Posts tagged as:

trying to do the right thing


February 21, 2010

in no manual for parenting


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.


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.


“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.


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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Sometimes I wonder whether the teachers talk about the parents amongst themselves. I would probably be known as “Trouble Maker”. My favorite moment was when I confronted approached the principal at the Thanksgiving Feast:

“Could I safely assume that the headpieces the children are wearing are ‘turkeys’ and not ‘head dresses’?” I used the quotation marks and I gave him an “I am just kidding, but only half” look.

“Huh? Ohh. I am sure they are turkeys…” Well, he did not sound so sure. He sounded surprised. I was surprised that HE was surprised. You mean, nobody else but me wondered about THAT? Anyway, he’s been put on notice and he seems scared to see me ever since. I can hear him inside his head, “Oh. For crying out loud. What now?!” Fortunately for all of us, I work full-time and I hardly ever go to school.

Today I wrote an email* to my 6-grade-son’s teacher:

Dear Mrs. G,

D told me yesterday about Heather’s big birthday party bash. She has apparently invited the whole class to her house from 2 to 8 pm. It sounds like it is going to be an awesome party. The IT party of their childhood before they go off onto Middle School.

Being a pain in everybody else’s neck, I asked D whether all seven girls in the class actually do hang out with each other.

“Does anybody get left out? You know, it’s going to hurt a lot if one of them gets left out seeing how few girls you have in your class.”

I don’t know why. Nobody gave me the job of being purveyor of social justice. Like I said, I am just a pain. Probably born that way. I am sorry… Really. I am. Because I make troubles whenever I send you an email.

At my question, D paused and said, “Well, she sort of invited the whole class. Except one.”

“What? Who?” But I already knew the answer, based on things D has told me in the past.

“Charles Wu was not invited.”

“And she gave out the invitations to everybody else in class? Does Charles know about this?”

D’s eyes turned red.  “Yeah. I think he knows.”

“We play with Charles during recess and we are nice to him.” He continued, his eyes getting redder. “I guess all that is just skin deep…”

I am not writing to ask you to talk to Heather about any of this. On the contrary. It will probably worsen Charles’ status on the food chain. Besides, if she is indeed forced to include Charles, I shudder at the thought of what’s going to happen to him at the party. Probably nothing. Exactly nothing. Nobody would talk to him or play with him. Indifference is the most hurtful thing one human being can do to the other.

I am writing, in addition to me being a pain, to let you know the situation in case Charles seems down lately. I am sure you have seen THIS many many times in your years of teaching. So please tell me I am making too big a deal out of this. (Yeah, I know. I wish I did not read Lord of the Flies either…) Please tell me that they all survive, that they all walk out of this unscathed. But I know, I never forget what happened to me in elementary school. And it still hurts because nobody talked to me about it when it was happening.


* Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Just in case.

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The Golden Rule

January 16, 2010 no manual for parenting

Tweet I can’t remember exactly what started us discussing the Golden Rule at the dinner table. Probably had something to do with the constant bickering between the two of them. “Remember the Golden Rule? What is the Golden Rule?” I wheedled. “I know: it’s something like ‘Love thy neighbors’.” My oldest has the knack of […]


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. […]


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 […]


Got Pigtail? Ugh. Halloween Costume Conundrum

October 31, 2009 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Tweet Every Halloween, we saw news reports and editorial comments on offensive costumes du jour.  What I call Halloween Costume Conundrum. HCC. This year, the HCC award went to Illegal Alien: It was such a brouhaha partly because, in my opinion, it was sold through Target’s website.  Target, the one mega store that does not […]


“What are you?” OMG, a form I could fill out wihout having to choose!

October 11, 2009 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Tweet My children are, in the common lingo, “mixed”.  Or, if they want to be hip when they grow up and get into identity politics, they can call themselves Hapa, or, indeed, whatever the hack they want.  If they want to call themselves a mutt, the way Prez. Obama did, fine with me too. But […]


“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 […]


“A Class Divided”: Powerful experiment on how Racism can be learned, and in 15 minutes

September 23, 2009 this i believe

Tweet Some of you may know about this already, since this Frontline documentary was first aired in 1985. I have only heard about the “Blue-eyed vs. Brown-eyed” experiment done by a daring 3rd-grade teacher, but I have never actually seen the documentary until today.  Through Twitter, of course.  There is something to be said about […]