Monday, August 22, 2016

Yosemite Day 2

I just realized I never actually posted this. So even though it's not timely, at least it's public :)

The next day the snow was done snowing. We could actually see the mountains that had been right on top of us. We could see a waterfall from just outside our door.

This is a different waterfall. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE.

 We went ice skating in the shadow of Half Dome. They have a fire pit next to the rink and sell you s'mores packages. Pro tip: be the third family to do s'mores. The kits easily make enough for 10 people and we wound up sharing ours.

I cannot say enough good things about Yosemite. It was beautiful. The people there were unfailingly nice and friendly, reminding me of summer camps I went to as a child. Everyone we ran into was happy to have snowball fights, build snowmen, share a seat on the bus. I will remember this for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


That really wasn't once a month, was it? But oh well. My mother is visiting my grandmother this week. She fell a week ago and was in the hospital getting checked out, and apparently she needs pictures of Austin, STAT.

How can I say no?

He really likes watching Pokemon now, and it comes on right before Dexter's Lab, which we are not recording for him, but the DVR always catches the intro. So he built Dexter's Lab out of legos. He included a light up remote control (in his left hand)

We did some sand art, with glue and colored sand. And he drew the Eiffel Tower. The weird thing is, he did this on Bastille Day, AND I DIDN'T EVEN TELL HIM.

I am very enamored of this library. It is attached to a playground. This is their first attempt at the climbing wall

And I also have something very special! An old movie that I've been working on for a while. 

Tune in tomorrow, when maybe it will be done uploading :(

Friday, February 12, 2016

We Meet Snow

The day we left for Yosemite, Austin and I both had colds. We wanted to leave at 10, to arrive before dark. We had laundry to do and had to stop on the way out to buy long underwear and gloves. We left around 2:30, which, in retrospect, seems like an accomplishment.

The day we left for Yosemite, the local automotive stores did not carry chains. So we had to stop for those too, but in Tracy, not San Jose. 

We were supposed to have all day Saturday to run these errands. We were supposed to leave Sunday. But as our weekend approached, I watched the weather reports predict snow. Then a lot of snow. All day. We didn't grow up with snow. I didn't want to drive up a narrow mountain pass in 5-8 inches of snow. So I changed our reservation to drive up Saturday. And this meant we ran a ton of errands and drove up in the dark, but it was so worth it to wake up to this:

Yosemite Sophie

Austin said it was the best vacation he ever had.


We also took a field trip Sunday to the Awahnee Hotel. I've always wanted to see it because it's where they filmed The Shining.

Yup, it looks just like that.

Maudit the shining jack nicholson stanley kubrick my fancy gifs never do well but w/e i still try

We had brunch! Everyone was just shockingly nice.

When we were finishing up, the waiter brought each child a bag, with matching forest ranger duckies.

Come play with us...
Even the bus drivers and passengers on the bus were super nice, letting our kids sit when there was no room, playing games with them, pointing out coyotes as we drove through the park...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Of Minecraft and Little Men

I feel pretty lucky to be a parent at this time. Maybe no one else thinks like this, but I remember the first time the boy got a diaper rash and my brain suddenly reeled... "how did people deal with this 100 years ago??" We had a bag of goodies from the hospital with all sorts of cool modern things, like a nasal bulb, baby nail clippers, diaper cream... we didn't even have to buy these things.

After the first year, I came away convinced that babies used to be just disgusting creatures who probably screamed all the time because their butts hurt and there was always junk in their nose. This doesn't even get into the awesomeness of 24 hour nurse helplines, the internet and vaccines.

But I digress. This story is about a much more recent development. Our son discovered Minecraft. At first, he liked to watch Youtube videos of players who basically hosted their own shows. His favorite was Stampycat, a very wholesome, English player who liked to eat virtual cakes with his friends. Eventually, we got him the pocket version which you can play on the iPad. It wasn't on the network, so we weren't worried he would meet pedophiles or constantly get mugged by internet strangers. And he was good at it! It's basically like digital legos. You can play in two modes: survival mode means you have to create your own buildings and weapons and monsters come out at night to fight you. Creative mode lets you fly and you can spawn monsters and other animals, but they're calmer and you really can't die and you don't have to go hunting for resources: all the materials you might need are just in your inventory in infinite amounts.

