All posts in the family category

Quit Complicating Your Kids’ Questions About Gender and Sexuality

Published April 6, 2016 by April Fox

Every time legislation is passed that has anything to do with civil rights, things like being allowed to marry or use the bathroom in peace or whatever, people start using children as proxies for their fear and lack of understanding. It spreads like a rash across social media, this epidemic of made-up conversations kids are having with the adults in their lives and the resulting deep and moving concern about what to tell the children. “What am I supposed to say when little Khloweei asks about the gay couple in the produce section? How am I supposed to explain transsexuals in the bathroom? My child is too young to be talking about sex!”

Spoiler alert, in case you don’t want to read this whole super-long thing: You don’t have to talk about sex. It isn’t about sex, even. Not at all. I know, it’s shocking, what with the gays and the trannies humping each other all over the bus stop and the amusement parks and shit like that. I know they look like normal people doing normal things with their normal lives, but underneath, totally humping, willy-nilly everywhere.

But really, I’m sorry if you’re confused about how to address your kids’ questions. I’m not belittling that, at all. My kids have asked some things that have made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back and hide in the bathroom five minutes before they decided to ask. Kids ask some intense questions, and some very serious questions, and those should without a doubt be answered. But. (You know me, there’s always a but.)

Here’s what’s really important to remember: children don’t think like adults.

To a small child, everything is new and different. They don’t have decades of experience and context to which they can relate their everyday lives and observations, like we do. Their points of reference are self-centered. I don’t mean that in the negative way it’s often used, but literally: their experience centers around themselves.

And so when you’re standing at a crosswalk beside two men holding hands, you’re taking in everything: They’re adults. They’re smiling at each other, leaning into each other, laughing quietly. One has a take-out box from that fancy candle-lit restaurant up the street; clearly, they’re on a date, and if they only got one box for leftovers, they must be going home together. One man has a bottle of wine tucked into his elbow. They’re going home to drink wine. It’s going to be romantic. They’ll probably end up having sex. That’s what’s running through your head when your child says, “Mommy, why are those boys holding hands?”

You know what’s going through your kid’s head, most likely? Why do those boys have to hold hands to cross the street? They’re grown-ups. Grown-ups can go by themselves. That’s weird.  So how do you answer that question? Try something like, “Sometimes people hold hands when they like each other. I guess they must like each other.” Chances are, your kid is going to give you a really insightful response, probably something along the lines of, “Oh. Look, there’s a squashed caterpillar on the sidewalk. Can I touch it?”

When your child asks why Auntie has a girlfriend, he’s probably not wondering why she prefers women to men. It’s probably just the same question kids ask roughly eleven million times a day: Why? Why are my socks blue? Why is that spaghetti? Why is that lady’s butt so big? Why can’t I touch that squashed caterpillar? Why does Auntie have a girlfriend?

And just like above, it’s a pretty simple answer: “They must like each other.”

If your child is old enough that he’s beginning to understand what kind of relationships are more common than others and to notice when things look a little different than what he’s used to, and his question really is about why Auntie likes girls and not boys, that’s an easy answer too: “Some girls like other girls.” If they ask for more, you can give that information without making everything about sex. I’m pretty sure when your kid asked you why you and Daddy got married, for example, you didn’t say, “Well, Snugglemuffin, we just wanted to make sure your daddy would be able to stick his pecker in me every night for the rest of his life.” You probably talked about love and happiness and friendship — and those are the same things you talk about when you’re talking about Auntie and her girlfriend. Easy peasy, man. You don’t even have to learn anything new.

Of course, the big thing now is transgender. Everybody’s freaking out about the transgenders in the bathrooms and Oh…my… Gawwwwwwd what if my precious little snowflake Mhaddisynne Claire goes in the bathroom and sees a person who looks like a man in a dress? WHAT DO I TELL HER?”

Well first off, tell her potty time is privacy time, which is what you should have been telling her since she was old enough to start having a decent grasp of receptive language.

If it does come up, if your little one sees someone with masculine-appearing features in traditionally feminine clothing and says (at the top of her lungs, at that piercing pitch children only hit when they’re saying something that makes you want to crawl into the toilet and die) “Why is that man wearing a dress?” what the heck do you say?

I’ll tell you. If that happens, then you go, like, “That’s a lady.”

