Saturday, March 31, 2012

Half & Half

This morning over breakfast, Ben was discussing Beethoven.  One of the things that Ben knows about Beethoven is that he (Beethoven) was grumpy all the time.  (This is one of the factoids offered up in his classical music book; see this previous post.)  This morning Ben speculated that this might be because he (Beethoven) was deaf.  This led to a short discussion of whether being deaf makes him (Ben) grumpy, and the conclusion was that it doesn't.  I reminded him that Beethoven lived a long time ago, before hearing aids or cochlear implants were invented.  Ben thought about this for awhile, and then said, "Yeah, and for the rest of my life, we should call these [points to hearing equipment] my 'hearers', and they make me sorta half deaf, half non-deaf."

Here are some random pictures from the last few weeks:

Ben enjoying some premature spring weather in the Catskills

Ben and Grandma making a collage

The result
This morning at the library, Ben built a Grinch Cave out of soft blocks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The R-Word

Check out this recent post at krlr's blog Trial Run.  As always, it's spot-on, hard-hitting, and hilarious.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A sample of Ben's recent humor

We have a copy of Fantasia 2000, the (relatively) recent continuation of the theme of Disney's 1940 classic Fantasia, on videotape, and Ben has been heavily into it for a couple of months now.  Here's a joke he leveled at his grandparents recently:  "Stravinsky wrote Rhapsody in Blue!"

[No, George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue, of course -- hence the humor.  Peals of laughter, please!]

We recently managed to watch the original 1940 Fantasia, available on demand from our cable company, and Ben loved it.  He frequently describes his follow-up projects, namely Fantasia 1000, Fantasia 12, and Fantasia 10.  The only musical selection they all have in common is The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  The contents of Fantasias 1000, 12, and 10 otherwise vary from one telling to the next.

He was quite taken with Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia 1940, and we explained that Bald Mountain is probably named that because it has no trees on the top of it.  This morning, as he paraded around in his sports-themed underwear, steadfastly refusing to put his pants on, I commented that he was wearing his ball underwear (e.g. soccer, football, baseball, etc.).  He replied, "It's not bald, it has pictures on it!"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Long time no blog

Yeah, it's been awhile.  This winter (and I use the term loosely) has been crazy -- in no small part because none of us can seem to stay healthy for more than a few days at a time, which has really put a crimp in our sanity and productivity.  The only reason Neil isn't hacking up a lung right now (as has been his constant practice for the last three weeks) is because he finally made it to the doctor and is now powerfully drugged almost to the point of sedation.

But I figured I'd better chime in with a few updates.

So, when last I blogged, it was my birthday, and we were planning to celebrate that evening with a Family Movie Night.  We were also closing in on an even Bigger Event, namely the wedding of some good friends of ours a couple of days later.  Well, it was a renewal of vows, since in every meaningful sense they've been married for the better part of a decade already, but the New York State legislature finally summoned up the sense and human decency last summer to legalize same sex marriage, which prompted the recent nuptials.  I'd been looking forward to it for months.

Just a few hours later, I was up in my office checking Netflix to see if they had Fantasia available streaming, when I heard Neil calling from the family room, "Need a little help here."  I went down and found Ben and much of the sofa covered in vomit.  Two regurgitations and as many loads of laundry later, we officially decided to cancel Family Movie Night.  Twenty-four hours later, Ben was showing signs of improvement, but I was still worried we wouldn't make it to the wedding the next day.  And then in the middle of the night, the same stomach bug or whatever it was hit me full force.  It wasn't pretty.  By the next morning, Ben was almost back to 100%, but I was a limp mess draped unartfully over one end of the sofa.  Beyond all expectation, I actually managed to pull myself together long enough to go to the wedding (which was lovely!), but I left it to Neil and Ben to go cut the rug properly at the reception.  [Ben recently referred to one of Neil's attempts at dancing as The Distracting Not Okay Dance, but I think that was a little harsh.]

Then there's the bizarre weather.  Spring officially started a few days ago, but of course that normally doesn't mean much here in western New York.  This year is obviously exceptional.  I'm hoping to get some time tomorrow to muck out the flower beds, which are in full bloom and dire need of weeding.

