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Tina Fey’s Prayer for a Daughter has hit the Internet by storm. I may not be as funny or smart or witty. However, boys deserve something, too. I don’t want to pray for Monster. I just want to give him some life rules to live by. Here are the Ten Commandments for My Son:

1) Thou shalt not be an ass. No, really. If you bully or treat others condescendingly or mock peers or adults, you want to find a cardboard box to live in for the next ten years. Being respectful to others is respecting yourself.

Corollary: Thou shalt learn appropriate use of snark. No one should ever be too nice. People who are too nice are fake. Be true to yourself without being mean to others. Yeah, I know. It seems to break The First Commandment. Life is full of conundrums. Learn to negotiate the gray areas.

2) Thou shalt listen to thyself and only thyself except when listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing called a curfew? Yeah, that requires listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing that says, “Drink ALL.THE.BEER and do ALL.THE.DRUGS”? That requires listening to thyself. Make your own decisions. Make them with forethought. Listen to the little voice in your head when it speaks. Mostly, it knows the right answer. Except when it doesn’t. Then listen to that other voice. Remember that the voices are ok unless they’re telling you to commit a homicide. Then seek professional help. Do not pass go. Do not collect anything.

3) Thou shalt not wear a banana hammock. Or anything vaguely resembling such body wear. Just say no. There is no gray area for this one.

4) Thou shalt be whoever thy wishes without recourse unless said recourse involves non-civil rights based law enforcement. Look, your mama’s an attorney and covering all the loopholes with wood putty. Deal with it. Be a drummer. Be a lawyer (ok, don’t be one of those…that likely breaks the First Commandment). Wear pink. Wear blue. Wear my high heels. Wear Converse Chuck Taylors. Be who you want to be when you want to be that person.

Corollary: Do not be yourself at the expense of disallowing someone else to be him/herself. That violates the First Commandment. Always remember the First Commandment.

5) Thou shalt not fear failure. Failure is the mother of all success. You cannot achieve success without understanding your limitations. Learning what makes you unhappy, whether it be academic or work or relationships, will allow you to further understand what brings you joy. Do not wallow in failure and seek it out. However, do not run from its potential.

6) Thou shalt do things thy parents should not now nor ever know about. Do things about which you know we would disapprove. Don’t tell us. Do not break the second half of the Second Commandment. You will not always agree with our ideas or our decisions or our choices. As long as you do not break the Second Commandment, explore new ideas and experiences. Make sure to stay within the boundaries of the law and keep the First Commandment in mind. Be your own person on your own terms. Just remember that while we love you, there are some things that remain in the realm of Too Much Information. If you wouldn’t tell your mother? Don’t.

7) Thou shalt not shave or wax thy chest for fashion. No. Really. I promise you’ll regret it. Yes, hair grows back. However, really. No. Just don’t.

8 ) Thou shalt paint and sing and read and run and skip and jump. Be active. Be creative. The two are not mutually exclusive. Be a baseball player who sings opera. Be a poet who runs a marathon. Think outside of society’s rules for gender or socioeconomic status or educational background.

9) Thou shalt not expect the world to support you financially for your whole life. By “the world”, I mean thy Mother and Father. Learn responsibility and learn the importance of self-sufficiency. Learn that making minimum wage at 16 makes you more likely to want to make more than minimum wage at 26. Learn that you are the sOn and not the sUn. The world does not revolve around you. Learn that being supported does not mean being carried. The advantages that thy Mother and Father try to allow you to experience are so that you can become the person you need to be. They are not provided. They are earned based on your ability to appreciate them and not take them for granted.

10) Thou shall feel loved, be loved, and give love. Freely. To whomever. Without recourse.

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Society. That’s what. Over the last few months, bullying has become a disconcerting trend in the news. First, there was the story of Tyler Clement. Then the Trevor Project went viral.  Bullying over sexual and gender preferences has come to the national forefront, as well it should.

However, where does this all begin? Earlier this semester, I worked with students discussing the nerd and jock stereotypes. Resoundingly, my students told me that my understanding of the high school social structure was outdated. “There’s no such thing as the nerd!” they cried. “Smart kids do sports. This whole nerd thing is dumb.” “We’re all the same!” They all insisted that these were universal truths.

