Passive-Aggressive Exhausted Parent Communication: A Translation Guide

As follows are a handful of seemingly benign questions and phrases commonly employed by parents (typically directed at their child(ren)’s fellow parent(s)) when they are exhausted and possibly experiencing a critical deficit of caffeine or calories. Or both. Accompanying each “thoughtful” question or phrase is a handy translation of what your spouse/partner/co-parent actually means. It’s recommended that you keep this guide on your person at all times for use as a quick reference when attempting to pick a fight and/or for the purposes of general moral superiority.

I would also like to note, for the sake of marital harmony, that I am guilty of all of the following about 67 times per day…

1. Commonly used phrase: “Where’s the (insert critically-needed object – for example: pacifier, wipes, diaper bag, keys, phone charger, burp cloth)?”

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Where did you put (insert critically-needed object) and why is it not where I thought it was and why can’t you read my mind and understand why I need (insert critically-needed object) at THIS EXACT MOMENT RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY?”

Note: This question is typically yelled rather than spoken, over a cacophony of baby screaming.

2. Commonly used phrase: “Do you need some help?” (Often accompanied by a hefty sigh).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Seriously, what the f—k are you doing and why is it taking so f—king long?”

Note: Tone is important here, as sometimes spouses/partners/co-parents are genuinely interested in offering assistance. However, when the questioner comes across sounding completely exasperated and as if they are in an utterly un-helpful mood, and/or are standing by the door juggling keys, baby, bags, and a cup of coffee yet to be consumed, see above re: “WTF are you doing.”

3. Commonly used phrase: “I don’t know about that idea…” (or alternatively, “Can we think about this a little more?”).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “I sure as f–k don’t want to do that.”

Note: If the spouse/partner/co-parent on the receiving end of this phrase/question is also sleep-deprived, experiencing low blood sugar, and/or generally irritated by anything else, this one will frequently be interpreted as “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, and so is every other idea you’ve ever had ever.” Be prepared.

“Such a Handsome Boy” and Other Tales of Parenting in the Gender Binary

It’s Christmas 2013. My partner and I announce that she’s pregnant. One of her cousins asks if we know what our sperm donor does for a living. My partner says she’s not sure. He’s a student, we think. Why? we ask. We assume her cousin is just curious. He grins at us. “Because if the guy’s a construction worker,” he says, “I think the baby will be a boy.” We look blankly at him. “Uh…” my partner starts to say. The cousin continues, “And if he’s an interior designer, it’ll be a girl.” The cousin is a social worker. He has two sons.

It’s summer 2014. Our baby is born. We are thrilled. When we move to the recovery room, she’s wrapped in a hospital receiving blanket and wears a blue and pink cotton hat. The hospital gives us diapers and Disney Cars-themed baby wipes. While I’m asleep, the recovery nurse brings us a new hat and new wipes for the baby. She hands them to my partner. The wipes are princess-themed (for the “princess”). The hat is just like the hat the baby already has except this one has a bow. So people know she’s a girl. The nurse smiles. She tells my partner she had to look hard for that hat and she’s so glad she found it. “Thanks,” my spouse says and wishes I were awake so she could see the look on my face.

There’s a noticeable shift in the presents people send. No more yellow. No more “neutral.” All pink. It’s like a pink explosion at our house. If it’s not pink, it has frills or ruffles or lace (or leopard print – my god, the leopard print), or it’s a dress. We mix and match the outfits. Pink socks with blue onesie. Navy hoodie with polka-dot tights. She’s cute in everything we put her in. We think we’re immune to the “pink princess” pressure. We make sure to tell her she’s smart and strong and brave. Still, the first time we put her in a dress, we can’t believe how adorable she looks.

It’s August. Our baby is three weeks old. We take her to a pro women’s soccer game. I wear her in our Moby wrap. At halftime, I pace the perimeter of the stadium to soothe her to sleep. A woman falls in step next to me and comments on how tiny she is, how brave I am to bring her here, and what a good baby she is. I laugh and tell the woman that although this is her first “earthside” game, she attended many a game in utero. The woman smiles, “When you were pregnant with her?” I’m startled. “Oh no, not me,” I say, “My partner gave birth to her.”

It’s fall. Our baby is two months old. We take her to the library. She’s wearing a gray onesie and pink pants. She has socks on that are made to look like black Mary Jane shoes over pink striped tights. A woman at the library chats with my partner and coos at the baby. She asks my partner if the baby is a boy. No, my spouse says. “Well, you’ve got her dressed in boy’s clothes,” the woman says. She’s wearing pink pants. Mary Jane socks. My partner looks confused. The woman tells her it’s the pants. Girl babies only wear dresses.

