June 2008

In response to the interesting NYT article on equally shared parenting, I’ve just read Francine Deutsch’s Halving It All. In response to the craziness of my life, I’ve just read Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner. And I do, in fact, have some thoughts on these things, which have — among other things — inspired me to make a chart designed to either make sure the distribution of chore labor is equitable or remind K. that it isn’t.

But right now I’m dealing with corrupt course shells in my online classes and heavy hay fever and various other things that conspire to make my attention span nil. So instead, here’s a snapshot from our midnight discussion, after watching I Am Legend on DVD.

me: “Next time we see a movie, no more zombies. No more apocalypse.”

K: “28 Days Later shreds that movie! That movie was lame.”

me: “28 Days Later wasn’t that good, and it featured the same trio of bombed-out urban scenes, jerky CGI-catapulted voracious zombies, and Difficult Personal Choices, like whether to strangle your dog because she’s infected or shoot your friend because he is.”

K: “28 Days Later is so much better than that movie.”

me: “Also, it’s called “the rage” in 28 Days Later, which is French for rabies, and in I Am Legend it’s described as a virus with ‘rabies-like symptoms.'”

K: “Will Smith doesn’t exactly carry that movie. Cillian Murphy is so much better.”

me: “He has jug ears, but Cillian Murphy is a pretty boy. And it’s pronounced hard-C, like the beer, not “Sillian.”

K: “Whatever. 28 Days Later ROCKS.”

me: “28 Days Later sucks. This movie just sucks more.”

K: “The script of 28 Days Later is so much better written.”

me: “What, when the militia is about to rape the preteen and Naomie Harris gives her a bunch of pills and says, ‘I’m making you not care’ ? That’s an example of excellent screenwriting? At least in I Am Legend, there’s no gratuitous child rape and no romance, not that I expect anyone to resist Naomie Harris, but still, it’s gratuitous. At least Will Smith blows himself up.”

K: “It’s great.”

me: “Gratuitous.”

K: “Great.”

me: “Whatever. No zombies, no apocalypse. Verboten. From now on.”

When I was babysitting for some Parisian kids on the Île de Ré one summer, one thing made a huge impression on me. The little boy, Hugo, was about three, and whenever he pooped he would call for his daddy (his mother wasn’t there) to wipe him:

“Papa! Viens m’essuyer les fesses!” (trans.: Daddy, come wipe my bottom!”) he would howl.

And his father, Jean-Luc, would come trudging in and say in a resonant baritone, “Hugo, t’es pénible!” (“Hugo, you’re such a pain!” as he did the deed).

At the time, I never noticed how that was probably a cruel thing to say to a three-year-old, although I did surmise that perhaps Jean-Luc was having the same marital problems as Marc, his brother-in-law and my employer, was: Sylvie, the mère de famille, had not accompanied us to the island in order to have an affair with a friend of their family, Luc, back in Paris, and since Jean-Luc’s spouse was conspicuously absent, I suspected her of similar extracurriculars. This was particularly indicated by the odd camaraderie between Jean-Luc and Marc who, you’d have thought, might be experiencing some tensions stemming from the fact that the former’s sister was cheating on the latter; not so. They seemed the best of friends.

Anyway, it was the particular combination of frustration and tenderness (about a 70-30 split, I’d say) that impressed me about Jean-Luc’s predictable refrain, and I have thought of it since then every time someone I know acts like a whiny, whingeing little brat. Which is far too often, and it’s far too often an adult who makes me chant, internally, “_____, t’es PENIBLE!” — for the record, I have never said it to Things One or Two, despite the fact that Thing One does, indeed, make me wipe his bottom every time he poops.

