I’m in charge of your butthole: The intimate world of parenting

January 20, 2016

This is a piece I’ve tried to figure out how to write for a while. It could simply be a meditation on something that every parent has thought about. Or it could be just plain icky. This could go either way. Here is something that every parent of a young child can relate to or here is something that screams for state intervention. Okay, here goes. There is a sensual element to parenting a child.

Before you get on the horn to DHSS, there is a difference between sensual and sexual. If fact, as I’ve written about before, being a parent can really interrupt the sexual. We’ve come to refer to our wonderful daughter as the “great cock blocker,” as we reminisce about the good old days when we were crazed weasels who, well, you can guess. All the time.

There’s still weasel action but there is also this other thing. Someday I will write about the increase in connection with a person you’ve had a child with, but this is the trickier area of the relationship between father and child. I was thinking about what to write about today when Cozy, now 17 months, started stroking my hair. I don’t know if she was doing it to be nice to her stressed-out dad or she was assessing how much conditioner I needed, but it felt nice. And I realized how many moments we have like that. Moments where we just snuggle or give kisses or just look into each other’s eyes and I wonder how bizarre it is that I’ve played a role in the existence of this beautiful creature.

It shouldn’t be creepy to be routinely humbled by how soft baby skin is. It’s like as if there was a freaking baby panda that was actually a cloud. I feel like like a chewed up piece of 80 grit sandpaper compared to even the bottom of her feet. There’s a whole industrial machine that sells “baby soft” products, but they can’t even approach my baby’s bottom. Since much of the time is spent holding or changing my daughter there’s a lot of skin to skin contact. Sometimes that’s depressing (“Honey, your father is not the Crypt Keeper, he just grew up in Georgia.”) but often it’s awe inspiring. Did we all start off so perfect and unblemished?

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My ethnic heritage on my father’s side is Czech. Czechs tend to be moley people. Cozy was born this wonderful Czech-Mex mix. Her blue eyes turned brown after about a week. And a week after that she got a little mole on her butt. It just appeared like a message from my ancestors. Every time I change her, I’m reminded of that genetic line. Also when she runs around the house bottomless. Hey, sometimes you’ve gotta air your business out.

I grew up in a weird time and space, the South in the 1970s. On one hand it was the Bible Belt so there were plenty of people who thought bodies were dirty things to be covered (because of that bitch, Eve). On the other hand, it was the height of sexual liberation and people were walking around their homes naked with copies of Playboy and Our Bodies, Our Selves on the coffee table. (My parents were from Ohio and midwesterners just ignore anything sexual.) I have to think those mixed messages didn’t do the psyche of my generation any good.

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Cozy bathes with her parents fairly regularly. She and I had a shower together this morning. It’s really just a way to be efficient. I can watch her if she’s in the tub with me and we can save water on the probably much-needed booty hose down. It is perfectly innocent but I am aware there are some very uptight people who would see it as inappropriate. I know at some point one of us will grow out it, but it’s a nice thing we share. I’ve got friends that showered with their kids into the double digits (in Georgia!), so maybe I’m too worried about the Bible thumpers and their cousins in ISIS.

It is funny when she waddles into the bathroom when I’m standing there peeing. She has this confused look on her face as she tries to figure out what my penis is. I always feel uncomfortable and sing this little song I made up.

What are you looking at Baby B?

What are you looking at, what do you see?

What are you looking at, you’re looking at me.

You better not be looking at my pee pee.

You can’t not have an intimate relationship with a child after you’ve changed thousands of diapers. I know her vagina better than I know most of my family members. And that thing is as clean as a field hockey coach’s whistle. (Wait, that sounds rather dirty.) As a stay-at-home dad, I am the primary agent of her undercarriage management. I often joke that I am on “Butthole Patrol,” because you don’t want to let a kid sit in a dirty diaper too long or you’re gonna need a power sprayer to do the job. (How I envy the French and their clever bidets.) As much as I want the kiddie potty to take over my job, their is something bonding about the diaper change ritual. Eye contact and mutual trust, and a song from dad. (This week it’s been David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”)

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Freud, Foucault and Judith Butler all have written about the psychic damage done to boys who have to be weened from their mothers and switch their identification to their fathers. In this new age of stay-at-home dads there is the interesting question about daughters who have similar intimate connection to their fathers. How will Cozy’s psycho-sexual identity be affected by all this time we spend together, including the showers and diaper changes? Perhaps not at all, or perhaps she’ll have a solid sense of self that is not defined by one idea of gender or genders.

