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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Our house as it is

We've been slowly making our apartment more home-like, adding things bit by bit and Ikea trip by Ikea trip. We seem to have settled on an arrangement that we like for now, so here is some documentary evidence after we cleaned it for some reason or another.

 Kids room

So bright and gender neutral!

Our bedroom

Kid in a blanket.

The office

Steve Carrell not included. I like the cool tones of this room contrasting with the brightness of the rest of the house. This is also the room all our neighbors get an eyeful of when they walk to school because it pokes out from our house near the main path and I never close the blinds.

The front room.

Come over any time.

Dancing with a sharp pencil is the best kind of dancing, right?

Art station

It's taken a  little time to settle in here, but as the good memories build, this place is becoming more and more like home.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The four of us in 2014

We very blatantly stole the form for this post from Cait's sister. Thanks, Aunt Lala.

Name: Tallulah
Age: 2, almost 3
Favorite book: Fancy Nancy, Mouse Soup
Favorite song: You are My Sunshine, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, ABCs
My teachers: Mommy
My good friends: Silas, Jaren, Jessie, Austin, Katherine
How I like to spend my time: Reading books, play with dollies, play with brother
Favorite color: Yellow
Favorite food: Pizza, cereal
What I learned this year: Talk in sentences, ride a bike/scooter
Hardest thing of the year: Slipping on slippery floors
Some of my goals: Potty training at night, swimming
Current favorite saying: "Scratch my back!" "What time is it?"

Name: Atticus
Age: 5
Favorite book: Star Wars Books
Favorite song: Star Wars Music
My teachers: Mommy
My good friends: Endra, Caison and Jaren
How I like to spend my time: reading books, pretend in my brain, devices
Favorite color: Blue and Purple
Favorite food: Oatmeal
What I learned this year: Addition, reading, bike riding
Hardest thing of the year: Leaving school
Some of my goals: Read longer books, be happier, be a good brother, visit my grandmas and grandpas and go to the beach and swim at the swimming pool
Favorite current saying: "What a bargain!" "Kugichagolia"

Name: Caitlin
Age: 28
Favorite book: Sue Monk Kidd (The Invention of Wings, The Secret Life of Bees, Dance of the Dissident Daughter), 
Favorite song: The Lumineers
My teachers: Jakob 
My good friends: Jessie, Andrea, the Austins in all their many varieties, Katherine, Melanie, Jenny, Eliza, Nina, Tallia, Melissa
How I like to spend my time: reading, yoga, cooking, waiting for my Madsen bike
Favorite color: Green
Favorite food: Indian
What I learned this year: Danish, the crisis intervention model
Hardest thing of the year: Tunisia
Some of my goals: Be more present with my kids, get into grad school, shave my head
Current favorite saying: "Jeg taler godt dansk"

Name: Timothy
Age: 29
Favorite book: The Sparrow, The Prophet, Mary Oliver
Favorite song: Winter Song-Head and the Heart
My teachers: Presbyterians
My good friends: Jessie, Austin, Daniel, Catherine, Arlen
How I like to spend my time: reading, organizing, planning
Favorite color: Kindle black
Favorite food: Coffee
What I learned this year: The difference between the imminent trinity and the economic trinity. Also, I learned to trust myself
Hardest thing of the year: Cognitive dissonance, existential dilemma
Some of my goals: Reduce useless distractions, communicate more sincerely
Current favorite saying: "Sure, right after I finish this chapter."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014, in review

2014 was quite the eventful year, so I want to try to document everything that is happening and has happened. It's been a good year in spite of the busyness and the unexpected changes, and I think Tim and I both agree we have ended it in a really good place both individually and as a family as a whole.

The beginning of the year had us returning from Utah and my settling back into school. Atticus started preschool at Bernie's Place where Tallulah had been in the toddler room since September. After a rocky start (missing Teacher Laura school!), he ended up loving it there and made lots of friends. Tallulah did as well, and was crazy about her afternoon teacher Kate, who would carry her in the Ergo for the entire naptime until she adjusted to sleeping on the mat by herself. We survived the polar vortex, the few sporadic weeks of sub-zero weather during these months, with the windchill down around -40 at some points. We spent a lot of time with good friends and bundling up to head to FUS. Tim ran the FUS volunteers for the Road Home, was on the anti-gun violence committee, and headed the University Apartments Assembly in Eagle Heights.

Sometime around mid-January , as the weather grew colder and more bleak, we were talking about Tiny Texas Houses, and joked it'd be cool to move to Austin. Tim, who had been contemplating going to seminary for a few months by this point, looked up APTS and we read about their subsidized housing, liberal leanings, and tight-knit community and decided to consider applying. Tim flew down in late February for Discovery Weekend, just to check it out, though at this point we were planning pretty seriously on doing a distance program based out of Berkeley.

In March, Tallulah turned 2 with a Pi Party, the days gradually became sunnier and warmer and I attended an amazing women's retreat at FUS and left feeling rejuvenated and powerful.

The next few months we soaked in as much of the new spring as possible after that long, long, cold winter. We went to the library and the children's museum and the Wisconsin Science Festival and Whole Foods. Tim began applying for grad school and spent more time writing for Writers' Domain. We had a glorious Easter at Bob and Kelly's house. During the next few months we went back and forth over whether we would go away for seminary or Tim would do a distance program. He really liked the community and the people at Austin, but we ended the spring on the side of staying in Madison for me to finish up, since I was so close to being ABD.

