Be mine – you’ll thank me later

Nothing says I love you like an ultimatum (image from flickr)

Valentines Day is Saturday, just in case you had somehow avoided the seasonal section at the local drug store during the last few weeks. I wouldn’t blame you if you had. Most of the Valentines related merchandise at the store closest to me has already been marked down and moved to the discount rack to make room for Easter.

I had received a notice from my son’s teacher that all students were to bring in Valentines for the class along with a small treat. She was even kind enough to provide a list of names as well as a suggested schedule of how many we should create each night so as not to overwhelm our child. I don’t exactly know where I stand on this issue. Doesn’t the Valentine lose a bit of its sparkle when it is a) mandatory and b) generic? But then again, kiddo is only six. In his book, any assignment that results in candy is a good assignment.

Up until this time, we had made all of our cards for his friends at day care by hand. Some were finger paints. Some were water colors. Some were random pieces of paper glued together in a shape vaguely resembling a heart (why I am not on dozens of Pinterest boards is a mystery). Making individualized cards by hand is easy when there are only four other children at the center with a supervising adult (especially when most can’t read more than their name), but the list his teacher sent home this year contained over twenty names. Gah! Who has time for that?

To my darling boy, if you happen to come across mommy’s writing at some future date and see this post, know that we love you, and are so terribly, terribly proud of you, but watching you write sentences at this age can sometimes be like watching someone trying to go the wrong way on an escalator. You know the person is getting exercise, but it seems to take an unnecessarily long time to reach the destination.

I made the executive decision that we would be purchasing cards this year. All he would have to do is copy each friend’s name from the list on the card. He selected a box featuring several different Hot Wheel’s race car designs and got to work. I would read a name from the list as he scribbled away. As I read the name of one of his best friends, he turned the card over and looked at the image. “Oh, he is going to love this one!” he smiled. A few names later, he flipped the card over again. Only this time he frowned as he said, “she’s not going to like this card.”

Apparently, in my son’s opinion, if it isn’t pink, purple, or has Elsa on the back, the girls in his class just aren’t interested. However, I had no interest in picking up a second pack of cards. It is the thought that counts, right? I told him the girls would have to accept what he gave them. The message must have sunk in, because when the next girl’s name was read he announced proudly that “she was just going to have to get over it.”

Imagine then how guilty then I felt to read a piece in the Washington Post about how the mindset which allows a man to view women as conquests, rather than people, might actually develop in early childhood. In it, the author argues:

“We teach our boys that it’s up to them to be the aggressor, to make a move, to ask her out. We teach our girls to sit and wait and hope for someone to invite them to prom.

Media and pop culture messages tell boys that girls are desirable and weak and emotional. Conversely, they show girls that boys are aggressive and strong and, more often than not, in charge.”

Had I just taught my son that the girls in his class should feel grateful to receive anything at all from him rather than something that actually reflected their interest? That they should automatically enjoy whatever my son dished out because it was what he had picked? I may have to do some damage control.

Then again, what if there are girls in my son’s class who like cars over princesses? What if there are girls who don’t like pink? They might enjoy getting a card featuring a neon green hot rod with blue racing stripes. They might not have to “get over it.” They might actually like getting the card my son will be handing out. We just assumed they wouldn’t because they are five and six-year-old girls. I was mentally separating the genders. The article’s author is right. This practice has to stop for gender equality to take hold. I just wish it was as easy as drawing a heart on a hand made card.

It just goes to show you that Valentines Day is a dangerous holiday. Perhaps next year we’ll celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day instead.

 

Villany close to home

My little lord tyrant, also known as my toddler (2), is nearing the end of his terrible twos. This would excite me beyond belief if it were not for the fact that prior experience has taught me the threes are even more trying.

As he sat in his booster seat at the table the other day considering whether or not food would look better either smeared in his hair or on the floor (because in his tummy is definitely not where it belongs), the hubby and I sought ways to distract him. We asked him what he wanted for his big day.

I wasn’t really expecting an articulate response. He is still two after all, and he did quite well for himself during the holiday season, but I was expecting him to say “planes,” or “monkeys,” or even “dinosaurs!” all of which are his reigning favorites. Instead he answered, “parties.”

