Monthly Archives: June 2012

BOYS

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It’s clearly poetic justice that I gave birth to boys instead of girls.

Growing up, boys were completely foreign territory to me. My only sibling is my younger sister and, as kids, we were much closer to our mother than our father. He lived in the same house, yet he was somewhat remote, a mystery to me.

Like my father, boys were also a mystery to me. They were cut from a different cloth, with different body parts and temperaments, living in a world made up of seek and destroy games, where special attention and privileges seemed to be just another perk of their world. Girls were not allowed on their turf. Instead, they were condescended to and used as an example to point out weakness in other boys. It was a place where girls sought boys’ attention in often desperate attempts, competed for them, did everything to win them over, even when it meant degrading themselves.

It was a powerful place from afar – I say afar because I was never an insider – I was simply a removed observer watching their kingdom, where they were the decision makers, the power brokers, decided which games were played and how, which girls were tapped as worthy or pretty, where the alpha males got the pick of the litter. From my vantage point, males were also predators, perpetrators, and aggressors.

As a child, I envied boys and their special privileges and entitlement, their fearlessness, their physical strength and their position as the arbiters of everything on the playground, in the neighborhood and later on, as men, in the home and office. In turn, I carved out my own world that didn’t include them, where they didn’t hold the same currency. Instead of desperately knocking on their forts and tree houses with their “no girls allowed” signs, asking to be let in, I decided I didn’t want to be let in anyway. Having no boys in the house, a father who worked long hours and was almost an interloper in our little estrogen triad at home, I was able to tune out boys for a very long time. They weren’t noticing me and I surely wasn’t noticing them.

And then one day, I grew up and gave birth to three of them.

I’ll admit, I assumed daughters would be in my future, having spent so much time in a female-centric world as a child, my sister my constant companion. Raising daughters seemed like a natural second act. But of course, life is ironic like that. Life loves teaching you lessons.

Raising boys has been an education. They’ve already answered so many questions I never knew the answers to when I watched boys from over my fence as a young girl. They’ve proven all my theories wrong about the elusive opposite sex that was once so misunderstood by me. My lovely boys have taught me to embrace maleness, to not fear it or resent it but to appreciate it, to cherish it, with all its sensitivity, its vulnerability and its tenderness – and to nurture it.

I hope my boys don’t buy into the silly socialized clichés others have defined for what it means to be male or female. I want them to play and interact with girls and see them as partners and comrades working toward common goals, to not think of pink as a yucky “girl” color, to cry if they feel like crying because boys cry and girls cry — because humans cry. We have a long way to go, especially living in a society that gives mixed messages to boys, teaching them to drive their feelings underground, while at the same time encouraging anger and bravado as suitable traits for boys and men to show in public.

It’s my job as their mother to help counter the messages marketed toward my sons. Because the messages they get at home should be the loudest, even louder than those already being shouted from billboards and screens and music and the mouths of other boys telling them who they’re supposed to be.

My sons, who I love so deeply, have taught me to love boys after so many years of shunning them, and in turn, I’m more capable of helping them love themselves.

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Nine Months

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When I hold him and run my fingertips along the buttery skin of his cheeks, I wonder if I’ll remember this. This exact moment.

Will I remember what his flawless baby skin felt like when I stare into the face of the man he’ll become one day? When I look into that man’s face, will I still see the baby whose chubby, neck-less body I used to kiss? It’s hard to wrap my mind around it. He’s noticeably growing daily, but I’m not sure how it happens. Does it happen as he sleeps, his body elongating, his facial features becoming sharper and more prominent?

Everyone tells you this first year goes so quickly and it does. Even in those foggy newborn moments, I remember circling and tracing his hands and feet in my mind, as if that alone would help me remember how small they once were. Every day, I took a mental inventory: the exact pitch of his cry, the circumference of his tiny head, the shape of his fleshy ears. But, still, even with all the photos taken almost hourly on my phone as proof over these past nine months, I’m already forgetting.

He’s obviously the same baby, but he’s a different baby too. There are things he doesn’t do anymore. He doesn’t spit up (thankfully), he doesn’t cry for me the second he sees me enter the room like he used to. He’s content playing by himself. He’s less clingy and needy, heading more and more toward independence. He stands alone on his legs for long chunks of time, without a surface to hold onto. He’s not walking yet, but pushing closer to that milestone. He feeds himself everything the rest of the family is eating, with a deft pincer grasp to boot.

When I stare at his perfect baby face as he drifts off to sleep in my arms at night, I struggle to imagine the man. What will that man look like? What will his voice sound like? What will give him joy in life? The uncertainty of it all is exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. It’s all a mystery and I want to both slow down the process in getting there and speed it up, so I can meet that man and make sure he’s okay, to know that life is mostly good to him and that he’s as happy as he once was as a nine-month-old baby, the one who came along at exactly the right time in our lives, the one with an easy smile and a contagious belly laugh that made everyone in the room laugh right along with him.

Happy Nine Months, Baby Boy.

Babywearing, Daddy-Style

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Disclaimer #1: I am in no way being compensated by Ergobaby to promote their carriers, I just truly adore their product and wholeheartedly believe in their flawless design and functionality. I have survived many a trip to Trader Joe’s with my three boys while wearing the baby in the Ergo, pushing the toddler in a shopping cart and thwarting the six-year-old’s attempts at sneaking extra snacks in.

