Gypsies

Did you know my ancestors on my Dad’s side are Romani? No, not Romanian, Romani. And no, not like the Romny you see on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. But, yes, Romani are historically called Gypsies because people thought they were Egyptians. They are not. They are from the northern part of India and were forced out of their homes to wonder Asia and Europe. They are the ultimate wanderers.

So maybe it is my Rom blood? I’m not sure but I have it bad. Wander Lust. Always have. When I graduated high school and my parents wanted to buy me an expensive piece of commemorative jewelry I asked instead to go on vacation. Twice in college I got to take classes that traveled: I studied the geology of the Colorado Plateau in Utah and Arizona and I studied Phycology (study of algae) in San Salvador, Bahamas. My honeymoon was a month backpacking through Europe.

Having kids makes traveling harder. Money is tight and there is always family to visit when you have the time off of working 50 weeks a year. Pete and I have talked about our retirement dreams for years: buy an RV and travel the country.

Then I met a woman named Tara and she and her family – a husband and two kids – were traveling around Australia in a camper. I kept waiting for the end of that sentence…”until the money runs out” or “for work” or “for two weeks”  There had to be *something* after that sentence, right? You can’t just raise kids without a home can you?

That was 4 years ago and I didn’t think “yes! I’m going to do that!” on that very day. But, in my heart I dreamed that I had that life. Then, one day out of the blue, Pete said he dreamed of that life too! Here we were dreaming of something different but not pursuing it because it is SO CRAZY!

Families are supposed to “put down roots,” buy a house, have a steady job, save for college, and vacation occasionally if you are very lucky. We couldn’t just make travel part of our lives could we?

Then the last two years happened. I was forced out of my job after having kids which was a nightmare at the time. In hindsight, I don’t know that I would have ever left such a lucrative job on my own. Then our house went into foreclosure (not due to losing my job ironically but because of my time in the hospital with the twins). Pete couldn’t find work. He actually started driving to Boston for job interviews. Yet, here we were with a house we were trying to short sell which tied us to one place. That place had no jobs. It was a horrible catch 22. It seemed that owning this thing called property was an albatross.

We were able to move and downsize our lives but, strangely, we had gotten a taste of freedom. Freedom from a work-till-8-pm job and the mortgage that went with it. We hated the forced stationary quality of that life. We hated the live to work paradigm. We hated dreading Sunday nights. We hated spending Saturdays working on house stuff instead of having fun. We wanted something different.

1478954_10102028271020644_1208691901_nWe wanted to work to live. We wanted our weekdays to be so wonderful that the weekends hardly felt different. We didn’t want to count the days till our next vacation because our life was so wonderful it felt like vacation. We didn’t want our vacations to be a scurry of hitting every family member’s house with sight seeing thrown in. We didn’t want to come home from vacations needing a vacation from our vacation.

We didn’t want to be owned by stuff. We think we own it but then we are slaves to it. We have to maintain it and continue to pay for it. We are owned by the bank we pay each month. We fill our lives with things. I had a dozen pans for different uses. I had 3 different meat thermometers for different purposes. My kids had more toys that I ever wanted them to have. We were buried under stuff and the time the stuff took. All those toys needed tidied up and cleaned. All that house needed work and cleaning. The yard. The two cars. The bills.

So there it is. We are doing something different. We have sold everything we own. We have our clothes and necessities. We have keepsakes in storage. And…

We bought an RV. We are going to travel and work. Travel and live. Travel and raise our kids. Travel and school.

I was thinking of starting a new blog (and I probably will document what we learn as we travel here) but this is just more of our Baby Dust Diary so I’m going to stick with it. I’ll continue to post things about homeschooling, unschooling, and now ROADschoooling.

Maria Kang, Here Is My Excuse.

tdy_tren_excuse_131016.300w

Ok, this has been floating around and causing a bunch of nasty comments from all sides. Here’s my take.

First, her asking “what’s your excuse?” is just more mom-judging-mom-wars propaganda. You are not competing with other moms. It isn’t a race and there is no set definition of success (and if there were it would be at least 20-30 years in the future for Ms. Kang, since her kids are too young to say “I win!”). Stop being part of what drives women apart.

Second, her comment implies anyone would need an “excuse” not to have achieved the goal SHE set for HERSELF. Good for her for achieving her goal. But, why does she assumes her goal is the goal of all moms. I’m a goal setter by nature and I wonder what her excuse is for not meeting my goals? How far is she in finishing two manuscripts in 2013? Has she meditated at least 3 times a week? Has she read 50 non-fiction books this year? Are her kids able to explain why the government is shut down (her 3 year old could)? What’s her excuse for not reducing the amount of stuff she owns by 80% in 2013?

