Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

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Watching the Wheels turns 2 and can use the potty!

November 23, 2016

Well, when they say “time flies,” they really mean it. Two years ago, Cozy was an infant, Andrea was off to work at Planned Parenthood, I was enjoying my parental leave from Portland State University and the country seemed in good hands. Now, Andrea is working at a great law firm, Cozy’s hanging with her posse at daycare, I’m looking to return to academia and the country is about to be handed to a buffoon who wants to use the White House to build his anemic hotel empire. A lot has changed since I started this blog.

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I’ve had a productive year as a writer. My second short story was published in an amazing collection called A Journey of Words, forever linking the words “ants” and “Uranus.” Most significantly, my new novel, The Dream Police, is out and currently being read by actual people. The first few reviews on Amazon are wonderful. It couldn’t have happened without the amazing support I got on Kickstarter. As if in a dream, when people asked, “What do you do?” I’d just say – writer.

The real great leap forward has been Cozy and her brain. Like last year, we celebrated her birthday on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. She turned two and her verbal skills just went though the roof! We went from a limited vocabulary (in both English and Spanish) to full sentences in a flash. Her brain is connecting concepts and linking them at lightning speed. Instead of “hat,” it’s now “Cozy’s hat” or “Mama’s hat.” Possessives! That’s huge! Pretty soon she will be jamming on verb tenses. It’s an exciting thing to watch evolve.

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I think any new parent will tell you, one of the best parts of this phase is that the kid can tell you want they need. When she was a screaming baby, we’d wonder, “Is she okay or does she just need a boob?” Now she can say, “Tummy hurt” and “Where is it?” (Which usually refers to Rocco, her beloved pet rock.) It’s liberating to be able to have actual conversations with this former-baby.

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She’s off to daycare now a few days a week and loves going to “school.” She puts on her little backpack and heads off for a day of art projects, Spanish lessons, and walks around the neighborhood, including past “the big castle” (aka St. Andrew’s church). When she gets home she goes to her books. “I’m reading!” she exclaims. My nerd in training. Have I mentioned her love of The Beatles yet? Just ask her to sing, “Hey Jude.”

This blog has been a great place to explore her development and the development of the world she is inheriting. I’ve tried to keep the focus on issues related to gender and feminism, but my work is also about racism and the abuses of power, so how could I not discuss Trump, Black Lives Matter, and yoga pants? The blog has had over 400,000 visits. The pieces on Trump have been most popular but my blog on breast feeding dads continues to get creepy viewers by the score.

There is definitely a parallel between Watching the Wheels and Cozy Blazak. Both can walk on their own and are learning to talk in world where it’s not given that we’ll just get what what we want. How will liberals advance in the Un-united States of Trumpland? How will a little girl grow up safe in a country where voters elevated the symbol of rape culture to the highest office in the land? There will be plenty to write about in the next year as we guide our daughter through this backward moment in out history.

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The biggest change this past year has been in me and my desire to get back to work. Andrea and I were in New Orleans last week for the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology. I was reunited with my colleagues who do research on hate crimes and terrorism. It was a reminder of how important my scholarly work is, especially now as we see hate crimes on the increase. I was just on a program on Al Jazeera discussing the climate of hate in Trumpland. It was a tap on the shoulder, reminding me that I am a global voice on this issue. I’m incredibly proud of how The Dream Police turned out but it’s time to get back into the trenches.

So come along for a ride on this 2-year-old toddler of a blog. You KNOW there’s some good stuff coming. At least before Trump shuts down the free media.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bring on the anal phase!

November 15, 2016

What goes in must come out. That’s the mantra for the transition from the oral phase to to the anal phase. Sigmund Freud may have gotten some bits of our psychological development wrong, but, at least in Western culture, potty training is a watershed moment. (Are desert nomad toddlers potty trained? I don’t know.) Suddenly, “poop” becomes the most important word in the entire language! Poop!!!! There’s a bit of an anal fixation in the house at moment. Just ask Cozy.

I tried to calculate how many diapers I’ve changed in the last 27 months. It’s gotta be over 3000. (I know my wife has change a few, as well.) I’m about done. Let’s get this kid on the john, stat!

