Pre-school Stars, Steve Ditko, and Ladybugs

My four year old is The Clasroom Star this upcoming week. Which means that her class will be decorated by a poster all about our daughter and that all the other snot-nosers will finally worship her, or something I suppose. I was never filled in on all the details, but then I never asked for them. After all, she is a growing young woman and I gotta trust some of her choices.


One of the spaces she was supposed to fill out in this poster asks what she wants to be when she grows up. Independently, and with no prompting from either parent, she told both my wife and I of her plans to be a piggy when she reaches full maturity.

My wife thinks she talked her down to a the possibility of being a farmer. Which is kinda cool because it goes along nicely with my whole localism/agrarian-based society of the future thing-y. But Joss’ dreams were not dashed. She still insisted she’d make a wonderful – if not tasty – piggy.

After it became obvious that her uncle and I were not going to let this one go, she found an alternative suggestion while getting ready for bed.

“Ooh, how ’bout I be a ladybug?”

“Well, you’re going to be one for Halloween.”

She’s well-rounded. She believes in fairy tales AND comic book heroes.

“And as a grown-up?”

“No, sweetie. Only for pretend. You can’t turn into one. It’s physiologically impossible. You won’t *grow-up* to be a tiny little ladybug.”

Thinking I could turn this into some kind of awesome parent lesson about the interconnectedness of all of creation or whatever, I continue.

“But you know who made the ladybugs?”

“Jee– Jeeb–?”

“That’s right, ‘Jesus’.”

“Wow… (Sparks flying) All the ladybugs?”

“Yes, honey. All of them. Do you know who else Jesus made?”


“Well, Jesus made all the spiders. Though I personally am no big fan of that action.”

“But not Spider-Man?” She actually sounds a little bit disappointed here. As if let down by this glaring omission of Jesus’. Was Spidey merely a freak of nature as J. Jonah Jameson has suggested for all these years?

“No, Spider-Man is pretend. He’s not real. But Jesus did make the brilliant minds of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, who invented Spider-Man…”


And that, kids, is how nerds are born.

Hair, Glorious Hair

This is ‘Nyssa. One of my daughter’s best friends. And she has glorious hair. But being African-Latino, she wouldn’t know it from listening to and watching mainstream ideas of beauty. By “mainstream”, of course, we mean most images pumped through our psyches via commercials, television shows, ads, movies, dolls, cartoons, magazines, videos, websites, big fashion shows…

Sure, there are some black and Latino actors/models/spokespersons/casts. But they are the very exception to the Rule of White Supremacy in Body Image. And they seem to merely prove the Rule of White Supremacy in Body Image: White people look best. Blonde is sexy – straight or curly, but definitely controlled. Barbie is the ideal female, and the norm is Jennifer Anniston. Non-white women are usually accepted by the larger culture based on Euro-American ideas of beauty.
So it was pretty awesome when Nyssa decided one day to have her hair out. She looked different, but it’s a look that’s not only natural, it’s tremendously beautiful.
It’s amazing that, even before the age of four, she understood and internalized the RWSBI. She was ashamed of her hair. Being part Puerto Rican, with dark, thick curly hair, I can relate a bit. When I was an awkward teenager, I wanted the long, straight hair of the rock stars I saw on MTV. But it would never come out long and straight, but frizzy and all over the place. The closest approximation I could give is that I had an unkempt Jewfro. And for a White boy, this was unacceptable.
Some years later, my wife demonstrated that she loved me and really liked my curly, curly hair. Feeling accepted (and in some ways, exceptional) made me accept my own self, my own body, my own glorious mess of hair (which, fortunately, our daughter adopted. It looks magnificent on her, dang it).
Somehow, the message of love and self-acceptance got to my daughter’s gorgeous best friend before she turned four. She woke up one morning and decided she wanted her hair out.

