Before I had children, I believed that gender was a construction and that the ways in which boys and girls relate to the world, design their play, react to stimuli, and spend their growth energies had more to do with nurture than nature.
Boys, I knew, could play with dolls and nurture just as girls could play with trucks and be rough and loud and scatalogically amused. These are equally true of men and women.
My first son bore out this hypothesis, adoring ladybugs and glitter, talking incessantly, and nursing his dolls.
My second son tends toward trucks, physical over verbal games, and enjoys rough play way more than I ever thought possible.
They both like pink, dancing, and music, though. So we spend a fair number of hours leaping around the living room. For science.
Yesterday both boys had earned new ballet slippers (by growing, not by any particular behavior; I’m trying not to base our family’s existence around rewards and discipline) and put on their leotards for a dance party. After I helped the little guy into his, I went to the kitchen to get something and heard:
“Now that you have your leotard on, try to hit me.”
I reminded everyone that dancing in our house means hands to yourself. (I’m thinking very clearly with every parenting choice about the rules we’ll have in high school, so dancing with hands to yourself starts now, with your brother. Otherwise, Kevin Bacon wins.)
“Okay okay, okay,” my oldest reassured me.
“Butter. Use your ballet slippers to try to kick me.”
I’ve spent a lot of time during my life with a lot of ballerinas, from tiny rec center trainees to honest-to-goodness professional metropolitan company members. And I have heard a lot of sentences begin with “Now that you have your leotard on…” and “Use your ballet slippers to try to…” but these particular hitting and kicking constructions are new to me.
Let me note the obvious caveat about sample size and repeatability of results. None of this is enough for an actual hypothesis yet.
But the evidence is leaning me toward a “ballerinos are an entirely different group of artists” theory.
A few weeks ago I read Carinn Jade’s post about gratitude. She has lovely things to say about teaching children to think about their lives in perspective, to teach ourselves to find the bright side by living in thoughtful meditations on gratitude.
After reading it, I
decided I’m a terrible parent appreciated the reminder that I should be focusing the family on gratitude. We have always, every night, talked about what each person’s favorite and most challenging parts of the day were. We’ve used it as a way to learn evaluative skills and to hear how other people address challenges.
But other than Thanksgiving, we don’t spend a lot of time using the words grateful and thankful. I’m rather embarrassed about that, because I know full well that reflecting upon that which makes life wonderful creates a cycle in which gratitude makes us see events and people in a better light, which makes us more grateful. I’ve been reading Secrets of Successful Families and Raising Happiness, and both point me in the same direction Jade’s post did: get everyone in the family thinking about life’s gifts, and appreciate them together. It helps.
So we started. I intended to circle the gratitude wagons at dinner, but meals are a reasonably raucous time of “please don’t call each other buttface,” and “please don’t call each other poopface, either,” and “please eat the food or leave it on the plate; food is not a toy,” and “yes, you can have more, but please finish what you have first,” and “did you say that to make him feel good?”, “dear gawd am I ever going to eat more than two bites without someone asking me for something?” moments.
But I finally remembered to ask what the boys are grateful for as we walked to school.
I told them I am grateful I have three wonderful guys in my house to see every day.
Peanut, who is seven, said he is grateful for friends.
Butter, the three-year-old, said he is grateful for cake. If I’d thought of it, I might have started there, too.
I said I am grateful for the way Spring smells and feels and shines.
Peanut said he is grateful that we have enough money to live in a house.
Butter said he doesn’t want to do this any more.
I said I’m grateful we have so much wonderful family to visit and play with.
Peanut said he’s grateful for tigers and leopards and he wants to try to save them.
I judge myself pretty harshly, readers, about the job I’m doing parenting because my kids fight a lot and Spouse and I are not patient enough. But it seems to me that if my seven year old is grateful for friends, his home, and his place in the world, I’m doing an okay job. A genuinely okay job.
And I’m grateful for that.
Butter has an announcement he’s been pushing through various media sources.
I am not his grownup.
This is generally only an issue he presses when I want to tell him something, ask him something, or remind him of something.
Me: Butterbean, what do you want for breakfast?
B: Mommy! You not my growmup!
Me: Butter, please hold hands.
B: Mommy! You not my growmup!
Me: Butter, time for bath.
B: Mommy, you ‘toopid. You not my growmup!
(I have not mentioned to him yet that it sounds as though he thinks that grownups are secretly one part adult and one part muppet. Because then I’d have to introduce muppets.)
I asked him who is, in fact, his growmup.
“Nothing. No whobody.”
