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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Middle school mania

I remember the day I got braces. I was excited to embrace my new life as a metal-mouth. That night, I lay awake in agony with a pain so deep I was sure I was dying. I took ibuprofin and ate soft foods for days.  Monkeymoo had exactly the same experience with her braces - from the excitement to the shocking pain to the middle-of-the-night weeping.

And it hurt me so much more when she did it. There's no way to explain to someone in the middle of such pain that it is transient. Telling them that they will survive and even be better off in the long run is empty when they are a ball of pain and tears. It's even worse when that pain isn't physical - but deeply emotional. There's no over-the-counter anti-emotional-inflammatory medication.

Which brings us to this: Monkeymoo has entered Middle School.

I've long thought that the middle school years were hard for me because I moved in October of my 6th grade year from a small town and a K-6 school to a big city and a 6-8 middle school. I figured most friendships had been long-established and girls had years to learn the proper clothing choices and I was just having a hard time adjusting. I remember being laughed at for reading the newspaper. I remember long quiet hours in the middle school library. I remember girls being awful. I remember making one friend as we complained over 6th grade math. I remember it being hard and confusing and I remember coming home from school, having navigated these complex mean-girl social relationships, and playing with Barbies behind the closed door of my room because I was lonely and sad and I very much wanted to live in the world I lived in before all of this.
It might be true. Maybe. 
So this summer, while Monkeymoo chattered with her best friend about how very excited they were for middle school, I cringed. I didn't want to project or stifle her excitement, but I didn't imagine there was much at all to be excited for in Middle School.

We are now at the Christmas Break of her 6th grade year and I can honestly say it sucks. 

The academics are great. I have no complaints. Her teachers are awesome and responsive and great. The social stuff is. . . not. 

There must be some weird switch that flips in girls between the ages of 11 and 14 that tells them to learn to navigate complex social relationships, but often goes into hyper-drive Mean Girls bullshit. I'm sure if I reviewed the literature, there would be plenty of meaningful explanations that helped me understand why long-time companions chose to end friendships. I'm absolutely positive if I did so, I would also understand why 11 year-olds, probably even my own, fail to do it with grace and their awkwardness is painful. I might even understand how and why social bullying occurs and how children I love and respect engage in deliberate social rejection. 

Or maybe not, because as I learned long ago - my belief that if I just read more I might uncover the weirdly complex nuances of social relationships is exactly what made me a middle school reject. And, of course, none of that reading can make the pain or confusion caused by those events go away, which is why I haven't suggested it to Monkeymoo. I'm completely at a loss to explain any of her experiences to her. 

Without going into details, my girl's experienced a wide gamut of friendship politics since school started. Alliances made, broken, reforged, whatever.  Monkeymoo remains confused by the whole thing. There have been wild mood swings (ah, the sweet intersection of social bullshit and hormones) and chronic stomach and head aches. There have been tears.  Of course girls get to socialize with whomever they choose and middle school appears to be the time they figure this out, but nobody appears to have much grace while doing it. 

And that hurts not only Monkeymoo. That hurts me. 

In one particularly harrowing moment, Monkeymoo screamed at me that she'd lost all of her friends and now she had nobody. I told her I knew how that felt, but in the end she had her family. She had us. We weren't going anywhere. 

And that's true. 

But in the face of Middle School, it doesn't feel like much.

Note: This post has been edited from its original format. It was not my intent to point the finger at individual girls - this is about all of them, including my own, and, even moreso, about myself and how I can help my daughter navigate these times in the best way possible. 

Addendum:
Turns out a quick review of the lit reveals ONE important tactic for helping girls through these weird years: Mentors.
Because I am the reader I am, here is some other interesting reading, if you're dealing with the wild middle school girl years yourself:
From Sugar and Spice to the Mean and Nasties, Barbara Meltz
When little girls start growing up , Barbara Meltz
Understanding Middle School Friendships, PBS
And this book looks good:  BFFs, Frenemies, and Mean Girls: The Drama Years (Whitney Joiner and Haley Kilpatrick)

Monday, December 8, 2014

I know I've been quiet. . .

I will hopefully be less quiet soon.

See, in August, I started that full-time gig I've wanted for so long. I'm not sorry - it's amazing and difficult and all-encompassing. It is exactly what I wanted and completely overwhelming at the same time.

So I've been doing that. I'm also still doing the educational blogging.

This leaves very little actual and real time for things like creative work, essay writing, blogging, or, dare I say it, parenting.

That said, I'm about to go on break - so look for me because I think I have some things to say.

