Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

Parenthood Week 61: Melting Away The Bad

Breakfast was not going well.

Ollie was fussy because he was hungry but instead of putting food in his mouth he was picking up the scrambled eggs off his tray and throwing them on the ground.  "That's fine," I thought, "I’ll just feed him myself and not let him pick up the food." This worked for a little bit until Ollie pulled the food out of his mouth and threw a handful of half-chewed-up mush on the ground.

When mealtime is going well with Ollie, it’s really charming. He loves the challenge of using his hands and baby utensils to eat.  Ollie normally has a great appetite and he genuinely enjoys the ritual of sharing a meal with others.

Ollie’s a baby and he has his moods just like anyone else and sometimes he just doesn’t feel like eating. Fine, so I pulled him out of his high chair, wiped his hands and face off, which always causes the most melodramatic screams of anguish and I put him down in his pack ‘n play with some toys.

As I started on the dishes from breakfast I heard the sound of Ollie throwing his toys out of his pack ‘n play. I walked over to see Ollie crying and reaching for the toys he had just ejected from his play space.  It was one of those mornings when he didn’t want to be held and he didn’t want to be put down. After some fruitless efforts to clam him down and entertain him, it was time for his morning nap.

Maybe it was the previous hours of chaos but his screaming as I rocked him down for his nap, didn’t really seem so bad.

People talk about how you should nap when your baby naps. Well, this is a ridiculous idea since your baby's nap-time is the only time you have to do chores or work. However this idea nap-time is often unrealistic when the time that your baby was awake was stressful and taxing. This transforms your baby's nap time into something completely different like lying face down in a bed, too wound up to take a nap but too tired to get anything done.

Hearing Ollie wake-up, I got up from my zombie-like state on the bed, not feeling refreshed or satisfied that I was productive during this time. When I walked into the room I could seem him smiling in the dim light. Even as I changed his diaper, which usually is a little uncomfortable for Ollie right after he has woken up he was giggling.

I carried him over to my bed and lay down with him, hoping that he would chill out with me for a second, so I could get myself together. To my surprise, he crawled on top of my chest, placed his thumb in his mouth and reached around my neck with his other arm to cuddle up.

Ollie isn’t much of a cuddle-bug when he’s awake. He does these super cute re-charge cuddles in-between crawling around the house.  He comes up to one of us, usually Diana, cuddles up to her for ten seconds and then scurries away.

This was different. I had gotten plenty of cuddles in with Ollie when he was younger but now that he has begun to be more active, he wants to move around more than anything else. This made the fact that he chose to stay and cuddle with me even more special.

He scooted off of me after about ten minutes and started vocalizing. He was being super-cute as he tried to mimic sounds I was making.

And then this happened:



Yes, Ollie was a handful that morning, but so what? He was being a cuddle-bug and actually said his own name!  That's the balancing act that is parenthood.  Endless hours of frustration melted away with the sound of your child's laughter or a sloppy open-mouth toddler kiss.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Frat Boy: The Sisters

My wife Diana was a member of the Beta chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI) at Northwestern. I’ve been to two other weddings between a member of PMA and a member of SAI. Off the top of my head I can think of ten other married couples between these two houses and endless dating couples.

SAI and PMA wasn’t merely a dating pool. I didn’t lead with that to give you that impression. There were many people who didn’t date between the houses. But the fact that so many people did and created life-long relationships like me and Diana speaks to the power of the relationship between these two different organizations.

PMA and SAI are the two music fraternities on campus. Once upon a time PMA was focused less on being social and more on bringing musicians together. At Northwestern this has evolved more into a social fraternity. SAI is still a music fraternity for woman. Like PMA, SAI has a house on campus and has more a social aspect than many other SAI chapters at different colleges.

There are also many people in SAI and PMA who are NUMB, hence the NUMB-Mu-Alpha-Iota social group name. This Venn-diagram of social group was one made my experience in PMA so much more than just hanging out with boys. SAI as part of our fraternal family gave balance to everything we do, and we did the best we could to help out SAI.

