Gumby Brains and Bumper Stickers

I realize, that at 51 years old, I am one of the “older” parents of my 3 younger kids crowd. I also will note that after doing this parenting thing for 22 years now, I sometimes feel like an “old” parent. I’ve experience the tumultuous adolescent girl years for 2 of my kids already, and while we’ve all managed to live through them, there were a good number of rough patches to mow through. Now, 7 & 10 years later, I’m doing it again and it feels a LOT harder this time!

Each of my kids are very different and although I know that each child has to go through his or her stages in their own time, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. I clearly remember the early days of parenting, reading through a plethora of books in my “supermom” effort to find the “expert” answers to all of my first child’s major hurdles. I eagerly employed my new knowledge of all of my child’s stages from “Your One-Year Old Child”, then “Your Two-Year Old”, etc., until I finally gave up or they ran out of books around age seven. By that point, I was armed with many great parenting tools and had moved onto “1,2,3, Magic,” much to my then 8-year-old daughter’s dismay. I will never forget her taking one look at the book and saying “You are not going to make me do that!” Apparently, the “magic” rumor had already circulated among her cohorts!

That same child is now living in Minnesota, taking a year off between college and grad school, so she’s in her “early 20’s” stage. She’s living the life of a young adult, rooming with several other college students in a college town, working at slightly more than minimum wage in a job that she will likely enjoy.

My next daughter is living it up in her second year at college, taking advantage of a wonderful education, playing on the ultimate frisbee team and enjoying her “college years” stage. She’s in no rush to hurry her stages along, which is great, and seems to be basking in the comfort and security that college life offers.

As a quick side note, I was the third of 4 girls in my family, all born within 5 years. My family’s photo albums were full of the 4 of us dressed in matching or complimentary attire, posed in a stair-step fashion of oldest to youngest. I ruined that tradition, when between 7th and 8th grade I sprouted about 5 inches and have towered over my sisters ever since. I remember that it was a pivotal year for me as I gained a much greater self-confidence about my body, liking the changes that being tall brought with it. When I was about 10 or 11, I overheard my mother saying to a friend, “there’s something special about a third child.” It made me feel special and I’ve held onto that feeling for a long time. Lately, I’ve started thinking that “special” meant a whole other thing! I was in a crazy time in my life, riddled with questions about sexuality, rebellious and wanting more independence, and resentful about the changes that were happening to my family. I’ve often wished she were alive so that I could ask her, “how did you make it through that time?”

So…meet my 3rd daughter who has hit seventh grade and is in that “tween” stage of caring about how she looks, what she wears as she attends school, goes to dances and plays on her soccer team. She now has access to most of what high-schoolers do since she is part of a small school that includes grades 7-12. While physically, she’s a tall girl and has an “older girl” look, emotionally she’s still 12 years old. Intellectually, she’s a very bright girl, does well in school, and has a promising future. Unfortunately, making good decisions and having common sense aren’t things that she will get naturally just by getting older…those things, as well as many more character traits, have to be learned.

To my friends, I’d call these the “lost years,” as she traverses the gap between an adolescent and an adult. She’s pretty much lost from us as she finds her way in the world of friends, the pressures of societal norms, exposure to the media and all of the messages she is bombarded with from music to fashion to boys, etc. She rarely responds loud enough for us to hear her, doesn’t like any overt displays of affection in public, and seizes any opportunity to criticize or tease her siblings about anything and everything!

To my wife, I call her a “gumby brain!” It doesn’t matter what I tell her I need her to do, she’ll forget it. Unless I threaten to take away her phone or computer, any requests are routinely “forgotten!” Gone are the days of outstretched arms when I come home with the big scream of “mommy’s home!” along with the cooking projects and fun trips to the park. Now, I have to knock and wait for her to get off her bed and unlock her door in order to not have to shout to her. I’ll admit it, I have texted her while in the house just to avoid that scene at her door. At least I get a response! When I ask if she wants to come to the park and ride her bike around with the other kids, I’m met with a shrug and a mumble of “not really.” I have the same requests every week for her to PLEASE PUT YOUR CLEAN CLOTHES AWAY AND YOUR DIRTY ONES IN THE HAMPER IF YOU WANT THEM WASHED! We rarely see her unless it’s feeding time, and I’ll spare you the details of the difficulty of getting her to go to bed at a reasonable hour and getting her up in the morning.

There seems to be nothing that we do or say that’s of interest to her unless it’s about her or her activities, and everything that she needs bought or cooked or completed for an assignment seems to always come at the 11th hour! And, a recent surge of text messaging (and hell yes, I look at my phone bill often to see her usage), has caused us to take her phone at night for charging in our room!

