Brave Boy

Motherhood gives rise to various lose/lose situations over the years, with fashion responsible for more than several of them. Surely you can name instances of blaming your mother, “You never let me me wear what I wanted” as well as “I can’t believe you sent me out of the house like that.” My own recollections include Doc Martens (the former) and a certain Dorothy Hamill bowl haircut (the latter). Other questionable trends you might recall with nostalgia span feathered bangs, leggings with scrunchy socks and acid-washed denim jackets. And at the root of each missed opportunity and every regrettable outfit was your mom.

Just for a moment, though, let go of that hostility and step into her Keds shoes. It’s harder than it looks to guide your children through a world of constant and harsh judgment. It’s even harder on those of us whose kids have unconventional predilections. As a mother of two children who are each in their own right out-of-the-box thinkers and doers, I’m ever balancing my conflicting maternal instincts– one of which urges me to protect their vulnerability and the other to nurture their individuality.  To this end, Halloween is particularly stressful.

Spooky in origin, Halloween is actually a creepy night when wallflowers will transform themselves into Slutty Snow White and mansie-pansies into suave Magic Mike. Others perhaps are dripping with gore, or feigning super power.  People let loose, celebrating not who they are but who they could be when inhibitions disappear. They explore the other-worldly on a night when all limits are off.

Or are they?

Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed, such as when Prince Harry emerged as a Nazi. That was simply dumb. Others are more innocent. Cue my son, who makes a darling Merida this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen the movie Brave, you must, if only for the animation of Merida’s wild, fiery hair. Ironically, this was my son’s big draw to the character but now he doesn’t want to wear the defining wig. Herein lies the conflict. Clearly he is a boy in a dress, but with the wig, it’s less obvious. Protected by the wig his gender may go unnoticed as he parades around his new 1,000+ person school, complete with preschool-aged kids up to high school seniors. Without the wig, all bets are off. He is a boy in a dress.

Personally I have no problem with this. I am a woman who prefers to wear pants. This too used to be criticized and jeered– and not so long ago. It now sounds so silly doesn’t it?   I wish you’d all agree that pants and dresses don’t determine our worth as individuals, but that’s a naive request. For some reason not all of us are there yet. Articles celebrating gender creativity appear from time to time, each of which resonates profoundly. The most recent of note, from The New York Times Magazine (August), poignantly highlights boys wearing dresses.

Like several articles before it, this tells the stories of children living life unconventionally and parents supporting them unconditionally. Wouldn’t you do that for your child?

My mother thought she was doing right by the bowl haircut. I can assure you that it was wrong. So very wrong. Time will tell whether my purchasing the Merida outfit will be valued or resented. For now, what I can say with absolute certainty is that there are things much more twisted on Halloween than a boy in a gorgeous turquoise dress. Funny how if we are so concerned with what a child’s disguise implies about his or her future behaviors, decisions and lifestyles, that we condone– celebrate even– the blood-lusting, weapon-wielding, terror-seeking figments of horror portrayed by the conventional boy’s costume. I’d take unique over depraved any day. We witness too much violence in the world already. What we need to see more of are the awe-inspiring characters who encourage us all (and I write this in my best Scottish Princess voice) to follow our heartsto write our own story.

So when you see him, my brave boy, this Halloween give him a cheer. And maybe even an extra piece of candy for his mom. She deserves it.

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Birthdays and Deathdays

Birthdays are everywhere. We all have one and we love to acknowledge it, be it with hugs and gifts or cupcakes and cards. It’s easy to celebrate our beginnings, but how do we honor the day a life became no longer? Yesterday marked the second anniversary of my father’s passing, but really it’s been years since was lost to us. The last few of which  proved a lengthy good-bye to the wonderful man he had been, and his death gave us the permission to celebrate his very rich existence. Yet the grief lingered, and still creeps in from time to time, some days without warning.

