Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back to School?!?

Originally published in the Kent Patch on August 6th, 2012.

An out-of-state friend of mine interrupted my blissful ignorance today by posting first day of school photos for her kids.  Yes, Kent schools don't start back up until later this month, but time in the summer seems to run considerably faster than any other time of the year, so this little head's up from my more organized and early-returning acquaintances is great.  This year is especially big in our house because my son starts first grade and a new school, on top of having recently had a major hair cut and his teeth are dropping like flies (seriously, I think the kid is going to need dentures while waiting on adult teeth).  What on Earth happened to the little ball of orange fuzz I cuddled, and who is 4 1/2 foot triathlete in the house?
Once the panic settled down this morning, it was nice to remember all that we've had a chance to do since the end of school, and you know what?  It's been a pretty good summer.  Time riding bikes, hiking the local trails, reading together, going to see friends and family, camping, cook outs, music, and much more.  Hopefully, this has been the case for anyone reading this, too.  I think everyone has their favorite or preferred season, and summer might be mine.  With all the fun that there is to be had, it's definitely a contender.  Yes, there's stress associated with different or absent schedules and upsets to routines, and childcare is something to think about, but there are so many great ways to spend time when it's warm, that it's easy to get over the little inconveniences.
I'll be honest, all the fun things to do over summer do make it difficult to get done everything that I would like to when the weather is warm and skies are clear.  Projects that I'd like to get done around the house aren't nearly as interesting as a bike ride or a swim, and cleaning- usually a Saturday morning job- tends not to get done when you're traveling on weekends.  These little details are why any garden I plant in the spring typically fail by the Fourth of July.  They also contribute to my back-to-school panic, which is not entirely sentimental.  I have done better this year than other years, but I still have projects that need done before too long.  Once again, my weekends will be busy this August, and probably into September, and I'm OK with that.  The messy house, the untended garden, the not-quite-finished projects are almost a sort of badge of honor.  I've been able to set aside time to have fun and enjoy myself and my family and friends, and that's a good thing.  Sure it causes some stress also, but those projects can wait, my little boy won't be little much longer.  And I'm sure plenty of that summertime fun will creep into the early fall as well, and might include a trip to Cedar Point, a first for my young giant.
So, what have you done this summer?  Did you get everything done you wanted?  Are you getting ready for school?

Full Record Courier Letter to the Editor

An edited piece of this letter will run in Friday, August 31st's edition.

