Apr 292010

I’ve been to one of these semi-compulsary parent-teacher things again. (And be warned, this post is epic, sorry.) It’s called ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’, and I’m sorry but I can’t really translate that. ‘Eltern’ means ‘parents’, and my online dictionary tells me that ‘Stammtisch’ means ‘regular’s table’ which is one meaning of this, but a ‘Stammtisch’ is also a regular informal meeting in a bar. Which in this case is a bit misleading since I always expect beer and merriment only to be greeted with an agenda (and this time there was even someone writing minutes).

So it works like this: the teacher tells the ‘Elternsprecher’ (insert long-winding explanation, that’s one of the parents of the students in my son’s class who was elected to be our spokesperson) that she wants an informal meeting, we all get nice photo-copied invitations, arrange for baby-sitters and such and meet at a restaurant. A greek restaurant this time which was a bonus. Especially since I had to go there directly after work without having had dinner. Then we have a meeting that doesn’t really feel informal while eating pita and feta cheese, and drinking wine. Then you chat, and then you go home.

In my case I chat, I feel bad, I drink too much, I go home, and then I grab my poor long-suffering husband only to rant about all the other parents, the system, and modern times. I was quite good at first. This time I only ordered water since I was really tired and exhausted after a long, long day of teaching, aka talking to people. I know what happens if I sit down in front of a beer when I’m tired. I a) don’t ever get up again, and b) talk about twice as much as usual which goes on everybody’s nerves, mine included. I like talking but really, I already know all my stories. Well, most of them anyway.

So I was good, I ordered water, I brought something easy to knit because that makes me more patient, I ordered something nice to eat because I was hungry. Also I knew that drinking water would bring me home earlier because I could have a beer at home later. So all was fine. Then the teacher announced that there would be a kind of spring celebration at the end of May. Everybody is invited to participate, maybe play a nice song (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I already knew about this so I was totally prepared to bring my guitar and sing the one song that I know by heart. It should have been something about spring or animals but I thought since this is a love song, in a way, all would be fine.

The celebration thingy of course would be held in the afternoon so that the parents who work (out of home) can attend too. Nice thought. It will start at four o’clock in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. – I’m sorry but I burst out laughing. Wednesday is one of my busiest teaching days, and my first thought was, “No way can I make this, well, you just have to celebrate spring without me.” Next thought (and the mothers among you will recognize that one). “If I only move three students, and then get home early I could make it.” I then made the mistake of saying that I might be able to reschedule something and come after all. Then I thought, “Susanne, are you crazy? That would mean prepare food for that while you don’t have time, move three students around, rush there, play a song nobody wants to hear anyway, grab my child telling him that we have to go now, no matter if everybody else is still staying because I have to teach my last student of the day, and then run home to work again.” Also there are no empty slots in my timetable to move the three students to.

When I came home and told my husband about this he said, “Are you crazy? You can’t do something like this on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re working Wednesday afternoon, why did you even think about it?”

Why I did? I did because I hadn’t seen my son for more than twenty minutes at a time that day, because I have the feeling that he will feel bad if everybody goes to the spring thing but him, or everybody goes with their parents and he has to go with a friend or with his grandmother, and that I’m a bad mother.

Of course. Again. Because, you see, all these other mothers know every single homework that their children had had, and how they spent every single minute at school. My son when asked about his day in school says, “It was fine. Can I read while eating lunch?” (To which the answer is no every single day but that’s another topic for another post.

I don’t see his homework nor do I want to, I don’t really know what he did, and it’s hard enough to coax him into giving me all those pieces of paper that I’m supposed to read or sign.

And my son doesn’t find school particularly fascinating, interesting, or challenging. Just now he is sitting outside in the sun, taking turns reading a comic book aloud with a friend. The other child is in third grade. Guess which child is the better reader.

Yesterday at the meeting everybody was going on about a test the children had just had about telling the time. Evidently only three or four students in the whole class had answered the second question correctly. When we talked about this yesterday I assumed every child had made the same mistake as mine but no – the mistake he made didn’t count because the others didn’t even get what the question was about.

All the other parents (well, all that talked at that moment) were all about how the test had been too hard, and how the children are too young to learn to tell the time, and how children are supposed to start school at a younger age than before but they’re still supposed to learn the same things. I did say something, and maybe that was a wrong move, because while the official policy is to have children start school earlier the unofficial policy that parents and kindergarten teachers seem to follow is having them start school later. When you look at the children’s birthdays you find that most of them aren’t that young. One boy is turning eight in May, my own son is already 7 1/2. That’s not particularly young for first grade.

So the general consensus is that school is too hard, and that the children can’t learn all this stuff because they’re too young. Like one of my student’s parents said last week, “He couldn’t do his homework, it was too hard.” To which I should have replied, “Madam, the homework is hard, I know, but I know that if you’re son who is more intelligent than you give him credit for would just try a little thinking now and then he could have done it. Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t.” What I did say is, “I have been teaching this for decades now, I know he can do it.” And rightfully so, he said down at the keyboard, started playing the song, it sounded terrible I said, “Why are you starting the right hand at G?” he really looked at the music and had it. Yep. Too hard, definitely.

