Thursday, August 22, 2013

School: the first week

After my last post, I gathered a little more information about Bean's school in order to know what to expect.  First, I met Bean's teacher.  She told me she'd had a little boy two years ago who wore princess dresses every day, and used a princess backpack.  She said he had zero issues with the kids in the class - they still don't really care.  I asked her about the bus, since Bean was so excited about riding it, but he'd be on the bus with older kids.  She said the principal really doesn't put up with intolerance.  Part of the school's mission statement is valuing diversity, and the whole school really takes that commitment seriously.  This brought me a lot of relief, knowing that not only was the school walking their mission statement's talk, but that bullying and teasing would be addressed.  And Bean's teacher said it was addressed in a way that built community and relationships.  Perfection.

Then a friend passed along from a local realtor that artsy/hippy families often move into this area so their kids can go to this particular elementary. 

And then I happened to meet a fifth grade teacher from Bean's school who said she would tell her students to watch out for the boy wearing the skirt and the armor.  She also said that bullying was about the only thing kids got suspended for at the school. 

So, for his first day of school, Bean wore his Lego Star Wars shirt, his smooth-and-shiny-like-metal basketball shorts, and carried along his Hello Kitty backpack with rainbows and sparkles.  Both The Beast and I had discussed with him ways to respond (or not respond, which is The Beast's preferred method) if anyone questioned his choice of backpack.  But at that point, we were all feeling pretty relaxed about it.

So off he went.  When I picked him up at the bus stop, he was SO JAZZED.  It was amazing.  He loved school.  He couldn't wait to ride the bus again.  He said it was "SO AWESOME!" He told me about some of the things they did, a story they read, and mentioned that "everyone loved my backpack. Except one person. She thought it was really weird, but she didn't seem very...skilled? Or something?" I have no idea what he was trying to communicate, but clearly the backpack was not an issue for his peers.

One day, Bean wore a tank top over a swim shirt to school.  "Why are you wearing layers, buddy?" I asked, thinking maybe it was to look like something he'd seen in a book or movie...."Because I like the way it looks," came the answer.  Is there a better answer than that?

And yesterday, Bean went to school in a swim shirt, rainbow leggings, Seahawks socks, and running shoes.  As he headed out the door, I told him I was concerned that he would be too hot.  Sure enough, that was his only complaint when he came home.  He even told me about spending time with "some older kids" and that they were nice and it was all really fun. 

Then he sat down and said "can we make a card for my teacher?  I want it to say that I am really glad to be a kindergartener." 

So until we move and switch schools, I am so at ease with my kiddo wearing what he wants and encouraging his flare and creativity.  I am grateful that he will always have this as his first school experience - a positive, affirming, comfortable memory.  If we move somewhere less accepting, at least he might know that he is not the problem.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My 5-year-old is probably more brave than I am.

We're in major get-Bean-excited-for-Kindergarten mode.  With that in mind, a few days ago I told Bean about the tradition of wearing your favorite clothes for the first day of school.  He declared he would wear his Link costume, except with his kilt (a green plaid skirt) instead of leggings.  Because, duh, it is too hot for leggings right now.

To cushion the blow should costumes not be allowed every day at kindergarten, we promised him we would take him shopping for whatever he wanted if he couldn't wear his costume.

And that's essentially how I found myself shopping the girls' departments at Dillard's and Target this evening.

After dinner, we looked around online and found the perfect Lego Star Wars shirt (combining his all-time favorite Legos and his current favorite Star Wars).  We couldn't find shorts he wanted, so off we went to look in town. 

Bean was super excited to be just the two of us.  He chattered the entire way there.  He held my hand and grinned at me as we crossed the parking lot.  As we walked up the steps to the doors of Dillard's he squeezed my hand and said, "You're the best, Mom!"  And I felt like the best right then.  I'm finding having a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old simultaneously to be REALLY difficult.  I don't often get to just sit back and enjoy them, and this was an opportunity to revel in the wonder of my firstborn...who starts kindergarten in just one week. 

Long story short, after a trip through the girls' section on our way to the boys' section, I realized just how boring the boys' section is.  No bright colors unless they were absolutely IN YOUR FACE.  Limited textures.  No glitter or sequins.  In response to Bean's descriptions of what he wanted, I kept saying "I don't think you'll find that in the boys' section."  And "I think we're going to have to look for that in the girls' section."

Even as I said it I was thinking "does he really think it's ok to shop in the girls' section?  I mean, I'm calling it the boys' and girls' section...does he really not care?  Awesome!  Oh wait.  Oh no.  Kindergarten.  Kids can be cruel.  WHAT HAVE I DONE?"

My. mind. was. racing.

