Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Carolina vacation in photos

This was a pretty epic summer vacation. Probably deserves a few posts. But you get what you get and don't pitch a fit.

The Beach (Fripp Island, South Carolina)

We camped for a day and a half, and then Cait's family+ joined us for a week in a beach house. The water was great, the food fantastic, and the company plentiful.

Eating at our campsite

Snakes in the nature center

Big kids table at dinner

Frequent retreats to read by myself

Some lizard in another nature center

Cait's family's house (Columbia, South Carolina)

Cait purged old memorablia by taking photos and then trashing. How her life could have been different.

So many games of Monopoly. So many.

Lulah at the pool

Firefighter Lulah at the Children's Museum

Giant chess at the Children's Museum. I am obviously dominating the center in this game.

Banana mouth

New Yoda watch

Turtle at the zoo

Petting ponies at the zoo

Lulah and Bear really bonded this trip

Wild Goose Music Festival, Hot Springs, North Carolina

This was a music festival that I got in for free to be part of a seminary student leadership group. We were kind of worn out and not feeling very Christiany, so it wasn't quite as fun as we had hoped, but we still had a really good time.
We made lots of friends

Brian McLaren was one of the few speakers I recognized. Here he is telling fishing stories to the kids.

Kids love fires

And dancing

View on a morning run

Floating in the beautiful river

Stop off at Kaitlyn and Byrd's house, Atlanta, Georgia

On the ride back, we stopped in to see some friends in Atlanta. Really great conversation and drinks.

The End

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Life, in four parts

I have stopped feeling guilty about not updating this blog, but every time I read Bridget's blog and think how cool it is that she has that detailed record of her family's life, I'm a little jealous. It's also just fun to read, and one of the only blogs left standing it seems when barely any of my friends are left blogging. So, here goes a brief update of our life, and what will hopefully be more posts to follow:

1. The weather: Let's talk about the weather, shall we? Texas winter was great. It was a really wet winter, and had some gloomy weeks, but the fact I could bike without bundling up in 14 layers of wool was definitely a plus over Wisconsin winters. One awesome thing about today is that it's almost May and in the 60s. In Texas. This is awesome, but also a little disconcerting. The kids are wearing fleece jackets and crying that their "hands are FWEEZING!" But it's great for me because I've been needing to clean, and hate turning on the A/C, and cleaning in a 82-degree house is exactly as sweaty as it sounds. I even scrubbed the oven today, folks. That never happens (in my defense, we do not use it very often).

2. The tiny people: The kids are growing up, obviously, and have turned into fairly pleasant little humans. They are still rotten to get to sleep at night, but that's mostly our fault and letting them still fall asleep in our bed. They have been home with me all year, and we have been going back and forth, back and forth on what we'll do in the fall. We are know fairly firmly in the camp of continuing to home(un)school and have worked it out that our schedules shouldn't overlap at all. That means a lot of working with little ones afoot, but they have learned to play so well together (Legos, outside, art projects, dollhouse) that it's totally doable. In fact, most days, I clean up and read and hang out while paying relatively little attention to them. It's a far cry from the days when as soon as I sat down they would climb on me incessantly.

3. The schools: I'm excited to start school but also questioning my sanity at attempting a PhD again. I know I like research and learning and what I want to study, but I keep seeing all of my ABD friends on Facebook and they just sound so miserable all the time. Is it worth it? I guess time will tell. T. Kay has mixed feelings about his seminary too. He still is excited about the possibility of ministry should he find a job after he graduates, but it has been weird being at a Christian and Protestant seminary but having no real belief in God. That being said though, there are others here as well and we have found a tight-knit group of other students who we are friends with.

4. The jobs: We are both working part-time in addition to the school, and we both really like our jobs. T. Kay is one of three faculty secretaries, which means he occasionally gets projects but mostly does homework. I'm working at the National Domestic Violence Hotline/Love is Respect and have the raddest colleagues and it really is the best job I've ever had. It can be hard to sit in front of a computer for eight hours, but I try to limit my computer time when I'm not at work, and usually when we are slow I can do other things like read about cold-brewing coffee (my latest successful venture!) and read articles on living with kids in an Airstream.