I often feel like a bad mother. Right now I should probably be outside and share some incredible mother-son experience with my son, only he wanted to play with his friend instead. And I’m fine with that. Today I felt bad when he gave me another test they had had in school, math this time. He had everything right but two sums. And my first thought was not, “Wow, he was almost perfect.” my first thought was, “Why did he make these stupid mistakes?” Because those were only lack of concentration. He made those mistakes because he couldn’t be bothered to check. Now I get why my mother was always angry at me for not applying myself enough, like, at all. I also remember that it didn’t feel like that from the inside. So I didn’t share my first thought with my son, I said, “Wow! You were almost perfect!” but I couldn’t help adding, “Look at these two mistakes, I think those were lack of concentration. You could have had a flawless test here.”

When I was among all these other mothers yesterday evening I suddenly felt lacking because my life is not like theirs. Because comparing myself to them, which is a sort of sin in itself, I felt inadequate and as if I weren’t loving my son enough. Which is clearly bullshit. Sitting next to my son every day when he does homework does not make him a better person or even a better student. Quite the contrary. And it’s not as if he had to sit there doing it all alone, his grandmother is there, she makes sure that he does all his homework, and there’s always someone to ask. I really would like to have a job where I don’t have to work afternoons when my son is home but on the other hand he really doesn’t need me hovering about him all the time. Also I think doing homework together is overrated as a bonding experience.

The problem is that when I spend time with all these other parents, these ‘full time moms’ (there were a few dads too) I feel like an alien. I say something, they don’t really get what I’m saying, I feel inadequate, they probably feel inadequate too, you know how it is, and so my husband is right:

I have to stop going to these things. It doesn’t do anybody good. I usually go to show that I’m willing, and that I want to participate in school life but I’m fooling no one.

I really like the teacher, and I don’t have anything against the other parents, when the class is going on excursion to the museum I’m in. That’s easy to fit in for me because I have mornings off. For things like that spring celebration? I’ll buy a dozen bagels, and send my son off with his grandma while I teach. Everybody will have a good time.

Sorry, but I can’t be a full time mother. I can’t be a full time anything. But it’s still bothering me, of course.

And then I remember that I went to another ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’ the week before. A really informal one, and that I had a great time there.

Oct 162008

and I missed them both. Remember, how I told you about blog action day? The theme was poverty. Lucky for me things like that don’t depend on me and there were thousands of posts regarding the subject. Even on blogs about marketing craft. Well, I missed it but I have the excuse that I have written about child poverty in the past (If you’re going over there you also should take a look at the comments).

And then I found out that yesterday was also Love Your Body Day. On the one hand I think that we may have just a few too many blogger holidays (Talk Like a Pirate Day, anyone? Towel Day?) on the other hand, of course, every day is a good day to love your body. In fact since this body might be the only one we have we’d better treat it with respect and love. One of the commenters to my last post called her body a “heap of cells” and I felt quite uneasy about this.

I know it took me quite some time to learn to love my body but it was really worth it. Yes, I am overweight (that’s a fact) but I don’t really feel that there is something to hide. From the inside my body feels good, it’s strong, it’s curvy, my husband likes to look at me, and while I see that it’s aging and far from perfect I can tell you that I felt fatter, less fit, and less lovable at the age of twenty than I feel now.

Then all I could see when I looked in the mirror was a heap of “problems”: butt too big, shoulders too narrow, thighs too big, arms too skinny, waist too narrow. When I dressed I thought about things to hide all the time.

I did learn this from my mother. When she speaks of her body she only speaks about the things she doesn’t love about it. She taught me to wear clothes like tents so that people wouldn’t realized that my bottom part is bigger than the rest. Only later did I find out that the tents actually covered everything so that I looked equally big all over. Only later have I learned that there are indeed people who like women to be on the curvy side. And I learned that I prefer real women over coat hangers every time.

I went to the sauna and the pool and looked at other women’s bodies. Look at them in a friendly way, not the “Look at her, if I were looking like that I wouldn’t wear a …”-mindset. Study other women and find something beautiful about each and every one of them. And look at myself in the mirror every day and learn to love me as I am.

I can tell you that your butt doesn’t get smaller if you hate it. And that there is no magic number on the scale that makes you feel beautiful. I have felt fat at every weight between 57 and 84 kilos. And I have felt more beautiful when I was heavier and older than when I was thinner and younger.

I did write about feeling fat back in June so I won’t do it here again, (instead I’m shamelessly pointing you there). So, let’s all step in front of the mirror, take a look at ourselves, smile (genuine smile, please, no faking) and say, “I love my body. I look fabulous!” Repeat until you really mean it.

Sep 102008

Hello, it’s that time of the month again:


Time for the Just Post Roundtable. As every month for almost two years now Mad, Jen, and I gather posts about social justice. Our readers contribute by sending us links to what they wrote or read. Thank you for that again.

This month I’d like to use my introduction to remind you of something that I briefly mentioned back in February: the Goods 4 Girls project. Deanna Duke, the woman behind that project, describes it like this (and I’m quoting this in its entirety, sorry for the length):

You may have seen the commercials… the ones describing how girls in South Africa miss school when they have their period and how buying Tampax tampons will help them. There’s also a commercial for Always pads, with a similar message. Imagine having to use rags or newspaper, which is what many of these girls use for their periods.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) has started a program in Africa, where they are donating Always sanitary pads to girls who otherwise would miss several days of school each month due to inadequate menstrual supplies.