Though we didn't find any shorts at Dillard's, he did find a Hello Kitty backpack.  He had spotted her as we came off the escalator into the girls' section (on our way through to the boys' section).  "There's Hello Kitty!" he exclaimed. I was just trying to get us where we needed to go, so I hardly responded even though I wondered how he knew who Hello Kitty was.

After the boys' section, we looked at backpacks and circled back to Kitty (or is her first name Hello?  Do I have to call her by her full name?  Awkward.).  She was shiny and colorful and happy and that was the backpack Bean wanted.  After a trip through the girls' section (still no shorts!) with Bean chit chat chattering non-stop while Hello was perched on his shoulder, I was about to break into a sweat.  I decided this was the time to talk to him point blank about my concerns.

I said, "it is fine with me if you get this backpack.  But I have to tell you that some people may be confused by it, and sometimes when people are confused they are mean.  Some people - I don't know why - but some people think boys can't wear 'girl' things <oh yes, I used scare quotes!>.  They're often ok with girls wearing 'boy' things, but not with boys wearing 'girl' things.  It doesn't even make a lot of sense, because what makes something for girls or for boys, right?  But I have to tell you that people might be mean to you about your backpack."

Bean listened to my entire word vomit, smiling and chuckling over "girl stuff" and "boy stuff" as I wish everybody would.  And when I finished he said, "Oh.  Well then never mind.  I don't want it."

I had just enough time to go from relief to "oh fuck I just broke my kid down and made him 'be a boy'" before he said, "no.  I do want it.  That's the backpack I want."

Phew!  I haven't made my kid do anything but be true to himself!  Yeehaw!

Oh fuck he has a pink backpack with sequins and a rainbow and a cat with a freaking bow on its head. 

So now I am kind of blindly following him around the store and texting The Beast and posting on Facebook (I am 1300 miles from most of my support network, but my goodness did they ever get me through this round of school shopping!).  I posted this: 
The boys dept is boring. Bean wants shiny and shimmery (because FUN!).

So here we are shopping the girls dept for "shiny shorts." And I think we are getting a glitter hello kitty backpack. I have warned him about teasing...

I am so scared for him. 

Remind me I need to let him make his own mistakes. And we are here impermanently. And we could get him a new backpack if it is just too hard to be so awesome at 5.
And so, as we finished our last sweep of the Dillard's backpack selection, I decided I had to lay it all out for Bean one last time.  I found a place to actually sit on the floor so I could really look him in the eye and not just spit words in his general direction.

"I just need to tell you that I am scared.  There is nothing moms fear more than their child being hurt, and I am very afraid of someone hurting your feelings because of this backpack.  It is a silly thing for people to be mean about, but I really am afraid they will be mean."  In a teasing voice, I told him they might say something like "are you a girly girl?  Do you wish you were a girl?"  (He couldn't contain laughter at this.  I hope it was over the ludicrousness of "girl" as insult. It might have been at my "teasing" tone of voice.)

I told him "I am happy to get you this backpack, but if you think that teasing on the bus from older kids might make you not want to ride the bus..."

"Then I won't have to ride the bus?"  he interjected.

"Well...yes.  Actually, if you didn't want to ride the bus because kids were mean, I would be able to drive you...but if you think people being mean to you at school would make you not want to go to school?  Well, you have to go to school.  So then you shouldn't get the backpack."

He just said "ok" in a way that indicated to me he was still getting the backpack.  So I said "but if that happened, Dad and I would always back you up.  Whatever your choice, we'll help you.  I would talk to whoever I need to - kids, parents, teachers - and help you however I can."

He gave me a big hug and a kiss and that was that.  For him, anyway.

Then we went to Target.  Even after finding a few options from the boys' department, he insisted we look in the girls' department.  My first impression:  girls' shorts use approximately half the material as boys'!

I gathered girls' shorts in Bean's sizes and continued to be that mom distractedly typing on her cell phone.  And I will never feel guilty because my son had just picked out tiny purple satin-y gym shorts and told me in no uncertain terms that those were his first choice and he was going to wear them with his pink-and-sequined Hello Kitty backpack.  And a Lego Star Wars shirt.

Imagine my relief when those itsy-bitsy, teeny weeny, purple running shorts in a sateen-y didn't fit.  Instead, he chose baggy royal blue shorts that come down to his knees.  Obviously intended for boys.

I've said a bit about this on my personal Facebook page already, but I'll share it here.  No, I am not sure he can handle negative reactions to this.  But I will never know if I don't let him take this risk.  And I have to let him take risks.  I have to let him fail.  And I have to let him make his own choices - even bad ones.  And I have to hope that he's resilient like me (though I wasn't so resilient at his age) or rather impervious like his father.  This backpack might be a mistake.  Or it might just be a backpack!  (I mean, come on!  It's just a backpack!!!)