And then if your kid is like, “That looks like a man,” then you go, “People look all different ways. She’s just trying to use the restroom, like you are. Go wash your hands. Go. Use soap. Not that much soap.” (Because that’s how bathroom conversations always end, I don’t care if there’s a band of Civil War reenacting drag queens in there, you’re going to say the soap thing. And also, you really don’t know, do you? Unless you’re the weirdo peeking up her skirt, you don’t know that that lady isn’t a biological woman with stronger features than most.)

I’m not saying not to have conversations about gender and sexuality with your kids. These are issues they’re going to face, if not personally, than as witnesses as their family and friends deal with them. But it’s ridiculous to think these conversations have to center around what people do in their private bedrooms or wardrobes. If you wouldn’t talk about the sex lives or genitalia of straight, cisgendered people, then it’s not appropriate conversation-period. As your child gets older, your conversations can become more comprehensive, but when your child is small, your answers about sexuality and gender should be as simple and gentle as conversations about love and death and anything else that you have a responsibility to explain. Don’t complicate it. Teach love, compassion, respect and inclusion, and your simple answers will grow into understanding soon enough.



Have A Very Goopy Christmas, Take Two 

Published December 20, 2015 by April Fox

I posted yesterday about my new blog, Math Makes Me Poop, but apparently I was still suffering from Almost-Christmas-Break Teacher Brain and the link I tried to post didn’t actually work. So let’s try this again: here’s a post from the new blog. I hope you like it. 

Have a Very Goopy Christmas  | Math Makes Me Poop

Kids are Weird, Man. 

Published December 19, 2015 by April Fox

Edit: Now with a real, live, working link to the new blog! Sorry about that. 

Some of you might know that when I’m not writing, I’m teaching. This year, I’m working with a brilliant, hilarious, adorable kid I call Little G, and I’ve created a new blog to chronicle some of our adventures. We do a lot of out-of-the-box learning and I’ll be sharing posts about that, along with the things that don’t always go as planned-like you’ll see in the post linked here. 

The blog is geared toward people who are teaching, parenting, or otherwise care for small kids, especially those with some learning, sensory, or social differences. It’s still my voice though, and even if you’re one of those people who turns the hose on kids that wander onto your lawn, you might like it. 

Have a Very Goopy Christmas  | Math Makes Me Poop 

Asheville’s Helpmate Hosts a Vigil to Help End Domestic Violence

Published September 28, 2015 by April Fox

A portion of the royalties from my latest book, Spine, will be used to benefit Helpmate, a local non-profit organization that helps women and their children who are in, escaping, and recovering from domestic violence situations. 
There’s a popular myth that women stay because they love their abusers and think they’ll change. That is certainly true in some cases, but in many, the things that keep women there are far less romantic: fear, threats, financial limitations, a belief that there are no other options. Helpmate works to educate women and the general public about ways to escape dangerous situations, and provides direct links to resources that help ensure the physical and emotional safety of people affected by domestic violence. 
I’m asking my friends and family to please help spread awareness about Helpmate’s annual domestic violence vigil, this Thursday October 1, in downtown Asheville. Please feel free to copy and paste this message along with your post. 
Thank you, loves. 


Published October 5, 2014 by April Fox

My sister-in-law died this morning.

We used to have the most ridiculous late night conversations, cracking up from behind our computer screens hundreds of miles apart, and then turning the corner into more serious territory, talking about raising children and weathering the storms of married life and what it was like to struggle through life in whatever way we happened to be struggling at the time. We talked about the funny things our kids said and did, about tattoos, about food, and music, and sometimes about her being sick.

Sister o’ mine, we called each other. I never knew her when she didn’t have cancer.

There aren’t any words for how it feels to hear your father-in-law’s voice shatter on the phone, or to try and will your husband to stay asleep just a little bit longer so you don’t have to tell him, or to try and imagine–and I can’t, my brain just shuts off when I try–what it’s like for her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles and her children… that’s where I just stop, and my mind won’t let me think anymore. She left behind four beautiful children, and they were truly her whole entire heart. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. And I feel so fucking small and pitiful, sharing my own grief when others closer to her are hurting so much, so much harder than I can even start to imagine. I feel like one of those horrid people who latches on to death and dying in some sick way that makes them feel larger and more important than they really are, and I hate that. But I miss her already, I miss the idea that someday we’ll be having drinks and laughing while she tells me all the goofy things her little brother did when he was small. I miss the idea of laughing at her description of her youngest on her first day of high school, still years away. I miss the idea of laughing with her, period. Even during the really hard parts, she was laughing.

