“Never tell me the odds.”
Han Solo, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
This week, we received an offer from our local public school for G & P’s kindergarten that starts this Fall. Said this way, it feels like the simplest thing in the whole world. You live somewhere you go the school next door, right? But as any parent living in a big city with an (un)healthy dose of ‘we want the best for our munchkins’ will tell you ‘yeah… you wish but truth is; it is the fucking Hunger Games’.
And DH and I ended unwillingly participating in it. And when will we stop? When you finish reading this, please feel free to judge me. I do judge myself.
Let’s back track a few months to understand my personal journey to insanity. I am a fervent supporter of dual language programs in New York public schools and was hoping a community of French speaking families would be able to open one in our neighborhood – but it was to no avail.
So DH and I decided ‘Fuck this; let’s take it easy and stick to our local community school. It is only kindergarten after all.’
Then, you start having lunches with friends who went to all the private schools’ open houses and interviews in New York. Some have prepared their kids for he last two months for the lauded but also worrying G & T programs ( I still did not figure out the answers to some of the practice test questions). Others have visited all the public schools of the district and have built seriously impressive matrices to rank all options. You keep hearing that it is essential to start the kids on the best track now so they can go to the best middle school, high school and best college and then best …actually conversations get vague then. But what seems to be the general conclusion is : the likeliness of one kid to be a dropout and be that Facebook guy or a prosperous rapper is slim so really, we need to increase their chances to be… Conversations get even more vague then.
Yes. You have all kinds of reactions and you discover so much about your friends’ and your own anxieties, upbringing, disappointments, hopes etc.
And then you have this kind of mom: the clueless one whom everyone is calling because they think she has her shit together because she wears red lipstick on a Saturday afternoon.
And the clueless mom first standing firm on her resolve to not bother is now starting to wither. ‘OK; everyone is leaving Earth in this shuttle for The Jedi Empire to train Padawans. And I am now on my own with all my principles and my kids because of me will remain forever storm troopers’.
So that is when clueless mom is getting all Darth Vader:
I started to drag the kids on a Sunday morning unprepared to the last spots of G & T testing and your kids are like ‘what the heck? We thought we were going to K’s for a play date!’.
I started to ask questions to people I hadn’t talked to in ages to know where their kids go.
I started to freak out at urban legends of 10 families being on the same lease so as to be zoned in their coveted school. Who fucking does this ?
Actually I do know who does this: immigrant families who have to share rents or have to show a residence to find a job or open a bank account- to basically access basic social and economic rights.
Thank god; sometimes you find another clueless mom to prank with about how a popular school has decided to put places on the waiting list down as fundraising auction prizes. You laugh hysterically and then embarrassingly because for a split second you actually believed her!
In the end, because you are still a lazy shit you end up applying to two public schools.
Fast forward and the results fell this week. At one point of the day, I was on multi texting with 5-6 moms. DRAMA. I tried to lighten the mood: ‘heh guys relax. I think I was in a refugee center for the start of my kindergarten year.’ But in truth it is no joke. Whatever you say, you cannot kick away this interrogation: ‘Am I doing the best for my kids?”
We did not get our first choice; we are on the waiting list for that school and the wait game is now starting. But I am actually good with the second choice we were given too so let’s see.
One thing for sure though is that I will not surrender to the Dark side. If I start to falter I will think hard of ‘The Force Awakens’:
– the main heroes are a scavenger and a rebellious storm trooper who understands what is right and wrong
– and yes luke skywalker may be a freaking powerful Jedi who owns a fucking (deserted) island, but Han Solo was always so much cooler 🙂 Period.
I write a blog so I don’t forget things; like how much I hurt, how much I worked, how much I laughed, how much I loved…Bla Bla Bla
Today, I do not want to ever forget some precious moments with my daughter. A day will probably come when her smart ass attitude will frustrate me to no end, when I will ‘expect’ her comments and when I will no longer stop in my tracks because the words coming out of her mouth just silence me and blow my mind. Sorry if this sounds pretentious but I am too proud of her not to share. OK, I will now pass over the vomit bucket 🙂
Anyway, here are some keepsakes from P, age 4.
‘Mom, we are all getting old and we are all going to die, right?’
‘Yes…’ I replied, choking lightly and thinking ‘Shit I AM going to DIE!!!!’
“Eh…to make place for you and your family. If we all stay and hang out, there will be too many of us and you won’t have space to grow and do stuff’.
‘I don’t like that you have to die’.
‘It’s OK; I will always be somewhere watching you.’
‘Do promise you will watch me, OK? Because if you stop watching (as in looking at me), I will be lost.’