One time SAI organized a dance party with another fraternity on campus. Me and other PMA guys weren’t planning on going until a call from Heather, one of my best friend and SAI’s social chair at the time. The party was dead and the brothers of that frat were either out or playing video games, so she asked me if we could help. Ten minutes later, most of my frat was at that frat house bringing the party back to life.

SAI many times was the life of our parties. We could always depend on their support for our events no matter how poorly planned or communicated. One of my favorite things that the girls would do is come to our Rush events. These events were supposed to be for only boys but they would come and turn our informational meeting into a real social event. They would ask silly but sometimes helpful questions and broke the ice with many of these prospective members in a way none of us could.

There were some people of both houses who resented the relationship between the houses. Some boys felt that we should branch out to other sororities. My read of this was that these were guys who made a couple too many bad moves dating a girl in SAI and had an unsalvageable reputation. There were girls in SAI who weren’t interested in hanging out with us. Some girls join a sorority to get away from boys, so I understood that. College boys can really suck and be annoying. So there were those who kept to themselves during joint events.

The vast majority of members of PMA and SAI enjoyed the relationship between the houses. We were similar enough in our political structure that many of us could work together on projects but different enough that comparisons between these two groups could be disregarded if they got in the way of discussions.

Like two people in a long-term relationship there were times when things were really great between PMA and SAI and times when things were a little rockier. Some of this had to do with who was in charge. My freshmen year, the people on e-boards (executive board committee) in both groups would coordinate dates to make sure conflicts didn’t happen and sent out invites well ahead of time.. The e-board after them didn’t interact with SAI as directly and things soured a little bit. No one did anything deliberately vindictive, it was just that the people on the different e-boards were not as good friends, and therefore weren’t as excited to work together.

When my class got into power the social ties we had formed in NUMB and as underclassmen in PMA and SAI led to joint events and planning for individual events that took into consideration for the other organization.

There was a sense that there were things that these organizations could do together like have a joint music recital but things that we could not do like have a joint formal (dinner dance). But years after I left, they had a very successful joint formal, so who’s to really say what can or cannot be done.

SAI was my second home I spent so much time there that they sisters were never surprised to see my hanging out. It’s impossible for me to talk about my brothers in PMA without talking about the girls in SAI who were part of my life as a frat boy.

For me, SAI was part of the package deal that came with joining PMA. While others argued that we were not the same organizations, I always felt that SAI and PMA were one big family.

SAI challenged my brothers and I to be more organized, to strive to do things better and to be better men. This started with my first pledge party hanging out with the girls who came to welcome us to the family and has continued to this day with Diana, a sister of the SAI, who has never let this frat boy settle for being anything less than a man.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Parenthood: Week 60: Top 5 Things I Rock At As A Parent

Last week, I listed off the stuff I suck at as a parent.  This week, I got the top 5 things that I’m actually good at. Yes, my arm will probably get sore from patting myself on the back but when you’ve been doing this parenting grind for a while, it’s important that you take some time to be proud of what you actually do well.

5. Taking Pictures 
When my sister-in-law was pregnant, my brother got into photography. His amazing pictures of his daughter inspired me to get a good DSLR camera and learn how to take photos. I had a Canon point and shoot I used to take pictures of Buffy as she grew up but this new camera opened up a new dimension of photography. I have no photography training, but I have a good eye and have learned a lot through experience. One of these days we will get a professional photographer to take a picture of Ollie, but with the photos I’ve managed to get, I don’t feel a strong motivation to hire one.


4. The Diaper Change 
I used to be pretty bad at this (check out this post on “Adventures In Diaper Changes.”). It’s been over a year and I got this down. I’m fast, I ignore his screams and I know how to keep him from rolling over. Sometimes its unpleasant, okay it’s actually never pleasant, but after its done, I love picking him up, giving him a kiss and knowing he’s clean and comfortable.

