A Trip to the Library…or a Terrible Idea

“What was so bad?” Greg asked.  “Remember when we went to Play-it-again-Sports?  Miles was just like that…only at the library.”  I said.  That helped it sink in.  Greg and I were both then picturing Miles as he was on that day, running quickly down every aisle, not looking back to see if we were following him, almost getting lost multiple times and molesting all of the sporting goods.  “Miles,” Greg said to his little bobbing head as it passed, “You gotta chill, brother.”  Greg and I are always telling our kids to chill.  It’s sort of a joke because, well, they can’t chill and we know that and when we say it to them, they are all but clueless as to what we are even talking about anyways.  It’s just one of the ways that we ease some of the tension with each other during our day to day life with them.  Trust me, without an in tact sense of humor, we would all be mired in misery and stress with no one near to throw us a line.

I wasn’t thinking.  That’s why I took them to the library.  When it looked like it was going to solidly rain all day, I thought the library would be a good place to go as we needed books and I had some serious fines to take care of.  Plus, we’re a homeschooling family.  The library should be like our home away from home, right?  The last time we went to the library (maybe three months ago?) it was ok.  Miles was different back then.  He hadn’t yet become the quick-walking devil-may-care version of himself that stealthily loses people without looking back.  He hadn’t yet become super squirrely when you tried to restrain him and balk and writhe and scream until he was released again.

I knew all of this…sorta.  But I wasn’t really taking the understanding of his new nature and mentally transferring it to the library setting like I should have done if I was smart.  It only took a few seconds, though, for me to realize my mistake after we got there.  I pushed him out of the elevator to the children’s book section thinking, like last time, he might just be content to ride in the stroller, when suddenly and violently it became clear that he was not going to be sitting for another instant in the stroller.  Then when his feet hit the ground, the look on his face and the glint in his eye were what finally brought the message home.  The thought finally broke through loud and clear, “This was a mistake” shortly followed by another thought, “We need to leave quickly.”

Just as I thought it, though, I saw Ruth and Joel heading for the computer area and pulling on headphones to start up some of the games they carry.  I got some books as best I could, keeping my peripheral vision on Miles at all times and every few seconds stopping what I was doing to dart after him.  Meanwhile, the older two started having issues with the computers and started asking, loudly, for my help.  That was when the cold sweating started.  It was one of those situations that, as a parent, you learn to avoid but sometimes find yourself in anyway.  Those impossible situations where you are in way over your head and you need to leave as quickly as possible but are somehow trapped by circumstances. The exit and the car at that moment seemed so far away.  In this case, I had to convince Ruth and Joel to walk away from the computers which, I could tell by the zombie-fied way that they were starring at their screens was not going to be easy and somehow check out the books I had grabbed with Miles running all over the place.

I finally convinced the older two (was it the desperation in my eyes?  the pleading in my voice?) that we indeed needed to leave NOW.  All we had to do then was make it to the desk and check out.  “Joel, can you push the stroller while I carry Miles?”  This was my solution.  At least to getting to the check out desk.  Standing there and actually checking out would be the hard part.

We pulled up to the desk and as soon as I stopped walking, Miles demanded, through body language that couldn’t be ignored, to be put down and he again took off like a shot.  Ruth started cackling and running along after him with Joel not far behind.  I glanced nervously around at the librarians and other library patrons to see their reactions to my kids carnival-esque behavior.  No one reacted at all.  That’s how you know it’s really bad.  But I was thankful anyway at not having to confront any scowls or eye rolls.  I kept my eyes on them tackling each other near the dollhouse as the librarian, bless her heart, checked out my books as slowly as possible.  I swear.  Every time I am there struggling with my kids to just leave as quickly as possible, they need to write down every scuff and tear in the book or something isn’t working on the computer or they have to go into the back room to check on something or something.  It’s so painful.  I stood there sweating in earnest now all over my body.  “It’s hot in here,” I said as I watched Ruth pick Miles up by the waist and carry him away from a plant he was trying to manhandle.  “Let me get something from the back room,” the librarian said.  I took the opportunity to run over and grab Miles in an attempt to keep him on my hip for the rest of the exchange.  No such luck.  As the lady came back, he writhed to break free again and ran across the room, cutting off an older lady as she made for the entrance.  There’s a scowl.  I grimaced and hunched my shoulders as the librarian presented me with a water-damaged book and explained that I now own it and have to pay for it.  I nodded quickly, like “Yeah, yeah, whatever!  Just hurry up!”  “It happens with little ones,” she said.  Really?  I thought sarcastically as I watched my kids cutting off more people as they chased each other around.   I know this lady was trying to be nice and throw me a bone but the cold sweat was seriously getting to me at this point.  My coat felt like it weighed about thirty pounds.

