Operation Caffeination

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Further adventures in media literacy

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D saw one of those goddamn M&M’s commercials where the sexy lady candy complains that, since her body is made of chocolate, no one appreciates her for her mind…which is super hysterical because haha! No one cares about her brain because she has a desirable body! Just like no one cares about the real minds of real women because *they* have bodies! Get it? It’s funny because it’s never going to change, and yet women continue to whine about it! 
As the commercial ended, Darren turned to me with big, serious eyes and said, “I hope you love me for my brain.”

“I do love you for your brain,” I ad libbed, “AND for your funny jokes!” 

Darren responded by saying that he loved me for my funny talking, and we went back and forth like that until it devolved into gibberish and giggles. (Subversive, no?)

So, thank you, M&M’s, for using candy to introduce my four year old to the objectification of women…and thank you, Peggy Orenstein, for teaching me to fight fun with fun!

Written by GRSeim

November 7, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dads and daughters

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Loving this HuffPost piece on the evolving cultural dynamic of the father-daughter bond.

“By changing up some long-held assumptions about parental roles and responsibilities, fathers and daughters are moving quickly to a whole new kind of connection. It’s a connection that is increasingly, and very healthily, gender-neutral.”

Great stuff. My own relationship with my father deteriorated pretty dramatically after I hit puberty, and I’ve struggled over the years to find a new way to relate to my father as we moved beyond the “time of shoulder rides and tickle attacks” mentioned in the article. I watch my husband and daughter interact now and can’t help but smile. It is fantastic to be able to literally step back and watch the world change, and for the better for once.

Written by GRSeim

June 15, 2012 at 2:47 am

Posted in Creative Reading

We did it

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It took five years and nearly cost us our marriage, but my husband has finished his B.A. degree. He starts his new job as an internal auditor next month. And in the meantime…we’re doing a lot of day drinking and lazing around in our pj’s all day.

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The kids and I attended the graduation ceremony together, just the three of us, and I couldn’t get over it…it was exactly the way I’d hoped it would be. They were both so excited to see their daddy dressed up in his cap and gown and loved all the streamers and music. It was such a proud moment for all of us. I can’t believe we really made this happen.

Written by GRSeim

June 13, 2012 at 6:13 am

The great lies of parenting

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1. Timing contractions is total bullshit. You make these neat little charts well in advance and it all sounds so sane and manageable going into it. Just time how long your contraction lasts and figure out how far apart they are. You’re probably in active labor when your contractions are five minutes apart and 60-90 seconds long. That really didn’t sound too bad to me when I was reading about it on paper. That’s, what, a minute to a minute and a half of pain, followed by five minutes or so to recuperate? What I didn’t know was that you measure from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction, not end-to-beginning like you might think. I found myself flying through labor at this out of control, break-neck pace, and I barely had time to catch my breath in the tiny space of time left over where I was not actively coping with a contraction. There was no time for me to scream at my support person for tickling my arm hair with all their extraneous breathing or anything! I have never felt so cheated in all my life as when I realized that I wasn’t going to have those 4-5 minute quiet calm spells in the middle of double-peaking contraction hell. Welcome to parenting.

2. Babies come with their own unique sleep patterns. You can switch their days and nights around a bit when they’re very new and don’t know any better, but after a few weeks they realize that they rule the roost, and from there on out its total pandemonium….forever. For example, my son sleeps in twelve hour stretches, and likes to stay up late and sleep in. My daughter wants to get up at 4 am, takes two three-hour naps during the day and retires again around 7. Their sleep schedules are wildly incompatible and there is nothing I can do about it. I just have to live through it.

3. Babies are born knowing how to commit murder. I mean that literally. There is nothing quite like seeing your barely-talking baby pretend to slice a doll’s throat for the first time. You want to know why the old fairy tales are so brutal? Because kids are super gory! It is highly disturbing!

4. Kids also come out knowing how to masturbate, and have zero qualms about doing it in front of others. (Or in the middle of a wedding, for that matter.) And if a kid sees another kid masturbating, they’ll think it’s a great idea and start right up themselves. It is unbelievable.

5. Baby girls can poop into their own vaginas. I don’t mean smear a little ON there, I mean IN there. This is how the sink bath became a daily ritual in our home, because what else are you going to do?! I’m dreading the day this happens while we’re out in a public place.

6. All kids eat the same shit. Lemonade, graham crackers, grapes, string cheese, carrot sticks…you can kill yourself cooking up sumptuous feasts for them, you can spend three times as much money providing them with the organic alternatives, but you aren’t going to change their taste buds. Grown-up food just tastes icky to them, and you have to respect that.