And it's actually impressing the hell out of me to watch him build. He picked it up really fast and he loves to make things in this expansive, boxy world. And we work hard to make sure that he's not using a ton of screen time, but it feels like Minecraft is creative enough and engaging enough that we can justify a lot of time with it.


He kind of likes to murder animals while he plays.

I'm not talking about hunting animals to get materials to build or food. I'm talking about how, in an utterly peaceful world, where nothing is hunting or hurting him, he'll suddenly spawn a couple dozen virtual squid to die in a meadow. The other day, I heard the strangest sound. I leaned forward and he was hatching cats from eggs (that's how it works), in a cave full of lava pools that he was herding them into. The sound was a hundred or so digital ocelots crying out. And this made me feel all weird. How hard do you come down on a kid who seems perfectly sweet and loves animals unless they're part of this imaginary world where he's essentially a god?

Naturally, I took to the internet, and googled "five year old likes to torture minecraft animals". 

It always comforts me when google successfully fills in these worries I'm having with my kids. It's like, ok, there's a few thousand other parents with kids who are doing exactly the same thing. It's comforting, really.

Not much advice though. I kind of like the angry sheep god idea. I don't really think it's a productive road to go down, chastising him for hurting imaginary things. So much of pretend play is based around fighting, whether as a superhero or a knight or as Steve (the avatar available to beginning Minecraft players). Why should I freak out over him killing fake animals if I don't worry about him killing fake super villains instead of giving them their due process rights?

This all happened a few months ago, so there's actually been a new development: we got him the real Minecraft for Christmas. So this means he can play on a much bigger screen, and it's the full version, not just the pocket version. We still don't let him play on the network. But he has been begging us to play with him. A week ago he wanted to watch me kill the Ender Dragon, so I did. And then he wanted to play with me, exploring together. And it was fun, once I got the hang of the controls. Sometimes he would accidentally hit me while we were wandering together, and he would apologize.

And then, he murdered me and took all my stuff.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Year

Woo. Last year was a doozy. I would have written more about it, but I find that as the kids age, it becomes harder to figure out what kinds of things I can share here. I'm also short on time and positivity, and I don't want to just complain or rant about things.

On the other hand, I am so grateful for the posts I've made in the past. Going back over the years to see how the kids are growing and changing is magical. It helps me keep perspective instead of getting caught up in the grind of daily struggles. It helps me remember that some things will not be hard forever. Some easy things will get harder. And I will be sorry if I don't take a few moments to record what things are like right now.

So, let's have some resolutions. This is the first one. I even made it on the first and everything:

#2 I will post here more regularly. I think I should be able to manage once a month.

#3 I will draw more. I had not realized how much it improved my mood to draw a little bit. Inktober was a welcome return to myself. It wasn't just good for me, but it also allowed my kids to see me doing something personal, instead of just mom things all the time. And sometimes they drew with me, leading to resolution #1. Doing something for myself wound up becoming an activity for them too.

There are so many ways being a parent changes you. And part of raising children is learning how to recover yourself, once your kids have reached an age where they don't need you quite so much. It's nice to see them as little people. And this past year was intense, but really really good too.

Let's hope next year is even better <3

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trick or Treat!

The Witch had a Cat.

And a very tall hat.

And long ginger hair that he wore in a plait.

The Cat picked green fur at the fabric store.

But it wound up being too heavy for her.
 (I did not invent this amazing costume. I followed the excellent instructions here:

Amazing props to you, Rory! This thing was really neat. But just a bit too big for an almost 3 year old.)

"It too heavy, Mama."

So we fixed ears on a band

And gloves on her hands

Before we set out for candy land

And whoosh... They were gone.

The night air was cool

Sophie wore tulle

As we walked to the houses next door to our school

And somehow we lost the long ginger plait

But this was still the best Halloween yet

And his first costume parade.

If you would like to see a more political and opinionated post about this costume, see here:

The Season of the Witch

"What do you want to be for Halloween, Austin?"

"I want to be the Witch from Room on The Broom."