Now I know, that anyone else who is a parent or even those who aren’t, can identify with what I’m saying. Sure, this too will pass. It’s a stage and she’ll move through it. Soon she’ll enter the real high schooler stage where the true pressures of being a student athlete/band geek will set in. She’ll get a boyfriend(alas, we’ll be dealing with that for the first time!), she’ll start thinking about college, and then it starts over with our next girl(and boy, but he’s a whole other story)!

As for our 9 year-old, soon to be double-digit twins, they are imaginative, musical, and sporty kids who keep us hopping and the house humming with constant singing and instruments, yelling and chasing. Life is good for them. Not much to worry about, not going hungry, clean clothes, loving parents, and totally oblivious to most of what keeps their lives moving along.

Remember when you were a kid, and an adult would say “oh my goodness, you have grown so much since the last time I saw you!” People do that to my kids all the time. I do it myself frequently to other people’s kids who I haven’t seen in ages and am astonished that they’ve continued to grow and change when I wasn’t looking! As if somehow time would stand still. I do believe that change is good, and it’s a good thing I’m a Gemini because change is my middle name!

Yet, as we reach adulthood, and continue to evolve, to move from teenage years to young adult, we think we’re immortal and time seems to stand still for a while. That “baby face” that people told me I had at 22 hasn’t exactly hitched a ride into my 30’s, 40’s & now 50’s, and, the wrinkles that shocked me when I first noticed them in my 30’s, I can barely see without twisting my glasses on my face to see out of the reading part of my progressive lenses. And don’t even get me started on the random hairs that sprout from areas on my face that I can’t see without a bright light and magnifying mirror! Yet, no one comments on these stages we go through once we get past 30!

It’s no wonder that as we get older we forget things more. Yesterday when I was driving my 3 youngest and one of their friends, my 9 year-old daughter started asking her older sister, “do you remember that time we were at the (and I wasn’t really listening to where)…” and went on to recount some past funny situation. “How do you remember things like that?” said her older sister?

“Because she doesn’t have much else in her brain she needs to remember!” I said, sarcastically.

Kids don’t, really. Sure, as they get older their brains fill up, but if I can’t remember every single one of my kids’ birth weights or the exact time they were born, that doesn’t mean I’m ready for the Alzheimer’s ward. I remember that Murphy Brown was on the TV when I had my first pregnancy(second child) , so there! How many of you even remember Murphy Brown! I don’t need to remember phone numbers anymore, as long as I can remember who I’m calling, and I set up every appointment to alert me on my iphone twice before it happens! If there’s something special in the future that I really can’t forget, and a phone alert won’t do, I can send an email to myself into the future and it will arrive on any date I set it to send!

My wife is at her own stage which seems to have moved from “caring for the kids,” to “caring for others who are ill or dying.” She’s moved from caring for her mom (until 2008) to her sister (last week), with her dad throughout that time, and then who knows what. It’s a “big Catholic family” side-effect, that although the good times are great, there are a lot of relatives, so the bad times can be plentiful.

I think that my stage in life now is mainly maintenance, yet I haven’t given up on any growth. I don’t want to lose anything mentally, physically (OK, maybe a few pounds), and any gains are just bonuses! I would certainly like a better job that is more meaningful and rewarding and that utilizes my skills best, but I’m happy to just be working when there are so many unemployed skilled workers. I have plenty of hopes and dreams that I plan to accomplish and I know that things will fall in place when it’s time. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m open to the Universe for whatever is in my future.

My motto comes from a bumper sticker I saw once…it said, “Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely!”

(quote attributed to Karen Kaiser Clark)

Gender Jumble Part 1

Setting out on my morning walk the other day, headphones and sunglasses all set and water bottle in hand, I turned on my ipod shuffle got my dance music cranking and on came “It’s Raining Men.” It wasn’t a surprise, since as one of my favorite songs I have it on the playlist more than once. As I pumped my arms and legs to the beat my internal conversation started, as it always does, and I thought, “why is it that lesbians love to dance to this song so much?” I’ve been boggled by this question for years, and I feel the same way about that silly song “All the Single Ladies.” Why is it that we care little about the words and excuse them for the great beat of the music?

It’s not that I’m against enjoying songs that are written for heterosexuals, because I’ve translated many a Mary Chapin Carpenter song to work for two women, but it’s more the absurdity of it that hits me. What would a group of straight people think about a dance floor full of lesbians singing out loud to “It’s Raining Men?”

Which took me to the concept that I’ve been mulling about for years yet I haven’t put it into words on paper until now.  I call it the “Sexuality Spinner.” Remember those games that had the little spinner with the arrow that you flick to play the game and it spins around to land on a number, color, or word? That’s how I see sexuality. I think of it as an ever-evolving circle, not a continuum or line. I know that for me, I have found myself in various points on the circle at different times of my life. I feel like I continue to move daily, weekly and yearly, bouncing from one point to another.