7. Kids can tell when the thing they are about to say may offend someone…and they handle that knowledge by raising their voices. The reasoning seems to go, “It may be the wrong thing to *say*, but no one said that anything bad would happen if I *yelled* it.”

8. Kids are very suspicious of variety. The last big change they can remember involved being ejected onto the world and getting their heels poked with needles, so it makes good sense that they’d be wary. My love of logic is not enough to get me through ten million readings of “Fox In Socks,” though. And after two years of sandwich making, the smell of peanut butter makes me gag a little. Oh! The monotony!

9. The word “no” is pure comedic gold in kid world. There is just nothing funnier to a two year old than an exasperated parent trying to stop you from doing what you both know you WILL be doing, no matter what they do, say or threaten. This is why loving parents find themselves doing really bizarre stuff, like pressuring their toddler to run with scissors. “Come on,” you’ll find yourself coaxing them in beseeching tones, “just run to the end of the hallway! Puh-leeze!” Your child and any strangers in earshot will stare at you, aghast, and say something along the lines of, “WHAT?! What a horrible idea! Running with scissors is a highly dangerous activity that should not be attempted at home! Didn’t your mother teach you that?” But we can just smirk after them. We, after all, know the truth; of course Mother told us not to run with scissors. How else did they think we got these nifty scissor scars?

10. It’s a slow process, but an inexorable one. One day you’ll call your husband “daddy” instead of calling him by his real name, and you’ll realize that there are no kids around that were actually fathered by this man. You’ve just grown used to hearing him called daddy and telling other people to go ask daddy and he has now become the man known as “daddy” in your mind. And you will never, ever be able to have sex again.

Written by GRSeim

June 13, 2012 at 6:06 am

M, age 11 months

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1. D: “Melia! You can’t play with phone chargers, baby! Those are dangerous!”
M: “GOP! GOP!!!” *lunges for D’s face with razor-sharp nails extended*
D: “YOU stop! Gentle touches, Baby Boop! MOOOOOM!!!!” <—- this kind of stuff is definitely topping my list of least favorites right now.

2. The whining! Who taught you that? It's like nails on chalkboard times twelve and it never stops!

3. I'm worried sick about all of your itty bitty developmental quirks and I'm bending myself over backwards to make sure you get the support you need to stay on track and have a full, happy childhood. All I ask from you is that you let me do my thing. Would it kill you, for example, to just not scream continuously through your entire physical therapy appointment each week? Just little things like that would make such a difference. This isn't exactly like dancing on rainbows for me either, you know.

4. You are almost a year old now; surely you don't really need to eat all through the night anymore.

5. I know you know what I mean when I say "no." I can tell because you speed up doing whatever it is I told you to stop doing, and you give me the most mischievous look. It would be cute except that you're usually doing something like popping a marble in your mouth that I REALLY CAN'T ALLOW. Be cute about something a little less deadly!

6. The way you dance and kiss the pictures when we read "Baby Beluga" together is so, so adorable.

7. You don't always watch tv…but when you do, you pick Wonder Pets, the most sickeningly cute kids show ever. This could also be put under the "least favorite" category, but it is seriously adorable. Of COURSE you like the show with the chubby singing hamster. That's just so you!

8. You are a little bit obsessed with the Calico Critters the Easter Bunny brought for D this year. Again, not really my thing, but you are so precious playing with them that I can't help but love it.

9. You bark at random dogs, freak out every time a bird visits one of my feeders and you screamed for joy when I showed you the ferrets at the pet store. You are my kind of kid.

10. You aren't quite a year old yet, but you have opinions. You are fascinated by long hair, you love the cute and the cuddly, and if it were up to you our home would be constantly filled with friends and playmates for you. Even when I don't agree with your opinions, I am thrilled to see how easily and confidently you assert yourself and make your voice heard. I can't always let you have your way…but know that I am always cheering for you.

Written by GRSeim

June 13, 2012 at 6:03 am

Posted in Future Feminist

Big thoughts

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“Mom,” little blue eyes full of concern gaze trustingly into mine as I wipe sticky hands and cheeks with a warm washcloth. “My butterfly is asleep and it’s not moving anymore. I think it needs more flower juice to wake it up.”

“Let’s look at him together,” I reply calmly, but my mind is racing. I intended to let the butterfly loose before this happened; I dearly wanted to avoid having this conversation with my three year old. What do I do, what do I say? What if I get it wrong?