And so this is where I’m putting my grief. Just for a minute, I’m going to think about how fucking stupid and unfair it is that things like this happen, and I’m going to hold the selfish thought that I’m never going to laugh with my friend again, and then I’m going to share some picture of sunflowers, because the world needs more pretty things to counter all the scary, ugly, miserable things we have to deal with otherwise.

sunflower1 sunflower2 sunflower3 sunflower4 sunflower5 sunflower6

The Always “Like A Girl” Commercial Tackles Gender Stereotypes

Published June 30, 2014 by April Fox

Feminine hygiene products aren’t usually known for being empowering. They serve a purpose, sure, and those of us of the womanly persuasion are certainly grateful that they exist in their modern form, but they’re not exactly thought provoking, beyond “Hmmm, is today going to be a Super day or an Ultra day?” This commercial from Always, though, is a little different. It does make you think. And it might just give a little bit of power back to young women who’ve forgotten what it really means to be a girl.

This video doesn’t really have much to do with tampons or pads. Rather, it shows us a kind of sociological exercise: actors are told to perform certain actions “like a girl,” and the results are a little disheartening. Many of the actors perform the actions in exaggerated, stereotypical ways: weakly flinging a hand when asked to throw like a girl, jogging in place with arms and legs flailing haphazardly when asked to run like a girl. Even the young women actors behaved this way in the first segment. Although they are girls themselves, they acted out these normal everyday activities in ways that made them look like caricatures, exaggerated for comic effect.

The younger actors, who appear to be pre-teens, interpreted the instructions differently. One young girl appears as only a flash of color across the screen as she shows what it is to run like a girl. Another, asked to kick like a girl, jabs her leg fiercely and confidently into the air. They are doing things “like a girl,” the way they do them every day.

Somewhere along the way, it looks like doing things “like a girl” comes to mean doing them weakly and ineffectively. This isn’t going to be the case with all girls, of course. My older daughter, a former soccer star, is a petite young lady who likes wearing pretty sundresses and painting her nails. I’m fairly certain that if you asked her to kick like a girl, you’d be in danger of having your head knocked off your shoulders by a well-placed size seven sandal.

Still, I worry about this with Baby Girl– not so much that she’ll see the way she does things as wrong because she’s a girl, but that she’ll change the way she does them in order to appear more “like a girl.” It goes both ways, sometimes. Right now she’s proud of her strong, muscular legs. She’s a dancer, and it shows. When she plays sports with her brothers, she plays hard. But she’s almost 13, and I worry that she’ll start falling prey to the idea that in order to be more “like a girl” she’ll have to downplay her physical strength, start to dislike her athletic build, create a version of herself that fits the popular idea of woman as the weaker sex. I don’t want her to forget that she is beautiful with her strong legs and mind and shoulders, and then create a new, flimsier version of herself. She is absolutely gorgeous, and her strength and skill are part of what makes her beautiful. Her confidence in her ability radiates. I don’t want her to ever lose that.

I’m probably the least athletic person on the planet. I can’t catch a ball, I’m totally uncoordinated, and when I run, I’m sure I look like the sloppy, disjointed characters portrayed in this video. But that doesn’t mean that I do those things like a girl, it means I do them like a person with absolutely no coordination. It means my strength is somewhere else–just where, I’m still trying to figure out. We need to make sure our girls know that it’s okay to be physically strong, and reassure our boys that not being athletically inclined doesn’t mean that they’re “girly.” We have to make sure that we acknowledge our children’s strengths and weakness without defining them in terms of gender.

With all of the body-shaming that goes on these days–from both sides, skinny and fat–and social media having a greater influence in young women’s lives, we need more messages like this one. It’s okay to be a girl, and to do things “like a girl.” And what that means is just to be the best you can be, no matter what you’re doing.