My heart really tightened at that moment because it was so innocent, simple, and genuine. Of course, children grow up obsessed with parental approval. So, what do I need to do not to screw it up? Me and so many of my friends grew up always feeling that we were not and will never be enough. Adult happiness becomes so evasive. Of course we cannot put all the blame on our old folks but I wonder when parents stop watching and start judging. When do parents turn from being ‘compasses’ into unsatisfied coaches ?
On her favorite books
I always thought that kids had this one book they cherished for ever and would carry everywhere; books about pigs, princesses, dogs and so on. A kind of literary comforter.
P changes ‘I cannot live without them’ books every 2 months. Among her recent obsessions: the illustrated Bible, the French – Lao pocket dictionary and the signed memoir by Condoleezza Rice ‘No Higher Honor’…Difficult to imagine these books as comforters.
She turns pages after pages, ‘reads’ intensely, nods, closes the books, re-opens the books and nods again. This stuff has officially freaked me out. That and when yesterday she told me ‘Mom when you decide to learn the guitar, I will tune it for you. I know how to do it, I saw Dad do it, it has to make a special sound when you pull the string.’ She has to be the world’s biggest bullshit express or what???
On being nice
‘I don’t understand why you ask me to be nice. It is not easy; it is very difficult to be nice all the time! How can you do this? What you ask is not fair.’
I am still pondering what to respond to this.
G & P’s new passive aggressive jousting is calling each other ‘Poop’. It absolutely drives them nuts and really upsets them. I mean it. They kick each other’s heads and they’ll be fine. They strangle each other and they’ll be fine. They steal each other’s food and they’ll be fine. But if the word ‘poop’ comes out, all hell breaks loose. Yesterday morning, P was bawling her eyes out: ‘G told me that I was poop’.
Me:’Well, he is your TWIN brother so if you are poop, he is poop too.’
DH was assuredly playing along: ‘Yes it is true. If you are poop, you get it from us so Mama is poop and I am poop and thus HE is poop too’.
We were feeling very smug about our stellar common sense but P started crying even louder. I tried her to calm her repeating: ‘Stop crying and just tell him he is poop too like everyone else.’
To which she screamed: ‘But stop it!!! I don’t want to be part of a family of poop!!!!’
DH and I turned crimson from embarrassment. She did make an awfully good point. As for the two us, a bunch of idiots…really hahahaha.
We live in a culturally very diverse neighborhood and from time to time some racial tensions just ignite on the bus or the subway. This morning an African American woman called some hispanic folks ‘cockroaches’ and ‘immigrants’ preaching a revisionist take on American History in which Africans were the indigenous population of America. Profanities ensued. L was confused like hell and I was just relieved that it was not older P or G who was riding the bus with me. So yeah, I wonder every day about what is my kids’ understanding of cultural and ethnic differences. I tried to start a conversation by asking P:
‘Do you think Mama looks more like your friend I’s mom (who is Asian Korean) or your friend K’s mom (who is French Caucasian)?’
She paused, smiled and said: ‘Mom, you are beautiful. That’s it’. DH looked at me beaming and we both concluded that she just understood it all. She has just cracked international conflicts and world peace.
Just like that.
Picture below by Helene McGuire
After my downer of a post 3 weeks ago, I have been slowly putting my shit together, regaining some stamina for my project, talking more openly to DH, and most importantly appreciating better my accomplishments as a mom.
A friend without children recently told me: ‘you are losing your head about achieving stuff, making something out of your life but you do realize you have achieved a lot right? You have a big family and a functional one too. You will always time for the rest.’
I don’t know if it is her comment or street Christmas lights or the fact that I am still digesting my thanksgiving dinner but I woke up in a disgustingly sappy mood, my heart full of love for my 3 ‘creatures’, as my friend Levon calls them. So this ‘awesomely crazy and cute stuff they say’ post is for you monkeys. Even if I often complain about you, I am thankful for you. I am. Enjoy this post because tomorrow I will be back to my bitchy self.
G: ‘So there is this house and there is a lion in there and a wolf knocks on the door and the lion is so scared he locks the door …brrrr’
Me thinking: I see that family membership to the Bronx zoo has been a good investment.
G:‘L is a silly baby but he is too cute …sigh.’
Me thinking: Awww.
P: ‘I want to be a big person when I grow up but a big person like Daddy not a big little person like Mommy.’
Me thinking: Fair enough.
(When peeing first in the morning) ‘I have to hold strong because I have a big zizi (‘willy’), so so big.’
Me thinking: boys will be boys 🙂
L: (when prompted to say ‘Thanks’) ‘Ti tyou’
Me thinking: Awww.
P: ‘I hate all boys at my school…except for one.’
Me: ‘Who is THAT boy?’
P: ‘It’s G (her twin brother) because he is really so sweet and so, so cute’.
Me saying: ‘Awww’ and thinking:’Remember this next time you try to strangle him’.
P: ‘Why are you sad Mama? There are no reasons for you to be sad because you have me, papa, G and L. You cannot be sad. We are all here.’