3. Feeding Ollie 
Part of this has to do with how I taught Ollie how to use a bottle, which I discussed in this earlier post. Now that Ollie is eating solids, I cook for him and he likes most of what I give him. I have a lot of fun helping Ollie get food into his mouth whether it’s using chopsticks, his baby utensils or simply sitting back and letting him cram handfuls of food in this mouth. No, there’s no airplane flying in for a landing to get that spoon in, but there are a lot of giggles and funny facial expressions.

2. Putting Ollie To Bed 
I love the challenge of putting Ollie down. I don’t give up easy (which I demonstrated in this post) and I’ve developed a bag of tricks that has helped me get him to sleep. Now, I don’t get him down every time and there’s plenty of moments when I need to tag out and Diana needs to come in and take over. As bad as the screaming get, it never fails to warm my heart to have him sleeping in my arms.

1. Knowing My Son 
As a parent, I am most proud of the fact that I know my son. Ask me anything, Ollie’s food preferences, favorite book, song, or toy, and I have an immediate answer for you. I know the look in his eyes when he’s sad, the sound of the cry when he’s in pain and I know exactly how to position his arms so that he is most comfortable when he’s falling asleep. I have conversations with Ollie every day and while he’s only now beginning to talk, he’s told me about his world and his feeling since the day he’s been born, through his eyes, his body and his breath. Ollie is smart, curious, sometimes fearless and has an amazing sense of humor. He believes in the goodness of all people and the power of a smile. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Frat Boy: From Some Other To A Brother - Part 2

Here’s a link to Northwestern’s hazing policy, which was revised towards the end of my undergraduate time on campus. We didn’t do anything that is described in that opening paragraph. There was no infringement on “personal liberty,” no harassment and no one was ridicule significantly in my frat’s pledging process.

The examples of “such activities and situations may include, but are not limited to, the following” include things we did in marching band, in my fraternity, and even in the classroom with my own students like:
  • quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts
  • engaging in stunts and buffoonery
  • late work sessions or activities that interfere with scholastic activities and/or normal sleeping hours
  • removing public or private property
As the last paragraph states even being accepting of this activity does not justify participation.

These listed activities aren’t necessarily hazing. Asking my 8th graders to do a scavenger hunt around the school to find references to music in certain pieces of art that are displayed on campus isn’t hazing. Zip-tying a pyramid of folding chairs on someone’s bed in retaliation for them putting french fries in your sheets as a prank isn’t hazing. Inviting members of marching band to a dance that bleeds into normal sleeping hours isn’t hazing and taking one mug at a time from one classroom to another over a period of months isn’t hazing.

But these things could be hazing if they are interpreted as causing some kind of negative feelings with the person involved.

Hazing is deplorable. Kids getting alcohol poisoning or getting beat up physically to join a fraternity is crazy. But if you go go with this policy about hazing (which is not unique to Northwestern), than almost anything you do as part of a group can be interpreted as hazing.

We need to have strict policies about these things but we also need to understand that there is a big difference between literally water-boarding someone with vodka and having them go on a scavenger hunt to find university landmarks.

It’s kind of like the porn vs. fine art argument, you know it when you see it but unfortunately not enough people can make this distinction, so the university has to come down hard. I see the core distinction about hazing not in the list of activities but with the intent to hurt implied in the first paragraph.

The reasons we were asked to do the activities we did as pledges was to help us bond, to give us shared experienced that helped us understand the values of Phi Mu Alpha. It worked. By the time initiation came about, everything about the fraternity made more sense. There was a reason our seal looked a certain way and there was a even reason our letters were Phi, Mu and Alpha.

All of the symbolism and metaphors melded together describe not only what it meant to be a brother of this fraternity but what it meant to be a man. These themes have stayed with me and have become such a part of my inner monologue, I sometimes forget that these statements of values came from PMA.