Do these sound absurd? They should. These are *my* goals and I don’t expect anyone else to be meeting them except me. So, for me to say, “hey what’s your excuse for not meeting this goal?” is so presumptuous that my goals are the most worth-while goals. Which is absurd.

But, of course, Ms. Kang doesn’t stand alone when it comes to finding her goal to be more important than anyone else’s. Thinness is the ultimate goal of human females and everything else you do pales in comparison to how taut your abs are. The supposition is that my goals are pointless if I’m doing it in a fat body. Which is also absurd.

Lastly, her image and message trot out the same old fat shaming (notice I didn’t put quotes around fat shaming like it is some quasi-thing) fallacies. People keep mentioning “good for her for being healthy and fit!” Um, no. This image tells us nothing about her health or her fitness. This image tells us she is skinny and has abs. She could pound cookie dough all night and never touch a salad. Her blood pressure could be through the roof. Her arteries could be lining with plaque. She could do sit ups and lift weights to get her tone but be incapable of running a mile. We know *nothing* about her fitness from this image. What we know is that she’s skinny.

We also know that our society INCORRECTLY conflates skinny with healthy and fat with unhealthy. We know that a mom who was overweight and said “what’s your excuse?” couldn’t possible be talking about her fitness even if the picture was of her crossing the finish line of a marathon. She must be talking about something else because there is NO WAY she’s PROUD of her disgusting, fat body. I mean, really? Ewww.

And if she wasn’t crossing the finish line of a marathon she’d be even more reviled. People would say she doesn’t deserve her kids because she’s going to raise them “fat.” Nevermind that a picture can’t tell you that she is an ER doc that saves lives or a volunteer at the local women’s shelter that many women owe their lives to. None of those things matter. She should quit those things and get her ass to the gym because Ewwww!

Because a woman’s most important goal in life is to make sure the space she occupies is a pretty as possible – oh, and as small as possible too, of course. I mean, it’s kinda nice if you also learn to read and write and save people, but for goodness sake: be pretty.

I hope Ms. Kang is a wonderful mother and also very healthy! AND I hope she also helps people meet their fitness goals in a positive, body affirming way because, of course, she wants them to be physically and mentally healthy. I hope people owe their lives to her and her positive influence. I hope she makes the world a better place.

But she didn’t do that with this image. This image makes the world a worse place. A place where more mother-shaming, mom wars, judgement, shaming, and lack of humility and acceptance are reinforced.

What’s my excuse? I’m busy making the world a better place.

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

This article was originally posted on Everyday Feminism.  This Thursday 4/4 I’ll be on EF Talk Radio taking questions about Gender Neutral Parenting! Tune in and learn more.

Practicing Gender Neutral Parenting – Thur, 4/4, 8 pm EST/5 pm PST

Credit: NAYEC

 

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing” to my 20 week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section – defined by blank green and yellow onesies – of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

This is largely because most parents today know the sex of their child prior to birth thanks to ultrasound technology. The demand for clothes that are non-gendered is lower and companies step in with specialized clothing that increases their sales.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it ok if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess” for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what Gender Neutral Parenting is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts” for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts” because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that gender neutral parenting’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution – the theory that gender roles are completely learned – we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper” behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train” a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves.  A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their final sexual preferences but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex – e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia – should not dictate “allowable” behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

According to TransActive, 85% of gender nonconforming children/youth are cisgender and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. So, you heard it here. Johnny (or Beckett) wearing nail polish will not make him gay.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What’s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: Gender Neutral Parenting isn’t “neutral” at all it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

Paige Schilt uses the term “gendery” to define this concept;

Rather than just begrudgingly allowing our children to play with “opposite gender” toys, the gendery parenting paradigm would encourage us to give children the language to think critically about gender binaries and gendered hierarchies.

With this in mind we would not pass judgment on a child’s choices but help them to think critically about the options society presents.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans* Kids

This myth supposes that Gender Neutral Parenting is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans* kids overcome the pain of being different but it has no value for a cisgender child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans*. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans* and as mentioned above, most gender-bending kids will not be trans* as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans* childrens’ lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using” kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender-norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to train this into them you are by the default of gender suggestions that ubiquitously surround us everyday. Think Barbie saying “Math is Hard” and then ponder why so few women enter science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Think “boys don’t play with baby dolls” and then ponder why men don’t have the same skill level with newborns that women do.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement then it is one I’m proud to make.

So What Does This Look Like?