We finally finished up and burst out into the grey, unseasonably warm January afternoon and I at last breathed a huge sigh of relief but also of awe.  Not at myself for making it out of the library alive.  I breathed a huge sigh of awe at how impossible that situation had been, at how ridiculous my life is with three young kids sometimes.  At how much, though we are a normal family (for all rights and purposes), there doesn’t seem to be space for us, at how much like a sore thumb we stick out.  Often.  Maybe, as I’ve come to ponder to myself rather frequently, this points at a societal ill, or a few (the place of children, the value of families and women, the break-neck competitive pace we all exist at, etc.)

I sighed once more as life started revving up again, that moment passed, and the kids, perpetual motion machines, started racing each other towards the car.  Social activism aside, I made a mental note: no more library for Miles.  At least not for another year or so.  Maybe he’ll be more socially acceptable by then.

nipple confusion

no, this post isn’t about miles going back and forth between a bottle and the breast.  he’s 100% breast fed.  the closest he’s come to any other sort of nipple is the pacifier he sometimes digs into the “kid” drawer in the kitchen to find and gums in a casual fashion.  not that I have anything against bottle feeding and even if I did, god help the person without a disclaimer stating “to each his own” after every stinkin’ opinion that might possibly slightly offend someone else (no, I’m not bitter:)

I guess I’m confused about what is so damn indecent about my nipples.  number one: a man can go shirtless and that’s totally socially acceptable behavior.  this is because women have more breast tissue than men and our breast tissue, though actually intended for feeding babies, has been distorted to have a sexual connotation in our culture.  ok, you want me to feed babies with my breasts in a culture where my breasts are supposed to be covered at all times or else dressed up as sexual items for public viewing.  sure, that’s easy (note: sarcasm).  not hard at all.

not only are my naked breasts only fit for perked up digital enhancement on billboards for advertising purposes but even the outline of my nipples through my clothes is supposedly scandalous.

now, breasts and nipples come in all shapes sizes and pigmentation.  that’s great.  I happen to have very pointy nipples.  they like to stand at attention…any time.  they just seem to naturally hold their shape more than some other peoples do.  this would all be well and fine if I wasn’t given the overwhelming message from a young age that female nipples are indecent, need to be hidden.  that my more firm than average nipples were a public display of indecency and I needed to cover them up, preferably with loads of padding in bras that would not only make them look bigger, but that would also hoist them up and distort their natural shape to boot (yay!  note: sarcasm).

this idea is what drove me nearly to distraction in my younger teenage days when I would spend hours stuffing my bras with toilet paper.  no, not to make my breasts look bigger, to try to conceal the outline of my nipples through my shirts.  this is what made me incredibly self conscious wearing the plain blue bathing suit I donned at 14 all summer long.  this is what has led me for over a decade to learn to stand with my arms crossed over my chest, to pull sweaters and shirts in ways that would bag them out in front, to avoid at all costs what would surely be a complete public embarrassment: if anyone should, GASP, notice or see the outline of my nipples through my shirt (!!!!)

I am 33 and I can finally say that it’s all bull.  the idea that my nipples are somehow indecent, immodest and unnatural is bull ( bologna…or bullshit for all you pg 13ers and up).  through having children and breastfeeding for many years, through coming up again and again against this idea of shame and modesty regarding my breasts and my nipples,  I can finally say that my nipples are not unnatural.  they are not indecent.  my breasts are not sexual objects, nor are they shaped anything like my culture says they should be.  the skin on my breasts is, after breastfeeding three babies, loose and stretch-marked, the underlying tissues soft and pliable.  and my nipples, in contrast, are hard and protruding and dark.  these are real breasts.

the appreciation I now have for my body in general and my breasts won’t sell anybody anything or look good on a billboard.  but it sure as hell brings me a lot of peace and contentment and appreciation.  because this body has done amazing things.  and I don’t desire to cram it into what amounts to modern day corsets or to feel bad about it or hide it.  for the first time in my life, I am not ashamed of my nipples.  I don’t wish them to be different.  I love my body just as it is.  call it indecent.  it’s just me.