In the last few weeks, Katie’s Story has gone viral. Katie is a little girl who loves Star Wars. Her mother is absolutely correct – tolerance is preached in schools, but this does not mean that children accept it. Children look for those who are different, pinpoint those differences, and find ways to belittle those differences. In fact, in a class where students insisted that nerds and jocks were outmoded stereotypes, one student argued about a segment of a reading discussing gay porn that the reading created discomfort since it discussed “man on man sex” a lot even though “it’s not like I’m homophobic.” No, we’re not homophobic. We’re intolerant of differences that don’t jibe with our sense of social norms. There’s a difference, but there’s not.

The difference, to be honest, is that kids learn these norms at a young age. I’m more than proud of the fact that Monster knows Blitzkrieg Bop (B Bop) and can sing “Ay! Oh! … Go!” I’m beyond proud that he wants his Yoda shirt in the morning (even if that means making sure we have multiple ones in the house and have to make sure at least one is clean on any given day to prevent insane meltdowns). I’m thrilled that he looks at handstamps, then at his wrists, and gets a confused face because Mommy has “stamps” on her wrists known as “tattoo.” I’m proud of these things.

I’m not always proud of myself. I’m not proud that when I saw a kitchen set on sale at a local toy store I didn’t scoop it up. Although, in my defense it was more about having a lot of Christmas gifts already, a tantrumey child, and no idea how I’d truck that sucker home than it was about gender issues. I’m not proud that I don’t point out pink to him (although, it’s more along the lines of “I hate the color pink in general and want to view as little as humanly possible” than it is about not wanting my son to like pink). I’m not proud that I don’t offer him as many stereotypically non-boy things as I do stereotypically boy things.

Last weekend, we took Monster to Lego Kidsfest. For me, this experience tops the list of things I’ve done with my son. Why? I’m inculcating him to the concept of convention culture. I love that there are places where people of all ages can come together and share their favorite hobbies. I’m saddened that it was very obvious that there were far fewer girls than boys at Lego Kidsfest. Boys dominated. I’m saddened that when I walk into a local kids’ art place, it seems geared slightly more towards girls (two Fancy Nancy parties and one Planes, Trains, and Cars). I’m saddened that when I visited the art place, it was more girls than boys. I’m saddened that the things we assume our children will like when they’re young are things that have a gender identity, even if it’s subconscious through the use of colors and names.

For example, why are there only four female trains in the Thomas stories? Trust me, Monster has a serious crush on Rosie. I can safely say that I know almost all the trains by name at this point. Why aren’t there more female trains? Why does one of them have to be pink/lavender while the others are mostly primary colors? (At least Emily is a nice, happy, shade of dark green.) Why does Foofa have to be pink (with the requisite flower sticking out of her head) while both Brobee and Muno are regular primary colors (at least Toody is blue…)? Why do I walk into the Target children’s section or the Old Navy children’s section and see that all the cool graphic shirts are in the boys’ department while all the pink hearts and flowers are in the girls’ department? Why can’t there be flannel plaid shirts in the girls’ section?

The answer is the word stereotype. I spent the last three months trying to explain to my students why stereotypes matter, even though they insist that stereotypes don’t really exist today. This is the problem. This disbelief in the existence of stereotypes is where the bullying starts. Bullying against gays, blacks, Jews, women, and all the other more obvious societal categories is beyond wrong. Please, for those of you who know me or have read this blog before, understand that the following is more about the insidiousness of stereotypes as a whole as opposed to an attempt to minimize the larger societal issues of racism, Antisemitism, or sexism. This is about the underlying issues that society needs to address.

From a young age, we teach children that there are differences. In fact, children very often, notice differences, as basic as shirt color (yes, I read this somewhere…but my memory is escaping me.). Children and all people categorize. Categorizing on its own is not wrong. Categorizing but attaching a positive/negative connotation is where the problem occurs. These connotations are insidious in our culture and are part of the cause of the general bullying.

For example, why do there need to be separate lines of clothing for men and women when it comes to things like sports or Star Wars? Why should boys be the only ones who get to wear plaid? Why should there be a whole wall of really cute sneakers and shoes for little girls in Stride Rite and about two racks of similar looking shoes for boys?

At the youngest of ages, as small as birth, people start transferring implications onto their children. Yes, my son listens to the music I like. I’ll be damned if he didn’t decide he likes Thomas on his own. He also likes ABBA. He also loves his Rosie train. When we take him to the library, he beelines for the kitchen set area. More often than not, there are more girls than boys there. Within these seemingly minor moments lie the undercurrents of bullying. Bullying arises when people sense a difference from a perceived norm. Bullying arises when people assume that a difference implies that one of the options is better or worse than another.

