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guilt is the trip mothers take often

I have learned in my parenting career that the fewer letters there are in a word, the more the potential of it being an extremely difficult concept to explain to your child. Some small words are deceptively simple. Small words with big, heavy baggages.

Mr. Monk used the word “gay” in the bad way the other day.

As soon as he said it, he knew he did something wrong. The air froze. The earth stood still. His brother sucked in his breath and for once, was speechless.

“It’s ok. Mommy’s not mad.” I reached for his hand and walked him upstairs to his room where I could talk to him quietly, without my 12-year-old chiming in whenever I took a breath as if he couldn’t wait to start parenting himself.

“I am sorry. I know I am not supposed to use this word, unless of course I am using it the right way.”

“What is the right way of using the word?”

“Being happy?”

I had to make a split decision at that moment to decide whether I should seize the opportunity to educate him or to prolong this “shielding”. I remembered this excerpt from NurtureShock:

How to raise racist kids?

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.

I decided to talk about what it means to be gay, to not make a big deal out of it, in the most basic manner, especially since we do see a lot of gay characters now on TV and in the movies, for which I am pleased.

We also just finished watching Modern Family in which a gay couple was portrayed just like any other suburban couple in a sitcom.

“You know there are people who are gay right?”

He nodded.

“Do you know what it means that they are gay?

“That they are happy?” Then he chuckled in a way that said he didn’t believe his answer and he was proud at his own wittiness.

“It means that… some people when they grow up, they realize that, well, … Ok.  Instead for a man to have a girlfriend, he has a boyfriend.”

“Oh.”

“And there are women who instead of having boyfriends, you know, they are in love with their girlfriends.”

At this moment as I write, I realized that I didn’t use husbands and wives. Please allow me to explain my oversight as that because I was discusssing the matter of heart and love with him at that moment, I unconsciously used the term boyfriends and girlfriends because that’s what people get when they are in love. Boyfriends and girlfriends.

I crouched down and held onto his shoulders so I could look him in the eyes.

“Did you know that I have friends who are gay?”

He looked surprised.

“I have a friend, a boy, you know, a male friend, he is gay so he has a boyfriend.” I continued. “I also have a very good girlfriend and she and her girlfriend have been together for longer than 10 years!”

“Wow.” At this his eyes widened.

“Yup. I met saw them not too long ago. They look very happy together. Actually I think they get along much better than mommy and daddy. They don’t seem to fight a lot.”

A smile.

“It must be because they are girls!” A lightbulb lit up over his head.

Then he added, quieter now, while looking down at his own feet, “Or, because they don’t have kids?”

Oy, gevalt!

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Makeup

February 21, 2010

in no manual for parenting

1.

Reading the comments people left for my last post, praising me for recognizing and questioning the rigid gender rules, in addition to feeling thankful, I am actually embarrassed. Feeling a bit like a fraud. A hypocrite.

In an ironic way, although I set out to remain anonymous so I can speak my mind on my blog, perhaps I have been putting my best face forward when I am spouting parental wisdoms: For the hours I am composing my posts, I am wise and patient; The rest of the time, I feel my way around in the dark, making horrible mistakes.

Such is the peril (merit) of knowing someone online: s/he is made up of the words they (choose to) publish.

I do struggle with how much I need to compromise on a daily basis because my kids are school-aged and they deal with realities in the school hallways, in the classrooms, on the playground. They are their own people and I no longer live their lives for them.  I feel that it is unfair, selfish even on my part, to allow (encourage?) my children to become social pariahs because of my own philosophical convictions. Because I have a point to make.

I am torn every day between wanting to challenge what pass as gender “norms” and needing to protect them. As some of us have learned the hard way, some mishaps stay with you for the rest of your school career, if not your life.

“Make sure you do not have BO. You don’t want to go down the history as ‘THAT kid with BO’. Once a rumor starts with you having BO, it does not matter whether you have BO, or whether it was just once after the gym class, because you know, you are going to be, yup, you guessed it, ‘THAT kid with BO’!” I warned my oldest, despite much eye-rolling on his part.

2.

