Monday, November 21, 2005

How It's Going

I find myself thick in a thicket that I blithely wandered into when I was kind of cute, fun, and young. An inviting marquee at the entrance of the thicket said, "Come, See If You Can Get Pregnant, Have Your Own Kid!" There was probably some good music playing and I may have sung along, saying to Dan something like, "It's the beginning of a great adventure!" and he must have said, "If you say so."
It was fun going in for sure, and the Baby Bjorn was a blast. Small people added a whole new category to thrift-shopping and refreshed that flickering flame for me. Haircuts that we would never try for ourselves could so easily be tested upon tiny crowns for fun.
I'm quite certain that I did not enter into the thicket fully comprehending that part of the great adventure would involve the shaping human minds. The thicket at this juncture grows thorny as mind-molding is not really my bag. So here I am now and you can be quite sure that I'm winging it in a sweat, trying out self-devised techniques like bad haircuts on these unfortunate young people, and flying by the seat of my pants. Things are getting harder as the human minds set and for many things I have no reference points to guide me. For instance, I can't remember discussing sex with anybody over four and a half feet tall when I was Em's age. As I got taller, the parental conversations didn't really happen either. Church told me not to. Period. (Speaking of period, that was a total mystery too.) But I've gleaned from the media that this shouldn't be so, that dialogue is absolutely necessary if you don't want to end up housing your very own infected whore. Or worse. I don't and so therefore, whenever it strikes me, often when I am crossing a street or on the subway with Em, I'll fire off, "How's your vagina? Do you have any questions? Don't feel ashamed of it. But don't show it to anyone, ok?"
She tells me that it's fine. Fine! She gets surly about it, so I'm pretty sure I'm doing the sex-ed wrong. (Nobody asks me about my vagina and I think that it'd be nice once in awhile if someone did, but that's another blog entirely.)
Sex-ed needs work.

Sometimes, though, I find I've gotten lucky. Sometimes, I find I must have done right, somehow. My kids are basically good and surprise me by having better hearts and less hangups than I at their age (or now for that matter.)
To wit:

Racial Differences
While I grew up with nary a black person to talk to in my western Colorado childhood, Em and Boone often find themselves in a pasty minority on the playground and at school. I say they find themselves, but that is inaccurate as they simply do not realize their minorityhood. Only I do, fresh off the boat from Utah. Since we've been here, I've been waiting for them to ask, what's up with all the brown skin and curly hair here? But it's been a year and a half with no questions. Looks like we got here early enough for them to not notice. I feel good about that. I feel like I have given them a flat ground to stand on instead of an artificially elevated one. Also, they will never have to deal with the inner shame of thinking to themselves as adults, "I'm talking to a black person. Act natural. Act normal. Act like this isn't the first time in your life that this has happened." It is with regret that I share this about myself, but with complete pride and happiness that I share this about Em: in school, she had big rivalry with a snappily-dressed black girl who was quite dominating. Her hair was just so, her lip gloss was just so, and her coordinated tights were, you guessed it, just so. She didn't like Em's vegetarian, animal-rights, anti-fashion attitude. Em didn't like this little girls attitude. One day, Em came home triumphant and upon questioning, revealed that she had finally come up with something to say back to Crystal (who is expert in the dis.) What was Em's excellent retort? "At least I'll never be a slave!"
My heart sank. I had held off explaining that skin-color variations didn't mean anything because the very explanation of such meant otherwise. "Effed-up again," I told myself.
"Em? What do you mean by that?" I asked.
"At least I'll never be a slave to fashion! Ha! Never!"
Yayyy! Tabula rasa prevails and the slate is not tainted by racism or fear of racism. Only the despising of fashionistas and beauty queens. That's ok. (By the way, in Emmie's protracted rivalry with Crystal, neither girl has mentioned the other's race. Only the other's style. I consider this a tiny victory.)

Cultural Differences
When we first moved here, Boone thought the Hasidic Jewish boys with their ringlets and yarmulkes were wearing uniforms for their school. During the still, wet heat of summer and wearing little more than an underwear brief, Boone watched these boys from the sprinklers on the playground. He took notice of their long sleeves, black woolen vests, long wooly pants, tassels, and sensible black shoes. The hats, the ringlets, the Yiddish. I explained that this tortuously hot clothing was more than a school uniform, that it was part of a complete and complex lifestyle. My knowledge, naturally, was lacking though. I stared at these kids right along with my son. I tried to talk to their mothers. Their mothers moved themselves away from me.
One day, while breaking up the summer days by visiting Coney Island and that famous Deno's Wonderwheel, Boone and I spent a miserable 30 minutes in line for a chance to get above it all and turn upside down in a cage a couple of times. We were directly behind a group of Hasidic kids. Finally, the Jewish boys were crammed and locked into their cage and ours was descending for us. Boone, in his rather friendly but taunty way yelled out, "Heeeeyyyy Jews! Heeeeyyy, Jews! You better watch out, Jews!" I was frozen in the summer heat. It sounded for all the world like a threat. With all of Coney Island listening with dropped jaw, I demanded, "Boone! What are you talking about?!" Wounded and confused, he answered, "It's a scary ride! Those boys might get scared!"
We got into our cage and I thought of Boone with no knowledge of the holocaust, no notion of all the jokes made about Jews, no notions of how New York City is divided up. His only relevant notions at the moment had to do with how scary a ride can be at Coney Island and his obligation to warn some fellow boys. Boys who, just like Boone, must really love the Wonderwheel.