Leading up to this day I wondered what I would feel, and I questioned what I could do to  make it significant. When a political, cultural or religious icon meets his or her end, the day might be sanctioned as one that’s recognized locally or globally. For the rest of us, the scale of appreciation for our legacy is much, much smaller. Perhaps only a handful of us turned our thoughts to my father, each in our own way.

I enjoyed a sunrise swim (I will always remember that I ran on my dad’s deathday with a dear friend who ironically lost her dad on that day years ago), and then tended to the usual morning routine. When finished, I made a small contribution to the Alzheimer’s Association, figuring that, hey, every little bit counts:  http://www.alz.org

Finally, I did what was most important in toasting my father: I bought a big, juicy chocolate chip cookie. Enjoying the serenity of the beautiful ocean view in Torrey Pines Preserve, I ate that cookie while honoring a truly exceptional person. After all, the greatest of men may have the humblest of pleasures!

The F***-ing Fours

I like my children a lot better when I am not with them. It has nothing to do with the time then that I have to myself, such as for exploring the best lunch options in the area (Zinc Cafe on the fabulous Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach won out this week). I was also able to partake in a timely discussion at my children’s school on Raising Kids in a Device Driven World. Note, the handful of very young siblings who were brought along by mothers were all plugged into iPads or iPhones. (I decided it best not to make a snarky comment on the irony, as that is no way to begin friendships in a new community). I attempted to donate blood but was thwarted by my travels to Mexico last spring. Apparently the area around Cancun is now considered a Malaria risk– though my lack of any extreme fever leads me to believe that my blood is actually desirable. And I also participated in a friendly tennis tournament for Breast Cancer Awareness (more later on my reversal of retirement from the sport). How easily I can combine selfish time with selfless acts when unencumbered by children!

No, I like my kids better because I have to believe that they are at their best when I am not in their presence. Just yesterday I asked my son’s teacher if he is always as pleasant as he is at pick-up, or is it just when I walk into the room. She confirmed the latter– fortunately for everyone else.

I’m simultaneously envious of and repulsed by the starlets who incessantly tweet about how in love they are with their babies. Clearly Kristin Cavallari is years away from being called Didiot by her son. Oh yes, at least mine is clever enough to add a consonant at the beginning of “idiot” so that he is not technically saying a naughty word, or so he reasons.

There has to be a bright spot in this madness. I know there is because my daughter was no picnic at four, five and even into six. Now she has terrific moments where she really reminds us that her exceptional qualities can prevail. But my son, well, right now he has a personality that only a mother could  has to love. And for some reason being around me brings out the worst in him, very sadly. The Terrible Twos didn’t happen for us, and at three he was still quite charming. Now we are paying for those years with the F***-ing Fours! Just under six more months to go…

Come March 31st I don’t unrealistically expect a miraculous emergence from this trying phase. But with each passing day there is the promise of raising a self-sufficient, socially-conscious, critically-thinking, compassionate citizen. I look toward positive role models of talent, intellect and humanity to keep me going in these child rearing efforts. How incredibly moving is the plight of Malala Yousufzai, the bright, young Pakistani blogger who fights for her life after a brutal assassination attempt? She is just fourteen. She is a mere seven and ten years older than my kids. Is it possible that my oft whiny, moody, snotty children can evolve in just a handful of years into mature, admirable, inspiring leaders? That may be a stretch, but dreams are meant to be lofty. We’ll keep working on taming the Didiot-shouting beast.

And above all we’ll keep sending our best wishes for Malala Yousufzai’s recovery.

Twenty-two Minutes

Sunsets are deceptive. They conjure up images of serenity and splendor as another day comes to a close. Thoughts turn toward relaxation, bedtime routines and welcomed sleep. But for those of us who surrender quite early, sundown brings on a mild sense of panic: There’s-still-so-much-to-do-but-time-is-running-out races through my head as I mentally organize the tasks left to accomplish. A handful of the seemingly endless chores include lunch packing, dish loading, laundry folding, school reading, teeth brushing, squabble refereeing,  phone-call returning, email sending, and the ever lovely thrice daily dog pooping. And so goes the list.