I’m writing this letter to the editor today knowing full well that it won’t be popular, but then that’s one of the many great aspects of the US, our ability to speak up and voice our opinion, right?  Since this spring in Kent there have been many people speaking out on both sides of an issue concerning the relocation of an ante-bellum home the was built for the sister of Marvin Kent, for whom the city is named, as well as the Sherman and Wells families.  The Kent Sherman Wells home had most recently been a student rental on Erie Street, and in need of demolition to make way for the Esplanade extension planned by Kent State University, when its prestigious history was rediscovered by local citizen-historians. 
As the spring and summer progressed, the group looking to save the house- Friends of the Kent Sherman Wells House, incorporated in July as Kent Wells Sherman House, Incorporated- identified 247 North Water Street as the site most feasible and working within the time constraints imposed by the university.  This site, unfortunately, is currently used and maintained, with permission of the owner, by Standing Rock Cultural Arts and the community, and has been such for two decades.  Once there was a purchase agreement was in place for the land, the possible change of ownership and usage was communicated to Standing Rock Cultural Arts.  Thus began attempts by SRCA and community members to try and help find an alternate location for the house, so as to preserve both the house and the land between Scribbles and SRCA’s North Water Street gallery. 
There has been plenty written about the two groups, and community members on either side of the issue, but what I wanted to address here is the issue of the Planning Commission’s ruling in July to not approve the site plan proposed by Kent Wells Sherman House, Incorporated.  The editorial board of the Record Courier itself has written to compel the Kent Planning Commission to overturn their verdict.  Since that ruling, the house has been temporarily moved so as to prevent its demolition, allowing until December first of this year to find a location for the house. 
Much of the argument against the Planning Commission’s ruling has rested on property rights, stating that this ruling somehow restricts an owner’s ability to do with their land as they wish.  This is not the case for many reasons.  First and foremost, the land is not currently owned by the group that had applied for the site plan; how can a group not holding the land in question have their property rights infringed?  There was no ruling that the current owner could not sell the land to Kent Wells Sherman House, Incorporated, or anyone for that matter, and the owner will not lose a sale of his property no matter the outcome, as Standing Rock Cultural Arts and the community have raised money to purchase the land from individuals and a matching grant from Kent Cooperative Housing, if it remains undeveloped. 
Another argument has been that the Planning Commission exceeded its authority in this case, as part of the reason for not approving the site plan was stated publicly as “community opinion.”  With regard to this objection, it is important to remember that the Planning Commission is part of the Kent’s Community Development Department, the body responsible for overseeing how this town develops and changes.  Part of the Planning Commission’s role in this is to consider site plans for the development of lots and judge accordingly, not simply to rubberstamp all projects that come to them.  The city’s law director has stated that the Planning Commission was within their rights to rule as they did, and that Kent Wells Sherman House, Incorporated had the right to submit a new site plan, which they have done. 
It’s important to remember that this project is also using public funds, which gives added weight to public opinion on the project, and those dollars come in the form of a grant not to exceed $40,000 in moving costs from Kent State University, and a $15,000 unsecured loan from the city.  In short, this is our community, money from our taxes, and supposed to benefit the community, giving the community a say in this project.
On the newly proposed site plan, that will be considered at the September fourth meeting of the Planning Commission, the significant difference that allows this to be re-considered is the change in setback of the house.  Previously, Kent Wells Sherman House, Incorporated had sought a fifteen foot setback to allow viewing of the mural on the building housing Scribbles Coffee, but will now be seeking a sixteen inch setback, which will effectively block the mural by Edwin George, Cherokee Elder and Ohio Arts Council Master Artist.  This change in setback goes against the variance sought for the site from the Board of Zoning Appeals, and against the recommendations of the new Architecture Review Board, both of which have already approved the project.  This change in site plan calls into question whether or not this is a good-faith change in the site plan, or simply a tactic to allow reconsideration, and could open a dangerous precedent for ad nauseum site plan revisions that are essentially the same, but tie up city resources in the approval process. 
With the additional time available while the house is temporarily housed on College and Haymaker, an alternative location can be found (and some have already been identified) so that there is no need to prioritize urban green-space, the arts, or historic preservation over each other, but instead foster a city appreciation for all three.  If the City is looking for and supports a win-win solution as they say they do, they can step forward and help in this process by offering land and/or assistance with utilities.  Considering public opinion, the existence of additional time, identified alternatives, and the lack of a legitimate legal reason to do so, there’ is no reason for the Kent Planning Commission to change its verdict in this case.

Lisa Regula Meyer, Kent

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kent's a Gem, Here are a Few Facets

Originally published in the Kent Patch, on May 10th, 2012.

Recently, we commemorated the 42nd anniversary of possibly the most talked about event in Kent history, and the day for which Kent is rightly or wrongly known by most people outside Kent. While times are changing, and fewer individuals make the immediate connection with our town, it's nice sometimes to remember the many facets that make Kent great, and summer especially brings out a huge variety of ways to celebrate this city.
One event that is about not just Kent, but the whole Cuyahoga River watershed is coming up fast and strong.  In a little over one week, we'll celebrate the annual River Day, and this year it will take place at Plum Creek Park.  The Crooked River plays an immense role in shaping most of Northeast Ohio, and Kent is no different.  We're split by the river, our history was shaped by the river, as was our commerce, and this is a great time to celebrate that river, and its tributaries.  Plum Creek Park, if you haven't been there lately, has been recently restored and is far from the stagnant pond it was when my family moved here.  Now, the park is home to ball parks, great playscapes, an ampitheater, shelter houses, and a trail along the river, as well as a fully functional, free-flowing Plum Creek.  For River Day itself, there will also be hands-on activities, crafts, a Native American teepee and fiber loom, area retail and organizational displays, a dedication of Plum Creek Park, water testing demonstrations, and much more.  Other activities will be going on along the length of the Crooked River, with information on all of them found on the site linked above.
Besides the river, our parks in Kent are another point of pride, and one that I'm proud to see Kent Parks and Recreation and Kent Environmental Council as well as other groups helping to protect and promote.  From the Kent Bog, to Plum Creek Park, to Franklin Mills, to Brady's Leap, you can explore both history and the environment through the various parks around town.  If you just want a chance to relax, pack a picnic, hit The Portage Hike and Bike Trail, or go play on one of the many playgrounds (swings are great fun for adults, too!).  Maybe even be a dare-devil and try canoeing or kayaking at Crooked River Adventures.  If history is more your interest area, check out the Kent Historical Society's museum.  Or just stroll downtown and see the building going on and the improvements made by Main Street Kent, the city, and others. If it's Saturday morning, check out the Haymaker Farmers' Market and meet the amazing local people bringing food to local tables.
For special events and entertainment, see what's going on at the Kent Stage, Thursday Night Live! in Home Savings Plaza, or through D.I.C.E. And of course, there's the university, with its fashion museum among other things.
My point behind this whole rambling post is to remind everyone of all the wonderful things to enjoy right here in Kent.  It's going to be summer soon, and that's the perfect time for vacations, but why spend the money going elsewhere when we have so much to do right here?  The fun starts next weekend, and can last all year if you look.  I hope to see you out and about!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Familiar Space

