Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer - or damn it's hot outside

I’ve been rereading some of my recent posts and have decided to stop complaining about the weather already and put a positive spin on it today so let’s see how that goes, because honestly I’m becoming a tad monotonous.

So here are five great things about when it’s so hot you start seriously considering becoming an expert in cryogenics:

1. Line drying. Doing laundry when it’s this hot is more a pleasure than a pain. Taking a couple of minutes to take your cool, wet clothes out of the machine and hugging them to your body, is pure and utter bliss. Plus you can line dry them outside, they smell great and make you feel virtuously green!

2. Idleness. It’s too damn hot to do anything; it’s the perfect excuse. Right now, I’m sitting in front of a fan with a cold drink barely moving my hands over the keyboard so as not to raise my body temperature even an iota. Who the hell has the energy to clean or run errands?

3. Pasta alla Checca. I eat it when it’s cold too, but when it’s hot…mmmmmm. Or this Italian rice salad my friend Nuts about food posted. Oh, and sorbet. And apparently you can even make your own homemade ice cream in a bag.

4. The beach. Or even the pool, in fact, they call to us. Lazy days sitting poolside sipping cold, sweet iced tea. Ok, well this one is more a dream right now than reality as with two small kids I’m constantly on high alert when at the pool, yelling at them to stay away from the edge, or taking one in then the other, trying to avoid the bigger kids and their cannon balls. But still, a girl can dream.

5. Thunderstorms. Real proper storms, like the one coming in now. When dark clouds roll in, the occasional gust of cool air, the thick, heavy raindrops that make you run inside, but not too fast, cause the cold rain feels wonderful on your skin. And then you leave all the windows open and let the house cool off too.
And everything smells like summer.

Ah, I feel better already!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ode to the Afternoon Nap

I love you afternoon nap. 

You’ve saved my sanity throughout the years far more than any therapy session could have. You allow me to write: on my blog, in my journal, on other people’s blogs. You let me sleep when the kids wake me at night, you let me exercise when I need to blow off steam, you let me sit and stare into space when I’m too zonked out to do anything else.

Oh, lovely two-hour nap, how would I live without you?

You’re the quiet time in my day, you’re the excuse to turn the phone off, put a note on the door not to ring the bell, politely decline any and all appointments. Just last week you let me paint my nails, catch up on some much-needed sleep, read a book (albeit a bad one, but that’s no fault of yours), flip through a magazine, bake a cake, edit pictures and write, write, write. I’m not greedy, I don’t expect to enjoy you every single day, just know that you are much, much appreciated when you come round.

Oh, cherished afternoon nap, please, don’t ever leave me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Virtual Coffee {16}


Hello friends and welcome to coffee.

I am so late today it’s actually more like an afternoon snack! The day just got away from me, nothing exciting happened, just errands, grocery shopping and a stupid work appointment after lunch (as you may be able to tell, I’m still not totally down with this whole working again thing).

I’ve been in a fog all day, my allergies are driving me bananas.  And the heat… unbearable! 
I’m totally dreaming of the beach lately, can’t wait for the apartment to be ready. If you’re interested I posted some pictures from the renovation yesterday, I will probably try to make it a weekly thing now since it’s all coming together at this point. I have that feeling when time dilates and contracts continuously so I’m impatient for everything to be done and the house to be ready but at the same time I feel like I’m constantly doing stuff, getting calls from the workers and going down there to check on the progress, thank goodness it’s not far!

I’ve been reading loads of posts on summer vacation lately and how family routines and dynamics have changed to adjust and I’m a little bit envious as we don’t have that school year / summer vacation cadence yet. My whippersnappers are too little and their daycare is open all year so our routine is unvaried (except for the oppressive heat).
On the one hand it gives me more freedom now, but I must admit that I’m looking forward to a time of summer lists and new adventures.

I can’t seem to lift this humidity induced fog from my brain so I’m off in search of… something… possibly my garden hose, to cool off… or this:

This is what the kids do every afternoon.

And then I’m off to visit Amy and all my other coffee buddies. Toodles!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beach Reno [part 1]

Remember that apartment I’ve been blabbing about renovating lately? Well, since apparently the renovations are of interest to you, dear bloggy friends, I figured I’d get my act together and start writing some of those reno posts I’ve been promising.