But what are the potential problems with donating disposable feminine hygiene products? Well, for starters, there is the environmental impact. In most of these areas, they have no solid waste programs or landfills. In other words, they burn their waste.

As such, products that have synthetic components (like sanitary pads and tampons) would be incinerated. For some schools, P&G is building incinerators near the bathrooms. But what about the pollutants emitted from burning these products? They may potentially get inhaled by the students and teachers. Any additional packaging, plastic or otherwise, would need to be disposed of in the same manner.

What would be a good alternative to help out these girls but without the environmental impact? Since most of these girls are using rags now, having a pad that is a more sophisticated (with a waterproof barrier) may be enough to allow them to participate in school and regular activities. They would still wash the pads as they normally do with the rags, but they would benefit from the extra protection.

I started Goods 4 Girls to provide the link for women wanting to donate hand-sewn menstrual pads to agencies who could provide the means to identify areas of need as well as provide the distribution to the women and girls needing the pads.

So, what can we do to help? We can

  1. donate cash
  2. for those who like to sew we can sew pads and donate those
  3. donate pads

You can find out all about donating here.

The easiest way of helping is to promote the project with the button you’re seeing in my left sidebar. You can find that, and tons of information including links to further reading (scroll down to the bottom), and tales about the distribution of the first shipments of products on the Goods 4 Girls homepage.

I won’t tell you all about it because the Just Post roundtables aren’t just about making a pretty list, they are about information. And here are the posts to read:

Anne with Yolanta
Cecileaux with Tomorrow, 40 years ago and Why neoconservatism deserved to fail
Emily with Saving the Planet for Starbucks Customers of Tomorrow
Flutter with Life is good, even when it’s crap
Girlgriot with It’s not easy being green
HerBadMother on blogher with Toss the Tylenol, Nursing Moms: This is Terrifying, Lost boy and Hide Your Hooters, The Haters Are Coming
Holly with Games for the haves and have nots
Jen with God in the house
Kittenpie with Down and Out in Riverdale
Lara with My little girl is the issue
Lisa with How a graduate marketing class saved my life
Mad with Flotsam and Take back the night
Megan with Realities
Mir Kamin on blogher with School supplies socialism makes for an angry village
Neil with The Orthodox Jewish guy outside of the supermarket
Pundit Mom with DNC on the homefront: Ellen Malcom of Emily’s list and Homeless children, don’t count on John McCain
Wrekehavoc with Stop using sex as a weapon
YTSL with Life in West Kowloon

And here are those who read:

Jul 042008

A few days ago when my son, my husband, and I were having breakfast, the conversation turned to fainting, and from there to corsets. (What, you’re not talking about things like that at breakfast? Oh, you’re not talking at breakfast. Well, that’s the only meal we always eat together.) Let me explain: my son had been feeling a bit dizzy lately because it was very hot and humid, he has been growing fast, and so he started to ask me about feeling dizzy and fainting. My husband said that women used to faint all the time, and I said that was because of corsets. After my son had listened to my automatic lecture about the importance of drinking enough water he asked, “What’s a corset?” We tried to explain. He was puzzled, why would somebody want to wear something like that? Well, it all comes down to coolness, I said. “It’s like when you’d rather get heatstroke than wear the sun-hat you don’t like because your “cool” baseball cap is in the wash.” He wasn’t really convinced. (He wore his hat that day, though. After we had “talked it cool” by comparing it to a cowboy hat and such.)

Still, he couldn’t get over the fact that women would wear something as uncomfortable as that, something that makes you almost unable to breathe. My next thought was, “Today’s women would never do that!” But then I thought of high heels. Shoes that make your feet hurt, and your back, and your knees, and your hips, and you can’t even walk in them. And then – I thought of cosmetic surgery. And made the mistake of talking about that as well. Have you ever tried to explain to your kindergardener why some women want to put plastic bags into their body? Because they think it looks pretty?

Of course, I couldn’t really explain it to him because I don’t understand it myself. I do understand not feeling pretty, I understand not being content with the way I look (though I wish I couldn’t). But pay a fortune to have surgery that isn’t really necessary? And where do you stop, then? When you look like a Barbie doll? When you have grown so old that your heart doesn’t take it anymore?

Cosmetic surgery is on the rise, and I sense a paradigm shift that makes it more “normal”. Younger and younger women are thinking about it, and having it, even at an age where their bodies aren’t yet finished.

I’m really worried about a lifestyle where we are defined by our looks. Where we try to look like the ideal 18-year-old until we die.

I’m also very worried that something like cosmetic surgery seems to be much more available these days. Until not that long ago, in Germany, cosmetic surgery was only for people who really needed it. People with horrible scars and such. Nowadays it’s something that you just pay for. Don’t like your nose? Snip.

I’d love to be able to tell my son that people have evolved since the days of the corset but it seems they haven’t.

(And, please, don’t forget to send your links for the Just Post roundtable. My e-mail address is creativemother AT web DOT de.)

