Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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You Are Beautiful

Sugar here.

Wow, I am not sure Facebook is at all good for me.  My FB friends seem to curate a lot of articles that are about parenting, NONE of which is a good idea to read (change it! fix it! make it better! you suck, btw!) and then there was that tear-jerker IKEA ad in Spanish today about how all kids want for Christmas is for you to spend more time with them.  Dude, Ikea, I know that, and I would love to, but I have this job thing.  Thanks for making me feel super guilty about not being rich enough to stay home.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is this other thing I saw today that pops up on Facebook on a regular basis.  It’s about how to talk to your daughter about her body.  You’ve probably seen it.  It goes a little like this:

“How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works. Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight. If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that…Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one….Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter…”

While I don’t want to troll well-meaning friends on Facebook, or to post an entire essay in FB comments, I want to say somewhere that I really disagree with this.  Really.  Very much disagree.

I do not find this to be an inspiring message, but rather one that erases joy.

Imagine how this would play out in real life.  Negative messages are pouring in from all sides.  Possibly the child herself is hearing from other actual people at school or on the street that she looks bad, wrong, or ugly.  Even if not, the whole world is telling her she isn’t good enough and doesn’t look perfect through the pervasive images and messages on every billboard, television program, and magazine ad. In this poisonous atmosphere, how is the silence of your closest family to be interpreted? As support?  Probably not.  More likely as disapproval, hesitance to voice the awful truth, shame, or disgust.

I think that much more to the point would be a countervaling and voiced opinion that the child is beautiful.  Period.

I am not saying that being beautiful should be the only thing or the main thing that a parent complements about a girl.  It would be best to mostly talk about other things — how strong, or smart, or fast, or whatever, that she is — but that sometimes, not too infrequently, it would also be nice to tell her that she is beautiful.  Beauty is something that our culture values a great deal.  One way to change everyone’s perception of what falls into that category would be to talk about a lot more kinds of people and bodies as beautiful.  With words.  Out loud.

I feel strongly about this issue because I don’t have to imagine how parental silence on this topic would play out in real life, I know.  I was “the ugly girl” starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.  To be jeered at in the halls, to be the butt of jokes, and to be certain myself of how completely awful I looked was a basic fact of my life.  I don’t know what my parents thought of my appearance. They never said.  I didn’t ask.  I assumed that compliments they gave me in other areas stemmed from their ideals (I was smart, I was good at art) but also covered up the big unmentionable dreadful thing, which was my completely unacceptable appearance.

As an adult I now realize that my parents probably had no idea of what I experienced in school.  But that is my point.  You don’t necessarily know what everyone else is saying to a kid, and silence is so vague, so hard to account for, and so easy to assign an unintended meaning to.

Now that I am nearly forty I usually feel that I am over the bullying I experienced in school.  I’ve been surprised to find that mentioning the whole “ugly girl” thing is fairly taboo.  Twice recently I mentioned (in a normal conversational context about high school, or whatever) that this happened to me, only to be met with horrified silence and a quick change of topic.  I don’t know what that is, but it feels related to the persistent assertion that if you are the right sort of person, then the best way to deal with the body and how it looks to NOT TO DISCUSS IT.  Why?  If it’s so important to the world that people be beautiful, and it seems to be, let’s try to take charge of the conversation by participating in it.  Otherwise the only voices out there are the wrong ones.

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hmmm…

Hi readers, Sugar here.  I’ve taken down my last post for the time being.  It generated a bit more vitriol that Bionic and I were comfortable with, considering I was writing about someone we actually know.  I was pretty angry with that person, so possibly my tone was off.

More updates from Bionic coming soon, I hope.  Operation find a therapist who will return a message, make an appointment and then work on the right stuff is still underway.


12 Comments

Of children’s books and cognitive dissonance

Sugar here.  I haven’t posted in a while, but, hey, I’m still here, mostly reading along as Bionic writes.  I’ve been feeling a bit sad myself, these days.  I wouldn’t have thought of our library of children’s books as an emotional minefield, but it turns out that, yes, I can just start crying in the middle of say, Where Does the Garbage Go?  Because why?  Don’t ask kid, it’s too depressing.

