One flu over the cuckoo’s nest

What I originally thought was just a minor sniffle turned out to be a case of the full-blown flu.

Mess up the hair more, swap out the stylish clothes, add more blankets and used tissues and this is so me when I am sick image courtesy of Unsplash)
Mess up the hair so that it looks like an animal’s nest and make it brown, replace the stylish clothes with mismatched sweats, add more blankets and used tissues scattered among kid toys and do away with this whole suffering in silence thing she has going on and this image really captures how I look when I am sick. (Image courtesy of Unsplash)

I do not handle being sick well. While I am mostly better now, I’d spent the last few days either in bed or under a blanket on the couch. The effort of getting marginally presentable each day was exhausting. I wanted my mommy to magically appear and make it all better, but my mommy is busy taking care of her mommy right now. I coughed, and sneezed, and resigned myself to be miserable.

One of those days, as I lay there envying the liveliness of extras on the Walking Dead, my door opened and in walked my eldest son. In his hand was a yellow flower, the first of our daffodils of the season. “Here mom, this is to make you feel better.” It was lovely, except my sinuses, thoroughly blocked, would not allow me to breathe in its scent, and its bright color caused my eyes to water.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it, baby.” Although it probably sounded more like I wuv get, baby. Achoo! Snort. Snort. Ack! I hate being sick!

“Dad asked me to help him more in the garage, but I’ll be back to check on you.”

“Dad did?” Bless him. “Okay honey, have fun.” I pulled the blanket back over my shoulders as Kiddo returned to play in a great outside world I couldn’t currently enjoy, thankful that my hubby was on point. I assumed LT was out there somewhere too, but I couldn’t dreg up the energy to be sure.

It could be worse. I could still be traveling for work or I could be doing this all alone.

A few days earlier, I had been trapped on a plane, forced to make small talk for hours when it should have been a mere forty minute flight. One the poor unfortunate souls stuck in that tin can with me had asked innocently enough, “so who’s watching your kids while you are gone?”

“Their dad.”

“Oh,” the older man responded as his face became the picture of sympathy, “and are you okay with that?”

“Of course.” Um….Why shouldn’t I be?

The comment still bothered me, days later buried under blankets on the couch, even though I could barely remember what it was like to breathe.

Tuesday was International Women’s Day and the internet was full of images and writings of strong woman. It was a day to celebrate how very far we’ve come in terms of empowerment, but I believe there are still a few gaps in the modern-day feminist narrative, keeping true gender equality just out of reach. One is our perception of what makes a good father.

What does fatherhood have to do with feminism? I am able to pursue my dreams, my own sense of self, and be all I can be because I know someone else has my back at home.

When I travel as part of my day job, I don’t typically worry that I’ll return to find my backyard now serves as an arena for an underground cock-fighting ring, or that I’ll trip over a stack of random Polaroids detailing a night that will never be remembered or evidence of a hundred other bad decisions. Nor do I worry that homework will be excused, bedtimes avoided, or that ice cream and candy will be served exclusively for breakfast. I don’t worry because my other half is a parent and not a babysitter.

And yet, this simple fact may read like praise, as if my husband keeping the household from descending into chaos while I am otherwise indisposed is somehow above and beyond what all fathers and husbands should do for their families. I understand that not every father is as engaged with their children or as willing to pick up mom’s slack (especially after several days of solo-parenting before mom started to complain about feeling like death warmed over), but I’d like to think that the default assumption about the role should be slightly higher than the slacker / man-boy / comic-relief dad so favored on sitcoms.

When someone tells me my husband is a good father, I want them to say that because they saw the half-dozen kids use him like a swing-set during a school field trip, or because they overheard one of the hundreds of super-secret one-on-one talks he and one of the boys share about an individual child’s worries. I want them to say it because he is a great father and not because he simply shows up when there isn’t any other option.

Continuing to accept that men are somehow less capable of caring for a family is much the same as continuing to accept that women are any less capable of running a business or more and can be just as damaging to the next generation.

And so, during this Women’s History Month, I will rejoice in the accomplishments of brave women who fought for my right to vote, celebrate those who broke through the glass ceiling, invented Kevlar, fire escapes, and computer compilers. I will drink to those ancient women who created beer and to those more modern women who redefined math and physics.

But at the same time, while I am proud to be a STEM woman by day and a writer mom by night, I am so very grateful to be partnered with a man who isn’t afraid to make breakfast, who isn’t too manly to fold laundry, and whose very machoness isn’t threatened by agreeing to play with colored blocks. I may hold his parenting skills to a higher standard than the sitcoms, but then again, I don’t find the alternative very funny.

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.


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.