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Doctor Freud put a lot of weight on this stage of child development. The first phase is the ORAL PHASE, taking up the first two years of life. Here, baby is just a raging ID, feeding its hella selfish “pleasure principle” by sticking anything and everything in its mouth: binkies, boobs, toes, Cheerios, checkers, and mortgage checks. Cozy was a freaking Hoover. I’m surprised I didn’t have to Heimlich the house keys out of her esophagus. The oral phase is just me, me, me! Feed me! Wipe my ass! Vote for my best interests!  It’s exhausting.

The oral phase is followed by two years in the ANAL PHASE. “Me” is balanced out by “They” as Selfish Baby learns there are external rules to play by, called “society.” You just don’t eat whenever you want, there is mealtime. Get a good night’s sleep because day is wakey wakey time. And you can’t crap in your pants forever, we have something called a TOILET. (Although, this past week, adults were excused for profusely pooping in their pants.) So potty training is one of the ways we first learn about the expectations of the culture we live in.

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Freud put a lot of weight on this rite of passage. It’s meant to balance the pleasure seeking Id with the socially oriented SUPEREGO. Think of a devil on one shoulder (The Id) and an angel on the other (The Superego). The head in middle is our EGO and decides who to listen to. If parents don’t potty train a child in time, they can become an Id-driven sociopath. (Don’t mention Trump. Don’t mention Trump.) But if the potty training is too severe, parents can produce Superego-dominated little neurotics. Jerry Seinfeld must have been potty trained at 6 weeks. So a lot of weight is placed on parents not to create future serial killers.

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Cozy is starting her Superego training. It must me nice to have someone change you whenever, but she needs to start letting us know when she has to go. Even just after she goes would be helpful. We’re spending more and more time on the potty, trying to make something happen. I like to grunt like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Constipation Blues,” to give her the hint to put her back into the effort. She’s starting to get it. She’s currently obsessed with farting, so we’re almost there. (Sorry, Mom. That’s on me.)

For Freud, potty time is supposed to be “They” (society) time, but it can also be me time. I’ll see her sitting on her IKEA kids’ potty with a book or singing to herself, or just pondering the merit of the electoral college. As much as I’m ready for this to be the norm, I don’t want this sweet child to inherit my neuroses because I was in a rush to cancel the diaper service.

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They must be smarter at her daycare because she had a BM in the toilet last week (getting a blue star!) and I’m still trying to coax a tinkle. I feel like the balance of her entire personality rests on this process. She seems strangely comfortable in a wet diaper which has me worried she might become an arsonist or an ultimate fighting fan. She’ll say, “Daddy, poop,” not when she needs to drop a deuce but when she’s trying to get out of taking a nap. Psychopaths tend to be highly manipulative. Should I start to worry?

When I was a kid in the seventies, I knew hippie parents who had their children in diapers to almost puberty. Those kids are now all Tea Partiers. But I also don’t want Cozy to be so afraid of pooping in her pants that she becomes sadistically anal retentive. That’s what Virgos are for.

The responsibility is almost too much to bear. I know we’re not the first parents to hold our child’s future psychoses in our sweaty hands. I’m anxious for any helpful hints on this project. We want poop in that pot.

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Dad Love 8 – I’m on drugs

June 30, 2016

This whole child havin’ thing is crazy making. You can bounce from bliss to panic in the blink of an eye. It’s not uncommon for me to have already diagnosed myself as bi-polar while most folks are still taking advantage of Happy Hour. I saw a guy at the grocery store today with a tiny baby strapped to his chest and I could tell he hadn’t had more than an hour of sleep in the last month. I laughed out loud. I was there, dude. Now I’ve got a 22-month-old who thinks she’s too big to ride in the baby seat of the grocery cart and attempts to eat all the strawberries before I’ve paid for them (saving me a few pennies over the months, I’m sure). And there’s not a single second that I’m not glad I’ve had every single second.

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People (meaning other parents) told me to hold on for the bridge between 18 months and 2 years. That’s the bridge between a toddling toddler and college prep student. There is a cognitive explosion as words develop meanings and meanings expand. A ball can be both a ball and red. “Out” can mean get me out of the high chair but also let’s outside and start a riot. You can see her brain developing behind her eyes as she starts to make connections. She knows I’m going to laugh when I put her in the carseat and she says, “Hot,” like she’s Eartha Kitt. (We’re in Portland, so 80 degrees is hot for us.) Some words she knows in English, Spanish, and sign language (and possibly robot). I can hardly keep up.