Rosemary, Remembered

Published June 29, 2014 by April Fox

Rosemary glanced at the clock on the wall above the bed and thought, inexplicably, of how she disliked her name. She’d grown used to it by now, but still it struck her as old-fashioned and silly. When she was a child, growing up among the countless Jennifers and Ashleys and Patricias and even a few leftover Susans from the generation before, she’d hated it; it felt awkward coming out of her mouth when she said it, like a wad of gum lodged half up against her molars when she went to spit it into the trash can. The name didn’t even have a good story behind it: There was no iconic, majestic grandmother named Rosemary, no tragically drowned great-great-aunt who perished in a backyard pond before anyone alive now was around to know who she was. No, instead Rosemary was named after a plant, a scrawny shrub her hippie parents had bought for their first home together. She had heard the story so often by the time she was a teenager, going through the cruel parts of adolescence, that she would sit just behind her mother while she told the tale, mimicking the older woman’s gestures and the tilt of her head while she spoke. Her mimicry was perfect, and her mother was either oblivious or too proud to admit that she knew what was going on behind her in those days.

“We bought that little plant the day we moved into our first place together,” she would say, smiling faintly at the memory. Beside her, Rosemary’s father would nod his head slightly, looking vaguely amused, as he often did anyway. Rosemary did not remember her mother ever telling the story without her father there, though she must have, at least once. “It looked a little bit sick, and we were flat broke at the time, but your father said that if we could keep that little shrub alive, it didn’t matter what else happened, we’d always have something around that tasted good. And of course you know, we did keep it alive, and so when you were born, we named you after our Rosemary plant, hoping you’d grow up beautiful and strong just like you did.”

Rosemary was grateful that her mother was always so positive at the end of the story. Certainly, she did not always see her daughter as beautiful, and perhaps wished she was a little bit less strong, as they suffered through the pain of her growing up. Rosemary had been a careful child, dressing her room in the closest thing to Laura Ashley she could find at the thrift stores she was forced to frequent, deliberately contrasting the Grateful Dead posters and ridiculous beaded curtains that made the rest of the house look like some ancient relic, a shrine to the 1960s. Later, she joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, although she was never an athlete and didn’t really identify as Christian, only pretended to be for a while. The people in the club grew tiresome, though, and her parents’ indifferent response to her small act of rebellion made it not worth the effort to suffer through the meetings. Rosemary sometimes looked at her own daughter, a skinny, angular girl of ten who still called Rosemary “Mommy” and slept with a worn pink stuffed gorilla, and wondered if they had just a few years left before they, too, began to battle over everything. Rosemary didn’t think so; perhaps she was smug about her perfection as a parent, but were she to admit the truth to herself—as she occasionally did, lying awake next to her husband in the dark, listening to him snore into the pillow—she would say that she had made herself into a deliberately bland parent, a bland person, really, and so there was likely little for her and her daughter to bicker over.

She looked in the mirror and tried to imagine herself as a Tiffany or a Lisa and could not. Her hair needed a trim, she noticed; Rosemary hated the way it began to curl over her ears when it grew too long. Hers was a sensible haircut, brisk and efficient, not like those other mothers who foolishly let their hair grow long and tangled, or wore fussy styles, chopped short in the back and long in the front, often with garish “highlights” capping the tips. These women seemed always to be heavy through the hips, with tattooed ankles and dark lipliner, and Rosemary wondered how they had time for such things when there were so many dinners to be made and sheets to be folded. Rosemary’s own mother had always worn her hair long, and even into her forties and fifties would wind it into two messy braids more days than not. Rosemary thought her mother looked like a cheap rag doll on these days, but could not tell her so.

Suddenly, Rosemary remembered passing by a hair salon with her mother while they were on some outing or another. Large posters hung in the windows: sullen models with edgy, modern haircuts, and her mother pointed to one and laughed. “Look at her hair, covering one eye. How do you think she sees like that?” Rosemary had agreed, and they had stood for a moment under the awning, watching the women inside snipping away at a row of heads, all lined up. They looked almost eerie, black-cloaked shoulders and all facing the same direction, eyes blank in the long mirror that covered one wall. Only the stylists seemed animated, and Rosemary wondered briefly whether the heads were real at all.

Sinking back down onto the bed, Rosemary let one memory slide into another. Her mother at her sewing machine, hair tucked up into a bun, fingers moving like manic spiders over a length of fabric as it gobbled up thread for a dress or a blouse or a purse. Her mother arriving home one day, lugging a large, flat wooden cat, and then a ghost, and then a pumpkin out of the back of her beat-up hatchback. “Look!” her mother cried, “We can paint these and put them in the yard for Halloween!” It was only September then, Rosemary remembered, but her mother had always gotten excited about holidays and started them too early. They sat side-by-side, painting long into the night, and when Rosemary felt she’d made the cat’s yellow eyes too large, her mother called them perfect, and then called Rosemary perfect. She had forgotten that part till just now.