Some favorites of the Bean that can really get me down while I try to read cheerfully along:

Bob and Otto: screw you, famous, successful friend

Oh the Places You’ll Go: or not. or we’re just all in the waiting place forever.

Giraffes Can’t Dance: but what if the music you love doesn’t pay enough to support you?

Frederick: isn’t this book about starving to death in winter?

Where does the garbage go? oh god, I don’t want to think about landfills.

Then there are the books that don’t push immediate emotional buttons, but I wonder about the wisdom of reading.  Sure, it’s great that the Bean loves books and loves cars and loves trains and wants to combine those loves. But. Danger at the Dieselworks, which keeps coming home from the library, has the worst subtext ever. (Don’t go hang out with those bad kids on the other side of the tracks. They are scary and mean because they are poor and have nasty stuff.  Also, they shouldn’t try to challenge authority either, because authority always means well…ahem) Does the Bean ever ask me questions about this set up? No!  Instead he wants to know why the Giraffe in Giraffe’s Can’t Dance learns to dance so quickly.  (Because he doesn’t.  He never learns to dance.  Now can we talk about systemic racism?)

I am also bothered by the fact that all books based on the Disney Cars franchise just make no actual sense.  They contain many sentences, but no sentence relates to any other.  Can it be good to read something that looks like a book, but acts like performance art?

Then there’s the work of changing the pronouns in Good Night Good Night Construction Site so that every other vehicle is a girl (come on, would it have been so hard to have even one girl in that book?).  I keep imagining a scenario where the Bean is old enough to read, catches me out, and tells Jackalope, who also loves trucks, that all the trucks in the book are really boys.  I hope he proves me wrong on this one.

Finally, there are books that fall into the category of questionable psychology.  For instance, Alexander and the No Good, Very Bad Day confuses me.  His day is bad.  It doesn’t get better.  Alexander was published in 1972.  I have this sense that in the 70s gritty, slightly depressing realism was thought to be good for a person, kind of like eating fiber but for the brain. But does this hold up? Do we still need to do this?

Perhaps the 80s were worse: In Gregory the Terrible Eater (published 1980) a goat’s parents encourage him to binge eat so that he will feel terrible and stop overeating.  Not only is this MESSED UP, but, as a former binge eater, I can tell you it won’t work.

It is not all horrors, of course. The Bean recently became enchanted with The Z was Zapped (the only difficult question — what is kidnapping, mommy?) so I am anticipating beginning to reread some books I really loved, like The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.  And the Bean made an awesome book for the Jackalope the other day, for when she needs to be cheered up, he said.  It is called Peekaboo Daniel, has two pages, and features a surprise picture of Daniel Tiger (Jackalope’s favorite) when you open it up.


8 Comments

in which Sugar encounters her inner bitch and the Bean discovers his own mortality

Sugar here.

By all accounts the Bean is doing very well in school. They love him and have been telling us how much he has been changing and growing. He now sings songs to himself around the apartment that I don’t really know (“dem bones, dem bones, dem DRY bones…”) He talks a blue streak. He kisses his sister. He also knocks her over when she tries to come near his projects. He is attention-seeking and LOUD and BANANAS around the apartment. I wish we lived in a football field.

In the changing and growing department, the Bean has now encountered kids who don’t want to play with him. His school is mixed ages 2-4 and the four year olds have a certain je ne sai quoi that everyone wants. Two of them in particular are attractive to the Bean, but he is not that attractive to them. Both of these kids are named after American presidents, so from here on they will be known as Presidential One and Presidential Two.