The apartment belonged to the husband’s grandfather who bought it in the late sixties, and it’s where the husband spent most of his childhood summers so it's near and dear to his heart. Though in great condition, the apartment hadn’t been touched since the 1970’s and wasn’t in tip-top shape any longer, so when my husband got it we decided to spruce it up a bit.
If any of you have had the pleasure of “just sprucing it up a bit” you know that what starts out with “oh, let’s modernize the bathroom and kitchen a little” turns into this:

yikes! look at that mess!

 At this point we’ve torn down everything that needed tearing down and we’ve put up all the walls that needed putting up. We’ve also torn up all the floors and removed all the old plumbing and electrical system. We’ve put in all the new tubing for the plumbing and the plumber should be done on Monday or Tuesday, then the electrician’s coming in. 
Why the two couldn’t work side by side, or even at opposite ends of the house but during the same time frame is a mystery far greater than my understanding and one of those things that needs to be chalked up simply to “Italian workers” and left at that.

Next they’re pouring cement over everything for the floor’s foundation and then we start a forty-day lent-like period in which little work gets done so that the foundation dries properly. (Another of those Italian construction mysteries better left alone).

Since this is the first post on the subject I’ll give you some background info.
This is the after floor plan with my notes on the before part as I can’t seem to find the before floor plan:

And some pictures for your amusement: 
The kitchen's going along that wall

This is the new wall between the day area and the guest room (otherwise known as the other side of the living room)

That empty space between the concrete and the wall? That's how much floor we tore up. It's getting filled with cement next week and once that dries we get to put our floor in.

Pipes running along the corridor in front of the guest room

more pipes

Thursday we’re going to Ikea and picking out the definitive kitchen, so guess what I’ll be posting about next?

Hope this has been to your liking, let me know if there’s anything you’d like to know more about. Sorry about the distinct lack of hot workmen pictures but we drew the short straw this time. Next reno I do, I promise I’ll do a much more accurate casting of our construction workers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fried Zucchini flowers in beer batter and other stuff

It’s only June, but my vegetable garden is already getting away from me. The tomatoes are starting to come out, though they’re still green, although since the Girl loves picking those bright green balls off the plant I’m doubtful as to how many will be left to make it to maturity, the chard is thriving, all the herbs look beautiful and the zucchini and lettuce are plentiful… possibly too plentiful.

there are many more like it
a zucchini flower, I picked them before taking the picture...
there were many

And though I do enjoy a good salad and have been known to have some at every meal (but breakfast), there’s only so much one can do with zucchini. As of today, I’ve stuffed it, roasted it, barbecued it, sautéed it, steamed it and cooked it several other ways I won’t go into now, but tonight I was at my whit’s end. So I fried it, cause there’s nothing a good beer batter can’t solve, right?

Now, I never fry, never. I’m afraid of boiling hot oil, my overly active imagination goes into all these Final Destination type scenarios that just give me goose bumps, but occasionally the need for home cooked fried foods trumps my irrational fears and I get the frying oil out. (Incidentally, if you haven’t seen that movie, it’s hilarious… and bloody, and kinda gross… but hilarious.) In any case, considering my lack of expertise in the matter I had to call my mother, so though I may not be a frying expert this post is backed up by her decennial experience in front of the stove (and I say decennial, because as my mother’s only 24 years old it couldn’t possibly have been longer than that).

Anyway, eat this with some salad (to make you feel virtuous after all the frying) and some steak (for protein, one always needs that, right?) and you are good to go!

This is what you need:

200grams (1cup) white flour
½ tsp baking soda (or you can use self-rising flour)
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
200ml good quality beer (chilled)
you can also add some spices like cayenne pepper or paprika, ground rosemary, ground sage, black pepper…. Let your imagination loose, I say, just make sure it’s finely ground and no more than ½ to 1 tsp.

3 small zucchini
10 large, full sage leaves
8 zucchini flowers
8 small mozzarella balls
1 large anchovy filet

the husband and I couldn't agree on which ingredients picture we liked best so I put both in.

This is what you do:

First make the batter: mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the oil, add the beer and whisk briskly either by hand or with an immersion blender. The beer batter should have the same consistency of pancake batter. Then let sit for at least a half an hour preferably in the fridge, the colder it is, the better also the longer it sits the better so making it several hours ahead is ideal.

