From my Instagram
On Identity Politics
I can say, new parents, that you should not spend too long thinking up the perfect name for your baby. My twelve year old son’s friends are enjoying changing their names at ever increasing rates. I wish I could share some of the new names with you, because some of them are beautifully absurd and I do hope they keep them, though I know some parents are suffering. Picking a name was one of the best bits of having a baby.
When I was a child I sometimes changed my name and invented a new family for myself. In my new family I was not the eldest of two children, but the youngest, coddled by a dozen protective older siblings. Somewhat The Sound of Music-ish. I was a prototype for today’s post-modernism identity question. Exploring a new frontier in which one’s identity was a reflection of one’s.. household structure. (Try it).
At school I would sign my schoolwork with my new names. The teacher would stand at the front of the class, calling the name out and looking bewildered, and trying to locate the rightful owner of the schoolwork. “Ah, it’s you,” they would finally say, and the class would laugh at what they assumed was a peculiar trick I played. And I would feel briefly humiliated. I was a shy child and I’m still surprised I willingly made such a spectacle of myself. I guess the pleasure of choosing one’s identity is that big. I get that.
New Parenting Dilemmas Part I
A friend of my son invited themselves for a sleep-over last year. Their friendship was very inconsistent, and embarrassingly, my son once physically lashed out at them at school when they were still identifying as ‘she’, and that felt to me a worse indiscretion than if it had been to another boy. But we’re the kind of family where you can invite yourself over. It happens a lot. The real problem with it is I am not always the kind of mother who will get up and cook you breakfast.
Another thing, this child doesn’t like dogs, and we have two of them. In the morning, I was trying to sleep-in when my son and his friend came downstairs to greet me. They were lying on the bed next to me when both dogs joined us. The child jumped in horror. “Dogs, dogs, come away from her, she is frightened”.
My son was outraged -“you’ve used the wrong pronouns!”
“Oh god, I’m sorry, there’s just a lot going on,” which was probably not the best thing to have said. The child had changed their gender identity several times in the year since I had known of them. But that wasn’t what I was referring to. I meant the two little dogs bouncing all over the bed and me trying to hold the sheet to my body and being half asleep.
“I didn’t know they were frightened of dogs is all”.
“Wrong pronouns again!” my son scolded.
“Let’s get the dogs out of here,” I said.
I looked at the pink kitten pajamas and the feminine hairstyle on this child and wished for a better clue. Maybe this child is sincere about the gender dysmorphia or maybe they are playing. I feel committed either way to getting it right for them1. In fact, if I could change anything it would be that there was more playfulness in this world.
New Parenting Dilemmas Part II
Is it appropriate for my twelve year old son to invite a girl friend for a sleep-over?
a) yes, because this little girl is a radical lesbian and recites parts of the SCUM Manifesto
b) yes, because this little girl is not a girl, they identify as nonbinary
c) yes, because my son says that’s a weird question2.
Me, at Work
Let’s try radical honesty, in a guarded way3.
And How, De-Fanged, Will They Survive?
I try not to be cynical, but I struggle, sometimes. These are some extracts from management journals I’ve been flicking through at work:
How leaders develop their authenticity.
Authentic leaders monitor their words and behaviors carefully to be attuned to their audiences and to enroll their colleagues and teammates.
One of the hardest things for leaders to do is to understand how other people see them.
Executives who are fully engaged with first-line employees every day will have a much better sense of how their businesses are running, and their presence will be highly motivating and even inspiring.
Let me give you a clue, front line people don’t find you inspiring.
My Husband at Work
One of his work mates was at a youth detention centre to see a client. From across the hall a kid yelled, “Hey, say hi to Paul4”.
(Kids make community wherever they are, they can’t stop themselves. They are very good at it. Everything should be directed towards including kids more in our communities, not less. Time to lift the minimum age of criminal responsibility, Australia. Ten is far too young).
How was your day, I asked.
Tiring, he said. Had to go up to the Mental Health Unit for one of my young people. Cops brought them in.
Wish I hadn’t worn shorts to work today, he said. Your therapist referred a client to me and I am not looking very professional.
If my husband’s clients see him driving away from work they will call out, “Give us a lift”.
“No,” my husband says.
“Why not? Why not?”
“Because boundaries,” he replies.
My neighborhood Facebook page is always sharing grainy black and white security camera images of kids caught breaking into their cars. Do you recognise this brat, they ask. They complain that these are the same teenagers in hoodies and caps caught on their home surveillance camera, too. How would you know, someone points out, all teenagers wear hoodies and caps.
I show my husband. Are any of these your kids from work, I chuckle, because the images are so blurry it’s a Rorschach test. He shrugs. They’re just Marie Kondo-ing your car for you, he says.
When kids from Juvie leave their appointments with him my husband jokes about telling them to leave his car alone. But you can’t do that, he says, because they would take it seriously and make sure no one touched it. Probably get other kids beaten up.
Later, we are at our local bar having a drink, when we see the young baristas from our neighborhood café and they invite us to join them for a drink. They talk about the neighborhood Facebook page and all these posts about teenagers committing crime. They are equal parts fascinated and derisive.
Did you see people saying they would take a cricket bat to the kids, they ask me. And then they say how much they would like to poke fun at these whining adults and rile them up, but you have to be careful, they tell me, because some of them are customers and you don’t want them getting you fired. Everyone laughs.
