"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, September 28, 2015

Your Server's Gender is None of Your Business

I'm sure you've all seen the Facebook post written by a transgender waitress that recently went viral. In the post, the waitress applauds her customers, parents of a young girl, for asking her whether she is a boy or a girl, as their daughter wanted to know and they "couldn't tell."

I understand the message here (that the parents wanted to tell their daughter what the waitress refers to herself as and not to speak for her) and am glad that this exchange seems to have been regarded as nothing but positive on all sides. I have to wonder if, in the same situation, I would have made the same parenting decision.

The short answer: Nope.

Here’s why: The waitress’ gender has no bearing on her ability to serve this family lunch. Quite frankly, her gender is none of their business.

Now, I can certainly see the scenario playing out differently, but resulting in the same outcome. For instance, if the waitress approached the table and the young child blurted out “Are you a boy or a girl?” I’m sure most parents of young children have experienced a situation where their child asked an inappropriate question or made an impolite observation. In this case, I might cast an apologetic glance at the waitress and say to my child, “I think a more polite way to get to know someone would be to start by introducing yourself.” Then, if the waitress wanted to share her story, she could, but would be under no pressure to.

Then, privately, I would have a conversation with my child about how some people don’t like to think of themselves as “boy” or “girl” and asking them to pick one or the other might make them feel uncomfortable.

Then, we’d order our lunch and leave a nice tip like usual, because damn: Waitresses have to put up with some seriously annoying shit from their customers.

Maybe I’m a little sensitive about the issue. Maybe it’s because, as the mother of a dress-wearing son, I just want people to be nice and respectful towards each other and not worry so much about the information that exists behind the scenes, so to speak. 

"Are you a boy or a girl?" Max, who is only five, gets asked that question all the time. It doesn’t bother him now, and I hope it never does. It’s other kids who ask him and he handles the conversation with ease and confidence: “I’m a boy, but I wear skirts because I just like to!” I don’t mind it when kids ask him, just as the waitress didn’t seem to mind the young girl's question. Kids are curious. Kids have lots of questions. Grown-ups know this about kids and we can let their social indelicacies slide.

What does bother me though, is nosy grown-ups.

“How did you know he was into princesses and girly stuff?” Um, well, probably the same way you figured out your boy was into Star Wars.

“Do you think he’s gay?” I think he’s five. He can decide who he finds sexually attractive when he’s older.

“Do you think he’s 'trans'?” I don’t know. What I do know is that we will be here to love and support him no matter what. We love our child. We’ll let him figure out who that child will become.

So my bottom line is this: kudos to the parents who make everyone, at every point on the gender spectrum, to feel welcome in their child’s world. Kudos to the parents who teach their children that all people, regardless of color, shape, size, religion, ethnicity, hairstyle, clothing choice, or gender deserve respect and kindness. But everyone deserves to have their privacy respected, as well, and maybe THAT is the lesson worth teaching.

Lesson Learned:
A friend recently told us that her 7-year old asked if Max preferred to be called "Evan's brother" or "Evan's sister." I'm thankful that our friend thought to ask us rather than just assume one or the other. I let her know that Max calls himself "brother," and "boy." He uses masculine pronouns. But that conversation has stuck with me. I wonder if I answered the right way (I had wanted to say, "Max...he's just Max. Let's just all call him MAX!"). I had to wonder if I am doing right by my child. 

Aren't I violating my own children's privacy with every blog post I write? I don't want Max to become someone's teachable moment. I don't want him to become a story exploited for it's uniqueness and diversity in our small town. But I do want our community to know him...to understand him. It's why I write about him. Sometimes I think, by writing about him, I'm creating and sending little warriors of love and protection into the world for him...that people who read this will feel like they know him a little bit and they'll look out for him. (It's happened before...virtual strangers sharing with me Good News stories they've witnessed at school, kids sticking up for Max and for all little boys who love pink.)

And in the larger sense, I really just need this whole world to become more understanding and accepting in time for Max to get to middle school. Is that too much to ask? Is it overly ambitious to want this little blog, my own little corner of the internet, to change the world in the next six years?