Apr 012008

Did you know that blogher recently gave “body image” it’s own category. Seems that this is an important topic for a lot of us. Of course I wanted to write a “letter to my body” then but these days I’m not writing letters much, not even birthday letters, and even less letters to people or things or parts of me that I see daily. But then there’s the question of whether we really see what we see daily, like the people in our lives. Or as Debra Waterhouse puts it:

It’s surprising the number of women who are unacquainted with their bodies from the neck down. Our mirrors are strategically placed for only blow-drying hair and applying makeup, then we quickly dress without a glance at our reflection. We know our faces intimately, but most of us wouldn’t recognize our bodies in a lineup. When a group of women were asked to identify themselves from a series of headless bodies wearing nothing but their birthday suits, only 20 per cent correctly chose their naked selves. The rest guessed wrong, choosing bodies that were bigger in size than their own! (Debra Waterhouse: “From Tired to Inspired: 8 Energizing Ways to Overcome Female Fatigue”, p 175)

It’s weird that people who are often obsessed with the way they look don’t even really know how they look. That about every single one of us secretly believes she is fat, regardless of actual size. That every single one of us has the feeling she should lose about ten pounds. It always seems to be ten pounds at least, I don’t know why. I know that in my case the number keeps getting adjusted down every time I lose weight so that I never am where I want to be. But today I’m not writing about weight loss (even if I’m thinking about it) but about our body images.

Debra Waterhouse goes on:

Whether we are familiar with our anatomy or not, what’s not surprising, unfortunately, are the negative comments we make about our bodies. It has been estimated that the average American woman makes eighteen critical comments each day about herself and spends one third of her waking hours ridiculing her physical self in some way – getting on the scale and obsessing about the number, getting dressed and grimacing at the way our clothes fit, taking inventory of our wrinkles, catching our reflection unexpectedly in a window and frowning, comparing ourselves to fashion models, measuring ourselves against other women, depriving our bodies from food and nourishment, agonizing over what we will and will not eat – the list goes on and on.

How much time did you spend criticizing your body today?

Just think about it. How much time and energy wasted.

I think that I would recognize my body. Every day I make a point of really looking at myself. From all sides. I have been working on making friends with my body for years now. It’s better to have your body for a friend, and to treat it nicely since you want him to do a lot of things for you. We are not mind alone, even if it might feel like that when we’re sitting in front of the computer communicating with invisible people through a friendly shining monitor screen.

Learning to like what I see in the mirror was hard at first. My body, of course, isn’t flawless. Nobody’s body is, by the way, and you all know it. After a while though I liked myself better. I found that I actually like big butts. Hourglass figures, strong legs. That’s not to say that I’m not working on changing the things about my body that I don’t like but I find that in the long run being free from back pain is more important than having thin ankles. And that, like in any stable relationship, I have to accept what’s possible and what not.

When I actually started thinking about something important to me every time I caught myself thinking about my appearance or weight or food that set free huge amounts of energy. It was about 2 1/2 years ago that I did that, and only a couple of weeks later I had written two songs.

Energy follows attention. Being heavier than one wants to is not a full-time occupation. No, really, not even very heavy people eat all the time.

So, I’m giving you homework this time:

  1. Step in front of the mirror, naked would be best, and say something nice about your body. Say it out loud. Repeat. (This is an exercise from one of Geneen Roth‘s books.)
  2. Think about what’s really important to you. Maybe something creative. Every time you find yourself thinking about how fat you are or how you should lose weight think about that important thing instead. Bonus points if it is something creative.
Dec 102007

Welcome to this month’s just post roundtable where we all share links of posts about social justice. Each month I contribute my feeble six or so links and think, “This month the list will be really short.”, and each month you all take part and the list is long and rich and wonderful.


For an introduction this month I’d like to point you to a post by Frau Kaltmamsell titled something like, “Being a woman is bad for income and career“. Though written in German it might be interesting for those of you who can’t read that, too, because she points us to a study in Harvard Business Review about “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership” (and a book of the same name). It says in short that the metaphor of women hitting the glass ceiling has outlived its usefulness because gender bias hinders women’s careers from beginning to end. Still. I find this very sad and not at all surprising. The difference in wages between women and men in Germany, by the way, is bigger than in most other industrial cultures. Because we have these spectacular benefits when having children, for example we can leave work for up to two years or so with a guarantee to have our old job back afterwards. (I#m really not up to date on this because they change it on a yearly basis.)

So, to all the women out there who think that we don’t need feminism anymore because we are all so totally equal I say, “Stop kidding yourselves.” And with this not so very uplifting news get yourselves a nice beverage, sit down and visit all the beautiful posts our fellow bloggers have written the past month.

