Friday, March 25, 2016

Our Days: march 2016

Quinn snuck into our bed again early this morning. He does that sometimes. Sometimes I hear him get up, I hear the creak of his bedroom door open and the pitter-patter (or clomp-clomp-clomp as might be more accurate) of his feet stomp into our room, and come around the bed to my side before snuggling up under the covers. Other times I just wake up at some point in the early hours of the night and find my little blond-headed boy sleeping next to me. I usually don’t sleep as well when he’s there with me, the bed after all is only just barely big enough for Zach, myself, and a third occupant. Sometimes I feel irritated by the disturbance of my sleep. But mostly, I marvel at the chance to snuggle up to my youngest child, usually so active and wild and rambunctious. Never so still or quiet as in the middle of the night. There is nothing that melts a parents’ heart quite like watching your kid so peaceful and calm while they sleep… except maybe that moment when they sleepily reach out to you and hold on you your arm, or your neck, or your just put their hand on your back, finding comfort and reassurance in your mere presence.

I wake some time later (hours? minutes?) to the sound of Zach in the bathroom, faucet running as he shaves to get ready for work. Quinn is no longer on my other side, having gotten up at some point to check on Donovan (whose giggles I can hear echoing from the living room as he watches a funny video online). But soon Quinn comes running in, sensing in that way children do that his mama is awake, and he takes a flying leap onto my chest.

I am trying to wake from that deep slumber of your body trying to make up for lost sleep. Which is to say, my mind is a groggy fog and all I want to do is tell him to leave me be, to give me more time to sleep. But he is insistent, telling me something about his nerf guns or about a video he watched or asking if today is the day that we will go to the park/fly to visit our friends/go on that playdate. He puts his hands on either side of my face and touches his nose right up to mine saying, “Mama, wake up! Get up, Mama!” in that silly voice of his. Suddenly, I wrap my arms around him in a big ole mama bear hug and flip him onto his back, pretending to crush him with my weight as he tries to tell me to stop and let go but can’t because he is giggling too hard to get the words out. We playsnugglewrestle for a few more minutes before actually getting up from the bed, and the day begins.

I walk out to the living room and spot Donovan in his usual perch, at the purple table with his headphones on. Today he is watching a mine craft parody video. Or maybe he is building a rocket in Space Engineers, or fighting a battle with space marines. I kiss the top of his head as he pauses the video to tell me good morning. “How did you sleep?” I ask. “Ok,” he says, “I woke up at 5:07 today.” More or less his usual. Quinn runs up to share the chair with him and watch together. I ask if they’ve eaten breakfast yet. Yes, they say, they had cereal. I move to the kitchen to make coffee and also maybe some toast, or put out bowls of yogurt, to give them something else to eat. I check my phone, see what’s changed on twitter and instagram and Facebook in the hours since I last checked the evening before.

Our mornings are usually slow and lazy. If it’s tuesday, Donovan has a class to go to by 10am. If it’s friday, our sitter will be over at 9:00. Otherwise we lounge around snacking, talking, watching, playing. The boys come into the kitchen for a snack. I offer to read some more of the Humphrey book we’re reading, and so we’ll read a chapter or two while they eat and play with the bunny, pausing from time to time to appreciate a good joke or talk about something that just happened in the story. We might watch a movie all together on the couch (in which case Quinn will insist on having popcorn while watching). If there are any scary parts, Quinn will ask me to lie down on the couch, with enough space between my back and the back of the couch for him to squeeze in. I guess it makes him feel safe, comforted. Donovan will come up with a new game he wants to invent, or a new adventure he wants to go on, and tell me all about it. He gets these ideas and it’s like his mind cannot rest unless and until he shares them me. I don’t want to push labels or expectations on him, but part of me hopes he will become a writer one day and share these stories with the world. Or maybe he will share his stories in video form, or as games. Or maybe he will keep them to himself, or share them just with me, and that’s ok too. I am honored that he trusts me with his tales.

Maybe also Quinn asks to watch Donovan play his game and Donovan says no, so then Quinn gets his nerf blaster and shoots a nerf dart at Donovan’s leg. The yelling begins, first by the two of them and then by me (“I want him to play nerf with me!” “That is NOT how you ask!”). Lest I give the impression that it’s always rainbows and unicorns over here. ; )

Several times a day I pass the laundry hamper at the foot of my bed, overflowing with clean but not-yet-folded clothes. Or the sink filling up with dishes. Or the hampers filled with clothes that do still need to be washed. On a good day, I actually take care of these things. Many days, I think to myself, “I should take care of that...,” letting it sit for another day or two first. No one could ever accuse me of being a good homemaker.

