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how much is too much

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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Raising Boys

February 18, 2010

in no manual for parenting

As much as I lament the lack of girl presence in my household, I know I am blessed to have my boys. They tug at my heart even though they bruise my sides sometimes when they roughhouse; They have no control over and are unaware of their own growing limbs.  They are protective of their mother even though I am often the butt of the joke made by them. (“Ha ha. You said Butt!”) They crack me up with their antics even though at least once every day I have to use my most unpleasant voice in order to be heard.

I am a tomboy. Magenta makes me physically ill. I am scared of dolls. It is probably for the better that I do not have girls. (I know I am committing gender stereotyping here. Guilty as charged.) On the other hand, what do I know about boys that equips me with the wisdom and strength to bring them up to become upstanding world citizens?

I know there are many excellent books out there on how to raise boys so they become well-adjusted, whole persons. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, as has been recommended to me when the kids were little, is one of them. I have to admit though, I haven’t read any of these books. I am wary of reading parenting books. It’s probably the aftermath from reading dozens of books trying to teach me the right way to get my babies to sleep through the night and every single one of them failing me. Unfair judgement and gross generalization? Probably so.

That being said, the title of the book Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys has been on my mind ever since I heard about it.

First of all, the title itself is misleading: Not only do we need to make sure we construct an emotional life for them, afterwards, we also need to make sure to nurture and protect it. The premise of the book is that boys have been pressured by this society to be isolated from their emotions, and that it is becoming more and more important, with the increasing violence committed by young men to their peers in mind, to provide our sons with a well-rounded emotional education, to allow them to learn a vocabulary of emotions to express themselves.

As much as I agree with the above statement, the way I see it, this book, and all the other books, failed to ask the first question:

WHY does the emotional life of our boys need to be protected? What does it say about the society we live in?

We need to protect the emotional life of our sons because this society we are bringing them up in is obsessed with an uber macho image of itself. Instead of challenging the hegemony, they simply took it as a given.

Frankly I am tired of this bullshit. This cliche. What defines a man in this country.

We have never told the boys to stop crying because they are boys.

We encourage reading and writing. The appreciation of arts and music.

We allow them to like and own cute stuff. (Thank you to Japanese pop culture which provides ample supplies of cute imagery and items that do not churn one’s stomach).

We allow Mr. Monk to declare that his favorite color is pink. And then purple.

We allow loving rainbows.

We still snuggle with the boys now that they are no longer toddlers.

We have always engaged in frank conversations about our emotions with the boys.

We tell them we love them every single day.

We don’t watch sports on the weekend.

We don’t push them to go outside and play ball with the neighborhood boys.

My husband does not go fishing.

My boys do not play any ball-related sports.

They watched and LOVED ice dancing, realizing what an athletic accomplishment it was.

My oldest is in competitive gymnastics, a sport, frankly, as athletic as it gets, and yet, he gets teased by girls for doing a “girls’ sport”. (Fortunately we have managed to provide him with a well-rounded emotional life that he does not care…)

I know we are considered to be “odd” in the neighborhood, our being an interracial couple aside.

Once when a neighbor dad invited Mr. Monk to his backyard to play football (or some other ball) with all the other boys, Mr. Monk looked him straight in the eye and declared, “I don’t like sports.” He turned around, walked away, and then stooped to pick up a dandelion. The poor man looked dumbfounded. I didn’t allow him a chance to show me his “sympathy”. “I don’t like sports either.” I said nonchalantly as I walked away.

I am tired of how all these experts failed to question what’s defined as properly masculine in the US society.

Why doesn’t anybody wonder WHY it is perfectly okay for a man, any man, say, to wear pink, carry a purse, comb your hair in a European and Asian society? And yet it is a NO NO here in the US of A?

What happened in the relatively short history of the forming of this country that caused this? Surely Andrew Jackson could not have done this single-handedly. Could he?

With this thorn on my back, you could imagine my excitement when I came across a book called Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities. Oh Boy, was I ever! Especially since it has the endorsement of Judith Butler and Tony Kushner, I couldn’t wait to read some scathing argument against the preconceived notion of masculinity and perhaps there would be some explanation on why the American society is so distinct in its homophobic tendency. Yes, it is homophobia, hand in hand with this cultural obsession with machismo. Our men are so concerned with NOT being labeled as gay that they would go to great length to prove otherwise.