Me thinking: Nobel Prize.
To finish here’s a snippet from my conversation with P yesterday. I was talking with DH about old times and P asked:
‘Was I in your belly then?
‘Where was I then”
‘Well …you did not exist then’.
‘What?????’ shell-shocked I could have a life without her in it 🙂
‘Let’s just say you were a wish’.
Her eyes lit up and she screamed: ‘Yes I was a pink wish!!! But then you prefer grey…would have it been better if you had a grey wish instead of a pink wish?’
I was not sure what to say. I finally answered: ‘No, because you, my pink wish, are here. I have millions of wishes including the grey one but they are not here and it is ok. I am very happy about it.’
And then P flashed a kick ass and proud smile. Melt.
Have a great week end!!!
Photos by Helene McGuire, LN Photographie
I have dropped some breadcrumbs, post after post, about how crazy my extended family is and how their madness may very likely be connected to the fact that they are Lao. I am aware that it is a racist statement but still…I let you be the judge after you finish reading this post. Also everything written here is actually 100% true and if people do recognize themselves, well it is exactly how you sound. I still love you. Most times 🙂
On the topic of your physical appearance
‘Her husband is so handsome; you should see him grand ma. She is meh but he is GORGEOUS.’ Because it is deemed important to assess whom outta of a couple got the better end of the bargain when it comes to the beauty department. And by the way, you are not supposed to get offended because it is the TRUTH.
So yeah, they tell it like it is. The other day, my dad was staring at a friend of mine who very likely leans towards the democratic vote ( he is Canadian after all). After some intense staring, he had an epiphany and proudly stated: ‘Ha!!! I know who you look like! George W Bush!!!’
Fits of embarrassing laughter ensued; and my friend’s wife tried to save the day: ‘maybe a mix of Bush and Clinton ?’ to no avail… My dad cooly replied serious like a stone: ‘No, just Bush. In fact, he looks like Bush father and son, both of them.’
Most embarrassing/WTF moment since my dad did the duck dance with my mother in law at my wedding.
But all this is nothing compared to Lao women’s obsession with other women’s weight. Typically, things start like below.
‘Wow. You have gained so much weight I did not recognize you.’
The conversation usually then unfolds in 2 possible ways:
Option 1: you are trying to explain.
– ‘I did have 3 kids’.
– ‘So did I but look at me, still the same face and body. ‘
To which your evil bitchy self is dying to reply: ‘Yes you are lucky. Getting knocked up at 18 by the local suburbian boy does indeed make wonder in terms of getting your pre pregnancy weight back. When you are in your late 30s (like me), have travelled and tasted amazing world cuisine…well yeah pounds are a bitch to drop. It’s true but who can resist a NY steak right?’
But in reality you are shamefully replying: ‘Yes, you are SO lucky. Hmm, where’s the bar?’ And are thinking: ‘See you in 20 years. Bitch.’
Option 2: you stand on your ground.
‘No, I actually lost 4 pounds.’
To which they stop talking and start pinching and pulling (key word here) your double chin while grinning up to their ears.
You can NEVER win. Seriously.
On the topic of sibling rivalry
‘Ha, I see…that’s the ugly one. Where is the pretty one?’. Always indeed useful to quickly identify who is whom in a pack of mutts.
‘She is a good student but you should check out her sister’s test scores. Much better.’ Just in case your sister did not already hate your guts.
‘He is the grand father’s favorite grand child; he does not like the others much. I, for myself, struggle with my son’s temperament; my younger daughter is the one I prefer’.
All these being part of a fairly typical casual chat with friends as THE kids themselves are trying to eat (and fail to digest) their Pho Bo.
It is so bad that when a few months ago I read in the New York Times and Le Monde different articles addressing the modern times taboo of the ‘favorite’ child I was at loss. What taboo?
On the topic of gender equality and general marital advice
‘Of course she was going to leave him. It’s because she has a higher degree; that’s not how it works. To make it work, men must have higher education than their wives.’ No.It is not taken from a Mad Men script. I swear.
Another time, my grand ma told me over the phone that she had been hearing rumors about my temper and that I was being too tough on my husband (???) and that I should really be more lenient and understanding (god knows about what). I wondered if my brother gets the same type of call. Hmmm. Very unlikely if I believe the wedding good wishes DH and I got at our very own Soukhouane ceremony. The soukhouane is a ceremony that calls upon your spirits/energy so that they are tied back to you and you can be in your prime in different key moments of your life (birth, move, accidents, marriage, death etc.). It is beautiful and emotional. The ceremony is then followed by your family and friends wishing you well tying threads of cotton around your wrists. As grannies (‘meh tao’) ,wished me good health and financial prosperity they wished/implored DH to be faithful to me and never take a ‘second wife’ also more commonly called in western cultures ‘mistress’ or ‘lover’. The poor guy had no benefit of the doubt.