My brother-in-law and his wife recently moved to Kent, so that they could attend Kent State University, he in international business and she in fashion (KSU has a top-ten fashion school in the nation- yes, you read that correctly).  It's been really nice for us, because we've basically spent six years now with the closest family being at least an hour away, and most family more than three hours away.  Between a small child and our graduate studies, we haven't had the time to make those treks very often, and family often doesn't have time to come to us, either.  In this time, we've missed our families a lot (huge understatement here), but technology has made it easier.  Needless to say, the idea of having family members in the *same* town had us thrilled. 
At the other end of the spectrum, BIL and SIL were moving to Kent after living with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (SIL2) for the past year-plus, after meeting, living together, and marrying in China, where SIL is from.  I can only imagine the relief they felt at getting away from constant time with family.  MIL and SIL2 are extremely close, and seeing them together sometimes seems like she's an only child.  I can kind of understand the situation; SIL2 is the only girl with three brothers, and eight to thirteen years between she and her brothers, so functionally, much of her life was as an only child.  MIL and SIL2 have a great relationship and are lucky to have that kind of closeness, and honestly it reminds me of what I had with my father, so I wouldn't begrudge them that, but I can imagine the kinds of stress living with them might have cause if I were in BIL and SIL's shoes.  Also needless to say, they haven't been rushing to set up weekly family dinners, and seem (from their Facebook posts) to be having a great time getting to know their new home.
On my side of the family, trying to navigate personal space between my mother and I has been a challenge since my sister's suicide last year.  Being in Florida, our most common communication method has been the phone, which is my least favored method.  OK, I really have yet to find a technology that I enjoy using for chit-chat, mundane communication, which is the most common topic for my mom and I.  So there have been concessions on both sides; she pushes less for frequent contact, and I try to have patience when we're discussing the weather for the umpteenth time.
And in the midst of all this, with back to school and the start at a new school, we've been bike-riding Kenny to school this week.  He's a good bike rider, and getting better, but his use of physical space on the road can give me a heart attack some days (says the former-kid who would weave in and out of the dashed line on the street as a child, imagining the lines as cones).  Too close to others' wheels, too far to the left or right of the lane, stopping in the middle of an intersection or half a block away from one- these apparently are hard abstracts to understand for a six year old. 
All of this is to say that space- whether physical, personal, geographic, or temporal- is not at all easy to navigate.  I'm sure it's even harder in a space suit, zero gravity, and no atmosphere, but trying to figure out so many different forms of space all at the same time has me feeling a bit like an astronaut myself, lately.  Maybe I missed my true calling, and should have stuck with the space cadet I was as a child.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Recognize Female Farmers on International Women's day