With little Katie, it’s simply that most stores make blue Star Wars toys. With my son, it’s people looking at him and assuming that he doesn’t want a toy kitchen. These toy issues seem so very minor in the greater scope of societal prejudices and issues. However, they are the inception of the larger issues. They are the moments that define where children, who later grow into adults, learn their sets of norms. The norms of gender begin at a young age. However, these are not the only norms.

Over the course of the last three months, I’ve attempted to explore with my students the idea that intelligence, and thus the “nerd” stereotype, have evolved for various reasons. My students have steadfastly refused to admit that there is such a stereotype. The fact remains that when we look at those people considered “nerds” – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, or Mark Zuckerberg – an underlying “less than” implication exists. Sure, they’re smart. Sure, they’re wealthier than half of the American population combined. However, there just has to be something wrong with them. More people can recognize Sarah Palin or Dennis Kucinich than will be able to recognize two of the Supreme Court Justices. We can say that it’s because Supreme Court Justices do not use words like “refudiate” or run for president. The truth is that their job is far too esoteric for most Americans to grasp beyond the most basic level. By pretending that all people are equal, that there are no underlying norms regarding some amorphous agreed-upon level of intelligence, is to inculcate another stereotype. Like all stereotypes, this is another insidious way of creating bullying. One cannot be too smart. One cannot be too interested in some movie. One cannot love a certain type of music. One cannot fall in love with someone of the same sex.

Pretending that people do not recognize differences does not erase these differences nor does it erase the connotations contained therein. Assuming that tolerance means acceptance makes all of us ignorant.  Tolerance implies permission to be different but not necessarily liking it. Tolerance implies that people won’t do harm. Tolerance does not erase the inherent distinctions made between norm and non-norm. Tolerance simply assumes that people will not act upon these distinctions. However, if people begin to believe that tolerance equates to acceptance, then change cannot be made.

Acceptance implies an inherent approval. Assuming that permission equates to approval is the fallacy of many of the non-bullying activities in schools today. Accepting that people are not the same is a whole different story. Many young people feel that because they have learned about prejudice and why it is bad that they have learned acceptance. Bullying in the most obvious sense – racism, sexism, anti-gay, anti-religion – is what most children think about when we teach them about prejudice. They assume that by not using words like “nigger” or “faggot” that they have evolved beyond the underlying thoughts. They assume that because the American president was elected “in spite of” his race, that Americans have evolved. We now tolerate differences. We do not, as evidenced by many things in the last few years, accept.

Bullies inherently understand that while they need to tolerate the big things, they do not need to accept them. In fact, they feel that they do not need to accept differences as a whole. We cannot teach acceptance of all things. Acceptance, or the approval of differences, is a personal choice. We can teach the idea that different does not equate to negative. We can teach that just because you disapprove of something does not mean you have to demonize it. However, to truly define what lies within a bully, we need to understand that by teaching tolerance we are merely hiding the problems. Parents, more than anyone else, need to understand that teaching tolerance only furthers the bullying. Within every bully lies a tolerant child. Teaching children to understand that differences can be either chosen or not and that these differences do not imply a positive/negative connotation is different. People do not have to agree with everyone else’s choices. People do not have to agree with everyone else’s lifestyles. People do not have to agree with everyone else’s decisions. People should, however, learn that different does not mean demon.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something. People think I’m stupid. No, really. You laugh at that (or, I’m hoping you do), but it’s true. My students seem to think that I’m some kind of first class, grade A idiot. A lot of other people that I’ve come across seem to feel the same way. Obviously, this means I need to evaluate my life choices.

Thinking about things, I realized something. I am not a pretentious person. I live my life by a few various codes. First and foremost is that what you see is what you get. I am not someone who pretends to be something that I am not. I have ink, but I wouldn’t go out and say that I’m a bar fighter bad ass. I like classical music, but I wouldn’t say that I’m some kind of intellectual snob. I enjoy reading, but I like to balance “smart” books with good ol’ fashioned chick lit. I like to think that I’m eccentric and not weird, but let’s be honest – eccentric implies a savings account that I do not possess.