One day after school I watched as he ran around the playground after Presidential One, sort of playing with him (?), only to be brained with a tire swing as P One either forgot that the Bean was near by or had never noticed him in the first place. After trying to answer the sad question, “Why did P One DO THAT?” (“I think it was an accident, honey”) and wiping away the tears, I tried to remedy the situation by at least having them say goodbye to one another before we left the playground. P One’s too-cool-for-school mother was with him and looked around at me like I was trying to crash her party. “Oh, they were playing together before, so I thought they would like say goodbye,” I said. “They were?” she asked, as though this were both unbelievable and undesirable. “Well, bye then,” I said lamely to P One and tried to get the Bean to wave. P One never noticed.

So.

Days later, I took the Bean to school and we were the first ones there. I have to do early drop-off because otherwise I can’t get to work on time. Every day that I do this I am grateful for how independent the Bean is. He just goes over to one of the activities they have out for the kids to choose from, starts playing, receives his kiss goodbye, and seems happy as a clam.

On this particular day the Bean took me over to a bunch of legos on a shelf and carefully explained and P One and P Two were working with them the last time they were all at school together. “Ok.” I said. “I don’t think that P One and P Two would like me touching their stuff…” The Bean said looking longingly at one of the big flat legos on the shelf. “Well, go play with the legos in the big box out on the floor then,” I said. “Ok.” The Bean went over and started sadly taking legos out of the box. “But I really want one of the flat pieces,” he said then. There were no flat pieces in the big box.

“You know,” I said, looking around to see if I was observed and gleefully dismantling the haloed legos, “P One and P Two aren’t here. This isn’t their stuff anymore. It belongs to your school. Here you go, one flat piece for your enjoyment. Play with it on the floor though.”

Then I felt bad for the rest of the work day because maybe I was teaching my son to be retaliatory and resentful? At least I didn’t say, “P One and P Two don’t play with you so they can go to hell,” as my own mother would have done…

And then there was the realization the Bean made this past weekend.

Bionic and the Bean were watching a documentary on the national parks system which currently was covering the FDR era. The Bean started asking questions about the people mentioned. Did we know any of them (no, they are too old). Well then did we know anyone old enough to know them (not really) and finally, where are all those people now?

“They’re dead,” Bionic said neutrally.

And since we’ve arrived at the age of why, the Bean then asked, “why?”

“Most people eventually die,” Bionic said. “All people.”

“WHAT?” the Bean asked, “Even ME?”

“Well, yes.”

“But I don’t want to go away! I want to stay here!” Then followed a half hour of crying and being rocked by Bionic on the couch, all the while staring at us like how could we possibly tell him such a terrible thing, after which Bionic abruptly decided that they would make chocolate icing and frost a cake.

At least his favorite baby sitter came to take care if him that night so we could go out for our anniversary. During which time we tried very hard not to talk about death.


20 Comments

a thought experiment

Sugar here.

On our minds lately:

Should we move to a warmer, cheaper, less hectic place? We might want to, but we’re not sure. At any rate, I am applying to jobs that are, gasp, not in New York. The idea of moving, i.e. the packing, the boxes, the baby and toddler amongst the boxes, the needing to find a place to live, buy a car, etc., is not appealing AT ALL, but the idea of having done those things and being in an actual house, A HOUSE!, is. Also, Bionic has not been having her usual set of anxiety dreams about how I insist that we buy a house without a roof that is teetering on the edge of a cliff because really it’s fine. Which means that maybe she’s ready?

Of course we have qualms. At the top of my qualm list is whether it will feel like giving up my ambitions and turning into a cubicle drone. My ambitions are/were mostly to be able to do art and have people see it. Getting to New York was therefore a sort of life goal. Unfortunately for me, once I got here, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Also, my job, commute, and general lack of space makes it basically impossible for me to actually make any art. So my rational self says, go somewhere else, set up a studio, get a little more free time (i.e. don’t reestablish two and a half hours of commute per day) and make some stuff. My irrational self says – AAAAAHHHHHHHh – New York is the pinnacle of something and so I should stay here and continue to suck! Because that makes sense.