It gets worse.
My very own first cousin whom I was meeting for the first time asked : ‘Are you saying that of his own free will your husband will not come with me and check out escort girls?
‘What about you ask him?’
Cousin actually asked DH using me as the translator. Not awkward at all. DH at that point was scared of saying anything really and wondered what kind of sick games we were playing and what kind of weapons I was hiding in my purse.
Cousin concluded:‘yeah, it is not possible. It’s because you are standing here.’ What???
On the topic of the LGBT community
To start with, I shall say that my family is relatively very open minded about gays and lesbians (and I love them for that!) but they also have the weirdest way to express their support and acceptance. They have come a long way though.
First step was denial.
My first gay centric conversation with my folks went like this.
‘Mom, where is your cousin staying?’
‘At a friend’s.’
‘You mean at his boyfriend’s
‘No, how dare you? It’s his friend’.
‘He’s gay, mom.’
‘Who said this?’
‘He did. And you saw his gay porn collection all over his bedroom’.
‘Hmmmm (frozen face, red face )…i don’t think I did (and Asian stoic face). ‘
I was probably as confused as my gay childhood friend who came out to his parents in his early 20s…
‘Your friend is nice.’
‘He is my boyfriend.’
‘It will be lovely when I meet your girlfriend.’
‘Mom, he is my BOYfriend.’
‘I hope you decide to have children and…’
Intervention by the father: ‘Mama your son is trying to tell you that he likes boys’.
The mom: ‘Your kids will look pretty’.
Second step was curiosity.
‘So, ok I understand that they are in love and live together so now can you tell me who is the wife and who is the husband?’
‘Pop, that is not how it works!’
‘What do you mean? What’s the point if there is no wife and no husband?’
I still haven’t gathered the courage to ask further what my dad meant by that; scared shitless that he was being ‘graphic’ about it…oh dear…
Third step was full on support and approval 🙂
Three years ago, I overheard my mom tell her friends:
‘My daughter only has gay friends. She has been like this since she was a child. Gays tend to come to her. It makes sense though: they are gorgeous, very cultured, very funny, have good manners. Do you remember Archibald from her wedding? Yes he is one of ‘them’. I am telling you; they have it all. Her friends look like men too, you know. You would not have guessed. Yes, hell I do want them as friends too. I have to admit it; I do have gay friends too..’
There are so many wrong things in that last paragraph that I cannot even start breaking it down. But it does not change the fact that at the core of it is tolerance and love… or least a damn good attempt at it. And on days when news around the world about hatred and fear of each other just depress me, I do take some comfort in thinking that my folks are trying. Their own way. With some kind of twisted love. It can make you and break you. But they do try.
Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck?’ moment triggered by a fellow Lao? Non Lao readers, what is your most ‘what the fuck’ moment triggered by a countryman/woman?
Here’s the second installment of my ‘Letter to redlipstickgirl’ series (you can read the first letter here) which is me talking to my younger self. A tad indulgent, I know but so much fun to revisit my childhood memories. This post was triggered by my daughter, P.
P has a bag for her ‘stuff’. Her stuff is things she takes everywhere and preciously keeps away from her thief brothers. She puts her bag by her bed when she goes to sleep, hangs it on the bathroom’s door knob when when she goes for a pee, or hides it under the stroller when out and about. I do empathize with her pathological need to have her very own possessions. You get like this when you have close in age siblings. I myself still get irrationally territorial with things like hair and shoes. I don’t like it when my sisters cut their hair short because it is my thing; I am the one with the short crop and with the sole right to look like a Thai ladyboy when not wearing any makeup. And I don’t like to lend my shoes; my bras, panties, jeans are all green lighted items but my shoes are a NO-NO. Luckily for me I have big feet for my height which not only allows me to keep my balance when tipsy but also prevents sisters who shop in the children shoe section from borrowing my leather boots.
Anyway, the contents of P’s bag vary with some regulars like lip balms. But mainly her stuff according to her is divided into things she needs now and things she keeps for when she is older (‘pour quand je serai grande’). I do oversee what is in her ‘Older P’ bag partly because I am worried about what message I convey to her about women and partly because I don’t trust her to wait to consume… I thus said yes to candies and perfume but said No to red lipstick and chewing gums. I wonder whether I have the right attitude about all this and should instead let her construct her own views of her adult self. One thing I know is that I would like to say less often things like ‘You’ll have this or be allowed to do that when you grow up’. The more I have been saying it and the less this actually makes sense. I am still pondering about why it feels off and will resume this train of thoughts in a later post.