Originally published in the Kent Patch on March 8th, 2012

Here in Northeast Ohio generally, and very much in Kent specifically, we think about food.
We talk about food. 
Many of us seek local food. We support farmers' markets. There are underground restaurants and supper clubs and some of the most amazing potlucks I've ever seen.
For us, food is important.  If you've been involved with Kent Environmental Council, Haymaker Farmers' Market, TransPORTAGE, or one of many other local groups, not just food but feeding people is important. The process is something we care about, and we think about everything from the farm to the table. It's not just Northeast Ohio, either, although I like to think that we're ahead of the national curve on this issue; even the USDA recently unveiled their initiative, Know Your Farmer Know Your Food to encourage people to discuss where their food comes from. Where food comes from, how it's produced, how it comes to us, where we buy it, and how it's prepared are all critical aspects of not just our own personal health, but our local economic health. 
Food is great as an issue because it's universal. While developing nations may worry less about sustainable farming and more about subsistence farming than we do — although some are a doing a good job to improve both sustainability and subsistence at the same time — they still spend quite a bit of time thinking about the stuff that literally builds our respective populations. We know that improving yields of small farmers, diversifying agricultural products on a farm and including value added products in a farmer's portfolio help keep small farmers competitive, in business and even growing, whether that farmer is in Kenya or Kent.  Supporting small farmers supports people.
So what has any of this to do with the heading of this piece, a reminder of today's significance in the pursuit of gender equality?
If you were a woman in a developing nation, the connection would be obvious.  Globally, women produce over fifty percent of the world's food. Women are also over fifty percent of the population, so that's no surprise, right? Here's the kicker — in developing nations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, women can account for as much as eighty-percent of the food supply. Globally, we see the trend that a majority of subsistence farming is done by women, and the larger the farm in terms of pounds of food produced, the more likely it is to be run by a man (statistics are thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations). The idea of "support small farms, support people" can be interpreted on the global scale as "support small farms, support women." 
Why is this? In many areas, it's because farming — specifically subsistence farming — is "women's work." Women raise the crops that feed the family in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeastern Asia, Latin America, and especially in the developing world. They tend the family chickens, grow the vegetables for dinner, milk the goat for the children's breakfast. 
Cash crops, on the other hand, are the responsibility of men. Cash crops are more volatile in price, less diversified, and the family can survive if there's a bad year for a cash crop.
Subsistence farming, however, is critical to the family because this is where dinner comes from. You can weather a financial loss if you still have nourishment, but without that family plot of vegetables life gets much harder. On the other hand, in a good year, the value of a cash crop can still go down (these are usually commodities, don't forget, and a glut in the market brings down prices for everyone), but that family vegetable patch can produce extra that can be preserved, sold, bartered or made into value added items like jellies, jams, and pickles.
This trend of small farmers being women isn't just confined to developing nations. In the U.S., backyard gardeners also tend to be women. And in our very own Haymaker Farmers' Market approximately 60 percent of all vendors are women.  There's a larger contingent among the prepared food makers, but around three-quarters of farmers there are either women or a couple team. That leaves one in four that are men only. The same with Victory gardens in the second World War, and in the community and school gardens now. When small farms win, women gain ground. When women gain, their families are the beneficient. Statistics have shown that time and time again.
So for this International Women's Day, I encourage you to know your farmer, support small farms, and if you have the means, then expand that vision through any of the programs that support global subsistence farming initiatives, like Heifer International for one. Remember that whole "Give a woman a fish, or teach her how to fish" thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let's Talk for a Moment, Shall We?

Or, the idiocy of some individuals who shall not be named.  

Lately, there's been a lot of misinformation running around, like women's bodies being able to stop a pregnancy from occurring after a rape.  Or like statutory rape and incest not resulting in pregnancy.  

Let's get this straight, people, the facts of biology do not change just to fit your idea of how the world *should* be.  Yes, in a perfect world, no woman would ever get pregnant from her rapist.  Heck, in a perfect world, women wouldn't get raped, period.  But we don't live in that world, now do we?  And since we don't live in that world, we probably shouldn't go writing legislation as though we do, now should we?  That just seems silly.  So let's call a spade a spade- the people saying things like I pointed out above are NOT pro-life, they are anti-woman, and pro-forced-birth.  They are misogynists.  And if you happen to think that it's OK to predicate "rape" with "forcible" or "legitimate" or similar words, you may be one too.  

That's the funny thing about facts, they don't require faith.  You don't have to believe them, and you're not born knowing them, but they don't change based on you.  The unfortunate thing is that women do get raped, rapes do result in pregnancies, and there is never an excuse for a rape- ever.  Other facts include birth control failing at times, teens having sex, and less information leads to less informed choices (read- worse decisions).   

