Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lego’s New Gender-Specific Construction Sets

Lego has come out with a new line of gender-specific toys and it has enraged a group of women who collected more than 1,000 signatures overnight to protest it, according to an article in the New York Daily News.[1] The girl-themed Lego sets offer curvy figurines, a hot tub, beauty parlor and a rash of pink colors.  Construction sets include: an inventor’s workshop, a splash pool, a hot convertible, a design studio and a dog show.  Dana Edell, head of the activist organization SPARK remarked, “The new line of Legos is focused on girls getting their hair done and sitting at a café and hanging out at the beach.”[2]

Is Lego discriminating against girls by issuing a gender-specific line of products?  Or is it correcting prior discriminatory practices by offering girls more of a choice?  Were the prior Lego sets gender neutral or gender specific?  Is there anything wrong with selling a toy that more closely resembles the traditional world of a girlie-girl who adores Barbies and satin dresses and all things pink?  To answer these questions, I read a couple of pieces of writing by two friends of mine.

The first blogger, The Mother Freakin’ Princess (“MFP”), is an ass-kicking, pink tutu-wearing dirt-bike racer who represents the girlie-girl point of view.  As she writes, “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THOSE OF US WHO LIKE TO WEAR PINK, OR TUTUS, OR JEWELRY, OR MAKE-UP, OR COLOR OUR HAIR.”[3]  MFP argues that Lego’s are not gender-neutral, and it pleases her that Lego “came up with more sets aimed at girls who like pink, flowers, small animals, and getting their hair and nails done.”  Women who were pink and pursue a feminine sense of being do so not due to a lack of self-worth or due to societal pressures.  No, MFP states: “We do it because it’s fun.”  And the women who are protesting the new Lego’s set are bullying the pink princesses and should simply choose not to buy the new sets.  It’s all about choice, as far as MFP is concerned: “Let me choose for myself.”

Another respected blogger and friend, Transitioning Mom, writes in a letter to Lego that “Legos have always been a . . . gender neutral toy in our home, and that is still refreshing to find in any toy aisle. I would hate for today’s girls to believe their dreams are limited by their gender.”[4]  Transitioning Mom, unlike MFP, believes that the traditional Lego’s were gender neutral and does not want for the company to market Lego’s in a gender-specific or gender-appropriate way with “your classic sets (through separate shopping aisles, packaging, print ads, etc.), including those that offer the chance to be an astronaut, a Ninja, Harry Potter or a Pirate in the Caribbean.”[5]  Like MFP, Transitioning Mom agrees that choice is good, so long as the choices don’t push girls out of one category and into a less adventurous and intellectually challenging category.

While I wholeheartedly support the provision of a wide array of purchasing choices, I worry that tomboy will now feel pressured, when they play with Lego’s, to play only with the pink, gender-specific Lego’s.  Relatives will hesitate to purchases a manly looking Star Wars set for their female relations.  As a little girl and inveterate tomboy, I felt alien when tossed into pink Barbieland and alienated by the insistence that I play with dolls and girly toys.  It also bothers me that of the five new Lego construction sets, the inventor workshop, treats females as intellectually powerful and capable.  The other sets—the pool, the dog show, the design studio and the “cool convertible” either are frivolous in nature or envision women working in low-end, poorly paying careers, with the design studio a possible exception.  I have no problem with girls being offered more choices, as MFP asks.  Yet let us think carefully about the nature and meaning of such choices to ensure that we are not shunting the females of tomorrow into low-flying expectations of yesterday.


[1] “Brooklyn woman starts petition against girl-themed Lego Friends.” Tracy Conner, December 22, 2011.

[2] Id.

[3] “Don’t Tell Me Who I Am or What I Like. Let Me Choose For Myself.” December 22, 2011.

[4] See Transitioning Mom on Facebook, December 22, 2011.

[5] See id.