aimee with Where does your Candidate stand on Healthcare
azahar with Thought for the day
Beck with Welcome to The Macho World
BipolarLawyerCook with Your own best advocate
bon with Other Pictures
Chani with Blog Blast for Peace: If not now, when? Passing through the Gates, Horse Manure, and Gays in the Military
The Cool Mom Picks’ Safe Toy Guide
Denguy with Bad Plastic, Bad Bad and ‘Tis the Season
Devra at DC Metro Moms with What About the other 9 months?
Erin with It’s That Time Again
I am the master evil genius with What does need look like?
Jangari with Toilet culture, Exodus, and Four Corners on the Intervention
JCK at Motherscribe with We are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community
jen with Power to the people who need it most, Tradition, Choosing and doing and going
jen at MOMocrats with Power to the People (who need it most)
jessi with Donorschooseorg–helping teachers across the country
Julie at Using My Words with Blog blast for Peace, Does the abstinence message for drug use work?, Let’s Get it On: Abstinence only sex education is risky and ineffective, Does putting the arts at risk put kids at risk too? and Inconvenient Truth: A Transcript of my testimony to the EPA at the NESHAP Public Hearing
Kayleigh at Another Working Mom with I’m Dreaming of a… and Holidaze
Kevin at Life has Taught Us with Your signature does make a difference
Kyla with Healthcare is a bitch
Laura with A more important PSA
lori with Thoughts for the day
Mad with SOS? You can’t be serious
Mad Organica with Tell Your Girls to Call for the Ball
Madame M. with Plan: Freezing butts, Stargazing and Retail (couples) therapy
Mary G with Charity begins at home
Mel from Actual Unretouched Photo with The Homeless
Pundit Mom with Do Republican Candidates Care About Women Voters?, You Know This Would All Be Different if Men Could Breastfeed and A Promise to American Women
Roy with Intersection of racisim, sexism and commerce
Sin with Seasonal Angst Disorder, Part 1
Suzanne Reisman on blogher with For a Good Time, Call a Feminist (Not that You’d Know This From the Media), No Smart Woman Left Behind and What’s Bugging Women?
Thordora with Murders are Not Monsters; they’re men
TIV with Post-traumatic stress disorder and ripples of trauma
Wayfarer Scientista with The Spilling of Oil

Thanks to all who provided the links:

Lawyer Mama
Pundit Mom
And please go over to Mad (who did most of the work this month), Jen (who is back from traveling), and Hel (who has been a bit busy these past weeks). Each of them writes their own introduction to this list, and they are well worth reading too. I hope you enjoy the links and come back to participate next time when the just post roundtable will turn one year old.

Nov 302007

There have been quite a few posts about toys lately which is only natural since Christmas is only a few days away and our children will be getting toys for Christmas. In our house the situation is always quite extreme because our son’s birthday is a week before Christmas. And though my husband and I try to keep it small there will be toy overkill. But that’s not what I’ve been wanting to write about in this post.

I have been thinking about plastic toys. I’m not particularly fond of plastic toys as such. On the other hand there are plastic toys that I loved when I was a child myself and that I still consider great toys. I’m speaking of LEGO and playmobil.

Last year my son received a huge amount of playmobil cars, a helicopter, a doll house, an ark, animals, and whatnot for his birthday and so I consider the playmobil department overflowing. I don’t think that he really needs more of that. Of LEGO he has quite a bit but only in the duplo size which is aimed at preschoolers. So I broke out the LEGO catalogue, and sat down with my son to see what he would like to have.

Okay, that was a lie. These catalogues are what he is usually “reading” every day. I always deemed this a harmless and nice pastime until about two years ago when I had to rip out all the pages containing bionicles because my son was so scared and fascinated by them that he couldn’t stop talking about them. He still thinks that bionicles are totally cool but I told him they are for bigger children only. So he’s looking forward to his eighth birthday because then he will have horrible black creatures throwing plasma balls and riding monstrous spiders.

Since I have been following these catalogues for a few years I have the impression that there are more and more of these bionicle-like LEGO toys. Do I want my then 5-year-old-son to play with hideous alien monsters of which every single one carries at least two weapons? No.

I feel a bit hypocritical writing this because it was me who gave my son a duplo castle with knights and armored horses and a fire-breathing dragon. I didn’t like the ferocious faces of the dragon knights and the amount of weapons that each single knight came with but in the end it turned out well, my son had the knights cooking meals and sleeping in the castle all of them together, caring for sick horses and the dragon. Mostly.

I know that children’s play has to include aggression, that it’s their way of making sense of the world, and that children everywhere incorporate scenes of conflict and war into their play. I only don’t want to give my son a toy that’s only a weapon. – Says she who gave her son a wooden sword last year. I don’t know what it is but somehow unarmed combat and sword-fighting seem more noble to me than pointing a gun. So far I don’t want any toy guns in the house (nor real ones, of course).

So, back to LEGO. There are several sets aimed at the younger children, most of them things like an airport, a police station, a hospital, and firefighters. And then comes a whole range of really cool sets, and “worlds”, all involving fighting. There are aqua raiders who are obviously doing research underwater. And then all their submarines come with guns, and they have to fight ghastly skeletons and sharks. The thing that I loved at first sight was the “mars mission”. Anything with space ships and astronauts has to be good, hasn’t it? Well, to my son and me anyway. So what do we find? Instead of research there are glowing-in-the-dark aliens and fighting over minerals. Aliens are imprisoned, and there is nothing but fighting between them and humans.

In short, almost every set of LEGO is about fighting and shooting. Apart from the sets that are for children age 12 or older that involve building cars and such. And every single thing about LEGO seems to be about vehicles or machines. And here I was, thinking that LEGO was for building houses.

Playmobil isn’t better, you have lots and lots of pirates fighting, roman soldiers fighting, vikings fighting, knights fighting, you get the picture. Of course, like with LEGO, there are real world sets too, houses, and a zoo, police and such. I probably should be very thankful that all those fighting scenes take place in a sort of fairyland. That there are no real soldiers with real weapons.

