At my children's request, the kid clothesline came out again yesterday. This year, it is situated a little big higher. And both kids now possess the fine motor skills necessary to hang underwear and washcloths and socks up with clothespins, which is very satisfying.
As I knotted the rope to the deck, I remembered a distant post featuring smaller children hanging wet rags out to dry. So I checked, and in so doing, I discovered it has been almost exactly one year since I began this blog. Amelia got me started on September 21, 2009.
Friends! So many of you have traveled the past year with me on Homemade Time, and for this I feel wellsprings of sincere gratitude bubbling up with fresh feeling, tightening my throat. It is no small thing to have friends and family like all of you. Writing to you - and reading your comments - has made mothering richer and sweeter. It has given me a creative place to think through the chaos of the day, and to make meaning from it. Thank you.
It's been a whole year since Frances and I were reading The Folk of the Faraway Tree, and Dame Washalot inspired us to do some dripping wet wacky laundry of our own. Kind of funny that I just read this article by Cordelia Fine, which launches into a commentary about how bogus our gendered thinking about little kids is with her experiences (as child and parent) reading Enid Blyton. Like Ms. Fine, I do plenty of on-the-spot editing when we hit particularly egregious passages about girls being the weaker sex in our treasured oldey-timey children's classics.
But my elisions are a wee drop in a big bucket filled with all kinds of weird crap - much of which I probably do a fine job of perpetuating without even realizing it. I read a review of Cordelia Fine's book, Delusions of Gender, in the Washington Post last week. I don't feel any desire to read her scrupulous debunkings of pseudo-scientific studies that claim to prove the innate differences between girls and boys. But I'm glad she made the effort. Just reading the review did enough to get me back to thinking about gender more globally.
I felt a little sheepish reading about her book. I too am suckered in by all sorts of biological destiny-style accounts of gender. It lets me off the hook for those shortcomings of mine that seem mapped onto my gender, my persistent femininity. Too accommodating, too afraid to speak up and upset someone, lacking in sufficient personal boundaries, prone to harbor resentments rather than communicate directly about difficult issues. Etc etc. Oh, and I throw like a girl.
So when Science says it's all because of my chromosomes, those things I don't always like in myself become less personal in nature - more my womanly lot in life. An opportunity to relinquish personal responsibility is hard to pass up.
And becoming a parent, especially a parent of both a boy and a girl, has brought countless conversations with countless enlightened feminist types about the surprising "hardwired" nature of gender that we discover as we watch our children grow. Boys and girls are so different. All the preschool mothers agree. I am among them.
Yes, there are differences between most girls I've met and most boys I've met. The terms masculinity and feminity do make sense to me (more on this another day). But when someone comes along and scrambles my habits of perception a bit, I feel called out. I've been seeing through a particular lens that emphasizes certain behaviors and traits and relegates others to the periphery. Oh, there he goes with the trucks again! He's such a boy.
For example - here's some of the pervasive stuff in the big bucket I mentioned earlier - I name every non-human actor on our family stage a boy. I use the male pronoun with every backyard squirrel, stuffed animal, and Dr. Seuss creature. Where's he going? I ask Gabriel about the bird outside our window. What's that little guy doing? Oh, he's looking for worms!
Where are the girl bugs and teddy bears? (We read a book recently featuring a female teddy bear - a sidekick, not even the protagonist! - and honestly, it struck me as kind of weird.)
The only reason I know I blanket the world boy like this is that Frances corrects me when I use the wrong pronoun with her toys. Some are girls and she is truly offended when I slip up; she's like a first-time parent when a stranger gets a newborn's sex wrong. Frances also reminds me that the blood-sucking mosquitoes are mamas looking for blood to feed their babies every time I slap one and triumphantly shout: I GOT HIM!
This disturbs me, the way my language betrays my prejudices.
So tonight, I'm setting an intention: to resist the temptation of categorizing my children. To put up a speed bump at least, so I'm caught up the next time I attribute behaviors to their boyness or girlness. Or to being a typical first or second born child, for that matter. To being such a sensitive person, or a smart person, an athletic person or a bookworm.
What do those things really mean?
What do they have to do with Frances and Gabriel in all their glorious mystery? (Or with me?) It is hard to stand back and let them tell me who they are, to sit with not-knowing and give them that space for expression.
I am not always so good at it. But writing to all of you sure does help me a lot.