When we want burritos, I soak the beans the night before, grate the cheese, and roll my own tortillas. I bake honey-sweetened, vegetable-packed muffins at least twice a week. We weaned our kids off frozen waffles by buying a waffle maker; my husband mixes waffle batter every few days. From scratch. I bake bread twice a week. We work hard to minimize the processed foods our children intake.
So, perhaps you will be surprised to learn that nothing would make my middle child happier than to eat twelve hotdogs a day. He adores pepperoni pizza, but he eats only the pepperoni, leaving the denuded and pockmarked remains of his feast in his wake. When we go out to breakfast, he wants sausage and pancakes. He eats the sausage, ignores the pancakes, and starts looking around the restaurant for bits of sausage left on other people’s plates.
He really likes encased meats.
Benjamin eats other things, too. He likes broccoli and apples and tofu and Peking duck and pretty much any other food with the not-hard-and-fast exception of spaghetti and Brussels sprouts. Other than his hotdog fetish, he’s a pretty healthy little eater.
His food vocabulary is remarkable, and if you list three ingredients, he’ll tell you what to make with them. Food is his thing. He loves food, and it loves him back. He is such a good eater that sometimes, when we lift his solid little body, we groan and joke, “You’re getting so heavy. I think we’re going to have to stop giving you so much food.” The child eats carrots in front of the television and every now and then requests cashews for lunch.
But his first, great love will always be encased meats.
Today, as I lifted my three-and-a-half year old to carry him over the deep slush to the car, he put his arms around my neck and murmured into my ear. “I want to stop eating ‘cased meats.”
“Yes,” he answered. “Because I want you to keep lifting me up.”
The YMCA here in this little New Jersey town is nothing like the one we were members of in Los Angeles. This one is bright and clean, with new exercise machines set up before a bank of television sets. In L.A., the kids just took swimming at the Y, but here there are art classes and science classes and a parent-and-me t-ball class.
Unlike Los Angeles – with its fancy-schmantzy gyms and twelve gazillion different programs a child could enroll in – this Y is the only game in town. Everyone works out at the Y because there’s no place else to work out. All the kids learn to swim at the Y because there aren’t any other pools. The rhythm of so many mothers’ days goes: drop off at elementary school, drop off at preschool, work out at Y, pick up at preschool, go to Y for child’s sports-and-swimming class, pick up at elementary school, go to Y for other child’s art class…
Like the one in L.A., this Y is the great equalizer. Almost everyone of every age ends up there sooner or later over the course of a week. There’s just less to equalize here than there was in Los Angeles.
The most fascinating contrast, however, is the locker room. For one, there is no homeless man hanging out in the men’s locker room here, which I think is sort of a shame but my husband considers a drastic improvement. For two, there are no naked people.
In L.A., everyone sort of milled around after showering, making conversation as they lotioned and deodorized and brushed and whathaveyou. Fit twenty-somethings and overweight seventy-somethings and everyone in the middle just let it all hang out, no modesty whatsoever.
Here, however, the locker room is completely devoid of naked people.
Now, I know that sounds strange. It’s a locker room. Traditionally, one would change one’s clothing in a locker room, which – even for the most creative and flexible yoga instructor – eventually will require some form of nudity. Yet, somehow, no one is ever naked. People manage to change, shower, dry off, and dress themselves without ever actually showing any skin.
I can’t figure out how it is done. Yes, there are little curtained off booths that some people go into. But, you have to get to and from the shower to make it into those stalls, and presumably you’d be naked when emerging from the shower.
I’m the oaf struggling to hold a towel around my chest while clutching my soap dish. Not that I would normally go to any lengths to cover up my nudity. That’s what locker rooms are for. However, despite my habitual inability to pick up on subtle social cues, it was clear to me pretty early on that no one was going to go strutting around with her belly rolls flapping in the wind in this particular locker room. So, for the sake of blending in, I try to cover myself the best I can.
Not that I am blending in anytime soon.
I like to read while I exercise, and this week I brought the latest issue of one of my favorite periodicals: Ms. Magazine. Those of you who subscribe have already seen the cover and are probably aware where this is going.
You see, I have lived many places and done many things. Rarely have I ever been accused of fitting in with the crowd, I must admit. However, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as conspicuous as I did this week, walking from one weight machine to another in this small, conservative town, holding that magazine.