Our baby is still two months old. We take her to Home Depot. This time she’s wearing orange. And black leg warmers with little bright-colored monsters on them. I change her at the diaper station in the women’s restroom and a female employee goes on and on about how cute “he” is. “Such a handsome boy,” she says, and smiles approvingly at me. “Thank you,” I say. I don’t correct her.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Sex Ed and Consent Mechanics

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Bowser, is exhibiting behavior which is NOT suggested when dealing with this topic.

I went to WisCon again over Memorial Day. It was wonderful and difficult and continues to be wonderful and difficult, even as it’s over for the year (maybe emphasis on the difficult, but that’s a story for another day).

On Saturday I went to a panel called Sex Education for Kids: Consent Mechanics, and I would like to tell you about it. The panel description:

“It can be hard to know exactly when to talk to your kids about sex and what to say. Let’s talk about what we’ve tried, how well it worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process. The Positive Consent model is different from how things were taught thirty years ago; how can we learn to model and teach it outside the ‘birds-and-bees’ lecture?”

So I mean, how could I not go? Jetpack is five now, and man, things are just going to get more difficult. I LOVED this article, What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure, and it also legitimately terrified me. I don’t know how I am going to talk to my kid about sex! We’re still working on respecting personal boundaries, and no, I don’t want your feet in my face. Working on consent mechanics in the sandbox? Got the idea down, but it’s not easy. How to you teach the next steps?

Anyway, my buddy Mo was on the panel, and did a bit of blogging about it (it’s the first panel he talks about). I appreciated his point that sexual education and sexual consent are linked, because it wasn’t a line I’d drawn in my head before—if a person doesn’t know what they’re agreeing to, what kind of consent are they giving? Making sure our kids know what they’re agreeing to, or refusing for that matter, seems paramount.

There was a lot of discussion of well-meaning but horribly awkward methods of dealing with sex ed, and what to do about them. Books seemed like a great way to start the discussion, without making kids feel on the spot. It seems like normalizing those books in the home was good—rather than tossing them on your child’s bed when you decide It Is The Time, having them on their bookshelf for access when they feel like the time is right. As with so many things, not having all the answers is okay, and probably a pretty healthy way of continuing dialog and also helping your kid empower themselves (”I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up in your book!”)

Related to books—please teach your kids to look critically at their sources! Mo volunteers at Scarleteen, and was discussing how very many teens he talks to who have gotten “answers” from Yahoo Answers. Please never take Yahoo Answers as any kind of authority, and please, teach your kids to be careful what websites they trust.

There was one parent (? I think? It was two weeks ago; my memory is foggy) who said that when they were a kid, they were told that when they did decide to have sex, to please do so at home, in their own bed. The reasoning was actually pretty good: they wanted their kid to have sex in a environment where they would hopefully have the space and leisure to use protection, to be less likely to be coerced, to be more likely to think it through and make safe and consensual decisions. Which is pretty brilliant, if kind of scary.

There was also a discussion of teens saying things like “my parents will kill me if they find out…” I think the commonness of that phrasing, along with the prevalence of rape culture in our society, drives home the truth that discussion of sex in a positive way, with a bent towards consent, is so important. IF you teach your kid before they become a teen that sex is okay, and here’s how it works; IF you teach your kid as they’re becoming a teen about what is ACTUALLY happening to their bodies, and what could actually happen to their bodies; THEN you have a teen and an adult who is empowered, strong, and smart enough to make safe, consensual decisions when they’re thinking about sex. Maybe if we taught kids about consent from the beginning, maybe there would be less men’s right’s activists in the world. Maybe.

Reading Materials! WisCon is always good for leaving you with a long list of books you want to look into. Here’s what the panel mentioned:

 

These Washcloths Are For Girls

Impending parenthood brings with it all manner of anxiety and challenges, but also fun things– like picking out baby stuff. I was fully prepared for the gender apartheid I knew we would encounter in the baby clothes department, but I was caught off guard by the extent to which this boy/girl segregation has bled into pretty much every facet of baby gear production. I’m not saying there aren’t any “gender neutral” options out there (whatever the heck that means to people – I might need a whole series of posts to unpack the notion of “gender neutral”), but you name the baby item, there’s a “girl” version and a “boy” version. Thinking and writing as much about the gender binary as I do, it was probably naive of me to have been surprised by this. And yet.

