The Outside Life

•March 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Like many of you, my world has become increasingly internal over the past several winter months.  Now, the sun is starting to peek out in unexpected ways and revealing the earth in little hints of what is to come.  I’ve been thinking about my connection to the world outside my home and finally picked up a copy of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.  The Half Price Books purchase was spurred on by a discussion in one of my ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) classes we had about children and nature.  It is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and at one point, even  picked up from the library.  But I have issues with getting through non-fiction fast enough to avoid accruing fines from the library, so returned to book without even more than a skinny dip in chapter one. 

This am, as I sat contemplating the books contents in the hotel lobby we are staying at (we are on our way to St. Louis on a combined spring break/family visit/college scoping trip), there was the ever ubiquitous television set that seems to accompany all interior waiting-type spaces, humming along to break the monotony.  It makes me think of being at my parent’s house, where at any point there can be up to three or four televisions running in the household at one time, depending on how many of us grown children are staying in the house.  I thought about how this interiority in our lives affects us. 

In the hotel breakfast area, there were no windows.  Granted, the Days Inn we stayed at was not their showcase venue – the rates were cheap and they offered ‘hot’ breakfast – you know, make your own waffles and a toaster.  I realized I had my back to the nearest outdoor view, which was the lobby entry door and its flanking windows, so had no concept of the world outside.  Thankfully we have things like televisions that are left on the weather channel to let to rescue us from this interior-induced oblivion.

The way I was “dining” is in strict contrast to how I start my mornings at home.  I enjoy eating my breakfast in our dining room, where we have three large windows that let light spill inside.  Oftentimes, I won’t even turn lights on in the morning, preferring the subtleties of the shifting suns rays at it ascends into the sky and lights up our interior world.  Even though our view is compromised by the “squirrel highway”, aka fence, separating our house from our neighbor and her house is only a mere 15 feet away from our own, I can still hear and see wildlife out the window and get a sense of the seasons.  Like when snow is gently floating down in “snow globe” mode.  One of my favorite natural phenomena to watch.  It is mesmerizing, captivating.  

Which brings me back to thinking.  My family loves the outdoors.  I feel most alive when we are outside in the world, experiencing it.  When we are out camping, we don’t think twice about doing things like making dinner, eating, or playing outside.  We just gear up and do it.  Regardless of weather.  What do we need to do, internally in our minds, to accomplish the mental shift necessary to do the same when at home?  What is stopping us?  Why can’t we eat breakfast outside?  Perhaps not every day, but maybe aim for once a week?  What would that look like?  I have to carry the breakfast paraphernalia to the dining room anyway, maybe I should finally break down and find myself one of those low lip wooden crates that I can use to load up our breakfast accoutrements, like a waiter, and walk the few extra steps so we can enjoy a part of our morning outside.  We can leave our internal world behind and breathe in the outside world around us.  A small moment of peace at the beginning of the day.  At least, until my toddler upsets her cup and spills her juice all over herself.  Ok, maybe not peace, but the setting would certainly put my day off to a good start.

How do you incorporate nature into your day?

On ‘Top (fill-in-the-blank) Things to do Before you Die” Lists and Other Things

•January 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Everyone wants to have a life well-lived, rich and full of varied experiences.  Proof positive, the travel sections of bookstores are riddled with ‘bucket list’ books titled, for example,  101 Things to Do before you Die, by Richard Horne or 1,000 Places to See Before you Die, by Patricia Schultz.  All express this urgency about living life to its fullest, you know, before the inevitable.  I have leafed through a few of these casually, but have never coughed up the dollars to pocket one home

Growing up, my mom would take my sisters or brothers to faraway exotic  places like Georgia, California, and Rhode Island for hockey, softball or skating competitions.  They were exotic to me as I don’t recall ever having a travel circle that extended further than the fertile Red River Valley including Canada, North Dakota, and Minnesota during most of my formative years (apparently I was in California when I was 2 or 3, but no lasting memories there to report).  Early on in elementary school, me and another classmate would scour the books on the 50 states of the US that we had never been to.  It was a time to dream.  A time to think of possibilities.  Then I would hear other friend’s stories of having visited islands in tropical climates or of travels to places like Epcot Center and the famed Busch Gardens.  I began to feel like a desert – rain clouds passing overhead – but never did they let out a single luscious drop on my parched soil.  It is no wonder that as soon as I got the chance, I finagled a way for my mother to allow me to go along with a friend’s family, all the way to Carrizo Springs, Texas, during Christmas break of my junior year of high school.

