Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Swashbuckling Toddlers and Angelina Jolie

Much is being made of a recent Angelina Jolie interview where she, probably unwisely, spoke nonchalantly about the fact that her eldest son is "into" war and guns and the like, and that there are lots of war scenarios being played out in her house. I am not into movie star apologetics, and I couldn't say I think the Jolie-Pitt parenting scenario is perfect by any measure, but of all the things to pick on, this one just bugs me. Not because I care about stars getting picked on. I really don't, except for the fact that it is a seriously negative waste of time, and it isn't helping anyone....(I digress) But the issue itself is a little ridiculous.

The fact is, she has little boys, there is a war going on, and also... anybody want to tally how many times Ms. Jolie has played an assassin of some sort? These things are inevitable. One ranting parenting blog kept saying "in light of her humanitarian work" it is so distasteful, "in light of her humanitarian work" she should know better, etc. Because lending her fame, time and money to worthy causes in ailing nations is nullified by allowing her kids to play with toy guns? The woman is no saint, but that is SO not the point.

Boys play with guns. Boys play war. Actually, I played guns and I played war too. I had brothers and neighbor boys and elaborate spy action-heroine fantasies in pretty equal proportions to my fair maiden in distress fantasies. That might not even be true. I have much more significant memories of pelting and being pelted by lemon "grenades" from a neighbor's tree, and that's before I was even ten, based on the neighborhood we lived in when we had a neighbor with a lemon tree.

I don't feel the need to get into a deep biblical, developmental or psychological discussion about why kids, particularly boys, engage in this type of play because its been done, and done far better than I could do in books like Wild at Heart, which I firmly believe all mothers should read, by the way (fathers too, but I think a lot of it men may already know instinctively, even if they wouldn't know how to articulate it). I will say, though, that I think this is much ado about nothing, and that it is practically a universal truth that guns and war are a part of the ever evolving imaginative play of growing children.

My son is not yet two and half, and it is already starting. Not even counting the primal violence and literal chest thumping that he acts out on the grown men in his life in the rough-housing periods of his days. Recently, my brother bought squirt guns for my son and his two cousins, that makes two 2 year olds and a 4 year old, if your keeping track. These things don't even resemble guns, really, more like neon rocket ships, but there's a "trigger" and a barrel, and kids could do far more with much less. I'll admit a little part of my brain, the part that has lingering residue from parenting books and well-intentioned pre-parenthood idealism, turned on for a minute and my knee-jerk reaction was to reign in the play when they started after each other, empty squirt-guns blazing, amidst a cacophony of shouted "boom boom boom." (Clearly, they have rarely, if not never, even seen or heard guns fired in movies yet, since they adorably think guns go "boom") But the reasonable part of my brain won as I realized they were all smiles, with nary a malicious thought in their innocent minds and no real concept of true violence or mortality. What I saw was three happy boys embarking on the first of many big-boy adventures wherein they see themselves as brave, strong, able and true.

And I defy anyone to tell me that these boys will grow up to be violent criminals or lovers of war, because of this. A liberal standard requires that we are constantly inundated with the message that "war is hell" and "violence is never the answer." I'll buy that war is hell. Certainly. But it is also real, and ignoring its existence is preparing our kids for nothing. And sometimes violence is the answer. Unsavory as it may be, when a man is put in certain predicaments, and it has to be someones job to protect his family, his community or his country, and so often it becomes an issue when a male is barely even old enough to be considered a man, but he'll still have to be ready. Let's not forget the young and scrawny David taking down the not young and scrawny Goliath.

As a parent of a preschool age child, I often hear that kids learn through play, and I think it would be short-sighted to pretend that the only things worth learning are the ABC's and animal sounds. All the creative and educational play focuses externally, and is undeniably and exceptionally important in teaching our kids about the world. But the relational, imaginative play, whether its playing house or "cops and robbers" as we used to call it, teaches them what it means to be a human, a participant, and someday a man. Sometime, every little boy is going to have to learn what he's really made of.