My elder son, 6, was flabbergasted. Did his younger brother really just turn down presents? Surely his brother didn’t mean what he had just said. He obviously did not understand the question properly. He looked at 2 and offered multiple alternative suggestions. Don’t you want this? Don’t you want that? He was nearly begging his brother to suggest something, anything, that could be picked up from the store. 2 listened attentively. His brother was talking directly to him and as far as he is concerned his elder brother is a rock star.

You could almost see the gears turning in his head. Finally, after deciding that his food looked best squished into a paste on top of his place mat, 2 answered, “I don think so…”

Could it be that my youngest has already figured out that shared experiences are so much better than physical things? Could he, at 2, already be on the path toward a zen like state of happy acceptance? As both the hubby and I are flirting with minimalism, we were so proud.

But then I brought this story up to a few who also know his little lord majesty. They suggested a chilling alternative. What if 2 had already devised that “Party” typically means multiple presents? He did ask for parties. Plural. What if he really understood what the word meant? Why settle for a short list when you can have it all! My son could be playing a much bigger game.

Stewie Griffin

Stewie Griffin (Photo credit: Wikipedia) a character obviously based on my toddler

If that is the case, if his request was thought out, then there is a level of evil genius behind those adorable blue eyes that should frighten me to my core.

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.”

Sir Arthur Doyle wrote those words to describe Dr. Moriarty, but Sherlock Holmes could easily be describing my second born.

It’s a good thing then for my son’s sake, that I’ve always enjoyed a well developed villain (or anti-hero) whether it be in a book or on the screen. I like to better understand their motivations. To me, there is something awe inspiring about seeing their plan unfurl after they have lead the “good guys” on a merry goose chase. I enjoy them because I believe that by examining our darker motivations on the page or screen we actually are inspired to be better people in our daily lives.

Recently, I decided to cut back on my regular posting in order to finish up rewrites on my current novel project. The year is only a couple weeks old and I’ve made more progress in these few days than I have over the last several weeks. I’m don’t believe I am giving away too much to say that it features a character who eventually could be described as a villain, but is far from considering herself as one. You may not particularly like her, but if I’ve done my job, at least you will start to understand her.

But what about the villains out there who aren’t fictitious? Does my fascination with the anti-hero mean that I should feel more compelled to understand their backstory? Should I care about their motivations when what they have done seems senseless? There is an old saying that goes the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. I truly believe that most people, in their hearts, believe they are good people, doing what is just, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of committing the most atrocious acts. This is why the end result matters as much as the person or persons committing the act. I might sympathize with a person’s plight, but some ends are never justified by the means. In order to be good, you must also do good.

Perhaps I need to work on being more understanding or forgiving. Perhaps the world needs to get a little less crazy.

Until then, I continue to only celebrate the villains on the page, the real-life heroes, and maybe a certain soon to be three year old’s big day.

Je suis Charlie!

How I almost lost my feet to save my face

When I was a teenager I almost lost both of my feet.

No. I don’t mean I stumbled, or lost my footing. I mean I was at risk of my feet being potentially cut off. Gone. Bye bye.

I wasn’t particularly religious, but I enjoyed spending time with my church youth group. They were a fun group (with a couple of guys who were easy on the eye), and it was an excuse to hang out with people my age without parents or homework. The group I belonged to regularly participated in a summer day camp program for underprivileged children in the Appalachian mountains. We would travel to the main site where we would join other groups from various denominations and creeds, and get sorted into smaller mixed teams. During the day, our small groups would go to nearby sister facilities to act as councilors and chauffeurs for the kids. At night we would rejoin the large group and sleep in large wooded cabins.

I started to pack my bag. I had a problem. The terrain required closed toed shoes and I didn’t have anything suitable. My boots were designed for winter. I’d bake. My summer footwear was typically either sandals or nothing at all. I had to go last-minute shopping. I was in a rush, but I still wanted to look somewhat cool. I got a pair of low-cut Chuck Taylor knock-offs. The back of the shoe was stiff and rubbed the top of my heel, but I knew the shoe just needed to be broken in properly. No big deal. I threw a handful of socks into my bag along with the rest of my clothes. I was ready to go.