I am a beer and nachos kind of gal. I like to cook home style, stick to your gut food. I would choose Paula Dean over Julia Child any day. Then again, Paula Dean takes too much time to make. However, man, her food speaks to me. Paula Dean’s cooking is something that says family, home, hearth, simplicity, even if it takes hours to make some of it. There’s something satisfying, to me, about the idea of that good old simple food that makes people think not of a foreign country but of the people nearest and dearest to me.  To me, food is about connection. Connecting to people and nourishing them. While plating food and how it looks is something that causes people to want to eat it, the style of food that best represents me is not a complex concoction of ingredients. It is something as basic as jalapeno cheeseburger meatloaf with jalapeno blue cheese macaroni and cheese. This is not something complex. This is a homestyle meal that fulfills in a tasty way. It is not difficult. It does not take a lot of time. It is tasty. This, to me, is the goal of food. Pretension in food, to me, is when people think less of the joy of eating and more about the kudos of the cooking process.

I’m a person who loves my home. My home looks, currently, like Toys R Us vomited on the floor and then a tornado blew threw and spewed this toy vomit everywhere. My furniture does not match. My decorations are not intended to decorate but to commemorate. My home is not a house. It is not a place you go to in order to oooh and ahhhh over the loveliness that is a put together existence. It is not something I show to many people. In fact, if I have invited someone to my home, that person should feel some kind of honor since I do it rarely. My home is my private place that reflects my family and I. We are people who, while not without the monetary spendiness that comes along with our current yuppie status. We like the good things. However, we like to enjoy them in a way that doesn’t shout, “Yo! We’ve got cash to show off our taste!” We like to enjoy our lives in ways that are quieter, simpler, and more homey. Our home is not a showplace; it is a cozy retreat from the rest of the world.My home is one in which we live. Pretension, to me, would be creating a house in which people could visit, admire, and then living only in one or two select rooms.

In my conversations, I try to use the most appropriate word for the situation. However, I also try not to use complicated language only for the sake of sounding intelligent. A few years ago, a student wrote on my review that I was condescending because I used big words. I try to remind students that my use of vocabulary is intended to explain my thoughts as best possible, not to intimidate them. Language, to me, is about communication. To communicate effectively, the other participants in the conversation need to be able to understand the words being used. In many academic settings, people use academic language in an attempt to sound smarter, to be more intellectual, to intimidate their listeners. I am not a showy person. I am me. I use the words that best describe things in a way that my listeners can understand. Last semester, I had a group of students who told me that I needed to use bigger words. If I used bigger words, to them, I would be smarter. The hilarious part of the whole situation is that when I did use large words, they did not understand them. Pretension, in this situation, to me would have been using language that made me look smart while making others feel less intelligent.

This lack of pretension is what makes me seem stupid to people, I think. I think the fact that I do not exploit my actual intelligence makes people underestimate me. However, to me, that is pretending to be something that I am not. I am not someone who tries to make others feel bad. Sure, I do it on occasion without meaning to do so. I’m on occasion aware of this or, at least retrospectively made aware of this. I am not someone who wants people to be in awe of me. I want people to be pleased by what I do. I want family and friends to be proud of my accomplishments – be they career, family, food. I want people to know me. I want people to see me for who I am, when I let them, at least. I want people to know that yes, I am simple. Simple in my likes. Simple in my tastes. Simple in the things I enjoy. I am proud of the person I have become. I am not someone who wants others to live in awe of me. I know I am not that interesting. I like the fact that I live a simple life. I like the fact that the greatest joys in my life are ones steeped in simplicity – be it knitting, spinning, or child-rearing. Enjoying these simple pleasures do not mean that I am a simple-minded person. They mean that I am comfortable in who I have become as a woman. Pretension does not equate to intelligence. In the same way, simplicity does not equate to stupidity.

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Courage of Self

For my birthday, The Kid got me a necklace, with a little help from his daddy. The necklace, by Me and Ro is simple – a small square charm with the Chinese symbol for “Courage” on the front and the word “courage” written on the back.

Mr. A watched me open it, and then said, “That’s right, Kid. Mommy has the courage to be herself.”

I cried unabashedly. There is no greater love than someone who loves you for who you are, despite what others may think. Courage to be oneself is a rare characteristic. It is far from a gift. It is a reward.  Time and experience create situations in which people can choose to be themselves. The courage is one that, I believe, takes fortitude of character to maintain, but that anyone can attempt in small doses throughout a day or lifetime.