My son is five. His birthday was nearly a month ago, and his favorite things are Lego, Minecraft, Star Wars and animals. He also loves outer space, fighter jets and pretty much anything that flies. And he loves Room on the Broom.

Room on the Broom was a book and then a short movie that we recorded last Halloween on Sprout. It is about a Witch and her Cat who meet other animals as they fly over fields and mountains. These other animals ask if there's room on the broom and the Cat doesn't want to share, but the Witch always says "Yes!" Eventually, under the weight of the Witch, the Cat, the Dog, the Frog and the Bird, the broom breaks. The Witch is separated from her animal friends and chased by a dragon. The other animals band together to save her, and in the end, the Witch creates a new broom that really is big enough for all of them. It's a wonderful story.

I am proud that my child wants to dress as this character, who shares and has an expansive and joyful love for all the creatures she meets. She is kind, but also powerful and fearless, casting spells and flying at high speeds through the wind. These are the kinds of things I want my son to hear about.

I am anxious about this costume though. Just a few days ago, the local news was featuring a three year old who wants to be Elsa for Halloween. And who wouldn't want to be Elsa? She's a queen who can create snow and ice castles through her fingers. She makes living snowmen, and snow monsters. She is a bad ass, by far the coolest character in Frozen, definitely with the best song.

But this kid is a boy. So the news picked it up, because it was A BIG DEAL. I'll not comment on the fact the news was covering a three year old's choice of Halloween costume:

And people are praising the parents. Some people. Others were not shy about their opinions:

On what planet does it make sense to link a 3 year old boy in a princess costume to mass murder?

I was really struggling with my feelings about all of this. I want my children to figure out who they are and feel safe and confident with their choices. I want them to choose their own heroes and I am not sad or angry that my son loves a character who is kind and generous and powerful. But what if people are mean to him? What if kids tease him at school? What if, god forbid, we run into those assholes leaving comments on my local news channel's Facebook?

The thing that I find especially distressing are the less hateful, but still negative comments. This is not the first time he's dressed as a witch: he also loves Kiki's Delivery Service. He wanted to dress as Kiki one night, so I gave him one of my sweaters and put a bow on his head. He was 3, and adorable, so I took a picture and shared it on Facebook. And it was my own, very progressive mother who said, "He'll hate you for this when he's older."*

And I knew what she meant. She meant that someday, when he's a teenager or close to it, his peers might go seeking out pictures of each other from their little kid days. And if they find a picture of him dressed as a witch, or really, as a girl, he'll get teased. And she didn't mean any harm. And most importantly, she has a point. But I love Kiki. I take pictures of my children to share with family and friends. Why wouldn't I share a moment when he's dressed as one of his heroes, when it's so adorable and great? And if I shouldn't share a single picture from a moment at home, what should I do if he wants to wear a witch costume outside the home into a crowd of strangers?

Am I supposed to protect from this?

Isn't it kind of sad that I'm asking this instead of expecting other kids not to be jerks? And this wasn't the first or only place I saw all of this playing out. And while that was hard for me to see, it was also good, in the way it forced me to think really hard about my own feelings here, as a parent and a feminist:

I am really freaking out this year. Not because my kids are having a hard time picking a costume: they're both 100% sure. Nope. It's because my 5 year old wants to be the Witch from Room on the Broom. And he's a boy. And I just saw a story on the news about a 3 year old boy who wants to be Elsa. A story on the news about a 3 year old's Halloween costume! And there are so many assholes in the comments talking about what bad parents these are and how spoiled this kid is BECAUSE THEY LET A 3 YEAR OLD PICK HIS OWN COSTUME.

So yeah, I'm not worried about the fact my son is going to be a kickass witch this year. Instead I'm worried about running into these assholes who think the world is going to end because a boy wants to wear a dress for 1 day. WTF.

What do you think it teaches a little boy, when people act like this? I can only tell you what I saw: I saw a little boy who wanted to dress up, and adults comparing that to a kid dressing like a terrorist. To a kid dressing like Hitler. To a kid actually growing up to be a mass murderer. So, in a lot of adult's minds, dressing like a female character is equivalent to dressing like Hitler or actually killing people. What does this say about women? About boys?

