Friday, January 24, 2014

Girly girls and tomboys

I am a girl.  Well, a former girl.  I was raised in a family of four daughters.  I wore dresses that swirled out when I spun in a circle.  I played dress-up and dolls.  All of my friends in elementary and middle school were girls.  I did not participate in sports, unless you count twirling on the gym bar, kickball in the backyard, or the occasional game of HORSE with my dad.  I read Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Trixie Belden, and my favorite movie was The Sound of Music.  I took ballet and piano lessons.  Nobody ever called me a tomboy.  I was a girly girl.

As an adult, I drink lattes and snarf down chocolate.  My absolute favorite thing to do is sit and chat.  Next comes reading, knitting, hiking, and cuddling with my kids or my husband.  I make picture books on Snapfish, obsess over Pinterest, and have to wait for my husband or kids to turn on the DVDs for me.  I can bake a cake, but not change the oil.  I wear earrings and scarves, and my favorite recent purchase is a burgundy skirt that swirls around my calves when I walk.  I overuse the word "cute." 

I also haven't shaved my legs since my junior year in college.  I wore makeup daily in high school, but somewhere in college started to only wear it when I was going out.  At the time, that meant once or twice a week; now it means a few times a year.   I don't style my hair, other than to stick it in a ponytail if I overslept and didn't wash it.  I wear ugly shoes because they don't make my feet hurt.  When colleagues start discussing who they think should appear in the movie version of "Fifty Shades of Grey," I haven't heard of any of the actors mentioned, and I still haven't read the book.  I don't care if my husband or kids dress funny.   I've never had a manicure, and I get the cheapest haircut I can find.  I wore a wine colored dress for my wedding, which took place in my parents' living room with fifteen relatives present.  Pinterest weddings seem insane to me.

I have always felt that my infertility is not that big of a deal.

Today Linden was sitting in my lap after school, and apropos of nothing announced, "There's a girl in my class who's a tomboy."

"Only one?" I not-so-innocently replied.

"I mean, Mom, most girls like girl things but she likes boy things."

"I know what a tomboy is," I responded tartly.  "I am just surprised there's only one in your whole class."

I want to sit her down for a lecture about gender roles and stereotypes.  I want to call on her to be kind to this girl who has been singled out by her peers as different.  I want to point out that at Target or any other cheap venue for toys, the toy aisles are so garishly and extravagantly color coded, while at the expensive, locally owned stores they are not.  (What does THAT say about gender and class?)  I want to quote at her an article I read today, written by a coworkers daughter--that if we like swirly skirts and talking about our feelings and eating chocolate, it is not because we are women--we are just women who happen to like those things.  And if I don't shave my legs and don't need years to recover from the disappointment of infertility--I'm not less of a woman.  I'm just a woman who doesn't worry about those particular things.  Another woman could feel the exact reverse about each of those, and still be a woman.  A woman, in fact, could be born in a man's body and still be a woman.  Or a woman could be a lesbian, or a football player, or a model, or a pilot, get the idea.  I basically wanted to rain down "Free to Be You and Me" feminism on her head. But her brother came in and wanted attention too, and the moment slipped away. 

Can I be a girly girl if I hate pink and have no skin care regime?  Can I be a feminist if I do all the dishes and count on my husband to deal with all things car related?  Does my 25 years of membership in a mountain climbing club make me a tomboy?

Well, duh, yes to all of those.  And also no, to all of them, because who wants to live in one of those little boxes?  That's what I want her to understand, I think.  You get to be You, and so does everyone else.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Aggravated Parent's Soul

I was mad at my kids today.

So mad that I put CARROTS in the homemade chicken noodle soup.  Screw you people and your incessant demands for only uncooked vegetables.  Your whining and backtalk makes you ineligible for Special Mommy Soup that caters to your whims.  Instead, we get soup the way MOMMY F---ING LIKES IT.

Luckily for them, I share their feelings about cooked tomatoes, or I would have totally put a can of those in there too.  I almost did anyway, just to piss them off.

Does this qualify as passive aggressive?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It Was a Dark and Stormy Afternoon

When she sat down to right a blog post about her favorite mystery series.

Seriously, it's noon here in the Pacific Northwest; I'm sitting in the room with picture windows on two sides, and I just had to turn the lights on. 