And here's the kicker- if you choose to ignore facts, and believe non-facts instead, then calling you out on this point is not discrimination.  You chose to ignore facts.  Discrimination is based on something that you can not control, like sex/gender/orientation/race/ethnicity/disability.  If you choose to ignore the facts, then you make a choice to face the consequences, which sometimes may include being called out on your ignorance.  If you don't like the consequences, then reconsider what you prefer to believe.  It really is that simple.

Safety Nets and Social Support

Originally published on April 20, 2012, on The Next Family.
Pregnancy is an emotional time, and a surrogate pregnancy requires the support of family and friends, not only for the usual pregnancy reasons, but because of the additional people, stresses, appointments, and pressures concomitant with the process.  A pregnant woman needs the support of her partner, who will be holding her hand in the delivery room and all the way up to that moment.  She needs the support of family members who may be called upon to watch other children, run errands, listen to venting, or help with household chores.  She needs the support of coworkers, who may need to cover some of her workload, cover for appointments, and help out during maternity leave.  It takes a village to raise a child, and a small army to help a pregnant woman tie her shoes.
In a surrogate pregnancy, the need for support starts from the minute she starts deciding whether this is the path for her.  It starts with her husband or partner, as this is the person who has the biggest potential to help or hurt the process.  In the beginning especially, support isn’t just blindly saying yes to what a surrogate wants, but to ask critical questions, and give input to whether or not to pursue surrogacy, and which person/people to match with.  For myself, I am lucky enough to have a spouse who is astoundingly supportive.  Once I decide to do something, Dwight trusts enough to not question me or to try to dissuade me.  He answers the questions I ask, and leaves the unasked questions unanswered.
As for our son, in important family matters like surrogacy, we also seek his input and let him ask questions as well.  This is his family, too, and as to important decisions that are going to affect him as much as a pregnancy, he gets a say.  He’s been as supportive as Dwight, and is extremely proud of our family’s role in helping other families.
For the rest of the family, it’s been a mixed bag.  I come from a large family on my mother’s side, and live across state from them. Even when we lived close, I didn’t get to see them that often, in part because of time constraints, in part because I didn’t get to develop much of a relationship with them when I was young.  But they’ve been nothing but supportive of my choices, even if there is a distance between us.  A lot of family members are on Facebook, and we use that to stay in touch.  On my father’s side, the family is much closer geographically but less supportive of my choices.  For my first surrogacy, everything was fine as we went through the explanations of genetics  -anonymous egg donor, not my genetic child, two dads (that was a fun discussion with my 80-year-old grandmother).  My second surrogacy was different, because there is a genetic connection, which my too-open-for-my-own-good self managed to let slip.  That journey was also complicated by my sister’s suicide a month after I gave birth, so the family was very much in “sticking together” mode.  My in-laws have mostly taken my husband’s lead on what to think and do about surrogacy, although there were a couple of very awkward days when I gave birth to my first surrogacy and my mother in law and sister in law came to our town instead of going to Pittsburgh, like they had planned.  They were trying to be supportive, but sometimes that means giving someone space, an issue that Dwight and I deal with frequently with them.
My friends have been universally supportive, but I think much of that has to do with my tendencies in relationships- I make few close friends, but those friends are closer to me than my family.  My preference is for functional bonds, people with whom bonds are built on shared experience, over the chemical bonds of DNA.  My friends are my “chosen family.”  This perspective has been generally helpful over the years, although it has created some difficulties with family members as well.  It is what it is.
Co-workers that know have been supportive, but I try to keep my work life and personal life separate, so the number of my coworkers that know is fairly low.  As a graduate student during my surrogacies, I was lucky to be able to time my pregnancies putting the end of pregnancy during the summer, when I’m not in the office or teaching.  My schedule lets me legitimately work from home when I need to, and avoid people pretty easily when I want. For me, that’s part of the appeal of career in the academy.
I have an online community of other surrogates who are obviously very supportive and very much close friends, even if most of us have never met in person.  They are my lifeline and outlet in surrogacy related issues, and always willing to listen and respond with the truth, no matter what it is.
That’s the long story.  The short story is that I’ve been lucky to have some amazing people in my life, only a few sticky spots because of my journeys, and enough support that even the rough spots I’ve been able to navigate with the help of my circle.  Personally, I couldn’t do it alone, I’m not that strong a person, and I admire Kelly (Rummelhart) in her ability and strength to be able to do this with one less support person, and wish her all the best of luck.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Originally published on August 9th, 2012, at The Next Family.
This summer, Kenny has once again spent much of his time in a summer camp program run by Kent Parks and Recreation department. As usual they do a good job getting kids outdoors, running around, meeting new neighborhood kids, and trying new experiences, and at a great price compared to other options. He’s had a great time, especially with their swimming lessons every Wednesday. One little thing has come up, though, on swimming days -peeping and privacy. His camp this year is for “the big kids” (ages 6-12 years) and he’s happy to be with the older group, but older kids mean more awareness of bodies and differences. He’s a red-headed, freckle-faced, blue-eyed, pasty white kiddo, and under normal circumstances, he’d blend in pretty well. However, when swimming, locker rooms and changing clothes are involved and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