I do know it has affected me. Besides the protective “papa bear” mandate it fuels, I also feel more like an actual human being. This is a true connection between two people. She might not remember any of it, but I’ll never forget any of it. Before I put her to bed, we have a little dance to some soft music and she puts her head on my shoulder and I make a wish that this dance never ends.

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

December 15, 2015

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It’s funny how we look for gender clues in toddlers. When Cozy wears my old baby clothes or the Atlanta Falcons gear my dad bought her, people don’t hesitate to make her male (although he did also buy a Falcons cheerleader outfit for her). When she’s pretty in pink, it’s all good in the Ladyland hood. As a sociologist of gender, I keep looking for it and wonder what, if anything, is innate about gender. She watches her dad cook and clean house. Will she see those as male activities? I’m the nurturer, wiping her butt and a face every five minutes. Her Mexican mom is much sterner so there’s the authority in the house.

Cozy turns 16-months-old in a few days and she’s fully into imitating behavior now (which means I need to watch my fucking mouth). The three-year-old girl on a flight to Atlanta taught her Peek-a-boo and that’s her jam now. She imitates me washing dishes (that’s a good hobby), but she really loves to imitate her mother. Especially when it comes to make-up. Maybe it’s the just the feel of the brushes on her face, but when mom is at her make-up table, Cozy is wrapped up in a lesson from the master.

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The other night Andrea was at an art gallery, hanging out with some beatniks and Cozy and I were home. Cozy climbed up on to mom’s vanity and looked at herself in the mirrors. She picked up different lipsticks and brushes and I could see it starting. “This what I do to be like mom.” Now, first of all Andrea doesn’t have to do any of that but she’s an artist and has really created an amazing look for herself. And secondly, a little boy of the same age could also find his way to mom’s make-up table and be as fascinated by all the candy-colored treats.

I found myself wanting to pull her down and shove her beloved Elmo doll under her arm. Say what you will about Sesame Street going to HBO and PBS running only the too-short 30 minute versions of the show (Abby’s Flying Fairy School just got gentrified the fuck out of this neighborhood), there is salvation in Elmo. Elmo is my daughter’s security blanket and a link to something close to baby bliss.

Elmo first stumbled on to Sesame Street in the early 1970s as “baby monster,” so the little red thing should be firmly in its 40s by now, instead of perpetually 3-and-a-half. But the one thing that’s consistent about Elmo is Elmo’s non-gender (and maybe the fact that Elmo bizarrely is unable to refer to himself or herself in the first person). Most see Elmo as a boy monster but there are plenty of little girls who see Elmo as a girl monster. Elmo is gender-queer. I was just in New York City and saw four Elmos in Times Square. Were there males or females in those costumes? It really doesn’t matter as long as they were fairly sober.

Elmo is a blank slate that we write gender scripts on to. In a patriarchy, the fallback assumption is male and Sesame Street exists in patriarchy so there are some who refer to Elmo as “he,” but are you really sure about Elmo? He/She doesn’t wear pants so there should be some extra red fur down there. Yeah, you might see Elmo dressed like Indiana Jones but also wearing a tutu. Singing hard with Elvis Costello and later singing softly with Norah Jones. Elmo doesn’t expect Elmo to be masculine or feminine. Elmo is just Elmo, free of gendered norms.

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So, even though her Elmo doll is probably made in a Chinese sweatshop, I’m happy Cozy feels a connection to the little red monster. Her Elmo is not a baby doll with lessons about mothering or a Barbie Doll with a dozen problematic messages about body image and heteronormativity. Elmo comes with one message, Elmo loves you. Elmo’s like Jesus but a lot cuter. Maybe if Jesus was a genderless furry monster baby, some of his followers would stop shooting up women’s health clinics and closing doors on refugee families and just being, in general, dicks. Elmo would never do that shit.

Cozy imitates her mother in many wonderful ways. She likes to draw and cuddle and she’ll take off my mopey music and put something Latin on so she can dance. And she knows when I’m trying to BS her. Her hat obsession comes from me, but her love of boots comes from mom. And someday Cozy and Andrea will have long discussions about how to do your eye liner like Amy Winehouse.

