Ok, I admit it. I'm a planner. Especially when it comes to vacations. I may actually have more fun planning these family treks than I do going on them, but that's another neurotic post for another day. Anyway, amongst American-Jewish families, there's this cultural tradition of sending the children away to summer camp. I realize, of course, how ridiculous this subject is, considering we just started the school year, but hang in there with me for a sec. Now, back in our day, my husband and I were sent away for the entire summer, as early as 9-10 years old (see note about neuroticism earlier in the post for reference point). Hot hubby and I met when we were 11-years-old, at a Jewish sleep-away camp in Mountain City, Georgia. To answer your question, no, we did not date consistently since our latency periods, but the summer of 1981 (ack!) does serve as an important marker in our story. Our daughter, Rocker Chick, has been going to camp for several years now, but only for 3-weeks at a time (we can't bear her gone any longer than that). We almost recruited her younger sister, Drama Queen, this past summer, but she backed out, afraid of being away from home for that long. Plus, she suffers from some significant anxiety issues, enough where medication is needed (more on that megillah another day), so we weren't going to push her on this one.
So, long story short, now she swears she's ready, especially if she can go to the same camp at the same time as her big sister. We adore our girls, rather be with them than without, but true confession time: the idea of getting Hot Hubby all to myself for 3 WEEKS UNINTERRUPTED is almost too much for my sleep-deprived brain to handle. We can run with scissors. We can walk around naked. We can actually have sex without having to time it between knocks on the bedroom door. It's like having hotel sex without the mints on the pillows, or clean sheets, but I digress.
So we will enjoy our school year, the coming season of autumn, followed by the merriment of winter and the holidays. We will rejoice as the first crocus peaks its purple blossoms out of the tundra, greeting us with the promise of green, mossy warmth.
But summer - ah summer. She is our bewitching mistress, full of radiance and sweat and late nights filled with voyeuristic stars. Ok, I've just made summer sound like a character out of Boogie Nights. Sorry. You get the idea.
When I earned my first masters degree in Gender History, I got asked a lot "what the HECK are ya going to do with that degree?" I'm literally laughing to myself as I write this because, truthfully, I wondered the same thing myself. However, when I saw Lori Duron on the Today Show this morning, I realized my education would finally be relevant in a way that won't have people's eye glaze over like they do when I mention these issues at cocktail parties.
Lori Duron is the author of the book and blog Raising My Rainbow, chronicling her family's life with a son more comfortable playing with Barbies than with Batman: or in Duron's words, gender creative. He loves everything pink. He enjoys dressing up in princess costumes. He revels in tea parties.
While I was attending San Francisco State University's grad program, we discussed at length how gender is socially constructed, meaning, how much did our sociocultural environs influence what we liked, how we spent our time, and how such factors influenced our self-conceptions as male or female. By the way, if you ever want to go to the perfect place to test your ideas of what's straight, gay, bi, transgendered, pan-sexual, or androgynous, plug San Fran into your GPS because every shade and permutation of gender identity and sexuality were in that city - and often sitting next to me in one of my classes.
By the time I graduated, I almost believed that most everything about us is dominated by nurture versus nature. We were by-products of our rearing, which meant we could 'fix' inherent disparities by raising our kids in gender-neutral or gender creative ways.
Living in the Bay Area, I got to hang with lots of different types of families, each testing their theories onto their offspring with earnest, zeal, and more than their fair share of self-righteousness. One family I knew refused to allow anything blue or pink in their house and refused to have any corporate sponsored 'tools for gender subjugation' (i.e. Disney, Barbie, etc) into their children's hands. One of my former gender studies' professors had a household of boys with tons of gender neutral toys (blocks, puzzles) and a fair share of 'girlie' stuff (dolls, playhouses) but weren't allowed any GI Joes or play weapons like swords or guns.
Know what those boys used to build with their Legos when their parents left the room? Swords and guns. Know what the other family's kids did when they came to my house with the Disney costumes and baby dolls? Made a beeline for them like junkies to a crack den.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if you go to either extreme, either subscribing exclusively to gender roles or admonishing them altogether, we run the risk of leaving vast areas of our internal landscape unexplored. I myself was a 'tomboy', refusing to wear dresses or play with the other girls because I thought playing house was the most boring activity in the world. Why would you'd want to pretend to vacuum and clean the kitchen when you could play with a train set or peg someone in dodge ball? I remember signing up for shop class in eighth grade and my parents having to petition the school when they said a girl couldn't enroll. I was the only girl in that class and I got a taste of architectural drawing, woodworking, and photography. Why those subjects were identified as male pursuits, I have no idea, and while I still can't draw a straight line with a ruler to save my life and have no interest in whittling a tree, I'm thrilled I had parents who fought for me to have those opportunities.