At Central Market, our usual digs

With my kombucha SCOBY

Clock tower, on UT campus

On the steps of T. Kay's chapel

Easter Sunday


National Hijab Day

Haircut, from when Austin was here

Playing in Barton Springs


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why I let my kids play outside, and why you should probably mind your own damn business

Since we've moved into housing at APTS, we've been the subject of intense scrutiny over our parenting, among other things. In January, we had CPS called on us. The accusation: leaving our sleeping 2-yr-old in our duplex (neighboring duplex friends knew we were leaving shortly and were watching out) while we went to a friend's engagement party for maybe 20 minutes. CPS was gracious and didn't come out or interview us, and for that I think we were extremely lucky. I talked to a friend at my work who used to be a CPS worker and she said she never had a case where they did not go to the home of the family. We still do not know who called CPS on us, though it had to have been someone in our community. It feels like an incredible violation of the tight-knit community that APTS is striving to create and prides itself on, which was one of the reasons we even chose to move here.

Then, it seems like the shit is all hitting the fan this week. First, my neighbor came over and asked me to dress Tallulah. Yes, my toddler was playing naked in the mud. She was wearing a light-blue dress that I did not want to get stained, so I stripped her down. He was uncomfortable his older boys (they are 5 and 8) were out there playing around a naked little girl. I complied, because I like these neighbors, a lot. I did not want to create a rift, as we are friends and our kids are friends. But it really bothered me nonetheless. It bothers me that my daughter, practically still in diapers, is being body shamed and policed. That we had to comply with certain societal standards regarding her clothing to make boys less uncomfortable (if they were even uncomfortable at all, I suspect they weren't). I know it's different, but I can only imagine this is the first of a lifetime of situations where Tallulah will be told her body needs to conform to some silly standard in order to not make others uncomfortable. And it just reminded me how ridiculously messed up our conservative perceptions of sex and nudity are in this country. In Germany, no one cares. At the public pool, tons of kids are running around in their birthday suits. In the locker rooms, there are openly, unashamed naked people everywhere. At the saunas, men/women/teens all walk around completely naked, and it's totally natural.

A second neighbor approached T. Kay last night about the same issue. Tallulah was sunning herself after a bath, and then wandered to their yard to pet a dog that lives next door. Again, it made the adults uncomfortable because "our neighborhood isn't as safe as you think." I was at work, but I would have loved to respond: "oh, are you a pedophile?" I'm just NOT SCARED OF STRANGERS. People are good, y'all! Sure, some suck. But most young girls are more likely to be molested by their dads, or grandpas, or older brothers than a randomly wandering stranger who happens across their tiny naked bodies laying out on a towel on their lawn. I'm not going to change our kids comfort with their bodies and comfort with being naked just to satisfy some Puritanical ideas that apparently prevail at what is supposed to be a super-progressive, ultraliberal seminary. The same neighbor also expressed his concern that our kids are unsupervised too often outside. Now, these kids are 5 and 3. Atticus is fully capable of being outside alone. I fully trust in his judgment and his ability to stay within his boundaries safely. He needs me to trust that, for his own confidence and development. Kids these days are not given enough outside time, let alone unsupervised outside time. There is so much evidence from child psychologists that unstructured outdoors play has so many benefits for children, that I'm not willing to sacrifice their well-being for the comfort of those around us.

Same goes for my 3-yr-old. I'm much more watchful of her outside, but she's never really given me a reason to not trust her awareness of her abilities or boundaries either. And 9 times out of 10, they are playing in the front yard, and I'm sitting at the open window listening to everything that's happening. I can see how a person walking by might think they are completely alone and unsupervised, but a simple knock at the door would show that they aren't, that I (or T. Kay) are completely conscious of everything going on and are doing it quite deliberately. Sure, sometimes, I'm making lunch and they wander further and I have to yell their names and look for them a bit longer. But who doesn't have memories of being at the end of the street and having their parent scream for them from the front porch?

