Who Is the Real Butthead?

“I offered him a Hershey’s Kiss and he said he couldn’t have one because he lost his treat.” my friend J told me.

“Man, I love that T is incapable of lying.”

“I asked him why he lost his treat and he told me he called you a fool.”

“Yup. Last night when I was putting him to bed. He was mad at Z. I don’t think he understood exactly what it meant. Or that he would be in so much trouble.”

This conversation happened moments before J’s husband discovered that C was evacuating his bladder and bowels hidden by my car’s driver side door.

While we were chatting I could smell myself. I didn’t get the chance to shower today and my year-old flip flops reek with an odor that can only be described as evil.

It has not been a banner day.

Z’s sister E and our niece G left this morning. We had a great visit with them, and the good news is we will see them again next month. But the thing about sharing a living space with guests is you start to see how you and your kids are acting with fresh eyes.

My fresh eyes are pretty embarrassed by what they saw. All I do is yell at the boys. All they do is give me the metaphorical finger. Thank god they haven’t learned how to give me the literal finger yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

Back when I was a fantastic mother (you know, before I actually had children) I knew I would not stand for disrespect from my kids. Man, I knew so much back then, so very much. I was so self righteous, so smart, so incredibly full of shit.

At nearly five and nearly three my boys are raging buttheads.

Nearly five years into parenting there are still days when I don’t get around to bathing.

For the life of my I cannot figure out how to potty train my nearly three year old. Today included one pee in the potty, two pees on the floor, countless trips to the bathroom in which nothing happened, and as mentioned, my friend C finding him leaning against my car with one hand as he pissed, a gigantic turd dangling between his legs like a tail. Thankfully grown up C convinced three year old C to squat on the ground until the poop broke away and fell to the driveway where it was immediately swarmed by flies. But then T ran behind the car and stepped right in the shit.

Some days parenting feels like I’ve crested the top of a roller coaster, like my stomach has fallen through my feet as the tiny car that holds me plummets back to the ground. But I never level out, I just keep falling and falling while feeling more and more out of control.

My boys are not quite five and three. If they are buttheads it isn’t their fault. Which leads me to some pretty uncomfortable conclusions about my job performance.

T and turbo

See this adorable photo? Taken moments after T kissed the damn snail and hours before he’d call me a fool.

t pic of c pic of t

See this adorable photo? Taken by T of C taking a photo of T. Very meta. Taken moments before an epic physical altercation between the boys over who got to play with the playmobil dude wearing the black outfit.

leonard cousins goodbye

See this adorable photo? Cousins saying goodbye? In the next photo I snapped it looked like T was trying to pull off a chunk of C’s flesh.

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Last Days of School

A year ago I watched the mother of one of T’s classmates struggle with the reality that her child was leaving the comfort of our extraordinary preschool and moving on to kindergarten. The transition proved painful for both mother and child. I sympathized with my friend, but I did not understand her sadness. In fact, I told her it simply wouldn’t be a big deal for T and me. She had the grace not to tell me I was full of shit.

Five years into this parenting gig and I still feel a twinge of annoyance when a more experienced parent tells me how my family will feel or act during an upcoming phase of development. “We are different” I think, “They don’t know us. We are special.” At the same time I cannot resist breaking it down for parents with kids younger than mine. I hear myself explaining what is coming and I hate myself for being that person. Especially as I see the look on the face of whatever friend I’m speaking to. I can see what is running through their head, “We are different. She doesn’t know us. We are special.”

At the beginning of last week I dropped the boys off at school and on my way out found this in T’s mailbox:

photo (41)

Last fall we were asked to fill the paper with words that described who we hoped T would be as an adult.

photo (42)

That hair. I miss that crazy hair so much.

Friday was the final day of school. During the week laminated photos that decorated the boys’ classrooms trickled home with them. But the little poster of our hopes for T was the first. I lifted it out of the mailbox and suddenly my throat was burning and tears flooded my eyes. I made it to the car before the ugly crying began.

That friend of mine? I emailed her and confessed I was wrong last year. Both T and I were struggling with his upcoming transition to kindergarten. I asked for advice on how she got through it.

A year ago I was so excited for the following fall I couldn’t see straight. T would have the same teachers that he adored. C would be going to school as well. He threw a fit every single day of spring semester when we dropped T off because he wanted to stay. And the fact that I was going to have a couple of hours a day to myself helped tremendously. Our small transition included the loved and familiar for T, exactly what C needed developmentally, and a fucking break for me. Life was great. Transitions were great. Why would kindergarten be any different?

Oh, pompous, naive, foolish Karen. When will you get over yourself and start actually listening to the more experienced parents?