Blind School Injustice

Ben’s kindergarten teacher sent me a note.  It said, “Ben made an inappropriate comment: ‘Bomb a head off.'”  I pulled my little boy aside immediately and asked him, “What did you say to upset your teacher?” He giggled, looking innocent (read: no dimple showed) and explained: “We were making these Hanukkah books, with pictures where the girls walk around with a candles on their heads, and this is like a bomb, the candle is, so I told the girls at the table that I hope the bomb doesn’t blow off their heads.”

To summarize, my kindergartener got over excited and he and some other boy traded stories about exploding Hanukkah candle-bombs exploding in their heads.  I received another note later this afternoon alerting me that Ben’s file will include a permanent note marking him as a behavior threat because he used the word “bomb” in a scary way.  I am confused by what life is sending me.  Indubitably, threats should be taken seriously.

And yet, my son was not making a threat of any kind.  The County Guidelines define a threat as “an expression of intent to harm someone that may be spoken, written, or gestured.”  My son did not intend to harm anyone.  In all cases, including the one at hand, there must be some discretion. What happens when a child is reading from a textbook about a war or an assassination of a President and uses the words “gun,” “bomb” or “killed?”  What if a child uses such a word and is overheard and misunderstood by a teacher?  Why is my child being singled out when other children were laughing?  How could my 40 pound 5-year old constitute a threat to his classmates?  Does it not matter that he did not intend to hurt anyone but was in fact concerned that the candles would explode and injure someone else?  What if my son now has a permanent stain on his file because he got over excited and giggling over the candle-bombs?  How is this his fault?  Application of rules without context can result in an unjust legality, as it were.

Kindergarten boys use words.  Not all of these words are nice.  It’s how they learn. Words matter but they do not bear a magical connotation.  The words “bomb” or “gun” or “kill” all require context in order to assume their intended function; moreover, the only way we teach morality to little people is to allow them to use many of these words and to provide the proper context for the words.  When a 5-year-old screams, “I hate you,” or “I want to kill you,” this gives a conscientious parent the opportunity to discuss the nature of life and death and love and hate.  When a child screams, “I will kill you,” perhaps this is the time (for those of us who believe in the Word), to mention the Ten Commandments and the punishment God exacts upon murderers.  And if you’re wondering, I have had all of these conversations with my children and they’re better people for it.

A reader said to me, “It all starts and ends with the parenting.  It is not the schools’ responsibility to raise our kids or teach them right from wrong.  It is their job to teach them and keep them safe while doing it.  If that means they over react and back pedal after proper investigation, then so be it.”  I hear what she’s saying but I think when we create policies and procedures for almost-adult students and apply them to 5-year olds, we create more harm than good.  Sure, the school covers its ass, and maybe in the long run, that’s all we really care about.  We live in a society governed by a legal system that does little to protect the innocent.  There is a reason lawyers call it a “legal system” rather than a justice system, and the same sort of blind injustice governs the school systems.  Ben’s school is applying rules minus discernment or judgment or that word I used earlier: context.  This yields an easier result for the Bureaucrats and teachers but it ignores the needs of the individual child.  My child.  And this both disturbs and frightens me.




Questioning Santa, the Elf on the Shelf and God

What if Santa is a woman?  What if the idiotic Elf on the Shelf is a girl named Julie instead of a boy named Jack?  What if Mary Magdalene was the 13th Apostle?  Sigh, I apologize for this last question, I really do, but I can’t help it: what if God is a Goddess?  Did I start asking these questions this morning?  No, of course not.  I raised my hand in Honors Comparative Religion and asked a few questions along these lines as a freshman English major and the professor told me I was in the wrong class, asking the wrong questions.  The philosophy and history professors all told me to take my sarcasm elsewhere, and so I did: I left school and tried to write the great American novel and fumbled around for a couple of years before I stumbled back to college and argued my way to a degree, Magna Cum Laude.  I didn’t stop asking questions but I long ago stopped expecting that someone would provide answers.