I was lucky to find something else at this time, an article describing the effects this kind of thinking has on men as they grow up:

"Men often minimize their gender policing by calling it “teasing,” “ribbing,” or “ball–busting,” but it usually manifests as ridicule meant to point out behaviors which are not coded as masculine in an effort to correct them. This may be done with or without malice; parents, for example, may feel that by discouraging feminine–coded behaviors, they are protecting their sons from future ridicule by firmly correcting them early. Yet the cumulative effect of this is to circumscribe a section of acceptable behavior, such that by the time the average man reaches adulthood, he has internalized an extensive checklist of behaviors that must be avoided lest ridicule result. In essence, male children are subject to trauma in an effort to spare them from trauma."

Not only does this kind of treatment send negative messages about women and girls, it also internalizes this extremely narrow concept of masculinity. And it's weird; in all the comments I read about boys dressing as female characters, there was this recurring idea that "boys are a certain way," and that this is "a teachable moment":

And none of them seem to pick up on this discrepancy:  If you have to teach a boy that boys are "a certain way" then maybe that's not what boys are really like at all. It's the box referred to in the article about masculinity.

There is this notion promoted daily, about feminism and history, that says that the hard work of equality is done. The bras were burned, the suffragists marched, the glass ceiling was smashed by our grandmothers and mothers. But this is a dangerous way to view culture and identity. If feminism were finished, we would allow individual girls and boys to tease out their own interests and identities from a broad, ungendered field of choices. Instead, we see that things are incredibly stratified. The toy stores are full of signals directing girls to certain things and boys to others. Lego has created lines of building toys that are full of these signals. And that would be fine, if it weren't for all the cues that drive boys not to choose them. I know my own son asked for a lot of Lego kits over the years, and one was from the Lego Friends line. The girly one. And I bought it for him when he asked for it, before he realized that he's not supposed to want it. This is not a secret. Many people have written about this division and bemoaned the impact on girls and STEM. And I have a daughter, so I'm concerned about that, but I wish more people would realize that there's also this impact on boys. If a boy wants to build a pink sailboat or a pastel colored veterinarian's office, there ought to be nothing wrong with that. Veterinarians and sailboats are awesome. They don't belong to one gender.

And when my son wanted to be the witch for Halloween, I was very careful with it. I stifled all my own anxiety and gathered as many pieces as I could, matching the Witch from the movie: hat, red sweater, purple skirt, black cloak...

And it wasn't until I gave him the pieces to try on that I realized he wanted pants instead of a skirt. So the next day I hunted down a pair of purple pants, but he also tried the skirt on. And I painted blue polka-dots on both of them, so he could be exactly the kind of Witch he wanted to be. I also made him a ginger braid, which he loved, and wore it so often that, on Halloween night, it was too loose and fell off somewhere. 

It wasn't until a few days later that I heard him say, "Witches are girl costumes." I'm pretty sure I know which kids said so, but I'm glad it didn't seem to bother him. And hopefully, if I'm supportive when he makes these kinds of choices, whether about Halloween costumes or tv shows or whatever, he'll trust me with his real ideas and opinions, instead of feeling circumscribed by the people who are supposed to help him grow. 

I am so glad to live in a world where girls are encouraged and celebrated for choosing superhero costumes and dreaming about astronauts and being rock stars. Now it's time to also make a world where boys aren't afraid to be witches or princesses for a day or two. I will not be the one to teach my son that there's something wrong with women or femininity. But I will always be there to teach him and his sister that women are amazing.

And I will share the pictures, in the hope that other parents might feel a little less apprehensive supporting their kids. It is a big world and most of us are not out to ruin a kid's Halloween. And choosing to be a princess or a witch for Halloween doesn't mean your kid is confused about gender, any more than a kid who wants to be a truck or a dinosaur is confused about whether or not he's a human being.

*When I spoke to my mom about this post, she told me that my cousins had trick or treated one year as the Phantom of the Opera and Christine. The big sister was the Phantom because her brother still had a better soprano voice. This was sometime in the early 90s, and no one was hateful to them, even deep in the heart of Texas.