Wash and dry the vegetables, cut the zucchini flowers off the zucchini very delicately trying not to break or separate them. Mine broke a bit cause I pulled them directly off the plant before making them and there were many ants I had to wash off vigorously. Let’s leave it at that cause insects gross me out.

Cut the zucchini in french fry like strips.

Stuff the zucchini flowers with a small mozzarella ball (or half if the flower is small) and a small piece of anchovy - approximately a half centimeter wide piece is what I used, it’s on the small side but I’m not a big fan of anchovy, you can use bigger pieces depending on your taste though don’t use too much mozzarella cause it can get runny and ruin the effect. (You may have noticed a distinct lack of pictures for the stuffing process, this is due to my photographer consistently being MIA during the crucial parts, it’s a miracle there are any pictures at all...)
Heat a large pot of whatever oil you prefer to use for frying. Make sure the oil is very hot, but not smoking when you start frying. I put my first pieces in too soon and they didn’t fry properly. I’m just impatient like that.
A good way to test the oil is dropping a drop of batter in there and if it sizzles and immediately rises to the top it’s hot enough.

Sage leaves
Zucchini sticks

Zucchini flowers
You then go ahead and fry your stuff. I did the sage leaves first, then the zucchini sticks then the flowers, just because the flowers could leak mozzarella into the oil you don’t want that unholy mess on your hands when frying the other stuff. 

And voilà, a coronary in the making, but oh so yummy!

By the way, on a thoroughly unrelated note, this is what we do with cherries at our house:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Park that Baby

It’s kind of funny, but in Italy there’s a kind of private Daycare called Baby Parking. I couldn’t stop laughing when I first heard it. It’s basically a reduced time daycare, where you can take your child in for no longer than five hours a day, they can dispense food but not cook it (they can heat it) and usually they only take kids up to three years of age, though some go up to six which is when elementary school starts here. It’s where you go park your baby when you’ve got other stuff to do.

I started parking the boy at daycare (sorry, can’t resist a pun) when he was a little over a year cause he had started showing evident signs of being bored with my unimaginative entertainment day in and day out and demonstrated a heightened interest in other humans his own size and development stage.
Despite his demonstrably seeming ready, the initial separation was hard on both of us. I spent several mornings crying on the staircase outside the baby parking and he spent several minutes crying inside the baby parking. After a few torturous months (I’m persistent), and a change in daycare to a smaller, friendlier facility, we both calmed down and leaving him became, if not a gleeful time, at least a time in which I managed to do other things in relative calm. And the boy seemed to positively thrive, he learned new things, some good some I would rather have avoided, but such is the consequence of delegating childcare. He became friendlier and started coming out of his shell, a less timid more adventurous boy. All in all the experience was positive, so much so, that last September when faced with the decision of whether to put him in the “pre” – preschool class (something Italian schools are starting to offer) at a much cheaper rate or keep parking him at the more expensive, but familiar, baby parking we decided to let him stay there an extra year.

So when the girl turned a year old, and the husband seemed to be on a definite mend (boy were we wrong there), which resulted in the second Nanny leaving us (sob, sob, we loved her) it seemed a natural consequence for her to start frequenting the same baby parking as her brother.
The Girl, by the way, was always a more outgoing baby than her brother she seemed more independent. Though slightly more attached to me when I was around she was always fine when I wasn’t, and whatever mommy issues she seemed to have where explained away as a consequence of the husband’s illness, absence, and everyone’s resulting tension.

So off I lead her, one sunny February morning, to daycare with her brother… like a lamb to the slaughter… or maybe that was me?
The first day she was fine, I was there the whole time as was her brother, it probably seemed the best place in the world to her, new toys, new friends, old, familiar faces. The second day I went in the other room for an hour. She cried a bit but all seemed to be ok. The third day is when the storm hit me square in the face.
I went to the other room as usual, with the very firm admonishment not to come out even if she cried for a bit. She screamed her bloody, fucking head off for fifteen minutes at which point the teacher came into the other room, where I was silently yet systematically clawing through the door, to get me because she was freaking out all the other kids. And thus it went for a week. At the end of the week I had decided to just forego the whole experiment cause it was turning all of us, her brother included, into bumbling, weepy, neurotic messes and what the hell did I need to take her to daycare for anyway I still had one nanny after all.
But I’m stubborn, which is apparently where she gets it, so on Monday I call them up and say, I’m bringing her in today and leaving directly, I’ll be outside in the car, try to keep her in there for 45 minutes if she’s still crying come get me.
And armed with all the resolve of a US Marine sergeant I take them to daycare, hand her over and hustle out of there at the speed of light (or sound, whichever’s faster) before the scream-fest started.