We are short-changing our kids, Americans are. A large majority... they are shuttled to school in a car. They get one ultra-supervised 30-minute recess, if they are lucky. They are then picked up in a car, driven to other supervised activities or go home to watch TV or play video games. A study found that most American children get outside for just 4-7 minutes a day. This is ludicrous. Kids belong outside. Adults too, for that matter. I love lounging in our lawn chair and reading a book. See, I'm supervising! But all too often, I have to clean/cook/write blogposts so I'm inside doing those things instead. My sister made a good point: we just aren't used to seeing kids outside these days in our country. Most go to daycare or school or organized sports/rec activities. They are sequestered away from the everyday public spaces or in suburbs, and so seeing them in the city around a college campus is jarring. But that doesn't mean it's abnormal or wrong. It's just different.

Unfortunately, it does not seem like we'll be able to continue to let our kids play outside without repercussions. Our director of maintenance also emailed us this week with "concerns" about our children's safety. They told us that they shouldn't be outside alone, and there have been instances of Tallulah being in the parking lot below the school (I have no recollections of catching her there, ever, so she must have high-tailed it back before I checked on her). They cited one instance where the kids were inside of a room and T. Kay was literally standing in the hallway right outside "on the phone" (he doesn't recall this phone call, nor was it in his list of previous calls but they have VIDEO EVIDENCE). But even if he was, the kids can't be right inside a room with an open door to the hallway where he is standing?? They cited the problem with a homeless person recently coming inside the building to shower. I'm supposed to be scared this person will hurt my children? He/she was probably just dirty and needed a shower since we can't seem to operate facilities or provide enough services to help people who are without these on their own. That they would actively come in a building and hurt my children? Hardly. To suggest so baffles me. And moreover, are we supposed to be constantly within arms' reach? What are these ridiculous standards, and who are they really protecting?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Raising a gender non-conforming child

A few weeks ago, I called our pediatrician here in Austin to finally set up an appointment for the kids. As I gave their stats and our personal information, in the middle of the conversation Atticus looked up from the picture he was painting and corrected me. After his date of birth, I had said "yes, he's a boy." He nonchalantly looked up and said "wrong, Mom, girl." The receptionist heard him and giggled, so I followed Atticus's cue and told her "biologically male, identifies as a girl."

Then, Tim took Atticus to the dentist. He was wearing his favorite purple coat and pajamas that at the time I thought were gender-neutral but then realized the reindeer have tiny bows on their antlers. According to Tim's account, for the first part of the appointment, the dentist and hygienists assumed he was a girl. And called him such. Tim said Atticus whispered in his ear to please not correct them, that he wanted them to think he was a girl. Tim also noted the interesting shift when they figured out halfway that he was a boy: instead of telling him "you're so sweet, this will all be over soon" and "she's so precious," it became "what a tough boy" and "wow you're so strong." Gender characteristics are so entrenched we cannot even talk to children without exhibiting our biases so blatantly.

I brought home this nail polish, and he was so upset I didn't pick out pink.
Which is why when your child is gender non-conforming, everything starts to feel fuzzy and unsure. I have taken my fair share of gender studies classes, and I still have trouble navigating the path of raising my children without these stereotypes hindering their development and holding them back from their true selves. Occasionally we'll have one of those AH-HA moments like when I told Tallulah to drink her milk so she'd grow big and strong and she said so matter-of-factly: "I already are strong!" But so often it's catching myself encouraging Tallulah to lay down with her dolly and Atticus to pick up his Legos. A successful parenting day this week for me was when Tallulah picked out the bug jammies over the princess ones, and Atticus grabbed the ballerina book instead of the Star Wars one.