viva la revolucion

does this translate into “live the revolution”?  in many ways, I feel like that’s what I’m doing or trying to do on a daily basis.  actually, I think it’s a reference to the Mexican revolution, but hey.  I think it applies to my life.

how do you start a revolution?  it’s pretty easy, actually.  it starts by getting rid of your tv (after all, the revolution will NOT be televised.  or so I’ve heard).  the endless stream of subliminal messages aimed into our brains via electromagnetic waves.  if you feel like taking it a step further, then hey, why not throw out your radio too?  after all, with lyrics like, “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”, who needs to actually SEE the images of naked women plastered all over a screen to get the message that, “women are mere bodies to be consumed by men”.  I know I don’t. I know my daughter doesn’t.

you might think that books are a safe way to go.  not so.  the cultural norms of our society pervade even children’s literature, something you might assume would be totally “safe” to expose your children to.  however, it doesn’t take long for the usual themes to surface.  men are strong and powerful and assertive and HATE all things “girl”.  women like pretty things and are nurturing and submissive.  women need to defer to men’s judgments and authority and the default pronoun is always “he”.

much can be done to reverse these ideas but it takes constant vigilance as these ideas creep in in many pervasive ways and sometimes we don’t notice.

in my own home, I try to use “she” just as much as “he” when I’m assigning an identity to a bug or something.  when I’m talking about a job traditionally held by men, such as a construction worker, I also try to use the word “she” to talk about these people as much as “he”.

I try not to emphasize boys or girls clothes and instead get the kids both as much neutral-colored clothing as I can and focus on the comfort and utility of the clothes.  dolls are for boys as much as girls as well as cars and trucks and hockey sticks.  joel wears nail polish and hand-me-downs from his sister.  it’s especially important that I avoid language that degrades one gender for another in order to get my kids to wear “gender appropriate” things (example: “you don’t want to wear that GIRL shirt, do you?  you don’t want people to think you’re a GIRL, do you??”  I hear stuff like this A LOT and am appalled by people’s lack of foresight).

I do a lot of editing of song lyrics and books also.  for instance, things as simple as singing “tall and tan and young and lovely the BOY from ipanema goes walking and when HE passes, each one HE passes goes, ‘ooooohhhh!’  when HE walks HE’S like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gentle that when HE passes, each one HE passes goes, ‘ahhhhh!'”  not that I think that the objectification of either gender is okay in songs or other cultural mechanisms, but at least then it’s not ALL about sheer women’s bodies and looks.

two exmples of books that I actively edit are Angelina Ballerina and Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.  i’ll give you a short summary.  during Angelina Ballerina, the mom is nauseatingly traditionally feminine, always rushing around in an apron, serving people and fretting over Angelina’s constant dancing.  the dad is more often seen with his feet up, BEING served, smoking a pipe and is the one to come up with the BRILLIANT BRAIN CHILD, as only a male character COULD, that they should sign up Angelina for dance LESSONS.  I mean: barf.  a little mixing and matching pronouns fixes this one right up.  no problem.  I simply do a little “rewrite” where it’s actually Angelina’s DAD who is constantly calling her down to breakfast or to get ready for school, the DAD’s sewing box that she sticks her foot into and the DAD who makes cheddar cheese pies.  then I do a little switcho-change-o so that it’s the MOM who comes up with the idea for dance lessons.  presto change-o.  new, less offensive version.  now, the pink tutu I can’t help.  unless….where did I put my black sharpie???  hehehehe.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is one of those nauseatingly “boys only” type of books that was actually given to me at the birth of my son.  you know.  so I would have something to read to him besides all of the kiddy “chick lit” lying around the home.  double barf.  anyways, this one is even EASIER to change over to gender neutral because EVERY construction vehicle in the book is labeled male.  so I simply change them all over to female.  done.

these things, though, again, take constant vigilance and all said and done, are really just a tiny band aid on the giant, infected, weeping, puss-filled, gangrenous wound of gender inequality and patriarchy that my kids have been born into and are just my small but valiant attempt at reversing SOME of the stereotypes and insidious gender prescriptions that creep their way into our every day interactions and activities.  if I can do it, you can too.  don’t be shy.  viva la revolucion!