Her mother chasing a bold chicken off the porch, swatting at it with a broom until it gave up its quest to join their family barbecue and hopped off, grumbling and indignant.

Her mother gently toweling off her hair after she was caught in an afternoon thunderstorm trying to get from the bus stop to home.

Her mother perched on the edge of Rosemary’s bed—this bed, where she sat now—and giving her a worn copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her mother believed in used book stores, and most of Rosemary’s books were soft around the edges and bore the name of some other girl inside the front cover.

Her mother making stroganoff, jambalaya, the birthday cake with the nuts and the cherries and the tiny chocolate chips throughout, capped by a rich layer of milk chocolate frosting.

Her mother painting her toenails, always purple or blue or green, never a sensible pink, nestled into the oversized chair in the corner of the living room.

Her mother holding Rosemary’s own daughter, moments after her birth, whispering into the infant’s tiny ear. Rosemary had never asked what her mother said. It wasn’t her place to know.

Her mother in the kitchen during one of Rosemary’s rushed visits, standing over the tea kettle, looking weary. Rosemary noticed the circles under her mother’s eyes looked deeper than usual, as if she’d been fighting with someone, almost. Her hands rested on the counter and when Rosemary asked if she was okay, her mother said yes, of course, just a little tired. She hadn’t been sleeping well.

Her mother.

Rosemary lay back on the bed and looked around the room, imagining she’d never seen it before. Her posters were still there, sweaty-looking musicians and chiseled actors, and one out-of-place kitten sitting in a meadow. Her laptop sat on the desk where she used to sit and write in her journal, and next to the bench where she used to lie and talk on the phone for hours, her mother had placed her yarn basket and a small CD player with built-in speakers. Rosemary’s room, though mostly underground, had one large window that let in the best afternoon sunlight, and her mother had liked to sit in here, before she began to hate the stairs. Rosemary had thought of creeping out that window one night to meet some boy, but as she slid it open, her mother had called down the stairs, “Good night, Rosemary,” and she was afraid to try after that.

Rosemary glanced at the clock again and, sighing, stood and stretched. She ascended the stairs, feeling twice as old as she was, every step a chore. The house upstairs was silent, and Rosemary thought she should turn on some music for her mother. Her mother had always loved music. She crossed to the front door and stepped into the tiny herb garden her mother had planted. It was beginning to look a little scruffy now, but neither Rosemary nor her father could define why or knew how to make it look like it should. One step, two, and Rosemary stood over the rosemary plant, bent and twisted a stubborn twig away from the rest of the shrub. She held it for a moment, lost in something not quite like thought, but close, before stepping back into the house.

In the kitchen, Rosemary set the kettle to boil and turned the radio on, found the classic rock station. She cringed a little when Pearl Jam drifted from the speakers; was she really that old already? There were green tea bags in the pantry, chai, apple cinnamon for when the grandkids visited; her mother was not fond of that flavor herself. It didn’t much matter which she chose, Rosemary thought, but she let her hand drift past the apple to the lemon zinger behind it, chose a bag from that box, went through the motions of making tea as if on autopilot. This was the easy part, like remembering how to breathe. She could do this part.

A spoonful of honey for the tea, and Rosemary remembered feeling small and sickly, tucked under a quilt in the corner of their faded old couch, opening her mouth for the spoon her mother offered. “Open wide,” her mother said, opening her own mouth along with Rosemary, as if to show her how. The honey soothed her throat, tamed her cough for a moment, and Rosemary thought this must be magic. Her own kids came to her the same way on the rare occasions they felt sick, bird-mouthed and puny, waiting for Rosemary to dip the spoon into the fat jar of local honey on the counter, curing them for a moment, making them well.

She placed the jar of honey on the tray next to the mug, laid a clean spoon alongside.

Picked up the sprig of rosemary from the counter, crushed a few coarse needles between her fingers, lifted them to her face and inhaled deeply.

Laid them gently between the mug and the jar of honey, and then on second thought, lifted the mug, poured the beverage into a teacup, a dainty thing with gold around the rim and violets painted on. The empty cup hook looked lonely now, and she wished for another cup, just the same, to put back in its place.

