Dad reads

After some research and web chatter focused on how dads are less involved in encouraging their kids to read –  and reading with their kids -the Good Men Project has started a social media campaign called Dads Read to encourage fathers to read to their children (and celebrate the dads that already do). The website doesn’t cite any of this research or web chatter, but that’s ok. First of all, nationally speaking, fathers spend about half as much time as moms on childcare related work in families with two working parents. This is according to a Pew study done in 2013 that seems to assume all two parent families have one  mother and one father. I am not sure what the statistics look like in queer families. SDT-2013-03-Modern-Parenthood-04So it makes sense that fathers are probably also spending less time reading to their kids than moms are. I also don’t really care that the Good Man Project doesn’t have any citations because I think that encouraging parents of both genders to read to their children (and celebrating book culture in families) is a good idea regardless of the numbers on the ground

Without further ado, my contribution to #DadsRead:

On Beyond Zebra

Floob is for Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs

I generally consider myself a mother, rather than a father, so to celebrate Father’s Day here is a lovely picture of my husband reading On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss to our two-year-old son.

 

 

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Glittery Dinosaurs and Pink Mittens

I’m standing in line at Sullivan’s Pharmacy waiting to pick up a prescription. My two year old is sitting in a chair nearby and the new baby is strapped to my chest. One of the women behind the counter says, “Look, its our little buddy! Isn’t he adorable?”

I like living in a neighborhood where most of the people who work in the square’s assorted businesses recognize me and my family. And of course, I like it when people gush about my children. The woman continues to talk about what a handsome boy my two year old is. Another woman I haven’t met before is ringing me up. She gives the first woman a weird look then her expression clears.

“Oh!” She says, “I thought  you were talking about the baby. Clearly the baby is a girl.”

I look down. I can just see the top of the hat my friend crocheted for the baby–blue spikes run along the center of a green dinosaur head. The rest of the baby disappears into my kindercoat.

dino hat face

“How can you tell?” I ask.

“The hat has glitter. Of course a girl would have glitter hat. At least I hope you wouldn’t put glitter on a boy.”

I blink at her for a minute. I look back down at my daughter’s hat–yes there are metallic gold threads in the yarn that glitter in the light. I don’t really know how to respond.

“I would totally put glitter on my son,” I say. “I used to put him in pig-tails. His hair was down to here,” I say, pointing to the middle of my back, as if my son’s hair has any relevance to the conversation. I just feel the need to broadcast some sort of gender nonconformity in my parenting to counter the blue of my son’s shirt and the pink of the second-hand onesie that the woman behind the counter can’t even see. My son is at an age where he is a sponge–conversations no longer fly over his head and I know he is absorbing all of the subtle messages society sends about gender. My attempt to counter those messages in this moment is clumsy, but I am caught off guard.

I am always stunned at how one little detail that can be coded as feminine trumps everything “masculine” around it. My son’s hair is short now, his coat a boyish black and green, his boots are blue, and his mittens are pink. I can’t count the number of times we’ve been tramping around in the snow and I’ve been told how beautiful my daughter is. Because no matter how many ways he signals “boy,” the pink mittens override them all. dino hat in snow

Our culture isn’t used to looking for signposts that “male.” Androcentrism is alive and well: despite moves by many writers to move away from a supposedly generic “he” to the more gender inclusive “he or she,” most people (sadly myself included) tend to absentmindedly  revert to he in speech. “What’s that snake doing mommy?” “Oh, he’s wiggling in the dirt!” In our language, and therefore maybe also our culture, you are masculine until proven female.  People see glitter or pink mittens or pony-tails as evidence that marks the wearer as “other” than the masculine standard by which the world is measured.

Ronia, the Librarian’s Daughter?

A few quick updates about my life are in order.  First of all, my family has grown by one: the lovely Ronia born on February 12, 2014. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces at birth, she is eating, sleeping, and growing well.