Courage of self does not need to come as a moment of epiphany. It does not need to come as a culminating moment at the end of a great trial. It needs to come at a moment when a person realizes that she/he is someone who deserves to be respected, albeit not necessarily liked, simply for her/his beliefs. A person who has the courage to be herself/himself is a rare human being. In all honesty, I may not truly be this person. However, this is what I strive to be.

I have always been a people pleaser. I like making people happy. I like it when people like me. However, given that in preschool my teacher told my mother that I had a “strong sense of justice” (aka I was a snitch who liked people to do the right thing), I have apparently never been what one would consider “popular.” As a kid, I was unpopular. Let’s be honest, when you sit at the nerd table and they mostly ignore you? Well, you end up not having a whole lot of other good friends.

This had gone from the time I was in preschool. There was a girl. Let’s call her Miss Perfect. Miss Perfect and I had never really gotten along. I tried to befriend her. I tried to be someone she would like. I worked hard at it, for a long time. Come high school, things got worse. A general sense of academic and social competition seemed to be fostered. No matter how hard I tried, I gave in to it. This only fueled our general dislike of one another. By the time we reached our senior year, we both seemed to adjust to the mutual sense of perturbment. I took my own route my senior year. I applied early decision to college, got accepted, and took some easier courses so I could enjoy myself. I did not take AP everything. I took some classes in which I was interested, not that would give me an edge in higher education. Another friend, we’ll call her The Betrayer, had been ostracized because of a boyfriend. All of this sets up the great moment in which I realized that standing up for myself and having the courage of conviction would make me the person I am today.

Given The Betrayer’s issues, she wanted to have a sit down with Miss Perfect and some others. As we settle in for the Great Intervention, a ripple of tension palpably rumbled through the room. Sitting around the room, Miss Perfect started out and decided to be nice to The Betrayer. I don’t remember the whole scenario in all of its clarity. Everything seemed to whirl out of control. In the end, I vaguely recall that The Betrayer said something blaming me or denying our friendship. At this point, I realized, no matter how hard you try, sometimes being yourself is more important than anything else. This was the point at which I said the statement that has defined me for the majority of my life:

“You all can go to hell. I am out of here in three months and I’ll make new friends who actually like me. I don’t give a fuck what you think.”

I walked out of that room with my head held high. I cried. I won’t lie. I got in the car to go to my violin lesson that day, and my mother asked me if I really wanted to say that, wasn’t I sorry, what was I going to do about prom and end of the year activities. I told her, I didn’t care. For the first time in twelve years, I felt free.

Several times in my life, I have had these moments. These moments where holding on to who I am is more important than how others perceive me. Each of these moments feels equally freeing.

Sure, I worry about what people think of me. I don’t just walk around with an “I don’t care” attitude. I care a great deal. As I said, I’m a people pleaser. I want people to like me. I want people to want to be around me. However, that’s the thing. I want them to want to be around me, not some version of me that they make up for themselves.

This is the key. People with the courage to be themselves do care what other people think. They do want to be liked. However, they want to be liked for the person that they are. They do not want people to attach to some imagined version of who they are. That imagined version is the lie to the self.

Courage of self means holding tight to convictions. It means being willing to be unpopular at the risk of staying yourself in the face of adversity. It means being willing to have the courage to say, “Yes World, I am me. This is my self. I hope you like me, but if you don’t, I can live with that.”

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The Power of Hands

The first thing I’ve always noticed about people are their hands. Hands, to be, and not eyes are the true windows to the soul. Hands can tell more about a person than a full conversation. Hands cannot lie.

Long, skinny fingers. Short nails. Carefully tended. Sometimes with callouses, sometimes not. These are often the signs of a musician. These hands create more than sounds. They transform ideas from abstract principles of notes and math into feelings and emotions. These hands create and inspire.

Cracked skin. Rough nails. Cuts, callouses, and early signs of aging. These hands show signs of physical labor. They often seem hardened. However, their touch can be as soft as a baby’s skin. These hands belie a rough exterior and personality. These hands can also be as hard as they seem to be. They can pound, carry, hit. These hands may build or transport. These hands belong to someone who seems rough around the edges. These hands may physically abuse or may tenderly caress. How these hands flex or curve can tell whether they are the former or the latter. These hands show the true personality that may hide behind the public exterior.