That said, let's be brutally honest for a sec - it's still more socially acceptable for a female to pursue socially constructed male pursuits than it is for a male to enter more female-dominated arenas. In the case of Lori Duron's son, C.J., they have a boy who is not just looking to play with a doll, he wants to look like a Barbie. Most parents wouldn't be as accepting and open as the Duron's; there's a reason why the suicide attempt rate amongst transgendered youth is a high 41% (according to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, released in October 2010). Ironically, if I see a man in drag, it doesn't bother me in the least, but when I see pictures of C.J., - or when I saw the film on the same topic called La Vie en Rose, I felt unnerved, unsettled - like something was fundamentally not right. And I'm the same parent who constantly talks with my own daughters about the meta-messages our media sends to them about what is feminine or masculine, what constitute self worth through the physical, emotional, and intellectual. Yet, when I see that happy little boy in lipstick dancing around in a tutu, it feels inherently, well, off, in some way.
Guess what though...that's my problem - and I shouldn't place that on any child. I'm working on it - and in the process of that work I have to ask the next logical question: why am I uncomfortable with the masculine commingling with the feminine and not the other way around? The unfortunate answer is that such people and actions challenge what I have been constructed to believe is the inherently dominant 'correct' order of nature - and the feminization of a subject somehow weakens or degrades its essence or power. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathe admitting this about myself. How can I - a self-proclaimed feminist - state that seeing a boy dress as a girl skeeves me out more than it should?
I am admitting it because the more we bring to light the ugliest, non-politically-correct aspects of ourselves and our beliefs, the likelier we are to question their etiology and change ourselves and our communities. Growing up in South Florida was actually a fairly segregated existence mid-20th century...I used to feel the same uneasy queasiness about interracial couples as I do about boys like C.J. I remember someone asking me as a young teen how I take my coffee and I said, "light and sweet" and my dad saying "hopefully like your men, too." Btw, that kind of joke wasn't unusual where I grew up, where the Jews always voted for the Democrats but called black people "schvartzes" (not a kind word for African-Americans in Yiddish). The point is, the more I admitted and realized my prejudice and from where it derived, the quicker the bias dissipated. Now interracial anything is a non-issue for me. Perhaps, hopefully, sooner than later, gender creative identity will be too.
So I was all prepared to launch my latest blog with a touchy, feel-good piece about something-something, when my Twitter feed received the second-hand smoke toxicity of one mom attacking another mom. In this case, it was someone attacking Jenny McCarthy, blaming her for the growing anti-vaccine movement in the U.S. (for the record, she's anti-mercury in meds & for lengthening shot schedules, not anti-vaccines). As someone who works with kids for a living - many on the spectrum - I could wax on-wax off Karate-Kid-style on that whole arena, but I digress.When I see, hear, or vibe one mother spewing negative judgement towards another, it makes me cringe. Can we all agree that being a parent sometimes feels like the equivalent experience of being plopped into the pilot seat of of 747 without the instruction manual? Why are we so threatened by another mother's parenting choices, especially if we are supposedly so confident in our decisions?Because deep down, we're all just praying we're getting it right, but fear we're just killing time 'til our kids land on the therapist couch, bitching about us, while living in our basements. Forever. Working as a behavior specialist, my job is to come into people's homes, when they're feeling their most vulnerable, and partner with them to help their family in crisis. Notice I didn't say "tell them what to do." As an only child, I've never responded to authority well, so the last thing I want to do is impose mine onto others. Of course, cases of abuse are the deal-breakers, but I'm talking about garden-variety parenting choices. And there's a new parenting trend constantly pitting us against one another: from Amy Chua's Tiger Mother Mantras to Mayim Bialek's Attached to the Hip Parenting. For the record, neither work for me, but I don't berate others who want to live that way, as long as the child is generally thriving. Frankly, in my field, thriving is a bar rarely met - we often had to settle for basic safety and functionality. I implore women, whether in the mama-mini-vans or in the childless-by choice lanes, to stop getting in one another's way and learn to support one another. And if you don't agree or can't understand why a mom makes the choices she makes, feel free to ask her and use your manners when doing so. Don't let the illusion of internet anonymity block your basic humanity. Oh and when you're hanging with friends for a kid's 'play-date', curb the snark in front of them because they pick up on everything - even before they can talk - they understand your tone more than you think. Otherwise, don't act all shocked when lil' Ashley grows up to be the alpha bully rivaling a 'Mean Girls' sequel. And what do we - as mama warriors - when we see a fellow mama-member losing it on her kid in the grocery store? If you're brave, go up to her with all the empathy you can muster and say, "Been there! Tough day?" She'll probably feel embarrassed and try to brush you off. Don't lecture or give advice or even ask to help. Just do it without pomp or expecting praise. And if you can't do that, at least offer a smile. Because the best way to care for our kids is to offer compassion to their caregivers.