So, in a life full of wanting to tell people how pénible they are, I’ve got to say that parenting has offered me the most numerous, and the richest, opportunities to be frustrated with my peers. Take our preschool co-op (yes, that again, but it’s a different person this time). I have been singing the praises (to myself) of the co-op, fully planning on rejoining with Thing Two six months from when Thing One leaves at the end of summer. It has, I’ve told myself, underscored the importance of community, given me a opportunity to learn to deal with other people, not to be hypersensitive, to model community values for the children, to not overreact (as is my wont) when people say or do things I disagree with, to allow our common belief in community and in basic values like sharing, kindness, exploration to bring us together and demonstrate to our children that we are happier, kinder, more reasonable people when we pool our efforts and resources. And I do believe that. I do.

Except that every time I manage to lull myself into complacency, somebody comes along and acts like a whining, whingeing brat, making me want to scream, “____, t’es PENIBLE!” right before bitch-slapping them into next Tuesday.

The current case isn’t even to do with me, except insofar as easily offended, passive aggressive folks attribute the actions of one spouse to another. K. was working his parent teaching shift at the co-op last Wednesday, and the child of one of the other workers (we’ll call her “Lark”) was having a rough day: as I heard it, hitting and pushing and generally acting out. Apparently he’s had some problems with that kind of thing, which is not uncommon, especially in the preverbal set, and Lark was plenty stressed by the time I got there with a change of clothes for Thing One and Thing Two in a carrier. The crowning moment was when Lark’s kid, “Pancho,” punched Thing Two in the face as she cheerfully exercised her new crawling/climbing skills; hardly desirable, but par for the course all in all. K. called this out (I was in the bathroom with Thing One, performing my stated duties) in a loud, angry voice that I thought could’ve been moderated, but then his voice often sounds crabbier and more unequivocal than he means it to, at least to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t party to the altercation, but apparently K. then said to Lark, “You know, I didn’t think of it at the time, but we should have let you guys go home and called for back-up, since if it was a child whose parent wasn’t here they would have been called.” And apparently that was The Last Straw for Lark, who left on the verge of tears. The third worker that day, “Nellie,” then informed K., “You were really rude to Lark. You hurt her feelings.”

I got this all secondhand in the car, so I can’t pass judgment on who said exactly what or in what tone of voice and whose feelings were justifiably bruised. But K. was sort of righteously indignant about the whole thing (his suggestion being protocol from the Parent Handbook), so I, in the interest of peace, strongly recommended that he call Lark and try to patch things up. He opted to send her a nice email saying he was sorry if he hurt her feelings, that he was only thinking of ways to handle the situation.

She hasn’t replied. And it’s been FIVE DAYS.

And not ONLY has she not replied, but she is refusing to make eye contact with me, has had her shift mysteriously switched to Tuesday, so that she’s no longer working with K. (coincidentally, Nellie is the person who manages the schedule), and is generally Refusing to Deal. Meanwhile, Nellie made a note in the Daily Journal (which is supposed to be about what went on with the kids) that there was a “conflict between shift workers,” which caused the president, Annalise, to query K., who told her the whole story. So now Annalise is trying to get in touch with Lark to find out if what Nellie says about K. is true.

Does this sound like middle school to you? BECAUSE IT DOES TO ME.

Now, again, I’m not going to advocate for K. being blameless, because I don’t know. I do feel fairly confident that he didn’t say anything overtly offensive and that he spoke with the best intentions. But the main issue is this: there are RULES, people. And the rules exist to force you to act like an adult even when you don’t want to, which is — in my opinion, anyway — a whole lot of what parenting is about.

In this case, the rules are simple: if someone has upset you or you have a problem with them, you have to discuss it within twenty-four hours. If you are not comfortable discussing it with the person involved (the handbook strongly implies that that kind of discomfort should be reserved for instances when the person has said they HATE you and are working on a VOODOO DOLL to silence you forever), you are allowed to speak to the president of the co-op and have him or her mediate.

You are not allowed to a)sulk, b)have your friends make accusations, recriminations, or aspersions, or c)evade responsibility for what is entirely your problem. You are especially not allowed to gossip about What a Hateful Person So-and-so is with another co-op member while refusing to acknowledge the problem to them. Why? Because it teaches your children a very harmful lesson. It teaches them to be whiny, whingeing, irresponsible, passive-aggressive LITTLE BITCHES (and I use that term in the unisex).