Do I believe in God?  Yes, and I question almost everything I have read about him in the Bible.  I don’t know if God is male; I don’t know if he brought the locusts and the plagues upon the evil nations; I don’t know if he built Eve out of Adam’s rib (damn, that movie, Adam’s Rib makes me angry even though I love Hepburn and Tracy).  I don’t understand why the Old Testament is so hateful; the New Testament; so full of love. I don’t think that everything inscribed in its pages really occurred because even if God exists and is infallible, he did not write the books and chapters in the Bible.  Men wrote it and I keep coming back to two things: humans are highly imperfect and often are incapable of perceiving and speaking what is real and true; and, only men, and never women, wrote the words in its pages.

As the mother of three children, I try not to question my belief in God in front of them.  When I married my Methodist husband, I agreed (since I was terminally confused about my faith) to follow his lead in all things religious, and this has worked out well enough since he suffers from indolence on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t.  I teach the children the fundamentals of both my shaky Christian faith and my reason-based philosophy and hope that they will have the critical thinking ability, as they age, to figure things out for themselves.  In some ways, I want them to find an unshakeable faith.  To be honest, as I have waded through major depressive episodes again and again, I often have fallen to my knees and begged God to pass me a lifeline.  Faith in God gives me hope.  And yet I hope that God understands why I have so many doubts.

How does this relate to Santa Claus and the elf on the shelf?  I hate the Santa Claus myth.  It truly offends me that we are expected to lie to our children.  My daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa or his minions, and so I was able to tell her that Santa was a happy myth, a game, like a Disney movie, that parents told their children.  My boys, on the other hand, didn’t listen to me when I tried to dispute Santa’s existence, so I have played along reluctantly and yet detested the mendacity I have acquiesced in espousing.

It does not, unfortunately, stop here.  It isn’t enough that we lie about Santa.  Now we are expected to lie about the Elf on the Shelf, and this has created an unexpected problem.  My daughter, who is 8-going-on-28, felt the sting of discrimination when my husband put “Jack” on the shelf this morning, and I in turn realized that I have become an instrument in injuring her sense of self as a girl.

As the children ate breakfast, the boys chattered about Jack. “C,mon, Mom,” my daughter said grumpily, “We need to rename the Elf on the shelf.”

“That’s not possible. His name is Jack,” I replied as the kids fought among themselves.

“Yeah, but we can rename him every year,” she persisted.

“But he’s already named. That’s preposterous.”

Maddie shouted over her brothers. “No, what’s preposterous is that the elves always have boys’ names!”

I sighed. She had a good point, and of course the in-laws gave us that stupid thing already named.  “Maybe,” I mused, “I should rename the elf Julie.”  Madeline snickered.  Jim burst into tears and I glared at him and exclaimed, “Aw, stop crying about the elf!”

If I do not discard Jack, I will buy a dress for him and give him a girl’s name.  It seems unseemly to rename God a Goddess.  Who am I to know or to question God’s sex or gender?  But I will not stop at declaring Mary Magdalene the 13th disciple (a notion based on serious and scholarly arguments).  And the freakin’ Santa myth is difficult to combat when the entire culture pressures both parents and children into believing it.  I will not, however, inculcate the myth of the Elf on the Shelf; which is to say, if he remains in our household, she will, from now on, wear a dress.

 




Blowing Bubbles with Toilet Paper Roll Dispensers

Madeline slammed the bedroom door against the door wall and dramatically glided into my room.  For much of the afternoon, I had been lost in contemplation.  The day before, a friend had threatened suicide.  She lives thousands of miles away from me, and the only thing I could do to help her was to call the police in her city.  Now she is furious, and keeps finding new and creative ways to tell me just how furious.  As she burst into my room, my eldest child managed to grab my attention with a most unusual pronouncement: “Mom!!  Come quick!  Jim and Ben are sinking the Titanic in the downstairs bathroom and there is water everywhere!”

Hastily I threw the papers I’d been editing in the general direction of my desk and ran downstairs.  I heard Jim and Ben laughing uproariously and planning their next stunt.  “Hey Jim,” Ben cried, “Watch this!”  I ducked my head in around the corner and my jaw dropped not so much at the water dripping from sink to linoleum, but more so from the strange gurgling sounds coming from Jim’s mouth.

