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Monthly Archives: December 2012

I have a weird relationship with marriage.

I’m not very fond of it, as an institution.  While I personally like the idea of staying with one person and growing old together, I am certain of two things – lifelong monogamy is just not everyone’s cup of tea, and for those who do want it the chances of actually finding a compatible lifelong partner are fairly slim.  Therefore, I don’t understand the common assumption that everyone should get married. It’s strange to me that it is so universally expected.  So much so that if you’re over 35 years old and you say you are getting married, instead of people saying “oh, congratulations, that’s great” they are more likely to say “it’s about time!”  Seriously?!?  Like you should have done it earlier?  Whether you were ready to or not, whether you had met the right person or not?

That’s ridiculous.  It causes people to get their priorities all mixed up.  Instead of meeting people and living life and doing things and being pleasantly surprised if they meet someone who they want to marry, so many people seem to want to get married and THEN go looking to find someone to marry.  That’s backwards, if you ask me.

Then there is the fact that the government is invested in people getting married.  Tax incentives – really?  Why?  Two people together sharing space and belongings live more cheaply than the two people would living by themselves – so why do they need a tax break for it?  I guess it’s like tax incentives for solar panels – supposed to be better for the country as a whole if people get them, so tax breaks are an incentive.  But there are two problems with that when it comes to marriage, as far as I can see:  one is that the government can set rules on who can get married (while they don’t tell you who can get solar panels), and the other is that so many problems are caused by the dissolution of marriages that should never have happened in the first place.

Instead of all this assumption that everyone should get married (unless they are gay, in which case people for some bizarre reason think they should NOT), and incentives for doing so…  shouldn’t we be thinking that the idea of pledging to spend THE REST OF YOUR FRIKKIN’ LIFE with someone is a REALLY BIG DEAL and maybe not for everyone?  Also maybe none of the government’s business?

So anyway, long and short of it is I have never put a lot of stock in marriage, personally.  I always figured I could live with someone my whole life without getting married and it would be fine with me.

But here I am, married.  You’re wondering why, I suppose.  Well, my live-in boyfriend, father of my son, man who I love, co-owner of my house got laid off and needed health insurance – so we walked over to the courthouse.  Two weeks later when he got a job with health coverage, I asked him if he wanted a divorce, and he said it wasn’t necessary.

We’re so romantic.

As someone who doesn’t care a lot about marriage, I also could generally not give a flying fig about engagement/wedding RINGS.  I’m not a jewelry type person in general.  Diamonds are shiny rocks – basically expensive sequins to my mind.  I do not understand the fascination exhibited by so many female humans for these trinkets, the magnitude of the world trade in shiny rocks, and the monetary value placed on them.

So combine my feelings about marriage with my feelings about diamond rings, and you can see that it is really hard for me to drum up the expected squealing response when a woman holds our her hand to show off her new engagement ring.  About all I can manage is something along the lines of “Well, that certainly is shiny.  I hope you will be very happy.”

Engagement rings are bizarre to me because [1] they can be given years before the people want to actually get married, [2] in heterosexual couples, only the woman wears one, which strikes me as odd in so many ways, [3] they are “given” by the man to the woman and yet, if I understand correctly, the woman often picks it out or exchanges it for one she really wants (how rude!), [4] they are a promise to make a promise, which makes no sense (“I swear that I will swear to love you forever… later” – WTF?), and finally [5] they are flashier than the actual wedding ring, what’s up with that?

Then there’s the wedding ring, the symbol of your undying love.  Which in movies is forever being thrown back at people, taken off in bars, lost down drains to great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and used as a sign of being “unavailable”.  I have always cringed at the idea of wearing one myself – always preferred the idea of a tattoo on my ass instead.  A more personal expression of my intention of being in love forever.

So, what happened yesterday?  After being legally married for a couple of years?

I was given an engagement ring.  By my mother.

She had given me her wedding ring a couple of years ago, when I told her of my aforementioned courthouse nuptials.  I never wore it, partly because of my general “eh” feelings about wedding rings, partly because it’s a little on the large side and I didn’t want to lose it and never got around to taking it in to be resized.

Now she gave me the engagement ring that my late father gave her in 1956.

It is very pretty.  Very shiny.  Makes a nice flash in the sun.  Makes my hand look weird, like someone else’s – some woman who holds her hand out to show off her rings.

I’m wearing it, and the wedding band, on my middle finger.  Partly because they are still a little too big for my ring finger.