Both The Beast and I have talked to him about what kids could say, how he could respond, and our own (very different) experiences with and responses to teasing and bullying.  He laughs nervously about it, but also seems to see it as a challenge he's ready to accept.  Of course, he has never experienced or witnessed anything like cruelty and has no idea what it looks or feels we'll just have to see what happens, be in touch with his teacher, and support him if anything comes up.

I suppose this is 21st century feminism.  I'm proud to raise an apparently feminist son.  But I wish I could be the one to bear the potential brunt of this choice, rather than my 5-year-old who doesn't even realize he might be standing at the vanguard.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Asian Cabbage Salad

Lacking mandarin oranges, but still delicious!
This is one of my favorite dishes to prepare and eat in warmer weather. 
I melt the butter and toast the almonds, noodles, and sesame seeds in my little countertop oven, which really keeps the heat down.

The kids don't eat it, but we are beyond trying to make something every night that the kids will eat.  They survive on breakfast, lunch, and 2-3 snacks.  Dinnertime is when we give them the opportunity to try something new (and we try something new occasionally as well!).

Anyhow, this salad doesn't make great leftovers.  If you're making it as a side for two adults, you should probably cut it in half.  We eat it as our entire meal, and we eat the entire bowl!

Salad ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 package slivered or sliced almonds (1/2 cup)
  • 2 heads Napa Cabbage, chopped (one large head of regular cabbage works if you can't find Napa)
  •  2 bunches green onions, chopped
  • 2 packages ramen noodles, raw, without seasoning
  • 1 can of Mandarin oranges, drained
Dressing Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I plan to substitute something healthier when I run out...haven't decided with what yet)
  •  1 TBSP sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 TBSP Braggs Amino (or 4TBSP soy sauce)

Combine and chill cabbage and green onion.  Break noodles inside packages, then combine with sesame seeds, almonds, and butter on a baking sheet.  Toast all in broiler.  Cool. 

Mix oils, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in pan.  Heat over medium, stirring until mixture boils.  Allow to boil for 1 minute.  Cool for 1/2 hour.

30 minutes before serving:
Combine cabbage, toasted ingredients, mandarin oranges, and dressing.  Chill until serving.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Boycott the Mommy Wars!

The kind of battle I find myself fighting...
 I saw this article from Jezebel (no, I have not read the Time article it references and no, I will not waste my time on it).  The so-called "Mommy Wars" are just another marketing ploy meant to get women all riled up and feel like some company or magazine "gets" them.

Give me a break!

You can dig up someone who strongly objects to anything, and someone who just as strongly advocates it.  For most of us, we've got waaaaaaay more in common that not.  Most of us moms don't have the energy to wage any kind of war, except maybe on diaper stink.  Or tiny Lego clutter (because those things hurt).  Most of us just want someone to get through this motherhood thing with - no matter what our own motherhood experience looks like.

Child-free?  Sweet!  Let's go out last-minute after bedtime.  Or, if you like children but don't want (or yet have) any of your own?  Come have dinner at our place!  (Or not right now, unless you can bring your own table and chairs or are cool with not sitting in the same room...because our new house lacks a real dining area...)

Child-free and dislike kids?  Well, our friendship is going to have to be somewhat on hold for awhile because those little jerks just won't leave me alone!  I totally respect your choice - at times I'm even jealous of it.  I haven't had an uninterrupted conversation that I didn't pay a sitter for in 5 years.  I'm going to start a career in my late 30s, and that's a pretty scary notion.  Do I regret having my children?  Absolutely not.  But do I think it some sort of imperative that I be a mother to be a woman?  Of course not.

My point is, I am not waging a war against other women.  No one I know is waging this war!  Moms or otherwise, this "Mommy War" is a media creation to sell magazines and products.  It might as well be part of A Day in the Life of a Target-Market Female.

The Mommy Wars bear an unfortunate resemblance to the perpetual war in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-FourWe women do not break down into heterogeneous groups along easy-to-spot lines.

And we certainly don't divide into something akin to Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia and wage perpetual war.  Just as in 1984, this is an outside force - one we (implicitly or explicitly) expect to reflect reality and keep us informed - purposely and deceivingly making it look as though we must constantly battle to maintain our values and lifestyle.

In reality, these magazines and so-called journalists are constantly battling to maintain our readership.  I fear that it perpetuates a lack of trust in each other.

Wouldn't it be more interesting and less stressful to read stories that help us understand people who, on the surface, seem to be very different from us?  Shouldn't we be looking for common ground to end these silly wars?  Wouldn't that, perhaps, help end the very real wars in our world?

Thanks to Amanda Field Photography for these great photos she took last spring!

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