Even if I wasn’t sworn to secrecy, I wouldn’t tell you the details of our initiation. I don’t want to spoil it for those who may someday go through this amazing ceremony. It defined what it meant to be in a fraternity, it was mysterious and beautiful and it spoke to the truth of what we believed was most sacred to ourselves as brothers and as men in society.

This ceremony was a gift that I was fortunate to give to many other pledge classes and even though I loved every time I got to be part of it, it never replaced the grandeur of the first time.

After the ceremony was done, I was brother of Phi Mu Alpha. I had a group of brothers who swore loyalty that night to our fraternity and each other. For the first time in my life, I was truly a member of a larger social group. I had no idea how long these bonds would last or how much that time with those men would mean to me.  But these memories lasted me thirteen years and have impacted me enough to write these words.

Not bad work for a bunch of frat boys.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Wanna Marry You by Bruce Springsteen

In the nationwide debate on marriage equality the conversation swirls around the idea of what defines a marriage. The focus of this debate centers on homosexuality as the one variation in marriage that would demolish the definition of marriage to the point that it would loose its meaning.

Plurality in marriage exists in ways that far exceeds a straight relationship versus homosexuality. There are marriages that include monogamous relationships and open non-monogamous relationships. There are people who are married who live together and those who live apart. There are marriages in which both people are about the same age and other marriages where the two people are a generation apart in age. Some marriages are very focused on religion and some unions do not see religion as part of their relationship.

In some marriages the two people are of the same race and others like my own marriage join two people of different races.

If we can define marriages as being anything we want them to be, than what is marriage?  We find one answer in Springsteen’s romantic ode to marriage, “I Wanna Marry You.”



“I Wanna Marry You,” is a strikingly beautiful in his heartfelt but realistic romanticism.  It's an optimistic and gentle song right before the deep and powerful title track on The River.  Like the line “you ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright,” from “Thunder Road,” Springsteen doesn’t sugar-coat this story. Most romantic songs idealize the object of desire and what love can do for this person. Springsteen takes a different approach and opens the song by describing how this girl that he loves is a single mom with two kids.

This isn’t exactly the girl that most teenage boys fantasize about, but this is what makes this song so endearing. Springsteen doesn’t care that she has kids. You almost get the sense that he loves her because of this fact.

The next verse shows sensitivity, as he tells her that he doesn’t believe that marriage should “clip your wings.” He tries to tell her that there are responsibilities to think about and that true love is no fairytale. He knows that he can’t make everything change for this girl but he’s going to do what he can. There is something so gentle and reassuring when he sings “to say I’ll make your dream come true would be wrong, but maybe, darling, I could help them along.” Some girls may want to hear a romantic fantasy but sometimes its simply more powerful to hear that someone express honest devotion.

The song ends with Springsteen's gentle voice rising on the word “wear your name,” as he proclaims how proud he would be to be her husband. It’s an expression of joy of hope and desire that feel so much more honest and pure than simply singing out “I love you.”

Springsteen’s idea of marriage here is romantic but it’s also realistic. It’s a mix of devotion and hope, a union that provides stability but also is one of pride. These are the tenants of marriage, not the race or sex of the individuals involved.

Last weekend, Diana and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.  Thinking about our time together, I got to disagree with one of Springsteen's points.  There's nothing sad about wanting someone as bad as I want my wife, as I wear my love with pride.  Every day we share together makes me look forward to the rest of our lives together even more.

Yes I do want to marry you, now more than ever. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Parenthood: Week 59: Top 5 Things I Suck At As A Parent

Parenting involves a myriad of different skills. There are things as simple as carrying a baby and wiping her mouth and more complicated things like installing a car seat and forcing molded plastic together to form some kind of baby toy.

There’s a lot of these things I’m great at and there are some of these things that continue to be a challenge for me. Because everyone love lists on the internet, I’m going to lay out the "Top 5 Things I Suck At As A Parent."