You want to stand out from the crowd? Carry Ms. Magazine around in a Y where people are so reserved that people hide their nudity in a locker room. With this cover on it:
There is much I want to write about. But I can’t, because as Zachary gets older, his privacy becomes more and more of a serious issue. Already, I don’t use my children’s real names around here. I make a point of never posting photos. I may be comfortable hanging my ass out in the wind to be viewed by the various and sundry who come along, but I try hard to respect the privacy of my children.
I Googled myself last week and quite a bit came up. I am, if you must know, highly Googleable. I have to be if I want anyone to know about my writing. Now that we live in a small town, I have to be much more cautious about what I say about my family, because we are much easier to find than we were when we lived in Los Angeles.
My family is nuts. My family of origin, I mean. And while most of them are the harmless kind of nuts that just hates me but would never hurt my kids, there are a couple with a proven history of hurting kids. I think my children need to be even less searchable than they already are.
I took their pictures down from Facebook. I know I can set privacy settings, but that then leaves the job of keeping them safe in the hands of whoever the hell runs Facebook. How do I know what Facebook really does with my information or when someone will compromise that particular site?
I walk a fine line between needing to be very much out there in public and keeping my kids shielded. That line is complicated by the fact that I write about my kids, and there are often things I would like to masticate in public that I instead decide to leave alone. You’ll notice nothing particularly intimate comes up here unless I am the only party involved. I am willing to tell you all about my failings as a parent or share anecdotes that are more or less generic, but I am cautious when it comes to many, many things.
So, you’ll never truly get to know all there is about my kids by reading my work. If you really want to get to know me, keep reading, because that’s my ass you see waving around.
(Or, come to BlogHer, because I just registered for the conference. Um, y’all will talk to me there, right? Because I’m a little nervous, and I don’t own any fancy shoes.)
Today was day seven of mid-winter break. Yesterday, I drove all three kids home from D.C. By myself. With no potty breaks.
Today, my kids were disoriented by the lack of structure and pissed as hell that we left the House of Fun, otherwise known as Grandma and Grandpa’s house. In an effort to amuse themselves, they were belligerent and rambunctious as I tried to get them out the door to the Y and the grocery store.
Today, I changed Lilah’s diaper four times before 8:30 in the morning.
Today, my five- and three-year-old sons ran out of the grocery store while I was paying, laughing maniacally as they played among the shopping carts stored next to the busy parking lot. I left Lilah in the cart under the supervision of whomever happened to be around and herded the boys back in. “I give you a lot of credit,” the older woman in line behind me said, as I ordered the boys to sit to the side.
The checker calmly handed me my credit card slip. I moved to the side and questioned my sons on just why we have the don’t-run-out-of-the-store-without-your-parents rule. As we were walking out, a man in his sixties walked out with me. “It’s worth it in the end,” he reassured me, as he held onto the edge of my cart and helped push it along to my car.
Today, the boys played nicely together for precisely one-half hour, because I was napping on the couch.
Today, I attended three different weddings in my living room. They included circuses and repeated renditions of “Skinamarink-a-dink.” The groom was dressed in “a work suit and a hat,” while the brides wore wedding dresses. The groom’s older brother officiated, got married himself, and conducted the circus, not to mention singing “A Spoonful of Sugar.” The brides were male and female, sometimes both at the same time. Lucy was the first wife in each wedding, and she gave birth during one of the ceremonies. Lucy’s baby promptly became another bride. At the last wedding, Benjamin married four of his babies, which caused me to glance about for signs of Roman Grant in my living room.
Today, I baked muffins and cooked a chicken, rice, and vegetables for dinner.
Today, round about four-thirty, the weddings turned violent and Lilah hurt herself for the third time by trying to turn the sofa cushions into a slide. I mustered the energy to get all three kids suited up for a walk. Since the paths and road are clear of snow, I let them forgo snow boots. The boys went out the back door first while I put on my coat and shoes. I stepped out with Lilah, buckled her into her stroller, and turned around to see the boys playing in the snow. In their sneakers. Well, actually, Zachary was in his sneakers. Benjamin was in one sneaker. The other one was two feet away from him in the snow and he was bawling that his foot was wet. Needless to say, I was furious as I went back in for my boots so I could get his sneaker and then had to change both boys’ socks before we could leave.