There is something very liberating about the image I have of them. These young people, just out of adolescence, sitting at home together and getting a little high and hoping someone puts a freshly outraged post up about teenagers for them to laugh at. I mean, wasn’t that one of the more refreshing parts of the Karen moment? When the emperor was revealed to have no clothes? That all of a sudden, Karen realised she was seen just as much as she was seeing. And therefore, who is watching who in these posts on Facebook, we may ask.
A Note from the Past, A Letter to Your Future
I found a note from nine years ago. In it I am celebrating the unexpected luxury of skipping gym one evening and being alone in the house. I am watching TV, drinking a glass of wine, and eating cheese and crackers. I can’t believe my luck. All I want is to be able to unwind in the quiet, like this, again and again. My youngest was three years old at the time.
Now I have these nights all the time. My children are both in high school. I saw an article recently in The Guardian about people regretting becoming parents. There’s a lot to unpack in there. How we live in the West, with all our expectations of happiness. Capitalism and the patriarchy, and the ways in which it has isolated us from our communal lives. Also, how parenting forces us to revisit our own unresolved childhood issues and how unprepared we are for this. And the pressure on people to become parents. But I couldn’t help notice that the parents talking about their ambivalence were all in the early parenting years, too. Hold on, help is coming. It might just be the passing of time.
But You Know How a Pregnancy Can Change You5
It seems years since you held the baby
While I wrecked the bedroom
You said it was dangerous after Sunday
And I knew you loved me
He thinks I just became famous
And that's how it messed me up
But he's wrong
How could I possibly know what I want
When I was only twenty-one?
And there's millions of people
To offer advice and say how I should be
But they're twisted
And they will never be any influence on me
But you will always be
You will always be
If I treated you mean
I really didn't mean to
But you know how it is
And how a pregnancy can change you
See plenty of clothes that I like
But I won't go anywhere nice for a while
All I want to do is just sit here
And write it all down and rest for a while
Can't bear to be in another city
One where you are not
I would return to nothing without you
If I'm your girlfriend or not
Maybe I was mean
But I really don't think so
You asked if I'm scared
And I said so
Everyone can see what's going on
They laugh `cause they know they're untouchable
Not because what I said was wrong
Whatever it may bring
I will live by my own policies
I will sleep with a clear conscience
I will sleep in peace
Maybe it sounds mean
But I really don't think so
You asked for the truth and I told you
Through their own words
They will be exposed
They've got a solid case of
The emperor's new clothes
The emperor's new clothes
The emperor's new clothes
Everyone Can See What’s Going On
Everyone is talking about Sinead O’Connor’s profile in The New York Times, for good reason. But she has been this wise forever, look at this very lucid and flirtatious conversation with Arsenio Hall from when she was 25.
My Husband and Me
Me: How many years have we been together?
Him: I think this December will be seven years.
Me: Wow. That’s getting up there. And they said we’d never make it.
Him: Well you did.
Me: Let’s give this a month and see how we go.
Him: I thought why am I even trying if I only get a month with you.
Me: But try you did.
Him: And you’re signed up now.
Him: They’ve been taking my socks and jocks again to wear. I said to your kids I’ll knock your heads together.
Him: It’s what my dad used to say to us.
Me: You could reach beyond your father’s fathering.
The other day a father came to pick his child up from our house after a sleep-over6. He looked at his daughter and said, ah that’s where my pajama pants went. I didn’t have my dad in the house by this age. I had no idea daughters steal their father’s clothes. Or is that new?
Today, when I was driving home from a nice, big park where I had taken the dogs for a walk, I had this lovely contented feeling wash over me that I vividly recalled feeling when I would drive my kids home from nice, big parks.
I think it was the time of day that sparked it. It was not my usual late afternoon dog walk, but instead, a rare morning walk and so, we were driving home at lunchtime. It was the time of day when toddlers fall asleep in cars, with dirt on their feet and dried leaves caught in their hair.
I had almost forgotten how pleasant those days could be. For I am not someone who pines for the early years of parenting. At the time I found them very consuming. It seemed a little terrifying to not have time alone in my head or a sense of when that would be returned to me. I wondered if I would lose myself without it.
And yet, here I was now, awash with the joy of a nice, big park and questioning whether part of my dog walking ritual was to replicate the baby years.
Ma refers to the space between objects, or the pause between thoughts, words or events, that helps define these and give them greater meaning. Like punctuation in a sentence, these might seem inconsequential at first, but without them the arrangement can lose crucial nuance, if not its entire meaning. I think the closest we have to this in English is “dramatic pause”. If you don’t have a bare patch of pebbles, lawn or moss in swathes of groundcover to allow the eye to pause, or gaps between trees or sculptures to frame views, schemes can seem saturated, flat and boring. So knowing what to add to a scheme is often secondary to knowing what to take away.
Thanks for reading. And thank you for the lovely comments I have received. I cherish them.
In fact, I learned the child uses a neo pronoun but I can’t use it here in case it risked identifying them.
All of these situations have happened. What a beautiful world.
Advice from my work mentor for working with difficult people in difficult situations. She’s wonderful.
My husband’s name is Paul, by the way.
The lyrics to Emperor’s New Clothes by Sinead O’Connor
My son has so many sleep overs.