Monday, February 25, 2013

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Afternoon

I'm reading a book for review called The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book. It's filled with hundreds of outdoor activities for children. Reading it has fanned nostalgia for my own childhood into flame--the exploring and wandering and discovering we did in a neighborhood tucked up against railroad property. Trees and deer, rabbits and giant spiders abounded. Creeks and other mysteries in the nearby woods kept me and my friends properly entertained for hours. 

Saturday, when Middle was spending the afternoon at Grandpa's house, I took Oldest and Tiny out to Woodpecker Trail by the Coralville Res. I normally do not venture out into snow for fun, but the day was warm as far as snow-cold winter days go. The snow was fairly fresh and the woods were quiet. Oldest, who gets plenty of outdoor time in the neighborhood, was not too keen on leaving the comforts of our warm house and her iPod but I coerced convinced her to come. And luckily we had Tiny's sled, otherwise we'd have been on the trail for hours while the girl waded through eight-tenths of a mile in knee-deep (to Tiny's knees) snow. Our trek was all downhill until the last quarter mile, at which point I had to enlist Oldest to help me pull Tiny in her sled part of the way up a steep incline with snow-covered stairs set at random intervals. We were sweating, and my heart was fluttering faster than it did during my first foray into  Jillian's 30 Day Shred.

I don't want to sell Tiny short, though: the kid has endurance. She insisted on walking different portions of the trail, telling me "I don't need a hand" when I tried to stabilize her on the snow-covered steps.  She was intent on collecting snowballs (i.e. any pre-existing, nature-formed chunk of snow) and stockpiling them in her sled as she tread along with no consciousness of the setting sun, the almost-dinner hour, the lostness we could experience in the dark out on the trail. 

We've been reading Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day a lot at our house.  In it, a young boy named Peter goes out into the world to experience the snow and the things it covers. On every page, Peter takes his time. First with footprints, then with snow angels, then sliding down a hill of snow, then making a snowman, then packing a snowball. His mother is not hurrying him a long; his mother is not even present for these adventures. I could see Tiny channeling Peter on our hike. She'd take one step up the hill to placate my steady stream of urgings, and then she was plopping down into the fresh snow at the sides of the trail.

"I need to make an angel," she'd tell me and wiggle like a beetle on its backside when she tried to get up.  "I need to make a glove," she'd say, pressing her protected hand into the snow and smiling with satisfaction at its impression.

Sometimes Tiny is so caught up, so present, so in the moment. 

It's how we were all those years as children, I suppose.  I have no memories of feeling rushed in the woods because dinner was coming, because the sun was going down, because my mother might be looking for me.  There was only the woods and the trickle of the creek and the corner fence post I used as a lookout, the horse in the field on the other side of the fence and me sitting on my lookout, watching the world sit still. 

I'm alone with this third child of mine quite often when the older are at school or running around the neighborhood unattended.  Her process of taking in the world makes complete sense to her (a step, a snow angel, a glove impression, another step). It slows me down tremendously. But I haven't been fighting it so much these days.  In truth, I enjoy reacquainting myself with a still world.

But the sun does eventually set, so I nudged (and pulled) Tiny onward toward the top of the trail, putting off her request for a snowball fight until we got to the parking lot. With this reward in mind, she soldiered on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Sexy Means and Other Things Middle Doesn't Understand

It’s the parenting moment I looked forward to for years—that one when my eight year old came home from a classmate’s birthday party and asked, “Mom, what does sexy mean?”

“Why do you ask?” I said.

“Because we were dancing to ‘I’m Sexy and I Know it’ and Jenna* was all like, ‘I’M SO SEXXXYYY!’” Middle growled and clawed at the air in bear paw fashion.

“Where did you guys get that song?”

“It was on Emily’s mom’s Ipod.”

“Did her mom know you were listening to her Ipod?”

Yeah. So what does it mean?”

I'll admit it: I was surprised that my 8 year old was dancing to "I'm Sexy" at an 8-year-old’s birthday party. But then I realized that this song was featured in the recent kids’ movie, Madagascar 3, which just came out in 2012. Everyone under five knows it now.

Language has changed since I was 8. When I was 8, sexy meant just sexy.  Now sexy means sexy and, if you’re 8 years old, it means cool because when you’re 8 you can’t understand the actual meaning of sexy if you don’t understand sex. And most 8-year-olds don’t seem to have a holistic grasp on that one. So sexy gets translated as cool because the rest of the lyrics are too fast, too confusing, to slammed together for them to really make out their mysteries. Although, in Madagascar the song is pumping, “Girl, look at that body. Girl look at that body,” and  if Middle actually was asking to know the lyrics to the song and then added those to the context of some barnyard critter going all googly-eyed over a rotund brown bear in a tutu, she’d know that sexy meant a little more than just cool like your-bike-is-so-cool cool.

I’m only 34, but I’ve been wondering: Am I old-school already?  Am I not flexing with culture in a way that makes perfect sense? Should I start calling my Middle sexy for fun when I think she looks cute and sparkly and peppy on her way to school some day? Can you imagine complimenting your 8-year-old in such a way (put on your best smile and happy voice, now):  

Hey Middle, you look so SEXY today!!! 