Ronia

And in professional news, I have been accepted into the MLIS/MA dual degree in Library Science and Children’s Literature at Simmons for the fall of 2014!

Construction Paper Fall Leaf Art

When I quit my job as an Assistant Toddler Teacher in a day care classroom to have my son, I imagined taking the structure and lesson planning home with me. I envisioned weekly themes with daily art activities to give my son an enriching, creative, educational experience home with me. And then I had an infant, and then a toddler, and I realized that most of my energy would be spent on getting through the day. The little time I have to myself during the day (i.e. naptime), I want to spend on myself rather than on thinking up educational activities. For a while, I felt mom-guilt about this, but at this point I realize that it is ok. Morgan is hitting all his developmental milestones, can count to 10 reliably, knows the ABC’s, his colors and shapes (including cylinders and arches), and can do basic +1 addition. I think that is pretty good for a kid who just turned two in June. And all of this happened without conscious curricular planning on my part.

That being said, I am a crafty person, and I would like to encourage Morgan to explore his creative side. I am a little embarrassed that I still have the paper Easter baskets we made in March hanging in my window, because I haven’t done organized crafting beyond crayons or sidewalk chalk since. So to celebrate the changing seasons, I decided to do a fall leaf craft.

tree.BMP

Supplies:

  • Construction paper
  • Elmer’s glue
  • paint brushes
  • little cups (we save the cups from apple sauce or fruit cups)
  • legal size paper
  • scissors

While Morgan napped, I cut tree silhouettes out of black construction paper and glued them to white legal size paper. I also cut simple leaf shapes out of red, orange, and yellow construction paper. When he woke up and was ready to do some art, I put some glue in a small cup, watered it down a bit, and gave him a paint brush.

gluing

He had so much fun, he ended up making five more when he finished the first. The best part? After I ran out of pre-cut trees and leaves, he wanted to pick the colors. So now I have a colorful forest on my wall– with blue trees, green trees, and orange trees with red, yellow, green, orange, pink, blue, and black leaves.  When I nurture him, I do have a budding little artist on my hands!

Morgan's Forest

How to Leave Your House

You finally get your toddler’s pants on after chasing him through the house while he sings the “no pants” song. Next, the shoes. He insists on wearing his snow boots even though it is sixty degrees outside—you know, the camo-print ones you hate because the Velcro never stays closed and the militarization of boyhood creeps you out. Fine. Anything to cover his naked little toes. He actually flips his coat on the first time you ask so you use that break to get your own shoes and jacket on.

You stand at the top of the stairs and lock the door to your second floor apartment.

“Up pwease!”

“You can walk, you’re a big boy now,” you say.

“Ma carry! Ma carryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” he screams.”

You take a deep breath. Picture throwing your keys at his scrunched up little nose. Put them in your pocket instead.

“I’m not going to carry you,” you say calmly.

“Song!” he replies and grabs your hand. You sigh and sing the “I’m Not Going to Carry You” song as he steps down the stairs. You get to the bottom, open the front door. The sky is that perfect cloudless blue you dream of. The birds are singing. The breeze ruffles your hair.

“No wind!” your toddler screams. “No sun!”

You look back up the stairs to where his sunglasses lay forgotten on the coffee table. You know, the ones made of foam with the bobble alligator head at the bridge of the nose that never stay on his face anyway.

You close the door and drag your screaming toddler off the porch.

 

Baby clothes and the erasure of the queer family

Baby clothes save us from from gender ambiguity–looking at a chubby, jowly, bald newborn people are hard pressed to determine if it is a baby boy or a baby girl. For many people this confusion is disconcerting, but they are saved by the ruffles or firetrucks, the pink or blue fanfare of baby fashion that announces triumphantly “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” When an inconsiderate parent like myself dresses their baby in a white onesie with jungle animals on it, the confusion persists. Strangers on the train smile at Morgan, asleep against my chest in his Mei Tei, and ask me if he is a boy or a girl. Often they apologize for not being sure, as if I would be offended that my baby’s gender was ambiguous. Surely gender should be obvious, and the baby clothing industry has enthusiastically stepped in to amend nature’s oversight.

