Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Wherein I am made teary-eyed by a stupid pop song

October 23, 2011

Yesterday Amelia, five years old, started singing a song in the car with great enthusiasm and volume—or part of a song anyway. Something about “light the light … something, something … the 4th of July.” It took me a bit to figure out that this was not one of the many official songs being taught in her kindergarten class but rather something she had learned from friends at recess. (Those of you more au courant vis a vis pop music may already have figured that out.) Her rendition was dramatic if somewhat mumbly. As we were at the end of the long day, I grouchily had to insist that if she must sing, she had to sing softer. She claimed, with some justification, that it really needed to be sung loud.

This morning she was at it again when I was within reach of a computer so I was able to google up the actual song which turns out to be “Firework” by Katy Perry. Soon I had a video of the song going while she sat, enthralled, trying to master the lyrics of the chorus. Even little Tabby, sixteen months old, seemed to be joining in on the “oh-oh-oh” parts.

Now, this is not great music. I know that. The lyrics don’t really bear up under even cursory analysis. But the theme is at least something I can get behind, especially as a father—don’t be afraid, be yourself, show the world what you can do. And the chorus does build musically, the melody stepping slowly—almost one note per measure—up the scale over pulsing strings and a slow crescendo that leaves Perry belting out the key line, “baby you’re a firework” over a driving drum machine beat.

For whatever reason, something about the whole scene—the heartstring-tugging musical effects, Amelia’s little-girl-growing-up interest in her first pop song, and the fact that this is no doubt just the first of many interests, infatuations, and obsessions she’s going to bring home from the world outside—kept getting me all choked up.


The Power of Pink

February 9, 2010

I recently read a great book Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot about the differences between boys and girls. Subtitled, “How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It”, the book’s basic thesis is that there are some statistically significant biological differences between boys’ and girls’ brains but not so many nor as significant as is often made out. Rather, cultural influences act to magnify the differences that are there to make older boys and girls, and eventually men and women, quite different. Thus an initial biological seed can be reinforced by culture to produce a powerful effect.

For instance, according to Eliot, one of the most statistically significant differences between the sexes is toy preference – starting around their first birthday kids start identifying toys and “for girls” and “for boys” and by the time they’re three they, statistically speaking, strongly prefer to play with the toys that are “for” their sex. (Of course some kids cross the gender line regularly and most kids will occasionally. But it’s a strong effect; much stronger than the frequently touted differences in verbal or mechanical ability.) The development of these preferences seems to be neither completely hardwired nor completely cultural. But it is strong.

I experienced this first hand the other day when I went to buy my three-year-old daughter Amelia some roller skates at Target. The had three kinds, a set of “princess” skates in pink and purple and decorated with pictures of princesses, a set of purple Dora the Explorer skates, and finally a set of red skates modeled after the main character from the Pixar movie Cars. I suggested the Cars skates, since Amelia loved the movie and had been quite excited to see some Cars toys earlier on our trip through the store. But she immediately countered with a request for the Dora skates because “the Cars skates are for boys and these are for girls.” I tried for a bit to remind her how much she liked the movie but there was no changing her mind. And I didn’t want to linger too long lest she notice the truly ghastly princess skates.

On the other hand, there is still some wiggle room. Today I got a package of hand exercisers from Iron Mind, a company that makes serious strength training tools for hardcore muscle heads. These grippers, part of the “Captains of Crush” line, are knurled metal and the ones I got, which require 167.5 and 195 pounds of pressure to close, are only the middle of the line by difficulty. So serious manly exercise equipment, right? Not so fast. Along with the full-sized grippers, I also got a stubby gripper intended for exercising the thumb and one finger at a time, which is just about the right size to be a full-size gripper for Amelia. She was instantly drawn to it, trying to squeeze it closed with both hands. “I’m going to be the strongest kid in the world,” she said. “This is my princess gripper.”

I wonder if Iron Mind would consider making Captains of Crush in sparkly pink?