My own introduction to death came at the same age, but at my grandfather’s passing. I was told that he was resting, that we wouldn’t see him again for a long time but that he would be resurrected into his heavenly body on judgment day and then we’d all be together forever, as if he’d been cryogenically frozen rather than the victim of a deadly stroke.

These are not messages I want to share with my son. I no longer feel any confidence in my knowledge of the future and I am okay with that. I want him to experience that humility in me, to understand that the unknown is not necessarily terrifying.

But…how?

We approach the butterfly’s cheery, flower-filled cage together. The butterfly is crumpled on the floor, its wings wrapped downward around its body. I brush it gently with my finger, but it remains motionless and brittle.

“Is my butterfly okay, Mom?” my son asks uncertainly, his voice quavering with worry.

“Yes,” I reply automatically. Wait, no…um…

“He is okay,” I continue slowly, feeling out each word as I go along. “He is just done being a butterfly now.”

“Oh!” my little son’s face lit up with excitement and relief. “Is he going to go back into his chrysalis again now?”

“Not this time,” I reply, gaining confidence as I go. “This butterfly has been an egg, and a caterpillar, and a chrysalis and a butterfly, and it has already done its flying and drank its flower juice and laid its eggs. This butterfly is all done being a butterfly. It has died now so that it can recycle its parts to make something new.”

“Like…another butterfly?” D follows uncertainly.

“Well, we need to have a little funeral for his butterfly so that we can send it back into the planet. The Earth has lots of special bugs who help take old pieces apart and recycle them into great new things like plant food.”

“So the bugs will feed my butterfly to a flower?”

“Something like that,” I have to chuckle at his bewildered expression. I’m not sure how we’re doing here at all, but I keep talking. “The butterfly parts will get recycled into flower parts and they will be part of the flower. And if a hungry baby caterpillar is crawling on that flower-”

“Then the flower parts will be baby caterpillar parts!”

“Right! And if a chicken eats the caterpillar-”

“Then the caterpillar will recycle into chicken parts!”

“Yes! And if a boy eats the chicken-”

“The chicken parts will turn into little pieces of kids!”

“You’ve got it, kiddo!” I’m grinning now. “What do you think about all of that?”

He pauses to think for a moment, and then- “Do any things eat kid parts?” he asks.

“Not really,” I reply. “Sometimes way out in the wild a creature wants to eat a person. But mostly we are the luckiest creatures of all. We live very, very long lives and use our parts all up, and when we are done with our parts the people we love give us back to the planet.”

“And then out parts turn into flower food?”

“Yep.”

“I see,” he murmurs, squinting his eyes a bit as he contemplates this new information.

“But mom,” he continues at last, “Where do all the parts come from?”

“Well,” I answer slowly, “We don’t know the whole story. But a very long time ago, a star died. And when it recycled its parts, it turned into Earth parts.”

“Was it a supernova when that star died, Mom?”

“Well, it was big. It was a big explosion. I’m not sure if it was exactly a supernova or not but it was enormous.”

“And all of our parts are recycled star parts?”

“Yes. We are all made out of tiny pieces of stars. We are star creatures.”

“So what happens when the Earth dies, Mom?” D forges ahead of me, intrigued. “Will the Earth pieces recycle into a new star?”

“You know what, buddy? I really don’t know. The universe is too big for me to know all about it. I think that is a what we call a mystery. No person on the whole planet knows the answer to that question. We can only make guesses.”

D returns his gaze to the dead butterfly and seems lost in thought for awhile.

“What are you thinking about, dude?” I ask at last.

“I was just thinking,” he sighs, shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts. “I’m going to figure out the Earth mystery, Mom, but later. We need to recycle this little butterfly right now.”

“What do you think about recycling your butterfly?” I ask. I’m still not quite sure how D is taking this.

But D smiles.

“I think it’s the coolest of all.”

Written by GRSeim

May 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

Underbelly

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My mother was present in the crowd the day that Martin Luther King told us about his dream. She lived in Mississippi in a house staffed by a black yard man, an elderly black cook and a black nanny who left her own children behind every day to care for my mom and her three white siblings.

It will shock none of my readers to hear me say that my grandmother was racist. She was a “sweet” racist who believed that employing black people was a charitable thing to do; that they were simple, childish people who benefited greatly from her patronage.

My mother and her siblings have struggled all their lives to reconcile their cherished memories of their mother with the blatant reality of her racism. My uncle has made a career out of seeking social justice. My mother became a public health nurse, eager to find ways to give back to the underserved community that her favorite nanny introduced her to as a child. All of my relatives are slow to talk about racism and quick to point out the good qualities exemplified by the previous generation: grandmother always visited the yard man every time he went to jail. She used to take her kids to visit the elderly cook in the state-run nursing home she ended up in once her declining health forced her to stop working. Her African-American servants liked her; she was racist, but she was a nice racist, and I guess that is supposed to make it all better somehow.