Twice a week we meet up with our group at park days, in the afternoons. It’s usually a 30-40 minute drive, just long enough that both boys to fall asleep in the car and get a bit of extra rest. We meet at various parks around the bay area, and thanks to the glorious California weather we are able to meet outside in sunshine and comfortable temperatures just about year-round. The boys play together, or apart, by themselves or with other kids. Or may just sit on the blanket with me and the other parents. Each park day is a little different, the dynamics constantly changing. And on the whole, positive, for the most part.

Then home again, before traffic gets too bad. I usually am able to drive highway 280, which has less traffic and is in general a much more pleasant and beautiful drive than 101. It is fascinating to watch the landscape change, the endless burnt-yellow hills turn to lush green when we get our “winter” rains, then back again as summer approaches.

So, home. Throw some dinner together. Probably have something for dessert (or “deezee” as Donovan has taken to calling it), like a small bowl of vanilla ice-cream. Baths (separately), brushing of teeth, putting on of clothes (Donovan wears pajamas, Quinn daytime clothes. Neither will change in the morning, unless specifically asked to. It saves on laundry, I suppose). We read some books. Donovan has recently discovered his appreciation of chapter books, like the Humphrey the Hamster book we read earlier. We read a couple chapters of that, stopping a few times to remind Quinn that he is welcome to sit and listen with us but if he’s gonna keep making so much noise he can go play in a different room. Donovan climbs into his bed and asks me to tuck him in and sit with him for a few minutes. He still likes stroking my chin, a habit he began as an infant and has not let go of in his 8 years yet. “Goodnight, sweet pea. I love you. I’m so glad to be your mama,” I whisper to him. Quinn comes in carrying a stack of picture books to read. I ask him to pick 2 or 3 of them, and we can read them in my bedroom. He likes to read with us lying down on the bed, on our bellies.

We finally finish reading the books, and Quinn then asks to lie down in his own bed. Other nights he lies down in my bed to fall asleep. I would then go back later in the night to move him to his own bed, marveling at how long he has gotten, how much harder it is to carry his sleeping body than when he was younger. At first he flops around in his bed, trying to tell me last random thoughts about the day. But finally he calms down, lies still, and his eyelids drift and close and he succumbs to sleep. I lie next to him for a few more minutes, watching him sleep, making sure he really is all the way under.

As I start to get up I hear the squeak of the screen door out back, the sound of Zach coming home from work. I go to greet him with a kiss hello. He changes from his work dress pants into jeans, then settles into the kitchen for something to eat. Heats up some water with honey. We spend a short while talking, sharing our days, his work frustrations, interesting tidbits. He still has some more work to do, so he eventually gets up and sets himself up with his laptop. I should be getting ready for bed myself, but I want some moments of solitude, of doing something on my own to relax. A million things call for my attention, chores both around the house and on the computer that need to get done. But by evening, I often can’t quite be bothered. Instead I lose myself in a good book, or a good show. I currently have four episodes left of the new season of House of Cards. I watch an episode, maybe even two, scolding myself for staying up too late to do so. Finally, I go brush my teeth, wash my face, change into my own pajamas. Sometimes Zach joins me at bedtime, sometimes he’s still up working in which case I leave the light on for him on his side of the bed. I lie down, resist the urge to check my phone one last time, turn off my light, and go to sleep.

A few hours later I wake up to my snuggly sweet little boy curled up at my side.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What if fathers also viewed fatherhood as their greatest accomplishment?

I was awoken this morning, as so often happens, but a little blonde creature (aka my 5 year old) jumping into my bed and crying out, "Get up! Get up! Get up, Mama!" After wrestling on the bed a bit, I did indeed get up out of bed, and while my boys watched videos on their computer I made my coffee and went through my checking-social-media routine: checking instagram, facebook, and twitter for interesting updates.

It was on twitter that I found this link, tweeted out by my sister. Apparently Beyonce recently said something about how her greatest accomplishment is giving birth to her daughter, and apparently this was controversial. I started reading up more on the story, and had so many thoughts that I knew I had to sit down and write about it.

So, Beyonce said her proudest moment was when she birthed her daughter, that becoming a mother is her biggest accomplishment. That article does bring up an important point:

Our cultural narratives dictate, however, that regardless of how impressive their resumes might be, women are meant to have babies and spend their time happily devoted to them. We expect that all women become mothers and treat child-rearing as if it should be the most fulfilling vocation in the world, to the point that women who don't have children are seen as selfish, cold or brokenThere's excessive pressure on women not only to have children, but to claim their roles as parents as their crowning achievementWhile it is, of course, perfectly fine for Bey and other mothers to cite parenthood as a point of enormous pride (you do you, no shame), it's tough to ignore the cultural context of such a statement. She and women like Clinton set a gold standard for what it looks like to "have it all" in a world that makes doing so damn near impossible. (source)
It can be difficult to tease out individual motives and actions, from greater cultural context. I do see where this author is coming from, and how it is still difficult for a mother to come out and say that she feels more proud of her career than her role as a parent.