Today, we played a rousing game of “I Spy” on our walk, then the boys played tag, much to the amusement of their sister.
Today, Zachary intentionally ruined his brother’s elaborate wedding set-up, just because it was something to do. Benjamin started sobbing, and by the time I walked in, Zachary was atop his brother, repeatedly punching a sobbing Benjamin in the nose.
Today, shit rolled downhill, and Benjamin punched his sister. For the crime of existing.
Today, when my husband walked in the door, I told him I wanted nothing to do with the children until dinner. Perhaps seeing the maniacal look in my eyes, he asked no questions.
Today explains why so many stay-at-home moms start drinking. Today is the reason we have the bright red line rule that we never raise our hands to our children, no matter what. But, most of all, today is the best argument I have ever encountered in favor of year-round schooling.
We’re in D.C. for a few days, visiting my in-laws during the boys’ week off from school. I had mocked the cries of anguish from the snow-locked Washingtonians till we got here and saw that things really were as desperate as everyone made it out to be. Even after some serious melting, the roads are all narrowed by at least a lane and trucks work all day long to remove it, although heaven knows where they are putting it all.
Schools have been closed of course, but on Sunday we headed out to the school where my mother-in-law works to do a little sledding. We tried to do some bunny slopes, but the snow was so deep that we were afraid we’d lose the boys in the drifts. So, we went around back to the black diamond, which had been nicely packed down by the droves of children who had been sledding there all week.
Benjamin was terrified of the giant hill, and it was only with much coaxing that I convinced him to toboggan down a small slope to one side. Zachary – small, highly sensitive Zachary – jumped on a saucer and zoomed straight down alongside his father, and by the end of the day he had several war wounds to prove his prowess. My boys are a lesson in never assuming anything about children, because husky little Benjamin is often frightened of physical challenges, while his anxious big brother is the one standing in the water, screaming “Come on!” at the California surf. Sledding was no different – Zachary relishes the adrenaline rush while Benjamin is more tentative.
Lucy, chickenshit that she is, did not join us for the sledding.
At the end of the day, none of us could remember if Lucy had come along to the school and watched the sledding from the car. We did know that she had not gone on the only other outing of the day: a trip to the toy store during which the boys convinced their grandmother to buy then knight costumes. We were reasonably sure she was somewhere in the house, although I checked the cars carefully to be sure. Twice.
I gave up on finding her in the house last night, and this morning a new search ensued. No Lucy. My mother-in-law went to the school, just in case Lucy had fallen out of the car onto the parking area. No Lucy. We all feared the worst.
As my mother-in-law and Benjamin were headed out to the grocery, around 4:00 PM, I figured I should call the toy store to cover all our bases.
I didn’t quite know how to begin. It feels a little silly to be calling a toy store about a toy that might have been left there, but I’ve done many worse things in my life. “Hi. I think my son might have left his lovey there.”
“A brown puppet?” the guy replied immediately.
“You have Lucy?!” I exclaimed.
“Hold on a second.” I waited, my father-in-law looking on, as the guy went to check. “Yep. It’s here.”
“A brown dog hand puppet? With no legs?” I asked, afraid to hope.
“Yes, that’s it.”
“You have Lucy!”
“We have Lucy!” he replied, not missing a beat.
Only when calling a toy store can a person get that worked up over locating a hand puppet. I told him we’d be right there to get it, then called my mother-in-law to reroute her onto Rockville Pike, no place for wussies during a snowy rush hour.
As I write this, Lucy is home, tucked into bed with Benjamin and the twelve other babies. My son is Octo-mom.
I thank you all for your good thoughts and positive vibes as we awaited her return. But the question remains – just what was Lucy doing overnight in that toy store? She has a new, knowing gleam in her eye and a bit of a swagger in her (legless) step. She acts all coy and happy to be safely home, but I know those toy store puppets she was hanging out with and I am betting she was up to no good.
From now on, she’ll be staying home. I’ve got my eye on her.
Our children all have blankies, and those blankies are of our choosing. We chose small, mass produced items, then gave them to our kids as newborns every time they nursed. Before they were even six months old, our kids had attached firmly to these items. Zachary has Taggie and Benjamin has Giraffie. When I was pregnant with Lilah, Zachary decided he wanted to spend his allowance on a blankie for our new baby, and so Bunny entered our family.