Why a mystery review on this adoption blog?  Well, the other night I had dinner with my sister.  It was the anniversary of our mom's death four years ago (four years?  how?) and Sister's life is falling apart, and she said she needed something to read, and I started talking mysteries, and she wound up pulling a pen and a receipt out of her purse to take notes.  Because I have a lot to say on the topic. 

It started in my childhood with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators.  Then when I was ten, the same sister got me going on Agatha Christie as I was recovering from appendicitis, and from there I moved to Dorothy  Sayers, Barbara Pym, and eventually Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series, Sue Grafton, Martha Grimes, and Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries.  All of these eventually got...old.  (Well, finding out that the young Anne Perry helped murder her best friend's mom may have influenced my disenchantment with her.)  I've read dozens of mystery series, and there are several that I like and will continue to read as long as the author keeps them coming.  There are a few mystery writers, however, that I really believe are elevated beyond genre, and are among my very favorite authors overall.  These are, in order that I discovered them, Reginald Hill, Elizabeth George, and Tana French

Reginald Hill's series is based in Yorkshire.  He writes about a classic odd couple, the vulgar, boisterous Superintendent"Fat Andy" Dalziel and the educated, self-aware Sergeant Peter Pascoe.  (Actually, in researching spelling just now I found out that Mr. Hill DIED last year, which means there will be NO MORE Dalziel and Pascoe. I am heartbroken.  What a depressing turn of events.  Further research indicates that the last book I read by him is indeed the last one he wrote, so there will be no more new Dalziel/Pascoe books for me.  Ever.) 

The earliest books, written in the '70s, are not as great as the latter ones.  Like season 1 of Buffy, the main benefit of slogging through them is that you understand the character's background as you move into the truly great books.  If the first ones just feel too dated to you, then I'd start with 1983's Deadheads, which was the one that first made me sit up and take notice. 

The single complaint I can come up with--and it's a stretch--is that the character's timeline is a little off.  Not as extreme as Martha Grimes, where the hero ages five years while the books move from the seventies to the nineties, but not as accurate as Sue Grafton, who covers about five years of the 1980s in her series, meaning that what started as a contemporary series now requires historical research.  Pascoe marries (his wife Ellie is a major character in her own right) and has a child, while Dalziel (no, I don't know how to say it), ages and moves towards retirement, but the child seems to grow awfully slowly. 

What makes the books great is the interactions between the characters, the way their relationship develops and changes, and the strong supporting characters (besides the fiercely feminist Ellie Peters, there's also Sgt. Wield, the ugly, gay policeman who is beautifully drawn.)  Mr. Hill is the kind of writer who plays with words and forms, including one book that's a send-up of Austen, and a short story in which actors playing the roles of Dalziel and Pascoe in a TV series get caught up in a murder mystery.  Multiple points of view.  Sleight of author's hand.  All the fun stuff you wouldn't get in your average, predictable best-seller.  He's the only author I can think of that sends me to the dictionary each time I read--because he uses words that are not only rare, but interesting enough to bother looking up.  

I must now go back and re-read all of these.  I feel like sending a condolence letter to his wife, letting her know how much I will miss him.

Elizabeth George is an American who writes very British mysteries.   Her main character is Lord Peter Whimsey Inspector Thomas Lynley, who is indeed a titled peer, but prefers to ignore that fact.  Again, recurring characters are a major reason why this series is elevated above most, although honestly, I don't care for a few of them.  There is one novel in which his best friend's wife (and his former lover) Barbara St. James spends the whole time making herself and her husband miserable over her infertility issues.  I know it hits everyone differently, but as an infertile woman myself, FOR GOD'S SAKE SHUT UP AND GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE ALREADY.   I'm also not a fan of Lynley's lovely wife Helen, which, as it turns out, is all for the best.  But I love, love, loooooove Sgt. Barbara Havers, and it sounds like the next novel features her, so yay.  The other two things to know about these mysteries are that the stand-alone features are beyond excellent.  I still find myself thinking about characters and situations from individual books.  While a series must have compelling and interesting recurring characters, very few have as compelling and heartbreaking characters in each mystery.  For the Sake of Elena, Playing for the Ashes, What Came Before He Shot Her, Deception on His Mind--okay, apparently I need to stop, because I could list about 80% of her books as examples of mysteries where the characters and situations have stuck with me.  This is not true of the vast majority of mysteries, even well-written ones.  Another thing to be aware of is that there's a lot of kinky stuff.  Ms. George sees human sexuality as a powerful motivating force for all sorts of things.  I realized this when I enthusiastically recommended this series to my Catholic brother-in-law, and then was all, "Wait, um..."  But did I mention heart-breaking?  There is a lot of sadness in these books.  The love (romantic, platonic, parental, etc.) between the recurring characters is all that keeps this from being The Most Depressing Series Ever. 