5. Finding the Right Size Outfit
I never seem to pick out the outfit that is the right size for Ollie. Why is this an issue?

Well, Baby clothing is sized by age. As you can guess there’s a wide variety of height and weight across babies of the same age. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if baby clothing were categorized the same way.

At first I thought it was simple: “NB” for new born, 1 month, 3 month, 6 month and so on. The problem is that baby clothing companies have completely different sizing systems. Some companies give a range of months and size like 3-6 months and 6-9 months. And even within companies that use ranges you find differences (e.g. 1-6 months, and 6-12 months). Don’t get me started about Hanna Anderson sizes . . .

Diana picks out Ollie's clothing most of the time, but she never objects when I want to pick out an outfit. Every time something is the wrong size she kindly says “oh, he’s growing so fast, this is going to be the last time he wears that shirt,” or she simply changes Ollie a couple hours later and doesn’t mention my inability to simply find a onesie that fits.

4. Socks and Shoes
Baby socks and shoes are the cutest article of baby clothing and the hardest to put on. Baby feet are adorable but something about their shape and the size of the socks make it impossible for me to get them on without a struggle. Ollie does this thing where he curves his toes and as soon as I get one sock on, he pulls the other one off. It’s neigh impossible to find a pair of socks that fit because they are sized with ridiculous ranges of ages like 1 month to 2 years.  I’m not much better with his shoes. Usually I have to pin him down, there’s a struggle involved, there’s tears and crying and sometimes Ollie gets upset in the process.

3. Getting a stroller through a door
We have a great stroller. It’s a Britax B-Agile. It’s easy to fold up, it’s light and it handles great. But I can’t get this thing through a door without help, or a comical amounts of maneuvering. “Oh, it’s easy, just turn the stroller around backwards and pull him through the door that way.”  This approach results in the Ollie’s stroller getting slammed by the door as I can’t manage to keep it open long enough to get the whole stroller through. Pushing the stroller forward through the door is slightly better but I always end up with the front of the stroller at an angle causing the one of the back wheels to get caught in the door post.

When I’m pushing the stroller in the mall Diana always runs ahead and manages to push two doors open at the same time so I can make it through with some level of grace and dignity. When I’m all by myself and there’s no handicap button to press so that door automatically opens, I do the best I can and inevitably a passer by or sales person runs to my aid. Oh, the kindness of strangers.

2. Poo sensor
"Oh man, Ollie has a poopy diaper."

"Yeah, I know he’s been working on that for the past five minutes."
Diana has the uncanny ability to know when Ollie is pooping. She says that he pulls himself up and stands a certain way with a thoughtful and sometimes tense look on his face. I’ve only caught him in this moment once.  I can usually smell it when he’s done, but unlike Diana, I can’t sense when he’s in the process. Does this make me feel like I’m a horrible dad? No, but it would be a nice thing to be able to detect so that I can make myself “busy” when there’s a poopy diaper that will soon need changing.

1. Breastfeeding 
Ollie has tried to breastfeed from me a handful of times as I’ve rocked him to bed.  A couple times this was an incredibly accurate bite through my shirt right around my areola. Other times it’s a open-mouthed wet kiss on my chest as Ollie tries to latch onto nothing.

These attempts leave Ollie confused and frustrated and they leave me traumatized.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Frat Boy: From Some Other To A Brother - Part 1

In the process of becoming a member of Phi Mu Alpha, I rushed the frat, I was a pledge, I went through an initiation process.

Much of the process of becoming a brother is what we would define as “super-secret boy stuff.” I’m going to stick to my fraternal vows and I’m not going to write an exposé about my frat, but I am going to go through the broad strokes and talk about what it was all about.

Rushing is the process in which you get to know a fraternity. The sorority rush process has the girls formally go from one house to another house in organized groups. The boys have it a lot easier. Rush events are posted on billboards and guys go to whatever events and/or houses appeal to them.