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For now I’m just gonna try to keep her in the Elmo zone for a little bit longer, though, if that’s okay.

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture, Round 1

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a Black Girl?

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free!

 

Sweet Jesus, I hope my daughter is gay.

November 2, 2015

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I got to spend a day last week with Matthew Shepard’s parents. Shepard is the University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in 1998 because he was gay. I was invited to participate in a Department of Justice hate crime training of law enforcement officers in Salem, Oregon. I’ve talked about the “Matthew Shepard case” since it happened, but after hearing his parents talking about their son and seeing his face in theirs, I felt like I finally got to know Matthew himself. The pain of losing a child must be insurmountable. The pain of losing him or her to a hate crime only ads to the weight. The training was held on the sixth anniversary of President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. So much of that was to due to the hard work of Dennis and Judy Shepard.

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Listening them talk about how far we’ve come was encouraging. Gay people now have the same right to marry in all fifty states, thanks to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation in most states is illegal (although it’s still legal in Wyoming). “Homosexuality” has gone from shocking (Does anybody remember Billy Crystal’s character on Soap or Jack Tripper’s flamboyant caracature on Three’s Company) to Ellen DeGegerenes spending her afternoons with middle-class housewives. Some famous athlete or actor comes out of the closet and you can hear the crickets chirp.

But lord, we’ve got such a long way to go. In 2013 there were over 1,200 reported anti-gay hate crimes (and countless unreported attacks). Homophobia is still part of the mainstream youth vernacular (“That’s so gay.”) and there is a presidential candidate who thinks going to prison makes you homosexual. (Can there be a prize for the dumbest brain surgeon in America?) I could go on and on but it’s too depressing. For example, gay kids are still 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. But we’re on it. We are way on it.  It’s a good day to be gay in Portland, but it still has to suck in Omaha.

The point is it’s getting better. There is a crack in the heteronormativity of our culture. Not only are there Gay-Straight Alliances popping up in schools all over the country (even Mississippi!), many parents with kids are not just assuming their children are straight. When I imagine dancing with Cozy at her wedding, it might be her marriage to a really awesome woman! Who knows?

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So while I was watching the Shepards talk about the murder of their son, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go, I became lost in thought. There were two things stuck in my head that I thought would be important to say out loud.

First, Andrea and I don’t really care if Cozy is gay, straight, transgender, bisexual or any of the other letters. I think most parents worry that their queer child will just face more obstacles (including being victimized by hate criminals). Sure there are a few idiots who think their kid will burn in hell because of their “choice.” (What if Mike Huckabee has a gay kid?) But most just mourn the loss of freedom that child will experience in a homophobic society. My great hope is that when Cozy is a tween, coming out for gay kids won’t be any more dramatic than coming out for straight kids (and straight kids do come out).

She’s not going to have to wait for the right moment to break it to mom and dad. (Like most parents) we will already know. I’m more worried about finding out she’s left-handed (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Nobody should waste one second of their lives in the closet. (I’m looking at you, Mike Huckabee.) All she’s gonna get from me at the announcement is, “Meh. Have you done your homework? Oh, and I love you, bug face.”

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The other thing is there’s at least some good news for lesbians. Because men can be such pricks and are not good about talking about their feelings and shit, heterosexual couples have it rough. They fall into all that Mars and Venus gendered discourse. (Just read any book by Terrence Real.) These “traditional marriage” blowhards don’t seem to worry much about how most straight marriages end up in the dumpster. But research shows that since women are much better at talking to EACH OTHER, Cozy’s lesbian marriage has a much better chance of lasting until she’s an old lady riding off into the sunset (because that’s what lesbians do, I’m told).

Of course the added bonus to all this is that it will limit her exposure to douchebags. I’d prefer her having a soccer-playing girlfriend to a video game-playing boyfriend.

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At the least my gay daughter would be forced into taking up the fight against all the oppression that will still exist. She won’t be free to sit on the sidelines and just worry about her queer friends. As I’ve mentioned, it took me way to long to join this fight. Hopefully, she’ll be sitting in her fourth grade civics class in 2024 and reading about the bigoted morons that hogged the limelight in 2015.

And to paraphrase Heathers, one of the best movies ever made, I love my (possibly) gay daughter.