It’s at this time–at sunset–when I remember that thought-provoking college essay (I believe it was for Princeton, but correct me if I am wrong):

What would you do with an extra hour in the day?

As a high school senior I didn’t have an appreciation for time, or lack thereof. I wish I could tell you that I would have provided an intelligent, creative and profound answer– but I didn’t have it then and I likely don’t have it now.

What I would do with that 25th hour would be to follow the news. I make a minimal effort in that I put the 10 o’clock news on, but I am passed out within minutes. And our weekday mornings are so hurried (also admittedly a bit militant) that we don’t linger over the early news as I would like to if I had my way. Note that I do harbor some bitterness over Ann Curry’s ousting departure from The Today Show and I am silently protesting. As a result I know very little about current affairs either locally or abroad, other than the tidbits I pick up from peeking at gossip sites from time to time. But what good is knowing that Justin Bieber tossed his cookies on stage a few days ago in Arizona when I can’t tell you where the Obama-Romney debate is happening tonight?

It’s time that I emerge from under my rock. It’s time to create extra minutes in my day. When I was little I dreaded long car rides because my father instituted “driver’s choice” to determine what we listened to on the radio or tape cassettes (remember those?).  Somehow it was actually father’s choice, not necessarily driver’s choice, and he opted for 1010 WINS.  I can still hear that irritating promise: You give us twenty-two minutes and we’ll give you the world. Those were some loooonnnnngggg twenty-two minutes. Yet, I now long for those twenty-two minutes.

Funny how age brings about appreciation– I would love for my brain to be filled with all that I need to know in just a fraction of the day. Once I forgive NBC, and also figure out how to operate the DVR, I’ll start recording The Today Show so that sometime during the day I can plug through the highlights.

Then maybe if I could re-write those college essays, I would suggest that I don’t need a whole hour, just twenty-two minutes.

The Pies That Bind

Apples have been causing man and woman strife since the days of Eden. This weekend proved no different. My husband and I were out for a rare child-free dinner, marveling at the sunset on a warm summer autumn evening. We agreed that it’s hard to believe fall is upon us when the first of October may hit 90 degrees. I’m not at all complaining; it’s just odd. I don’t love cold weather, but I appreciate the festivities that come with it, not the least of which is the delicious Pink Ribbon Bagel at Panera, offered only one month a year. Enjoyed with hazelnut coffee on a brisk fall day, that treat is worth the wait. Not to mention it’s a great way to support National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Other fall favorites are evident, such as scarecrows, pumpkins and Halloween costumes. But apples, a signature of the season, are few and far between at best. When I expressed this disappointment to my husband, he immediately offered up that we should head to Julian to pick apples.

Where?!

Apparently this Julian is the apple orchard mecca of Southern California. It also happens to be 40 miles away. My relief that apples do exist was overshadowed by my disbelief that he dared to suggest we go. You see, in the 17 years that my husband spent on the East Coast he never took to traditions that were seasonal and symbolic, like apple picking. He did join us fairly frequently on family outings to Terhune Orchards, a beloved farm just down the road from us in New Jersey—but that was mostly for their famed cider donuts. Now that I‘ve moved over 3,000 miles away from the ubiquitous apples, he wants me to drive 40 more to experience something he didn’t particularly enjoy when it was actually easy to do so?

I have a better solution: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade; when life doesn’t provide apples to pick, buy a delicious pie. Therefore, October is dedicated to finding the best local apple pie. After all, we are hosting Thanksgiving this year so I’ll need some fabulous desserts. That means my pie tasting month is essentially a selfless act. And because I am so giving, I suppose I will share my test samples with my dear husband. We both love a good pie, regardless of where the apples are grown.