The unknown is hard for both T and me. Watching his anxiety rise as he realized he wouldn’t be able to bring his much loved teachers with him to elementary school was heartbreaking. His fear is real and I ache for him. I’m also kind of furious that he is growing up. His delicious little boy body is getting harder and harder to lift. His limbs dangle everywhere when he crawls into my lap. The last five years have been the fastest of my life and I know time will only continue to fly by with more speed. Even if I didn’t believe it the first time a well meaning, experienced parent told me.

walking away from preschool

T walking away from preschool for the last time on Friday. Again, I was able to save the ugly crying for the car. Victory.

preschool T

The boys attend (Um, I mean C attends and T attended…sniffle) a laboratory school on the SU campus. Undergrads and grad students work with the children each semester. The assignments include these lovely bound books made for each child that tracks development over the semester. Here are the covers of T’s 6 books.

toddler room C

And C’s first two.

Don’t Read the Comments

The last week has been really weird. Awesome. Overwhelming. Scary. Cool. Annoyingly Navel Gaze-y.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend of mine from high school my last post was put up on the Huffington Post on Tuesday. My friends on facebook were amazing about sharing it. After a couple of days it had a more than 1000 likes and 200 shares. It was crazy. It was definitely the widest audience any post of mine has ever received.

And then last night A Mighty Girl shared the post on their facebook page. Suddenly the piece had 15 thousand likes and more than 1700 shares on facebook.

Let’s be honest here. People don’t blog because they want their words to go into a vacuum. We want to be read. I’ve been very happy with my teeny tiny and very kind readership over the last 4 years. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wondered what it would be like to have a post read by a shitload of people, if I hadn’t hoped for it.

It would be disingenuous to pretend it isn’t a head rush of an ego boost. Turns out the reality is also deeply unnerving. I do not have a thick skin. And I read the comments.

For some reason the ones that hurt the most were those that thought I’d made the interaction up. You guys know honesty is my deal. I’m a lot of shitty things, but liar is not one of them.

Hey, these problems are pretty good ones to have. The bottom line is I’m thrilled this has happened. Next to that joy is also some trepidation. I can’t explain to strangers that I really love my kids and try to be a good mom. They only see the little slice I’ve given them. And if I don’t explain myself clearly enough in that slice it is my own damn fault.

I’m scared to write another post. This note doesn’t feel real because it is just an extension of the last one. I’m scared the last post was a fluke. I’m scared I’ll be influenced by the larger audience, scared my writing will change because I’m trying to reach more people.

This is what I’ve wanted. This is really cool. I also sort of fear I bit off more than I can chew.

I know the endless self promotion is gross, but tomorrow morning at 10:35EST I’ll be doing an interview about the piece on HuffPost Live. Did I mention how surreal this has been?

In other good news (Why do I feel so guilty about all the good news? Oh yeah, because I’m crazy) that academic conference I was terrified of presenting at? It happened on Thursday. The panel I was on could not have gone better. And I only had horrifying diarrhea once during the whole trip. That actually might be the absolute best piece of news of this crazy damn week!

freaks geeks

Z’s Father’s Day present. Hand lettered by Syracuse artist Cayetano.

z and e play

Last weekend Z and our dear friend E rocking out at Art on the Porches.

leonard cousins farmers market

E and G are visiting for the week. Leonard cousin time!

Jabba the Hutt and Lessons in Feminism

“Can we talk about Princess Leia?”

“Ok, but just for a sec because then it is time for songs and cuddles.”

T and I were snuggled up and chatting after looking through the most amazing Star Wars Pop Up Book.

“Why does Jabba the Hutt put a chain around her neck?”

“So she can’t escape.”

“But why does he do it?”

“Because he is a really bad and evil and despicable character. He made her into a slave. And that is evil. No person should belong to another person. That has happened for real and it is one of the most terrible things imaginable.”

“But why doesn’t he just put her in the Rancor monster pit like the other guy?”

“Do you want to keep talking about this? We can, but it is late and it will mean no songs tonight. Just talks and cuddles.”

“I want to talk about Leia.”

“Ok.” Deep Breath. “He likes to look at her.  He thinks she is beautiful and wants to keep her around to look at her. But she is just an object to him. What he is doing is bad.”

“What’s an object.”

“A thing. Like that lamp over there. If he treats her like an object he ignores that she is human. Listen, there are men out there who don’t think women can be as smart as them, or the same as them. They don’t think women are equal. This has gone on for a long time. But women fought back. Now women can vote. They can do whatever a man can do. But still, all men don’t believe women are equal and the same as them.”