Patriarchal hegemony

July 15, 2009

My wife and I have what I think is a fairly equitable division of child-rearing labor: Monday mornings, and all day Wednesdays and Fridays she goes to her job as a doctor at a San Francisco clinic and I look after our now almost three-year-old daughter. Monday afternoons, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are my days to work on my writing or consulting while my wife looks after the kid. Weekends we share parenting duties.

We’ve been doing this since our daughter was three months old. Prior to that we were both home with the baby pretty much full time. We consider ourselves incredibly lucky that we’ve been able to arrange our lives this way and wouldn’t want it any other way. And our daughter has had plenty of chance to get used to the idea that although I didn’t give birth to her and have never provided her nourishment from my own body, I’m one of her parents and love her very much.

However, watching my daughter this morning for the umpteen-millionth time, say to her mom, “I don’t want you to go to work today! I want you to stay home!” something I don’t believe she’s ever said about me, it struck me that, at least as far as she is concerned, it would make a lot of sense if mom stayed home to take care of her full-time and dad went off to bring home the bacon.

My daughter, tool of the patriarchal hegemony.

California bans home schooling!?

March 8, 2008

This is the kind of thing, I imagine, that turns people into right-wing lunatics. Walking the dog today I saw the front page headline of the San Francico Chronicle, “Homeschoolers suffer setback: Appeals court rules parents who teach children at home must be credentialed.” Uh-oh. Our daughter is only a year and a half old so we’ve got a few years before we have to officially decide whether we’re going to home school but that’s the current plan.

Except that all the sudden that may no longer be an option unless this appeals court ruling is overturned, the legislature defies the teachers unions and changes the state’s education laws to specifically allow home schooling by uncredentialed parent-teachers, or we leave the state. Equally suddenly, I’m on the side of the right-wingers ranting about judges legislating from the bench and the nanny state trying to take over our lives. Heck, suddenly James Dobson of Focus on Family, who spent his radio show today decrying the ruling, is my ally.

We are not religous so that’s not our motivation for wanting to home school, but we are not really all that different from the homeschoolers who are. While we don’t object to the secularism of public schools—that’s one of their good points as far as I’m concerned—we object to other parts of mainstream culture: the relentless consumerism, the regimentation of academic instruction, and the emphasis on competition and working for extrinsic rewards. I’m sympathetic to the need for society (i.e. the state) to look out for the welfare of kids whose parents aren’t taking proper care of them. But to have the state tell me I have to send my daughter to the schools the state has approved and to be taught only in the way the state thinks is best makes me start thinking about holing up in a compound somewhere with too many guns and a couple years worth of canned food in the root cellar.

The quote from the Chronicle story that really killed me was from Leslie Heimov, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles. She said her organization was mostly concerned that children be “in a place daily where they would be observed by people who had a duty to ensure their ongoing safety.” Uh, wouldn’t parents have a duty to ensure the safety of their children. To say nothing of looking after their education and moral development. Hmmm, I really must be turning into a crazy right-wing nutjob.

In theory, practice is no different from theory, in practice …

July 12, 2007

Yesterday I was taking my 10-month old daughter to our parent/infant swim class at the Berkeley YMCA. She happened to be wearing a blue shirt. The woman riding down with us in in the elevator from the parking garage asked how old she was and said, “Oh, what a cute little boy.”

“Girl,” I said.

“Oh, sorry!”

“No worries. It’s the shirt. And the short hair.”

“I know, we’re all so color coded.”

As we were getting out of the elevator she said, “You know, I should be the last person in the world to do that … I teach feminist theory.”

A little person with a sense of humor

May 28, 2007

Today my wife was downstairs playing with our eight-month-old daughter, Amelia, and all I could hear was the sound of Amelia laughing, laughing, laughing. I mean, really cracking up then settling down a bit and cracking up all over again. I’m sure I’m far from the first person to have had this feeling but it gives me some small measure of hope for the human race that this little person who barely knows her own name and doesn’t know enough not to crawl off the edge of the bed, has, if nothing else, a sense of humor.