Chapped skin. Cuts and dry patches. Short nails or long nails, both filed to ensure that no rough spots can cause scrapes or cuts. These hands show someone who cares for others. Hands that spend time in water but little time on themselves. These hands show through the softened nail edges that they worry about others. These hands hide the tears cried for others. These hands show the care for others in which this person engages. This person worries about hurting someone with nails but has no time to care for the hands themselves. These hands tell the story of a caregiver who gives more care than is received.

Hands have the power of truth. They cannot be hidden. They cannot be masked. They tell the true story that lies in a person’s soul. Whether they are ingrained with dirt or continually cleaned, they tell a story. Hands care for others or for self. They dig in dirt or wash continually. They can be perfumed with lotion or with the smell of onions from cooking. A person’s hands tell the story of a life lived. Never underestimate their power.

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Sigh. Usually, my year in summary forward thinkingness and nostalgia are posted the first day of the year. It is now, officially, day 2 of 2010. First, I have to say, 2010 is the END of the decade, not the beginning. I am solid on this. I refuse to admit otherwise. Nothing can change this in me. When I review a decade, it will be on the year starting with 1. End of story.

Over the last few months, technological manners of communication such as Twitter and Facebook have allowed me to update friends and family on the day to day goings on. I have pondered, at great length, self-identity and the internet. Does referring to myself in the third person remove me from my own life? Do tweets and status updates somehow make life into a miniature caricature of the truth? A few days ago, I used the Facebook collage of status updates as a year in review for myself. Horrified, I realized how much of my life revolves around another person and how little of myself I truly share with friends. Depth of self has become nothing more than an internal monologue. True, my philosophy of “amuse, inform, or entertain” for updates likely adds to the shallow quality of this collage. However, has my life truly become this vapid?

This particular year probably falls into the top five most life changing years. 2009 brought a new person into my life. A little tiny person who I did not realize it was possible to love as deeply, passionately, and selflessly as I do. However, just as much as my life has revolved around him, it has brought a greater sense of self-awareness than I ever thought possible.

Life is not about finding yourself. It is about discovering yourself. It is about finding true passion – in people, work, and hobbies. Little Man is, obviously, the greatest discovery of self I have had. I have learned that it is possible to have a different self underneath your sense of self. Lurking within me has been this human that I never thought possible. I have become someone who is willing to choose being with someone else over being alone. I have become someone who treasures each day – both its trials and its wonders – in an attempt to grab hold of the moment, hang on, and go for the ride without thinking. Many days are redundant, obviously. However, it is just this redundancy that reminds me, every night around 7:30 when Little Man hits his mattress, that another precious day of his life has slipped into memory. It is at that moment that, every day, I re-vow to live in the moment. I never realized that those times alone that seemed so precious would seem so pointless when faced with the potential for having so many of them in the future and so little moments to share with a small person growing so rapidly.

This year also brought the greatest professional fulfillment. I enjoyed the classes I taught this past year more than I have enjoyed any other classes (at least, as a whole) before. I enjoyed watching my students in the Spring wish my newborn a fond welcome and be excited to meet him. I enjoyed teaching a class of predominantly young men about nerdism. I enjoyed the raucousness of my classes this semester. I enjoyed finally being willing to let loose and be myself in a way I didn’t realize I had been holding back. I found myself giving more to my students than ever before. True, it might be unhealthy, but for the first time, I realized that when I call them, “my kids”, I truly do mean it. I reached out to students in a way I had previously condemned within myself. I found that the part of me that nurtures my son, husband, and dogs is an important part of finding fulfillment within my work. I found that within my work I find a sense of self. It is this sense of self that allows me to be a better educator, to give to my students more than just information, but knowledge. It allows me to dig into the material to create a place where open discussion of ideas can, potentially, make a difference. For this realization, I am grateful.

In the course of making sure that a certain little someone has benefits that I did not have, I have stepped outside of myself. I have become that which I previously mocked, at least in some respects I have. I am, at times, the definition of a “soccer mom.” However, through the course of providing social surroundings for my son, I have stepped out of my normal introverted self and created new friendships. These new friends (and if you read this you’ll know who you are, I hope!) have touched my life in ways I did not believe possible. Only a few short months ago, I did not know some of these people. Only perhaps, one or two or three. However, these new friends have helped me adjust to my new sense of self. These new friends are thoughtful, generous, wonderful, and caring. For these friends, I find myself grateful. I am grateful that they have helped me to discover this other side of myself – the me that wants to be with others and forge new friendships. This me that is willing to step outside of my normal boundaries and discover ways to be a friend that are new, different, and wonderful.