In the meantime, please enjoy this kitten from www.tehcute.com.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy +1

Remember when I wrote that post about Black Widow and Disney? What you don't know is that afterward, I was feeling a little silly. Like I may have overreacted. Maybe.

So this week, after picking up a Dr. Who Microfigure from Hot Topic (Yeah, I was in Hot Topic. THAT store knows how to get its geek on without forgetting Harley Quinn or Wonderwoman, y'all), we dropped into the Disney store again.

See, we've all been anxiously awaiting the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and thought the Disney Store might have some nice schwag we could pet and ponder.

It's true there was schwag.

And it's even more true there was pondering.

Let me illustrate by showing you the full listing of Disney Guardians of the Galaxy  products. Setting aside for a moment the idea that these are labelled "boys" products, let's have a look at the only t-shirt that has most of the Guardians on it.

In case you've been under a rock or something, here are the Guardians of the Galaxy (Dude, go see it. You won't be sorry, I just know it!)

I'll make this easy. Just count them. COUNT them. Or, on your behalf, I'll give you a character list from left to right. Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Starlord, Groot, and Drax. 
 And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy BOYS t-shirt:
Now count again. COUNT AGAIN.
Four.
There are four here.
So fine. Maybe Gamora's green was a screen too much for the printing of this shirt. Or maybe there wasn't room (though I do see a handy box filled with the Guardians logo and room both above and below for said logo, but whatever). Or maybe "boys don't want a girl on their character shirt".

Or maybe, just maybe, I'm not overreacting. Maybe it's bullshit, Disney. Maybe treating the lady superheroes who are developed and complex, who pass the Mako Mori test, who help formulate these story lines as a plus one is inappropriate. 

Come on. It's time to recognize that some girls don't want your overpriced princess fluff. Some girls don't want to wait for their Prince or escape their castle or be manic pixie dream girls or freeze the fjord. SOME girls want Black Widow and Gamora. Some girls want Avengers and Guardians. They want lady role models that can kick ass and take names. 

My girl, for example. 

She's ready, Disney. And she's starting with you. 

And when I say she'll kick ass and take names, I mostly mean "It's likely she won't shop at your store again and will grudgingly pay for your films only because she loves Joss Whedon and James Gunn. 
Edited to add:
I want to be clear. My beef isn't with Marvel or the movies themselves. In fact, the female roles in the movie - and their essential connections to the teams built in Avengers and Guardians are one of the reasons their absence in Disney merchandising is so offensive. The clear message to my daughter and little girls like her when they enter the Disney Store is this: If you are a girl, you are a princess or you are not worth our time.

Update: Disney has responded to my complaint with a form letter.

Dear Disney Guest,

Thanks so much for your recent email.

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to inform us of the
difficulties you experienced when ordering through DisneyStore.com.
This is not an example of the quality service we wish to provide and we
hope that you find this to be an isolated incident.  Please accept my
apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

We appreciate your business and hope you will visit DisneyStore.com
again in the future.

Sincerely,

Trey

The DisneyStore.com Team

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Disney: Avengers unassembled

When we entered the Disney store this week, the man who greeted us asked: What can I do to help give you a magical day?

My pre-teen daughter stood on the path in the Disney store, her back to the walls of sparkles and princess dresses.  She was staring at the Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Avengers gear, packed over on what I can only imagine is the "boy side" of the store.

Here it comes, you're thinking. Another post about gender bias and toys and blah blah blah. But no. This is more complex and more simple.  This is a post about Marvel and the marketed toys for Avengers and Captain America. And it is a post about my daughter.
Monkeymoo dressed as Black Widow at the Denver Comic Con
Here's the thing about my daughter. In the past few years, she's grown to love and live the geeky goodness that her parents enjoy. We started with comics and moved into superhero movies and have now hit the zenith of Geekdom: The Whedonverse.

So back to the Disney store and her frustration. Fans might know where I'm going with this, I'm guessing, but let me show you the pack of toys that led to Monkeymoo's anger: 
It's called the "Avengers Assemble 5 Piece Set"
She picked it up. 

She put it back down in disgust. That's Avengers *unassembled* mom. I'll be honest. She said a few more things including references to the absence of other women (there was also reference to the absence of African American figures Nick Fury and Falcon in the Marvel lines, but that's for another day, another post, I guess), but I can't quite remember them and I don't want to put words in her mouth. Suffice to say her issue was this: With the exception of a Christmas special set we purchased from Target, it has been extraordinarily difficult to find Black Widow toys. 

We've found Black Widow collectors figures and trust me, we have those. But they aren't toys. They don't allow her to sit down and play action figures with her brother and her father. Trust me : She's standing on the precipice of teendom and our toy days might be short. We want her to play toys with us now, while we still can. We want her little sister, who looks up to her, to have Black Widow toys to play with in the future. 