Our children’s relationships with their blankies prove once and for all that arranged marriages can be highly successful.
Since we chose these blankies, we were able to ensure we have multiples. We carefully rotate those little lovies so that all copies are equally worn in.
Once, we had three Taggies, but Zachary left one in a Denny’s somewhere between Sequoia National Park and Los Angeles. Needless to say, we smartened up with the later children; we have four Giraffies and four Bunnies.
We have, on our bookshelf, a picture frame with three photos, one of each child around nine or so months old, sitting on the floor with a blankie in the mouth. Actually, Lilah’s blankie is next to her mouth and she is sucking her thumb. That’s just the nature of their relationship.
Unfortunately, we all know what happens to the best laid schemes of mice and men. Just when we thought we had figured this lovey thing all out, in strode Lucy, a furry, legless, dog-ish puppet. This brazen strumpet has caught Benjamin’s eye and stolen his heart.
To be fair, this is not really a love affair. Lucy is actually one of Benjamin’s myriad babies, and she is clearly his favorite child. This makes her technically my grand-puppet, so perhaps I ought not be calling her a strumpet.
For the last fortnight or so, Lucy has been front and center in Benjamin’s imaginative play. She accompanies him everywhere, he prepares special meals for her, and he worries about her food allergies. Once, he took her with him under his shirt into the powder room as he went to tinkle. From the kitchen I heard him crooning, “Oh, Lucy, you were borned. You really, really were borned!” Apparently, he had gone into labor in the half bathroom.
On Friday, I convinced him to leave Lucy home from school. I was afraid the preschool would start charging us another tuition if she participated in one more day of activities.
So, right, you know where this story is going, don’t you? You know about the bedtime searches with him calling “Lucy! Lucy, where are you?” as I frantically pull up sofa cushions and my husband rips open pillowcases. You know about the cries of victory when Lucy appears and the soft comforting noises he makes to her as he cuddles her up to bed.
And you know about tonight, when no one could find her.
Somewhere – out there – Lucy is waiting, waiting for her daddy, who went to bed heartbroken without his favorite baby. After he went to bed, I turned the house upside down, but there was no Lucy to be found. So, I ask you, send a bit of your positive energy toward that little legless puppet tonight, so that tomorrow my boy will have his baby back.
I’ve tried to understand the Choice viewpoint, and I earnestly desire to do so. I would never, ever condone a man or a woman or the government or any power deciding when a woman should give her body over to a child. But I get confused over how the anti-abortion arguments are asking for that. Isn’t sex what leads to conception, after all? I ask, with all friendliness and desire to learn another’s viewpoint – doesn’t a woman by nature make that choice when she becomes one of the willing pair?
First, I must point out that Catherine is in a tiny minority. Most people are not looking to understand the other side’s view on this. Most people are not respectful in their questioning. I am honored to try to answer Catherine’s question and invite others who wish to also respectfully reply to do so in the comments section. Rude, judgmental, or otherwise unpleasant comments will be returned to the sender wrapped in a package of dog doody.
Now, to Catherine’s question. Well, the most obvious response is that sex does not always happen between a willing pair. There are cases of outright rape that lead to conception. There are also less horrifying instances in which people are not forced by a particular partner but are, rather, coerced by a life situation.
While I agree with Jen’s point that personal anecdotes have little to do with policy on this, I would, in the spirit of openness, like to share a story from my own past to illustrate my point. Back before I met my wonderful husband, I had the self-esteem of a rather slimy slug (although, for all I know, slugs may have very high self-esteem). I had lived through a very rough childhood and adolescence. I was lucky to come out alive, let alone functional.
But, of course, I wasn’t completely functional. And I took my clothing off more often than I should have, and not because I was a free spirit or anything like that. I didn’t particularly enjoy sexual activity; but it was a good way to get some affection. The only way I could see. This past is not something I am proud of, but it’s not something I am ashamed of, either. I wish I had thought more of myself at the time.
I was lucky. Nothing horrible happened. I got no diseases. No condoms broke. But I did end up having sex with someone I did not like. And, although I said “no” early in the evening, I think it would be pretty fair to say that by the end, I gave the impression of being “willing.” To myself and to him.