She’s already got a whole parlor act up her sleeve. Just ask her to do her animal sounds. Her elephant is a spot on imitation of a female Sumatran elephant in the mating season. And her pig will just have you rolling on the floor. She’s mastering the fist-bump and trying out word combinations. “All done,” means she equally divided her meal between her tummy and the floor. “Up down,” means she wants me to throw her in the air until I fall down and have a heart attack. And “How about,” means how about you pick out a different book to read, Dad. I’m tired of you massacring the poetic Spanish language of Buenas Noches, Luna.

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Through all this I just mostly stare at her and wonder where she came from. It’s like I’m in some strange dream state. And that’s dangerous because you can let your guard down. The other day we were at the playground and she was spinning around on the merry-go-round. I thought I’d take a Snapchat to send to Andrea at work.  I finished as Cozy was sliding off onto the ground. She seemed okay so I mailed the video away and when I looked up she was gone. As in gone girl gone. I quickly looked under the merry-go-round and she wasn’t there. For a split second I thought maybe she never existed in the first place and this whole “Cozy thing” was just a dream. Then I saw her climbing up the steps of the big slide. A great relief but suddenly I felt like the dad of the 2-year-old who got eaten by that alligator at Disney World. Lesson learned. No Snapchat is worth that terror.

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Our Cozy is already a scholar. She’s fasciated with all manner of flora and fauna. She is obsessed with bees and their love of flowers (which she shares). She will study the plants on our block and in our backyard like she is Meriwether Lewis chronicling each species in the Northwest for President Jefferson. And I just watch. Was I like that before I was 2? I’d like to think I was. I know by 5, I was alone in the woods looking for dinosaur fossils and tadpoles. I only know this kid is going places. How soon does Berkeley start doling out scholarships?

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I stare like I’m a NASA scientist discovering a new life form on Europa. I stare at new expressions on her face while she finds new ways to put her building blocks together. I stare at her smile when she wakes up ready for a new day. “Hi!” she says. I stare at her while she helps her mama with a new painting. I stare at her in the rearview mirror as she sings a little song that I know I’ve never played before. And I still stare at her while she sleeps to make sure she’s still breathing.

I’ve said several times that I didn’t expect to be home this long and the return to work is on the horizon. But this period, the second year, the great leap forward into personhood, is so filled with daily miracles that I’m glad I am here for it. I’m trying to chronicle the fears and joys as best as I can while not taking my eyes off her. Now if I could get her to not throw her lunch on the floor.

There are two points to this blogpost. First is to chart Cozy’s (and my) evolution and the second is just to post a lot of cute pictures of the kid.

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Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 6: Fierce fashionista for a fiercer world

June 22, 2016

Having a terrible two year-old is now less than two months away. Cozy has gone from a baby blob to a Munchkin who is off to join the Lollipop Gang. We finally got her birth video this week and it seems like another lifetime ago that she came flying out of mom’s hoo-haw with a look on her face that said, “What the hell is this reality you’ve pulled me into?” Now it seems like this character we lovingly call Bug has always been here.

Part of the idea of this blog was to have a place to chart the evolution of my daughter in a patriarchal world that has a very clear place for “sugar and spice” girls. As someone who used to assign Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, I know that gender is a performance that we learn to perform it differently at different times and in different places. If Cozy had been born in Chad, Africa or in Portland, Oregon in 1914, her idea of how girls act (act being the key word) would be very different. People can say, “girls are just different,” but they are different because they are taught to be different from day one. That’s the sociological party-line and I’m sticking to it.

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So, here we are at 22 months and this girl, with her working mom and stay-at-home dad, is still, to me, is without gender. But it’s funny how much of her behavior could be assigned gender. For example, she loves to play with blocks, scream, knock things down, build forts in her crib, and chase the cat. If she had a penis, we’d be told, “Well Cozy is just being a boy. Boys are different.” But she’s just being Cozy. She likes to shop but goes for gender-neutral belts and hats. She hasn’t learned that “her” clothes are in a different section of the store.