We also want her to see that the Avengers aren't complete without Black Widow. But the Marvel toy marketing has shown her otherwise. Stand back, it says. The boys will take care of this. Don't worry dear, she hears. Iron Man and Hulk and (old school) Hawkeye and Thor and The Cap are on the case! See, darling, boys don't want a Black Widow toy and only boys buy Marvel Merch. 

Fortunately, the Avengers movie has shown otherwise. Black Widow plays a pivotal role - and when the universe expanded to include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., our regular Tuesday night viewing, my daughter got to see a strong cast featuring several powerful women. The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. ladies are strong. They are feminine. They fight alongside men and occasionally they swoop in to save men. 

My girls want to play Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. They want action figures. They want Melinda Mae. They want Agent Skye. They want Black Widow. They want *ALL* of the Avengers to assemble. I don't think they're asking too much. 

In 2006, Joss Whedon gave a speech for Equality Now discussing his answer to "Why do you write these strong female characters."  He ended with this: Because equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.

And look, I realize in the larger discussions about misogyny and rape culture and all of that, the availability of female action figures might seem like a minor cause. I'm writing about my kids' toys and their cosplay. I get that. I'm writing about merchandising and stuff I know little about. But I know Joss is right - equality is like gravity. We need it. We need balance. And merchandising a movie by omitting one of its pivotal characters is not balance, it's broken.

Avengers Assemble.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

To LF, World Changer:

Note:  LF is working on a project called "About Me".  One part of the assignment was to ask an adult from your life to reflect on how they came to know you, how you are special, and what important things they might have to say.  This is what I wrote for her:

 To LF, World Changer:

The most special thing about you is that you were a glorious surprise.  You came crashing into our lives at a most unexpected time in a most unexpected way and, quite literally, changed our lives.  Not in the “We’ve had a child and now our life is changed forever” way – I mean, in that way too, yes.  But mostly in the “We were living one life and in the course of 9 months it became something completely different from what we ever expected it could be” way. Your dad was recruiting in IT and playing in a band and I was applying for PhD programs in Native American Literature and performing poetry, pretty convinced I’d never have kids. You very much rocked our world, child. You are my biggest and best surprise. And our life, the one that you gave us, the one that is so very different from what we expected,  is so much better than we ever could imagined.
 
You and I met late at night on November 20th, 2002.  You were 10 days past your due date, my friend – which is probably what should’ve warned us that we’d have a child who ran on Lilly-time.  The room was crowded when you were born, too. We had two grandmas, my doula, the doctor and my nurses, several NICU nurses and maybe even a partridge in a pear tree. Later that night, after everyone cleared the room and your father drifted off to sleep on the too-small and incredibly uncomfortable couch, I draped my hand over the edge of your hospital bassinet and rested my fingers on your chest.  I could feel your breath and you, suddenly, were so very far away from me. I wasn’t ready to share you, you see.  For nine and a half months, you’d been mine and mine alone but now, suddenly, you were in this world and I knew that this moment was the beginning of something momentous: your own unfurling.  A blooming, I guess. And every step of the way, your blooming has been beautiful and bittersweet.  It is a lovely thing, watching you grow. 

Now, you embark on your journey to middle school (How in the world are you in middle school already?). I know you will continue to unfurl – to bloom – and to leave your mark on the world as you’ve marked your father and I.  I am amazed by your potential and excited to get to know the you you will become.  On the next page, I enclosed a poem I wrote while you were waiting to be born, when our heartbeats were occasionally in sync, and when you very much enjoyed kicking Fergus as he snuggled up to my belly.
I love you, sweet* girl.


* Well, usually sweet. Sometimes sarcastic. Occasionally bitter. Let’s keep that bitterness occasional though, okay, and always, always, always recognize the beauty in this world and you are a part of that beauty

PAGE TWO: 

Dancing
My baby girl dances to poetry.
Still in the womb she swings to the sound
of her mama’s voice wrapped round nouns
like so many sweets.
She’s swept off her feet at strangers’ slow
voice swaggers on slam stages.
 She sucks syllables instead of thumbs
and kisses the fist of every poem punched
in her direction.
Daily she lounges lazy afternoons snoozing
but when prosidy breaks through she’s moving
to wrap sounds round her like scarves.
She’ll not be starved in linguistic deserts
but steeped deep in word love for life.
My baby girl dances to poetry.
It’s no surprise she relishes word sounds
resounding in her small world.
Her father fell for me over poetry,
found his heart somewhere inside the lines of my rhymes
and I tripped over his strings, fell in step with his
lyrical concoctions, lost in his notes.
Now, with musician blood – his
and word blood – mine,
who knows how many dances our girl’s
got to go through to find herself,
to find her rhythm living in every breath
of her body and line of her mind.
My baby girl dances to poetry
and after we wear the marks of her birth,
I’ll wash her in tears, tear her fears from her eyes
and give her one gift:
I’ll swaddle her in word love turned
self-love, turned two feet always moving
to the music of her mind
the poetry of her blood,
the pumping and drumming
and drumming and pumping,
drumming,
drumming.
My baby girl dances to poetry.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

On pain and pie. . .