Apparently, Lark didn’t get the memo.

I guess she doesn’t realize how much she’s fucking with my world view. After all, because of this little incident, an incident that was probably the result of one person being insensitive and the other being oversensitive in an otherwise innocuous conversation, I am reconsidering the value of community. I don’t want to raise my kids with the deep criticism, distrust, and suspicion of strangers I secretly, in my uglier moments, harbor. But it’s hard to continually face situations like this without wanting to live in a fortress of your own making and avoid dealing with other people’s b.s. entirely.

I’m still sticking it out, for now. But if you hear I’ve moved to a walled compound in McMansionland and never talk to my neighbors, you’ll know the camel’s back finally broke.

We are at the mercy of ClearChannel.

The fault is a subject of some debate; I’m the one who left the lights on the VW and needed a jump from the Honda (where the CD player is located), but K. is the one who roared up in the Honda and left the stereo blasting while he gave it to me. This apparently caused a fatal shock to the wiring of our trunk-installed changer, which now does not work at all, and so we are dependent on radio.

This doesn’t bother me as much as K. because I often prefer to talk to my children in the car. But every once in a while you need a little rhythm and melody in your morning, which is where I was today as I drove Thing One to playschool. Of course, only one station was playing music, and it was U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”

I don’t have much truck with late U2 — In my opinion, The Joshua Tree was both an apex and the beginning of the end — but, like anyone who has lived in the developed world for the last ten years, I know the words to “Mysterious Ways.” And as I sang along, it occurred to me that I had no idea what the song was about. I preemptively imagined (as I often do), what I would say if Thing One asked, and all I could come up with was this:

“It’s about God. Because God works in mysterious ways.”

A triumph of reason over conditioning, is what I call that. Too bad he didn’t ask.

It’s been kind of a lovefest for my dad around here lately (luckily he doesn’t read this blog, lest his head swell to the size of the Goodyear blimp), and, as I may have previously mentioned, I don’t have a lot of love lost for this kind of guilt-trip-and-runny-Hollandaise holiday, but happy Father’s Day, anyway.

My present to K. this year was that he got to stay in bed until 1 p.m. while I bundled Thing One and Thing Two into the car, staked out a spot downtown on a forgotten block by the bank tower, and watched the Pride parade. Thing One was outfitted (at my suggestion, though he was all for it) in full gay regalia: gay rainbow socks, gay rainbow pants, gay pink Crocs, gay rainbow sweater (hand-knitted by the inimitable Jerusha Grosh) and, to top everything off, an exceedingly gay rainbow-striped umbrella, which he whirled jazzily as he capered gaily about. We got to hang around next to the horse-drawn carriage of the gay mayor elect (who is famously single, and who was fending off hottie schmoozers right and left) while watching some lesbian cops chat gaily with some gay roller derby competitors and admiring the gay balloon rainbow waving gaily over Davis St. Soon after the parade began, Thing One decided he wanted to march IN it, mostly because he admired the gaily flag-bedecked Radio Flyer of two children who already, at age three, had the traditional Portland lesbian haircut (the West Coast fade, which in San Francisco is the traditional Asian haircut, so I felt right at home), and so we took off in the midst of some group we don’t belong to, Thing One skipping about in the center of Broadway to wild cheers and looking entirely in his element. And, since my spermy life partner was busy snoozing away at our house, we were almost absorbed by a delightfully gay group called PLOP (!!), which stands for parenting/pregnant lesbians, and I’m grateful to them for being willing to welcome my skinny hetero ass into their midst, even if it does make me feel like a poser.

Thing Two, potential future lesbian, ravenous eater, and cutter of new front teeth that she is, was not very gay; instead, she slept the whole time in an Ergo carrier. Even when the gay Buddhists (my people!) went by gaily banging on taiko drums which, if you haven’t had the privilege to hear them at your local Obon festival, are hella loud.

