a boy is a boy or a girl, who is a girl or maybe a boy. or neither or both.

by Janelle Hanchett

So we’re at the checkout line in the Goodwill this weekend and I’m chatting with a couple people behind me – somehow we get on the topic of girl versus boy children (oh right, they told me they raised 4 boys and I said “I think I’d shoot myself” and they said “we considered it” and then we laughed.). Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my little man, but he drives me around the bend sometimes.  So we chatted about the differences between boys and girls, the way a girl at five seems so oddly capable of just doing a task (even a complicated one, like putting socks on without first throwing them across the room a few times, or sitting in a chair without tipping it backwards or otherwise flailing around). The lady behind the counter agreed, having mothered 5 boys. Then this blonde woman behind us, who we didn’t exactly invite into our little discussion I might add, gets all condescending and pipes up “You know, I don’t think it’s a boy/girl thing. It’s just a person thing. It’s just an individual personality difference – it has nothing to do with being male or female. I raised a boy who is so sensitive and gentle. It’s just a human difference.”

She’s impressed with herself.

I’m less impressed, and I feel like saying “Look, bitch, don’t play the gender equality social justice card with me. I’ve read more Judith Butler and bell hooks and studied more queer and feminist theory than your sorry ass could fathom, so if you really want to throw down some identity politics right here in the Goodwill check-out line, I’m in, you out-of-touch wannabe intellectual shit-head. Otherwise, shut the hell up and let me and the toothless worker lady banter in peace.”

But I kept that inside.

For the good of all mankind, I’m perfecting that skill.

Just to clarify, I haven’t read that much queer or feminist theory. But I’ve read enough to intellectually bitch-slap somebody dumb enough to think the Goodwill store is a good time to question gender construction. Plus, when people treat me like an empty vessel into which they shall altruistically pour their enlightened parenting skills, I get defensive and self-righteous with an overwhelming urge to retaliate irrationally. (That’s what happens when you’re mature and well-adjusted.)

But really the bottom line is this: theory is theory and real life is real life. I want to believe that there is no difference between male and female, that my son and daughter function in exactly the same way with the same instinct, mental approach, etc. But when you have a son suddenly chewing his pretzels into the shape of a gun, you begin to wonder. I mean I can’t blatantly deny what’s in front of me. That would be wrong. There are 12-step groups for that kind of behavior.

Of course I agree that there are no across-the-board, unwavering gender identities inherent in either sex, nor do I believe that there is a “right” way to be a “man” or a “woman.” Rocket went through a phase where he loved to wear Ava’s princess dresses – he’d parade around proudly in pink ruffles, a hard hat and cowboy boots. Loved it. And I took the same women’s studies class that Captain Justice took, you know, the one where the professor explains that gender roles are social constructs of the male hierarchy with no basis in reality and there’s no such thing as mother’s intuition (that one kinda hurt my feelings) and there are no inherent differences between the sexes. And I believed that for a long time. But then I got married (um, different blog post) and I had kids. And I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

Because in my experience, there is a HUGE STARTLING difference between Ava and Rocket, even though I tried to give them gender neutral toys and raise them the same way. And while it could be just personality differences, my experience seems to be shared with lots of other parents, who have experienced similar phenomena in their families. I do however have a huge problem with the idea of excusing rude or thoughtless or physically rough behavior because “boys will be boys” or overly dramatic, silly behavior because “girls will be girls.” Lame. Not cool. Period.

Anyway, I’m sure there are exceptions – boys who don’t place their penises in funnels or collapse on the floor in hysterics when the dog passes gas. I’m sure there’s one who has more than a 12-second attention span when it comes to tasks he’s not interested in. And I’m sure there are girls who aren’t generally organized, “on task” or helpful with siblings. I just don’t have one of those kids, and there appear to be lots of other mothers who don’t have one either, and it’s fun to chat about it.