Something hung out of Ben’s mouth and I realized he was sucking or blowing on something.  Oh please God don’t let it be the toilet bowl brush.  One time I caught Ben chewing on the toilet bowl brush when he was a baby and I was sure he was going to die of some infectious disease.  I sighed in relief when my eyes scanned around the bathroom and settled on the still-intact toilet bowl brush.  Whew.  No need to got to the hospital.  Innocuously enough I suppose, my sons had removed the toilet paper roll from the dispenser and filled the sink with water. Then they pretended they were scuba diving around the capsized Titanic by blowing bubbles through the toilet paper cylinder into the sink.  It was weird and disgusting and ingenious and I snapped a few pictures.

Why take pictures of my children behaving crazily? I leave the analysis up to a friend, C.N.:

For the billionth time, I experience a flicker of abject gratitude that my childhood preceded the social media revolution. And for the billionth time, I’m grateful that my (alleged) adulthood coincided with the social media revolution, allowing me to enjoy things like the spectacle of online friends’ kids blowing bubbles in the sink with toilet paper rolls.

This time it was my kids blowing the bubbles, but who knows?  Maybe next time it will be someone else’s kids creating the happy madness.

A few minutes later, I too was laughing loudly at my winsome children playing with everyday bathroom supplies.  My husband walked in from work carrying his briefcase and looking all grownup in his grey overcoat and grey suit, and he tried not to smile at the puddle of water in the powder room.  I stood on top of the toilet pretending I was the captain of the Titanic. The children blew bubbles with the toilet paper rolls and floated tissue paper in the sink. “It’s land,” Ben cried. Jim giggled hysterically. Madeline exclaimed, “Tidal wave!!!”  I caught her on film yelling, and as tired and dispirited as I had felt earlier, I felt restored by our shared mirth.  And many bath towels later, the Titanic was dried off, and so were all of its crew members.




Suicide Lines and a Female Mafia

Please Note: Name and Locations have been Altered to Protect the Confidentiality of People Mentioned Below

My day started well enough, or at least it started like any other Monday.  I woke up, glared at the clock, winced at the first few steps I took toward the bathroom, brushed my teeth, braced and prayed for patience before waking my sons and my daughter, and tapped the computer to wake it up.  I like to check e-mail and Running from Hell with El before I start my coffee pot.  The Facebook page may exist only in the virtual world but it sure feels pretty real to me.  And the friends I have made through Facebook aren’t fake, not to me, so when I spotted a notification from a woman named Cary from Texas, I perked up and quickly scanned it. Cary has become a good friend of mine and I love hearing from her.

Lately, Cary’s been going through a rough divorce and like half the damn world, she lost her job when the entire mortgage industry collapsed.  Our conversations have gotten darker but she never fails to crack a joke and tell sweet stories about her children.  In today’s e-mail, Cary told me she was “going to end it all,” and as rushed as I was, I dashed off a quick note asking for more particulars and details.  More than anything, I needed to assess the imminence of her suicidal intentions.  As I typed, my sunny child, Jim, walked around the corner and I smiled (or grimaced) and asked him to please brush his teeth and get ready for school.

The remaining minutes leading up catching out the bus consisted of a battle among barely speaking and very angry children and a grouchy mama, and I lurched between pouring milk and contemplating my friend’s problems.  I can’t get into it here, but I understood why she felt desperate.  If I were in her shoes, I might be contemplating the pill bottles in my medicine cabinet.  God knows I’ve thought about it before, and when things got bad, really bad, I handed the bottles over to my best friend.  That morning I gratefully had tried to smile and my best friend, she had tried not to cry when she took the pills from me.  I say that here neither for pity nor for shock value but merely to explain why I took Cary’s cry for help seriously.

