The Layoff Diaries: Nice girls finish last?

piggy-bankWhen I pick up my daughters at the end of the day, it’s not the typical “grab backpacks and firmly herd them out the door” kind of scene.

Because Joe is the family cook – and he won’t be home until after Neve’s pre-school closes at 6, anyway – it frankly makes no difference to me whether the girls want to linger and play with their friends or leave right away. So on most days, I take a seat and play with them, or chat with the young women who are their caregivers, or just spectate.

While doing the latter on a recent evening, Neve and a friend were playing with a plastic toy garage, with curving car ramps, when a younger blond girl approached the table and pulled it toward herself.

Neve yelled, “Hey!” and yanked it back, like a reflex.

I, meanwhile, did the thing you expect mommies to do. I said, “Neve, she shouldn’t have grabbed it from you, but you don’t have to freak out, either. You could just pull it back and say, ‘Excuse me, we were playing with that.’”

But even as I went through the motions of saying these words, I wondered if this is how it starts. If these are the subtle ways that girls are taught that “being nice” is prized over backbone and action. (You might think, “You’d say that to a son, too” – and you’re right, I probably would; but boys aren’t usually groomed in the same way girls are to “not make waves” and to always put others’ needs before their own.)

The timing of this particular parenting question is no accident. Since my layoff happened on January 6 – 33 days ago now – I’ve been accepting free-lance assignments from a number of sources: theater companies, local arts-oriented websites, news organizations, etc. But because I’ve been out of the free-lancing game for nearly 12 years, I found myself immediately staring down my least favorite part of this racket: negotiating a price for my labor. Continue reading

Barbie: If you can’t banish her, do a funny photo series

A few years ago, I wrote about how Barbie entered our home, despite my attempts to keep her out.

But since that time, I’ve decided that if these impossibly skinny, mostly blond dolls are going to be my roommates, I’d at least have a little fun, chronicling their adventures in my house by way of a photo series. (My rule is I can only photograph them as I find them, so there’s no posing on my part.) Enjoy.

It was some kind of awful pact...

It was some kind of awful pact…

Awaiting the paternity results.

Awaiting the paternity results.

Frat guy dream.

Frat guy dream.

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve's socks, by the way.)

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve’s socks, by the way.)

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A feminist mom makes peace with pink, Disney Princesses and Barbie

Lily's aluminum can houseboat - though it more has the feel of a pontoon boat, doesn't it?

Lily’s aluminum can houseboat – though it kind of seems more like a pontoon boat, doesn’t it?

I’m ending 2013 with a bald confession: I’m a feminist, and yet my two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, play often with Barbies (particularly in the bathtub, for some reason); they adore Barbie and Disney movies; they like the colors pink and purple; and they eat many of their meals on Disney princess plates.

Does this make me a failed feminist mom? Aren’t I worried about the potentially corrosive effects of conventional, “traditionally” gendered media/toys?

A little. Sometimes. But frankly, not really. Because my daughters also like playing with Legos, and Lincoln logs, and marble raceways, and face paint; and they like watching “Word Girl” and “Wonder Woman” and “Pippi Longstocking” (and Lily’s currently addicted to hearing Nancy Drew chapters read to her each night); and they like all kinds of different colors, not just pink and purple.

Plus, something that happened this past weekend only strengthened my resolve to keep encouraging my daughters to play freely with what they want, in the way they want: Lily, my 5 year old, collected aluminum cans from our recycling bin and went on to build – with mounds of masking tape, of course – a houseboat, upon which she seated two of her Barbies.

I couldn’t have asked for a more salient metaphor.

For Lily, left to her own devices, pursued a creative building activity – something for which the Girls in STEM crowd is always advocating – that also incorporated her hyper-feminized Barbies into the mix. She didn’t need a nudge from her feminist mom. She just needed freedom to experiment. Continue reading

Off-the-beaten-path books we now like reading to Lily

As many of you know, Lily (age 4 1/2) is in the midst of a full-on fancy dress, girly-girl, pink princess phase. And while I’m not pushing back or restricting her that much – since I feel this IS just a phase that she’ll work through – I am doing my level best to read books with her that have, if not a full-blown feminist bent, positive messages for young girls. (I’m having a few issues with “Peter Pan,” which we started reading to her each night before I realized she’s not quite old enough, nor is the book, shall we say, kosher in its depiction of gender and race. But that’s another post.)

Since we’re lucky enough to live a few steps away from the local library (don’t think that escaped my notice when we were looking for a house), we take the girls there often, and when Lily was about two, she really got into the process of checking books out herself. The books she chose were pretty much beside the point, as evidenced by her selection method: step one, approach picture book shelves; step two, grab three books randomly; step three, rush to check them out, having not even glanced at them.