In the end, it was the washcloths I couldn’t get over. The most mundane things can also be the most absurd. My partner was setting up our baby registry and as we were scrolling through the pink and blue car seats and the onesies with frills for girls or “tuff guy” printed on them for boys, we came across the baby bath items. And there they were: one set of infant washcloths for girls and a separate set for boys. What distinguished the “girl” and “boy” washcloths from one another I could not even begin to explain to you. They were both polka dot patterned and that’s about all I could tell you. Why two sets of washcloths? Part of it is definitely about money. It’s the baby gender industrial complex out here. If all the baby gear comes in boy versions and girl versions, the likelihood that parents to whom that stuff matters might not reuse as much stuff and will buy more if they have a male and a female child is higher.

Money matters. But there is also an unbelievable amount of social and cultural energy focused on identifying infants as male or female, or more specifically, marking infants in ways that communicate to the world at large – namely, strangers, of course – that the child is a boy or a girl. I’m not completely sure where this anxiety comes from. On the one hand, binary gender is about power. Clear distinctions between men and women serve to maintain power for those who benefit from a system in which gender is still significant in determining people’s life chances. But the fact that the gender binary reinforces the patriarchal elements of our culture isn’t new. That’s always been true. There has not, however, always been such social anxiety around infant gender. Both male and female infants once wore dresses. I was born in the 1980s, before the “pink princess” phenomenon really took off. There were definitely differences between what boys and girls wore when I was small, but I don’t remember there being such distinctions in everything else – like strollers, car seats, crib sheets, etc… like there are now. I’m not sure what it is about the cultural moment that we’re in that leads us to embrace the idea that boy and girl babies can’t use the same washcloths, or that leads strangers to believe they’re entitled to know the sex of other people’s kids at passing glance, but it’s the moment we’re in. I’m hoping I can keep as much of this stuff out of our kid’s life for as long as possible, though I know that will be difficult. Perhaps we’ll start with a revolution at bathtime. Washcloths for everyone.

What’s in a Name?

My partner is pregnant and due this July.  We’re excited and nervous, and like any new parents, we have a lot of questions.  We’ve got most of the basics covered, but we also have a question that seems to be increasingly common among masculine-identified female queer parents.  What to be called?  We likely appear to most folks as a run-of-the-mill lesbian couple.  Many people probably assume that when the baby arrives, we’ll both be moms.  While we have yet to come to a final decision on my parental moniker, we do know one thing.  I won’t be “Mom.”  Or “Mama” or “Ma” or any other variation thereof.  “Baba” is now in vogue among lesbian couples, and we’ve talked about whether or not we like it.  On the one hand, “Baba” means father or daddy in Kiswahili (and about a bazillion other languages…  except for the ones where it means grandma), and I speak a little Kiswahili, so it feels somewhat familiar.  But it’s also the way lots of English-speaking babies say “bottle” or “blanket” (or possibly “Barbara,” which is my partner’s name), and we’re having trouble shaking these other associations. “Dad” or “daddy” are in the running, and in reality, we may just default to those for ease’s sake, but most days, we imagine our child calling me “Papa.”  It’s what our cats “call” me (yep, we’re those people), and we both already like it.  But using the name “Papa” for a female parent brings up yet another set of questions that I’ve been contending with of late.

Our culture is rife with situations that draw a hard line between maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity.  There are moments when the gender binary – namely, the notion that there are only two sexes and two corresponding genders and that these categories are completely distinct and exclusive from one another – is quieter, fading into the background of our social interactions.  There are other times when the binary forcefully rears its head, making many of us think that there are no alternatives.  Parenting is one of those latter cultural moments.  Social mores lead us to believe that parents come in two flavors only – fathers and mothers.  Moreover, although many people understand that the activities and traits ascribed to motherhood and fatherhood can be flexible (i.e., that fathers can cook dinner or be stay-at-home parents and mothers can throw a football or be breadwinners), the idea that mothers are women and fathers are men is decidedly more fixed in our culture.  These identities are so ingrained that even within some LGBT communities, the notion of gender-segregated parent identities persists with vigor.

As much as I hate to admit it, I worry what other people will think or how they’ll react to the idea of me being a “Papa” or whatever I end up choosing to be called. My partner is awesome at reminding me that none of that matters, but I still fret all the same because once we’re parents – and especially once our kid is walking and talking and sharing all manner of our personal business with strangers in the grocery checkout line – I have to live this reality publicly, even if it’s the right one, and sometimes the publicly lived realities of trans and gender queer people are stressful or awkward or even scary.  For instance, I imagine the following likely scenario: Our kid is preschool age and we’re out in public.  Some well-meaning stranger refers to me as the child’s mother and the child (out of indignation, pride, or just general confusion that this person can’t plainly see that I am not the child’s mother) loudly proclaims, “That’s not my mom.  She’s my papa!” I shared this anxiety with my partner who rather unhelpfully pointed out that most people probably won’t mistake me for our child’s mom but will more likely mistake me for our child’s brother.  Awesome.  Thanks.