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Similarly, on occasion she gets into Mom’s make up and clothes and has a mean obsession with shoes that could be written as “feminine” if there weren’t endless stories of little boys who did the same thing. (I’m sure a toddler Bruno Magli was a shoe hound as well). Cozy is now starting to pick out outfits that tend toward the post-modern clash. The Minnie Mouse dress with the rubber Wellies are go-to daywear. Maybe that’s the influence of her old punk dad. But she’s not leaving her room unless she’s got her fake pearls on. That might be a bit of the Old South creeping in.

She has a baby doll that came from somewhere and she never bothers with it. Elmo, Baby Elmo, and Bunny are her constant companions. The damn baby can raise itself. She parades around the house with her blanket like Linus, looking for her red monster. “The Elmo!” she yells. Then we bounce the soccer ball and dance to Queen Latifah CDs.

So much of early gender socialization is just attribution to the popular gender norms of the time. “Oh, he’s acting like a boy! Good! Do more of that!” The converse is, “Oh, he’s acting like a girl. You better put the breaks on that shit!” Girls get a bit more freedom in the early days until they hit double digits and start to get slammed with the message that their primary objective is supposed to be attracting boys. Everybody sing, “Someday my Prince will come…” But it’s always struck me as funny that we give little girls baby dolls to start the mom training and we don’t think little boys might need one for some dad training. Cozy is more interested in art than babies. (But she will say “hi” to every baby she meets.)

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It’s not hard to raise a child as a child instead of as a “boy” or a “girl.” (Those quotation marks carry a lot of sociological weight.) But at some point the outside world will have a lot more sway than Mom and Dad. She might start wondering where that baby doll is hiding.

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a black girl?

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1

Saying “No” to Elmo: The Superego vs. the red monster

May 12, 2016

I regularly ask myself about the motives of whoever created Elmo. The little red monster from Sesame Street may be a friend to every toddler and just wants to be tickled. Or Elmo (he/she/it) might be a plot by pint-sized aliens to undermine the very socialization that makes us a civilized race that cares about important things like what to wear to a job interview and/or Tinder date.

I’ve written plenty about how, according to Dr. Freud, kids get a full two years for being raging little monsters, driven by their impulsive Ids, before the expectations of society kick in in the form of the Superego. This is represented by the shift from the oral phase to the anal phase. What goes in must come out and potty training represents (perhaps too figuratively) the collective restraint on the individual pleasure-seeking principle. Basically, it’s time to stop being a selfish little prick.

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Cozy is turning 21 months-old in a few days and you can really see the superego arriving. The theme song at the moment is the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Cozy is learning that just because you want it, you can’t have ice cream for every meal (or any meal). You can’t always play with crayons (or mom’s make up). You can’t always put your hands on mom’s boobs. (That one is a bitter fucking pill.) And soon she’ll learn that you can’t always crap in your pants (unless you are Ted Nugent trying to get out of serving in the military).

This news has not been welcomed by our precious daughter. The first time I tried to stop her from hitting the cat she looked me like, “What the fuck, Dad? What else is this cat good for?” A valid question, but still. Often her response will be a complete meltdown, banging her head against the wall. Or on her hands and knees, banging her head on the floor, yelling “No! No! No!” I just laugh. Is that wrong?

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Where this really plays out is with her worship of Elmo. Now that she can actually say, “Elmo,” it’s clear how important this muppet is to her. (Why couldn’t it be the ever emo Mr. Snuffleupagus?) When the “Elmo’s World” theme song comes on Sesame Street her absolute joy is contagious. It’s hard to not smile as she dances and claps and shouts hosannahs to her little god. But part of me wonders if Jonestown started this way.

Like Elvis, Elmo is everywhere; on the TV, the laptop, the iPad, the smartphone. There are two Elmos in her room and one on her toothbrush. She knows with a swipe or a voice command, she can call up a YouTube video like a prophet calling upon a burning bush. Actually it’s much easier than being a prophet. If only Abraham had had Siri. You don’t have to patiently wait for your god to return “some day.” It’s instant gratification with Lord Elmo.

