Friday, September 30, 2011

happy birthday! again! and again...and again?

Olivia's 11th birthday next week.  So against my wishes, we embark on the "birthday week."  No one actually says that out loud, but it always amounts to a good seven days before everything is said and done. 

I am a "less is more" kind of person.  I'm excited about her birthday, brimming with pride about how she's grown and matured.  Suddenly tall and thin - where'd the toddler go? Suddenly worried about my feelings when making a decision: "What color would you like, mom?" This just breaks my heart.  When did the tables turn? When did she start taking care of me, her elderly and delicate mother? Is that really happening? No, no.  Not yet.

So I'm up for (or "down with" depending on your generation) a celebration.  Another beautiful glorious year of childhood under her belt, and a whole new year, full of change and possibility ahead.  What's not to celebrate?   

It's just that I only want to celebrate it once.  Or twice.  I suppose I can get on board with having a "friend" party filled with, of course, friends, and a family gathering filled with...umm, those elderly and delicate people who need to be accomodated and passified like children.  But after two celebrations, I'm out for sure.  Cupcakes for school? for the soccer team? the swim team? Then there's the "actual" birthday.  The real deal occurs this Thursday, a night when I'm out tutoring and she's at syncronized swimming.  So we're having the family gathering on Friday instead.  Do we just let the real deal pass without any kind of acknowledgment at all?  When did it get so complicated?

Doesn't everyone get a certain defined allotment of birthday energy each year?  If you spend it all on one party, on one spectacular day, you have an extravagant bash.  If you spread it out over several celebrations, you dilute it.  Haven't you ever noticed the bars of "Happy Birthday" growing a bit strained by the third rendition?  And how exciting is cake after dinner if you just had cupcakes at school?

But there's the catch.  Olivia's friends have already discussed the menu possibilities for next week's birthday "treat."   There appears to be no question that we will provide, like it or not. 

So, it all starts tomorrow with the "friend" party - 6 friends doing crafts (at AC Moore - where a trained professional will execute said craft activities while I stand by feeling a contradictory mix of complete inadequacy, revulsion, and pleasure at how well it's all going).

My one "less is more" birthday victory: no goody bags.  I dug my heels in with that from an early age: "I won't do it," I said. "It's over the top on candy, junky toys and wasteful cellophane bags."  I told them to tell their friends that I was mean, that I'd be happy to take the hit for the gross injustice.  Surprisingly, they've never needed to.  I think even the kids know the bags are ridiculous--no one but the angry and frustrated goody-bag fairy has ever complained.

So I'm back where I started: The eve of "the week."  Today she bounces off the walls; me, I'm riddled with anxiety--despite all my opinions.  Will it be fun?  She knows it will be; that's why I'm so worried.  It's like that every year.  I can throw a dinner party for 20 without the eruption of one single salty bead of sweat, but a kid's birthday party?  I'm drenched.  Adults you can ply with wine, but a child will look at you with the cold honesty of a person who has never walked in another's shoes and say, "This party is boring."

To prevent that catastrophe, I'll behave shamelessly for 2 hours tomorrow, giving her everything she wants, just to see her smile.  But then it's back to the real world where we'll resist any impulse to provide cupcakes at soccer, swim practice or anywhere else, except school.  For that, we'll deliver.  Then on Friday, the old folks will gather, sing like it's the first time, and put the thing to bed for another year.  Wew!

Monday, September 26, 2011

wicked witch of the west?

I rode my bike to the grocery store this afternoon—a total pick-me-up.  I try to do this weekly.  Reality? I do it when I can.  A few years back, I bought this big container that looks like a cooler-on-wheels; it attaches to the back of my bike.  Surprisingly, I can fit a week's worth of groceries in there (provided I don’t buy toilet paper and canning jars, in which case, I think I can only buy toilet paper and canning jars). 

I had the idea to do this because it’s only a 2.37 mile round trip to the store, and it seems silly to get in my car every week to drive somewhere that’s just over a mile away.  In these days of rising oil prices and rising global temperatures I thought it an unnecessary luxury to drive.   At least that was my initial thinking.  What I didn’t anticipate was that it would turn out to be a luxury to ride. 

On the first day I set out with my cooler contraption, I felt glaringly conspicuous.  I could only think of my husband’s first reaction when he saw my getup.  He said I looked like Almira Gulch, the evil dog-snatching neighbor in The Wizard of Oz. 