In truth, though, we’ve spent some time thinking about how we would respond to such an incident were it to occur not in our own neighborhood but, say, at an interstate rest stop in rural Ohio, or a restaurant in Virginia, or some other location where we are likely to find ourselves at some point and where we might hesitate to affirm my identity and our family, not out of awkwardness, but for fear of our emotional or physical safety.  A veteran queer parent whose partner feels similarly to me pointed out that if someone asks if I’m our child’s mom, I can always respond by saying, “I’m the parent.”  Because really, most people are just curious about babies and most people are well meaning and kind, but even so all the intimate details of our family are also not most people’s business.

I am trying to settle into and embrace the knowledge that queer families are remaking a heteronormative world in their own image.  We are remaking what it means to be spouses, lovers, parents, mothers, fathers, men, women, or creating new identities altogether.  I hope this extends into my child’s life as well.  This is what excites me most about parenthood – creating a family is like creating a new world that we will in turn share with the people we encounter.  People might not get it.  They might say hurtful things.  This is another lesson my children will learn – perhaps earlier than others.  I hope they will see that love is stronger than any obstacle we face.

Sumner McRae is new to the Queer Dads blogging team as of March 2014.  She also writes about the gender binary at queeringtheline.com.

Tantrum City

Tantrums. Every kid has them. Little Bear has been throwing some real good ones lately. My partner and I have been both feeling frustrated. I won’t speak for Rebecca, but I’ve been feeling downright angry when Little Bear pitches a tantrum. I want to give her space to work through emotions and feelings, but sometimes I need her to put her boots on. Now. 

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Little Bear and wall collage!

Lately, what I’m trying to work on is not reinforcing that pitching a tantrum works, which is harder than it sounds. A recent example: Little Bear pitched a tantrum over not getting to walk up the stairs one night before bed. I had been repeatedly saying we were going to go upstairs and use the potty and get ready for bed. I finally just picked her up and carried her, and she sobbed and cried about “My go upstairs! My walk upstairs!” So I took her downstairs and let her walk up herself and we carried on with the night. This is perhaps not a super dramatic example, but I had been saying it was time to go upstairs and trying to corral her for a while before picking her up. I reinforced that whining and crying would get her something she wanted (and let her delay bedtime, which is already a long process in our house).

One technique that we’ve been using is saying something like “I’m going to count back from five, and when I get to one I’m going to help you put your boots on.” Then I count back from five and do whatever it was I said, even if she continues to tantrum. To be honest, one of the reasons I’ve been liking this is that it gives me a second to breath and think about what I’m going to do instead of reacting in the moment and yelling or letting the tantrum work. I also like it because it gives Little Bear really clear communication about what we’re going to do and when. She gets warning instead of just getting picked up out of what might feel like nowhere. Now, most of the time she’ll keep whining up until I get to two or one and then she stops and does whatever I was asking her to do. 

How do you deal with tantrums? What are your favorite strategies for redirecting tantrums? How do you keep your cool and not throw a tantrum right back?

Mister Mom

A couple of things:

 

 

 

  • Are you reading VillageQ? Because you should be. Because there’s a host of excellence going on there.

 

  • I have a short story published in THEM Lit. If you have any interested in gender and literature, check it out. Everything in the publication is phenomenal—AND I hear they’re coming out with a paper run pretty soon here!

 

On to the proper post:

 

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

 

 

I hate that phrase. Mr Mom. It always made me feel uncomfortable when I was a kid—like I wasn’t sure who they were mocking, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. Maybe it was personal—my dad does things coded as feminine by the patriarchy—he loves cooking and sewing, for example. Or maybe it was both my parents and their second wave teachings. Either way, I hate the phrase. I’m glad it seems to be going out of style, though a quick search on google’s news page tells me it’s not fully out of vernacular.

But it haunted my thoughts the other day. Our neighbors stopped to talk to Jetpack. They asked what he learned that day at preschool—”nothing.” They suggested he teach it, since he’s so smart. And then they suggested I teach it. I laughed, and Jetpack agreed. “Daddy Levi can teach cooking!”

OWCH. Cooking? I mean. I love cooking. I love feeding my family. But—and I admit this sounds a little ridiculous, but this is how it felt—if I died tomorrow, he’d remember me as that guy that cooked a lot. Not as the guy who writes. Not as a dad who reads with him, or who helps people out, or who gardens—but that guy that cooks.

I don’t think I prepared myself for the little disappointments—the way that kids can sometimes cut at their parents. They have a lot of power! I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere—maybe my own internalized sexism? Maybe not taking things so seriously? Maybe some of both?

Anyway. We’re getting take out for dinner tonight. Gyros. You know you’re jealous.