Monday, April 25, 2011

Everybody's Polish

Apparently the largest Dyngus Day Festival in all of the United States occurs in my city, Buffalo, NY.
Hooray for us! Everyone is a little bit Polish on Dyngus Day. Too bad, I forgot to send the kids to school with their pussy willow branches. Happy Dyngus Day!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

brain freeze

It's really not that I don't have anything to write about. There are the stories of how I (very, very, very) accidentally injured First Born Son's family jewels; and the tender moment with Princess Commando discussing death, God(s) and the afterlife; and, The Baby's middle of the night proof of language acquisition; and how I spent my hard earned birthday money on new iPhones for the whole family. But, the kids are on spring vacation this week, which means that I am absolutely not on vacation.  I am sure that by the time this recess comes to an end the children will have delivered many outrageous poignant and thoughtful anecdotes from which I will draw inspiration. Until then, I'm pressing the pause button. For those of you who also have children home on sabbatical, my deepest sympathies and sincerest wishes for your continued endurance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

polishing my child's gender identity

Damn you, Today Show. At least once a week you air a story that incites the activist in me. First, you made me want to fight against the Positive Parenting movement, and then you stirred up old frustrations about discrimination against those with food allergies, and today you aroused my need to defend boys everywhere who bond with their mothers over painted toenails. J. Crew has published a lovely ad featuring a mother sharing what appears to be an authentic, light moment with her 5 year old son- painting his toenails neon pink. The ad has sparked controversy among those who fear that by allowing our male children to indulge in toenail polish or princess dresses we will ruin their gender identities. This story is near and dear to my heart -as I was once the mother with the boy with painted nails. And, I, too, faced the scrutiny and negative assessments of others who were convinced that I would confuse my son's gender associations by letting him experiment with nail polish. Oh, for Pete's sake, it's not like I was letting him drink or sniff the stuff- something that might have really damaged his brain's ability to correlate with his gender.

The picture above was taken when Henry was 5 years old. He was the ring bearer in my sister's wedding- hence the stylish suit. While being a typical rough and tumble boy, he also had an eye for beautiful things. Especially objects that were shiny. He collected both bugs and crystals. So, to me it made sense that he would be fascinated by the silvery nail polish I applied to my toenails in preparation for the wedding. "Ooh, I like those. They look like robot fingers. Can I have some, too?" I would never deny my boy such a benign request. He was so proud of his nail armor.They were painted in a color which matched nearly every toy gun he toted in his play battles. And, it did hide the dirt he accrued under his nails from digging for beetles in the yard.

The presentation of his nails at the wedding, did come with mixed opinions. "Aren't you worried that you are going to confuse him or change him?" The thought never crossed my mind. That might have been because of the fact that I used to dress my much younger brother up as a little girl and style his hair in pigtails. And, he always remained very much a boy- more apt on his own to play dress-up in a camouflage army uniform than corsets and tutus. But, even as a 12 year old, I had the sense to understand that the reason why my three year old brother did not resist the costumes we put him in was because he wanted to bond with us- to identify with who his sisters were. For Henry, in addition to being able to temporarily walk around with a shiny gunmetal finish on his nails, he was also happy to have had that moment of attention from me- to bond with me.

Henry no longer wears nail polish. He has not since my sister's wedding. Of course, I cannot guarantee that allowing my 5 year old son to wear nail polish will have an effect either way on his future understanding of himself or his acceptance of society's expectations of his gender. That remains to be seen after years of extensive therapy my children will most certainly endure for all of my parenting fumbles. I can speak from my own experience though. As a teenager who wore her grandfather's very gender specific, old, red hunting jacket-not once did I ever wonder if I was truly an old man trapped inside a young woman's body wanting to smoke a pipe and reminisce about my time in the army during WWII. It doesn't matter to me if Henry wants to dress up like Eddie Izzard, or if Princess Commando decides after years of playing boy dominated sports that she would like a penis. To me, it matters only that they are healthy; at peace with their choices; that they continue to be kind and compassionate people and productive members of society; that they find love and are loved kindly in return.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Devil Binky

The Mr. and I had successfully nurtured 3 children through infancy and toddler hood with an inconsequential amount of physical or psychological damage (for us and for them). While others bemoaned sleepless nights and fussy babies, we reveled in the blessedness of our easy-going infants. We might have wondered (to ourselves) at times what other parents were doing wrong. Oh, how lucky we were. And, then The Baby came along with her suitcase packed for a sojourn in the Hamlet of Colic, a long stint in the Village of No Sleep Unless My Mother Wraps Me Tightly to Her Chest 24/7, and many return trips to the Town of Teething. We have not had a night of uninterrupted sleep in approximately 435 days (this is not counting the last trimester of pregnancy).