See, my husband and I chose not to have our son circumcised. Neither of us is Jewish, so there was no cultural reason to do so, and the science on the benefits of circumcision is questionable at best, so we saw no reason to do something that we considered violating his right to bodily autonomy. It’s the same reason that- had we had a girl- I wouldn’t have had her ears pierced until she could make her own decision, and the same reason that I believe people should be trusted to make their own medical decisions instead of having those decisions legislated. To be clear, this was our choice in our circumstances, and other people may come to completely different decisions, and we respect that. This difference in Kenny does unfortunately make him quite the spectacle in the changing room for other boys. Also unfortunately, for whatever reason, Parks and Rec doesn’t have any males working in their summer programs, so when changing for swimming, the kids are left unsupervised, which wouldn’t be a problem except for Kenny being intact. Because of this little bit of skin, Kenny’s been peeped at, teased, made fun of, and not had any privacy. We’ve worked it out so that he goes to camp in his swim trunks, and simply wears them all day without changing, and it’s worked out reasonably well for us once we adjusted to this situation.

My husband and I made a choice, and it wasn’t the one most commonly made in this circumstance. Would we have changed our minds and had him circumcised if we had known the issues that would pop up from time to time? I doubt it. The same was the case when his hair was long. Fact of the matter is, the husband and I have made a number of choices that weren’t the norm, and nearly all of them have had some repercussions. Those range from a minor inconvenience that our compost jar poses in the summer when fruit flies are about, to major headaches like this episode with the peeping. But every decision has consequences; it’s simply a matter of weighing what you perceive to be the costs and the benefits of each decision. Even making a decision that is in line with what the majority does may have consequences that you don’t expect. Whatever the situation, though, when you make a decision, you have to deal with the fallout, however pleasant or unpleasant it is; that’s the nature of decisions.

How one deals with fallout is an important thing, as well.  Compromise is just as important as dealing with consequences, and is sometimes the right way to deal with unpopular decisions.  Obviously, there are times that require compromise and changing plans, and times that require holding to a decision.  Deciding when to stay and when to hold isn’t just a critical skill for poker players, but for all of us, as we navigate the consequences of our decisions and interpersonal relationships, whether parent and child or representative and constituent relationships.  On the larger scale decisions, our Congress last year put in place sequestration measures if they could not come to a long term solution to the national debt and deficit.  How they decide to compromise or hold fast will have far larger consequences than an individual’s decision on a relatively minor topic, but the concepts behind both processes are the same.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fancy and Not

First  published on August 10th, on The Family Pants.

First off, I have to say thanks to Mama Pants for thinking up this idea of Fancy Pants, and getting such an interesting topic to think on.  I have a six year old; I understand not feeling like yourself, like part of you is gone and has been eaten by the unending pile of dirty laundry.  I am all for getting back in touch with who we are as individuals and not letting parenthood define us.  

The problem I encountered was that F-word.  Fancy. It’s not that I don’t like fancy; fancy is great.  I’ve just never identified as fancy.  Fancy- in the normal, non-Lisa sense of the word- is something to be admired and contemplated.  Marilyn Monroe with her fancy gowns, Martha Stewart dinners of beauty and perfection, HGTV-worthy home with gorgeous flowers- none of that is stuff that I want in my life, just something to watch once in a (rare) while.  OK, I lied, I would like fancy desserts to be part of my life more regularly than they are, but that’s it.  I’m decidedly not a fancy gal, no matter how one defines fancy.