So I don’t quite know what to do. While I’m typing this my son is sitting on the floor building a tank out of castle parts. I’m not worried much because he usually quits this kind of play after a short time since he has to care for his pregnant stuffed bunny. But stuffed bunnies are not cool. Deformed machine-like people who let destruction rain on the world obviously are.

Girls, by the way, don’t get to play war. They get the double pink princess-unicorn-fairytale-castle. Where the princess gets everything her heart desires (including the handsome and brave prince) because of her beauty. Which poses another problem.

I know this post is totally ambivalent but that’s because I am too. I only wish that there could be toy sets about research and adventures that didn’t involve killing.

So, how do you feel about this? Anyone with bionicles in the house? Am I over-reacting?

Sep 302007

I know I have written about “mommy guilt” before but I want to try to put it together this time. For years I had thought that I wasn’t suffering from it. After the first few months of being a mother where I was feeling guilty for going to work and not participating in any mother-and-baby-groups, or baby swimming or not massaging my son every day, I decided I had enough of that, that he just had to live with his life as it was and that he at least wasn’t growing up being totally dependent on me. And so I proudly announced that there was no mommy guilt for me.

Only I did still feel guilty from time to time. Because I’m not the mother I want to be, because other mothers do different things with their children, and because – to be frank often I try to sneak away and do something on my own. Like computer things. And when you’re a mother that’s Wrong.

I read about mothers feeling guilty all the time on blogs even if the mothers I meet in real life rarely talk about it. But even if they don’t talk about it you can feel it. Every time when two or more mothers meet you can sense it. And it isn’t triggered by competimoms only, every single, innocent remark can, and probably will, trigger someone’s guilt. “Look, we made cupcakes and decorated the room.” someone says, and the likes of me think about how they never bake anything, and that their method of decoration is to give their children paper and scissors and afterwards saying, “That’s really nice, of course you can tape it to the fence.” On the other hand I then say, “Oh, my son isn’t going to music class, but he likes to bang on the drums and piano, and walk around with the guitar pretending he is a rock star.” and immediately all the other mothers feel guilty for not creating such a stimulating creative environment for their children, while I feel guilty that my son who is the son of two musicians grows up without any musical training. The list can go on and on. Someone says, “Oh, we go to the playground every day.” and I feel rotten because I never go to the playground and my poor son has no peers to play with, and then I say, “Oh, we just open the door and let him out in the garden.” and the other mother feels rotten because her son has to grow up in a tiny apartment without his own sandbox and swing.

In the end we all feel rotten, those of us who bake cupcakes, those of us who grow their own food, those of us who let their children watch TV, those of us who don’t, those of us who work, those of us who stay at home, every single one. Every mother who cares about her children (and I’d say there are only very few who don’t and they probably don’t blog about it) feel guilty and like she isn’t doing enough or doing things wrong.

I recently read a post by Chris Jordan on this: “The Modern Mother“. She quotes her mother-in-law who said being a mother was easier fifty years ago. It might have been but I recall the stories my mother and my mother-in-law tell and they always had the feeling that they were not good enough as a mother somehow, plus they were feeling rotten because they wanted to work outside the home, and they couldn’t.

So, I don’t think that going back fifty years is the solution (and neither does Chris Jordan, by the way). I just think that when every single mother in the Western Hemisphere (or maybe only most of them) feel guilty about the way they are treating their children, this is not a personal phenomenon, this is social. And it is always a good thing to remember that societies are made by human beings and that the rules therefore can be changed by human beings too.

I have been reading the sentence, “I better start saving for my child’s therapy bill because I …” (yelled at her, lost my temper, have let my child down in any way) so often. And every single time I’d like to write a comment and say, “Cool down. If that’s the worst that ever happens to your child it is very fortunate indeed.” All this implicates that mothers should be somehow superhuman. Patience personified. Never making mistakes. Never treating their children unfair. We all have this image in our heads of the loving mother surrounded by her children, nurturing always. At the end of the day she sits in the midst of her children who all are smiling with perfectly brushed teeth wearing their hand-sewn pajamas, and reads them stories before tucking them in their beds. Do you realize that this is propaganda that is more than a hundred years old? Propaganda that got resurrected in the 1950s and that’s still sitting in our heads? Only now we have to be hot, sexy, intelligent, self-reliable and making money too.

In 2005 I read “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women” by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels and it opened my eyes. We all have this image of the ideal mother in our heads, and it is blasted at us from all media too. Imagine a celebrity saying that she is overwhelmed by new motherhood! Somewhere inside of us we secretly still think that becoming a mother is the most fulfilling and joyful thing we can ever achieve. And in a way it might be but then we don’t always feel fulfilled and joyful all day long. Blogs are giving us the opportunity to see real mothers in real life who also talk about the less joyful aspects of it all. Still we think that nothing we can ever do will be enough. Still we think that we are the key to our children’s happiness. That we alone hold their fates in our hands.