Partly because I am a ornery woman who wants people to be confused when they see the rings – to think “they look like engagement and wedding rings, but they are on the wrong finger – what does it MEAN?”

I showed the engagement ring to my boy Alex, and I told him that some day when he’s a man if he wants to marry someone, he can give her this ring and ask her to marry him.  I told him that he doesn’t ever have to get married at all, though, of course.

My son, who has apparently inherited his parents’ overly romantic nature, said “Well, after you’re dead, I can keep it around, in case I change my mind and want to get married.”

When Friday’s expected apocalypse did not happen, our 12-year-old and 5-year-old amused themselves by making up this apocalyptic tale:

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Rainbows came down from the sky, and beautiful multi-colored ponies slid down the rainbows.

The ponies pooped gold coins, and so the humans loved them.

The ponies pooped a lot of gold coins.  With so much gold around, money ceased to have any value at all, and everyone basically reverted to bartering goods.

But it wasn’t long before there were no goods to barter.  You see, the ponies pooped too much gold, and they wouldn’t stop.  Soon the earth was covered in gold coins.  The coins crushed the plants, clogged up the streams, and made it impossible for animals to find food.

At first, humans ate the dying animals that covered the land.  When those were becoming scarce, humans started hunting and eating the rainbow ponies – which, as it turned out, were delicious.

All of the strict vegetarians died.  The remaining carnivorous humans lived on rainbow pony meat.

But the pony meat had bad effects on the people who ate it.  Over time, the people lost their wits and became rather stupefied, turning into zombie-like creatures.

As the zombies walked, their feet dragging through the coins made a jingly-jangly sound.

It was the prettiest, jingly-jangliest apocalypse ever.

THE END.

I hesitated to write about what happened on Friday.  I am still not going to write about it.  But I am going to write a little about the national response to it.  Not the call for gun control changes or mental health care – I’ll let other people argue those.  I’m going to write about “collective grief” and people who are paralyzed by fear after seeing the news story.

There is a wonderful episode of “Rescue Me” where Dennis Leary’s character (a firefighter who was at the World Trade Center and lost his cousin there) goes to a support group for survivors of 9-11.  All these people in the group are talking about how traumatized they are, how they can’t get back to their normal lives, how they are scared every time they hear a loud noise, whatever…  and eventually the firefighter realizes that NONE of the people in the support group except him were actually at the towers that day.  Some weren’t even in the country.

I don’t like hearing people say “this tragedy happened to us all”.  Not true.  We can all be horrified by the news, we can imagine how terrible it must be for the families of those lost, and we can feel the noose around our hearts when we think of such a thing happening to our children.  But it did not happen to all of us.  We are okay.  Those of us who were not there (and are not related to those who were) do not deserve to moan about how terrible it was and how scared we are.

I have heard a lot of people say they are afraid to send their children to school now.  Seriously, are they afraid that someone is going to walk in and shoot their children?  Do you realize that there is about as good a chance of that as of an elderly person confusing the gas for the break and mowing your family over at the Farmers’ Market?  That our children are more at risk of dying when we are driving them down the freeway to a weekend at a snow cabin than when they are at school?  Children are vulnerable – they are vulnerable every single place they go, from the corner park to the gym to the neighbor’s backyard to their very own bathtubs.  But we can’t let ourselves live in terror, or we’ll never let them do anything, let them get socialized, let them learn from their mistakes, let them grow up.

Social events were canceled on Friday.  Social events for children far across the country from where the tragedy happened.  Is it because we think it is disrespectful to have fun when someone else has been hurt?  We can’t live like that, because we would NEVER be allowed to have fun.  Every single day, children die horrific deaths in fires, car accidents, beatings, falls – and we still have our parties.  I cried when I saw the news that day, but I really wished my little boy could have still joined his school for the movie night that he had been waiting for and talking about all week.

“Collective grief” has become popular.  There is the grief of the surviving family members – that is VERY real.  There is a collective grief of the community where the shooting happened – that many families in a small area being affected by such a tragedy has to have repercussions throughout the community, and that is the level where people know the families and know how to offer them help and support.  I don’t think the rest of the country has the right to claim some kind of national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over what happened.

But then, a lot of people think I’m cold.

So often when I hear parents these days talk about how they get their children to behave, it just sounds passive-aggressive to me.

I live in California, so it may be that I am seeing/hearing more of this crap than people in other parts of the country.