When my mom pulled up to his house to hand me over, we discovered my friend’s family car had taken a turn for the worse.  Their back-up plan was to equip their ‘one row seat’ truck with a heavily insulated topper on the back – and I am talking plain old topper.  We were lucky there was enough room to sit up inside with all the insulation packed in there.  The five of us (my friend, his mom, dad, brother and me) would take turns riding in back, covered in blankets, alternating with sitting in the heated front seat.  Against all of my mom’s better judgement, she agreed to let me go anyway.  Thank YOU mom!

It was my first year experiencing Christmas without snow.  This year, I only had to travel within the Midwest for the same experience.  However, in the deep south of Texas (we were practically kissing Mexico) I got to experience what it felt like to be part of another culture.  Spanish was the preferred language of choice, so I was able to pick up some new words, and I was given my first ‘minority’ experience as I was the only caucasian around.  It opened my world.  As I got older, I became more experienced in tackling practical and financial obstacles in my way, and jumped at any travel opportunity.

So it surprised me when I recently took an online Facebook poll to see which of the 100 places I had visited off the “2012 Travel Challenge List”.  I could only check 8 or 9 of them:  Death Valley National Park, California; Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri; the Grand Canyon; Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; the Las Vegas Strip; Mount Rushmore, South Dakota; Ruins of Athens, Athens, Greece; the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois; and Devil’s Tower, Wyoming (which I think I visited on a Geology field trip in college, but don’t quote me).  Not that I should let any list define me or the quality of my experiences.  Certainly not a list that I have not dreamt up for myself.  But I couldn’t help feeling a little miffed.  Was it my pride?  Yes, a little.  I’m a traveler, damnit!  But mostly, I think I was perturbed by that which was not represented on the list.  The many awe-inspiring places I have visited over the years.  The rich experiences I have had.  Put that trip to Carrizo Springs, Texas in your ‘bucket list’ pipe and smoke it.

The 2012 Travel Challenge List is indeed a veritable ‘who’s who’ of places to visit around the world.  Everyone agrees they are spectacular.  I would agree they are all worth exploring.  Just don’t feel that some magic list holds all the answers to constituting a life well lived.  Let the beat of your own internal drummer guide you.  Start to dream of the places that have potential for you.  What do you want to see, learn about, feel, sense, explore, taste?  If you think a weekend digging fossils in the hinterlands of South Dakota could generate a richer experience for you than a visit to the Ming palace ever could, do that!  But don’t let your world become so small, that you never ever step foot off the continent you live on!  Yes, I am talking to some of you, my dear family members.  You can learn a lot from other cultures and enrich your lives with experiences that you never could have imagined.

I’ll admit, going through a travel challenge list was useful in that it gave me a chance to reflect on the many places I have been, and to start dreaming of places I would like to visit with my family.  So, where are we headed?  Good question.  Current thoughts include planning for an extended trip down the west coast of North America, exploring all the way from British Columbia, through Seattle, down the scenic Oregon coastline, and meandering through the majestic Redwoods of California.  It may not happen until next summer, but it most certainly won’t happen if we don’t plan for it at all!  We will be replicating portions of a trip my husband designed (and went on with his family) for a class project in high school.  I just knew there was something special about that guy the first moment he walked into my photography class in college…

Tell me:

What/where are you dreaming of exploring right now?

Have you started making travel plans?

What is on your travel docket for 2012?

This Year, Resolve To Do More With Less

•January 12, 2012 • 2 Comments

Every year, around this time, I feel squeezed.  The influx of presents, all of which come with space requirements in our modest 1300 SF home, leaves me feeling drained.  Where to put all this holiday shrapnel?    Where do I put my new snowshoes?  Where do we put the new dollhouse for my toddler?  Where to put the umpteenth doll that our toddler has now received?  We are seriously considering giving the dolls out as hostess gifts to our friends, so be warned.