I'm sure it's scientific.  The crust is all carbs and fat and the inside is always something amazing and associated with some childhood memory like cinnamon and grandma's house or fresh tart cherries from the neighbor's tree.

I remember when David died and one evening shortly thereafter I cried to my husband Why are there so many pies here. People keep showing up and saying they're sorry and giving us pie.

Last month, when my grandmother was in the hospital, my uncle ran out for a quick lunch and passed over pie for dessert so he could get back and be with the family.  That night he arrived home to find a fresh apple pie on the counter waiting for him (in small towns, breaking and entering and leaving pie happens, you know).  And in his last night in his mother's home, after they'd buried her and gone through her things and packed away what they could, he dug out from the very back of the fridge, a single piece of pie.

I know. Sweets are awesome and can trigger the feel good chemicals in our bodies.  I understand with my brain that this makes sense.  And I understand with my heart that pie won't make things better, but that also, in some small way, it is an act of love.

It's a time waster, pie. It's pesky and temperamental - crust ingredients must be just so cold before and just so hot in the oven to come out right.  The insides are never as good if they come from a can, so they mean peeling and slicing or carefully pitting apples or peaches or cherries and carefully folding them with just the right amount of sugar.  And the baking.  The baking must be just right. There's a fine line between a perfectly golden crust and one that's gone tough and dry. I'm bad at pie most days because I'm bad at patience, I guess.

Yesterday, a friend told me some rough stuff.  I'm the worst and handling bad news. I clam up and say everything will be okay and tell jokes and act sarcastic and then run away. By the time I got home, I was overwhelmed with a nonsensical desire to make him a pie.  Apple. Cherry. Apricot or peach. Who knows.

My heart hurts for my friend - and yet he's amazing and inspiring and all of those hyperbole words that probably aren't all that hyperbolic when aimed toward the right people. And knowing what I know of him, he probably makes a killer pie.

Anyhow, my hope for my friend is that he has more time to spend as he wishes. And more pie and other acts of love.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What an obituary can't say. . .


Four generations. We are lucky, lucky people.
It can't tell the world how much you are loved or how much you will be missed.  Newspaper readers won't know how you taught me to bake cinnamon rolls, waiting for the big tupperware lid to pop, or how you usually served them when we got together.  They won't know that mom kept a few Bud Lights around for when you visited or how vicious a hand of "May I" can get when the family played late into the night.

It can list the names of your children and even your grandchildren, but strangers won't know how fiercely you loved us all.  And how, in the families that your children and grandchildren created or built over the years, you loved all of us all equally and deeply.  And it can't tell anyone how you always had something to serve us when we stopped by, especially sweets for the kids.

It won't whisper the secrets of your love for your husband but we know what we saw: a woman dedicated to her marriage and family through good years and bad. It definitely won't tell anyone that you sewed over your finger when I was 8 and learning to sew in your living room one summer, or how you put your finger in your mouth and said "It happens" and moved on.

And the word limit will keep us from telling the story of your months-long travel to visit everyone after Grandpa died.  How you stayed at his side in his last days and when he was gone, didn't melt into a shell of yourself but went a goodwill tour of the United States to see the people you loved.

Finally, because I'm stopped by the limitations of time, not a lack of things to say: there is no way for us to say in your obituary that you are here.  That your smile is woven into the fabric of each of us and your eyes shine on through your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  That we all aspire to your strength and subtlety.  That we will do everything we can to live the lives you helped give us in a way that honors you and inspires others.

I love you, Grandma.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

High/Low

Kind of an old Honeybadger picture, but definitely one for the books.

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” ― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Tonight, while settling Elsa down to sleep (which involves a lengthy ritual interrupted by room break-outs and waking up siblings and sometimes sleeping in a drawer voluntarily or doing some other such day-extending naughtiness), we were snuggled together.  Nose to nose, her head resting on my hand, she said Let's do High/Low. When asked her high, she said school. This is always her answer.  Her low involved choosing the wrong stick for the stick pony she made today.  I'm guessing in a world where that's your low, you're doing pretty well.