I finished school in May and headed almost straight to Tunisia. I had been given a grant to do research on the women's movement in Tunis and was excited to be on the ground running with my pre-dissertation research. It was a lot more challenging than I thought before I went, and I spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly around Tunis. Tim and the kids missed me, obviously, but also had a great time playing outside a ton and Tim played on a co-ed recreational softball team put on by my department.

While I was gone, we heard back from the seminary about grant money and the subsidized housing option, and we decided to move to Austin after realizing that we would save like $40,000 a year in student loans. (!!)

Post Tunisia, I spent a week in Budapest, Zagreb, and Plitvice Falls with my friend Dana Rose and her friend Sarah. I had my first experience hitch-hiking. It was really fun being an independent 20-something woman with no kids to cart around on my travels. I returned to a glorious reunion and tornadoes. We had an awesome summer with a week at our friends' farm, some in-between time staying in the Bradshaws' apartment, and then a few months house-sitting at the Allens'. We really enjoyed living in a real home with a garden, cats, and a TV to watch seemingly endless episodes of Borgen and Orange is the New Black. We bought 20-class passes on Groupon to the nearby yoga studio and went several times a week until we left. I also did a pottery class at the parks and rec building and loved being artistic for a change.

We finally went to Devil's Lake when our dear old friend Analiesa (the only person besides us to be at both of our children's births) had a wedding reception there. We had our own wedding reception of sorts when we renewed our vows at FUS under the guidance of the wonderful Minister Kelly.

What felt like both a blink of an eye and an eternity, our lovely, calm Madison summer ended, we bought a car after being car-free for years, and we were on our way to Texas. Texas! The last place on Earth I thought we would ever end up. The first few days were rough, we arrived to an empty apartment with ugly tile floors and ZERO appliances, with only our mini mini-van full of things. We spent the first week in bed sick with the flu, fortunately staying in the seminary's guest room while we recuperated. Once we got into our apartment, bought some super-sketchy appliances and a million rugs, things started to look up. It only took us four months to get a bed! Our first since living in DC many moons ago when we had an awesome Murphy bed that we would love to replicate one day. We also bought a worm composter, which Cait is a little too crazy about and Tim is indifferent towards. The first few months here were HOT, hot and we did so much swimming and lounging. Atticus went to school, for a few months, before we decided to start home-schooling over Thanksgiving break. Another big change was my getting a job which I love at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

In summary, where we are now: Tim thinks his program is the bomb, we have neighbors with three little boys who play with ours so well (and their parents are awesome, too), my job pays well and is meaningful to me, and our Austin friend group is ever-expanding. Atticus and Tallulah are finally in a place where they play independently together and have less and less need of our constant attentions, they sleep through the night, we don't have to change diapers, and we are beginning to branch out and pursue hobbies.  Tim started playing guitar again, and we recently joined the YMCA and have been spending many mornings there while the kids go to music/dancing/gymnastics and I do yoga. We are in such a good place in our lives, and looking forward to what 2015 will bring us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas with the Carroll-Brownings

As much as I like being around family for the holidays, I love spending our Christmases with just our little clan. It's the perfect combination of relaxation and celebration. It was especially exciting this year, as we had so many opportunities to celebrate the coming of winter and the spirit of giving in many different ways.

There was a very laid-back, non-traditional nativity (though there was a baby Jesus, to which Atticus said: "Is that the REAL baby Jesus?") at FUUCA. When asked why by an outsider we do a nativity when we aren't a Christian faith tradition, I loved what Minister Mari said: "Because it's in our heritage. And we enjoy it, and the kids enjoy it. Kids in costumes are adorable. It's fun. So why would we not?"

The next week fellow seminarian Wendy gave us four tickets to shuttle down to the Festival of Lights. It was a rainy and cold night, and so it wasn't nearly as busy as we have heard it can be. The rain actually held up the whole time we were there, and the cold was obviously doable for us stout former Wisconsinites (it was probably in the 40s or 50s). It was still busy, but we were able to push our double BOB around effortlessly. We even got to see Santa after waiting in line for only 5 or 10 minutes.

Fake bubble snow is such a funny concept to me now, after hating the snow for so many months.
The next week at church (right before Christmas) the kids wore their fanciest clothes. I pulled out this smocked Nutcracker dress for Tallulah, but since it was a little long for her Atticus decided it was his and wore it over his button-up. The kid still loves dresses.

I worked Christmas Eve morning (while the kids dressed themselves in ridiculous attire and harassed the neighbors) but then came home in the afternoon for lentil soup, homemade bread, and a child-friendly candlelight Christmas service at the Lutheran church across the street from us. Our kids were the worst behaved, but it was still a really nice service.

I love that we have insta-best friends in the other half of our duplex.

New Star Wars PJs for Christmas Eve!

Tallulah is getting goofier and goofier every day.
We woke up around 8 on Christmas morning, and Atticus was so confused as to why he couldn't go into the living room until we said so. He was SO surprised about the marble run, even though he had been asking for it for a long time. He kept saying "how did Santa know?! I didn't tell him!" Tallulah got a set of zoo Legos (one of the only sets I could find with a female character not a princess!) They each got a few gifts from their Utah grandparents too. It was a simple and perfect morning.

After we played with presents for a sufficient amount of time, we decorated gingerbread cookies.

As we were decorating, I realized there was no way we'd eat all these. We took some to our neighbors but no one else was really around to deliver them to. Then I remembered that the fire station next to us would be open, even on Christmas! So we gave them our Christmas picture we made and a plate of cookies. They are all so nice to the kids, any time we walk by they ask if the kids want to ride in the truck or sound the sirens.

The men of the duplex.