It didn’t start. She supposedly watched me leave, made a half-heartened attempt at a cry, then allegedly shrugged in a “eh, she’s gone” way and went to play. To play.
Which is when I realized that I, my friends, am a complete moron, a moron who let herself be played by a one year old like a finely tuned harpsichord.

She’s been happily parked several times a week now for six months nary a tear in sight. Lesson learned.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cluck, cluck...

As I mentioned here I went to Rome last week. It was the first time I left my children, let’s just say it was a learning experience. Really, you learn a lot about yourself when you do something new. I learned a few things about what kind of mother I am. In Italian I’ve often been called a “mamma chioccia” a mother hen. It’s not as common in English (or rather, I never really heard it used), but in Italian it describes a mother who is always around her children, always paying attention to them, on top of them. It’s generally used in a pejorative manner. In a country infamous for it’s mama’s boys and the overbearing mother figure it says a lot about me, or what people think of me.

On my end though, I’ve never thought of myself as an overbearing mother, I let them experience a variety of things, I’ve given them some freedom – though they’re one and a half and three and a half years old how much freedom do they even need? I send them to daycare in the mornings because organizing play dates here is ridiculously difficult and I feel they need to be with other children their age at least some of the time so it’s not like they’re under my protective wing 24/7; although, even if they were, I see nothing wrong with it considering their age. I’ve travelled with them, I’ve upended their routine when necessary, I’ve let them fall and fight and get their scrapes and bruises. Of course I’ve cringed and held my breath and forcibly kept myself from intervening at times, but I assume that’s only natural.
So I never thought of myself as a mother hen, because I never agreed with the negative undertone, I love them, I do my best with them, why should this be bad?

When I left last week I was comfortable that they would be taken care of. The Nanny knows and loves them, and is perfectly aware of and comfortable with their routine, the husband was there to oversee any problems so I left knowing that they were going to be fine.

And yet… I realize what I’m about to say may sound ridiculous to some, but I’m hoping someone, somewhere will understand. You know that feeling like you forgot something important, something vital and your heart starts pounding as you think “oh, shit, where did I put it?” that’s what I felt like the entire time I was gone. It physically hurt to be away from them. I kept looking for them, even though I knew they weren’t there.

I spent two days listening to people tell me to lighten up, that the kids were fine, that I should enjoy my “freedom”, and I did, in a way. Obviously, it was much easier getting everything done, zipping around Rome, in and out of taxis no car seats or strollers to speak of, no diaper bags, juice boxes, crackers or sippy cups of water, no unscheduled, urgent bathroom breaks, no tantrums, no 1,461 whys a minute… all of this felt wonderful of course. Being able to sit in a bar and talk to my sister for an hour, no interruptions, have a drink with no guilt, smoke a rare cigarette, all blissful. I almost felt like an adult free to mingle amongst other adults! I went out to dinner, no worries, not checking the phone every five minutes expecting something to come up to make me go home, I slept all night with no calls for water, binkys, milk or kisses…

No kisses…
I hate and love their neediness. I often think back wistfully to the freedom I’ve lost, but the attachment I feel for them, my own neediness towards them is too strong. The constant, unyielding ache of the distance from them just doesn’t make it worth it.
I guess I still need to sever that umbilical cord but it’s too soon for me. I’m the one with separation anxiety when we’re apart, they miss me, sure, but they’re children they’re supposed to, they’re allowed to, for some reason people think it strange when I express how much I miss them. 

So I guess I am a mother hen… but I refuse to accept the negative undertone.
My children are healthy and happy and I’m happier with them than without them so I guess that if I end up raising a mama’s boy and girl then I’ll just pay for their therapy later. And I won’t apologize for it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Love and Marriage

On our wedding day - Saturday, June 21st, 2003

Yesterday was our eighth wedding anniversary so I figured this was a good time to write a bit about the husband, because I realized I’ve written many things about the illness but very few things about him.