Meanwhile P’s bag inspired me to write this letter about the things I cherished.
you got very upset last Christmas when a mistake in the Christmas catalogue order landed you with not a Chrystal Barbie doll but a pink bathtub. You are pissed off that your parents would not buy a doll to make up for their mistake. They say that you have used up your Christmas gift allowance. You are embarrassed when the school organizes ‘bring your Christmas gift’ play sessions. Your classmates all ‘mate with each other’ through their brand new Kens and Barbies. And you are standing there like an idiot with your stupid pink bathtub and no doll wants to take a bath. At least you have something to show off unlike your classmate S. who doesn’t have shit because her folks did not celebrate Christmas. You then get mad at your teacher; this post Christmas play session is such a moronic idea.
Well, young lady, let me tell you that the bathtub story will make many people laugh to tears during dinner parties in your adulthood. You will keep laughing about it, in fact. I have forgotten all the dolls I ever had but never forgot the bathtub that I have kept for many years to come. Because eventually Barbies do need a bath. Always. Besides you will use one day the metaphor of the bathtub to define yourself and write: ‘Like a Mattel bathtub, I am not the shiniest toy in town but I am reliable, sturdy and I matter’. Hope this can be a consolation to you.
Another thing that you are treasuring but will keep it a secret is your illustrated dictionary for children. You often have it by your side. Your dad is proud; he tells everyone that you are a smart one and that the only things that interest you are books. You do like words but I know the main reason you like your dictionary is how polyvalent it is. It can be a bed, a minivan, a screen for your Barbie doll (that you will end up having the year after the bathtub fiasco) to change clothes etc. The pages illustrating different landscapes or rooms in a house are limitless decor sets for your Barbie. It only costs $3 and can be easily stored on your desk.
You have no idea how your dictionary is inspiring to me these days when I start wondering if I should buy any toys for my kids. See, I almost never buy them anything because they get pretty spoiled by other people. Sometimes I feel a tad guilty about it but remembering you play pretend to fry eggs in front of page 54 (aka the page on the kitchen appliances and utensils) helps me hold a firm stance on this.
There is also this other thing that you stole from a mall during your ‘I am such a rebel little thing’ period: a box of colored plastic elastic bands. You don’t even know why you stole it: for the trill, because you liked the colors, because it was so unneeded that you really had to have it. Not sure but it became your the reminder that you could be a badass delinquent from La Banlieue but chose not to. The truth is that a month after your elastic bands theft, you will get caught by security guards trying to steal oversized bras and baby socks… This episode will cure your kleptomania for life. Yep, the security guards will hardly have the time to scold you because they will have to reanimate your mom with salts. She will faint and drop on the floor like a dead fly. She will not believe her own eyes that her goody two-shoes girl is a thief…Yep treasure your cheap elastic bands because they are the last thing you will ever steal.
NB: you will actually steal something else in your 20s: beer glasses from English pubs. Not very classy. If you can try to control yourself, it would be nice. They are really a pain in the ass to pack and move from a city to another.
P and her bag
‘Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like
What it feels like for a girl’
Since I started redlipstickmama, there is something I managed to do rather well: not censuring myself. And this for many reasons:
– freedom of thought helps my writing. I spent the last 10 years of my career getting my words edited with a red pencil, or with CAPS or worst with shrewd cutting out of entire paragraphs. And although it was very often deserved (tendency to ramble is second nature to me), it always crippled me a little.
– commitment to authenticity is key to my own sanity and to the enjoyment (I hope) of my 300 or so readers (note: I look like I am bragging but considering 2/3 are friends and family…)
Anyway, there is one subject that I have started to write about and kept deleting over and over again: my own daughter. It all started innocently enough. I was looking at my Facebook page insights and noticed how my blog posts about my boy G. are usually quite popular. I then realized with sheer horror that I to date have written at least 2 blog posts about him and 0 about my daughter, P.
DH and I are obsessed about fairness when it comes to raising our kids. DH, because it is one of the things his folks did very well -always giving equivalent time, money, gifts etc. to him and his sisters – and Me, because it is one of the things my folks fucked up big time. It is popular knowledge in my family that one out of us 5 got more financial support, or more praise, or more demands, more criticisms from my mom and my dad. Thank god, it was not always the same kid who got it all. It’s a miracle the 5 of us actually love each other 🙂
Indeed, when I started my blog, one of my goals was to document our family life. I hoped that my kids one day will read all my entries when the time for them comes to forgive me for the obnoxious way I proclaim that ‘I know them better than they know themselves’ or when they start criticizing my style and maybe understand that back then I had no time nor the inclination to comb my hair or wear anything but sweat pants. And we all know that old habits die hard, right? I especially hope that they will read the blog when it is time to decide which retirement home they will put us in when we loose our brain and can no longer make any decisions and read this: RESORT, GOLF, DANCE CLUB, FLO-RI-DA.
I felt horribly bad about not having written about P so I was adamant to amend this immediately. But then, I started to do the unthinkable: censoring myself. I kept deleting words wondering: ‘what is she going to feel when she reads this? Will she think I prefer her brothers?’