The morning after I published the post, feeling pleased with myself. Smug even, I’ll admit.

Fuck you, world! I had declared.

Mom. 1. World. 0.

At breakfast my oldest was leafing through Mr. Monk’s notebook.

“Don’t touch my diary!” Mr. Monk reached over to secure it. (Before you are impressed that he keeps a diary, well, so far, he has only filled out ONE page. And that was a long time ago…)

“But I want to see it!” His brother grabbed a hold of it.

“NO! It’s mine! Don’t look at it!”

“Why can’t I look at it? You are saying I can’t look at it only because I want to look at it now. If I say I don’t want to look at it, you are not going to care!” My oldest, the future lawyer. I believe we have established that before.

“Just don’t touch it. It’s my diary!”

After a few more minutes of heated exchanges, I had chosen to stay out of these occurrences that happen all the friggin’ time throughout the day, my oldest delivered the throwaway punch:

“Fine! Anyway, diaries are for girls!!”

My eyes widened. I could see the steam coming out of my nostrils the mad bull into which those words had transformed me.

“What did you just say?” Disbelief. The first time I heard something like this in my household. An utterance that dared to arbitrarily dictate what a boy is not supposed to do from the mouth of my own child directed at his own brother. Ironic, isn’t it?

“Diaries are for GIRLS! He’s like a girl! Only girls keep a diary!” Words tumbled out with the intention to hurt.

By now no longer a mad bull, I was Fury Herself. “Please shut your mouth right now!” I did not mince words. Did I ever mention that I have a fiery temper?

I went on to drop my oldest off at his band practice (Our lives are full of ironies…)

“Why did you say ‘Diaries are for girls’ to your brother?”

“Because it is true. THEY ARE! And that was 10 minutes ago! Why are you still talking about it?!”

“BECAUSE I don’t want my children to grow up believing in gender stereotypes!” I know I sound ridiculous. But I do talk to my oldest in such a fashion.

“How can that be a stereotype if it is true?!”

“Why is it true? Why do you think it is true? Who gave you the right to say what is for a girl and what is for a boy? Who gave you the right to be spouting such nonsense in my house? How would you like it if someone makes fun of you because of your long hair? That you look like a girl?” I am not proud of myself but I do get carried away when debating against my oldest. Because he’s always so sure of himself, so quick to argue, I often forget that he’s only 11 3/4.

“I DON’T LOOK LIKE A GIRL!”

“How did you feel when some girls laughed at your because you are in gymnastics?”

Pause. True to his heritage as a “Last Word-er” though, he soon retorted, “It’s different!”

“Why is it different? No. I want to know why you think it is different.”

“Just because!” He’s crying now. “Fine! Diaries are for boys too, ok? And what does it matter? He‘s going to be made fun of anyway because he speaks with a British accent!”

Mom. 0. World. 1.

On some days, I just want to surrender, and curl up inside a cozy black cave. Wake me up when they turn 25 please.

3.

After watching me going through my nightly ritual of makeup removal, Mr. Monk asked, “Why do women wear makeup?”

“Because we want to look pretty.”

“So why can’t boys wear makeup?”

I couldn’t think of any legitimate reason other than, “Well, they just don’t.”

Mr. Monk walked away with my powder brush, unsatisfied with my copped-out answer.

Later my husband came in the bedroom, I repeated the question for his benefit, “Yeah… WHY can’t boys wear makeup?”

“Because their fathers will kill them. That’s why.” He summed it up succinctly.

At this moment, Mr. Monk came back to the room and asked his father, “Why can’t I wear makeup?”

“Because I will kill you. Ask Grandpa what he would do if I wore make up. He would kill me too.”

“But Michael Jackson does!” Mr. Monk protested; I looked away, trying hard not to laugh out loud.

My husband retorted, in a tone that signaled end of discussion, “Michael Jackson is dead!”

Thank goodness for dads. That’s what came to my mind as I sneaked away from this land mine of a conversation.

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My mom and dad called last Friday. Actually my mom did. Mom’s always the one that calls. And she always calls around 9 pm when it is the absolutely most friggin’ chaotic in the house. And she always pleads innocence saying she cannot figure out the time difference. And she always asks, “Have you eaten yet?” even after I tell her “It is 9 pm here. Ma!”