These events normally happened in the evening and they included various activities and food. Some examples include: video game night, broom ball, demolish a car with baseball bats, house party and a three on three basketball tournament. These nights are fairly chill and are designed for brothers and their guest to get to know each other.

Guest would sign up when they came to these events and at the end of the rush week, the members of the frat would meet and go down the list of guys who showed up and decide which ones they would offer a bid too. If a guy showed up to one event and didn’t make a positive impression on any of the guys, he probably wouldn’t get a bid.

Discussions about who would or would not get a bid behind closed doors could get intense but it was not as bad as the conversations around deciding whether someone should be allowed to become a full member of the fraternity. There were at least two different points in the process during which fraternity could vote on whether a pledge should continue the process to becoming a full brother.

I’d like to think that I was around enough that giving me a bid wasn’t that big a deal. I felt like that I made a good impression to the group and that getting a bid was a pretty sure thing.

Late one night, a knock came on my door room door and five members of Phi Mu Alpha in suits gave me a sealed envelope inviting me to become a pledge or more officially a probationary member.

After accepting, I was required to come to a pledging ceremony and then the pledging process began.

There were two brothers in charge of our fraternity “education.” They gave us a binder which including a bunch of different activities that would help us get to know the fraternity and its members. At the end of the pledging process we had a test that we had to pass to be considered for full membership, so we studied the history of the fraternity and the political structure of the fraternity.

My pledge class was great. It was mostly freshmen, like myself from marching band with a couple upperclassmen. Every single activity we did as a pledge class gave us awesome shared experiences that helped us get to know each other and the spirit of Phi Mu Alpha.

Were we pressured to participate in these “shared experiences?” Yes, in the sense that if we wanted to be in the fraternity we would participate in fraternity activities. Was I ever pressured to do anything that caused physical discomfort or harm?

No.

Was I hazed as a pledge and did I haze other students when I was an upperclassman?

No.

Well then, what is hazing if not some kind of initiation right?

Northwestern has an answer and so do I .  . .

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Ties That Bind by Bruce Springsteen

It starts with an alarm. Four forceful guitar chords push you out of the door to confront what you've been trying to ignore.
 
The River’s opening song “The Ties That Bind,” is not a gentle invitation like “Thunder Road,” which opened Born To Run. It’s an urgent, questioning and immediate song that lays out the central theme of Springsteen’s epic The River.


Springsteen’s opening songs for his albums often lay out central themes that frame the entire work. For Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care Of Own,” asks the two defining questions of the album as well as the questions of the presidential election: Who are our own and what does it mean to take care of these people?

“The Ties That Bind,” and The River struggles with different questions. What are the connections between us and how do we they limit and free us to help us through the struggles in our lives? If you think about the songs I’ve already written about from The River they all wrestle with this idea. “Drive All Night,” is about a man struggling with the ties that he feels with a love that has left him.  “Wreck On The Highway,” is about the feeling of love that connects a man to his love in the face of tragedy.  “Fade Away,” deals with the feeling that a bond is being a lost. “The River” describes a feeling of responsibility and commitment in the face of struggle  and “Sherry Darling,” is about a guy who is annoyed at the relationship his girlfriend has with his mother.  (Now I'm not sure how all those songs about cars fits in with this theme, I'll look into that later).

To introduce this theme, “The Ties That Bind” portrays a conversation in which Bruce tries to convince a girl to stop ignoring the reality of her life. In the first verse, he acknowledges that she has been hurt and that she wants to get away. She is angry and resentful and is “walking blind,” to the ties that bind.

In the second verse, he continues, telling her that her “cheap romance,” is meaningless. She thinks that “walkin’ tough,” is a sign of strength, but the true challenge is facing up to her responsibilities.

In the bridge, Bruce argues that he would rather “feel the hurt inside” than feel “the emptiness your heart must hide.” The last verse continues this idea as Bruce says that he would be with her and “stand in time.”