Here is a short pro/con list based on recent conversations between me and Bionic:

Pros


14 Comments

In which the Bean stands up for himself

Hello. Sugar here. Things are lovely chez Bionique these days. Jackalope spends stretches of time sleeping at night! Bionic is not demonstrably depressed! I am home cooking food! I thought I would satisfy you all with some pictures of our recent doings before moving on to the story I really want to tell you.

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As you might imagine, the Bean is a bit bored, what with everyone being sick and the snow just dumping down day after day. I was finally feeling well enough to take him somewhere on Tuesday, and he chose the Botanic Garden. The two of us trekked up there through the snow only to discover that it was closed due to “ice conditions.” So, The Bean suddenly decided that we might as well stop in at the Brooklyn Museum. This we did.

When we were finished looking at the floor with all the historic houses and house models we came out to the elevator area and found a guard who addressed the Bean loudly. As in, “hello little guy!” at the top of his voice. He was one of those old white farts who pretends that he wants to have a conversation with a child, but actually just want to hear himself talk. He went off on a random monologue about the age of various houses on the floor, which went over the Bean’s head, segued into discussing his own house and how old it was, and wound all this up with “…just like your mommy and daddy.”

The whole time the man was talking the Bean was surreptitiously pulling on my hand, as in, oh god, can’t we just get on the elevator? But when the mommy and daddy statement happened he stopped. He looked at the floor, like he was reasoning something out, and then he looked up at the guard, gave him a hard stare, and said quite loudly, “actually, I have a mommy and a mama.” His tone said, duh, what rock have you been living under?

Mr. Guard said nothing, so I repeated what the Bean had said, verbatim, in case he hadn’t caught the Bean’s enunciation. Mr. Guard gave me a troubled smile but still said nothing. So we got on the elevator and left. Once the doors had shut I told Bean that he had done a terrific job, that not everybody knows about all the different kinds of families and that it is a fine idea to educate them.

In my heart, however, I feel conflicted about this incident. Part of me was very pleased, both to be validated by my kid and to hear him stand up for himself. But part of me feels sad and probably guilty that my “life choices” have put my son in the position of needing to stand up for himself and his family. It was stressful watching the Bean navigate this awkwardness at the age of not quite three. Of course it probably helped that he clearly thought the man was an idiot. I’m glad that it wasn’t a teacher or a friend or someone he had developed any respect for. But still.

So, two and a half cheers and an “enh” for reaching this milestone, I guess. Have a picture of the Bean painting his new firehouse, otherwise known as a cardboard box:

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(Bionic says this picture should be titled “objects in photo less darling than they appear”)


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Registering my displeasure

Sugar here.  I would like to state for the record, BEFORE any shit goes down (and I hope none will, but still…) that I did not like that last doctor we met.  I don’t think Bionic has given her a nickname yet, but I would like to dub her Dr. Smarm.  Points not in favor of Dr. Smarm:

  1. She seemed not to have time for us.
  2. When discussing Bionic’s desire not to be instructed to hold her breath during pushing she said that she had never seen anyone who had been able to push out a baby without holding her breath.  When I said that this was not a minor point for us, she smiled at me condescendingly and said “you’ll see.”
  3. She talked in a fake high cutesy voice to the bean.
  4. She referred to Dr. Russian using her first name.  They may be actual friends in real life.
  5. She insisted that the birth plan Bionic brought to the appointment could not be included in Bionic’s folder even though we had been told to bring it so it could be copied and included in Bionic’s folder (…?…)
  6. She didn’t bother to stay long enough in the room to even mention when Bionic’s next appointment should be.
  7. She has stupid highlights. (ok, I know — hair —  but hers managed to look both expensive and bad at the same time, indicating bad judgement, or something)

 
I am disappointed to learn that she will be leaving the practice two weeks AFTER Bionic is due.  Why not now, lady?  I think you’ve checked out already.

I think it is possible that I am feeling a bit over protective of Bionic, but I found myself wanting to defend her/us from this Dr., which can’t be a good sign.  Here’s hoping that we get one of the other five….