The truth is that I have very complex emotions when it comes to P. It started way before she was even born. It started way before I was told I was pregnant with twin boy and girl. As far as I can remember I have always been nervous about raising a daughter perhaps because:
- I have my own up and down and ‘come to a full circle’ relationship with my mom.
- I often had intense passive aggressive friendships with girls; so much that for a very long time half my family thought I had lesbian affairs
- I was raised to be competitive with my almost twin sister. I mean, our very own grandparents used to bet on whom would win a Mano a Mano wrestling fight. I was 4. Who does this? I swear Lao people are mental.
- I felt I already had a daughter in the shape of my 14 year younger sister to whom I already taught what I think every girl should know: not to cry over boys, love other girls, how to pluck their eyebrows and how one should always avoid, unless your name is Rihanna, combining micro skirts and high heels.
Thus since P was born, I cannot for the life of myself understand why I am tougher on her than on her brothers. I cringe when she flirts her way through things, when she bawls her eyes out when G & L barely push her, when she is obsessing about lip balms or constantly demands to wear dresses. She is so precocious that she thinks my girlfriends are her girlfriends. She protests about anything and everything. Maybe I cannot handle how ‘girly’ she is. Or maybe I cannot handle how she basically trashed a whole life conviction that gender neutral upbringing would help girls not to fall into the ‘traps’ societies build for them such as the expectations to be cute, sweet and pretty or to love nursing their baby doll. But here I am with my twin boy and girl doing exactly the same thing to no avail; she is all about sparkles and making adults fall in love with her.
I grew up thinking that I had to be one of the boys to make it. And for now, she makes it clear that the last thing she wants to do is ‘act like a boy’. The world she is growing into is different, I guess, and hopefully offers more narratives about what a strong woman truly is. I don’t know. While Beyoncé sings ‘girls rule the world’ and Sheryl Sandberg has been officially decreed a billionaire, institutional, social and political deficiencies continue to stymie the potential of girls and women. I am talking about glass ceiling, oversexualization of girls and women bodies, governments’ inability to articulate the value of childcare into sound long-term economic policies, reproductive rights that continuously need to be defended (Spain, I am talking to you and Shame on you!), or how parental leave actually still means ‘maternal leave’.
So yeah, maybe I am tougher because I worry more (that, plus the fact that she will eventually steal all my designer shoes collection). But does me being harder on her is actually telling her that I expect her to fail by being herself? Am I tough because I am sometimes disappointed by the woman I am? It is not fair and P, I make you this promise: I will try harder to be the woman I wish you would grow into. Also you are already very awesome because you just cracked me up two days ago when you strutted towards me in my UGG boots applying some balm on your lips and firmly demanded: ‘Mom, I want a wrench and a fast car. Can you buy me that?’
You made me remember this kick ass quote from Sarah Silverman: ‘Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would never have occurred to them that they couldn’t.’
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’
Martin Luther King Jr.
Something that has been happening with G in the last few weeks got me thinking about self-identification and got me to revisit my own past struggle with my diverse identities. Basically (not) G thinks he is a black boy. And not in the cheesy Vanilla ice ice baby but as a boy with ebony skin and curly hair…My Manga faced boy sees himself as the 6th member of the Jacksons Five. Indeed, in all the books, IPad games, etc. if there is an illustration of a black boy, G points at the little boy and assertively claims: ‘it’s me, it’s G!!!‘ Every single time!
My initial reaction was: ‘Oh fuck, he is really really color blind’ (Note: he is struggling to identify primary colors). But as I started to study his big smile while proclaiming his ‘blackness’, I realized that his odd thinking was more complex and actually more beautiful than simple color blindness. The kid may flunk his public school ‘Gifted and Talented’ program entry test but he made me proud – a lot – in the last few weeks.
He reminded me that for a long time, I could never identify myself as Asian because I grew in a predominantly white neighborhood and thought I was just the same as my then fair skinned best friend Mariel. I remember studying for hours my face in the mirror of my parents’ old wardrobe and would not ‘see’ that my eyes were slanted, my hair was blacker and thicker than anyone else in my class (bar my sister), that I did not have any nose bridge (despite pulling my nose for an hour every night in bed and if you want details: yes it hurt and yes I felt stupid doing it…crazy girl) and that there were many reasons why my name could not be Stephanie or Adele. I would not ‘see’ but I knew I was different.
He reminded me that it took me almost 2 decades to reconcile my various cultural and ethnic identities and a lot of resilience to overcome the abuse from French kids calling me ‘Chinetoque’ (French racist slur for Chinese people) and from the Lao people calling me out for being a ‘banana‘ (no comment).