Differences in Sexuality
When we lived in Salt Lake City, I was contacted by the press because I was a straight mom who let her kid hang with the kid of a lesbian mom. Big news in Utah as I wasn't outwardly perverse, kept my house clean, and scaled the food pyramid properly.
Now, here, I'm no news. Well, yes, I am news, but I'm news because I am Mormon, or grew up Mormon (confusion: in Utah, I am unmistakably NOT Mormon. In NYC, I cannot convince people that I'm not Mormon because I was born, blessed, and baptized. The rest is of no consequence, but that is another blog altogether.)
So, our good friends here, Brett and Roland are integrated into our kids' lives like uncles, really nice uncles with a big dog and a willingness to rough house. They are there in a pinch and irreplaceable. They bring cookies. They want to be married. They want a kid.
The other night, it occurred to me to ask Em what she thought about Brett and Roland together.
"What do you mean?" She asked, a little tremor in her voice as if I were about to break it to her that they were splitting up or something.
"I mean, two guys together. Is that weird to you or anything?" I was gauging how much the outside world had gotten to her.
"No, why would it be?" she asked.
"It's not. Never mind."
More triumph. This could never have been me at her age. She is better.

So that's where I am in the thicket. That's how it's going. The sex-ed thing still needs work, but I am letting Em and Boo read the New Yorker. The cartoons within have the benefit of teaching them about sex and what's funny about sex. Just the other day, Em asked, "what's a condom?" as she surveyed one cartoon where one of the King's men was saying, "At least he was wearing a condom," while all other King's men hoisted a cracked but condom-encased Humpty up off the ground. Well, it's not that funny, but at least it gave me a chance to ask Em, "How's your vagina?"

I'm taking suggestions.

P.S. If anyone wants to analyze the violent drawing above, feel free.


Anonymous Errorista said...

With this post you have cemented your position as my role model, in the mothering realm. You're it in others, too....but they don't apply here. Your small victories with your children are huge pieces of triumph. They are taking people for what they're worth. The rest is minutia. Mind molding as it turns out, is your bag. You rock.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

OK, fine, I'll ask. How's your vagina?

For future reference, though, I have a couple of questions:

1. How often do I need to ask?
2. In what tone of voice should I ask? Concerned? Nonchalant? Accusatory? Chatty?

5:50 PM  
Anonymous dug said...

i have some questions.

is "thicket" some kind of code for vagina?

do you ever ask boone how his penis is, or is that dan's job?

do you ever wish you could wear hasidic jewish clothing, just for the fashion kudos?

is it true that the word "vagina" originally meant "thicket?"

and finally. now that we've been conversing for a minute and i feel more comfortable with you. though maybe not you with me. um. okay, here goes: how's your vagina?

6:35 PM  
Anonymous A. Toad said...

Gawd forbid that I should ever be put in charge of raising any life-form more complex than than a philodendron.

I am certain that I would have repeated false starts when it came to "the talk" with my poor future kid, and finally, one day, I would just blurt out everything I knew to the unlucky critter (more than I will ever admit to anyone), most likely scarring him or her for life.

fatty, dug... egad you guys... are you trying to kill me? Some of us like to drink our seasonal egg nog lattes while reading these blogs.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous BIG Mike said...

It makes you proud when the next generation transcends your social perspectives and phobias. My eldest was allowed 3 friends for his birthday in January (a little expensive, being a movie and lunch thus the restriction). His school has 2 teacher double classes so there were about 50 kids to choose from. One of the children he chose was a girl in a wheelchair. I asked why, hoping it wasn't a sympathy vote, and he responded "she's my next best friend after Mitch, we share lunches heaps." Tears of pride.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous BIG Mike said...

P.S. I hate P.S.'s. Which has taught me that I should have read all the comments first.

fatty - I'm pretty sure that request for a pop quiz on vaginal status was meant for anyone but the brother. And maybe that crazy uncle with the toupe and food in his teeth. But definitely not the brother.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just when i think this blog can't possibly get any better, it does. you've managed to secure a few themes for future blogs too: mormonism and vaginas. the future looks bright!


10:31 AM  
Blogger newbrooklyner said...

err, your respectful tone is unwaranted but certainly appreciated and exemplary. It does leave one scratching one's head about the canyon of difference between our refined selves and that honey-sucker who seemed to find us every time we moved.

Alright, fatty. It's doing alrighty. Thank you for FINALLY asking. Oh, and how is yours, then?
Oh, and respectfully is the right answer. Respect it

dug: no, no need, somewhat, um, no, and sleepy, thanks.

a.toad, you shouldn't encourage fatty and dug (although ignoring them hasn't yet worked for our family.) I have the feeling that you'd do fine, just fine with even more complicated house plants than a philodendron.

Big Mike, just the phrase, "we share lunches heaps" makes me want to adopt your child, sight unseen. You must be proud. If not, send him over.

Matt, the two go hand in hand. Or something. Maybe not.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

let me get this straight. i asked the question you specifically said you wanted asked, and for this i get:

1. called a honey-sucker you would have preferred to have left behind.
2. told that i should not be encouraged to comment, now that i've started commenting because you smacked me around for not commenting.
3. obliquely told i have a vagina, when you know darn well that this is a sensitive subject for me, what with the gender reassignment surgery having gone horribly wrong.

so what did i do to earn the triple smackdown?

5:04 PM  
Anonymous BIG Mike said...

fatty - you are the brother to 3 sisters, as am I. There is no reason for the hostility, it's simply a fact of nature.

Brooklyn - He likes purple and pink and dances better than any white 7 year old should be capable of. NY is probably perfect for him. But, NO.

5:49 AM  

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