I remember when my high school Latin teacher was having a baby, back in 1996 or so, his family chose not to give in to the lure of the ultrasound. The sex of the baby would be a surprise. Dutiful students that we were, my friends and I set out to buy presents for the as yet unborn baby. At 16, with no personal interest in having children of my own just yet, I hadn’t noticed the excessive gendering of baby clothes. I was therefore shocked at how difficult it was to find gender neutral clothes. I think we finally found some yellow socks.

At 29 when my own baby was born, I am much more aware of pervasiveness of gender pigeon-holing, and am therefore not surprised at the limited choices available. The ubiquity of the pink and the blue is obvious, and doesn’t need much expounding here. At the moment I am more interested in what baby clothes tell us about assumptions regarding parental gender.

In any given baby clothing store, amidst the tiny dresses and little polo shirts, you will find shirt’s identifying the wearer as “Mommy’s little princess,” or “Daddy’s little dude.” In case you were curious, my child’s onesie confidently asserts “Mommy loves me.” A lovely little footed suit in white with green frogs would be a wonderful gender neutral option except that it proclaims that the wearer is “handsome like daddy..” Baby clothes thus reinforce not only ideas about what kind of people like sports balls and who prefers unicorns, they also reflect assumptions about what makes a family: a mom, a dad, and a squirmy little baby.

Imagine the frustration of a single mother shopping for baby clothes who has to screen all her purchases for references to a daddy. A shirt that proclaims “mommy loves me” would be absurd on the child of two fathers. It is possible to find queer baby clothes with slogans like “I love my 2 mommies” or “my dadtdies rock,” but they are available only online and cost considerably more than the mainstream pack of Carter’s onesies available in stores.

While shirts with references to mommy or daddy are not inherently bad or oppressive, their ubiquity contributes to the erasure and invisibility of other family arrangements.

Ultrasound: Facing the question

I went to my twenty-week ultrasound full of nervous excitement. The odd flutterings I’d come to associate with fetal movement were joined by the average emotional butterflies. I was eager to get a glimpse of the tiny person growing inside of me, but also nervous. While I tended to think of the ultrasound as an opportunity to get a cute little snapshot of my offspring in progress, in the back of my mind I was aware of it as a diagnostic tool ready to report any deviations from “normal” development.

“Do you want to know the sex?” the ultrasound technician asked , pushing the sensor hard into my side.

Before my pregnancy, I swore I’d say no to this question. I liked the idea of a surprise, I wanted to resist the idea that knowing the genitalia of my future child somehow would let me know the child’s true essence, and I dreaded the influx of pink or blue baby gifts that such knowledge would inevitably inspire. Before an egg met a sperm in the winding halls of my fallopian tubes, Hassan and I had chosen the name Morgan–nicely gender neutral (although strange pregnancy superstitions had us calling the fetus Magnus until near the end of my third trimester).

But in the weeks leading up to this moment, I’d changed my mind.

“Yes,” I nodded. Partly the words of a pregnant coworker kept returning to me–“If someone else has information about my baby, I want to know it too.” It did indeed seem odd to ask the ultrasound technician to keep secrets from us. And even if I don’t want to buy into the Foucauldian notion of sex and truth, at that point I wanted to know every little insignificant thing about my baby.

But in the end, it came down to pronouns. We were tired of referring to Magnus as “it.” While I am generally in favor of “they” as a gender neutral singular, I didn’t want to let its plural connotations into my womb. One fetus was enough, thank you very much.

“It’s a boy”

I let one tear slide out of the corner of my eye before I smiled.

Sometimes I look down at my son sleeping in my lap and I fear the man he will grow up to be. Specifically I fear that he will grow up to be The Man, heteropatriarchal white capitalist oppressor extraordinaire. In my mind’s eye he has grown into a massive caricature of masculinity with biceps the size of my thighs