Disclaimer #2: The above photo was completely staged. My husband doesn’t normally “wear” our baby, but I really, really wish he would. Because, not only do I think daddies look sweet (not to mention, hot) wearing their babies, it sure does free up mama’s hands when they do. Happy Mama. Happy Daddy.
Before we had our sons, for some reason, I thought my husband would be the babywearing type. I just assumed he’d naturally want to carry our babies around in a carrier like all those other cute dads I saw strolling around the park, their babies perched upon their chests, chubby thighs all happily dangling about like little frogs.
But, no.

He’s a highly nurturing dad who is completely hands on with our boys and doesn’t get caught up in gender roles or stereotypes whatsoever when it comes to parenting. In fact, sometimes, I think if he could breastfeed, he would. He’s affectionate with our boys and there’s a deep intimacy between them, yet, he’s never offered to carry them in a carrier. When I’ve suggested it to him, he sort of nonchalantly dismisses the idea and would rather push them in our bulky, train-like double stroller.  I’m not sure why. He also opts to carry an old plastic, nondescript shopping bag as a diaper bag when he’s out with the boys, rather than an actual diaper bag, or anything functional that even resembles a bag for carrying baby goods.

So when I read about Ergobaby’s Father’s Day Giveaway, where one lucky dad will win their performance carrier, which is quite masculine-looking and perfect for a Father’s Day gift if you ask me, I thought, maybe if I gave him one as a gift, he’d feel more inclined  to use it.

So I’m giving it a shot. If I win one for him, I’m still not sure if he’ll wear our baby in it, but — hey — I’m sure I’d get plenty of use out of it myself.

So head on over to the Ergobaby blog and enter your guy in the giveaway for a chance at winning! Good luck!

Summertime

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Summer is without a doubt my favorite season.

I think Janis Joplin probably sang it best: “Summertime, child, the living’s easy.”

I love living in the sunshine. I feel as if  negative feelings defrost in the sunlight, bringing out happiness and joy and a willingness  to live hard and play hard, to be wild at heart. Summer smells like childhood to me, like sweet watermelon, ripe peaches, pineapple-coconut suntan lotion, chlorine, saltwater and vanilla ice cream. We get so much sunshine in California, yet I never tire of it. Never. I would spend 365 days a year under the sun if I could, cooling off in a swimming pool in someone’s backyard, a smoky grill nearby, smelling of charcoal and a hint of gas. Because, to me, that’s summertime.

That’s happiness.

I grew up living the quintessential California lifestyle near the beach. My sister and I and our friends spent entire summers by the Pacific Ocean, barefoot, our noses and shoulders sore from too much sun, our long hair braided with sand and salt down our backs, twisted and knotted like driftwood. We spent our summer months running wild through crashing waves, our lithe bodies browned and bruised from falling down and getting back up, only to be knocked down once again. I felt fearless back then, getting tumbled and tossed inside waves like laundry in a dryer, not caring if I was held under for what seemed like minutes.

In ways, I can’t imagine watching my boys do this now. I have panic attacks when I see them enter water as it is, their skin preemptively doused in sunscreen, wearing hats and swim diapers, with flotation devices nearby. Modern parenting involves a series of cautions and precautions and protective gear. I fear all sorts of things for them, drowning being the worst. Did my parents worry about us like this back in the 70s, when we frolicked alone on the beach? I doubt it. Back then, I think ignorance was bliss.

My boys already have such a different childhood. I fear their lives are centered too much around screens and being indoors. To get to the beach, we drive miles and miles in frustrating traffic, searching for a space on the overcrowded sand that isn’t taken by another family with the same idea. We orchestrate an entire day around the beach, packing endless bags and gear for the kids, only to feel like we’re forcing ourselves to have fun once we get there, because all the effort put into just getting there needs to feel justified.

As a child, it was all so organic, sometimes we walked to the beach and we didn’t take much with us, just a willingness to play and our towels. We didn’t wear sunscreen or hats. We let our skin burn, we let ourselves fall hard on sand and rocks that cut our toes until they sometimes bled, saltwater from the ocean our hydrogen peroxide. We showed up on the beach and played for hours until the sun started setting and our parents had to tear us away.

As the boys get older, I’m so aware of the stark contrasts in how they are growing up and how I grew up as a child. They are living so much more of an isolated, urban existence and I want more for them. I have to laugh when I “arrange” summer play dates with other parents, or while signing my oldest up for summer camps with hefty fees, that guarantee calculated “fun” for your child. It makes me sad at the same time. Gone are the days of allowing your kids to leave for the neighbor’s house in the morning and not seeing them again until they came home for dinner, dirty and sweaty and exhausted. That was how I spent my summers as a child, running the streets with our pack of neighborhood ragamuffins, no hovering helicopter parents to be found.

With all of our cautiousness, are our children that much safer today?

I have to tear my own boys away from TV screens and iPads and iPhones and apps, like my own mom used to have to tear us away from building clubhouses in trees, from playing ditch ’em in the streets until dark.

Although I find myself doing everything to prevent it, deep down, I want my boys to get dirty and sunburnt and windblown, with bruises on their shins, this summer.

I want them to scrape their knees on rocks and shells and hunt for sand crabs until sunset.