On top of that, we still have other logistical space issues in our house.  For example, the mountain of winter gear that perpetually overflows our three tiny basket bins in the kitchen.  And the overflowing coat hooks.  Every morning when we have to get out of the house, it is a ‘where’s Waldo’ festival of finding matching gloves, a hat to wear, and bickering about how someone else put their coat on your hook.  How can we solve our new space problems when they are compounded by our already existing ones?

It is times like these where I will find myself dreaming of the greener pastures of another house, another layout, that would solve ALL of our space problems.  I’ll even surf the MLS (multiple listing service) properties to pipe-dream about a ‘new’ house that would fit the bill.  So far, I struggle to find anything that comes reasonably close to solving our current space dilemmas.  There was a particular listing recently that seemed promising, but a drive by the property burst the water main on the pipe dream.  Apparently realtors know a thing or two about manipulating cameras to show the best sides of properties.  This one had severely peeling paint and had ZERO yard.  While I would give anything to lessen the amount of yard work currently on my plate, I’m not quite ready to settle for ZERO yard.  Especially one with no sunny space for growing food.

There’s also the question of increased $$$ every month for new digs.  The recent property in question would have added $500 more to our monthly mortgage.  I don’t know about you, but I can do a lot with $500 a month.  Recall the 6 week trip our family took to Greece last summer?  Yep, if you are wise about your money, you can make almost anything happen.

So we are back to square one.  What to do with the space we already have.  Everyone has lots of spaces that get used so infrequently, they might better be utilized for other purposes.  It just so happened that I spied an image on Pinterest, my latest addiction, of a project in which a closet was remodeled in order to function as a home office (from Jen @ http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com).  I was salivating.  We just so happen to have a closet adjacent to our dining room that is easily twice the size of the one on Pinterest.  An easily accessible space on the main floor of our house that I could office in?  Without putting an addition on our house or paying real estate transaction fees while moving to a new one?  SOLD!!!   Of course, it does require I do some deep purging of items clogging up our basement storage space, in order to make new homes for things we can’t get rid of, like golf clubs.  It would be one step toward my husband filing for divorce if I did.

Tackling the closet:

The closet, itself, is a really a sore sight.  The interior had probably never been touched up since the early 20’s when they first wallpapered it in what only now resembles coffee stained plain newsprint.  It has been horribly overstuffed with things like golf clubs, mementos from the kids schoolwork or projects, camping gear, backpacks, bowling balls, etc.  All things which do not get used on a regular basis.  Plus other random knick knacks, like candle holders we never use, cords for various electronics, and empty boxes.

The closet has now been emptied.  All hardware and nails have been pulled from the walls.  I wish I could say it is ready for paint and all manners of organizing hardware that could accommodate my myriad craft/art projects, in addition to a surface for my laptop when I write, and a permanent home for our printer.  But our house was built in 1889.  And the plaster is horribly crumbling in places.  So I need to take a step back and decide how to remedy the situation.

I love demo, and can really see myself getting some free therapy by releasing built up angst ripping out those awful plaster walls.  But then it begs the question.  If we are tearing out the plaster, what’s to stop us from moving the wall IN just a bit to open up more space in the kitchen (and use the wall to enclose the unsightly main sewer stack)?  I’ve even seen a ‘closet office’ project that takes up half the space of my initial Pinterest find.  We have a serious pinch point in the kitchen, on the other side of the closet wall, that makes it nearly impossible for two people to inhabit the same space without elbows and hips being jostled.  Three people is out of the question.  And with a fifth family member about to join us in May, what would be the wisest choice?

I think the real answer is that there are no easy answers when it comes to space.  Your household will have new demands and requirements throughout the years, so even if you change something now, you are bound to wish you had done it differently later.  There are no perfect solutions.  And walls aren’t really temporary solutions.  So I remain with asking myself what to do now…hoping it will pay off in the future?  I really do need an office space on the main floor, so that I am not persistently clearing off the dining room table whenever we want to eat.

I will continue to mill over this while I reorganize and purge the basement in order to make new homes for the ‘keepers’ from the dining room closet.  A great resource I have used many times in the past is this, from Fly Lady.net, to help me declutter.

I want to know:

What projects have you tackled that have enabled you to do more with less space?  Send pictures so I can repost!