“It is cold there now, right? It is freezing here.” My mom says. Every single time during the winter. Did I tell you that they live in Taiwan? A sub-tropical island? The temperature in Taipei was supposed to reach 69 °F that day (as opposed to 36 °F here in Chicago and actually considered to be warm since it is finally above friggin’ freezing…)

“Ma. Sigh. You do know that the weather there has nothing to do with the weather here, right?” I could not bite my tongue and just let this one go.

“But it is really cold here. I bet it feels colder here.” My mom is a “last-worder” too: that’s probably where I got it. Between my husband and myself, my kids are doomed both nature- and nurture-wise. “Do you want to talk to your dad? Oh wait. Your dad wants to talk to you. Actually, he asked me to call you.”

Pleasantly surprised since my dad never wanted to talk to me on the phone, not that he loves me less but because he’s a man, I screamed, “Ba!” (The Chinese word for “Dad”) when my mom handed him the receiver. At 80, my dad is hard of hearing nowadays.

“Have you eaten yet?” He said, without a beat.

Sigh. “Yes. I have.”

“Is it snowing in Chicago because it is really cold here.”

Sigh. “Actually it is warmer today because it is above freezing.”

“Really? That’s something.”

“So… what’s going on? What are you doing today?” I know better than to expect my 80-year-old father to tell me something exciting in his plan for the day.

“Nothing. Just watching TV…. You haven’t called home for a long time. Is your husband still out of the country?”

“Yeah. He’s in Spain this time.”

“That’s what I thought when you didn’t call home for a long time. You must be very busy with the kids then.”

As if on cue, my oldest came to stand by my side and whispered loudly, “Mom. Mom. Mom!”

I glared at him and pressed my point finger to my lips. Ignoring my gesture, he continued,

“Mom! My gum hurts because my tooth here,” he proceeded to open his mouth with both hands so I could see better, “See? It is coming out. My tooth! My gum hurts!”

I turned my back towards him. He did not give up and came around to the other side, “So I need to go see a dentist…”

“Dad. Hold on. Just a sec.” I switched to English to deal with the dental crisis that was not, “Can’t you see I am on the phone with my parents? We’ll talk about this later.”

As if he did not hear what I just said, he switched to a brand new subject, “Mom, we need to pick up my new glasses!”

“I will. Tomorrow! I need to bring you with when we pick up your glasses…” I gritted my teeth.

All this time, Mr. Monk was on the floor pouring sugar into a bowl so he could make crystals according to the science book that he got last November. He never showed interest in the darn book until I was on the phone. Now he was next to me as well,

“Mom. What is a saucer?… Is it this?” He pulled out the biggest pot to show me, making a loud clattering noise.

“NO! That is NOT a saucer. And why do you need a saucer NOW for god’s sake?!” I raised my voice.

Seriously. They were quietly reading at the kitchen table before the phone rang. It just seems that EVERY TIME when I am on the phone, all of a sudden they have urgent information to share, questions to ask, emergencies to deal with. The sky is falling! We need your attention NOW!

I could hear my dad on the other side of the phone line: “It sounds like your children need you. I just want to hear you voice. We’ll talk later.”

“No. Dad!” He hung up before I could protest further. I frantically tried to dial my parents’ phone number. I am not making this up: in order to call my folks, I need to dial 22 friggin’ numbers. That’s right. 22. After the third try, the call finally went through.

“Mom. Is dad there? Could I talk to him?”

“He hung up on you, didn’t he? That man. He always does that. I told him to give me the phone and he said you were busy! Here he is.”

“Dad. You didn’t have to hang up!”

“But you are busy. You should go tend to the children.”

Exasperated now. “No. They can wait. They are not babies any more. They need to learn to be respectful!”

Of course, all this was said in Chinese so my children did not get any benefits from this lecture which explained why at this exact moment, at the same time, my oldest decided to play on a laptop that ran out of power and was struggling to get the power cord out from behind a desk at the risk of toppling everything that was sitting on the desk, and my youngest decided to pour sugar solution (sugar:water 6:1) from a sauce pot into a shallow saucer.