Fulfillment of self, however, came in various other places as well. Knitting and spinning have become, as never before, an outlet for expressing who I am. Finding inspiration in surroundings is obvious. After all, isn’t that what most people do? They look to their life and then use life to create? However, for the first time, I think I understand how something from within can become something from without. Finishing the first handspun was an accomplishment. After finishing it, the yarn was set aside waiting for the right pattern. However, no such pattern emerged. Thinking of the yarn itself, I began to think up a pattern. This pattern gestated for a while in my mind. Sitting down one night, I had to begin the creation. True, it did not work correctly the first few rows. In fact, since i have figured out what I wanted to do with it and made it work, I have thought of ripping it out and starting over. However, knitting is an expression, sometimes, of learning. This pattern is me. It is the visual, textile expression of my journey in the last year. It is all mine – start to finish. When it ends, I will have a tactile representation of my journey of self. For this, I am grateful.

2009 has gone. It is over. Tears, for the first time ever, were cried for seeing the end of a year that has brought such wonder to my life. 2010 looks to be an amazing year. However, 2009 will always hold a special place in my heart as a year in which I discovered my inner self. The self that I have been looking for my whole life. This is the end of the year as I knew it, and, y’know what? I feel fine.

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Out as Long as In

Dearest Monster,

Today my sweetheart, you are 9 months old, 39 weeks exactly. My darling, sweet, loving baby, is it possible for you to stop moving for one moment? No, seriously, you are nonstop. You are a perpetual motion machine. I’m pretty convinced that if we could harness your energy, you’d power at least the entire United States, if not the entire North American continent.

This birthday is a difficult one for your mommy. Today, you are out in the world as long as you were inside of me. I don’t know why, but it’s hard for mommy to imagine that you will officially be part of the greater world longer than I was your world. Don’t get me wrong – it’s WAY better having you out here. It’s WAY more fun for mommy, mostly. It’s WAY better in that I can drink coffee and have wine with dinner. It’s just…it’s weird for me to think that our private time is now going to be something that is so much smaller than the rest of your life when, for the last nine months, it was so much bigger.

You love your world. You eat everything – rice puffs, carrots, green beans, toys, shoes, finger paints, leaves, sticks. If it’s in front of you? Pop! into your mouth it goes. If it isn’t something that can fit in your mouth, by golly, you’ll mash your little fingers all around it. Y’know, the way you stick your fingers in my eyeballs and up my nostrils? I swear, your thumb goes so far up that, really, only a crayon should ever make it up there.You shoved your hand so far into my mouth, I thought you were trying to pull out my tonsils the other day. You’re trying to understand how tongues and teeth work. I know that you want to figure out how to make sounds. Is it really necessary to nearly gag me in the process?

You like to feel my hair tickle your face. You like to feel me kiss your face and zerbert you. You love it when I flip you upside down and have you do a backflip then bellyflop on the bed. You giggle so hard! It’s hilarious. You laugh so hard that your three teeth are visible. You can even, when you laugh like that, see where your fourth tooth is trying to come through. I wish I could make that tooth come in faster. I really really do. It’s taken almost a month, and it’s just NOW starting to cut through the gum.

Monster, Monster, Monster. It’s a good thing that your dogs love you. I mean, a really really good thing. Your new favorite game is to chase them around the house. You also really love playing tug of war with Max. I think you’ve really figured out the game. I’m pretty sure that you know what you’re doing. You giggle like a little maniac. You know that you’re now able to do something that you see mommy and daddy do. That makes you feel like a big grownup boy.

Speaking of being a grownup boy, I know that you’re not that big, but you sure do act like you are. I always find it funny when people say, “He’s so big!” Really, sweetie, you’re kind of not. In fact, size-wise? You’re sort of a peanut. I hate to break it to you. Even worse? Your genes aren’t so much looking like they’re going to help you out much with that one. The problem is, though, that you act older. You hold yourself up like a toddler. You act like a toddler. You look at your world with an older child’s eyes. You do not let anything pass you by. Lord knows, if it tries? You reach out to touch it or to make it look at you. You’re just that determined.