Fancy is definitely one of those terms that most people think of in gendered terms, and falls on the distinctly feminine side.  Or at least it does for me.  Then again I’m weird; whatever.  It’s one of those things that always gives me pause, and really
challenges me.  Truth be told, there aren’t many things that are typically feminine that I identify with.  I’ve always been the more rough-and-tumble, gruff, stoic, brute force type of person.  A tom-boy as a kid, I always had short hair because I hated taking care of it, and would have happily had it even shorter if I’d been allowed.  I took after my dad, had guy friends, and was interested in science, science fiction, being outside, and work with my hands.  

The one way I do associate as female more than male more than any other is reproduction.  I not-so-secretly love being pregnant.  Not the maternity clothes and baby showers and shopping and nesting parts of pregnancy, but the creating something out of nothing and being wholly responsible for the shaping of something parts. I don’t like kids and babies, so since my son, I’ve gotten my kicks by being a surrogate twice.  Being pregnant is sort of like being Michelangelo (but with cells instead of paints), and that’s a huge ego boost.  

So what’s a gal to do, when she doesn’t fit in with the other gals?  Try her best, that’s all she can do.  Struggle with identity issues, try to balance fitting a mold with being true to herself, and consistently challenge gender roles.  Add in serious bi-sexual feelings, and yeah, it’s a wonder said girl manages to keep a marriage together, not to mention a family with a young


Oddly enough, it’s the same on the other side of the fence, from what I hear.  The men who want nothing more than to be Marilyn Monroe fancy are just as unhappy.  They want to wear heels, put on make up, wear sexy lingerie.  And it’s just as hard or unacceptable for them to do all those things as it is for women to utterly reject fancy, maybe more so.  It’s less restrictive now that we’ve seen a rise in the metro-sexual man, but there’s still stigma.  They tend to face more acute danger-beatings, abuse, and the like- while on this side we face more chronic issues like low self esteem and internal conflict and stress, but both are valid and destructive.  The men tend to be seen as“effeminate” or weaker, other traits that are socially attributed to females.  Being like a woman in one manner means they’re looked down upon, in most cases, because in the US being a woman or womanly is still considered a bad thing.

So, yeah, this was supposed to be a post about fancy, and I’ve (unsurprisingly) wandered off track. It’s kind of what I do.  The point to all this rambling is this:  Gender stereotypes, whether positive or negative, are hurtful.  Not just to the person being stereotyped, but to the person doing the stereotyping. The genders are different, yes, but equal nonetheless.  And to limit the world to a simple dual gender system is naive and potentially disastrous; most societies in history have accepted more than that, up to five genders, and cases can be made for more than that.  

Let’s break down those fancy barriers, look at individuals instead of body parts, and stop judging books by their covers.  Lace is great for dresses, but it makes a chain to tie and bind people, so let’s go ahead and do our best to cut it off.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to the Beginning