I love my sweet and sometimes still baby-like toddler, and I'm much more comfortable when he's playing trains or animals or fisherman, but I'm prepared for the days of spy adventures and good vs. evil gunfights. And if the swashbuckling sword fights going on amongst our scurvy bunch of preschool pirates these days are any indicators, things are going to get ferocious, and I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. And you can quote me on that.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Guy's Guide to Hunting and Fishing Part I

*I'm going to preface this by saying that the people who read my blog, namely, my friends and family, are not exactly the target audience of this particular rant, but its really just me being annoyed so it doesn't matter because my friends will also probably agree with me and be like, "uh-huh, yeah sister, tell it." Actually, none of my friends talk like that. Well, maybe one or two... but you know, its late, I'm tired and that was a trite literary device to expedite the extemporaneous portion of this blog. An effort that has now been nullified by that explanation. Aaaaanyway...

I am cranky and tired of hearing guys whine about women, especially since it was a bunch of guys that really should have been old enough to know better than to believe the relationship myths. I think I can really say this objectively because I am not on the market myself, but name a relationship scenario, and I've been there. Seriously. Like, right there. I'm thinking of writing a manual.

Okay, MEN, here goes: Women are not that hard to understand, and most of the relationship "facts" you know are myths perpetuated by Cosmo, 18 year old girls, women of all ages behaving like 18 year old girls and other men. Whether its getting a woman you want, or keeping the one you have, the principles are the same. Yes, a lot of this is subject to taste, but I'm pretty sure there's an outline that can be followed.

Myth: Girls only want nice guys OR Girls only want bad boys.

Truth: We want neither, and both. Its not that we want someone "bad", but someone who can be a bad-a** when its called for; a guy that could strangle an intruder with his bare hands, or at least shout menacingly and authoritatively so as to convince an intruder that he could strangle them with his bare hands. And we want to be able to imagine those same hands cradling an infant as though it were made of glass. Feel free to put us in our place when we deserve it, and by "our place" I don't mean the kitchen, or even the bedroom, but rather right along side you, equal, shoulder to shoulder. A well timed kiss will shut us up far more effectively that a harsh word, and the pay-off will be much better, but that doesn't mean you should let us off the hook if we're not being fair. You know we wouldn't let you. So be a man. Just be one we can be proud of. By "nice", we mean we want chivalrous, heroic, maybe even polite, but even the cowboys in the white hats get to pull their guns once in awhile, and so much the better. They also hold doors and half-stand-up when we come to the table, but are no less masculine because of it, more in fact.

Myth: Men should look like actors/models/what-have you.

Truth: We want you to look like men... no need to be over-coiffed, over-styled, over-dressed or over-muscled. It doesn't hurt to get a close shave and clean up the look now and then, but fighting for mirror time in the bathroom is a huge turn-off. I've spent years getting my primping routine down to less than an hour for even the most formal event, and on a normal day its 10-15 minutes on the hair, and only because I have a lot of it, and about a minute on the face. If it takes a guy longer than that he's either lying about what he's doing in the bathroom or vain, or both. Hygiene is really the main thing, followed by a decent haircut and a basic wardrobe that shows a little personality. Your own personality, not someone else's, or the one you wish you had. The sexiest thing a guy can put on is a plain t-shirt (black or white) and a great-fitting pair of jeans. Actually, the same goes for girls, in my opinion.

Myth: Women want to change you.

Truth: Some women do. But what most women want is just to get what we paid for, and its not our fault if your advertising methods were unethical and misleading. In other words, when we're getting to know you, you put your best foot forward, and that's fine. But when you don't think your best foot is good enough, and then you pretend to like yoga and wine and that you go to church on Sundays and that you don't wouldn't even know what day of the week football games come on, we're sure as hell gonna protest when you're belching beer while watching the pregame every Sunday. We do it too, I know, my parents joke that all women like to fish until they get married and to some extent there's a willing suspension of disbelief required for a relationship to get off the ground- but wouldn't it be better to just find the person who really knows you and all your dirty laundry and wants you anyway? Chances are if we go in knowing that you're going to sleep in boxers and black socks no matter how much flack we give you, we're not going to mind as long as you are the guy that gives us chills when you play with our hair. Or maybe that's just me.