This blog will inevitably change. I'm not sure where, when, or how I'll draw the line on sharing, but I'll follow the leads of my kids. I'm already pulling back on what and how much I share about my oldest, who is starting to exert his own ideas about his public and his private lives ("Mom, you can email that picture to Mom Mom and Pop but don't put it on Facebook!"). I ask him before I post. The same will be true with Max. So, in case this is the last time I write about Max's gender-nonconformity, here's a bottom line: Just be nice to each other. Be kind. Be respectful. Everybody's got their something that makes them feel like an outlier. Be an includer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rainbow Magic, How I Loathe Thee

I love books. The fact that my kids love books is, for me, a big shmear of icing on this not-always-sweet cake of parenting. I loved looking at board books with them when they were but wee babes in my arms; introducing them to the magical worlds that exist within the pages of every book.

I even loved reading picture books to them as toddlers, when each page took ten minutes to get through because "Yes! I see the cow, too! Good noticing! Yes! The cow says Moo! Yes! It would be fun to go to a farm. Yes, horsies also live on a farm. Can I keep reading? Okay. Yes, pigs live there, too. Yes, you're right, pigs do say Oink. Let's read the next page, okay? Yes! I DO see the tractor!"

But the best kind of Reading With Kids of all is when your child is ready for Chapter Books. The plot! The character development! The continuation of a storyline from one night to the next! I love reading chapter books with my kids.

Until we read the 40th book in The Magic Tree House series, that is. Now, don't get me wrong: There is a sweet spot in a child's life for The Magic Tree House, during which the stories are compelling, a little dangerous, even, and full of fascinating-to-a-5-year-old facts and information. By the time you've read three, however, you realize that you're reading a formula. Nightly reading time becomes an exercise in self-control as you read through each mind-numbingly predictable storyline without hurling the book across the room.

To a child in the sweet spot, though, each book in The Magic Tree House series is a new and exciting adventure. You continue through the endless series (while occasionally, sneakily, introducing a book in a new series or genre) because you’re just thrilled that your child is excited about reading.

Thankfully, the sweet spot comes to a close as quickly as it began, when suddenly, your little kid reading buddy turns into a Big Kid Independent Reader. It happens almost overnight, so you might miss it, but don’t be sad...this is a Good Change. One day, you'll find him alone in his room reading The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and you'll wipe that my-baby’s-growing-up tear from your eye because THIS is a book you can get excited about reading!

You'll spend the next few months devouring everything that Rick Riordan has ever written with your Big Kid reader who, by the way, is now reading silently along as you read aloud (and is sneaking in one more chapter after you've kissed him goodnight). You'll have Real Conversations with him about what you’ve read. You'll discuss good vs. evil, tests of morality, complexities of friendships, and the importance of Being Yourself. You'll swing by your local bookstore every few weeks to pick up the next title in the series because the library just won’t do now: These books are For Keeps.

But before you know it, your second child is entering that early chapter book sweet spot and you know what that means. You’re at the library, in The Magic Tree House section, gritting your teeth as you reach for a book, when another series, new to you, catches your eye. Rainbow Magic? Hmmm.... You browse through the titles and flip through the pages, piecing together the series storyline: Kirsty and her best friend Rachel share a magical secret: They’re friends with the fairies! They are called upon (again and again...and again) to solve the problems that Jack Frost and his Goblins create. Friendship? Fairies? Magic? Danger? Courage? GIRL POWER?! Yes, yes, and YES! See ya, Jack and Annie, we're making plans with Kirsty and Rachel!

After the first book, your child, of course, is hooked. Together, you read the three books you picked up from the library and find yourself going back for more. After a few more books, your heart sinks as you make an unnerving discovery: Rainbow Magic books are even more formulaic than The Magic Tree House books.