Rosemary remembered then sitting next to her mother at the big round dining room table, sipping warm milk tea and eating snickerdoodles, watching the kitchen curtains blow the same way they were now. It was this same time of year, the tea party she was remembering, not quite fall, still hot outside, but with a more settled, resolute feel to the air. The breeze seemed determined to come in and stay, not to try and rush her outdoors to the sprinkler or the swingset or the little girls across the street. It was a breeze that said, “Don’t go,” and Rosemary wished she could place it on the tray as well, carry it in to her mother, make her listen to it speak.

It seemed all Rosemary had done the past few days was remember.

On the drive up, she had tortured herself with Warren Zevon, listening to his final album from beginning to end and then over again, the whole way up. How did it feel to know you were dying? Did her mother want to sing, to write? Was she trapped inside her skin, were her eyelids bars keeping her locked in? Was her voice inside her head the same one Rosemary heard at night, waking her from a fitful sleep, making her cry out like a small child, “Mommy?” She felt foolish when this happened, and grateful her husband was a sound sleeper.

In her mother’s room, a lanky young man in neat scrubs and comfort-soled clogs sat in a worn recliner next to the bed, reading a tabloid magazine. This irritated Rosemary; her mother disliked magazines such as those, and it felt like an affront to have one being read right in front of her, as if she wasn’t there. As if she didn’t know. She dismissed the young man with a nod toward the tray in her hands, stood just to the side of the door as he walked past, giving her the look of sympathy she’d grown to despise in just a few short days. She bet he still had his mother. She bet his mother sent him cookies at Christmas and scolded him for not bringing his girlfriends around to meet her. She bet he never had to change his mother’s soiled sheets, or to wonder why the skin on her hands looked as if it had been through the wash one too many times, like an old sheet ready to disintegrate but too pricey when it was new to throw away or make into rags just yet. She wondered if he called his mother after leaving here, grateful it was not her in this bed, about to leave.

Rosemary set the tray on the bedside table, and noticed a flash of blue under the bed. Her mother’s slippers, half-hidden there, waiting for her get up and put them on.

She could deal with the hospital smell in the room. She could deal with the nurse, with the pill bottles cluttering the dresser, with her mother’s unshaved legs peeking like pale stems from under the sheet. She could deal, even, with her father’s absence, understood the long walks he took down to the creek, staring vacantly out at the trees. She had followed him down there once, and turned away only when she realized he was crying, and needed to be left alone.

She could not deal with the slippers waiting there.

Her mother was not supposed to be like this. She should be in her slippers, making tea by herself. She should be walking out to fetch the newspaper or the mail, hanging laundry on the line below the porch. She should be sitting in her living room chair, legs crossed, one slipper just barely hanging on to the tips of her toes, while she worked a crossword puzzle. She should be in her slippers, moving, ready to go. She needed her slippers to be on.

With a kind of manic energy that almost frightened her, Rosemary grabbed the slippers and reached for her mother’s foot. The nails, she noticed, were bare, and she fought back tears. First the left foot, then the right, and now her mother’s slippers were on. She could move, now. She could get up. She could walk again, she had to.

“I gave you your slippers, Mom,” she said, settling at the edge of the bed at her mother’s elbow. Her mother smiled, made an effort to speak.

“Do you remember where you got these?” she asked her mother, and waited what seemed like hours for the sigh that told her to go on. “It was at that church rummage sale, the one you said you were afraid to go to because of all the fundamentalists there. But we went, and you found these. Two dollars, brand new, you said, you couldn’t resist. Do you remember?” she asked.

Rosemary lifted the cup of tea, took a sip, held it to her mother’s lips. Picked up the rosemary leaves from the tray and cradled them gently in her palm, lifted her mother’s hand, small like a child’s in her own. “Tell me again about my name, Mom. Tell me the story about the rosemary plant.” And then she lay down by her mother, closed her eyes, and listened.

Barbie: Taking Our Daughters to the Dark Side, One Pink Stiletto Step at a Time

Published February 19, 2014 by April Fox

When I was a kid, playing with Barbie was a given. Little girls played Barbie, little boys played G.I. Joe, and once you all hit about twelve, your moms quit allowing you to play with both of them together because dammit, Barbie’s not a hooker.

But maybe she is.