I will keep you apprised of his ongoing campaign for independence and emancipation, scheduled to run from now until about the time he’s 22 and graduating with a dual degree in Theater and Public Policy.
Are you weary after the past week? Between Boston, Texas, Washington, and Watertown, I’m weary. And deeply sad.
Last Monday I vowed I would not use my phone at all. My son and I played all morning, and the phone rang. It was my mom, calling to tell me about the breaking news.
I couldn’t stop reading news on my phone. Text messages and Twitter and The Globe; I spent more minutes than I’d like to admit ignoring my child at the playground so I could scan through the news, cry, and scan through again. It wasn’t in vain, though. When a dad at the playground saw me crying he asked if I was reading about Boston. I told him I was. He said his brother was a volunteer at the finish line and that nobody could get a hold of him. I checked my Twitter feed and gave that sweet neighbor (who was doing a damned fine job of calmly and mindfully playing with his son while he wondered about his brother) the number to call and the Google site to check for his brother’s name. I let him use my phone because his had no service.
Then the breaking news of West, Texas. I saw the tragic story on Twitter before the television announced breaking news. My heart stopped when the Breaking News silence stopped whatever trivial crap we were watching, and I said aloud to Spouse, “Please, gods, no more breaking news.” I had already gasped at the Tweets and told him what they knew about the explosion in Texas, so we were sad and scared but not shocked. Until we saw the video of the blast. I’m so sorry for your pain and fear and losses, West, Texas.
Then Thursday, just before bed, after fuming very vocally about the disgusting cowardice of the United States legislature where representatives are supposed to vote, not just avoid taking a stand one way or the other, I checked Twitter. Manhunt in Boston. Young police officer dead. Chase and gunfight on a Watertown street I’ve been on dozens of times and that I still associate with love and peace. I stayed up almost all night watching reporters talk about the scared people near my improv and stand-up comedy home at MIT, the scared people right near a dear friend’s former house, and scared people all over the town whose hearts had broken a few days before.
Residents in Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge and the Alston Brighton neighborhoods of Boston are advised to stay in doors.
— MEMA (@MassEMA) April 19, 2013
— Christine Harkin (@naptimewriting) April 19, 2013
The heartwrenching, terrifying, “Dear Heavens, let everyone be okay” kind. The kind it’s so important to watch that the next day doesn’t feel like tired. It doesn’t feel like anything but shellshock.
It helped a bit to read things like this from The Onion.
But something really helped me last week, as I read and sobbed and wiped my eyes so I could read more.
Mr. Rogers helped me.
Before I read the lovely, hopeful letter from Patton Oswalt, someone in my feed Retweeted a quote from Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And thus began my effort all week to look for the helpers.
Like this guy.
BPD Officer delivers milk to a family with young children in Watertown during the lockdown.. twitter.com/Boston_Police/…
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 21, 2013
And these guys
And the thousands who opened their homes to sad, scared runners
— Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc) April 15, 2013
And even these guys
After a dark week, here are some baby animals to cheer you up.blog.sfgate.com/hottopics/2013…
— SFGate.com (@SFGate) April 21, 2013
So in honor of Mr. Rogers, my good friend and neighbor Mr. Rogers, I’m going to spend this week being kind to every I see, and teaching my kids about the helpers.
(Below are some more, upbeat, old school Mr. Rogers for you. If you’re anything like me, watch one or two alone first, so you can cry big old fat tears for the really good people in this world.)
In my pre-kids life I ran a lot. I loved triathlons and competed regularly, in part because each time I trained for a marathon, I got a stress fracture.
My doc said it was time to take up swimming or cycling. So I did both.
Four times I trained. Four times I’d done a long run around 22 miles. Four times I had bone scans that showed rapid bone repair suggestive of a fracture.
So I gave up on marathons.
And after kids, I gave up on racing entirely.
But ever since Monday’s horror, I want to earn that blue and yellow jacket I keep eyeing on Spouse’s side of the hall tree. I want to wear a BAA T-shirt until it has holes and embarrasses my kids. I want to wear the logo now so intensely I can’t stand it.
I’ll train to see if I can qualify, which would require a 3:45 marathon this year. If I can do that, run 26.2 miles at an 8:34 pace (which is a stretch, considering my fastest 10K was 48:00 and my half-marathon pace was a comfortable 9:00), then I’m running Boston next year.
I’ve tried being one of the tens of thousands who stand on the side and cheer their guts out for hours and hours. It’s awesome.
But it gets dizzying, watching all those runners go by. I was almost seasick, by the end of the two races I supported.
So I’m going to try it the other way this time.
Either way, I will be in that city next Patriot’s Day. I stand with Boston and I will do my best to run in Boston.