Anyway, a gay time was had by all, although I was a little creeped out by the crucifix lollipops that gay Christians kept flinging at Thing One, and he did not appreciate the gay leis that various benevolent souls kept attempting to adorn him with, preferring to fling them to the floor. And we were a little bummed that Thing One’s gay aunt, who is our most immediate (biological, at least) connection to the local gayness, wasn’t more present (she showed up late, missing both gay armed forces and gay marching band, and then took off to meet friends, in one of those moves that you philosophically think is good because it shows your child that he’s not the center of the world even as it also makes you a little sad inside; also, I have a hard time with this because, though plans were a bit fuzzy, I think it’s important for adults to treat children with courtesy, i.e. by apologizing if they’re late, and I hate feeling like I created expectations in my kid that were then let down — all that is a lesson to me about Communication and Not Shielding Your Children Too Much from the Disappointments of the World, natch). But we Represented. We were there, and we were, if not fully queer, at least open to the possibility, and we were out, loud, and proud. I do not have any rainbow clothing, but I wore an extremely gay red sweater with a rather gay turquoise skirt and some insouciant knee socks; Thing Two was attired in a muted version of Thing One’s rainbow stripes. I teared up more than once (hand-lettered sign with a big slash through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Let Us Serve with Pride and Honor”: check. Gay youth group with teenagers cheerily waving, looking really young and untried: check. Dyke with “Got Diversity?” sign: check. My kid’s stoic vigil, at the start of the parade, waiting for things to start and our people to get there, refusing offers of a lift and trying very hard to find his place in all the wild action, to relate to the goings-on and not be totally cowed by them (if you’re three feet tall, big fat gongs, big fat trucks, big fat bears, and big fat transvestites streaming by, all at volume 11, can be kind of intimidating):check). Since I’m not a joiner, a natural exhibitionist, or an easygoing parent, it took some guts to hang around in the middle of teeming masses of humanity and to let go of the fear that my kid would be lost/flattened/subjected to hate speech by ill-meaning passersby. And what that demonstrated to me is that it’s the gay parents in that gay parade who took the greatest risks; the parade is an affirmative culture if you’re the girly boy in the nylon hotpants running about giggling and getting spanked, but much less so if you’re a cautious two-year-old or a parent who loves one. Put another way: for the bears and the fairies, the parade is a fun celebration of what they are (and a chance to underline it in a positive way, to counter the discrimination, trials, and tribulations that go with that). For parents, it’s the occasion for courageous inclusion of children in a culture that is not always kind, intelligible, or inclusive of children, and perhaps — particularly for the constantly, rather than the merely occasionally, gay — a reminder of the difficult merging of childhood and a parental identity that is too often marginalized and may occasion discrimination, social difficulties, or confusion for the child.

I said I was a glass-half-empty type of person, didn’t I? It doesn’t come naturally for me, being gay. But we were there, and we remained reasonably gay, even though we wished we could have had a little more of a supportive social group (perhaps this is why I was so touched by the PLOPs, and they so forthcoming with me), and I’m glad we went, not least because, in my deliberate Antidiscrimination Programming of My Children, Pride was a milestone. Not for sexual orientation per se — they are two and eight months, and have no more complex ideas about sexuality than “it’s fun to play with my penis” — but a little bit for gender roles and dress (nothing like a bunch of hairy fags in red dresses to counteract ideas about what boys wear) and most of all for body diversity: your local Pride parade is when you’ll see the biggest, the biggest variety, and the most ostentatiously displayed bodies around. It’s hard to grow up prudish and obsessed with thinness when you’ve had dozens of hairy fat bellies and big-bottomed lesbians marching through your visual world concept in obvious glee your whole life.