Well, it’s time to stop this. Our children are their own persons. They determine their own fates as much as the people around them. We should always be grateful that we live in places where we have the energy and time to worry about whether it’s good for our children to have swimming lessons or too much cake. All the children of the people who read this have enough to eat, a roof over their heads, clothes to keep them warm and mothers and/or fathers who love them and care for them. Mommy guilt is a luxury problem that harms us and our children.

I have a little task for you: every time you catch yourself thinking, “I’m a bad mother.” or “My child will need therapy because of me.” or something similar, replace it with, “I love my child and trust him (or her) to turn out okay” or “Being myself is all I have to do.”.

Okay, I don’t seem to be good at making new slogans against mommy guilt. I’m afraid you have to help me out here. What will you be replacing your old mommy guilt phrases with?

Jul 242007

or at least recycle them.

I really know that there are more pressing social matters than fashion and gender, but somehow I always think of these not so pressing issues first. In fact, I think about them all the time. Which proves how shallow I am (and further proof lies in the fact that I start and finish every single post with I, me, and my). But then maybe these obsessions are only showing my belief that even big issues are made out of a thousand small ones.

So. I have been thinking about fashion again. On one hand this is part of my midlife crisis and the attempt of re-inventing myself, on the other hand fashion is something I used to be very interested in which I then dumped because I thought a) it was too shallow, b) I didn’t have money for clothes anyway, and c) I thought I was too old for fashion. That was ten years ago, by the way, and I have a half written post about that in a notebook. But todays topic are high heels.

When I got pregnant my feet got bigger. That happens to a lot of women. I thought this would be permanent and so I threw away half a dozen pairs of shoes. Some of them I liked a lot, like the shoes I got married in. So I needed new shoes. Since I had thrown away my black pumps and everybody needs black pumps (well, everybody who is female) I then thought about buying new ones. Then I thought again. Because every time I was about to go out, all dressed up and standing in front of the mirror I put on my black pumps and loved the way I looked. And then, nine times out of ten, I’d think about the necessary way to the train station or an evening of standing around holding a glass of wine in one hand, and then I would step out of the pumps and look for my black flats. So I didn’t buy black pumps. I bought black flat Mary Janes.

But now I have a) become more fashion conscious again which you can easily spot by the fact that I have given up on the backpack and now schlepp a big purse around that makes my shoulder ache, and b) my feet have returned to their pre-pregnancy size, and c) I have found four pairs of my old shoes that I had totally forgotten in the basement. So now I am the proud owner of black pumps again. With a 2-inch-heel. And they are Mary Janes of course. Also I have nice little black dress sandals. Also with a little heel. I love the way I look in these. Especially the way my legs look in these. What I don’t like is the way said legs and feet feel when I have worn them for any amount of time. Like last week I felt fancy, and also I was wearing a beige-brown skirt with a brown top and my comfortable sandals are red… I wore the black sandals to preschool. All in all I walked for about twenty minutes. I had three blisters and my hips, knees and back ached. Hm.

I looked at shoe shop windows. Almost every shoe has a heel. A lot of them have stiletto heels. There even are mules with stiletto heels. Hm. Have you ever tried to walk in shoes like these? I have. You have to think about your feet and walking all the time. One careless move leaves you injured on the floor.

I looked at women’s feet: flip flops, sneakers, more flip flops. Hm.

A couple of months ago I bought my first ever copy of “Vogue”. Almost every woman pictured in there wore extremely high heels. I look at the pictures at the Satorialist. I love the blog but nearly all women in the pictures wear high heels, very high heels. I have yet to see a man wearing heels.

Last winter I went into a shoe store and said, “I’d like to buy some nice shoes to wear with a dress or skirt but without a heel, please.” The sales woman showed me a pair. “No ballet flats, please.” Another one. “I don’t want a heel, please.” She, “But that’s not much of a heel.” I, “It’s 2 1/2 inches. If I wear those my back will hurt.” And then she began to rant about todays young women who always wear sneakers and then their feet become all wide and they never will be able to go to the prom in something else than sneakers, and how wearing heels of different heels is good for you. I left the store and haven’t bought a pair of shoes there since.

What I really like is the argument that your feet are getting wide by wearing Birkenstocks or sneakers. See, my feet are very narrow. I have trouble finding shoes that are narrow enough. Even though I haven’t worn anything besides sneakers, Birkenstocks and flat heels for the past five years. And then I thought, “How would a man react if a sales person told him that he should wear heels because this is good for his back?” And how can something be good for my back if it makes it hurt? And, would you let your child wear stilettos? Any heel? Shoes that might make him or her trip? Shoes that are totally rigid? What? You wouldn’t? Why then do you do this to yourself?

Last week my husband and I went to the big city. We walked along the river and I, obsessed with shoes of course, looked at the feet of everyone we passed (and at their bags but that’s another story). Amongst myriads of flip flops (which are not really shoes) I saw a couple before me. She went barefoot with her black stiletto heels in hand. Later we passed them again where there were more people and she again wore her shoes. I remembered the agony of walking in heels. Once I walked for two or three hours in stiletto heels. My feet hurt for days.