How do you deal with clearing out clutter?

Have you ever thrown in the towel on solving your space problems, in past digs, and moved to a home with more space?  How do you feel about that now?

Can I Get a Little Hospitality?

•December 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

You’ve set the table in festive contrasting red and white for the holidays.  Candles are burning, setting the ambiance, while music from your Bose Wave Systems is pouring out in a soft blanket, creating a sense of warmth.  The food has almost finished in the oven.  The appetizers are chilling in the fridge.  Bottled adult beverages are sitting on ice.  The doorbell rings.  You enthusiastically greet your guests, remarking, “my it has been some time since we got together!”  To which they reply, “so great to see you!”  You reach over to hug and realize, there’s a funny red blobby stain on the side of your guests coat.  Oh, well I guess I won’t hug in too close there.  As you pull in to one another, you notice it seems treacherously sticky too.  And then their partner comes up behind with a caravan of their children, pint-sized copies of their parents.  One of which also appears to have the same red stain on their cheek.  The same one that is carrying on while lamenting a lost sucker.  Apparently, it fell on the floor on the ride over.

“Where is my sucker?  I want my sucker!”  Tears are eeked out intermittently in between greetings.  You rush off to see if there is something you can get to help this little human out of their heavy emotional attachment to a small, sugary, sticky object.  Nope, the bottle of Summit EPA won’t do that.  Perhaps some other type of food ought to do it? Hmm, what about this olive tapenade on some pita?  Nope – they won’t eat anything that is all mixed up.  What else, what else, you mumble beneath your breath as you search frantically to soothe the escalating pitch of their voice.  Then  you hear it.

“Oh no!”  Scream their parents from the other room.  It is followed by a crashing, crunching, shattering sound, and you realize.  They didn’t just bring their kids.  No.  You’ve just been invaded by a horde of pint-sized humans.  This night has already gotten off on a bad foot.

And it just spirals downhill from there as the parents are on guard all night, trying to prevent little hands, hands geared to follow commands from their brain that they must touch literally every object within a three-and-a-half food radius from the floor plane.  And I do mean, EVERY object.  No object will be left unmolested by those grubby little hands.

And you realize, right at that very moment, that while you consider yourself a great host, you even have that damn music playing to set the atmosphere just right, you misjudged one very important consideration.  These ______ (feel free to insert any one of following monikers into the blank:  friends/family members/coworkers/siblings) of yours require a whole ‘nuther set of operating instructions.  You realize, you really aren’t the ‘hostess with the mostess’.  You aren’t just entertaining for adults, you have that routine down pat by now.  You are entertaining a miniature wrecking crew.

What it all boils down to is expectations.  Parents of small children really can’t expect you, their hosts, to know the ins and outs of what it is like to have a herd of humans under three feet tall marauding through your house if you don’t already have your own personal set of home-invaders.  After all, you are, perhaps, the last of your set of friends who has yet to jump into the treacherous waters of raising children; or your children may be older, and onto better things, like playing Xbox, or texting friends ‘LOL’ or ‘ROTFLOL’ while they uncover the new latest craze off YouTube – these mysterious teenage creatures at least seem to know ‘what to’ and ‘what not to’ touch; or perhaps your kids are grown and out of the house – did you really forget what it was like when they were once a third or a fourth of their current size?

To really bring this example home, I must relay an unfortunate story that was repeated time and time again, like a horribly broken record, when my husband and I would take our son over to visit my husband’s Grandma and Aunt, who lived together in a one-level townhouse.  There was never any shortage of ‘traditional’ hospitality.  There was always coffee, an assortment of soda, hearty food, and tasty desserts.  What there was, though, was a Sahara Desert in terms of ‘little’ hospitality.  Blanketing the space were almost a hundred (trust me, I actually counted them one time…) highly breakable ‘collectible dolls’ intermixed within numerous other ‘these-should-be-looked-at-but-not-touched’ items and curiosities.  Almost nothing that little hands were welcome to touch.  And you wonder why I was always so uneasy about the visits.