Of course, when Joss went with me to pick Nyssa up a few days ago, she walked right past ‘Nyssa to her mom and asked where her friend was. Boldness sometimes takes some adjusting to…

Sometimes-Friend, Always-Daddy (II)

Fortunately for me, “I’m not your friend anymore,” is too easy. I saw and anticipated this Puppetphoto © 2010 Newsbie Pix | more info (via: Wylio)
maneuver from miles away. And believing as I do that friendship with your child is fleeting, believing in the discipline of healthy boundaries of love and respect, I firmly and exuberantly shot down any hopes she had of marionetting me. In the future, she would be a teenager, but, today, she would not make me cry!

I did not miss a beat*. “That’s okay, Jocelyn. I don’t need to be your friend. But you know what? I’ll always be your daddy. And you’ll always be my daughter. And nothing, ever could ever change that. No matter what, I’m your daddy, and you’re my daughter.”
And it worked!
It worked so well, in fact, she repeats this refrain to me every time she is bothered by my inability to acquiesce to her every diva whim:
“(Nodding. Stern. Index finger blazing and blond eyebrows scrunched.) I’m not your friend. (And then open, warm, thoughtful, almost repentant.) But I’m your daughter.”
In hindsight, I probably could’ve warned my wife. But her shock at this statement amused me, and I don’t like wasting amusing opportunities.
*It’s a rare moment of genuine pride in myself. Can you tell?

Sometimes-Friend, Always-Daddy (I)

Image courtesy of our friend Ysenia. Model: Joss. Clothes: not sure.

“I’m not your friend! I’m your daughter!”

The first part of that statement came from school – from the subtle, controlling interactions that kids have with each other.
“Oh, you’re not going to let me get my way?,” the three-year olds threaten each other on an hourly basis, huddling next to the toys like war chiefs over weapons and suitcases full of money. “Well then, you’ll just have to get by without my friendship. See what I did there? I played you like a puppet, child!”
It is manipulative, of course. Children themselves are easily duped because they don’t have their guards up (yet). Because they are the victims of manipulation so frequently, it is only a matter of time before they learn easy ways of pulling each others’ strings.
They’re like political parties in that sense.
In about five-to-ten years, she will develop much more subtle, crafty, nuanced, and yet sharper-edged tools to move her parents like pawns on a chess board. It will be hard during this period to keep up. But afterwards she will become a full-fledged, emerging adult.
And then we can finally give up trying.
Stay tuned for Part 2

Being There

Johnny Cash and Russ Taff have trembling, earth-shaking voices. So when they sing “Were You There?” – the Good Friday-through-Easter spiritual – you can’t help but tremble and shout alongside them.

But my daughter has been singing it recently. She doesn’t have the gravitas of voice, of course. She’s only three, so her little high, girlish falsetto hasn’t begun to develop, much less into something that she could know how to control.
But it’s the fact that it’s her, my little mortal princess, my darling, the little girl who comes to sleep with us in the middle of every night. This little girl who we sometimes struggle with to get her to take her three-times daily life-saving treatments. This little one who, today, I figured wears full-body pajamas that have as much cotton as my t-shirts. It’s the fact that it’s her whom I touch and hold and gives me besos and huggies that sings these lines that makes this song immediate and tangible and transcendent for me.
It’s her that embodies something very close and personal and wonderful and scary about the rhythms of life and death and life again in ways that are new and earth-shattering for me.

Somehow, though she doesn’t quite understand the gravitas of the two thousand year old mystery of the death and resurrection of a Jewish prophet/homeless teacher, man/God, she conveys it to me in simply profound, understated, and relational ways.

Thank you, Jesus.

Come on, vamonos! Let’s explore!

– Theme song

A couple years ago, eeeeveeeerything was about Elmo. Elmo toys, Elmo movies, Elmo videos, roughly four Elmo plushies, Elmo dishes… Our daughter has since diversified, but the big game winners here, in terms of merchandise, are the Disney princesses* and Dora the Explorer.