We all are products of our experiences and gifts. We became who we are and continue to manifest traits based on what we go through in life. Every birth, death, milestone, relationship, job, friend, etc.,  leaves an impression on us that adds to who we are. Amorphous, androgynous, indefinable.

Why is it then, that we are so stuck on sexuality. Why do we have to define as a man or woman? Because of our genitals?

When I “came out” in the mid- 70’s, there were very little resources for me to find out more information on lesbianism. All I knew was that I liked other girls better than boys. Luckily, I had some friends who felt the same way. We could talk, share a few books that we found at bookstores, and figure out how we were going to be lesbians in our small-minded town.

Now, I sometimes kiddingly call myself a “lezzie,” as more of an inside joke with my wife, whose Aunt used to call her that, but in Jr. High School, it was NOT cool to be called a “lezzie.” It was embarrassing, especially since I didn’t know what it was at first, and when I heard the word “queer,” I had to go look it up in the dictionary. It was an “Aha moment” for me, for sure, to know that there was even a word for it! So, did that mean that there were other people out there like me?

I quickly learned that to let anyone know was NOT OK. I also learned, that most people didn’t understand it. My mother found out about me when she followed me up to my room one night when I stormed into the house after being out with my “friend.” We had just broken up from an off & on relationship of 3 years, and I was distraught. I didn’t respond to her much when she asked me questions, but I guess she finally put words to her suspicions and asked me if I was in love with my friend. My non-answer answered the question for her and what she said next is indelibly etched in my then 17 year-old mind forever. She said “I always wondered why you could pee so well standing up as a kid.”

Now, if you still have that sip of drink in your mouth and you haven’t splattered it all over your computer, you’re probably thinking the same thing I did when she said it. “WHAT?!!!”

My mother died in 1996, and I razzed her about that comment up to her death but I never did get an explanation. I’m guessing her thought bubble went…”Likes girls…boys like girls…must really be a boy…must have a penis?”

Any other ideas out there? Because I’ve pondered that comment for 34 years now and I can’t come up with any other possibility. Did I mention that she’s my mother, and that I’m her DAUGHTER, and surely she changed many a diaper of mine and I can tell you, there ain’t nothing surprising down there!

In full disclosure, I can honestly say, that I have had a few moments of penis envy in my life, but most of them involved a car ride and too much to drink. And, I know that if I polled a group of 10 other friends who grew up in a neighborhood and played outside, they would probably say that they were pretty darn good at peeing out in the woods instead of having to run inside to use the bathroom and miss whatever fun was at hand. I had good muscles and I could do it like any other skill. Nowadays, not so well, but that’s TMI.

To get back to my Sexuality Spinner, I didn’t have any brothers, and my parents didn’t have any boys. My father was an electrical design engineer, and loved to work on his Model A Ford car in the garage, tinker in the basement in his darkroom and with his inventions. I was a curious, eager, and smart kid, and I learned so much from him and became very handy at fixing just about anything that broke. I mowed the lawn, took out the trash, cleaned the house, cooked in the kitchen, and did whatever I was required to do as part of the family system. There were no roles imposed. I had no limits besides financial, so if I had the skills and the “stuff,” I could do just about anything. I was encouraged to be independent, innovative, creative, and reach for my goals.

That was the time, I think, that most of the energy for lesbian & gay rights started to really ramp up. Back then, we didn’t want to be lumped in with the men and called “gay.” “Lesbian & strong,” or “feminist,” but not “queer,” or “gay,” Back then, the lesbians were hidden, yet obvious to each other. We had a secret nod. Nowadays, not so much. If you saw a lesbian couple, you would often wonder, “who is the butch & who is the femme,” since that was & is the way it seems to look from the outside.

Roles. That’s what it is about too. Who does what. In the bedroom, the home, the yard, at the dump, kills the bugs, traps the rodents, picks out the curtains, pays the bills, etc. Yet who is to say what jobs we each should do? And if I do more cooking and cleaning, and my wife does the yard work and trash, is she the butch and I’m the femme? STOPPPP!

I’ve never wanted to be a man, and don’t think I need to be one to be strong, teach my kids how to throw and hit a ball or mow the lawn, shovel the driveway, assemble legos, lift heavy objects or talk to my son about boy stuff. And, I don’t think that he is deprived as a boy to have 2 moms instead of a mom & dad, despite what the Tea Party thinks. I’m the one always bawling at the sad TV shows on TV. I’m the one who sews things when they’re ripped and I know plenty of guys who do the same. I’m a butch and a femme and a mother and a sister, a wife and a friend, and I have the ability to be anything that I want to be!

I think that in the future, there will be much more blurring of the lines between “male” and “female” and that the public consciousness will start to allow for that fuzziness more in our language, pronouns, signage, marketing and to inclusion of more trans people in the media.

But more about that in my next blog. Stay tuned, and please leave your comments, whether you agree with me or not!

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