"The Ties That Bind," faces this tough conversation with a joyful and energetic rock groove.  It's more garage band than "epic wall of sound."  It's harkens back to a simpler type of rock song but with themes far more complex and challenging than most songs that share its structure and style.

"The River" is the title track of the album and is a powerful examination of the ties of love and responsibility between two people.  "The Ties That Bind," brings us into this idea and asks us to question how we face our own reality and begin thinking about what are the ties that bind that we ignore but can never truly escape.

Bruce is right.  It is better to feel the pain in life with someone else than to run away from one's responsibilities alone.  It's a harder path but it draws us together to the people that we love.  This is worth the hardship.

The ties that bind sometimes get in our way, sometimes they feel like a burden.  Sometimes in life we pull away from these ties and at other times we let them draw us closer to others.  It's a constant struggle but like these bonds, this struggle defines who we are and the choices we make every day.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Parenthood: Week 58 – Gender Bender

If we had a daughter we could read the Anne Of Green Gables books to Ollie. Well, I guess there’s no reason we couldn’t read these books to Ollie just because he’s a boy.
We are in an important place in the discussion of gender identity in children. As homosexuality is becoming more accepted in our culture and the gender roles of woman and men are becoming more flexible, people are examining more closely how they present gender to their children.

Let’s just  our terms straight. Sex is the biological makeup of a one’s reproductive anatomy and gender is the social roles based on the sex of a person. This all seems like it should work out fine, except for the fact that many people, including myself find the “social roles” based on their sex limiting.

Society told me that I should have been into sports as a boy but I wasn’t. This created internal conflicts in my life. I got over it. I’m fine now. Unfortunately for some people this disconnect is too much to handle and can lead depression and even worse suicide.

Parents are doing all kind of things to help their children create a more positive and less restrictive gender identity. Daughters are sometimes insulated from Disney Princesses and the pink doll aisle in the toy store. Many great toys like Goldie Blox are creating engineering toys  that directly go against negative stereotypes.

And parents of boys, well . . .

I’ve never heard of parents not watching sports with their son, or avoiding the action figure aisle in the toys store. Yes, we do finally have a Easy-Bake Oven that is gender-neutral, but you don’t find dolls that are made for boys to explore fashion to.

Yes, we have tons more work with gender identity in our culture for girls than we do with boys. Woman in our culture are treated-like second-class citizen and we need to do everything we can to redefine for our daughters what it means to be a “good girl.”

The work that we need to do for our girls doesn’t mean we don’t need to think about what we are doing for our sons. The thing is, the more we do to help our boys have a wider and more progressive definition of their own gender, the better it will be for our girls. How much would it help boys understand woman, if boys read as many books and saw as many films that featured main characters of the opposite gender as girls do? If boys had play cookware, maybe they wouldn’t be so hard wired to expect their wives later in life to take on the role as the cook in the household.

All of this stuff needs to be considered with both boys and girls in mind. How a girl defines her gender directly effects how boys directly around her and society will define their own gender roles. This may create some tension but it’s a good tension that leads to difficult but essential conversations.

The most important thing we can do to help our children define their own gender roles in ways that builds their self-esteem is for us as parents to practice what we preach.  If we don’t want our boys to expect that girls should do all of the housework than make sure that they see both parents taking care of the house. If you want your daughter to not be passive, than speak up at the dinner table and don’t let your husband dominate the conversation.

Most importantly, if you want your child to be open to his or her own gender identity that may not line up with society’s expectations, than don’t make jokes about a gay man’s effeminate voice. Draw into your social circle woman who don’t talk about fashions and their hairstyles all of the time. Don’t chastise your daughter for wanting to play with tools and don’t look at your son with disgust when he wants to play with mommy’s jewelry.