It’s fun to be human with other humans, to commiserate and laugh for a moment even if it isn’t politically correct or right or progressive. Sometimes I just want to be real, with other real people. I don’t want to be enlightened or deep. I just want to laugh about my life, exactly as it is. Right or wrong. Maybe I am furthering the male hegemony. Maybe I am dead wrong and holding onto archaic 1950s ideas. But I’ll tell you one thing I don’t doubt, and that is that the toothless lady behind the Goodwill counter, making 8 bucks an hour trying to support her grandkids, probably isn’t too interested in engaging in theoretical discourse surrounding the nature of gender identity. She, like me, probably just enjoyed a good laugh.




17 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 21, 2011

How do you get kids to do chores?

by renegademama

Actually, how do you get them to do anything useful? When I announce that we are going to, for example, “clean the living room,” then ask one of them to take something to his/her room, they do one of the following, or a combination of the following, or, if we’re really having fun, ALL of the following:

  1. ignore me;
  2. ignore me until I freak out;
  3. complain, roll around on the ground in agony, blame the other kid for the mess, complain – listen to me yell, threaten, demand action – whine (possibly cry), finally do it, complain again;
  4. do it, then disappear strategically, forever;
  5. act like they’re going to do it, start walking away like they’re going to do it, only to stop mid-way, distracted by fuzz on the carpet or some other spellbinding item, then ignore me again or repeat #3 sequence;
  6. tie stuff together (we’ve been over this).

Almost never do they simply arise and do the task.

And I find myself asking, once again: what am I doing wrong? How have I blown this one? Do other kids do chores? Why don’t mine do them? Are mine just lazy? Entitled? And if so, how did they get lazy and entitled?

Then I reflect on all the hundreds of ways I could have contributed to the development of lazy, entitled children and I either start feeling generally inadequate and full of self-pity or I develop a weird, fierce determination to change the way things are happening in this house!, and I make deep, serious resolutions, delineating my plans in great detail to Mac and maybe even the hoodlum children.

They look at me respectfully, agreeing, because clearly I’m serious this time.

They’re not really concerned, though, because they know I’ll forget about these vast serious momentous plans in exactly 2 hours.

Or until the next time I freak out, at which time we’ll start the whole thing over again.

And I will be reminded of the story of my life: GREAT IDEA. INEVITABLY POOR EXECUTION.

yeah. try to reign this in and get it focused on chores.

P.S. No, really. How do you get kids to do chores? Totally open to suggestions.

19 things you must know about me

by renegademama

So I’ve been noticing that other mama bloggers often have an “about me” list – you know, little fun-facts about philosophies, approaches, overarching beliefs, etc. Some of them are really serious. The list might include things like: “I’m a natural birth advocate;” “I had a successful HBAC (homebirth after cesarean);” “I am a vegetarian;” “I kill animals for fun;” “I tandem nursed for 8 months;” “I defend my right to formula feed;” “I am a radical unschooler.” After reading these lists I decided that I need a list– a nice, clear, honest one about me and my family, so you can really get to know us, and quickly see where I stand on important issues. Because I do “stand” places. I do.

So here are the 19 things you must know about me.

1. I only practice positive discipline and gentle parenting techniques. Then, if those don’t work, I yell, bribe and make empty but intimidating threats until I get my way.

2. I am a staunch unswerving advocate of natural, unmedicated birth. For me. I don’t care how your baby exits your body.

3. My dream is to get a PhD in English Literature so I can sit in classrooms discussing deconstructionist theory with a bunch of hung-over 20-year-olds acting wildly interested, dropping Derrida quotes they really don’t understand, solely to earn participation points.

4. We eat natural, healthy, homemade foods exclusively. Unless we’re at Costco. Then we eat polish sausages and drink sodas (for one dollar and 50 freaking cents each I might add).

5. I have breastfed all three of my kids. This may be the only unquestionably positive thing I’ve done for them. Well that and introducing them to the Grateful Dead.

6. I used to think the purpose of a play date was to distract the children long enough that the parents could get a good buzz going through uninterrupted beer drinking.