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my daughter doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that’s not girly enough” or “you’d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I engage her in conversations about people’s abilities (e.g. “Why is Alicia your favorite character on Go Diego, Go!”) so she can articulate things beside gender.

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess” but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

As she gets even older, I can ask “why do you like that one?” and start conversations based on stereotypical answers.

Most parents I know cringe when their seven year old says “that’s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self aware. I’ve let gender-expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

What does gender neutral parenting look like in your house?

4 Things Easter Can Teach Us Non-Christians

I’ve decided I like the term Post-Christian instead of Ex-Christian.  “Ex” implies some type of break up with perhaps some lingering animosity or denial of the former path.  Like I said before I feel that my devout study of christianity led me here.  I think the bible is a wellspring of information and while I might not believe Jesus is the son of God I do think he was a wise man and path pointer.

Christmas this past year was a weird time of wistful melancholy as I mourned the loss of my belief.  For example, the first time I heard Do You Hear What I Hear, one of my favorites, I broke down crying.  I think toward the end of December I was able to hear the song and believe the beautiful things about it.

So, this Easter I’d like to share some of the great lessons that we, as non-Christians – whether post or ex or never – can learn from Easter.

1. Grace

One of the best things about the Easter story (which btw is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans and the Sanhedrin (Jewish leaders) on what we call Good Friday and his subsequent rebirth from the dead three days later on Easter) is the concept of Grace.

Christians believe that Grace saves us.  Grace can mean a number of things but in this instance it is defined as, “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

The key word here is unmerited.  There is nothing a Christian can ever do to deserve the salvation of Jesus.  You can’t give-to-charity your way out, help-your-neighbor yourself to the top, or pray your way to heaven.  The Christian view is that we could NEVER achieve the holiness of God.  Our only hope is in the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.  All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were nulled with the death of God’s son, Jesus.

I no longer believe all of that but I think grace – undeserved assistance – is a valuable concept we could employ in our lives.

I went to a marriage retreat last weekend and they talked about how our society says marriages are performance based.  You receive love when your behavior matches the other person’s needs.  You already know how I feel about this type of conditional parenting.

What if we used more grace in our relationships? You know gave love, help, courtesy, whatever even when it is undeserved.  What if how we related to others was not based on merit or conditional upon their behavior at all?

 

2. Humility

Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God but also that he was God.  I always explained it to people like the triple point of water – that temperature at which water exists as a solid, liquid and gas simultaneously.

So, when the man Jesus hung on the cross he was in fact the all-powerful God of the Old Testament that stopped the sun, flooded the Earth, and rose a man from the dead.  I’m sure he could have managed getting off the cross and destroying his enemies.

However, he chose to accept his role with humility.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take pride in our accomplishments but a balance with humility for your gifts is in order.

 

3. Forgiveness

Jesus said of his crucifiers “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”

A close sister to grace, forgiveness is often held close to our chests until someone deserves it.  What if we forgave more easily to the people in our life?

At Easter services Christians are often allowed to take their worries “to the cross” which means to literally write down you misdeeds or worries and pin them to a big wooden cross.  This symbolizes giving over your cares and sins to Jesus.

I think this relates to self-forgiveness. We are often much meaner to ourselves that others.  Maybe this Easter we could write down our worries or self-doubts and give them up to the cosmos and not let them sap the energy of our days any longer.

 

4. Rebirth

For Christians, the celebration of Easter is not the crucifixion (Good Friday) but the day Jesus overcame death and arose from the grave.

This is a recurrent theme throughout mythology.  There are many Jesus analogs throughout the ages such as Mithras and Osiris.  There are also myths like the Egyptian Benu bird, the Asian Fenghuang, or as it is best known in the Greek; the Phoenix.

All feature the same theme.  From complete and utter defeat when your enemies are celebrating their victory, you are reborn overcoming even death to start anew.

It is a beautiful belief and one of the reasons my tattoo design for my children (living and lost) is a phoenix.  I feel like motherhood after infertility was like rising from the ashes of defeat.

What a powerful concept that not only can we rise from our defeat but defeat is necessary for that rebirth.  What if when we struggle or have dark times we kept this in mind?

Respecting Diversity Means Respecting Religions

I think that we all can truly come together and learn and respect each others’ religions or beliefs. Mocking someone’s beliefs (like calling Easter “zombie Jesus” day) is hateful and drives people apart.  There is no reason that you can’t learn from something you don’t believe in.

I mean do we really think a tortoise and a hare once raced? Or do we know that ancient writings can have pearls of wisdom for us? Or that respecting diversity (in this case religion) makes the world a better place?

Happy Easter!