Even with the socks, my new shoes rubbed my heels to the point of blisters within the first hours of our departure. I knew that nothing much could be done about it, so I didn’t complain.

Another case of poor planning during times of flood

Another case of poor planning

We arrived at the site. It rained. It rained some more. There was no real point in trying to stay dry, everything and everyone was soon waterlogged. As we didn’t have dryers at the cabin, all you could do was change into what dry clothes remained while your wet things hung to air-dry from any available surface. I had worn all of my socks by the end of the second day and had started a system of drying them, turning them inside out, and using them again. Desperate times.

I started to notice that my shoes were getting tighter. I figured they were shrinking due to the wet conditions. My feet started hurting all the time. I would smile and laugh with the kids during the day, but secretly hope they wouldn’t ask for a game of tag. A couple of days later, as I pulled off my shoes and wet socks, I saw that my feet were the size of an elephants, swollen, discolored, and oh how they reeked! The blisters had popped and in their place were weeping sores. Painful yes, but ewwwwwww!!! I quickly pulled on another recycled pair of air-dried socks. I definitely did not want anyone to see my feet like this. I didn’t want to be labeled as gross. Mom would know what to do when I got home.

At this point I was complaining to a few close friends about how much my feet hurt and begun to waddle, but camp would be ending soon. I was telling, but I was definitely not showing. Once I got home, I would burn those shoes and all would be better. I told myself, think of the children. What’s a few more days of discomfort. We were the highlight of their summer. Keep it in perspective. The rain finally tapered off.

It was finally the last night of camp. All the children had celebrated and gone back home. Only the various groups remained. We had one last group bonfire. At the end, the camp’s organizer asked us to get into small groups and reflect upon the last several days. A man from another church standing nearby turned to me a put me on the spot. He asked me to start us off with a prayer. I completely panicked. Sure, I knew the ritual ones, how to ask for blessings for food and family and whatnot, but I just didn’t do freestyle prayer, at least not out loud, and especially not with strangers! I said a few other words, but then blurted out that I just wanted my feet to stop hurting. Mortified, I apologized for my lack of skill. The man smiled and said that was enough. It was the next person’s turn.

I hobbled back to my cabin. Still coping from my embarrassment, I yanked off my shoes and socks and showed my feet to one of the other adults in the room as if to justify why I was complaining during the time that should have been spent on positive reflection. “See! See!” Her face dropped. “We need to get you to hospital… Now.”

The doctor informed me that had I waited much longer to seek treatment, the gangrene would have taken my feet. My prayer would have been answered, although not quite as I would have liked. My feet would only hurt as phantoms. It’s a reminder to be careful what you wish for. As it was, the infection was still treatable and while I still have small scars on both heels, I can still walk just fine on my own two feet.

Whether you want to believe it was the prayer that put those people in front of me or prefer lucky coincidence, my finally speaking up was what made the key difference in the final outcome. From that experience, I learned the value of packing proper footwear (sorry – comfort now trumps fashion for me), but more importantly that I needed to stop letting my worries about what people might think about me from keeping me from asking for or accepting help.

The day the coffee pot went dry – a horror story

Anyone can hold the helm

While I agree with the message, this image creeps me out

It started out like any other day at my office. Staff trickled in and immediately made their way to the break room to pour that first cup of coffee. We have one of those on demand machines hooked up to the main water line. It is usually nice because no one has to wait for a new pot to brew. Then it happened. The machine broke.

We have a spare machine for just these sort of emergencies. It was immediately hooked up and brought on-line. Disaster should have been diverted, except, the back-up too soon proved to be out of service. It didn’t take long before my usually calm, collected, and professional colleagues devolved into crazed individuals as the news spread. No coffee. How could we possible conduct business! Our vice president joked that he was considering closing the whole office down for the day. At least I think he was joking.