I was “willing” only because my past had made me think so little of myself that I thought sex was pretty much all I had to offer. I had been a victim for fourteen of the previous nineteen years. There hadn’t been much time for me to learn about myself and the world. So, was I legally “willing? Absolutely. It was in no sense rape. But, was I really choosing to be in this situation as a healthy, mature adult? Hell, no.
Had the condom broken, I would not have gotten pregnant. That’s because I had fertility issues, but there was no way of knowing that. And should I have then been forced to carry a child I was in no way ready for because I was too much of a basket case to have the sense to keep my clothing on?
So, the word “willing,” even when it can be applied to a sexual situation, is at best inadequate. And we all know there are many, many sexual situations much worse than the one I was in. Should we allow abortion only in the case of rape? Well, it’s better than no abortion, but frankly I think there are a lot of women who might not have been raped in the moment of conception but who had been long battered and bruised on their way to that moment. And it would be awfully hard to craft a law that said “abortion in the case of rape or tragically low self-esteem.”
Not that we should, of course. Because every situation is different. Sexuality is complex and fraught with all levels of human emotion. And legislation does not belong in the bedroom. While in a perfect world all sex would be between two mature people able to accept the consequences of their mutual choice, also in a perfect world I would be six foot two and blonde.
There was a piece in Brain, Child awhile back that – frankly – appalled me. It was by a woman – happily married with a couple of kids – who chose to abort a pregnancy. She had the money to support the child and she planned on having another kid. She just wasn’t ready right at that moment. In fact, she went on to have a planned pregnancy a few months later.
The essay bothered me. While I believe abortion ought to be available to anyone who feels the need, that kind of egotistical belief that she should only bear a child if it absolutely suited her at the moment repulsed me. However, her point (and I believe a correct one) was that if we allow abortion, we must allow it to whomever sees the need. It is not for anyone other than the person carrying the child to assess how urgent that need is.
Make no mistake – I think that woman is repugnant. I really do. But it’s not for me to tell her what to do with her body. It’s not for anyone to say, “Well, you had sex. I think it was probably lovely, consensual sex. So, have the baby.”
Ideally, we would live in a world where every woman respected her soul, her mind, and her body – including the awesome power of the reproductive system – enough to only have sex when she was in a beautiful relationship. Ideally, we would live in a world where every man respected women that same way. But, that world would also include a legal system that respected women and their bodies – including that awesome reproductive system – enough to let women control their bodies.
(Someone else can get into things like medically necessary abortions if you like. Or how every child should be wanted before being brought into the world. I threw my back out a few days ago, and if I sit at the computer any longer I am going to need traction.)
In a few hours, the Super Bowl will begin. To be frank, I never have had any interest in the Super Bowl, although this year I do think New Orleans could use the win.
What I do care about, however, is a woman’s right to choose. Having children has made me less able to empathize with the choice to abort a pregnancy. I just can’t put myself in that position emotionally because my pregnancies ended in such a good place.
Having children has also made me more committed to supporting that choice, perhaps because I am pro-choice for reasons that are no longer personal. I am not protecting my right to choose – I am standing up for a principle that I believe in regardless of my own gain.
Make no mistake – I believe in the right to choose as a fundamental principle. Our reproductive systems simply must not be subject to government regulation. Do I think people should try to behave responsibly in how they use their bodies? Abso-fucking-lutely. People should try not to conceive children unless they are able to raise them.
People also probably should try to think about the impact their reproductive systems have on our planet. I recently saw a magazine cover with those Duggar people holding yet another baby. The headline read something along the lines of: “How many children are too many?” Well, I am not qualified to reply, but I do think the answer falls somewhere between zero and 19. I’m just sayin’.
That said, I don’t think the government has any business telling the Duggars what to do. Octo-mom? Well, since the taxpayers are footing her bills, folks have a right to be pissed off. But if the government ain’t raisin’ the kids, it ought not be telling people whether or not to have them.
Neither, might I add, should professional athletes and their mothers. They can preach all they want in their churches or whathaveyou, but they have no right to ask the government to stick its nose up my vajayjay.