Now add some of the most sinister music ever to emerge from a Hollywood film thrumming in the background.  I felt ridiculous.
But since then, what seemed quirky and embarrassing has grown normal and gratifying—and I’m actually happy if people notice me.  From an environmental perspective, I suppose my efforts amount to little more than a symbolic gesture.  Deducting two and a half miles from my weekly driving tab hardly stems the flow of oil that we move steadily from earth to atmosphere with such frightening alacrity.  But I've persuaded myself that it's worth it anyway. 

In those first moments, when I set out from my house with no seatbelt and the wind in my hair, I feel as if a ball and chain has just clunked off my ankle.  When I arrive, I completely avoid the hideous parking lot where my fellow shoppers plod and jockey for the last spot, like clumsy cattle jammed in a feedlot.  Then I load my groceries right next to the door, slip out the back, and avoid the parade of automated bovines waiting for release at the light.  Free! 

Of course, there is the matter of getting home--which of course, is uphill.  It would make for better reading to recount some sort of haphazard travail: the cart tipping, tomatoes and lemons scattering like billiard balls in the intersection, but I only tipped the cart once, and it was empty.  I’ll admit, however, that hauling everything does make me think twice about whether we really need that heavy 6-pack of beer, or that supersized jar of pickles.  If the ride involved any significant hills, I'm sure the sight of me pedaling in place would inspire even the most lackluster cartoonist, but luckily, it's only a slight but steady incline.  Just enough to call it exercise.

Strangers often ask me where I got my "container."  If you're handy you can make one yourself.  If you're like me, you can buy one from BycicleR Evolution at (I benefit in no way if you look into it). It wasn't super cheap - in fact, I'm pretty sure I stashed money away for several months before I could buy one.  I hope the sight of me riding inspires people to think about their own cycling possibilities.  If my measly 2 miles can't make a difference alone, then I need other people and their two miles too, right?  

Of course, I also hope my kids will someday follow in my pedaling shoes.  When my 14 year old son, Garreth, first saw the bike trailer, he said, “Mom, you’re so weird.”  This prompted a great conversation about why I might want to embark on such a bizarre endeavor.  Finally, he had to admit it was pretty cool, even though he wouldn't be caught dead riding with me (the route passes right by the high school after all!).  His sister, Olivia, is still too young to be embarrassed by me.  She rides along with her ten year old pig tails sticking out, wonky helmet out of place, her big smile to hold it up.  And then I don’t feel so helpless, as if she and I could change the world with just that trip. 

So I relished the luxury of my ride this afternoon.  The sun peeking out for a few hopeful moments on an otherwise gray day, the ball and chain tucked safely on the carport, the sound of my wheels thrumming to the beat of a song that I’ve learned to associate with perseverance rather than wickedness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

hold the stereotype, please

Years ago, on the eve of our impending weddings, a dear friend of mine told me, “Deb, I’m sad because I feel like we won’t be friends moving forward.”
“Why?” came my mortified reply.
“Because you’re a feminist, and I’m not.  I want to stay home with my kids.”


There’s a stereotype out there y’know.  It goes something like this:

Feminist = man-hating, spiky crew cut sporting, army-boot wearing, anti-domestic, hairy legged, angry loud strident bitch.  Not much mother in that picture. Definitely no stay-at-home mom.

For the record, I’ve actually known quite a few army-boot wearing feminist women and, in my experience, they pretty much rock just as much as the rest of us. 

But the question at hand: What's up with that unsavory mold? Do any of us fit it?  Do I?  I think if you saw me, you wouldn’t remember me. I’m a fairly unremarkable looking mom.  In fact, I worry that the folks from What Not to Wear might show up, all smug and giddy, in my purple living room one day.  Their mission: get me some style.  Any style.  So if there is some sort of feminist fashion sense out there, a pair of very expensive and bulky fem-boots I should be wearing, I’m falling far short with my disappointingly suburban lack of flair.

But what about all the other stuff?

Man hating: it just isn’t so.  The list of things I “hate” is fairly short: raw egg white clinging to an otherwise perfectly lovely omelet, canned peas, hypocrites, and being sick on a sunny day.   I love men, have lots of male friends, am married to a man.  I have a beautiful kind-hearted son who I hope will grow up to be a feminist too.  Yeah, men are pretty cool.

Crew-cut sporting:  Nah.  Even if I tried, no amount of gel could get my hair to stand up like that.   I have thin brown, shoulder length hair.  I use hairspray. 

Army Boot Wearing: Nope. 