My mother crippled her feet with heels. She used to wear nothing but high heels. When she tried to walk barefoot her feet hurt because her tendons or muscles were shortened. Her big toes had been pressed inwards for so many years that she had to have them operated on. Since the operation, by the way, she wears very comfortable and flat shoes too.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Because we want to look pretty. And pretty shoes are hard to find when you look for flats. Comfortable shoes are often quite ugly. Just yesterday as I was walking around in my comfortable sandals the only other women wearing shoes like mine were about 65 or older. That seems to be the usual age for comfort becoming more important than looks. But I think that it must be possible to make shoes that are both comfortable and pretty. Fashion isn’t god-made. It is made by people. That high heels make a woman pretty is a stupid dogma that we have the power to dismantle. If women are asking for shoes that one can walk in, the industry will make them eventually.

Why this is a gender issue? Okay. Imagine a man wearing high heels walking down the stairs at a restaurant. Walking over gravel in the garden. Haha. Well, why isn’t this funny when a woman does it?

So I’m starting a revolution: the high heel boycott. Maybe I’ll even walk into shoe shops and ask for pretty and comfortable flats to wear to a wedding. Anyone in?

Jun 102007


I know I have milked the subject of pink shoes or socks enough already, but – today is the day of the May just post roundtable and there will be some new readers coming over to read the story of my son’s pink socks. All because I didn’t write anything else remotely social or just for the whole month. And those new readers – and the old ones as well – will then think that my poor son still suffers and maybe cry a little for him.

(And for those who are new to this and too lazy or pressed for time to follow the links: my son wanted to have pink shoes which I didn’t buy because I was afraid that he would be made fun of at preschool. Then I bought him pink socks. He wore them to preschool once and after being laughed at never wanted to wear them again.)

I’ll continue to be angry at gender inequality, I promise. And right now I have the feeling that maybe little boys don’t have as much choices as little girls. And then they will grow up and become men. And maybe they will be grown men in a society where they still earn more money than women, and do less housework. They might live in a world where a mother has to come home from an important meeting immediately because her child puked so she can mop it up, even when the child is with his father at the time. If said child’s father on the other hand were to be – let’s say – going out with his friends for a couple of beers, and the child got sick, there might be a fat chance that he heard about the incident only the morning after. “Oh, by the way the child will be staying home today, it got sick in the evening.”
(Disclaimer: This is not to be confused with the situation at creative family where master guitarist and creative mother share childcare duties and mopping up. Each of them is considered to be a fully grown parent without need of further assistance.)

So maybe I should shut up about the pink socks. And I will. I only want to write this post to assure you all that my son isn’t sad any more about the pink socks or shoes. He has forgotten the pink shoes entirely. For a four year old he has a remarkable memory so this shows it hasn’t been that important to him. It was important to me. Because I chose to use my powers of persuasion to change his opinion. And though I use my powers of persuasion all the time with my son this time felt a little immoral. Only I didn’t want to have to buy another pair of shoes.

So. His social standing in the preschooler community obviously didn’t suffer much. One boy who had laughed at him because of the pink socks invited him to his birthday party just last week. The little girl who had said to her mother, “The boy is wearing girly socks.” did so not in malice or ridicule but in curiosity. She found it odd and remarkable but not alarmingly so.

I won’t talk to the teachers about this issue because I doubt that there is anything they can do about it. The children already know that they shouldn’t make fun of others. They still do occasionally. They are just trying to figure out how to be social animals. Friendships are forged and broken. At least in this school the atmosphere is very friendly. When we go through the door in the morning there are children shouting, “Hello Leo.” right and left. The children are nice to one another. Unlike my memories of preschool, girls and boys play together often. A boy can play with the dolls or in the doll kitchen without being stigmatized. When I was four years old there was a boy in my preschool who liked to play in the doll’s corner. He never recovered from that. And I went to school with him until fourth grade. I don’t think that something like this could happen in the school my son attends.

Also his teacher told me that she admires my son for being quite independent. She said, “He plays nicely with others though he is quiet and a little shy. He has no problems. And when he has enough or doesn’t want to play what the others are playing he goes away and plays alone.” That made me quite proud. My son is independent and self-reliant. He won’t let himself get coaxed by peer pressure. At least for now.

Those of you with preschoolers and kindergarteners probably know that this is one of the most rigid and conservative phases in life. These children are setting out to learn the rules, and so they like people to stick to them. They try to understand what being male or female means. They try to understand what being a child and an adult means. They try to see the big picture, how people work, how one does things.

So my son goes back and forth between his likings. He declared, “I no longer like pink, I like black and brown now.” a couple of weeks ago. When I told him that one can like all three at once, he said no. You can’t. Just yesterday he declared, “I don’t like black and brown any longer. I like pink better again.”

My son’s biggest ambition right now has nothing to do with clothes but with his deep desire to be master of his own fate. He wants to be grown-up and be able to do everything he can imagine. He just starts to see how rich the world is and what range of things and activities are available to human beings. He wants to grow his own food, make his own clothes, build a space shuttle and travel to the moon, become a knight, have children, and cook.

His most persistent fantasy is that of building his own submarine, build an ocean in the backyard and then live there on his own. So that nobody can tell him what to do. He will be staying up all night, wear his pajamas the whole day and have robots who manufacture everything he desires. (No, he never saw a James Bond movie.) He plans to move out at his fifth birthday, but we can come and visit him. He even told me that I could stay with him in the submarine to travel to Brazil. Or maybe Italy. Or both.