I watched all of it unfold in slow motion, and I could feel myself boiling. I did not even bother to cover the receiver as I exploded.

“WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THAT I AM TALKING TO MY PARENTS? HOW OFTEN DO I GET TO TALK TO THEM? I AM ONLY ON THE PHONE FOR FIVE MINUTES! DID ANYBODY BLEED? IS ANYBODY DYING? NO? THEN DON’T INTERRUPT ME! NOTHING IS THAT URGENT! Go to your rooms NOW! No. Don’t touch anything. Leave that on the floor. Just GO TO YOUR ROOM!”

Switching to Chinese, “I am back. Dad, what were you saying?” I was expecting him to give me another lecture about being more lady-like.

“Whoa. You sounded just like my mother when we were little.” My dad commented.

My grandmother had 14 children. I have never met her, and my dad has not told me much about his mother, that is, he has never really reminisced about his childhood. When I was around, I was too young to ask these questions; now that I am old enough, I am not around enough.

Not sure whether this was something I should defend myself against, I defended my grandmother instead. “Well. There were so many of you. If she did not yell like that, she probably could not keep all of you in check.”

“That’s what I said. You sounded just like my mother.” He chuckled.  “That really reminds me of when I was a kid. We lived on a farm so she could yell like that without disturbing the neighbors.”

Maybe I was just imagining things, but he sounded like he had tears in his eyes when he said again, so quietly this time as if he weren’t talking to me,

“Wow. This really brings back childhood memories.”

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Freedom from Want, Or The Case of the Golden Turkey

November 22, 2009 a picture is worth a thousand words

Tweet Even if you don’t know its name, you must have seen this iconic painting by Norman Rockwell: The name of the painting is Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell in 1943. Ever since its appearance and subsequent permeation into the pop culture and the collective American consciousness, it is also known as Thanksgiving Dinner. […]

23 comments

“How you should behave when you grow up”: a primer for your kids

November 1, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet My 6 year-old, at the end of sugar high, launched into a campaign for something that he thinks my husband and I should offer to him and his older brother. “A program.  A program for ‘How you should be like when you grow up‘,” he said. “Mom.  I think you and daddy should give […]

4 comments

Play the Sad Trombone: I can’t sew to save my life

October 26, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet I visited Sad Trombone just now. Yet again. I am Today’s Failure #8418. My failure today, as a mother: I can’t sew worth a damn. I am not talking about elaborate arts and crafts. I am talking about simple hemming. I failed Home Ec in high school. Or, rather, I cheated otherwise I would […]

15 comments

Sorry mommy can’t come to the school, but don’t grow up and murder people ok?

October 9, 2009 random

Tweet I was reading the article about the so-called Craigslist Killer, Philip Markoff, in Vanity Fair, and like almost everybody, I wanted to find out, perchance through this detailed article, WHY?! Stories like this, a bright young man from a well-to-do family with a seemingly normal upbringing make people especially anxious.  If you cannot explain […]

3 comments

“How to Care for Introverts”

September 29, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet I saw this a couple of weeks ago from a twittie bird on Twitter…  I clicked on the link, expecting it to be a funny, ha ha moment, “tongue in cheek”.  I grew silent as I read the list.  It describes my youngest almost to a T, and for the first time, I was […]

14 comments

Do you feel guilty buying name brand products instead of the cheaper, generic, ones?

July 25, 2009 marketing at work

Tweet Well, I do. Especially after watching the Rosanne episode of Home-Ec where she gave Darlene’s home-ec class a field trip to the grocery store, I’ve always felt quite guilty reaching for the NAME BRAND product instead of the generic, store-brand next to it, the one that is shouting loudly from its display: COMPARE TO […]

3 comments

Mother fail

June 19, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet Mr. Monk (my 6 yo boy) and I got into a fight tonight. The source of it is as always: his need to be close to me whenever we are home. Especially when it is close to bedtime and he’s tired and I am exhausted. I finally lost my marble today and lashed out […]

1 comment