Of course, your determination is, occasionally, a liability. You are thrilled when you can do things for yourself. You refuse, for the most part, to let me feed you with a spoon. You have to being able to pick up your food yourself. You don’t like it when I hold your bottle, but you sort of refuse to lean back to drink and haven’t quite figured out the tipping it up part. Also, you seem to get really angry at sippy cups. I know. You just don’t get it. The sucking is different. The angle is different. They have handles. It’s all very confusing. That being said, throwing your sippy cup across the room because you can’t figure it out is going to be unacceptable behavior soon.

I know that you know the word “no.” You know how I know? Because when I tell you “no”, you turn around, look at me, and laugh at me. You’ve done this for a while. However, now, you know which things I do not want you to do. You know not to play with the cable cord. You know not to play with the little tea tables. You know not to touch the modem. When I’m not paying you enough attention? You do one of these things. As soon as you see me look at you? You look up, give me a smile, and wait for me to come over to you.

I love when you come looking for me. You can see me on the couch; you stand between our two living room chairs, look at me, and your entire face lights up. Your laugh and smile make waking up in the morning worthwhile. I love the little mischievous look on your face that says, “I see you but you don’t see me! Silly mommy!!!”

We’ve started taking you to gym class. You love to climb around and play with the big kids. You climb the little ladder rungs. You manage to hold onto the high bar and find it beyond hilarious when you let go and we let you “fall” to the ground, it’s like baby bungee jumping or something. You love being a little reckless, but at the same time, when it comes to walking? You’re totally cautious. You don’t like to fall when you feel out of control. You don’t like landing on your butt. You don’t like accidentally rolling over when you’re crawling. You’re not real thrilled about crawling into furniture, but you seem to keep doing it anyway.

You love school. You love Miss Laura. You love Miss Amber. When I take you to school, you don’t want me around anymore to feel comforted. You crawl off looking for new toys. Then, you come over to me and grab my leg, climb up it, and try to show me things. You love playing with finger paints. You love anything that you can do with your hands. You’ve started to wave good-bye and hello. You look at your hand, sometimes, like you’re not sure how it’s connected to the rest of your body. It’s pretty hilarious.

Today, your Daddy took you to the Lego Fest. You apparently loved it. Mommy was out, and you had a boys’ day. I came home to see you playing with your brand new Duplo blocks. You understand how to put them together. You seem as fascinated by them as your daddy is. You just love learning new things and exploring new things. I love watching you play with your new toys and try to show me how to use them.

You know, sweetie, when I was pregnant with you, those nine months ago today, I was upset about my stretch marks. I looked at the ugly red welts on my body and felt like every other mom feels, “What is going ON here?!?!” When the doctor asked me, “what happened here?” as though I’d been abused, I reluctantly pointed out that, no, it wasn’t a bruise, it was a stretch mark. Today, I look at those now-silver lines on my body and they are the only reminder that you were ever in there. Today, instead of you making your imprint on me, I made your imprint on me. Your Sasquatch feet are now a part of me. No matter where you are or where I am, I will always have you with me physically. Someday, as I told you earlier, you will be embarrassed by mommy’s tattoos. That’s ok. Someday, you will understand them. Someday, you will understand why I wanted to have your feet with me always. Why I wanted to remember when you were small. Why I wanted to make you a permanent part of who I am physically, for all the world to see.

My sweet, darling, amazing, little Monster. You ARE a Monster. You climbed all over everything at the pediatrician’s office for your nine month appointment. You climbed on the chairs. Then over to your stroller. Than along the drawers on the exam table. You opened and closed the doors in the room. You managed to get yourself all twisted up in the exam table paper because you wouldn’t be still. Again with the movement.

Little man, this month’s words of wisdom are nothing exceptional. They are for you to be you. Don’t listen to what people say – the good or the bad. Be yourself. Learn to love yourself for what you are, what you can do, and even what you can’t.  You enjoy life but want to rush it away. Try to stop every once in a while. Try to look around you and see your world as more than something to conquer. You may conquer it someday. However, in the meantime, try to stop for a few minutes. Try to enjoy just being yourself. Try to enjoy seeing your world for the first time instead of needing to analyze it and understand it immediately. You will have enough time for that later. However, right now, you will never have a first time for some of these things again.

My dear, darling, wonderful boy. Today, you are a part of the bigger world more than you were ever simply a part of me. The world is luckier for having you in it. The world is just a little bit brighter for having you in it. The world is more technicolor for having you in it. Thank you for being here. While I may be sad that you now know the world longer than you knew me alone, I am glad that you enjoy it so much and glad that I know you.

Love,

Your Mommy

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