I sighed and glanced longingly at the piles of half-written chapters on my desk and got busy on Cary.  I wrote more to her, and her responses alarmed me.  I contacted a friend who runs a suicide prevention site and ran the situation past her and she immediately gave me advice and tried to help me figure out what to say and what not to say.  I private messaged (“PMd”) Paula, one of my dearest friends who lives in Dallas, and asked if she lived close enough to Cary to drive by Cary’s house.  “Shoot,” Paula responded, “Cary lives closer to Houston.”  Then I PMd another one of my closest friends, Alicia, who is also good friends with Cary.  “Alicia,” I wrote, “Cary is suicidal.  She needs help.”  Alicia immediately got in contact with Cary and about an hour later, she wrote me back.  “Yeah,” Alicia said, “I talked to her.  She’s ready to end it. I don’t have her location, so I can’t call it in.”  Alicia lives in the Pacific Northwest, so she could not get to Cary either.

We got in contact with another one of our close friends, Hannah, and if you’re thinking, “Crap, y’all are like a freakin’ female mafia,” why, yes, we are.  We laugh with one another and sometimes we cry.  And if we ever went to war, I’d want these women in my bunker with me.

Hannah is a brilliant, highly educated hard ass from some scary part of New York City, and as crazy as her Queens accent sounds, she graduated from NYU, so she is sneaky-smart, if that makes sense.  I didn’t screw around with Hannah when I PM’d her: “Cary is desperate, which is code for suicidal, and we’re running out of options.  None of us can get out there.”  Hannah started making suggestions and as she usually does, took charge, which sort of relieved me because I dither and get lost in my own contemplations and story lines and shades and hues of gray.  “Is there anyone out there we can talk to?”  Hannah demanded.  Alicia responded, “Yes, her parents.”  In the back of my mind, I worried about Cary’s parents, who I recalled were ill, but I kept that to myself.  And I chirped in that it might be good to call them as a last resort.

Hannah typed, “Not last resort.  Now.  Does anyone have Cary’s phone number?” Alicia and I had her cell phone number but not her home number, and Cary had stopped answering Alicia’s texts.  “What about her parents’ phone number?”  Hannah and I both spent the better part of an hour trying to track the parents down.  I even called in a favor from a government investigator, who was able to get me the name and number of the owner of the parents’ rental home, but we could not find the parents’ number.

By now it was 2 p.m.  The three of us had spent most of the day trying to talk to Cary and then to find her parents, and my kids were running around the house punching each other and I wanted to mull it over and suss it out and do nothing of use but I knew that wasn’t going to be good enough.  Alicia wrote, “Someone needs to call this in and I’m hiking in the Everglades and am losing my signal.”  I thought of how calling the police might result in lost custody and Hannah wrote back, “Guys, you really need to alert the police.”  Alicia agreed.  “Gals, I can’t find a number.  It could be unlisted or I’m looking in the wrong place.  If she’s serious and we believe she’s going to do this, we have to contact the police.  I’d rather she hate me than have her death on my hands.”

I thought of Cary’s daughter, who is Madeline’s age, and at that exact moment, Madeline breezed into my room, wiping her wavy locks out of her eyes.  “Mom?”  I waved her off and then felt like a jerk, so I put my arms out and held her in a tight hug.  “I’m really sorry hun, but a friend needs me.  It’s very important I concentrate right now.”  Madeline nodded at me and asked, “Which friend?”  I smiled and shook my head.  “I can’t say, but can you please take Ben outside with you?”  She stood up straight.  “Sure.  Can we play in the water?”  I thought of how cold it was outside and how much they love splashing in the creek and calculated the low risk of Ben somehow managing to drown in the ankle-high water.  “Okay, but don’t go farther than I can see you through this window.”

Cary’s daughter needs her mother just as much as my daughter needs me.  Back on the computer, Hannah had typed, “El, call them please.  The non-emergency number is 555-555-5555 or give me the information and I will call them.”  I asked yet again, “Alicia, is the threat imminent?”  And Alicia responded, “It’s the only thing we can do.  It’s the right thing.”  As I dialed Houston, Texas, Hannah PM’d me and asked if I were calling.  “Yes, on the phone with dispatch now.”  I tried to understand the thick Texas drawl and read Hannah’s messages.  “Good girl,” Hannah added.  “I am shaking like a leaf.”  I thought about this and realized that my hands were steady and my emotions, almost nonexistent.  I would have time to feel later.