I find it baffling that this ad is about a woman who chose not to abort and her son became a star athlete. What the hell does that have to do with anything? You don’t see the pro-choice movement airing ads in which Ted Bundy’s mama comes on saying, “If only I had aborted…” (Now, of course, someone’s going to leave me a comment saying that Ted Bundy’s mama is dead or with some other fact that completely misses the point I am trying to make because for some reason people love to argue with me about crap that has nothing to do with the larger point I am making.)
I’m done having babies, and during my final c-section my obstetrician gave me a bit of surgical insurance against any more. But, someday my children will be old enough to have babies, and I sure as hell hope they retain control over their own bodies. Because I worked awfully hard to make those little bodies, and I just am not ready for Sarah Palin to start deciding what they do with them.
OK, so maybe my political stance still is personal, after all. As is Tim Tebow’s. The difference? He feels his personal beliefs ought to dictate what other people can do with their bodies, while I feel my personal beliefs ought to dictate what I do with mine.
I find myself thinking about J.D. Salinger. Aren’t we all thinking of him this week? What makes a man of such extraordinary talent first seek the world’s recognition and then run to hide in a fierce hermitage?
People have picked apart Salinger’s work over the years, seeking an answer to the mystery of the man. Yet, perhaps the answer can be seen someplace else, in someone else. Another man who has recently died, leaving the world shaking its head at his mystifying life.
I understand Salinger through the lens of Michael Jackson. The cult of celebrity tore Jackson apart. His genius was too much for us and for him to bear, so we turned him into a spectacle that destroyed the man and the genius. I wonder if Salinger ran away and hid because he feared that he and his talent could not withstand that kind of pressure.
In both cases, the person was a tragic, tragic innocent bystander to both his own talent and the celebrity that it caused. We put so much value on production that we turn talent into a commodity. Nothing beautiful can stand up under that weight. And, sadly, the human being who was, by-the-by, the storehouse of that talent becomes a casualty of society’s mastication of all things lovely.
And so, today I stand up and holler, “Let’s be people first.”
Let’s be people before we are writers or bakers or cocktail waitresses or customers or cops or longshoremen or richmenpoormenbeggarmenthieves. Let’s put our talents in service to our humanity, not the other way around. Let’s honor the person behind the ability, rather than bowing before the gifts, and perhaps we will have fewer people like Tiger Woods breezily believing their talents protect them from being human.
While I think of Salinger and Jackson and Woods, I remember the most Djuna Barnes, a woman tormented by the war between her gifts and her humanity. She holed herself up in an apartment to live out the end of her life long before J.D. Salinger even thought of Holden Caulfield. She became a hermit because the world has no place where talent can exist comfortably as simply a part of a person, and so her gift became dark and sharp and tore her mind apart.
It’s a sad state of affairs when our most gifted artists become either freaks, guests on talk shows, or wisps of human beings, hidden behind the portieres in the living room.
My preschooler wanted to dance. At the children’s museum, he tugged a pink tutu over his sweatpants, donned too-large tap shoes, and tried to imitate the moves on the instructional video. For his birthday, he requested a dance costume and ballet slippers.
Clearly, I have done something right, raising a child whose gender-identification knows no hard and fast boundaries. He is a free spirit, a maverick, a dude who is comfortable enough in his dudeliness to want to dance his ass off.
We signed him up for dance class, an “enrichment” that an outside vendor provided at his preschool just before the Tuesday afternoon preschool class began. He was the only boy, but Benjamin had never had a problem in any group activity. He is an exuberant joiner in whatever the grown-ups have planned, always happy to play soccer or spin hoops or glue sparkly doodads onto picture frames. There was no reason to assume dance would be any exception.
The first day, the teacher looked at me. “You know he’s the only boy.”
“Doesn’t bother me,” I replied. “I don’t think it will bother him, either.” And it didn’t. That first day, he enjoyed class well enough, and when I picked him up after his preschool day, he told me he had practiced arabesques. Granted, his version of the elegant ballet move was a little different from what I found online, but, hell, he was enjoying himself.
We bought him some jazz shoes, since all the girls had pink ballet slippers. We’d have gotten him ballet shoes, if we could have found any in size 10, extra wide.
He went into the second class cheerfully. As I put on his shoes, the teacher came over. “You know he won’t be doing the ballet in the recital.”