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about:

– People who don’t say “No!” to their children.  When my boy was a toddler at a store with me, a woman near me told her little girl repeatedly to “please stop” pulling things off the shelf, and then she actually said to me “We’re trying to avoid using the n word, it’s so negative”.  Seriously, she said that.  Well, gee, lady, I don’t think “nigger” is appropriate language to use with a toddler, either – but what does that have to do with this situation?!?  But anyway, if you use “please stop” to mean “no”…  it just ends up meaning the same as “no”.  Honestly, if you have a problem with the word “no” being negative, you’re missing the entire point.  You use negative feedback to stop undesired behavior.  Positive feedback to reward good behavior.  The negative feedback MUST, by definition, be negative.  Otherwise, you’re just a bribing, begging, toothless pushover.

– Someone once told me that I had “humiliated and embarrassed” a little boy when I was helping coach a soccer team.  I had picked him up under my arm, carried him to the sidelines, and sat him down.  He had been hitting other kids (kids smaller than himself) in the head with the ball while waiting in line for a drill, and had not stopped when I told him to.  “Humiliated and embarrassed”?  He SHOULD feel humiliated and embarrassed.  He was being a jerk.  Jerks should be humiliated and embarrassed – done at a young and impressionable enough age, maybe it will help them STOP BEING JERKS.  But these days a lot of people think you should just ignore bad behavior and eventually it will go away.  They think that left on their own, kids will naturally stop bad behavior – that it’s always just some “phase” the kid is trying out.  Yes, kids have phases – but you know what?  You can make some of those phases very short with a little humiliation and embarrassment.

– Every child should have the opportunity to experience and practice self-direction.  Time to play as they want to, time to figure things out on their own, time to experiment with their surroundings and their abilities…  but it’s gotten ridiculous lately!  So many people seem to think that giving your children commands and expecting them to be obeyed is barbaric.  Instead you are supposed to ASK them in an overly gentle, wheedling tone to do something.  So you hear parents in the park saying “Don’t you think it’s time to go home now?  Aren’t you getting hungry?  How about we go home now – we can have ice cream at home, won’t that be nice?  Do you want to do that?”  Makes me grind my teeth.  Pay close attention at a park, school, or birthday party and you’ll notice that even those sentences that are otherwise phrased as commands almost always end up with a question (and thus the option of refusal) at the end:  “We have to go home now, okay?”  “Let your brother have the ball now, alright?”  “Come over here, will you?”  Sometimes I want to just stand up in a room full of moms and dads and yell “Christ almighty, people, grow a pair and tell your kids what to do!”

– I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard a mother say something along the lines of “you have to make him think it’s his idea”.  You want to play that game?  Really?  What happens when it’s something urgent and important, and you don’t have time to play manipulative mind games?  Isn’t it just plain exhausting to be so manipulative, instead of just saying you want something done and having it done?  It’s quicker and easier to say “Get in the car.  Now”, and have the kid get in the car, rather than cajoling and negotiating.  Think how much time you’d have for other things if you didn’t have to do all that mind-game shit.

– Strangely enough, while all these people walk around unwilling to give their children simple basic commands, they are often also controlling every moment of the kids’ lives.  The manipulation is constant for some parents.  A never-ending chain of simpering suggestive questions, guiding every social interaction and play experience.  I prefer to let my kids be pretty free-range, playing as they like with whom they like, roaming pretty far from me as long as I know where they are, getting themselves bruised, making mistakes – a “don’t sweat the small stuff” approach.  They know the rules and boundaries, and if they break them they get a quick and clear reaction – if they stay within the rules and boundaries, they have great freedom.

All this modern parenting reminds me of how women in my mom’s generation (and some young women now) talk about controlling a man by “making him think it’s his idea”.  Which at least makes logical sense if there is an imbalance of power in the relationship – as the less powerful person physically, financially, socially, etc. sometimes passive-aggressive manipulation is the only way to get what you want or need.

But parents are supposed to have the power in the parent/child relationship, so there’s no excuse for this manipulative BS.

And if you take a larger perspective than your child’s immediate happiness, you may realize this:

Treating a child so passive-aggressively his whole young life may turn out someone who can not handle honest communication in any relationship.  Is he going to have to find a partner who never says what she wants, just plays mind games to manipulate him?  If you never tell your child what to do, how are you preparing him for the work force?  Do you think his boss is going to take the time to make him think it’s his idea to mop the floor, or stock the shelves, or serve the customers?  After about preschool, are his teachers going to?  Are the police going to?