We met in 1999. We were out in a big group of people and the first thing we did was have a massive argument; we were both in other relationships at the time, though we probably should have known then they didn’t stand a chance. We started dating in September after many months grudging détente from our first monumental and very public fight. Two months later we decided to get married, it ended up taking us three and a half years, through no fault of ours. Though we promptly moved in together so as not to waste any time.
In 1999 soon after we started dating
The husband is a charismatic guy, he’s funny and serious at the same time. He knows a lot about a lot, I don’t know how he does it. He often comes up with completely random facts that totally pick up flagging dinner conversations, he’s the king of small talk, though apparently he hates it. He’s very good at manual labor, yet has mainly had white-collar jobs. I’m completely confident we will never go hungry, in the event of an apocalyptic scenario he’ll always find something to do.

 He’s good with the children, though we have different parenting styles. He takes time to be with them, and in the unlikely event that I can’t take care of them he does a stellar job.

But all these things don’t really tell you what he’s like, do they?
Let’s see if I can do a better job with some anecdotes:

One day he was driving home with my brother and they find a horse in the middle of the road. My brother freaked out, the husband got out of the car, approached the horse, calmed him down and took him back to the stables nearby. My brother came home in awe, and said he was like the horse-whisperer.

2004 - first wedding anniversary

On my twenty-sixth birthday, the husband put twenty six post-it notes with Happy Birthday and a number written on them all over the house, in the order that I would find them in. Happy Birthday 1 was in front of the toilet, HB 2 on my toothbrush, HB3 on my coffee cup… and so on. I spent the entire day running into post-it notes as I went about my regular activities. It was the best birthday ever, bar none. I was amazed that he knew my daily routine so well, including what I did when he wasn’t around and I spent a delightful day on a treasure hunt for post its.

2005 - second wedding anniversary
He went all the way to Houston to ask for my hand in marriage. And he had to ask my Dad, my Mom and my Brother. Separately. He was really, really serious about marrying me.

2006 - third anniversary
On another birthday he went through a whole song and dance about not being able to be there cause he had to be away for work, and as I was bitterly complaining about it to a friend at a bar I see a huge bouquet of red roses walking towards me on the husband’s legs.
2007 - fourth anniversary
On our wedding day, he dropped everything and came to my house to talk me down from an attack of wedding hysteria.

2008 - fifth anniversary
 When our first baby, the boy, was born he was so nervous that he pulled his back out and spent the first two days lying in the hospital bed next to me getting the same pain killers as I was getting after the c-section, certainly not helpful, but it shows he’s empathic.

2009 - sixth anniversary
When our second baby, the girl, was born he supported me throughout the entire labor and birth, physically and emotionally despite the fact the leukemia was probably already quite advanced. We didn’t know, of course, but he did it.

2010 - seventh anniversary
And yesterday morning I woke up to this:

Breakfast surprise

There are many more things I could tell you, these are the first ones that popped into my mind unbidden today. Obviously, we’ve had hard times and bad times along with the good times, but these times show you what kind of guy he is most of the time, and how lucky I am to have him.
2011 - eighth anniversary - CHEERS!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Virtual Coffee {15} and Anniversaries


Hello friends and welcome to coffee.
If we were really having coffee today I would explain why I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a week. A week. Crazy right? Last week was very busy.

On Wednesday I went to Rome for basically 36 hours. My mother is getting married in September (gasp! More on that soon). And I had to go down to Rome for a fitting of my dress for her wedding. Initially, we were supposed to make a family trip of it, but it never seemed like a good time, the husband’s not 100% yet, so we decided to forgo the whole me travelling alone with kids production and I just popped down overnight.
It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Physically because we live out in the middle of nowhere, so the closest airport is an hour and a half away (I realize that for many of you that is no time at all, but we used to live in Milan, where the farthest airport was a half hour away at most), so I had to get up at what amounted to the middle of the night to make my nine am flight. Of course the kiddos were upset, nervous, angry at my departure so they decided to take turns waking up and calling for me every half an hour until I left the house. Guess how much sleep I had that night… 
Incidentally, this is one of those thorns in my side regarding age, I mean, in my twenties I regularly forwent sleep for more fun and interesting things with nary a consequence, now, barely 10 years later (and I’m stating years here quite loosely) it takes me a week to get over one sleepless night.
Emotionally, because it was the first time I was leaving the kids behind and it was way harder than I thought. Let’s just emphasize “way harder” and leave it at that.