But it's not just that these books follow a plot formula: there are entire sentences that can be found in nearly every book. In every book, Kirsty and Rachel (who always seem to be vacationing together) are visited by a Fairy in trouble. The girls have to find the Fairy's missing item before havoc is wreaked in both the fairy world AND the human world! They sprinkle themselves with Fairy Dust (which they keep in special lockets that were given to them by the fairies) to turn themselves into fairies in order to solve the problem (just in the nick of time, by the way). At the end, they are thanked profusely by King Oberon and Queen Titania, the (clearly incompetent) rulers of Fairyland. In each book, one of the girls says something “thoughtfully.” In each book, someone has a “determined look” on her face. In each book, some damn fairy "waves her wand in a complicated pattern" and I want to magic that damn book straight into the trash.

It gets worse. The titles seem to multiply. There's a Sneak Peek “bonus chapter” at the end of each book, introducing you to a new fairy in need of rescuing. Each fairy is part of a set of seven fairies: the Color Fairies, the Weather Fairies, the Ocean Fairies, the Baby Animal Rescue Fairies, the Superstar Fairies, the Fashion Fairies, the Party Fairies, the Fun Day Fairies, the Magical Crafts Fairies--what the hell does that even mean?! The list goes on and on...and on. Every fairy has her very own chapter book. There are also Special Edition books, double-length holiday and special occasion-themed books that, of course, your child just Has To Have. Then, your child orders the Rainbow Magic Fairy Guide from the Scholastic Book Club Flyer and you discover, to your horror, that THERE ARE OVER 200 RAINBOW MAGIC FAIRIES.

You start to sweat. You feel faint. Your child looks at you with twinkly eyes and says, "Can we go to the library, Mommy, PLEASE?"

"Of course," you reply, regaining your composure, “because there’s a really great book series there that I think you’ll love! It's about a spunky little girl named Annie and her big brother, Jack, and they discover this amazing, magical tree house….”

Lesson Learned:
Don't get me wrong, I know that this Recycled Text issue is not a problem with Rainbow Magic books exclusively. I remember realizing the same thing after reading through the entire Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series as a kid. This is how these content-mill chapter books are generated in such vast quantities. And I also see the Bigger Picture: my kids want to read! Hooray! But ohmygod, if Max brings one more damn fairy into this house, I'm going to lose my shit.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Happiness is...

Happiness is jeans weather. Fall is my season. (And it's not for the PSLs.) It's the angle of the sunlight, softer and warmer than it has been the last few months. It's the blue of the sky, brighter and crisper than any other time of the year. It's the chilly mornings, which warm up, slowly but surely, by the afternoons. It's the promise of sweaters and scented candles and baking and cozy just around the corner.

September is my time and this is my place.

After a weekend away last week, we were driving home. It had been an amazing weekend with my family (meeting baby Leo!) and I wasn't ready for it to end. But as I turned onto the street that would take us home, I caught my breath at the sight of our lovely little town. "There's something about the sky here," I said to Sam. "Or the air. I can breathe here."

Happiness is a morning spent down at the creek...wading in our creek boots; collecting acorns, pine cones, and tree bark for our upcoming Fairy Garden project; and panning for gold.

Evan knows all about the 49ers...at dinner last night he asked what the chances are that he might find some gold someday. We said that the chances were slim, but that there are panning sites in the mountains of North Carolina. Wouldn't it be fun to try that someday?

Forget someday, what about today?! Those North Carolina mountains? They're not so different from our own mountains. And those gold-flecked creeks? Well, we've got a creek right here! So we packed up our shovels and our sifters and got to panning.

There are some pretty shiny rocks in our creek...but no gold. Not today, at least.

But I was here, in my place, now, in my season, with these...my people.

He doesn't let me photograph him very often. 
When he does, though, oh I grab hold of that unicorn.

This one, on the other hand, has never met a camera lens
he didn't strike a pose for.

Lesson Learned:
Here. Now. I did some good moment-living this weekend. How about you?


A few more favorite photos from the weekend...

Friday night, dinner al fresco:

And straight-up sass from the threenager.

And a visit to Uncle Mike's brand new juice/smoothie bar and raw food kitchen: The Juice Laundry, in Charlottesville, Virginia. If you're in town, check it out. Skip the Pumpkin Spice Latte and enjoy a raw, organic, cold-pressed juice or delicious frosty fruit smoothie. Your body will be glad you did.