7. I don’t drink anymore, possibly due to #6.

8. For reasons still unclear, I keep putting the cheese in the freezer after I make lunches in the morning.

9. If I had my way, I’d be a rampant cigarette smoker. But I don’t have my way. (I never have my way. Damn it.) Apparently they cause cancer. I know they’re disgusting, but I love them. I feel James Dean cool when I smoke them. These are not facts I will share with my children. And if they ever ask me, I will lie.

10. When my computer stalls, I bang on it.

11. When my kids stall, I don’t bang on them, but I want to.

12. My husband’s idea of “getting dressed up” is shaving his forearm so his tattoo shows up more clearly.

13. Speaking of tattoos, I have four. I want twenty. (See above re: not getting my way.) This is not because I’m cool, but rather because I got a small one a few years ago and now I can’t stop. I believe it’s a disease.

14. When I’m in a good mood I do interpretive dance moves around the house while singing 80s songs. When I’m in a bad mood I sit on the couch and yell at people.

15. I believe women should stop distancing themselves from one another due to differing “philosophies” and join together in one united front against men, who are obviously the problem.

16. No I don’t really think that.

17. When I hear things like “radical unschooling” the first thought that crosses my mind is “How is that radical? White trash meth addicts in the high Sierra have been doing that for years.” I can’t help those thoughts. They just come.

18. When I attempt to summarize myself in lists, the whole task almost immediately degenerates into random tidbits of useless information and I find myself reminded of why I don’t try to summarize myself ever, whether in list form or not, because how the hell can a person be bullet-listed, characterized in nice, neat one-liners? I mean how do I know what to include and what to leave out – what if I leave out the single, key piece of info that would complete your picture of me? More importantly, should I be honest? Who’s reading this list? Do I attempt to maintain my act or do I let you in on the chaos, the confusion, the contradictions of self and soul and philosophy? And even if I want to tell the truth, how do I do that? What is the truth? There is no truth. There are only variations of the story as “true” in my mind at that precise moment and situation and in a few more moments it won’t be true anymore and then we’ll be back to lies again.

19. I’m confused. I hate “about me” lists. I’m going back to cleaning the garage.

oh, I forgot the 20th thing: My kids are infinitely cooler than I am. Always.

Georgia’s home birth story

by renegademama

I’ve been meaning to finish this.

On August 4, 2010 I was four days past my due date and not digging it. I seemed to go into labor and then stop, every day for about two years. Or maybe that was weeks. I was done in a way only a 40+ week pregnant woman can be “done.” I met with my midwife and explained that my daily visualization techniques and heart-to-heart talks with my uterus were oddly ineffective and she was going to have to do something. She suggested castor oil, told me it would only work if my body is fully ready (so I shouldn’t get excited), and gave me a milkshake recipe I can’t wholeheartedly recommend.

It took me about 37 seconds to get the ingredients, send the kids to my mom’s, and drink the milkshake (actually it was 6pm). By 9pm I was feeling contractions but tried to ignore them since they had faded out so many times before. By midnight they were still coming and I was having to walk around through them and breathe to manage the pain. I figured if I woke Mac up I’d jinx the whole deal, so I let him sleep until about 2am, when they were becoming pretty difficult to manage. He woke up and started filling the birthing tub and setting up various other things (heating receiving blankets, putting things out for the midwives, calling grandmothers, etc.). He was nervous and kept suggesting we call the midwives. I kept telling him “no” because I was still in denial that our baby was coming. My mom arrived around 4am. I got in the tub about 5am because the pain was really intense. About 3 minutes later I declared that the midwives could come, and they showed up about 5:45am. I labored in the tub and around the house, moaning and sighing through contractions, leaning on Mac, wondering in lucid moments why the hell I ever signed up for this again. At around 7:30am the contractions slowed way down (a sign I was moving to the pushing stage) and I started feeling the urge to push at the peak of each contraction.

This is when things really began to suck.