“Oy,” I thought. “This will leave us reading some real clunkers.” And it did, of course. (See this popular post about my experiences with creepy children’s books, may of them “classics.”) But it also led us to some pleasant surprises – books we’d have never found if not for Lily’s blind selection system. So between the books we’ve found by those means, and the ones I’ve taken a chance on via Lily’s preschool book order, we’ve found some good stuff. Here’s a partial list of some current favorites. Continue reading

Arguing for two (and eventually, three)

Joe and I are celebrating our ninth anniversary today – which makes me remember that when Joe and I first started dating, I quickly learned that for some people, arguing is a sport.

Indeed, Joe would have – or has, I guess, as a litigator – turned pro, so born was he to this calling. I, however, am not cut from the same cloth. Being the classic, diplomatic, peace-keeping middle child, I have always gone to great lengths to avoid confrontation.

Plus, the two of us came from very different families. Nothing was too insignificant to parse, and argue about, at length in Joe’s family. When I was growing up, meanwhile, the only kind of disagreement that happened usually involved tears, slammed doors, and extreme discomfort (on my end, anyway). To my mind, arguing was an absolute last resort. If there was nothing significant to be gained by an argument, I didn’t see the point in engaging in one.

So how were Joe and I ever going to work? It’s a question I asked myself several times early on – especially when, on one occasion, Joe stridently argued a position that I couldn’t believe he actually held. In one moment, my eyes narrowed, and I stopped pounding away at the issue long enough to say, “You’re just arguing this side for fun, aren’t you?”

He was. And as extraordinarily annoyed as I was in that moment, the exchange did finally convince me that arguments about beliefs and issues didn’t have to be painful and wrenching. Look at Joe. He was arguing passionately for something he didn’t even believe. When you experience someone turning that ability on and off at will, you realize that most arguments can simply be an intellectual exercise, not a soul-deflating, emotional fistfight. Continue reading

Field notes and follow-ups

* Joe and I took Lily to see “Tangled” this past weekend at the nearby, second-run theater, and the basic premise, of course, involves a witch stealing Rapunzel as a baby from her parents (who are the land’s king and queen). In the movie version, the beloved king and queen, as well as their subjects, release glowing lanterns that float up into the sky each year on the girl’s birthday, in hopes that she will return. By Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, after being shut up in a high tower her whole life, she ventures out to see this ceremony in person; and simultaneously, we see the king and queen briefly behind-the-scenes, just before they step outside to release a lantern once again.

It’s probably about 30 seconds of film, and involves the father looking inconsolably sad, while the mother touches his cheek in comfort. And at this point, I completely fell apart, quietly crying while Lily sat attentively on my lap.

This throwaway little scene that would have passed me right by a few years ago. But the difference, I’m sure, is that while I would have empathy for these characters before, and would have vaguely imagined what the loss of a child might feel like, Lily makes these kind of scenes powerfully concrete rather than merely abstract. There’s not a blank, faceless child in my mind; it’s Lily’s face, and cry, and laugh, and smile, and voice. The thought of her, and the very specifics that make her who she is, being suddenly taken away is too devastating to even imagine. 

Hence my turning into a weepy mom during a Disney movie – despite the fact that in the past, I established a reputation for being pretty stony while watching movies and plays. (The phrase “dead inside” has surfaced more than once.) But apparently, my falling head over heels in love with this little girl has endowed me with a new Achille’s heel. Continue reading

Barbie, our uninvited guest

Recently, Lily said, “I want a dollie.”

Now, she has three different baby dolls (rendered distinct by the monikers Old Baby, New Baby, and Weird Baby), as well as a rag doll kind of thing, so I asked about whether she was referring to any of those first. Nope.

I remembered then that she’d occasionally played with Barbies in the older kids’ playroom at her daycare, so I took a deep breath and reluctantly asked, “Do you mean a Barbie? You want a Barbie?”

“Yeah, a BOB-by,” she said, nodding emphatically. “With white hair in a ponytail. And wings.”

Admittedly, the last detail threw me a bit. But still, the dreaded B-word had been spoken. So I’m thinking that I’ll have to look past my own baggage regarding the iconic doll’s ludicrous, lifelong-body-issue-neuroses-inducing physical proportions and let my daughter explore her innocent desire to play with one.

Not that it would be the first, or only, Barbie in our house. But up until now, the others’ presence had been, well, subtle.

For a dear friend (and fellow “Project Runway” fanatic) had once given me a collectors’ edition Barbie. (In season 2 of the reality series, the contestants designed an outfit for Barbie, and the winning look was actually produced in a limited edition.) That doll sits in its box on the bookshelf in our bedroom, and Lily recently pointed at it and asked, “What’s that?”

Because the doll had been a gift, and because I’d generally hoped to minimize Barbie’s presence and influence in our daughter’s home, I said, “Well, sweetie, that doll is Mommy’s. A friend gave it to me, but I don’t take it out of the box, because it’s a special one.” Naturally, I felt profoundly silly and guilty while saying this – so guilty that my mind immediately combed through any other doll options that might be in the house that I could offer Lily as a substitute. Continue reading