We bought Ben his first pair of ski boots and real skis this year, and were planning to get down to Peak-n-Peek as often as our work schedules would permit.  Well, the spirit was willing, but the snow cover was weak.  The week before last was Spring Break, and we managed to get in a day of skiing while visiting Neil's parents.  Here are three generations of Feit men, followed by Neil and Ben on the chairlift.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Boys will be ... whatever they want to be!

So February just got the one post. Nothing I can do about that now, seeing as how it's March and all.  Well, this will probably be pretty long, to make up for it.

Let me first tell you a little about my parents. They're celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary later this year, so a little arithmetic will tell you that they got married in 1962. While I don't think they were ever your classic full-blown hippie-types, they tended to gravitate toward more progressive political and social views, and their approach to marriage and parenting was definitely influenced by some of the social changes that were taking place during that era. I played with the Sunshine Family dolls (and also a goodly collection of Barbies, I might add) while listening to the Free to Be album. And okay, so I might have used the Erector Set to build Barbie furniture on occasion, but at least that taught me how to use a wrench. When I was three, I got a set of real (child-size) tools for Christmas, including a saw with a metal blade that could cut real wood. When I was eleven my parents got me a kit to build an actual computer, and I spent weeks soldering all the components into the printed circuit board. (And I didn't have a single bad solder joint or short circuit -- a fact which my father lorded over his college-age computer science students.) When I was in high school my father and I aimed a laser beam through a diffraction grating in the garage, and carried out a quick estimate of the speed of light. He bought a used car with the engine in cardboard boxes, just so that he and I could have the experience of rebuilding an engine together.

In short, my parents took the view right from the start that there was absolutely nothing that my sister and I couldn't do because we were girls, except pee standing up. And what's amazing is that they didn't self-consciously force themselves into that attitude; frankly, I don't think it ever occurred to them that there was anything we couldn't do.  Pretty cool, no?

And I think it's safe to say that that attitude is now mainstream -- if not universally implemented -- in our society.  (Although a quick trip to Toys-BackwardR-Us will confirm that the toy industry has some serious catching up to do.)  While many parents still ooh and aaah over little pink dresses and My Little Pony, they'd smack anyone who suggested that their daughters shouldn't wear jeans or climb the monkey bars or play with Tonka trucks or like bold primary colors.

And yet ... how do we feel when our sons pick out the pink toy?  Or want to play with dolls?  Or flinch when in the flightpath of a kickball?  Or cry a little too often?  When they like to play house?  How would you feel if your son asked for a Barbie doll?  What if he wants the girl's bike with the banana seat and streamers?

If we're being completely honest, I think most of us would admit that we're a lot more comfortable with a girl on a red bike than a boy on a pink bike.

Why is this?  Speaking for myself, my first reaction is fear that my son will suffer social repercussions.  If other kids see him riding a pink bike, he'll be tormented and ostracized.  In other words, it's society's fault.  Okay, so Rome wasn't built in a day -- change takes time, and I can't expect everyone else to be as progressive and rational as I am (she says with suitably self-deprecating sarcasm).  But then don't I have a responsibility to live according to my values, to face down the repressive judgement of others, and if my son wants a pink bike then dammit he can have one, and I'll smack anyone who says he shouldn't, yadda yadda yadda...?  But then I run into the accusation of raising my child like a social experiment, and using him as a pawn in my own personal-is-political battle with the world.  And let's not forget the whole tormenting and ostracizing thing.  But then, how much damage do I cause when I say, "No, honey, pink is for girls, and other people will tease you if you ride a pink bike, and we should always conform to societal expectations in order to avoid the harsh judgements of others."*

(I don't have answers for any of those questions.  They're just kinda swirling around in my mind.)

The moderate, reasonable approach seems to be to find ways of gently redirecting him toward the blue bike.  I don't know how I feel about that.  I only have one shot at raising this kid, and I want to get it (mostly) right.

So the bottom line is, how come girls and women get to cross traditional gender boundaries all the time (in their behavior, dress, and choice of activity), but boys and men are still boxed in?  Is this an issue for you in raising your children, and if so how do you deal with it?

*By the way, I feel a strange compulsion to clarify that Ben has not evinced any interest (thus far) in having a pink bike.  He did pick out a pink Hello Kitty water bottle, and he shares my interest in dollhouses (although he's more interested in setting up his Beatles figurines on top for a rooftop concert than in staging the rooms in all their Victorian glory).  But I'm mainly talking hypothetically here.  Why did I feel the need to explain all this?