I don’t know how the story ends.  The police brought Cary in and she may never speak to us again.  She’s angry at us.  She’s scared of losing her daughter.  We’re scared of losing her.




The Monster’s Daughter Review

The Monster’s Daughter is the brilliant tale of a vampire’s daughter and it can be appreciated on many levels.  For those fans of the Vamp-genre, this novel contains some of the most chilling descriptions of blood lust I have ever read:

She sensed so many new nuances to the world. Around her, she heard the soft pitter-patter of hearts       pumping blood through living creatures for miles around.  She licked her lips at the thought of all that blood.

As fascinating of a description as this is, this novel is about much more than blood lust.  It is a coming of age story for a young woman named Genevieve, or “Ginny” as she is known to her family and friends.  We see Ginny’s struggles with realization and eventually acceptance of the man her father has become once he undergoes “the change,” and we follow her as she searches for a normal life amid the torn shards of her own tragic existence.  We accompany Ginny as she hangs out with her girlfriends and we smile as she steals moments of freedom and meaning with the love of her life, “Joey.”  We laugh with her as she teases her friends, and we sit vigil with her as she lives with a cross above her door to repel the father-vampire who she fears in the dead of night.

If The Monster’s Daughter is read as simply a coming of age story for a heroic young woman (and you will have to read the book to see just how heroic she acts for I refuse to spoil it for you), you will love it.  If, however, you read it as an allegory for the life of an abused child and young woman, then you will find great satisfaction and perhaps even catharsis as you read the this amazing first novel by author Deborah Bryan.  Any abuse survivor will tell you, as Ginny notes,

Her life was not like a half-hour sitcom where her remaining family would gather around the hearth and share a hearty laugh about how they’d all just misunderstood each other.

Instead, Ginny waited for her father to attack her and take her blood, her life, from her, in the exact way that an abused child waits for the abusive parent to initiate the beatings or the sexual assaults.  And through it all, Ginny maintains hope and struggles to fix the broken relationships that rock her life down to its very foundations.

What truly amazed me about The Monster’s Daughter was not the allegorical treatment of abuse.  In fact, if this novel were written in merely allegorical terms, the characters would not have been drawn with such complexity.  All of the principal characters appear multi-dimensionally and character, not allegory, drives the plot.  Ginny makes decisions on the fly and under extreme pressure and this character who we grow to love and respect takes her future into her own hands when she decides to fight back against this man, this monster, who is her father.  The manner in which Ginny, or Genevieve, chooses to fight the Monster was as unexpected and audacious as this reader, for one, could have imagined, and rather than spoil the plot for you, dear reader, I strongly recommend that you purchase The Monster’s Daughter and observe Genevieve’s desperate battle for yourself.




“Mom?” –“Yeah?”

Questions from Ben after getting off the school bus:

“Did you get me anything new today?”

“No. I was sick.  I got you some cheese.”

“Can I have some?”

“Yes.”

“Will you cut it in half?”

“Yes.”

“What’s wrong with the scissors?  Did Maddie poop on them again?”

“Ben!”  Jim cries.  I giggle.  “Um No.”

5 minutes later . . . “Mom, did you get me the chocolate to make me a happy chick?”

“Huh?”

“I unwrapped the red paper and ate the first two but I didn’t like them.  I put them back.  But I liked the other ones.”

I nod and frown about the Godiva chocolates he destroyed.

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Are these new ornaments?”

I giggle and try to lie and say they are but Jim sighs and glares at Ben.  “Ben!  They’re filled with chocolate.”

“Can I have some now?”

No.”

“Why not?  Is it Christmas?”

“No.”

5 minutes later—“Mom?”

“Yeah.”

Ben holds a chocolate Santa.  “Are all of these for Christmas?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I have one?”

“No.”

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“My teacher says all paper clips are weapons when we twist them like this.  So we need to throw this away, right?”

I shrug.
Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Aren’t you gonna throw away all the weapons?”

“No.”




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