That’s why it’s even harder to say no. “Elmo is sleeping, dear.” “Elmo will be back later, honey.” “Elmo is off with The Count, tallying broken dreams, pumpkin.” “Elmo has childhood leukemia and can’t get better until you take a fucking nap, sweet pea.” Oh, the holy hell when Elmo is briefly banished. But Cozy gets it. After the obligatory #toddlerlivesmatter protest, she’s on to something else, like taking the peaches out of the peach yogurt.

Freud urged great caution in this transition. Without enough superego training (the “You can’t do that” admonishment), you end up with a little psychopath who will become a serial killer or a Trump supporter. But too much superego training and you end up with a kid who has a neurotic personality. (I see Woody Allen is back in the news.) Since Cozy’s dad has a touch of this affliction, I hope to spare her the worry.

The other day Cozy spilled something and put her hands on her face and yelled, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” like she had just accidentally deleted her dissertation. The look of horror on her face. Andrea turned to me and asked, “Gee, where did she learn that from?” Being slightly neurotic, I felt slightly guilty.

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So maybe I should give her a bit more Elmo time for now. We’ve got three months before the anal phase officially starts. That should be a real joy.

Me and My Shadow: More baby brain fun

March 17, 2016

I read in one of my baby books that at around 18 months old, babies go through a cognitive growth spurt as language skills start to come on line. Today is Cozy’s 19-month birthday and the last month has been fascinating. Andrea and I are living with someone who, seemingly a few weeks ago, was just a fetus the size of a kumquat and is now pretty much a fully functioning alien, ready to pick out an outfit or climb the stares to go dive into the beanbag chair.

It’s incredible to watch this little creature learn how to make sense of the world. Our Cozette has a very real personality now, full of humor and bravery. Freud argues that the personality forms when the pleasure-seeking id is balanced by the external demands of society, which he called the superego. It’s the balance of “I” with “they.” “I want an Elmo cookie but they won’t give me one.” I know there’s a lot of this ahead when the potty training becomes more of a focus, but you can see the wheels in Cozy’s head turning. “What can I get away with?”

One of her favorite words of the moment is cracker. Ritz Crackers are her crack. She’ll point to the kitchen (where the goodies are) and say, “Cracker?” And I’ll say no because she’s already eaten half a box. So she’ll cry loudly like she’s on fire and then, with a sly smile and her head cocked to the side, say, “Cracker?” It gets me every time. She already knows how to manipulate her dad.

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The language boom is intense. She’s only got about a dozen words in her vocabulary but, “Uh oh!” has now been joined with, “Oh no!” and she knows when to use each. Cozy understands plenty of words, like “Spit it out” and “That’s mommy’s.” The second one comes in handy on a daily basis because she is a bit obsessed with Andrea’s make up and has already ruined a few Mac lipsticks. I don’t know if that’s gendered behavior or she just wants to run off with the circus, but it’s pretty funny. Until mom finds out, that is.

Being a stay-at-home dad gives me lots-of-time to help her cranium along. She’s still clueless about colors but on body parts she’s a valedictorian. Ask her to show you her ears or her toes and she’ll do it with a smile. If she shows you her bellybutton, there will be an expectation of tickling and a “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” look if you don’t.

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Today was a rare sunny day in Portland so we took a walk in the neighborhood. (Strollers are for babies.) We met flowers and cats and a guy remolding a hundred-year-old house. She stopped at the first sight of her shadow. Then she raised her hands and realized that this odd phantom was connected to her. Hopping and giggling and dancing, Cozy and her shadow. What must have been going through her mind at that moment. I can’t wait until she has enough words to tell me.

It’s an odd thing how we start out life these completely dependent, relatively inert beings, slightly above sea anemones, and day by day we begin to see ourselves; in a mirror, in a shadow, in our parents eyes, in society’s expectations. I don’t know how any parent can’t be glued to that process. Maybe it’s a “first child” thing. It’s like the first time you have sushi and you wonder why everybody doesn’t know about this amazing thing. All I know is that Cozy’s evolution is the best binge-watching I can imagine.

Baby Brain Wonders 2 – Pickles the Cat

Baby Brain Wonders 1 – My baby is smarter than you (and me)

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