He was quiet for a moment.

“Listen, T. If you are kind. If you try hard. If you treat girls with the same respect that you treat boys. No matter what I will be proud of you. The girls at your school? Except for the fact that they have vaginas and you have a penis they are exactly the same as you.”

“Ok.”

He was quiet for another moment.

“Why does Jabba the Hutt dress Princess Leia like that?”

“Because he likes to look at her body. He likes her more than just wanting to be her friend. Sometimes a person likes another person more than usual. Kind of like the way that Mommy and Daddy like each other. But what he is doing is wrong. You do not force someone to show you their body no matter how much you like them. That is a choice two people need to make together. And what a person’s body looks like shouldn’t matter. I love you. And I would love you exactly the same no matter what you look like. Because you are my son and I love the sweet person you are becoming.”

“Well. You love me, but you also love the way I look.”

Damn it. Kid isn’t even 5 and he is calling me out. I do love the way he looks. He is freaking adorable. But I see him through the rose colored glasses of a mother’s love. I truly would find him beautiful no matter what.

“Listen, what Jabba the Hutt does to Leia is despicable.”

“What does despicable mean?”

“Evil and terrible. Jabba the Hutt is wrong. We do not treat people like they are less than people. We do not take away their freedom. We do not look at them like objects.”

“Ok.”

“T. I need you to hear this. This is so important. Women are not there for you to look at. They are not there for men to enjoy. They are there for themselves. Do you think I am less than Daddy?”

“No.”

“Daddy is not in charge of me. I am not in charge of Daddy. We are partners and we are equal.”

“I know.”

“This stuff is really important.”

“I know.”

He looks at me.

“Does Jabba the Hutt make Leia dance?”

“Um. I don’t think so.”

“Ok. I’m done. You can go now.”

“We can talk about it more later if you want. Give me a kiss.”

“Ok. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

my boy

He has a good heart. It is our responsibility to nurture that heart and teach him how to be a good man.

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Be kind. Try hard. Treat girls with the same respect you treat boys.

I couldn’t be more sincere when I say that is all I want from my sons.

Four Years and Ten Months

Four years and ten months ago we moved to Syracuse. Our sweet little house just became the dwelling I have lived in longer than any other in my life.

Before I left home for college I lived in 9 places. I attended 8 schools before graduating from high school. I did live in the NYC area from 95-06. In 99 I moved to Brooklyn and we stayed, albeit in 3 apartments, for 7 years. Over three stints from 1981-1995, I lived in Farifax County, VA for a little more than 8 years cumulatively.

But Syracuse now holds my personal record for longest stretch at one address.

The funny thing is it feels like we moved here just last year. It also feels like we’ve been here forever. There are so many firsts tied to this place. We closed on our house a week before T was born. Z truly loved his job for the first time here. I became a stay at home mom. We weathered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I got pregnant with C and we welcomed him into our family. T started preschool. C started preschool. We navigated early intervention and speech therapy. I started taking graduate classes. I started running. In a few short months T will go to kindergarten.

Syracuse was supposed to be a pit stop of sorts, a resume builder as we looked for teaching opportunities for Z closer to family.  At some point along the way it has become home.

We love it here. We are happy. We have a wonderful circle of friends. We imagine our boys growing up with this built in peer group. The kids they hang with have become important to us, we really care about them and love watching them grow.

There is so much to do in the summer that we can’t make it to every event we want to attend. Z plays music in three bands. He makes amazing stringed instruments from cigar boxes or cans or pie plates or salvaged wood from old pianos. He loves teaching. He’s involved with community outreach. He is too busy and always behind on projects and that is exactly how he is happiest.

This is not some perfect life. We struggle to pay the bills. C is entering the evil 3s and T is anxious about his transition to kindergarten. My anxiety colors everything, often rearing her ugly head to interrupt plans. The winters are brutal, there isn’t any way around it, they suck. And we do hate being so far from family. That is the hardest part. We miss our parents and our siblings.

But we have made a life here. More than that, we have made a home. One with continuity and comfort.

My upbringing was unusual and it provided me with fantastic opportunities to see so much of America and the world. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Hell, I became a teenager while we were in Phuket, Thailand. We spent New Year’s Eve of ’99 into ’00 in Doha, Qatar. I learned to ski on the South Island of New Zealand. Between all the exotic stuff I went to suburban public schools outside DC and Boston and St. Louis. My sister and I are lucky as hell, beyond privileged to have had such an odd and interesting childhood.