On Friday I basically attached both kids to my sides and we spent the morning in symbiotic bliss. In the afternoon I had to leave again to go to the beach and check out the renovation progress. Let me tell you, if the workers keep this pace up I’m going to have to officially apologize for all the mean things I’ve ever said and thought about Italian workers, because they are FAST. Which basically means we are now the ones hustling to get our end of the work done, choosing tiles and floors, deciding where we want the electrical outlets and stuff, and ordering furniture.

Saturday we had our annual medical convention at the Terme (where I work, more on that coming soon too), so I basically spent the day on my feet with a smile plastered on my disgruntled face, dodging problems like bullets. Thankfully the weekend picked right back up with the arrival of our good friends from Milan.
Yesterday, we had more visitors from Milan this time the husband’s uncle and cousin.

Basically, I just wrote a really long post of excuses for why I’ve been ignoring my blog. Mind blowing content, as usual!

Let me try and pick this post back up with the last bit of news, then. Today is our wedding anniversary! We made it to eight years by the skin of our teeth (a ridiculous expression if ever there was one). I’m dedicating an entire post to the husband tomorrow, but today let me just say this:

Marriage is harder than I ever thought possible. We’ve had wonderful, amazing times together as well as horrible moments I’d rather forget. We’ve done amazing things and regrettable things. We’ve whispered and screamed and shouted in glee. We’ve wanted to kill each other and sacrifice ourselves to save the other.  We’ve held on tight to each other and pushed away. We’ve loved and hated each other. We’ve been angry, felt guilty, ashamed and resentful, but we’ve also been happy, felt love, contentment and joy. But the most important thing, to me, is that we’re here, eight years on, together, fighting to keep this marriage alive and on track. For our children, for ourselves. It hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is, is it?

Now go visit our hostess Amy!

p.s. I changed my comment format, I’m using disqus now. Feedback on how it works, if it loads quickly enough, if it’s easy to post comments, user-friendly etc. is very welcome. Basically, let me know what you think!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Virtual Coffee {14} Randomness and pictures


Hello friends, and welcome to coffee. 
If we were really having coffee today I would tell you that I’m looking out at the first truly blue sky we’ve had for the past two weeks. It’s supposed rain again this afternoon but I’m grateful for this little bit of sunshine. And now that we got the weather out of the way…

I would tell you that there have been a lot of firsts this week.

I made my first crepes ever, nutella and banana and then ham and cheese the husband loved them, the kids weren’t all that interested. I have weird children, they would rather eat cheese (the girl) or pasta (the boy) than nutella, I’d wonder if they were mine if I hadn’t birthed them.
And here’s a picture of a crepe, another first (or practically since I post pictures so rarely!):

I also made chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. They were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. They’re actually all gone already, so don’t ask me how the diet’s going, cause it’s not. The picture doesn’t do them justice:

Since I’m always fighting with the kids about keeping the markers on the paper when they’re drawing and I had several large cartons from my new outdoor ikea chairs:
me, enjoying the new chairs, I love them, though the wood doesn't match the rest of our outdoor furniture

I decided to let them loose on the cartons so they could draw, for once, without being confined to a small area, this was so exciting the markers ended up getting a bit away from them. This is the result:
so happy

what? you NEVER said I couldn't draw on my face

Their Nonna talked us into letting her buy them a new toy house, she went a bit overboard too and this is the result of that:

So the kids have a new summer residence, I have new chairs (finally, this has been a thorn in my side for the past three years), and the diet’s gone to sh*t, but one can’t have everything, right?

So the conclusion to this post on randomness is well… life is good. There, I said it again, and the consequences be damned!

Have a lovely day, and visit our hostess Amy for coffee too!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is conformity really so bad?

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Canadian family raising a genderless baby, I read an article on their story by chance last week (I can't find it anymore, so can't link!). Since then I’ve been reading interviews and such and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. I’m not going to get into the merits of what they’re doing and I’m not linking to any of the articles I’ve read, because there’s a lot of negativity out there regarding this family’s decision.

Before sharing my viewpoint, I’d like to say that I’m not judging them, I think that as long as they’re doing what they’re doing because they feel it’s in the best interest of their own children and not because they wanted the media attention, then that should be good enough for all of us. But any sort of highly controversial act, as this one, is going to lead to a lot of discussion and thought, which is why I decided to write about it.