That said, I also think this is very important to keep in mind, when we talk about individual choices:
The statement “Every woman’s highest calling is motherhood,” is very different from the statement, “My greatest accomplishment so far in life is becoming a mother.”  The first is proscriptive: it tells women what to do, and how to prioritize their lives, particularly around men, and for men’s benefit.  The second is descriptive: it explains one person’s individual assessment of her own formidable accomplishments. (source)

I am an ardent feminist who has also chosen to be an at-home parent for my two boys, so you can guess where I'm going with all this. It does get complicated when we're trying to differentiate between free personal choice and pressure from society. For such a long time, women were forced into domestic life, able only to care for and work towards our homes and families, viewed as little more than vessels for birthing babies and keeping them out of the menfolks' way. It is so easy, when we finally get to break free from that, to reject and demonize those things we were forced into. As soon as you actually have some other options, it seems like freely choosing the thing we used to be forced into is a step backwards. To move "forwards" we tend to want to break away from anything that used to be traditionally and stereotypically feminine, in part because all those things are tainted and inherently viewed as "lesser than."

But that's where we need to be careful, because that just upholds the patriarchal hierarchy. Feminism and equality aren't about making women be more like men, but about realizing how traditionally feminine roles and acts ave been undervalued by sheer virtue of their association with femininity. It's not femininity that we need to shatter and be done with but the automatic de-valuing of these roles and acts that are absolutely vital and crucial to any functioning society. It's the same reason why girls liking pink and playing with dolls isn't bad in and of itself-- it's when those are the only options, or when girls are ridiculed for wanting "boy toys" (and boys ridiculed for liking pink), that we have major problems.

Women have, and in some ways still feel, so much pressure to view home and family as The Most Important Things Above All. The flip side of this, is that the default for men is to view work and career as their number 1 priority, and family second (they've got a wife at home to mind the kiddoes, right?). Why is that? Why is it that men are only really allowed to care about their kids and families as regrets expressed on their deathbeds? (we all like to pass around the memes about regrets and how no one looks back on their lives wishing they'd spent more time working, but why don't we then apply that to our lives when we have the chance?)

What if fathers also got to view fatherhood as their greatest accomplishment?

Maybe instead of insisting that women should value career more than family, we should allow and encourage men to cherish fatherhood. Maybe the "solution" isn't to devalue family and the role and impact children have on our lives, but to acknowledge that yes for those of us who have children they are really fucking important and affect everything else about our lives from then onwards. Think about the influence our parents have on each of us-- for some it's a good influence, for others it isn't, but it's hard to deny that the way we grew up and the way our parents treated us (or didn't) has an effect on the adults we become. How could that process, of raising another human being, not be important? Why does the bulk of that responsibility still fall mostly on women, rather than being shared around equally? Maybe there is so much more we can do to support all parents, of all genders, to be there for their children rather than having to make a choice between family and career.

There is another important distinction that I got to thinking about, and that is the difference between viewing our children as our "greatest accomplishments" vs viewing our role as parents as such. Part of what's associated with the traditional view of women is that we're meant to live and die for our children, to be wholly devoted to them, and find our meaning and value in our children and how they turn out. THAT I still reject. My children are their own people, and I will not saddle them with the huge responsibility of needing to fulfill me. They are their own people, and free to be and do what they feel called to be and do.

They are separate, in my mind at least, from my role as a parent. My role as a parent is about me and my actions, which is of course intertwined with but still separate from my children as people. Maybe that doesn't make sense. But for example, I do list giving birth, twice, as two of my proudest moments. And my journey as a mother has been the most eye-opening and enlightening journey of my life. I could go on an on about this, but basically I have done so much inner work and grown as a person as a direct result of the challenges and joys I have experienced as a parent. I don't have a career like Beyonce's to juxtapose that to, but I cannot imagine how everything that comes with being a parent wouldn't heavily influence my career if I did. It influences everything.