Even with all of these gendered outlines for how children should look, behave, play... Atticus still has decided to break free from the mold. At around 3 or 4, he started telling us he "was a boy, but he wished he was a girl" or "sometimes I'm a boy, sometimes I'm a girl." We went with it, never really encouraging it outright by changing pronouns or buying him dresses, but just acknowledging it's ok to explore and pretend to be different things. Around this time, I brought home some dresses and tights from a garage sale for future Tallulah and stashed them away in the too-big bin for a later date. A few months later, Atticus discovered them as I pulled out the winter gear and demanded to wear them. He wanted to wear this one skirt I got at a clothing exchange every chance he could. He would look in his closet where 95% of things were grey, blue, green shirts and jeans, and would grab the one pair of pink tights and skirt to wear.

Two years later, he actively asks us to say he's a girl on a regular basis, and sometimes gets upset when we correct people when we're out who call him a girl. It's amazing how upset other people get too when they realize they make the mistake, we laugh it off but it horrifies people when I call him Atticus and they come to the conclusion he's not a girl. Tim and I have stopped correcting. I am not sure when, if ever, it will be necessary to start using female pronouns and calling Atticus our daughter. We asked if he'd like to go by a different name and he looked at us like we were ignorant: "I like Atticus, and it can be a girl's name too!"

Several days ago, we were playing at Central Market and there was a group of little girls forming a club. Atticus wanted to join up, and they said "no, you can't, you're a BOY!" And Atticus was so upset.... "no, I'm not! I'm a girl!" And they told him "you're a boy! go ask your mom!" Atticus came up to me in distress that his new "boy" haircut made it so he couldn't pass as a girl. We already spent many minutes looking at little girl pixie haircuts post-cutting to show him that just because his hair was short didn't mean now he was a boy, which was really frustrating for him after I cut it. And now this.

I know many people will read this and roll their eyes. They will think thoughts or say words about how we are brain-washing him. How our liberal-minded ways are corrupting our child. How could we ever wish this upon him, and encourage him to think these things. That is is just a "phase" and we should be re-directing him. That we never should have let him leave the house in a skirt. Or ever think that gender was fluid. Because as my dad reminded me over and over again when he was visiting, it's not, right? Men are men and women are women, and God made us this way and it's impossible to change. Except some individuals are not comfortable in their biological bodies. They are not comfortable with their genitals dictating their identification. I have no clue what this feels like; I have a vagina and a uterus and ovaries and feel about as feminine as can be (despite my lack of attention to society's expectations like shaving my armpits and wearing make-up!) But the fact is, there are people, lots of people, children even, who experience this in their lives, and who are we to dictate their experiences for them? Because when we don't allow them to live their own experiences, tragedy can ensue.

Why would I wish this upon my child? To feel uncomfortable in his own body and discriminated in society? I, in no way, want Atticus to permanently decide he is a girl. I mean, look at my use of male-gendered pronouns. He is still, right now, very much still my son, and we are still navigating this together. Despite what people think, I actually still feel uncomfortable with him wearing dresses and picking out purple coats. When I buy him clothes or toys, I buy him male- or neutral-gendered things unless he actively asks for something different. I am still trying to untrain myself to abide by these same narrow definitions of what it means to be a gendered human, to walk through society as a "he" or a "she" and how much that dictates what our life looks like. How guilty we feel when we leave our kids to go to work, or how freely we can cry at a funeral. What jobs we have. What toys we play with. What colors we like.

But I love who he (or she) is and who they will become in all of the myriad and undefinable ways a parent should love their child for exactly who they are, despite personality or ability or gender identity or sexual orientation. He is still only 5, which is why we are hesitant to move forward with really proclaiming him transgendered and embracing his self-identification. He has a lot of learning and growing and discovering to do. Maybe in two years, this will all be a thing of the past and he will be very much the boy he was born as. But if he's not, we will briefly mourn the little boy that once was and embrace whatever person they decide to become and however this kid decides to self-identify.