Wow, another crazy spam email with something I must run out and buy for every mother or expectant mother that I know:

It’s that time of year again and the holiday hustle and bustle is well underway. This means more trips to the mall, to other stores, to family’s homes, etc. Increased travel with a baby or toddler is not easy when you feel like you are packing everything except the kitchen sink every time you have to leave the house with your little one. As two busy moms we understand that leaving home with baby/toddler is a lot of work and that’s why we invented a 6-in-1 baby blanket and cover that eliminates the need to buy, pack and carry the long list of bulky, single purpose items.

Parents can now pack and carry only ONE single baby item that is ACTUALLY six items in one. The mom/nurse invented XXXXXXX is a 6-in-1 baby blanket cover that saves time, money and space while making daily life and holiday travel with baby quick, easy, and germ-free for parents/caretakers where ever they need to go. Eliminating the need to buy bulky single purpose items which can cost between $75-$225 (conservatively), this new travel must have is used as a:

1)  Car seat “tent” cover

2) Shopping cart cover

3) Highchair cover

4) Nursing cover

5) Stroller cover

6) Playtime blanket

Leaving home with a baby is “a lot of work”.  Sigh.  Yeah, right up there with coal mining, that’s for sure.

I know that I used to pack a car seat cover, shopping cart cover, highchair cover, nursing cover, stroller cover, and play blanket every time I went grocery shopping with my infant.  Oh, wait a minute, I didn’t.  My baby had eyelids, I wasn’t afraid of shopping cart germs, my shirt was enough nursing cover, I didn’t have a stroller, and my baby could play on the grass.

But if you are interested, I do have a product that can serve those six important functions for you.  It’s called a bath towel.

 

So I got a spam email yesterday that had me howling.  Here it is, with the names edited out (as I do not know the legality of quoting spam and ripping it to shreds).

XXXXXX, Founder of XXXXXXX, invented the XXXXXXX to help moms feel more prepared and less stressed when that special time comes to have a baby. XXXXX felt overwhelmed and confused on what to pack in her hospital bag during her first pregnancy in August of 2007. There were long lists out there, but all of them had different things on them. Some people brought birthing balls, boom boxes, aromatherapy massage oils, as well as the clothes for themselves and their baby. Not only asking herself what to pack, she asked when to pack? And should she live out of a suitcase for a week or month until her due date?

“To answer these questions and as an easy solution, after her daughter was born, she came up with the idea of the XXXXXXX, an all-in-one bag, pre-packed with the “essentials” she wanted and needed.

Now, seriously.

Overwhelmed and confused?  Overwhelmed!?!?  It’s a one or two night hospital stay.  They GIVE you clothes (of sorts) to wear while you are there.  My five-year-old can pack a bag for two nights away!  You need clothes to leave the hospital in, some books or handheld games or crafts to fill the idle hours, a blanket for the baby (a bath towel will do fine),  a couple of onesies, a few newborn diapers, and several of the biggest maxi-pads you can buy.  Done.  I can understand having to consider a couple of other things you might want, debating something for a few minutes, or changing your mind…  but if you truly feel OVERWHELMED by this task, I don’t see how you manage to function in the world.

Long lists out there – yes, I’m sure there are.  When I was pregnant, the lists of things that people told me I needed to buy or do before the baby came out of me were extensive and unrealistic.  You don’t NEED a special nursery room painted with adorable animals.  You don’t NEED a U-shaped pillow thingy to rest your baby on while it nurses.  You don’t NEED a diaper pail – any trash can with a lid will do.  You don’t NEED a stroller (unless you have twins or triplets) – babies are very portable and not very heavy.  You don’t even NEED a crib – someone gave me one, and I ended up giving it away because the $30 foldable port-a-crib worked better for me.  If you want all that stuff, go ahead and get it – but please don’t tell everyone that they are necessary.

If you think your “birth experience” (a term I find ridiculous for reasons I may get into another time) is going to be ruined because you don’t have the right aromatherapy oil, I’ve got news for you – your birthing experience is probably going to smell like feces, urine, and blood.  It’s BIRTH, for gods’ sake!

Live out a suitcase for a week or a month – what the hell is she talking about?  I know she mentioned long lists, but did any of them suggest she put all of her worldly belongings into the bag to take to the hospital?  We’ve all moved to a new home, and experienced a period of time where we had only our minimal necessities out where we could get to them and everything else was packed up in boxes…  this is exactly the opposite situation – you just have to put a few necessities in a bag.

What I see is an incompetent, high-maintenance drama queen trying to convince other women that they are also incompetent and that she can save them.  I wouldn’t trust this woman to save me from a paper bag.