I’m not saying this as a reflection on their, or any of my hosts, character(s).  What I am saying, is that when you have guests over at your house, try to put yourselves in their shoes.  It takes an enormous amount of work for us parents to even get these miniature humans out of the house some days.  Those of you who once had little children in your house – are you remembering this?  Or are you still blocking it out as a manifestation of your PTSD?  Dig deep into the memory chasm, I know those recollections are lurking there.

We don’t expect you to completely rearrange your home in order to accommodate us.  We don’t expect you to rent a $300 inflatable ball pit for your yard to entertain our children with.  What we are saying, as parents of small children, is at least give us a fighting chance.  If you have a fragile family heirloom proudly displayed within the aforementioned three-and-a-half foot floor plane (let’s just bump it up to four to be truly safe), that your long lost relative from Switzerland passed on many generations back, you may, for your, and our sake, just want to put it a little further out of reach.  Perhaps pick up a small, assorted collection of toys from a thrift store the next time you are out shopping that our kids can rifle through.  Or better yet, do you have some spare boxes our kids could play with?  You’d be amazed how long a kid can entertain themselves with a box.  As for food, nothing fancy.  They haven’t yet developed the taste buds to differentiate between local and imported food goods.  Then we all can relax (relatively speaking) and have a good time.

All we are asking for, for both of our collective sanities, hosts and guests alike, is a ‘little’ hospitality.  Is that too much to ask?  If it all seems just a bit too intimidating, suggest we meet at our place.  See how we live.  What do we keep out of harm’s way?  Or better yet, tell us how tired we look (we are always tired anyway so 99.999% of the time you will guess that right), that you think we really need a break from the kids, and suggest we get a babysitter for the night.  We can go out somewhere fun that is riddled with other child-free adults together.  I promise, you will have as much of our full attention as you will ever get.  And we will try not to talk about the kids too much over the course of dinner.

All I Want for Christmas is my IPOD

•December 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In the past month or so I’ve made several frantic searches around the house to turn up my missing IPOD.  It disappeared sometime after my families’ long summer trip to Greece and before my pre-Thanksgiving travels.  I was preparing to make a road trip up to Grand Forks, North Dakota to visit my dad (who was recovering from a foot injury) when the tale of the missing IPOD reared its ugly head.  The thing is, you never realize how much you miss something that is a staple in your life until it is gone.  So I found a workable substitute:  my toddler’s 16 gigabyte IPOD Nano.

Before you go all crazy on me and say that there is no way a two-and-a-half year old should have her own IPOD (what kind of parents are these people anyway?), I should let you know that it was actually passed down to her by my 16 year old, who has since moved on to the better pastures of his 64 gigabyte IPOD Touch.  (*Sidenote:  We were also the parents who didn’t let our teenager get a cell phone until he was almost 16.  There you have it.)

But the mystique is not really all in what the IPOD is, it is in what the IPOD does.  It is ultra portability of musical experience – defined.  And THAT, is what really had been missing from my life.  MUSIC.  As my toddler and I cruised down the highway on the five  hour stretch back home, the tunes on her IPOD reconnected me with my life.  It wasn’t just stacked up with the children’s music playlist including assorted hits from the Laurie Berkner Band. Her IPOD actually had remnants of what my son had burned onto it, as well as many faves of my husband that were downloaded to the device before it was ‘officially’ passed down to our toddler.  It also included many songs from my musical must have’s list that accompanied the two of us on our trip to Crete, Greece, in the spring of 2011.  It was a veritable collection of all the musical tastes that have developed in our household over the many years we have grown together.  A veritable song diary.  And it made me remember just HOW important music is in our families’ life.

My husband and I bonded early on in our dating years over our mutual affection for alternative, and especially, punk rock music.  Being somewhat of a chameleon when it comes to my musical interests (and other tastes in life in general), I brought to our relationship a far wider range of musical selections than he did.  While he might have touted Janes Addiction, the New Bomb Turks, or Rocket from the Crypt – I had everything spanning from The Pharcyde  to The Smashing Pumpkins  to The Beatles. Everything except an affinity for modern country (don’t worry Johnny Cash, you still have my heart).

Music has defined my life as I have progressed through its many different phases.  It has the power to soothe and to evoke passionate or inciteful, and powerful emotions.  It has the power to turn a horrible, soul crushing day around into an empowering, uplifting day. It also has the power to bring back emotional and physical experiences I was going through at the time each particular song was at the forefront of my continuously evolving personal playlist.