Just last summer I started reading Tana French.   She better not die soon, because she's only written three books in her Dublin Murder Squad series.  And I need more.  The first one involved a detective who, as a child, was the only one of three kids to come back out of the forest after getting lost...and neither he nor anyone else ever found out what happened that day.  He's assigned a case with eerie echoes of his own history.  The next novel features the detective who was his partner in book one.  The next one features a detective who was a major source of annoyance in book two.  This certainly keeps things fresh, and it is very interesting to get into the head of someone who was formerly observed just from the outside.  Plus, everyone cusses Irish style, which is just so dang cute. 

I realize I told you next to nothing about any of the books.  I am a firm believer in No Spoilers.  My favorite thing is to pick up a book by an author I trust and read it without even looking at the cover blurb.  I want it all to unfold like the author intended.  Unless you a) hate mysteries or b) like sweet, fluffy mysteries, I can only recommend that you give all of these authors a try.  And I'd even say a) is not a deal-breaker.  I'm no sci fi fan, but Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite authors, you know what I'm saying? 

Argh.  Julia Spencer Fleming.  If the previous three series are my grade A's, I'd say hers are an A-.  Her main characters are a small town police chief and the female Episcopal priest who covets him.  What's not to like? 

Friday, January 3, 2014

On placemats, expectations, and not swearing at my kids.

One of the many things you can't get until you're in it is what it means to adjust your expectations for your kids.

Yesterday my husband and I sat in the driveway after running an errand together.  We were discussing our son.  Specifically, my husband was praising the way I had not once screamed "SHUT THE F*** UP!  WHY ARE YOU BEING SUCH AN A$$HOLE?" all day long.  Not once.  Not even close.  He was impressed.  He had managed to avoid a profane tempest by holing up in our bedroom, while I was actually engaging with the kids. 

This made me think of something I'd been reminded of while discussing with Oak when he would gt computer privileges back.  "He doesn't know the days of the week," I said. 

"He doesn't know left and right," replied the Winemaker.

"Do you think it's fetal alcohol?"  I asked.

"Who knows.  I am too tired to figure it out.  I don't even know where to start, and I am so afraid of being a terrible parent that I'm afraid to engage long enough to figure it out."

(For the record, my husband is in the midst of a medication change to help with his anxiety, irritability, noise sensitivity, and depression.  The jury is out on whether this new med combo will be helpful.)

I keep looking for glimmers of progress.  We've been doing this long enough that I have something to compare it to.  How was last Christmas?  What was it like going grocery shopping?  How many times a day did we use to head out to walk around the block as a cool down?  On all of these fronts, there has been progress.

Tonight I realized something even more quantifiable.  The placemats we've used since we got married are bamboo, the kind that resemble long toothpicks rafted together.  The first day the kids were home, they rolled them up and started swatting each other with them, laughing hysterically and knocking over glasses in the process.  I immediately confiscated them, and we bought cloth placemats for them, ones that can be wiped off after the inevitable spills.  More importantly, ones that make lousy weapons.

For Christmas, I got out the holiday placemats.  These are cotton ones my sister made us years ago.  Since there are only four, when we had company on Christmas day, I hauled out all the bamboo placemats as well. 

As we've reverted to our regular place settings, the kids started using the bamboo placemats that match ours.  I just set the table, and put actual dishware (not the plastic Ikea set) at all four spots, resting on actual matching placemats.  I paused and looked at it, and realized I trust them with all of it.  Not that there won't be spills.  But no intentional misuse of tableware, and that is enough.

Before having kids, would I have ever thought that "safe use of placemats" would be a milestone?