothed; mere milliseconds from now you will be aging and dying, your body failing and nurses and family and friends ushering you on with kindness and compassion (if you are fortunate to live a natural life). In addition, any of us are only one accident away or one illness away from disability. Boy, in all THOSE cases (infancy, illness, old age, disability, our death bed) we sure will be happy for those nice people who give selflessly to care for us!

But for now? F*ck those snot-nosed brats and their cattle-like parents (moms).

So, so sad. I’m glad breeder-hate is a rare and vocal minority, but I do feel so down when I see it. It demonstrates some of the worst qualities human beings can evidence.

Thank you very much for your input; your article was a good one to share.