Road trips are good times for reflection and I pondered this:  what has happened to our lives without the prevalence of music?  My husband and I used to take time to search out shows to see.  I can’t remember the last time we went to one together.  We used to take our son to shows with us as well.  The first time he saw Avail, he was probably 10, at the Triple Rock Social Club.  Before that, we took him to various other places, including First Avenue (a staple of the downtown Minneapolis music scene for the last four decades) to see NOFX, to the Myth to see Rancid, to The Fine Line to see Less Than Jake, and to the 7th Street Entry to see Rancid.  Yep, we took him to Rancid twice.  At one of the shows we went to at First Avenue, I was approached by a group of teenagers who were amazed with the ‘cool parents’ who would actually take their kid to a show.  What did their parents do with them when they were prepubescent?  What did they feel was so cool about what we were doing that they cared enough to mention the absence of this something special in their lives?  Believe me, to get a teenager to talk to you at all, is like winning Ed McMahon’s million dollar sweepstakes – something you hope for, but never, ever count on – so it must have been pretty special.

Our teenager has told us many times over the years that he was proud to have had such young parents who liked to do fun things (I had him when I was eighteen and met my husband when my son was almost two).  The connection we have had with our son more than made up for the seeming lack of connection we felt with many parents of his friends who were always older than us.  Apparently they had already gotten the ‘fun’ out of them by the time they started having kids.  They were ‘old parents.’

In our household we are now more likely to pull a CD from the stack of toddler music than we are to pull some vinyl out of the closet and give it a spin.  We have a fourteen year gap between toddler and teenager.  We have aged, our priorities have changed.  With this second family, I have to wonder:  are WE the old parents now?  Have we officially lost our ‘cool parent’ status?  Our teenager would probably nod yes aggressively in response.  We don’t go to shows anymore.  We don’t blast music from my husband’s assorted grouping of early 1990’s stereo equipment.  Vinyl is more likely to collect dust bunnies than revolve.  Have we officially reached ‘old parent’ status?  *shudder*

As I was driving down the road the other day, an Avail (punk rock) song came up on our playlist.  My toddler vibrantly reflected, “I like this song.”  Maybe its time to reinvigorate the musical well in our household.

I want to know:

  • What do you do in your family to pass along your musical heritage to your children?  What did your parents do?
  • Have you been missing music in your life?
  • How do you include music in your life?
  • What tunes speak to you right now?
  • Have you ever taken your kids to a real show?

And if you can’t handle the suspense any longer, the case of the missing IPOD has been solved.  I discovered it during a reorganizing project I was working on in our third bedroom, as we prepare to make room for another baby in the house.  It was in one of my packing cubes for traveling.  Merry Christmas to me indeed – AND a Happy New Year!

When your Sister is not Really your Sister

•December 7, 2011 • 6 Comments

My older sister had always been more of a tomboy.  My dad routinely kicked me out of the shop where he would work on cars – I don’t know if I just got in the way or what.  But my sister, she was allowed to stay in the garage and help.

In the thick of winter, when I would pirouette in my pick-bladed figure skates, she would aggressively skate to the goal, in hockey skates, and fire slap shots on our older boy-cousins in the net.  And she appeared fearless in the net herself.  Me, I just quivered.  Please, oh please, do NOT put me in the net.

As a young child, my sister was also fearless on the little yellow Yamaha Zinger motorcycle that we would ride up and down our little farm road.  Me, my nickname was ‘turtle’.  Slow and steady wins the race.

None of this phased me.  I had a cousin who was equally as intimidating as my older sister.  Women are strong in our family – physically and mentally.  We are obstinate even.  But the event where I first fully realized that my older sister was not really what I thought a sister should be shocked me.  It appalled me beyond understanding.  On one late weekend night, I awoke from sleep to hear odd noises coming from her side of the bedroom that we shared as teens.  She had a female friend staying over and they weren’t making noises anything like what I comprehended two girls should be making together.  I was flabbergasted.  I was quiet as a mouse as I forced myself back into sleep, trying to simultaneously block out and comprehend the event all at the same time.