My feminism is largely about choice and freedom-- freedom from being pigeon-holed by gender stereotypes; freedom from discrimination; freedom from the cultural pressures associated with our genders. Freedom for women (and all genders) to have children, as well as freedom from the expectation that all women should/want to have children (because along with everything I've said here, I also strongly believe in the right not to have kids; there are many other roles and responsibilities that are essential to a functioning society that I may value but don't have any desire or ability to fulfill myself). Freedom to value your family and children above your career, and freedom to choose career over family. And yes, the context in which we make our choices matters-- we don't live our lives in a vacuum, there is context to everything. It's important to acknowledge that not everyone has the same freedom in their choices. It's important to seek out the barriers that stand in the way for some and knock them down. It's important to talk about systemic issues. And also, for the individual that freedom of choice is crucial. It's why I don't think there is a paradox in my being a stay-at-home homeschooling mother and a feminist, or in any mother (or father) valuing their accomplishments as a parent more highly than those of their career.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Big news: Amsterdam-bound

The past several months I've had this itch for change. I have moved furniture around in our house countless times-- Pippin's bunny pen has gone through at least 4-5 transformations. I think I've re-arranged the furniture in almost every room of the house at least once in the past few months (the living room got a new couch, which totally changes the look of things, though everything else is still in the same place...). I'm itching for newness, for novelty, for a change of some sort, I guess.

It's funny how I have bitched and whined about our constant moving, the lack of stability and the plethora of uncertainty, never feeling like I can plan ahead more than a year or two into the future because we never know what will come up... when we moved back to California two summers ago I swore I wanted it to be our last, that I wanted to stay put for once.

And yet, it's like there's this part of me that's thinking, "Ok, it's been close to 2 years now... it's time to shake things up... it's time for a change." It's like an internal clock going off. Have I gotten so used to all the change, that I can't settle down?

About a month ago I was out running errands on a Saturday, Zach was at home with the kids, and he sent me a text saying he'd gotten an email from work that they were looking for someone to do a 6 month transfer in Europe, and it's crazy and probably wouldn't work for us... but would we want to talk about it?

I did not expect my first reaction to be "Sweet, let's find out more!" But that's what my gut said. Where did that come from? Honestly, part of it felt like fate-- we've talked about doing a temporary transfer overseas before, but one big complicating factor had always been our pets. Six months is not long enough to justify taking them along. The thing was, that same week our friend Sasha had moved in with us. She was about to start a new job in the bay area, and she planned to stay with us for a few months while she looked for her own place.... or perhaps she could stay longer, and house/pet-sit for us. We talked it over with her and she was thrilled to help us out (and save on rent for a while longer), so Zach set the wheels in motion to explore this opportunity that landed in our laps.

The weeks since have been a whirlwind of getting our passports in order, researching offices to compare preferred locations, checking out homeschooling laws in Europe (they vary quite a bit, apparently, and yes they apply to families staying even for just 6 months), and waiting waiting waiting to see if things would actually fall into place, or if it would all fall apart.

At first I felt super excited about the whole thing-- so much so that I worried that I was conspicuously ignoring the potential negatives. Then I started waffling back and forth... I started thinking of what could go wrong. What if the boys hate it, and have a terrible time? Zach will be working long hours, will it be too difficult and too lonely if it's me and the boys on our own? Are we really up for uprooting ourselves all over again, even if it's temporarily? The timeline is short enough (and local language difficult enough) that I don't even have much of a pretense of trying to learn the local language, how much trouble will that cause? I had flashbacks/visions of standing in the aisles of supermarket unable to decipher what any of the products on the shelves actually were, or getting totally lost in a foreign city with cranky kids in tow.

But hey, it's only six months. All the cities we were considering have lots of English speakers. We will have our own home and everything here still. Worst case scenario, we cut and run early and simply return home. The risk is as minimal as it can possibly get for this kind of an adventure. I also spent some time looking back on our time in Switzerland, remembering how much we enjoyed that time, the things we still miss about it. How could we not do everything on our end to try to make this new opportunity work?

Last week we got the go-ahead that Zach was matched with the Amsterdam office. We will likely be leaving in June and staying till December. That June date feels like a long way away, but really we've only got about 3 months to prepare. I'm making my lists of to-dos-- research on things like cell phones; things to buy state-side to bring with us; contacts to make; figuring out what to pack for 6 months away from home; things I need to get done here before we leave; etc etc etc. We have our previous experience living abroad to help us know somewhat what to expect, but this will also be a totally different country, different city, and this time we have two older children coming along. Nothing is fully set in stone yet, either, so there's still a part of me wondering if we'll hit some major glitch at some point. But so far so good, I think it's really happening.

I do still want us to settle down in a permanent place. One thing that makes this adventure different, and much easier to consider, is that it is so temporary-- I don't know that we could agree to a full move overseas, or to go for a longer period of time. But a few months is doable, and it's nice knowing our "homebase" stays here and will be waiting for us upon our return. It's scary but also pretty darn exciting.


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