Originally published March 23, 2012, at The Next Family.
In the spring of 2005, not long after I came back from an amazing trip to see the sandhill crane migration in Platte River Valley, Nebraska, I started feeling… different.  I had gone off of birth control pills early that year because my body simply hated them and I was sick of the battle.  Weight gain, mood swings, just not feeling “right”- tender boobs, not hungry, tired.  My husband Dwight and I had been trying to avoid pregnancy until some time in the future (or not, I wasn’t sold on the idea of kids, and I still don’t like them much), and were religiously using condoms and spermicide.  But after about a week of “offness” I broke down and took a test, and nearly fainted  when it came up positive.  Dwight was thrilled, on the other hand; he wanted kids, and couldn’t wait to be a dad.  I swear he’s more  maternal than I am still to this day.
The next few weeks flew by with relatively low interest.  The only difficulties were nausea (I lost ~20 pounds in the first half of my pregnancy, and I only ended up 3 pounds higher at the end than prepregnancy) and the emotional aspects.  Dealing with an unexpected pregnancy was not easy for me, and it took me until our second trimester ultrasound to really believe that I was pregnant.  I even looked into an abortion very early on, only to find out that I would have needed my husband’s signature to have one.  I resigned myself to becoming a mama, and did what I do when faced with a new situation.  I started researching.  In theory, the whole process seemed amazing, the changes,  developments, and endless possibilities for mediated interactions of the fetus with the environment were astounding and intrigued me.  I simply felt detached from the whole thing, like it wasn’t really me that was going through all this.  It was surreal, to say the least.
Eventually, we made it to the twenty week ultrasound.  We had decided on names for both genders, but hadn’t decided whether we wanted to know or not.  A girl would be Ella Rae, a boy would be Kenneth Alan, after my father, who died when I was younger.  As the tech started, she asked if we wanted to know, and as she was asking that, we saw a very obvious flash on the screen, and the question was moot.  Dwight and I both have biology backgrounds, although he has since gone back to his real love of history.  Ken’s been just as “in your face” and sure of himself ever since.
Fast forward again to Christmas eve that year.  I was still a little over a week from my due date, and my midwife had reassured me the Thursday before that everything seemed right on track and to expect a calm holidays before all hell broke loose with an infant.  That morning we were getting ready to go to my grandparents’ house for the family celebration.  A friend had fixed my dad’s old subwoofer for me, and it was sitting in the trunk of the car.  I had been pestering Dwight all week to get it inside, so we had room to load up gifts and food to take, but he hadn’t done it.  So in my infinite wisdom and patience, I ran downstairs while he was shaving and lugged that giant  wooden box to our upstairs condo.  He finished shaving, I packed the car, and we headed off.
At my grandparents’, everyone was remarking how cute I looked, and how they figured I had at least three more weeks, and how well pregnancy suited me.  I come from a large family on my mom’s side; these were meant to be compliments.  I was on my feet and snacking most of the day, and by the time we started the hour drive home, my back was aching.  I figured it was punishment for being stupid with the speaker.  We got home, went to bed, and I tried ignoring the throbbing pain in my back. Yes, I said throbbing.  Around eleven I woke up when it became apparent that my back ache was oddly rhythmic and we called the hospital.  The nurses let us know to come in after midnight if it kept up, and they would check on me.  We waited around until after midnight with not much change, and went in.  My water hadn’t broken, but I was having contractions, irregular and not coming close together.  The midwife told me to go home, enjoy the holiday, and she’d see me in a few days when I gave birth.  We all honestly believed that.  Armed with a sleep aid to help me relax and get some rest, we went home.
The next morning (Christmas morning), I woke up not really sure I had slept that night.  I hurriedly tried getting the house ready for company; we had planned for both of our parents to come to our house that year, to be close to the hospital just in case.  All the while, my backache was getting worse and more regular.  By 10AM, when people arrived, I was not up to cooking Christmas dinner.  We ate treats -snacks that I had made and froze earlier that week, unwrapped gifts, and had fun in between my trips to the bedroom to concentrate and breathe through a difficult contraction.  I got to know my birth ball quite well that day.  About 3PM, Dwight and I decided it was time to go, left the family to order Chinese and lock up when they were done, and set off for the hospital again.  I broke the “Oh-shit” bar on the front passenger side door, and never did have it fixed.
After about five hours and a shocked midwife, it was go-time.  With a nurse cranking each leg back, and Dwight holding my hand, I started pushing like I meant it.  After a few pushes (have I mentioned I’m impatient?), I was ready to give up, until my midwife brought my hand down and pronounced, “Feel that?  That’s your son.”  I pushed even harder after that, and soon she was snot-sucking out his nose and wiping off his face after his head had been birthed.  As soon as that bit of cleaning was done, my midwife brought my hands down again and told me to birth my baby.  She helped me grab under his arms and pull him onto my chest.
I’d be lying if I said I felt an immediate heartfelt connection.  It took a few weeks to really fall in love the way I had heard mamas were supposed to feel.  What I did feel was an immense obligation and awe. I had made this.  I was responsible for this.  I had to do my best for this little critter that was long and skinny, pale and covered with  orange fuzz.  I owed it to him to be nothing less than my best.  Now, I still love that feeling of accomplishment, the awe of creating something out of nothing, but I have enough on my plate- I’ll let someone else deal with the obligation and hard work of raising a child.  That’s an education I’ve already had, and love to share.