Of course, this being the Whitest City in America, the gayness was a little pasty for my taste. Thank god for the ethnic pride groups (scanty and small though they were). But all in all, it was a pretty good Parenting Moment. Even though I felt a moral dilemma about claiming to Thing One that the aforementioned crucifix lollipops he’d collected were primarily toys (he’s never had a lollipop because I am That Kind of Parent. Yes, I make my own organic purees. Suck it). I did qualify that they were made of sugar, which he knows you can eat, but that the dyes made them not very good to eat and better for toys. Is that bad?

So as I reach the end of this post, I’m feeling like maybe it wasn’t such a great Father’s Day present to let K. sleep through all that. Probably the better present would have been to insist that he come along — except that he worked until five a.m. again, and he probably wouldn’t have appreciated being rousted from his bed that early for any reason.

And then, if we’d been in full nuclear family mode, I might not have gotten the love of the PLOP. So all’s well that ends well. Maybe next Father’s Day I’ll let K. take the kids to Pride by himself. He has an extremely gay multicolored tank top. And I know he enjoys a few appreciative leers.

Web searches that have led unsuspecting Internauts to this blog over the last year:

starry rift
pee while driving
starry rift wordpress
peeing while driving
“matt gonzalez”
the starry rift
jesus was a libra
william wants a doll
star struck lovers
jesus libra
prince eyeliner
how to pee while driving
say you love me tv
my mother, your mother lives across the
matt gonzalez
john lennon gandhi
starstruck lovers
receptacle for urine pee in car
circumference of a red bull can
urinate while driving
circumference of red bull can
barnard college
television say you love me
hillary incapable undeserving quote
“john mccain is the antichrist”
gandhi and john lennon
needs to pee in the car while driving
starry poems
rebecca walker
reasons why i love my mother
bachelors forties
driving pee
“dating an eighteen year old” thirties
feminist mothering
jon erik hexum blog
starry where are you poem
poetries for elocution
urine while driving
“if might makes right then love has no p
joni mitchell appearance
reasons to love mothers
small pox blankets
horse stance b
jesus is a libra
interview stance
why are men fascinated with pee?

I was going to say that I should retitle the blog “variations on a theme of peeing while driving,” but maybe “emasculated” would also do, in a pinch. As for that lone search for a “jon erik hexum blog”…I am filled with empathy. Let me know if you find one.

Viz. the post below:

Me: “You were revolutionary and you didn’t even know it!”

Mom: “I knew it. People would say things on the street. ‘HEY GEORGE! Look at this white woman with a Jap!'”

Me: “Whoa.”

Mom: “In Midtown Terrace!”

Happy Loving Day.

Today is the 41st anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court overturned the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and caused anti-miscegenation laws across America to be struck down. The Loving decision got some attention early last month, when Mildred Loving died, but it’s worth commemorating today as the day when not only many couples (such as my parents, who were married in California in 1963 and moved to Virginia in 1970) were free to legally live in all fifty states without (legal) harassment.

It’s also worth remembering (because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person) that overturning Loving was instrumental in destroying America’s eugenics sterilization programs, the kind Dr. Joseph DeJarnette was referring to when he wrote this 1938 poem:

Oh, why do we allow these people
To breed back to the monkey’s nest,
To increase our country’s burdens
When we should only breed the best?
Oh, you wise men take up the burden,
And make this you(r) loudest creed,
Sterilize the misfits promptly—
All are not fit to breed!
Then our race will be strengthened and bettered,
And our men and our women be blest,
Not apish, repulsive and foolish,
For the best will breed the best.[17]

Well, my family might be apish and repulsive, but we tend to have pretty high IQs. High enough to know that 1967 is really not all that long ago. And high enough to know that when the California Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to define marriage as between a man and a woman, they were basing their decision on legislation like this (and more particularly on Perez v. Sharp) that recognizes an important truth: that anti-miscegenation and anti-gay marriage laws are nothing more than a feeble attempt by the powerful and bigoted minority to get around the 14th Amendment — and that, if anyone is paying attention, it don’t play.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to re-read that marvelously repulsive poem up there, wonder at the depth of small-mindedness and hatred in the world, and vomit up my hash browns.

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