If your goal as a parent is for your child to love him or herself, this may mean that you will have to be uncomfortable with your child’s gender identity. That’s okay it’s understandable. But hide this discomfort and get over it. Your child’s self-esteem and happiness is worth it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Frat Boy: Why Mu Alpha? - Part 2

Four, sometimes five days I week I had marching band as a significant part of my day. This was my family. I didn’t get to know the people in my dorm because while they were doing freshman “get to know you” stuff I was out hanging out with my marching band friends.

 I had chosen to live in a single in what was known as the most anti-social dorm. I chose this dorm because it had a cafeteria downstairs and I couldn’t imagine sharing a room with someone else. Little did I know that if I didn’t have marching band to help me be social and get out of that single, I might have gone crazy with loneliness.

The altos including me in all of their social outings, especially parties at the Phi Mu Alpha house.

At the first couple parties I attended, I didn’t feel like I fit in at all. The lights were turned down low, there was loud music, and the main activity besides drinking was dancing. It wasn’t until later that Heather and the girls of SAI taught me how to dance (and some of them tried to teach me how to drink).

I was horribly out of place but no one else seemed to think so. People came up to me, high-fived me, gave me hugs and welcomed me as if I belonged there. Everyone was just happy I was there. I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t one of them. I was just some kid. Why did they actually seem to care when I told them I was a music composition major? Were these people really that nice?

The one activity I got into was foosball. I fell in love with this game in middle school. As I approached the table, Charlie came up to join me as my partner in a doubles match.

I began to spin my men wildly as I did in middle school and Charlie calmly stopped me and explained that house rules said that you could only spin them one time around. The fact that Charlie didn’t blow up at me seemed like a big deal.

Charlie played in the low brass section in NUMB and is best described as a Chris Farley character. He was a big guy, he was a LOUD guy, but one of the most lovable and warm people I have met in my entire life. While other guys in PMA seemed like gods, he seemed like a normal down to earth guy.

Charlie was unlike any person I had ever known. He was raised on a farm and knew less about modern classical music than anyone I had ever met up until that point. The amazing thing was that he would listen to me talk about music endlessly and always seemed genuinely interested. He embraced the fact that we were so different, not by saying anything to that point but by simply showing interest in what I was into.

We lost that game horribly. Charlie kept switching from defense to offense trying to make up for my inability to play these guys at their level, but he couldn’t make up for my incompetency. As the other two guys left, I was scared. I didn’t know Charlie that well at that point but I did know that he was one of the best foosball players in the house and I know that he didn’t like to lose.

I looked over to him as he let his head hang down and as he raised it to look at me, instead of seeing frustration or anger, I saw a smile, “you want to play me one on one?”

Almost every night for a month, Charlie played foosball with me after dinner. He kicked my butt over and over and over, and he was always a gracious winner. Whenever we played doubles and we inevitably lost, he would always defend my abilities and never let anyone make fun of me for my lack of ability (but “your mom” jokes were fair game).

I got better, when we played doubles we didn’t loose as badly and sometime when I played him, I actually scored.

I don’t know why Charlie was so nice to me. Maybe it’s because someone was nice to him when he was a freshmen. Maybe there was something in me that made him think of himself as a freshmen. Or maybe it’s because, Charlie is simply a great guy.

I like to think it’s because of that last reason.

*****

The gods showed me what I wanted to be. Charlie and many other guys showed me that I was welcome. When I asked those senior girls in SAI who took care of me what they though me about rushing PMA, they all encouraged me to do so. That was enough for me. I was going to rush PMA.

I realized the gods were mortals as I took on their roles later in my college career. We kept up the spirit of brotherhood that Charlie displayed not only for fraternity members but also for other people in our community. The sisters of SAI continued to support PMA and as a group they became some of my biggest supporters politically as a fraternity executive and personally as friends.

It was by the kindness of others that I found my place at PMA. I never figured out what I did to deserve this, but it inspired me to pass this on and do the same thing for other underclassmen as I got older and for people I encountered in the rest of my life.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014