Because of all this, I wanted my kids to grow up in a place like Harlem so they can see and understand things such as:
– people of different colors besides your parents can fall in love and have kids together
– or white women are not necessarily the adoptive mothers of dark skinned children but can be the nannies paid by dark skinned parents
It became a kind of obsession to promote diversity in our family life; obsession obviously rooted in my own childhood insecurities.
But my kids seem to have taken their very own journey about their understanding and experience of race and class. G showed me something really new to me. He showed me that a boy with a caucasian dad and an Asian mom sees himself as a proud and happy black boy. And I will blast anyone who try to correct him and force him into boxes. I will blast them – Manga style.
What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?
PS: meanwhile my daughter P is adamant she lives in the ‘Park’, I am at loss about what she means by this…I shall investigate and report to you soon 🙂
DH and I decided to finally face the real world when it comes to our kids’ education. Unfortunately, I will not fall asleep and wake up when they are 18 and hopefully somewhat educated. I have talked a little about the anxiety raising among my parent peers about school options in this post. I tried to brush it off and then one day my nanny said: ‘Everyone is asking me about what G & P will do next year? Are they going to preschool?’ EVERYONE is asking, apparently. I still resisted the issue until P told me one day: ‘D is not playing with us in the morning now because he is going to school. He is a big boy now, you know’. D is 1 month older than G & P…
DH and I thus sat down with a bottle of red wine and stared at each other for about 15 minutes in silence because we knew that whatever we do it is going to skin us alive. French readers, public schools here start at age 5 here with a handful of them offering a pre-K (age 4) so it means it’s all privately funded. Everything comes out of your very own pocket. Full time preschool (9am-6pm) could cost us up to $100,000 for G & P, part-time preschool (9am-12pm) up to $70,000 because you’ll still have to pay the nanny to care for them…You understand the silent staring now?
Anyway, we found an alternative option that looks like the Eldorado: they start taking your brats age 3 and they are way cheaper than any other preschools in the neighborhood. But the Eldorado comes with a price: pledging to pray God. Yes, I am actually considering to put my kids in a Catholic school. DH, a raised Catholic, has no issues with it; Me, an occasional heretic (I did once think that God should be a woman and should look like Madonna in her Express Yourself period), has more reservations. Don’t get me wrong, on most days you would seriously confuse with me with a devout Christian e.g. Do to others what you would like them to do to you etc. I even worked for a Christian nonprofit…in another life. It’s the religious institutions that I have a beef with but that’s another conversation, another blog post.
So we went to an Open House, DH to listen to their educational programs and me to count how many paintings of Virgin Mary there were in the school building. We took the kids with us to see how they felt about it. And because I knew I could always rely on G’s Creep-O-Meter. The boy is freaked out watching Tinkerbell so I knew that an overly Holy surrounding would send him running towards the door. He was going to be my wing boy. Turns out it was not the praying corners with kids’ writings asking God to help them be good friends with their classmates (I am not kidding) or statues of Virgin Mary that got me concerned but the Parents. Talk about going back to school…All the stereotypes were there: the A student mom who was on her open house Number 10, the too cool for school dad with suspenders who preferred to take his daughter to another side of the school rather than share a play area with P and I, and the overly dressed up mom struggling to keep a hang on her children…OK, the last one is actually me, but in my defense I had to dash to my little sis birthday dinner in Midtown right after the school visit. Still I am pretty sure that this did not look good, especially when I almost stumbled onto another child while chasing P with my heeled knee high boots…
We left rather impressed with the program’s principles and philosophy: well thought, well designed and ….well sold, obviously. DH and I were bugged by something though. All the children were ‘invited’ to play with the classroom toys during the presentation and G built a huge boat with lego blocks for the first time in his life and was beaming with pride and excitement. He looked around for his dad who was on the other side of the room and screamed:’ Daddy!!!!!!! Loook, I made a big boat!’ That’s when the director of the program (who I am sure, secretly hates children) told the parents to try to shush the kids down during her presentation. She said this, minutes after going on and on about the importance of celebrating children’s achievement. It was a tad ironic and a shit load of WTF. In the cab on our way home, DH and I agreed that we will try to get them in next September but meanwhile we were happy to have a nanny at home who beams with pride every time G
sings screams ‘Old McDonald had a farm’ very loud. These kids will get restrained soon enough; I am happy to let them loose for now even if it means they still cannot differentiate colors and letters like most of their friends in preschool. Life should be simpler; at least for P it is. When we asked P what she thought of school, she replied:
– ‘I LOOOOOVE IT! It was super!’
-‘They gave me cookies’.