Dora… has her weaknesses. She’s bossy. She’s always telling the kids what to do (“Say, ‘Delicioso‘!”) and she treats her animal friends a bit patronizing. And then there’s the coying, pat-on-the-backs for every little effort. I mean, seriously? Some kids repeat “Vamonos” and Dora and Boots treat them like some kind of liberators! And my kid hardly even repeats the phrase. So not only is it hyped and unmerited praise, it’s totally false and unearned.

One recent episode had Dora and her monkeyfriend Boots warn their woodland friends about an impending storm cloud – which was personified as a bratty eight-year old bully. Each time the cloud would surface, he’d rain a little bit and then Dora would lead all the others into singing the “Rain, rain, go away song.” And then little Rain Cloud would go, “Ohh! I hate that song!” (He’s not alone) and go scampering off, as rainclouds are wont to do when they hear children taunting them. Now, it made sense to do this until all their friends could find appropriate (and even build) appropriate shelter – but then, at the end, when everybody is safe and dry inside, she has the whole county teasing the misunderstood cumulus until it vows to never return.
Ain’t that just messed up? She totally destroyed the ecosystem that she lives in just to show him who’s the bigger bully!

But then…

Complaints about kids shows are superfluous, of course. The best shows are no replacement for decent parents. But sometimes, they can be a little extra. I’ve heard, for instance, that it takes nine positive encouragements to make up for one negative harsh statement. If that’s the case, a lot of children are running a large deficit in appreciation, and characters like Dora help to fill in the gaps for some of them. It’d be nice if we could expect a television show to give realistic expectations to the children, but… um… it can’t. That job belongs to the parents and the community (which implies, yes, we’re *all* involved).

El Alto Parade, Boliviaphoto © 2007 Pedro Szekely | more info (via: Wylio)
Furthermore, in a time when White American children throughout the country witness their parents’ apprehension of a new terror (Fear of a Brown Planet), they are becoming encultured to Spanish language, Latino foods, and dark-colored heroines. Latino culture is being normalized in the children at the same time it’s being villainized on the radio. And that gives me a ray of esperanza.
I believe the children are the future…

*As per the Disney princesses, well… I’m conflicted. Of course I don’t want her waiting around for her prince to come, but I see a level of empowerment and activism (and sensitivity to nature and the little ones) in the ‘princesses’ that I think is rather inspiring. But enough about those, they’ve been dissected so much by feminists and pop-cult analysts that I hardly think it’s worth breathing the formaldehyde.

Loving the Individual Sinner, Hating the Institutional Sin

… and forgive us of our sins as we forgive the sins of those who trespass against us…

– Jesus
I just got back from a retreat that was bookended by some furious moments*. Rising early on Monday morning I was greeted (if that’s the word for it) by an email from a friend of a friend**. In an honestly odd and disturbing manner he took me to task for standing up for African Americans in a conversation with our mutual friend. And then he practically ordered that I defend him as he – according to his story – is constantly under attack by the African Americans that live around him. After telling him a truncated version of my life story I assured him that I stand and advocate for all who are abused, marginalized, oppressed and beaten-down. And then I challenged him and told him that he should stand WITH those that attack him.
He didn’t like that. His response showed anger that I wasn’t siding with him and against them. And with that, he showed his true colors.
But I’ll talk more on that later.
I was in a rush to see my wife this evening. As usual, running late to an event (this one an appreciation dinner for volunteers – of which I’m one, though a small part – at a local social services organization) and passing a group of African Americans, one of whom calls me by name. I couldn’t recognize him instantly, but he did me and asked me about church, etc. Feeling bad that I was running behind and frustrated that I couldn’t place him, I told him I had to get going to this event. As I made way down the block, some kid (I can only presume) throws a pen at my back. I didn’t have time (or the patience) to return to the scene of the crime, so I kept walking and lifted my shoulders as if to ask, “Why?”
There is something that I want to say to both of these people, to the child and to the man:

Open your eyes and realize that you are enslaved. Break the shackles off your mental slavery, from your feelings of woeful inadequacy. You are better than what society has told you you are, and you do not need to hurt others to feel better about yourself. Together, we can defeat your mindset and the tools and armies of oppression that surround us all. Divided, we only fight and die divided.