Then she asked me mine.

My high was. . . well, it was the first day of the new semester, so seeing fifty fresh faces in the classroom was great. That was my high.  Then I told her my low was when I lost my temper with everyone in the house this afternoon.

Mama she said.

Don't worry, Mama. She said.

I'll help you find it tomorrow, Mama. And then I snuggled her until she drifted off to sleep.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Oh, here's something I do now. . .

Mr.LMTYS has been jogging for several years now. He's addicted, I think. Won't miss a day, really - sleet or snow or terrible sleep doesn't matter. He's out there running. And my friends are runners - like, marathon runners.  And somehow, beyond all reason, I ended up on the board of a running charity. And one of my internet heroes and fellow Sriracha lovers, Matthew Inman, HE always talks about jogging being awesome.  Because I am easily swayed by peer pressure and internet strangers, I thought what the heck. 

Why not. 

So I started last Wednesday.  On Thursday I ran in the lazy river at the pool during the Honeybadger's swim lessons. Friday I ran in the cold.  It was awesome. Did you hear that? It. was. awesome. 

I like to think I look like this.
If you add like 20 lbs and tie dye pants and a bright green hoodie and a stroller and a 7 year old boy talking about Minecraft. 
My goal is to run several R2DG 5ks this summer - and then, maybe, if I'm feeling really spectacular, a half-marathon by age 40.  That sounds impressive, right?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Spilled steamed milk: no tears

Monday was the last day of Christmas break.

And let me tell you, the LMTYS house was beyond ready to get the kids BACK TO SCHOOL. The squabbling and bickering and sniping and tattle-taling is out of control, folks, and this mama is DONE.  I took the children swimming because - what FUN! Swimming!!

And when we were done I promised them Starbucks. Beloved, blissful, quieting Starbucks.  We went through the drive-thru and everybody got silent and my Venti Cinnamon Dolce latte sat in my cupholder singing the joys of a few minutes of peace and quiet and a bunch of calories.

And we drove home, and it was lovely. And we got home and the Bigs got out of the car and ran to the house and I set my 20oz beautiful latte on top of the van so I could let the Honeybadger out of her carseat.

I think you can guess what happened next.  I looked up to see my coffee falling down. On my head. And the ground. My beautiful high-caloric escape from reality splashed everywhere on the snowy road and van.

And then my car, my lovely new smarter-than-humans car beeped at me.  I like to think it was saying Sorry to see you've dropped your coffee that must be a miserable first world problem. But I'm pretty sure it was saying "Hey dummy: I have FIFTEEN CUPHOLDERS FOR A REASON."

It was exactly like this if by sidewalk you mean my head
 The good news, and there's always good news, is that I smelled delicious for the rest of the night. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Elsa! No!

I took Honeybadger and the bigs to Barnes & Noble yesterday to spend some Christmas gift certificates.  Much to my surprise each child picked at least one book, rather than blowing all of their money on toys. Barnes & Noble has a disturbingly large toy section these days.
Seriously. Maybe the kids can read. . . the boxes?
Anyhoooooo, not the point. 

The point is that at checkout, the kids went up on their own to handle payment and checking out (a good life experience, if you ask me).  As the bigs were doing that, Honeybadger dove onto the floor and rolled around just under Monkeymoo's feet, at which point Monkeymoo said:

No Elsa! No! 

As if she were addressing a puppy. To be fair, Honeybadger spends 20% of her time acting like a puppy, so it's probably appropriate. The clerk helping us said Did you just say 'Elsa no!'?  When I was a kid we had a ferile cat we called Elsa. We were always telling it no! 

To which Monkeymoo replied: Yeah. That sounds about right. She pretends to be a ferile cat just about always.

Something tells me maybe I shouldn't have let Monkeymoo read all of those Lemony Snickett books in the past.  I'm not sure. 


Friday, January 3, 2014

2014 so far. . . in pictures

Hello, loves. It's been awhile. Sorry to say it will be awhile longer.  Why? you ask?  Well... let me show you...

You take a little this:
No. Seriously, we stayed up playing Space Invaders and Centipede and Millipede until 1 AM.
And add a whole lot of picking up a 35lb this, with extra squirming:
And write a nice long letter to your grandma.  3 pages. Single spaced and hand-written.  And you'll wake up needing this:

I remember when I used to sling gallons of milk at the coffee shop and stay up until dawn playing video games and the worst I had was... nothing.  Hello, getting older.  Nice to meet you.

I'll be back soon, I promise. I just need to be able to type first!!
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