Myth: Its all about compatibility.

Truth: Its a little about compatibility, but that's not the same thing as "sameness." Some of the most stimulating conversations I've ever had, which usually lead to the best relationships, started out with a little debate. Certainly, if you're going to spend a lifetime with someone, your core beliefs and values need to be a good fit, but must you agree on everything? If one person always gets their way because the other is trying to be agreeable all the time, you're bound to end up with some collateral damage like kids named Petal and Forest and Rainbow or a house decorated in pleather and black lights. The fact is, sometimes you need checks and balances in a relationship too, and that means that when it matters, someone's got to have veto power because cookie cutter couples are usually either mind-numbingly boring or just pretending. A little bit of conflict can be better than romance sometimes, especially when what you really have going for you is excellent chemistry.

The bottom line is that all we really want is a real man who is comfortable in his skin and loves us passionately the way we are. I'm pretty sure that's what men really want in a woman too. If you tickle someone's fancy the rest is fairly simple and if you don't, then none of this matters because there's just no point trying to make someone love you if it doesn't come naturally. This may not be groundbreaking information, but reading it back, I wish someone had spelled this out for me when I was starting to date. Of course, I wouldn't have listened.

**Another little aside. I actually sort of like the names "Petal" and "Forest." Rainbow, not so much. But you see, it proves my point... sometimes I need someone keep my inner tree nymph from escaping at inopportune times.

XO, Elizabeth

Dreamland Revisited

If anyone is interested, this is just a little explanation of the drawing I added to my blog and part of which is my current default photo.

As with all good crazy people, my story involves both my mother and my childhood. When I was little I had a lot of bad dreams. Terrible horrible no good very bad dreams, nearly every night. I still do, just with a mere fraction of the frequency (although the horror and morbidity has certainly matured). But when I was just a wee thing, my sainted mother taught me that more often than not, I could be in control of my dreams, partly by thinking of lovely things as I was falling asleep, in addition to making myself aware I was only dreaming and since it was my own mind, I could make it anything I wanted to. (Did I have a choice but to become an artist with that sort of wide-open creative encouragement, come to think of it?)

Anyway, we would play a little game at bedtime where my mom would say something like, "I'll see you in Dreamland... I'll be wearing a pink dress with white polka-dots and butterfly wings and a lime green tiara. I'll meet you at the gum-drop tree. How will I know you?" And I would describe in great detail my dreamself and her attire. It was never quite the same from one night to the next, but my mom nearly always wore pink with white polka-dots in some form or another, and I was always one for tu-tus. Sometimes I was a mermaid swimming in a purple sea, sometimes some sort of winged creature but it was a delightful little tradition and it did the trick.

From time to time in my adulthood we have talked about it, and once at a family gathering when my nephew was telling us about his bad dream I engaged the whole extended family in a very elaborate Dreamland reunion which sort of unlocked a lot of really wonderful memories for me of whispered fairytales and enchanted dream meetings with my Mommy, the person who taught me what love and beauty and magic were.

So for Mother's day, I did this little drawing for my mom, of our grown-up(ish) idea of how we'd look in dreamland. Of course, in our dreams we're both seven feet tall and weigh about ninety pounds, but what I think its really about is how we'd look if we looked on the outside like we feel on the inside. I guess that means I'm a fairy-CanCan dancer with an affinity for Jane Austen, horn-rimmed glasses, pearls and tattoos (I'm a complicated creature) and my mom is femininity personified, the queen bee and a nurturer of all living things, an angel in an apron with whom I share my sense of whimsy and my love of beauty.

Now the other women in my life want in on this so I'm embarking on another trip to Dreamland to capture a glimpse of how they see themselves... it should be enlightening. Hope you like it, but mostly it was a labor of love and the target audience was my mother who is admittedly easy to please, so if you don't, well, I just don't care. That's what Mom's are for.