“He can do all the dances in class, but in the recital he will do the boys’ program.” Now, that might have made sense to her, but I couldn’t figure out how he was going to do the boys’ program since he was the only boy. Nor was I quite sure why it was that ballet is only for girls. Yet, the more I tried to wrangle an explanation, the more I became confused.
“Just tell me why it is he’s not allowed to do all the dances,” I asked about three minutes into the conversation.
“Because if dads hear their sons are doing ballet, they freak out,” she said, not for the first time. “We’ve worked too long and too hard to build up a boys’ program.” Well, obviously it was working out beautifully, given that they now had a grand total of one boy in the class.
“So, he’s going to dance by himself?”
“No, some of the girls will do the boys’ program with him.” Oh, now that made perfect sense. He couldn’t do ballet, but the girls could do the boys’ program.
I’d have continued the conversation, despite the vertigo it was giving me, but my kid started crying. I am not sure if he was upset because she had been saying all this crap right in front of him or because her assistant had just called out, “OK, girls, follow me.” We cut off the conversation and I knelt down, because now Benjamin needed convincing to stay in the class.
I caught up with her later. “Look,” I said. “This is not 1956. Why can’t he do all the dances?”
She gave me the line about working hard to build up a boys’ program.
“Well,” I replied. “I’ve worked too long and too hard to convince my boys that they can do anything a girl can do. And, also, do you think you could remind your assistants not to refer to all the students as ‘girls’?”
That night, my husband and I decided that, as long as the child would be getting equal stage time, we wouldn’t make a fuss. And, the next week, I marched on in, ready to stand by my man, all 37 pounds of him.
Except he didn’t want to stay in class. “I don’t want to sit next to the girls,” he told me. Now, you must understand that I read Ms. Magazine and Bitch. There was no earthly was I was going to stand by while my child quit dance class simply because there were no other boys in it. I tried to convince him to stay.
“Sometimes I do things when I’m the only woman,” I told him. “If you like to dance, you should stay.”
“I don’t want to dance,” he whimpered, looking out on the sea of pink tulle before him.
The assistants were trying to call the room to order. “Quiet down, girls!” they commanded, oblivious to the p-nis in their midst. Or perhaps trying to drive its owner away.
I pulled one outside. “Do you think you could stop referring to the kids as ‘girls’? He’s a boy, and he’s kind of sensitive about being the only one.” She gave me the old whatsyourpoint stare and headed back in. That probably should have been my cue to leave, but I didn’t want to give my kid the message that we’re down with quitting.
I convinced him to stay and just watch the class. I figured the teacher would reach out to him after a few minutes and try to draw him in.
Yeah. Not so much. She had her girls to attend to.
When I peeked in a few minutes later, he was sitting by the side, watching while she led the girls through the routine. “Now, turn around. Step to the side. Fix your hair.”
Whoa, Nellie. Hold the phone. Fix your hair? Fix your hair? That’s the dance move?
No fucking wonder he didn’t want to be in the damned class. I didn’t want him there. Nor, for the record, would I want his sister in a class like that. Dance is about art and grace and exercise and hopefully becoming aware enough of your body to stop walking into walls. It is not, unless I missed the memo, about fluffing one’s hair.
Well, folks, apparently I did miss the memo, because when I called the director of the program, he patiently explained to me that Benjamin should never have been allowed in the class because they segregate the boys and girls into separate classes. Since there were no other boys, there was no boys’ class offered, so he should not have been allowed to join in at all.
In the process of ripping him a brand new anus, I asked why it is exactly that they segregate the boys and girls. “Because boys don’t do girly moves,” he patiently explained to me, as if that just made everything OK.
It goes without saying that our refund check is in the mail. And our daughter will never do this dance program.
But I am left wondering what has happened to us, the Free to Be You and Me generation? Things were supposed to be all fixed by the time we raised our children. Instead, it all seems even worse than when we were little. When did it become OK that all the shoes in the toddler girls section are pink, so that in order to find my daughter brown shoes I needed to buy the ones marked “boys”? When did we decide we were fine with the toy marketers informing us that two-year-old girls and two-year-old boys like to play with different things? Hell, they aren’t even potty trained yet – they have no idea what their p-nises and v@ginas are for, let alone that that anatomical difference has marked them for a lifetime of gendering.
Why aren’t people mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore? Because I sure am. But I’m also very, very sad.
Because my boy now thinks that dance is only for girls.