There are days, weeks even, when we are fooled into believing that whatever specters or demons have haunted The Baby at night have run their course. During the lull, there are no abrupt siren screams to wake us from the first precious minutes of deep sleep. Not even a whimper. The next morning, we sigh relief and laugh about our old zombie days. And then, bam! The incubus is back again- to keep us all from peace. This time the devil is disguised as a seemingly innocuous binky (pacifier, nukie, soothie, baba, Tokoyo (as my best friend, Robyn, calls it), whatever.

As an infant, The Baby did not use Binky very often-save for car rides or bedtime. I nursed her and I was her pacifier. But, when she turned 8 months old, she began to refuse nursing sessions. And despite my most concerted efforts, she self-weaned completely by 9 months. It was around this time that 4 more teeth were breaking through her tender gums. She was having a difficult time with the pain- despite our tried and true remedies and conventional pain relievers. But, she found solace in a special teething pacifier which she slobbered over throughout the day like a little puppy with a chew toy. We did not anticipate a night time reliance on Binky to develop. And, it was not an issue until recently.
Binky used to sleep serenely with The Baby, content to live within the confines of the crib. But as of the past 3 weeks, The Devil Binky has made numerous attempts to flee, escaping only so far and the little space beneath a dresser 3 feet away from the crib.  Binky seems to have decided that The Baby is old enough to fare well on her own now. But, The Baby is disturbed by the abandonment. So much so that upon realizing-when rolling over in her sleep, searching with her little hand for her comfort cork- that Binky is not there, she lets loose a blood curdling scream that you cannot ignore. We must check on her, whatever the hour, to be certain she isn't sick or hurt in some way. But, it's always the same thing: Devil Binky has rolled out of the crib- often within eyesight- but so far out of reach. The Baby is completely fine once she is reunited with her cagey pal. But, at 2:00 AM, we are not as well-finding it difficult to regain the hold of deep and restful sleep.

There are contraptions and means for keeping Binky tethered a bit longer to her charge. My sister went so far as to sew the back of my nephew's pacifier into the tail end of a Beanie Baby to weigh it down and keep it from deserting. But The Baby is 14 months old, and I worry about perpetuating this dependency any further- that she'll end up a five year old girl with a plug in her pie hole. Also, she has a fabulous throwing arm- if she wants my to get my attention during nap time, she'll just toss that butt plugged Beanie Baby against the window. You cannot imagine how resonant a lone pacifier against a hard wood floor is. At night, when Binky falls, I hear the children on the third floor grumble in anticipation of what will follow. "Oh, no. Plug your ears. Wait for it. (wailing from the second floor). There it is."

While in the stupor of sleep deprivation, my desire grows to banish The Devil Binky from our home for good- willing to ride out the discomfort of the nights of withdrawal. But, then it dawns on me that the poor baby is cutting molars and this is why it has been so critical over the past few weeks to have her thing of comfort at the ready. As with so many issues that have arisen with our lovely, high needs baby (thank you Dr. Sears for that label), I cannot rest on my past experience. With this baby, I find that I am slower to work things out. The only thing I know for certain is that it usually does work out. She won't be on the pacifier forever. We won't need to enroll her in a 12 step program for pacifier addiction. And there are only so many teeth that she can teethe, right? So, for now I am going to "borrow" one of Princess Commando's stuffed animals, surgically implant Binky in the bum and saddle it down with a deep pressure, weighted vest-and hope that we will all enjoy a restful sleep soon.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Soccer's Life Lessons

Forget anything I have said in the past that might have resembled a complaint about balls being kicked around in the house. Upon further contemplation, I now hold the sport to a higher regard. In our home, soccer is the cat's pajamas. It has changed my children's lives for the better. Because of the concentration and commitment required in First Born Son's intensive soccer training over the past 6 months, he has developed into a much more focused academic student. And, more recently, The Mr. enrolled Princess Commando in a highly competitive training program. Gone is the girl who would fold on the field- waffling between wanting to play and also wanting to hide on the sidelines. Soccer has given her a new found sense of confidence, dedication and purpose. Certainly soccer has provided my children with more than just an outlet for pent up energy. These are some of the other gifts that soccer has lent our family:

Soccer has ignited a spark of creativity in the children. They are constantly devising new games to play with the soccer ball. It always begins the same way. Someone is practicing his/her drills in the living room when an instigator inventive child comes along and swipes the ball transforming the sport into a new game melding dodge ball and an exercise of keep away. They chase each other around the couch for thirty minutes trying to release the ball from the swiper's grip. They implement innovative tactics to weaken the swiper's hold such as enticing The Baby to join in the pursuit as a means of making the swiper more cautious, slowing him down. Invariably, the tactics also involve finding another ball and throwing it at the swiper's head to knock him off balance or to wound him. The rules are vague but the children are quite clever when it comes to changing them on the spot. This game is a delightfully deviceful way to involve the whole family.

Soccer has also kindled the warm flame of brotherly love. I have not seen this much affection between the boys since....well, never.

The virtue of cooperation that is born of playing league soccer is not left on the field at the end of a good practice or hard fought game. The children weave it into their play time at home as well.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat 
Behold the image below. She did end up weakening the swiper's grip, allowing her to reclaim her ball and make a break for the kitchen. But, sadly, she, like her brothers before her, learned that in life, much like in a game of soccer, that moments of winning can be terribly short lived. And as quickly as you begin to fall into the dangerous distraction of celebrating your small victory- a breakaway, a goal, an idea for a novel social networking web site, etc, someone will come along and snatch your glory from you and leave you to cry in a corner of the kitchen.

Compassion and Resilience
While soccer is not considered a contact sport, vigorous struggles to regain the ball occur and injuries do happen. Recognizing a man down on the field, dropping to one's knee in solidarity while waiting for the verdict from the coach or medic is a solemn and humbling moment which enlivens commiseration even for a player on the opposing team. It is the healing power of that show support and unity which helps bring an injured player back to life and onto his feet- ready to join the game again. And, when all else fails, there is the promise of ice cream to lure one out of her physical pain. Well, maybe not for everyone.

 Here's a snapshot of what it really looks like after dinner in our house.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

whatever will be will be

Inspiration has been fickle lately. I know I shouldn't be waiting for sparks. I should be creating them. The above is the sort of stuff that comes from rubbing the tiniest slivers of gravel together. Looking for some bigger rocks soon. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

my early birthday gift

As an early 36th birthday present, my Dad took me to see the musical Spring Awakening at The Center for the Arts at UB last night. On so many levels, it was wonderful. It was refreshing to be able to leave the house in a clean shirt spared from the attack of sticky baby fingers. Heck, it was rejuvenating to leave the house, period. My Dad and I never get to spend time alone and I felt so honored at his thoughtful gesture and his wanting to share the experience with me. I had been sharing live theater with my own children for the past 6 years. Although part of me did ache at wanting to bring First Born Son along as I knew he would enjoy the energy and tone of the musical performance, it was nice to engage the perspective of another grown up. And there was a lot of perspective to share. I knew nothing about the premise of the play save for bits and pieces of the musical score. Without giving too much away, the play opens a door to discuss topics related to sexuality- for parents who are attending with their pre-teen or teenage children . At the end of the first act, with the exposure of a female actor's breast on stage- I was certain that  First Born Son would have truly enjoyed this play. Though I might have felt a little bit prudish and covered his eyes with my hand. Who am I kidding? I wanted to cover my father's eyes with my playbill.

It was a fabulous play- heavy and light exactly where it needed to be. And I truly value that time spent with my father, not struggling to produce engrossing items for conversation. Just being there. Present in the moment. Together. And, the best part, was that the father who used to torment me with his teasing- his way of trying to connect with me when I was younger- was tempered. I was expecting, after my experience with the breathing bag mix up at the doctor's office the other day, to at least hear one joke about how it smelled like Old Lady in the car. And, he did not once try to deny his parentage to me and pawn me off as Mr. T's daughter as he did through out my childhood. With April Fool's Day so close, teasing was fair game and he had so many opportunities. It must have hurt him a little to restrain himself. I appreciate it greatly.

Thank you for thinking of me, Dad-and for giving me a new experience. It was the best birthday present ever. Oh, and if Mr. T is my real Dad, then that annoying girl in the row in front of us with the fingernails on a chalkboard voice, is your real daughter. May she talk your ear off.

Happy April Pity the Fool's Day Everyone!