Anti-domestic:  I cook.  A lot.  I bake all of our bread with home-ground grain.  I make allergy friendly homemade dinners every night.   I don’t sew, but I want to.  With the help of my family, I clean when things are dirty.  I’ve worked from home part-time since my kids were born.  I deeply value my role as a mom.  I do, however, break out in a cold sweat at the thought of doing a craft.   

Hairy Legged:  Yeah.  I do have a bit of this going on.  Darnit.  I didn’t want to admit that so soon.  We’ll talk more about it later.

Angry, loud, strident:  I suppose this blog will tell.  I do talk louder when I get passionate about something. And if you ply me with a little wine, you can certainly goad me into a debate, but I would describe myself as generally flabbergasted more than angry.  I’m a little strident about food, but I imagine the stereotypical feminist waving around a burning a bra more than I can see her brandishing a home-grown butternut squash.
Bitch:  Gosh.  I hope not.  I mean, I take in stray cats, speak sincerely and charmingly to other people’s children, and give money to homeless folks when I pass.  I cry when birds fly kamikaze-style into my picture window, when athletes overcome adversity to win intense victories, and when my kids hit milestones like riding a bike and finishing 6th grade. 

I guarantee there are some things that are different about me, and I do feel passionate about my politics.  That’s part of why I thought it would be interesting to write this blog.  I guess I just think it’s a shame for all of us intelligent, independent women to let an overblown stereotype scare us out of claiming and celebrating our feminist heritage. 

We don’t have to mimic our feminist predecessors to celebrate them.  They left a legacy that allows us to reinvent motherhood, womanhood and feminism itself if we want to.  So let’s do it!

Here’s my stab at it: 

Feminist  =  a woman who desires autonomy and equality for herself and other women

That means that at a minimum: I want to make my own decisions; I want other women to make their own decisions, and I want the boys to play fair. 

Because it’s my nature to complicate things, I do take it further.  I value my role as a citizen, so while I’m making all these decisions that come with parenting and running a household, I try to keep my eye on the bigger picture, asking myself how my choices benefit not only my family, but the community and the environment around me.  

That’s not so scary is it?  Maybe it’s time we take the “bitch” out of “butch” and give the big “f” word a better name.  It deserves a place with all the other happy f-words like:  fun, fabulous, fantastic, frisky, feeling, fine, and...friend.

As for my friend of yore.  We’re still close.  When you’re 20-something, you think you have it all figured out.  She had kids and discovered it was harder than she thought to stay at home.  I had kids and discovered it was harder than I thought to leave them for work.  Who knew we would both get caught up in the very dilemma that stymies feminism today:  how to strike that elusive balance.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

where are all the feminists?

I’ve been perusing a lot of blogs lately – mingling at the party, so to speak, to see who’s out there.  In casually leafing through the nearly 8,000 blogs about family and childrearing on BlogHer, I noticed that only 1,000 self-identify as feminist.


What’s up chickies? 

I am a sort-of-stay-at-home mom—a SOSAHM so to speak.   In that capacity, I help my kids with homework, schlep them to soccer and swim practice, and happily cook for them every day (from scratch if that sways you).  Despite all those domestic endeavors, I am a FEMINIST through and through.

The thing is, I bet you are too. 

Isn’t blogging the most badass feminist thing you can do?  After all, it wasn't too long ago when women were sequestered in their homes with NO VOICE, struggling to be heard in their families, in the press, at the polls.  If they had an opinion, it was a talk to the hand sort of situation. 

Of course, we are dripping with gobs of gripping feminist writings (300 years’ worth!) by women who managed, with mountains of determination, a little luck, and an occasional male pseudonym, to be heard.  But they were exceptional.  And they carried the burden of speaking for all of their silenced contemporaries.  Now, we need not be exceptional!—convenient, huh?  No matter who we are, we can simply get on line in all of our celebrated mediocreness, start a blog and: voila!        

And look at the kick-ass feminist result! A huge community of big-mouthed, chattering, rambling, clucking and yammering women sharing, supporting and debating…about motherhood.   In a public space.  I love it!  That, my friends, is a feminist venture if I’ve ever seen one. 

And that’s something to be happy about, proud of!  We should be busting around with our chests all puffed out like a Fem Foghorn Leghorn!    

So…don’t let my use of the big F-word send you aflee.  Stick around at least until we can talk about what that scary word even means.

With that, I guess it’s about that time:  time to post.  Funny that this feels so much more public than past purges, delivered under safe cover of leather and flowery fabric, where I knew my words might offend or inspire no one.  Despite the possibility of an audience, however, this writing differs little, right?  After all, who in the world reads a bloggers first post?!