But it turns out that the life Z and I are intentionally building for our family is in a small city in Central New York. It turns out we love being part of a community. We love relaxing in our backyard with a bunch of friends and a pork shoulder that hung out in the smoker for a long time. Also margaritas. If you come visit us request Z’s deadly margaritas. You won’t remember the evening, you’ll feel it the next morning, but you’ll have a really good time.

Who knows what will happen or where we will be in another 4 years and 10 months from now. My hope is that we will be here. Hanging out with the same folks. The kids playing in the backyard. The margaritas flowing.

our family

Here we are putting down roots.

t runs to base

T running to first base during his last T-Ball game of the season.

c wants to play

C was ready to play. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he needs to wait two more years.

rockers

It seems to be the summer of salvaged broken rockers for our backyard. Because we are classy like that.

backyard piano

Our life involves having a trailer with a piano take up residence in our driveway. Z is making a bunch of instruments out of it in collaboration with local artists. They will create graphics to silkscreen on the face of the instruments Z builds.

summer in syracuse

Our crew of kids living it up at the Funky Flea this morning.

z at the funky flea

Z making music at the Funky Flea.

 

Say Anything

You guys know  Say Anything? Man, that is one of my favorite movies of all time. Lloyd Dobler. Crush of my life, John Cusack. I love One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, Stand By Me, Grosse Pointe Blank. But Lloyd Dobler, he is the king of them all. As Cory says, “You’re not a guy” Lloyd: “I am” Cory: “No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.”

Cory (Lili Taylor) is Lloyd’s best friend. She’s also obsessed with a dude named Joe.

Lloyd: “Joe. Joe. She’s written sixty-five songs. They’re all about you. They’re all about pain.” Joe: “So what’s up?” Lloyd: “Stop freaking with her head man. Just stop playing with her mind, you know? She’s a human being. She’s a person. She’s very talented, you know.”

Cory is Lloyd’s best friend. She’s also a bit of a punchline. The not-conventionally-beautiful girl who is obsessed with the-very-conventionally-attractive guy. Obsessed. Sixty-five songs written obsessed.

Listen, I love this movie. Hell, in the late 90s I fell deeply in love with the band The Bouncing Souls who put out an amazing song called Joe Lies.

But here’s the thing about Cory. Here’s the thing about how Hollywood represents female obsessive love. She turns any violence inward. She tried to kill herself over him.

Mystic Pizza is another one of my all time favorites. Lili Taylor’s in that one as well. She plays a feisty Portuguese gal who doesn’t want to marry her long time boyfriend. Her gorgeous boyfriend (a young Vincent D’Onofrio) who worships the ground she walks on. The take away is what the fuck is wrong with her? And of course she acquiesces and marries him in the end.

I’m not trying to rag on Lili Taylor here. I actually love watching her act. And those two movies are honestly in my top 10 best list. I want to talk about how our society pigeonholes women. It’s been almost two weeks since the shooting in Isla Vista, CA. So many have written much more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could on the subject. But here I am thinking about Say Anything and Mystic Pizza and what our society expects from women. I’ve been thinking about it since the shooting. And if I don’t write it down I feel like I’ll explode.

If we are rejected we turn our anger and violence inward. If we reject a “good man” there is something wrong with us and we will be worn down in the end.

(Um, what about Better Off Dead, Karen? He tried to kill himself over and over in that one. Yes, he did. But in the end Beth came grovelling to him to take her back. And he got the cathartic opportunity to reject her so he could move on to another women)

According to a Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University study that examined the 100 top grossing films in America 30% of speaking parts were filled by women. Major speaking roles were 29% female, and the percentage of female leads was 15. In 2013. IN 2013. A year in which 51% (ok, according to the US Census website 50.8% of Americans were women in 2012) of the population was female.

When you live life seeing only one woman in a group of superheros or office environments or high schools that are represented in film or television you start to believe only one woman should be in those spaces. I now know that was part of the reason I used to proclaim I’m not friends with a lot of women. Or I don’t like hanging out with women because they annoy me. Or that my best friends are all guys. Yeah, those statements are utter horse shit. What I was trying to say to men is “I”m not like those other girls! I won’t annoy you or put you out! I should be your token woman! Pick me! Pick me!”

Thankfully I grew the hell up.

There is room for women. We need to do the hard work of demanding it. I will not apologize for being a woman. I will not put up with being treated like a token female. I will not excuse men who treat women like objects. I will not believe that women are there to fulfill the sexual urges of men. We have our own sexual urges, damn it. And they do not make us “easy” or “sluts” and most of all they do not mean “we were asking for it”.

I do believe that everyone should be treated equally. I am a feminist. And that is not a dirty word.

snack mom

A feminist (and snack mom) who is raising two future feminists.