Apparently, the parents decided to do this because their oldest child, a boy, doesn’t “fit traditional gender roles”, he likes his hair long and likes dresses and the color pink. Evidently, this boy has faced some hardships due to his preferences and I think the logic is that keeping the baby genderless as long as possible sets an example to their two older children about how gender distinctions aren’t important, or in any case, aren’t as important as looking at the individual without a gender bias.

The following italicized bit is the comment I left on the article, it was my initial gut reaction, which incidentally is still my opinion after having researched the subject further:
This is interesting, and a little bit scary, I think. It's one thing to not "fit traditional gender roles" and another thing to remove the concept of gender altogether, because we are, in fact, characterized by our gender. The older child may have to face a series of difficulties due to the fact that he doesn't fit traditional gender roles, and his parents will have to help him navigate through them. But preventively creating an issue, where one simply doesn't exist - this baby is only four months - is risky. This child, exactly like the older sibling, will have to go out into society at large sooner or later and will be faced with the issue of his gender. But whereas the older child when faced with the very simple and straightforward  "are you a boy or a girl" question can be taught to answer "I'm a boy and I like pink, it's no business of yours" this baby won't have an acceptable answer at all. And by acceptable I mean an answer that his peers and strangers will be able to understand without lengthy, drawn out explanations. I think the risk here is putting this child in an impossible situation. We don't want to stick our children into categories unduly, but not giving a child a category at all is doing exactly that, isn't it? […]

The only thing I really take issue with is something the mother said in a letter she wrote in response to some pretty harsh criticism that they received, this is what she wrote:  “the idea that the whole world must know our baby’s sex strikes me as unhealthy, unsafe and voyeuristic.”
I take issue with this because in my opinion it is neither unhealthy, unsafe nor voyeuristic that “the world” as she says, knows the sex of her baby, no more than it is unhealthy, unsafe or voyeuristic that the world knows her baby is blond with blue eyes. First of all the whole world doesn’t know the sex of your baby unless you put it out there, which they did in a sense, because though we may not know the sex of the baby suddenly it's become a big issue. 
Generally, for non public figures, which the majority of us are (which this family was before all the hoopla), the people that know our baby’s sex can be counted in the hundreds, possibly the thousand’s at most, if you’ve got loads of friends and acquaintances hell, if you’ve got a really popular blog, maybe hundreds of thousands, but with a worldwide population of a little under seven billion it’s still a comparatively small number. And even then, how many of the people that know your baby’s sex actually care, or remember? I have acquaintances I see only rarely that I know have kids but can’t for the life of me remember how many and what gender.

So her kids don’t have gender appropriate behaviors. So what? They must have done a good job as parents, giving their children the freedom and the security to be whichever way they want to be. Their boy wants to have long, flowing hair and likes dresses and colorful fabrics and they supported him and gave him the self assurance to be any way he wants, so as far as that goes Bravo, I say. But, I believe that with this third child they took it too far, because they turned it into a media thing. Now they don’t just want to teach their children the best way they know how, they want to be an example of something to everyone else. They want to “change the world” as they say to a more accepting, tolerant place, a sentiment I wholly concur with, but... changes happen gradually. We are in a far better place today than fifty years ago, and I believe that fifty years from now we’ll be in an even better place – there’s always room for improvement.

I’m just not so sure that becoming gender-less is an improvement. Some people fit gender roles to a T, some not so much, others not at all, and I do believe that all the options must be accepted and respected. All of the options, including the desire to conform to long-standing societal roles. I’m a conformist, when my kids were born I tended to dress my boy in blue and other “boy colors” and my girl in pink, I thought the clothes were cute and the babies were cute in them. It never occurred to me to dress them any other way. As they grow I’ll support and accept any of their choices, as long as they’re happy and healthy, and I’ll help them navigate society if they decide to make choices that are hard to explain or live with. But in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with conformity as there’s nothing wrong with non-conformity.

I find it very tiring that everything has to be “original”, original is the new cool. And I find it especially tiring that if someone decides to live their life in a manner that goes against the grain they feel the need to make it public, to teach a lesson where none is needed, to face the world with a look at me, this is how it’s done attitude.
Because, “this is how it’s done” is how we get conformity and uniformity to begin with, it’s the opposite of original if everyone does what you do, isn’t it?

So, again I ask, if everyone tries to be tolerant, sympathetic and understanding, if we face the world with an open heart and a smile on our face and take things at face value, differences and all, then is there really something wrong with conformity?