This was my first real introduction to issues around gender and sexual preference.  Since then, the world of humanity has educated me that things are not always as they seem.  Boys may not be ‘boys’ and girls may not be ‘girls’, as conventional understanding would have us believe.  We are all born differently, with our own unique attributes, we are shades of gray.  Humanity does not contain black and white.

I recently read the compelling novel Middlesex, written by Jeffrey Eugenides, in which gender issues are explored through the context of a Greek family which is forced to flee Turkey, emigrating to Detroit, Michigan.  By a series of circumstances, a grandchild descended from the family ends up with the unlikely combination of genetic material that results in hermaphroditism.  The child is mistakenly raised as a girl, later discovering she is not what the world has told her.  Her pubescent body has made some undeniable changes and a physician discovers she is genetically male.

When I was in utero, my mother was informed that I was supposed to be a boy.  Ultrasound technology back in the mid 70’s was not as sophisticated as it is now, so more ‘mistakes’ were made.  (a quick internet search turns up that ultrasounds today are anywhere from 50-95% effective in determining ‘outward’ gender characteristics.  Something to dwell on if you are dead set on decorating a baby room in conventional pinks or blues). I, in fact, did not turn out to be a boy.  I do happen to have a boyish shaped body – straight hips, rather flat chested, and seem to have a bit more hair on my body than desirable.  But genetically and hormonally (and subsequently, sexually), I am female.  I find it ironic that it was predicted I would be ‘male’ while my sister turned out to be more ‘conventionally male’ in terms of her sexual orientation and personal identity.  And FYI, my cousin, who was equally as daunting as my sister on the ice:  heterosexual AND married with 3 kids and 1 stepdaughter.  Obviously this gender thing is not clearly cut and dried.

So far the medical community has not developed a test or procedure to determine what a person’s gender preference will be.  I don’t know that we ever should.

Currently, I am gestating my third child.  With my two previous children, I never had an interest in discovering the outer ‘gender identity’ (ie presence of penis vs vulva) on my children via ultrasound technology.  This time around, however, I had a feeling I may want to find out.  Some dear friends of ours lost a baby (who was stillborn) and my husband’s brother and his wife’s son was born seven weeks early (thankfully, he is growing well after spending almost a month in the NICU).  Shaky emotional times for first trimester me, when risk of miscarriage is at its greatest.  I felt, somehow, that knowing what my baby was would help me become more connected, and less emotionally distant with all the tragedy around me.  However, giving my child a label as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ in a society that is still struggling with gender issues and which still (I believe) has not overcome traditional gender roles, seems just plain wrong and counterproductive.  I don’t need to know if my child is going to have a penis or a vulva in order to develop an attachment to it.  I need to deal with and process the grief and trauma of the other circumstances around me.

What I do want and need, however, is for my baby to be human.  And above all, healthy.  I pray for health.  I want my baby and children to understand that they come from a larger group of creation, and that perhaps we don’t have all the answers, and that perhaps we can hope to have the capacity to understand other people for who they are, and not what their gender or gender preference entails.

Back in the Saddle Again

•December 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Let’s face it.  It’s been awhile since I last posted.  A real long while.  Sometimes life has a way of redirecting our energies.  My last post, way back in April 2011, had me whisking my toddler far off to Greece in a solo-parenting traveling adventure.  It was a mind opening experience.  I grew a lot as a traveler and as a mother.  Most importantly, I discovered new relationship potential between parent and child.

Since then, our four person family took an extended six week trip to Greece in the thick of the summer heat.  While we explored some of the highlights of mainland Greece (Athens, Mesolongi, Delphi, Meteora, and Thiva), the bulk of our time was spent on the bean shaped Island of Chios, where my Yiayia (that’s Greek for grandmother) was born and lived up until Greece became engulfed in the aftermath of WWII.  The independent little island is situated just a hop, skip, and a jump across the 8km wide Chios Straight from Turkey.  It was truly an amazing experience.  We were embraced wholeheartedly by family we had never met.  I hope to get some posts out there in the future about our experiences and the explorations we undertook on our stay in Greece.  But for now, I’m going to dive into some more ‘heady’ posts that have been surfacing in my brain.

I hope you will enjoy some of the new flavors I am bringing to this small sector of the blogosphere.  Giddyup.

 
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