There are a few conversations that I have had with my boy Alex over the years that just must be written and remembered.

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When Alex was three years old, he wanted to be on a soccer team so badly that I relented and signed him up for a season at The YMCA.  It turned out to not be fun for him at all – he liked practicing, but hated anything like an actual game, where people try to take the ball away from you (how rude!).  But it did get us this great story:

There was a boy on the team who had long hair.  Beautiful, wavy long hair.  He wore it in a ponytail way high up near the top of his head.  I have had plenty of male friends with long hair, but even I totally thought there was a girl on the team until I heard his parents referring to “him”.

Well, over the month or so that Alex was on the soccer team, I absolutely could not convince him that this other kid was a boy.  I’d tell him “He’s a boy, but he has long hair.”  “NO, he’s a girl.”  “His parents told me he’s a boy.”  “NO, he’s a girl.”  “Some girls have short hair, some boys have long hair – he is a boy.”  “NO, he’s a girl!”

Finally, I gave what I thought was a fool-proof argument:  “Alex, that kid has a PENIS.  He is a BOY.”

Alex cocked his head at me and walked away.  Five minutes later, he came back to me, put his hands on his hips, and said:

“It’s a GIRL penis!”

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I remember when Alex was learning to use the toilet on his own, and he would always come running out of the bathroom to proudly announce what he had done.

One day he came running out into the dining room and yelled “I have a HUGE penis!”, so full of pride.

Then he looked over at me.  I must have had an odd look on my face (really it was me trying not to laugh hysterically, and thinking about what to say next), because suddenly he looked sorry and sad.

He walked over and gently touched my arm, and said in a comforting tone, “Mommy, your penis is a little bit big.”

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It’s not always about penises, really.

There was a period of time when Alex was about three when his favorite game to play with me was for him to lie on the livingroom floor and wiggle around and say “I’m a worm!  I’m a worm and I’m HUNGRY!”, and my job was to throw pretend food to him.

“Here’s a rotten peach!”

“Ooh, yummy!  Num, num, num, num…”

“Here’s some moldy bread!”

“Yay!  Num, num, num,  num…”

“Here’s some squishy old fish meat!”

“Oh, boy!  Num, num, num, num…”

Freak.

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Then occasionally there is the conversation that is memorable, not for being funny, but for being a little disturbing:

Sometimes Alex likes to sit on the toilet and have long conversations with me while I lay in the bathtub.  I guess I’m kind of a captive audience then.

One day as I bathed, he asked me for the hundredth time why I don’t want to have any more babies, and I explained for the hundredth time that he and his brother are enough kids for me, and I’m just done with babies.

“Well, Mom, what if I marry someone and she doesn’t want to have babies?”

“That can be a big problem.  Before you get married, you have to talk a lot about these things, and if you still really want babies you shouldn’t marry someone who really doesn’t.  But of course, sometimes people change their minds later.”

[long, thoughtful silence]

“Mom?”

“Yes, Hon?”

“Sometimes does a man try to MAKE a woman have a baby?  And then they fight?  And the man says ‘You will HAVE a BABY!’ and men are usually stronger than women, aren’t they?”

Wow, I thought, did that all just come out of my four year old’s brain from scatch, or has someone been telling him stories?  Either way, it’s creepy.

“Sometimes, Alex – but that’s really bad.  Don’t do it.”

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And then, there are the one-liners that just have me laughing out loud every time I remember them:

When a house plant was leaking water – “Oh, no.  Mom, you better call a plumber.”

“I love you, Mom.  I’ll even love you when I’m a man and you’re dead.”

When he sees kids misbehaving and he says “Mommy, you should spank them.”

When he walked up to a little girl on the sidewalk and sang to her, loudly: “All I know is that to me, you look like a lot of fun, open up your loving arms, WATCH OUT, here I come!”

One day when I was washing dishes, he said that someone had told him there was a machine that washes dishes.  “But that’s just silly.”  I told him there really are such machines, and we actually have one down in the basement that we have never used.  His eyes got huge, and he glanced at the door to the basement.  “In the BASEMENT?  Really?!?  It’s like a ROBOT?”

And the very rebellious “When I grow up, and I’m a man, I’m going to have kids, and WE are going to go to CHURCH!”

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Before I had them around, I just had no idea how funny kids are.  Sure, I’d seen them say funny things to Bill Cosby on the tv…  but I didn’t know they were so hysterical in real life.