Now you must understand that with Ava and Rocket I pushed for about 15 minutes each. It was quick and easy (if such an ordeal could ever be “easy”). With this baby, though, I was pushing with all my might and nothing was happening. Just excruciating pain. Really, nothing was happening and I knew it. I kept trying but my attempts seemed ineffective and all the strength I could muster seemed wimpy in the face of what I was trying to do. I was genuinely terrified. This was not in the cards. I’m a super birthing machine. I really felt that I couldn’t do it and I shared this information with the midwife. She calmly informed me that I was the only one who could do it. I wanted to hit her in the face. The other midwife started mumbling something about breathing in light and love to my baby and I considered drowning her.

There are absolutely no words to describe the feeling of the two hours I spent trying to push that baby out. I just couldn’t do it. And yet I had to and I was trying so hard but it wasn’t enough but it had to be enough. But if the needed strength just isn’t there, what is one supposed to do? I can’t just make it materialize out of nowhere. The pain was so great I just wanted it to end but I could not make it end. I begged for relief. There was none.

Let’s take a little break so you can fully appreciate the humor in this little ordeal. You may have noticed that little word “home” in the title…yes, this was a planned home birth.  I had my other two kids in a hospital, with midwives, without drugs. My son was a water birth (I’ll tell that story some other time). I’ve had no traumatic hospital experiences…so why would I choose such a thing? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but mine are simple: I like to give birth without pain medication and without  intervention (if possible), and the easiest simplest way to do this is at home. But oh lord did I have some plans involving this birth. I had a vision. I’d been reading a lot of Ina May Gaskin (Spiritual Midwifery) and other hippie natural birth books – and Rocket’s birth was exactly like what they were talking about: calm, serene, painful but not excruciating, textbook progression – culminating in the quick birth of an 8 1/2 pound perfect, pink baby boy with an Apgar of 10. I figured that since I was at home, this birth would be even better, more intuitive, more beautiful and glorious. I saw myself cruising around with some angelic smile on my face, swaying softly to the music in my mind, the ancient rhythm of a thousand birthing women, my body whispering what to do and me like a graceful swan, dancing my baby out, as my older kids and husband watched peacefully, glancing at each other with little grins of happy, fascinated anticipation. It was all going to be very spiritual.

And it was, if growling and screaming the word “fuck” repeatedly and acting like a hyena on crack is spiritual.

Okay so anyway there I was, pushing and acting like a psycho with NO SUCCESS and I’m absolutely freaking out. Fits of yelling, fits of tears. Terror in my eyes. Veins popping out. I’m unhappy. My kids were absolutely horrified. Not my first priority. After two hours of this hell, I hit a wall. I realized that the only way out of this horrid situation was to do the one thing I was the most scared of. The one thing I couldn’t do. The midwife was right. I had to do it. So with the next contraction I got angry. I simply got insane. I roared and screamed and pushed with all the strength I had and all the strength I’ve never had and will never have. And I didn’t stop. I thought my body was tearing in half. But the midwife said she could see dark hair, then the forehead, ears, the head…and I became encouraged and kept working, really hard. A few moments later I felt the greatest relief of my life and I heard the midwives tell Mac “pick up your baby.” He had to find her in the cloudy water. A second later he lifted up the most beautiful little baby I’d ever seen. I was overcome with joy. My tears were of ecstasy. The cord was around her neck twice and she was blue, so they quickly rolled her over a couple times and we watched the miracle of her body flooding pink — from her chest out to her tiny fingers and toes. It was 9:28 in the morning .

Somebody asked me if it was a girl or boy — I looked and said with a smile “a girl, of course” (since I always new she was a girl, even without an ultrasound). I spent so many months trying to imagine her face, and I couldn’t see it, but the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew her perfectly. “Oh right, there you are.” I was in heaven. Elated.

everybody examining the baby - notice the swollen head...that's cause she came out all FUNKY

Turns out the baby was in a position that makes a natural delivery extremely difficult – essentially the wrong part of her head was presenting. The midwives explained that most women with a baby in that position end up with a Cesarean delivery, and that doctors would have told me it was “impossible” to vaginally deliver a baby in that position. Useful information AFTER THE FACT, huh? Plus she was ten pounds. Whoa. The midwives seemed genuinely impressed and I must admit I felt like something of a bad-ass. I suppose the battle of it ultimately made it the most “spiritual” of all my births – realizing that my body was failing me, being forced to pull from deep inside my soul, deeper than I had ever gone, to find a power I never knew I had. Doesn’t get much more spiritual than that. (well, in my opinion).