I never met my grandmother. She died of ovarian cancer the year before I was born. I grew up in the South, though, in an all-white neighborhood not too far from where she raised my mother. I remember the first time a black family visited our Southern Baptist church; I was eight years old at the time, and fascinated by the way the light seemed to glow from within their skin, the colors they wore, the way ice purple eyeshadow shimmered against the mother’s perfect eyelids like a frost in early spring. Her name was Christine, and I still feel a thrill when I think of her, so tall, so stately, so perfectly composed and dignified as she graciously ignored my stares, let me observe her and her family without showing any of the completely justifiable fury I certainly would have felt if I’d been in her shoes. She must have guessed that I had never seen a black person before. She was patient and gracious and invited me to her home for tea. She listened quietly without interrupting when I asked her nine year old daughter why all of her Barbies were black, and shook with laughter when her daughter replied, “It’s because they drink too much chocolate milk. We love that stuff around here. Did you know I was white like you when I was born? But then I started drinking chocolate milk and would you look at me now!”

My mother still complains about the vast quantities of chocolate milk I consumed in the weeks after that visit. I mean, deep down I knew it wouldn’t really change the color of my skin, but…it didn’t hurt to try, right?

I will always be thankful for the gift Christine gave me in letting me get to know her family, being patient with my childishness and ignorance, not abandoning me to a de facto inheritance of racism and bigotry. It was because of Christine that I became obsessed with Addy the American Girl doll and devoured her accompanying books, begged to be taken to Civil War reenactments, memorized speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington. Somewhere along the way I was introduced to feminism through Sojourner Truth. Later, I found myself completely swept away by Alice Walker, Billie Holiday, Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Audra Lorde.

These women’s lives and messages resonate with me in a way that I can’t fully explain. Part of it is what we share in common. I was denied access to education and prevented from making autonomous decisions. I still don’t feel like I’ve been able to claim my sexuality as my own. I have a long way to go, and honestly, I’m never going to fully recover from what’s been done to me. I was taught from infancy that I had a place in society, and that place was at the very bottom of the heap. And I knew in my soul that it was wrong, that I was hearing lies, that if I fought back hard enough and long enough I would eventually succeed in claiming control over my life. Other women’s stories of perseverance and anger are deeply meaningful to me because that same fire and innate sense of truth has been my salvation.

On the other hand, though, as I explore the lives of these great women I am torn apart by our differences. I think the differences between our lives impact me on an even deeper level, because I know that it’s not right. I hear Wanda Sykes laughing bitterly about the racial disparity in prisons and I know she’s right. I can get away with absolutely anything and I know it because I’ve done it. I stole candy from the store all the time as a kid. As an adult, I stole diaper cream when I was too broke to buy it and my son broke out in a painful rash. I have taken off with grocery carts when I had no other way of carrying food home. I have been let off the hook for letting my tabs go a month past their expiration date, snacking on leftover food at work, smoking on our non-smoking building property. I am never, ever carded, not even at my twenty-first birthday celebration. People assume (wrongly, often enough) that I am up to good things when they see me, because I look “normal,” meaning white. I consider myself to be a basically good person and think well of myself and my moral judgment, but when I consider how often I’ve intentionally screwed up it’s humiliatingly obvious that I have nothing to congratulate myself about. I have not had problems with the police because the police don’t suspect me, not because I am morally superior to people who get caught.

I don’t really know how to make sense of my racist heritage, or how to continue the trend of progress in my children’s lives. I find myself agonizing over the most ridiculous things sometimes, like, should I provide my children with multicultural dolls, or does that send the message that other races of people are commodities to be collected? This particular dilemma is exceptionally silly because neither of my kids are even a tiny bit interested in doll play, but I continue to cause myself to break out in hives over this and other questions like it because I deeply want my kids to just see people as people. I want them to feel free to marry a person of color and have babies who won’t share my frizzy red hair and know that that partner and those children will be loved and accepted into the family. I want them to feel free to dislike a person of color without going into hiding for a few weeks to unravel whether or not their negative feelings are fueled by racism. I want race to not be a thing for them. I want them to just have friends and know people and be seriously horrified someday when I tell them how far we’ve come as a family from the days when our ancestors were fighting in the Civil War on Stonewall Jackson’s side.

I don’t know how much progress you can realistically hope to make in one generation, but more than anything else…I just want this to be over.

Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 7:35 am

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