But it was my toddler’s near-ragged, relentlessly exhausted and exhausting, cragginess and violent rebuttals to night-night that caused me to look inward as well. I struggle to not continue the cycle of violence and shame that I learned from my own dad and thus drag her into it. And that’s harder to perform than swinging a good, swift swat. But I also have to remember about grace, and redemption. And about not continuing the same block-headed stubbornness that my father and I were locked into for some eighteen long years.
Sure, Jocelyn – the sinful and stubborn little booger that she is – needed a time-out. She needed to learn to listen to her daddy and sit in that corner until the bell rang as a reminder to not hit. But she also needed grace. And a blankie. And forgiveness. And a long hug.
I gave her those things. And sent her back to her corner for the last minute or so. And then we cleaned out her nose and read stories and laughed.
And I asked if I could pray for her. And as she was falling featherly deeper and sounder into her sleep-state, I prayed the Lord’s prayer over her. And I decidedly meant every word. Whether or not my child understood every word, I felt her approval as if God were nodding as she was nodding off.
Forgive me my pettiness, Oh Lord.
Now on to the title of the piece and the idea of true colors:
A motif that I’ve noticed recently is that people (and this tends to be White people, but they’re certainly not the only ones. But what I’ve noticed recently has to do with Whites’ responses to racism and racial injustice) have this incessant need to be forgiven for the systemic sins that they have no intentions of repenting from. It is ridiculous and stupid and evil and immoral and needs to be corrected, but I also realize that they are slaves to the institutional sin that they propagate (and that has been practiced on them). It is a sign of true colors: we’re all slaves in one way or another to some system of sin, some – as we Christians sometimes call it – demonic stronghold.
This stronghold, this institutional sin, this immoral injustice needs to be rectified. And the person practicing it and legitimizing it needs to be corrected. But she also needs grace. He also needs to be loved. The hope is that we get to save both the lost sinner and end the enslaving system. That, in the long run, is win-win.
And I like those odds.
*There is one more moment that I can not stand to testify about, at least at this moment. But in sticking up for a (somewhat righteously) stigmatized group, I was labeled with the same stigma. I can only imagine that the young man who made such uncharitable, inflammatory and just plain hurtful remarks toward me has suffered some deep, uncharitable, inflammatory and just plain hurtful pain himself – possibly in a related way.
Or, he could just be a self-righteous prick hiding under the relative anonymity of Facebook. I did offer to kick his ass if he so desires to come to Chicago and he hasn’t taken me up on that offer yet…

**Friend and email both being loose terms as this was all done through the miracle of Facebook.

5 Lessons Learned from Continuously Reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar

1) Caterpillars are very hungry.

2) Fruit, no matter how much is eaten, does not fill you.
3) Leaves make for a good elixir if overeating is what ails you.
4) When you get too heavy, you should build a house of shame around yourself for three weeks.
5) Excessive junk food leads to you being a beautiful butterfly.

Happy birthday, dear Joss.

The terrible two’s, eh?

It seems weird in that when she’s not sick and holding on to us for dear life (and giving us kisses in an apparent decision to share her diseases), she’s fiercely independent.

But when has that not been the case?

In honor of her turning two, I gathered up 18 photos representing the last twelve months of her life (because we only took three pictures for every two months) and put a little She & Him on top of it like so much butter and maple syrup on your favorite pancakes. Mmm, ‘joy!

And I took the road less traveled… Or maybe not. Can’t quite remember

Jocelyn turns two in a couple days (and of course, a powerful, rockin’ montage set to a power ballad by White Snake is due). This isn’t in itself great news. I mean, it would be if anybody at any particular time ever looked forward to their child becoming a two-year old monster. I imagine Joseph fretting about the decision he made a couple years back to stick with Mary and her “miraculous birth”: “Why is this child throwing temper-tantrums in Egypt of all places?!”