Getting ready for school 🙂
Very strange weather. Last week I was boasting about New York’s Indian Summer to all my European mates and this week is a mix bag of rain, thunderstorms and tornados alerts, Fall breeze, hot and sunny afternoons etc… As the French say, ‘c’est n’importe quoi!’ (It’s anything…and everything). So I decided to just mix Summer and Fall:
– my favorite summer jumpsuit from United Colors of Benetton. It is as comfy as pajamas. And it has helped me a lot to hide my bump in the early days of my pregnancy with L, after I gave birth to L and …now. Yep, it is kind of the same bump, and it looks like it is here to stay, the kids even named it. They call it ‘LE BEBE’ (the baby)…
– my mint pumps from Nine West
– a scarf by Day Birger et Mikkelsen
– and my most precious item of clothing: a trench coat from Louis (Vuitton) that I literally snatched away from some skinny gal during a sample sale (back when my cousin was working for LVMH). I am not proud.
Every fashionista has read at least one article or two about French women’s (supposed) natural and effortless chic. My little brain went French woman + scarf + trench coat = BINGO. Except that how effortless chic can you really be when you can no longer freaking close the trench coat???? Oh well…
On a side note, I met up for a coffee with Lou, a childhood friend from France, who was visiting New York with her hubby. We haven’t seen each other in about 18 years and it is was shocking how easy it was to just pick up the conversation and run with it. Great feeling. It was also funny to talk to someone who knew you as a child and as a teenager but then missed your adult years because they say things like:
–‘It’s hilarious because I would not have pictured you with a husband and 3 babies. You were so adamant about not getting hooked up with anyone, so independent!
-‘Back then you already seemed rather unaffected by shitty stuff that would happen around you, like floating above the crap.’
I guess I did change but not so much 🙂
When I woke up this morning, I really felt like I had drunk 5 cosmos, smoked 20 fags and as if a body snatcher was crawling out of my limbs pulling away my bladder with its teeth… I was feeling old, basically. And then G stood in front of me wearing only his underwear, exposed, and shouted with gusto with his arms wide open: ‘Mama, I am perfect!’ . Could this just be the Botox cocktail I really needed?
To be honest, I did not know how to react to my son’s proclamation of self-love. My first thought was: ‘where did he get this from? We never use the word ‘perfect’ in this household…’ And it was quite a sobering epiphany. Where I grew up, perfection simply can never be attained. Is it because French education breeds generations of analytical, self-aware but pessimist, overly critical and eventually gloomy adults, as suggests Patricia Druckerman, author of Bringing up Bebe, in this article for Vanity Fair.fr (sorry this one is in French only)?
I, indeed, remembered 2 instances in high school when the goody two shoes girl I used to be thought : ‘what the fuck?’ My history teacher’s preferred saying used to irrate me. He was gloating every single freaking time he said it: ‘18 is the grade the best student deserves, 19 is the teacher’s grade and 20/20, well …is God‘. It was not even a catholic school so you’ll understand my confusion there. And then my English teacher, while giving me back my very final high school exam paper, said with deep regret: ‘Pfff….I do feel bad that I have never managed to give you a 20/20 in the 3 years that I have taught you…‘. She have me a 19.75 !!! How absurd was it? To this day, I am still not sure what I was supposed to take away from this off the cuff remark.
But perhaps it was not my education but it was my ‘Battle Royale’ like home. For those who have never watch this Japanese cult movie, here’s the synopsis: ‘A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school have been forced by legislation to compete and kill each other in a Battle Royale‘… Of course, I am not sure there was ever a winner in my home because it seemed we were never good enough anyway. Lao style. You would say something that really makes you proud and my mom would snap out of her daydreaming and would say: ‘I think my larb (Lao meat salad) has too much fish sauce in it‘. What the fuck ???? Congratulations, compliments, and nice words in general are NOT in my family DNA. In fact, something really weird happened this week. We were on a Skype session with my mom and P was talking to her and suddenly my mom blurted out: ‘I love you P’. I think my ears must have blocked it out. But DH later said: ‘did you her what your mom said? That was touching, right? I mean, has she ever told you that she loved you?’ I laughed: ‘Nope. Are you mad? What do you think?’
Don’t get me wrong, DH and I are all about positive reinforcement or should I say positive realignment (yeah, his family can be as fucked up as mine) and we make sure to value our kids’ good deeds and successes. But I realized on second thought that what G said this morning put the light onto something else. It was not about me saying that he was good, it was about him having the balls and candor to say ‘I am perfect’. When was the last time you heard a grown up say something that ballsy about themselves? And say it in an unapologetical way , without caveats or a ‘hahaha I was kidding’ afterwards? Fuck that. Maybe that is why I feel so old. Maybe it’s not the wrinkles or the extra fat or the yellowing teeth. Maybe it’s the audacity for self-appreciation that is missing. So to finish off my very tiring and stressful week I am going to play G’s game and be ballsy myself. Here’s my ‘I am’ list:
I am very funny.
I am resourceful.
I am kind.
I am real.
What’s your list?
And here’s little G in all his ‘perfection’ 🙂