I was disappointed yet again.

The author basically preaches the concept that it is ok for boys to behave feminine since some of them do. And it is ok if they are gay since most of the feminine ones turn out to be.

While I agree with 75% of the statement above, I take issue with this automatic equation between Feminine Boys = Gay

Before I go on further, please allow me to invoke “The Seinfeld Disclaimer” first: “Not that there is anything wrong with that!”

The “feminine” tendencies as identified in the book did not trigger my “OMG something is wrong with my kids”-dar at all. Perhaps because I did not grow up in this country and of course, I am not male, I do not have all these nerve endings that automatically warn me against what will inadvertently be taken as “inappropriate boy behavior”. To me, things such as “dislike for sports”, instead of being a label for femininity, should be counted towards individualities and personal quirks.

Who defines what is considered feminine vs. masculine? I am not so progressive as to suggest that donning a woman’s dress is not sufficient enough to identify a male person as “against the norm”. However “simple matters” such as the preference of certain colors (pink), activities (knitting, cooking, arts & crafts) and companions (little boys liking to play house, or other quieter play in general, with little girls) as “signifiers”? We need to stand up and cry foul. The arbitrary, rigid line needs to be challenged.

I try. As they grow older, especially as my first born looking towards entering Middle School after the summer, I fear I may be fighting a losing battle. Soon, as dictated by the reality called Living in the USA, I will need to gear up to protect his emotional life for him as he slips further and further away from his emotional self so that he could be strong enough to face his reality called School Yard.

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Towards a Discussion of Religious Pluralism with a First Grader. Gingerly.

November 20, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet Scene 1 On our way home in the car, the 11 year-old lodged an official complaint against his younger brother for embarassing him in school: He talks about God too much. He said things like, “God created everything” in daily, random conversations, without prompting. On top of that, he also sometimes sports a British […]

24 comments

The Ability to be Oblivious OR Is there a manual for the multicutural world we envision?

June 16, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet Warning: The following text contains ruminations on the color of our skins. If you feel uncomfortable discussing skin colors, wish that people would just stop obsessing over skin colors and go on with their lives, or believe that the insistence on talking about the colors of our skin makes the originator of the conversation […]

I GTalked my kid to ask him what he would like for breakfast today…

May 23, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet As over-thinking, ironically introspective, neurotic, obsessively over-analytical as I am, this incident strikes me as seminal. SEMINAL. Mark it on the calendar. We have all seen those cartoons, parodying the increasing importance of texting in the life of teens and even preteens, showing kids texting each other while sitting next to each other on […]

2 comments

Inside the Chinese palace is full of tragic tales and horror stories…

March 30, 2009 through the looking glass

Tweet The said Concubine Zhen entered the palace when she was thirteen and soon became the Emperor’s favorite. I guess the Emperor’s still-young (according to the modern standard) windowed mother, the Empress Dowager Cixi was not too fond of this fact. There are so many titillating stories about Cixi. I often wonder whether she was […]

Towards the discussion of race with a 6 year-old…

February 11, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet Every day is a trial and error in my effort to bring my kids up the “right” way… Here is an incident happened last month which I have been chewing over and over: My 6 year-old came home excited one day to tell me all about what he had learned at school about MLK, […]

Abraham Lincoln rocked this house last night!

February 10, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet In commemoration of Lincoln’s Bicentennial on February 12, PBS is showing a series of documentaries on Lincoln, both his life and death. Last night, PBS aired the extremely well-made documentary on Lincoln’ death, “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”. Ok, who has heard of a 6-year-old crying because he had to stop watching a documentary […]

“You are not going to heaven because you are a bad mommy.” Religion? Yikes!

January 17, 2009 no manual for parenting

Tweet This was not said in a huff or a tantrum. This was said matter-of-factly, more an observation than an accusation. A conclusion drawn by my 6-year-old because, well, he has noticed that we do not go to church on a regular basis. We are not particularly religious although both of our boys were baptized […]