We are excited, though, because it marks another era in our tot’s life: day care. For the last two years, Jennie and I have traded duties watching the child. For a few months, my wife even went to work with the baby several days a week – wherein there was no nap time and there was plenty of screaming (mostly from Jocelyn, I’m assured). In a highrise office building. In downtown Chicago. The Loop.

For the last year, I stayed home with the child nearly full-time as I weighed my job options. Which, to be frank, were very limited to begin with – and moreso limited as the recession took hold of the pay-for-words world. But also during that time, I’ve begun to heal. I’ve faced some demons, and still have many others in my closet that I’ve yet to eradicate – but the process has begun. Life has slowed down to a crawl so that I may listen to someone who does not yet know how to speak her needs or wants. My hopes are that I continue to listen, I continue to grow and learn in this area for my family’s sake and that I can take that with me wherever I go – that I may be a listener.

And I believe that those first two years were crucial for the child as well. She got to make permanent bonds with her parents that – Lord willing – will never, ever, ever break. But she is also ready to move on. Her first and primary inclination is to be inquisitive. We may as well have named her Georgetta. Secondly, she’s sociable. Especially with people her size. She cried twice yesterday when we left two groups of neighborhood kids.

See how she gets along so well with others?

In short, three roads are converging right now, and they meet at Kedzie and Diversey at Diversey Day Care. Financially, we’re about as ready as ever. Psychologically, I’m ready for the change. Socially, Joss is more than ready. Relationally, our family is ready.

Boys don’t cry

I know that there’s other, more important stuff in the news today. Like Derek Webb releasing his sh*t-filled record online today only to have complications with the ordering process. And Facebook is acting mighty peculiar – maybe because they’re so busy turning our status updates over to the robots and general stalking populace.

But I got caught up in just how naive this couple is. Parents of a 2 1/2 year old child are being purposefully ambiguous about the sex of their child. They dress “Pop” up in both boys’ and girls’ clothing (jeans and dresses, which, incidentally, my 2 year old girl wears) and have sported the child in traditional hairstyles of both genders.

Why? Well, they believe that gender is a social construct, according to The Local (Sweden’s News in English, according to the virtual masthead). Further:

“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

The child’s parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

I will not argue that gender is not a social construct, just that it isn’t fully. Nobody forces a boy to like a Tonka truck or to be more aggressive in his pursuits — sometimes ostracizing girls – like my infinitely curious child- in the process of protecting their GI Joes, as I noticed at a Reading for Tots on Monday morn. Or ostracizing nearly everybody else in declaring their Alpha-ness as I noticed in my childhood – being quite the Zed kid. Neither my wife nor I are crazy about phones, so it strikes me as a bit odd on first view to see how much Joss loves to take just about anything (including plates, cups, stuffed monkeys and the loose cell phone) to pretend talking on it. As curious as she is about objects, she’s much more interested in people and in social circumstances. It wasn’t our expectations — or others’ — that forced that on her.

What is it? I’m not sure. It doesn’t sound like anybody’s exactly sure. Some very heterosexual girls prefer playing with cars and straight boys would prefer to wear dresses if they get the chance (as many married men have been caught doing while the wife’s away).

Psychologists differ on the overall effect of this experiment, but I’m left wondering why the same people who believe that gender is primarily ‘learned’ do not believe also that sexual identity is learned, but rather primarily biological.

Just sayin’…

Oh, yeah, and then there’s the whole Xianjiang-China civil strife thing.

And some influential pop star died.

Baby Urban Outfitters Model?

Note the dispassionate, detached look, the post-ironic koala shirt and vintage sweater, the black skinny-pants and the sparkly shoes. I think we have a toddler hipster on our hands.

My question: if one is posing as a member of a group that is made up of self-aware poseurs, doesn’t that automatically make one an authentic member of that group?

In other words, does Joss get a pass to subscribe to Paper and argue about hipster bands that are so new they don’t even exist yet? PBR is out of the question, as is American Apparel, but PB&J and the Cool Kids are okay, right?