9 lbs, 14 ounces, 21 inches long

So our baby girl was born and she was lovely and we all crawled into our bed and cuddled. And I had my perfect home birth. They examined and weighed her right in my room.  We sang happy birthday to her,  dressed her after a few hours, spent hours examining and kissing her perfect little self. In fact we’ve been doing just that ever since.

happy birthday little one

Sweet baby Georgia, welcome.

29 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 13, 2011

dude, Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven over this shit

by renegademama

I usually only feel sorry for myself on Sundays, but today is clearly an exception. I have no reason to feel sorry for myself. In fact, my life is so good that if anything actually bad happened to me, I’d probably combust spontaneously due to shock and confusion. Today is just one of those days when I fail to find meaning in motherhood and the whole exercise just feels long and monotonous and silly and boring and I don’t find it deep or joyous or wonderful or even fun and what I want is for my life to be about me again. Just me.

I’m aware that what’s in it for me? is not an effective mothering principle, but I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m too selfish for motherhood. Sometimes (like right now) my selfishness catches up with me and I find myself seriously wondering if anybody would notice if I just ducked the hell out – moved to the Caribbean and started over, when nobody was looking.

Do you ever feel like a mouse running on a wheel?

I do. But more like a mouse with amnesia. Or an idiot mouse. A mouse who looks up at the wheel ahead of him, fixates on one spot and says “as soon as I get there, things are going to be different,” forgetting that he’s already been there, that it’s all the damn same and no matter how promising it looks, once he gets to that spot, he’ll look around and realize not a goddamn thing has changed. New day. Same wheel. And he’s still a mouse. And this is still his wheel. Things won’t be different, not tomorrow. Or in a year.

I’m not fulfilled. There’s so much undone and incomplete and this isn’t all of me. It just isn’t. It’s not enough. There was going to be more. It wasn’t long ago when I was sure there was going to be more.

The other day I was talking to Ava about working hard and focusing and not fucking up your life and I realized I was giving her the “don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made” speech. How is it that my mistakes have been made? I want to go back to my early twenties, when I was still actively making my mistakes rather than reflecting on them morbidly. When did I reach the other side, where my parents and old people live?

When did my dreams fade into helping my kids realize theirs?

When did my life become so damn defined?

When the hell did I grow up?

And why am I not where or who or what I envisioned when I was a little girl and my mother told me not to make the mistakes she made. And I looked at her with pity, a hint of disgust and the ever-present there’s-my-mama adoration, 100% fully convinced that it would never be me because I’m learning from her and how is it that people ever just screw up their lives anyway? I mean shit, it’s all so simple when you’re nine or twelve or sixteen or twenty-three. And you’re young and beautiful and FREE and you’ll never be too old to change things, redirect, make a new plan.

I’m not even old. I’ll be 32 next month.

But I’m old enough to know that life crashes forward in wild hideous abandon, whether or not I’m paying attention. And damnit sometimes I just feel STUCK– watching the world roll by and me, on my wheel, trying desperately to get to some spot that doesn’t exist, where my dreams are realized and I’m the person I always wanted to be. But there are kids to raise and babies to nurse and mortgage to pay and weight to lose and there’s fear and I’m so tired and I should just be happy serving these children. But I’m not. Not always.

Today I got to work and my colleague for some reason told me about the day the chaplains came to her house to tell her that her son had been killed. As if she knew I was feeling sorry for myself, even though I was doing so silently, in my characteristically immature self-centered way.

And I feel like a shithead for complaining.

At the same time I hear Langhorne Slim singing to me, his words like a banner across my mind: “I’ve had it better than some and i know that i shouldn’t complain – though my grandfather told me once that all pain hurts the same.”

Ah, fuck it. I’m going to bed. It will be better tomorrow.

11 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | February 9, 2011