Pink stink

I had an impossible time finding a plain pink shirt for my son when he was two.  I wound up buying him a tie-dye with a big pink heart in the center instead. He wore it all the time. It suited him. He’s also had whatever length of hair he likes his whole life, usually preferring it long. He was accidentally called a girl by strangers regularly and he was able to shrug it off ninety percent of the time, because neither his dad or I treated him as though liking so-called “girl” looks or toys or colors was weird or problematic. If anyone thought his masculinity was being damaged, they didn’t say it to my face.

So I don’t understand why the J. Crew catalog ad with the company’s creative director Jenna Lyons and her pink-toenailed boy caused any kind of stir. The idea that boys doing “girl” things could cause “gender confusion” seems inextricably tied to a horde of old-school chauvinist ideas that don’t help anyone of either gender.

And the idea that the boy will be bullied because of this picture? Only possibly by children of the kind of parents that consider such things damaging or outrageous. If you ask me, instilling those kinds of limitations on everyone’s boy- and girl-ness or, even worse, antagonizing the choices of lovely, curious children on the basis of such limited perceptions is far more damaging than all the pink toenail polish in the world.

P.S. I loved Jon Stewart’s “Toemaggedon” coverage.

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He can do it himself

Once, when he was two or three, he asked me in earnest, “can I drive?”

Now he watches my right knee as we travel through town.

“Why does it move when you drive? What is your leg doing?”

I love the way he constantly looks under the hood of the world to find out how it runs. How his school has encouraged that.

At one point, keeping him from falling off the ledge (or driving there, apparently) was so important.

Every year since, it’s been more important to drop that habit and just let him do.

I’m not allowed to see what clothes he picks in the morning until he’s fully dressed. His style is better than anything the celebrities can afford.

He loves to have a job to do.

He loves to get things done.

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Patience

“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

I needed to find a good quotation about patience because I seem to have lost mine today.

I have padded my life with it. It comforts me to have it. I feel safe when I’m surrounded by it.

Then I run into a day like today. There’s no wrong to face, no particular problem to struggle with. My patience  just disappeared without warning.

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The re-education of a science mom

The other day, my son was asked to draw a picture of something he is grateful for.

He made semi-scribbly, red twisty lines. Above them, he wrote “DNA.”

I asked him why. Why DNA?

“Because it’s here,” he said. “No life would be here without it. Not the trees, not you or me. Nothing.”

To be honest, I am far more grateful that he is happy we exist than I am that he understands DNA.

I asked him if I could blog about what he said and he agreed.

“What should I say about DNA?” I asked him.

“Life needs it in order to be here, just think about it,” he said. “Just write about it in a long sentence. Write that it controls cells. That cancer happens when DNA is broken.”

I think back on high school and remember myself as a girl with an aversion to science.  Today, I don’t know that it was an aversion so much as something that my teachers presented in a way that I couldn’t find relevant to my daily life. I was technically adept, but confounded by chemistry. And if there were programs designed to promote women and girls in science and math in 1980s Central Ohio, we never crossed paths. I veered into social science and the arts and humanities, where the world seemed to invite me.

So now I live with an almost six-year-old whose aptitude for understanding quantum mechanics, geology, biology and especially astronomy have long since dwarfed my own. This is thanks to Google, several extremely cool kids’ science books, our fantastic local science center. a great, old-school observatory, the vast array of images in discounted Hubble Telescope picture books, PBS, National Geographic, the History, Science and Discovery channels and the availability of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on Netflix.

When my son was two, he was in love with everything he could find out about the planets, moons, stars, dark matter and endless nebulae (he loved watching the short film Powers of Ten over and over, which we found on a now-defunct kids’ astronomy site). Around that time, Neil DeGrasse Tyson floated the idea on some talk show or other that he was working on a book that would tell parents the key things they needed to know to be scientifically literate and raise scientifically literate children.

I’ve longed for this book, although I think my re-education in science has gone okay without it. My son used to get frustrated with me over the things I couldn’t answer. Now we’re both content to let him do most of the teaching.  Truthfully, he always has.

Here’s the thing, though: If it all went away tomorrow, if his interests suddenly took a radical turn into Batman and baseball and fart jokes, I like to think that I wouldn’t turn into a judgmental parent who turned her nose up at “lesser” pursuits. I’d be sad to see interests that have been so fun and exciting and integral to his life diminished, but our lives would be easier. I wouldn’t have to evaluate, every year, the thorny politics of introducing him to a new classroom and new teachers. Parents wouldn’t dislike me because I’m worried about my smart kid.  To most, it doesn’t sound like a problem. It sounds like bragging.

If you go around telling people that your kid is smart, special, or at least has a high aptitude for a particular subject, I’ve found out that you’re likely to do that child more harm than good in the classroom, on the playground, in life. What you say can turn morph into a temporary blind spot for teacher, who has heard a thousand parents’ confident descriptions, many of them wrong, or at least lacking the perspective on a sea of children that an experienced educator has.

I try to let my son unfold before his teachers without my assistance. And if they are good teachers, they find him. They see him.  And if they are very good, they know how complicated it can be for sweet-faced boy who still has all of his baby teeth to know so much, so very, very much. Together, we see him recognize the reality of things that once just seemed cool or interesting to know before, not scary or heavy. I see it suddenly weigh on him and I sometimes wish I could erase that thing he learned a year ago, that thing I thought he would forget. He rarely forgets.

And so I let him explore Super Mario Galaxy, joke books, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Justin Beiber. I am relieved when dances like a lion, puts a pylon on his head or tells me about playing “crazy baby” on the playground with a friend. I don’t want him to be the ultimate brainiac of the universe. That’s lonely. I want him to be every bit his brilliant self, but I also want him to be happy. I want him to feel okay and whole when he’s not feeling brilliant.

I imagine Sagan, as well as Tyson and the wide host of living celebrity science advocates I am now acquainted with as people with a dark blue sense of humor.

I keep joking with friends: “If you’re going to raise an astrophysicist, better to raise an astrophysicist who can make jokes about his balls.”

Or maybe it’s not a joke. Maybe it’s my science mommy prayer.

This post is a contribution to the #scimom collection, an experimental conjunction of mom and science bloggers.

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He rocks

There’s so much I wish I could say about him here. Stories about the way his mind is working and the tenderness of his heart. It would make this 30-day exercise a breeze.

But he is so remarkably becoming now.  Anecdotes don’t do him any justice. You wouldn’t believe what I told you anyway. Most people don’t, until they stop talking and listen to him.

I wish more people knew what it is to listen to children. To stop trying to teach or entertain or discipline or coach and listen.

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Dharma spelling

My son patiently snuggled on my lap during a Sunday morning dharma teaching about living in samsara. As I took in my wise teacher’s thoughts about nurturing compassion in the face of bad drivers, mean governors and crappy news, he pulled out a pad of paper and some crayons.

Oh, imperfection. Impermanence. How beautiful it can be. I think this is the best phonetic spelling ever.

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Smooching infinity since 2005.