You can’t, can you.  So I’m not the only one who’s old school.

Middle has also been coming home requesting to listen to Kidz Bop songs. She’s hearing them in her classroom once in a while during writing time (the teacher plays them from his computer).

I don’t listen to much pop music on the radio so I didn’t recognize Miley Cyrus Partying in the USA or Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” remade/re-edited into children’s songs when she came home asking me to play them on Spotify.  What I did notice was this:

The main feature of these songs is dancing on dance floors. In clubs.

My Middle doesn’t go to clubs. In fact, she probably can’t legally get into any in the state of Iowa because they serve alcohol. Also, people smoke there. And wear clothes she’s too young to wear. And do things with their bodies she’s not allowed to do yet.

A little more digging into her two favorite Kidz Bop song lyrics: Jay-Z and “Brittany” (both totally appropriate role model-artists for an 8-year-old) are mentioned in Miley’s “USA,” which seems to be an ode to all things Hollywood through the eyes of a young, impressionable girl who thinks “famous” people are the bomb.  I was truly thrilled to find out that “Fire Burning” in its original form is all about a guy getting an erection at the club while watching a woman dance. Oh, but maybe not. I’m not sure: Does “My pocket started tickling/the way she drop it low, that thang” mean that a few stray bills in his pocket suddenly took on a life of their own?  And of course, she’s “that thang” (or some part of her body is).  And he likes her body and he’s going to “take it home.” 

And while the Kidz Bop version is a little more PG, the woman is still an object: she’s a fire, a birthday cake, she’s gotta be “cooled down” by Shawty.

You might be able to guess what happened next. I got all psychotic-mama-bear on Kidz Bop (just the two songs I knew) and I emailed Middle’s teacher, a sweet 25-year old Justin Timberlake-from-ten-years-ago lookalike. I dropped a lot of big words into my email (objectification, sexualization, concern), thinking I’d either be his worst nightmare or his friendly neighborhood feminist. I was channeling warm, sweet, smarter-than-a-whip Naomi Wolf from The Beauty Myth days, hoping to be perceived as the latter.

It turned out to be a useful exchange; we’ll talk more at our conference next week.  But I’m stuck tonight in awe at the marketing model of Kidz Bop, which seems to be: get some kids under the age of 15 to do covers of the most popular current songs (age-appropriate or not), and market the songs to babies. From break-ups to angsty love to clubby dance-lust, the central themes of most of the bops seem not to be a good fit for my Middle, who’s reading Little Women and The Boxcar Children and drawing self-portraits and playing spies in her free time.  And I think someone as wonderful and charming and energetic as she deserves some good dance music.

*Names were changed to protect privacy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Raven Street Notes #12

It's an eerie situation I find myself in at the OB/GYN for an annual exam, tap-tapping away at the computer check-in kiosk. No more paper forms to fill out about my grandfathers' histories of strokes, no boxes to check with pen and ink about mental illness and substance abuse in my extended family. It's a "smart screen"; alls I have to do is finger-check the right rectangles on screen.  But this smart screen sucks and I'm tapping upwards of 12 times, insisting it recognize that I do not smoke.  After checking "yes" to another box about the health of my various relations, it asks to know the name of my brother. Giving it is my mistake, oversupplying information to this obtuse inquisitor. Now it wants to know if Josh has fertility issues.  

Here's another question:  How many times have you been pregnant? 

Seven for sure, most likely eight. There's not a box for eight, just "7 or more," probably 'cause it's the upper end of the spectrum. How many women have seven or more children, after all?  But it would have been some comfort to me had there been a box for  "eight" and a box for "seven" because, I think, it does matter whether I lost five pregnancies or four. It matters that another not get lumped into the sameness of the first four even if the pregnancy I call my "eighth" (really seventh in sequence, eighth in impact) was so short-lived that I wasn't even late. So short I didn't give myself a day to thrill quietly with the news. The ending happened so fast I didn't think to be sad.  

But it matters now: this subject of my grave curiosity: conception and an embryo's disintegration inside my body.

How many live births have you had? 

Three. I've had three live births. 

I'm a schoolgirl chomping at the bit while the teacher makes to move on with the lesson.  The computer's asking how I'd like to be identified in the waiting room by the medical staff (Should they call my name? Should they just find me?) while I'm stuck in the stories the computer didn't ask but conjured in me all the same. Images of operating rooms and stained ceiling tiles, hospital gowns, blood blood blood blood blood, small jars containing tissue from placentas, waiting waiting hoping waiting, butterfly needles, syringes, pregnancy tests pregnancy tests pregnancy tests, phone calls, calendars, ultrasounds, waiting rooms, emergency rooms, cancer docs, OBs, flowers, a stuffed Snoopy in a Santa suit, knitted blankets.

I could tell you the story. If the computer was actually a rational and empathic being. If it was a psychologist asking, say. Or if we had decided by appointment to sit down and talk about me.  Then I would tell the story of my body--how it made babies and how it didn't. And you know, I sort of wanted to tell today. Even though there was only the computer and it was only a routine visit and I was just doing what normal people do every day of their lives, tending to the business of safekeeping health, making appointments, riding in elevators, driving in cars.