I typically bring a large travel mug of my own from home as the machine’s settings, which we are not authorized to change (the machine could break after all), don’t match my personal tastes. It was easy then to shake my head in judgement at my co-worker’s melodrama as I sipped on deliciousness from my mug. That is, it was easy until another half hour passed without a plan C. Suddenly it was like I was starring in the plot of a post-apocalyptic story. In an office filled with the walking dead, I was one of the few fully awake. The sounds I heard as colleagues stumbled to their desks certainly were in line with the sounds zombies make on film.

I barricaded myself behind my desk like any good survivor should. I knew that any sign of perkiness or alertness would give away my status as a ‘have’ in a world of ‘have-nots.’ It would make me a target for immediate attack. Meanwhile the moans and groans outside my door grew louder. Just as it appeared the day would be lost entirely, a hero emerged.

That hero was our executive administrative assistant. She valiantly journeyed home only to return with her household coffee maker. The break room had already claimed two machines, but she was willingly to sacrifice her own for the greater good. Caffeine flowed freely once again. We were saved! Life in the office was able to return to normal. If some might start squirreling away a little instant, who can blame them. We all learned a little about ourselves (and the company we keep) that day.

There isn’t much of a moral to this story, other than crisis being one of life’s best/worst teachers.

 

A night out with my prince

It has been more than fifteen years since I went on a date with anyone other than my husband, but Saturday afternoon I found myself looking forward to doing just that.

I made sure to pick out a dress that was sure to please. A combination of slacks and nice blouse just wasn’t going to do. As I came down the stairs, my date was already there and I took satisfaction in the smile that broke across his face.

“Mom! You are a pretty princess!” he exclaimed.

In his next breath, my son amended his comment. “Well, you aren’t green dress pretty (his favorite of my outfits) but you are still pretty.” My son may be quick to praise, but is also great at finding ways to keep me humble.

I was taking my son to see a local live theatre production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It was an evening show time, but even so at least a third of the audience was made up of children close to his age and nearly all of them were female. I wasn’t surprised that some changes were made for the stage adaptation, but didn’t expect the that the big climatic sequence at the end would be one of those edits. The prince no longer drove a jagged piece of shipwreck into the sea witch saving the mermaid from certain death. No in this version, the mermaid saves herself as well as the king. The prince is entirely absent from the climax. Only after the witch is defeated and Ariel and her father have heart to heart does the prince reappear. Additionally, in this version the prince spends the majority of the play contemplating abdicating his crown for a life as a sailor, and only accepts his responsibility when Ariel emerges victoriously from the waves with her very muscled father behind her.

I regularly attend networking functions with other working moms and other executive women. Often there are discussion prompts such as ‘what is the one thing you hope to pass on to your daughter’ or ‘what are you doing to empower the next generation of women in the workplace?’ While I appreciate the thought process behind these prompts, they always tend to bother me. Did I in someway betray my gender by only having sons? Is there no place for young boys in a ‘Girl Power!’ world? I refuse to accept this.

I wish more boys had been at the performance. It was a special night out with my son that at least I will remember forever. He held my hand both to and from the theatre. He curled up in my lap during the love songs, and proudly proclaimed to our seat mates how happy he was to be there with me. Other mother/sons missed out on a truly magical bonding experience. Why? Because it was a musical play about a princess.

My sons love their legos, transformers, toy backhoes and front loaders. They love to play in the sand/dirt, fight pretend bad guys, and build things with tools. They are about as stereotypically boys as they come. However my sons also like cooking, painting, and reading. They are just as likely to play with the kitchenette set at day care as they are the train table.

I may not have daughters today, but I may, in the far, far, far, future have a daughter-in-law. For now, I am raising my sons to be just as confident running a household as they are a board room, so that if they do choose to stay home for the betterment of their family they can do so without feeling like their masculinity has in someway been threatened. I am raising them to be respectful of women beyond using proper manners. I am raising them to understand that women can do anything, but at the same time I am making sure that they know they can too. If I am successful, my sons will hire, promote, or feature a woman because she is the most qualified or most deserving, not because she is a woman and certain standards have to be met. That is how I am empowering the next generation. That is the gift I intend to pass on to my future daughter – may she be equal to my son.