I’ve heard a surprising number of mothers say they won’t let their daughters play with Barbie because she’s a bad influence and promotes an unrealistic ideal of beauty to young girls. Okay, first of all, your average girl of Barbie-playing age thinks the height of beauty is bright turquoise eyeshadow, a sparkly tank top that looks like it came off the rack at Discount Drag, your grandmother’s old Easter bonnet and a pair of Dora the Explorer slippers. I’m pretty sure Barbie’s color-coordinated outfits are an improvement.

She has long, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a figure that looks like she got her chest stuck in an industrial vacuum for about four years. Yeah, the boobs are a bit much. I admit, after six kids I look at Barbie lying there all perky after, what, fifty-some years? and when my kid isn’t looking, I slam those pointy little plastic suckers in the kitchen drawer a few times, just for spite. But really? Come on. Kids are surrounded by women of all shapes, sizes, colors… do you really think your daughter is going to grow up with a complex because she doesn’t resemble a hunk of plastic? Nobody raises a fuss because they think their kids are going to grow up depressed because they don’t have giant, misshapen heads like Dora. I have four boys and not one of them has ever screamed from the bathroom, aghast because they’re not eunuchs like all those plastic action figures they play with.

The fact is, some women do have lovely figures and long, shiny hair. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or less worthy of your respect than anyone else. It’s unacceptable to look down on someone because they’re not conventionally attractive, or they’re overweight, or learning delayed. People do it, but it’s not considered something you do in polite company. So why is it okay to belittle the worth of this poor plastic lady? Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing the doll, because-to use a phrase common in the age group that likes to play with her-you started it. When you say your child can’t play with Barbie because she promotes an unrealistic ideal of beauty, you’re telling her that that is what’s considered attractive, and she might as well give it up.

Beauty vs. the Brain

One of the big arguments I hear is “I want to raise my daughter to know that beauty doesn’t matter, and brains do,” or some minor variation thereof. The thing is, I have two girls that happen to have copious amounts of both qualities, and I’m quite sure mine aren’t the only ones. Now, what are you going to say? Are you going to pretend my girls are the only ones with good looks and smarts? Or are you going to–wait for it–tell me that all parents feel that way about their kids? Maybe even get a little defensive and tell me your kids are bright and beautiful too?

Of course they are. They all are. So rather than telling your daughter she has to be one or the other, why not reinforce that not only will she be both, she already is? I don’t mean you should streak her hair and stick her in miniskirts when she’s five. I’m not saying teach her that she has to look like all the little tarts on the teen soap operas. I’m saying let her cultivate her own beauty along with her brains, and appreciate them both. And in doing that, you have to learn to appreciate your own. If you complain constantly about your post-kid belly or your frizzy hair and then turn on Barbie and accuse her of being a fake plastic tramp, you’re the one teaching your child that there’s a narrow definition of beauty-not the doll. Rather than pointing out how unrealistic Barbie’s perfect shiny hair is, point out how pretty it is when the sunlight catches your daughter’s curls on the playground. Quit slamming Barbie’s poor exaggerated breasts in the drawer and take a minute to think about what yours have seen you through.

When she does well on a test, praise her. When she puts on a new dress, tell her she looks pretty. When she scores a goal in her soccer game, be the loudest voice on the sidelines. Celebrate all of her gifts, not just the ones that aren’t obvious at first glance. Allow her to decide who she is-don’t limit her with your own insecurity.

About that Bad Influence Thing

Okay, so Barbie is a bad influence because she’s hot. Let’s look at the reality of this, shall we? First, she’s plastic. Seriously. Not plastic as in manufactured pop star, but actual plastic, injection molded chemical compounds or whatever the heck she’s made out of. It’s not like she’s whispering in your kid’s ear at night, telling her to pray to the goddess Britney Spears and eat nothing but honeydew melon.

As far as her lifestyle, she lives in a nice house (several, if you’ve kept up with the upgrades over the years) and drives a cute little convertible. She takes her sweet fluffy pets with her on vacation in her RV. Yeah, she went through that kind of tacky “Barbie and the Rockers” phase back in the 80’s, but come on, she’s not even fully jointed; it’s not like she could gyrate or anything. And to top all that off, she was with the same guy for her entire life, and if you’ve ever taken Ken’s pants off, you know there wasn’t any hanky-panky going on.

It’s not like she just sat around eating plastic bon-bons, either. Barbie may be a hottie, but she’s no slacker. She’s been a veterinarian, a teacher, a pediatrician and a businesswoman, among other things. If anything, Barbie is the ultimate feminist symbol: she’s gorgeous, wealthy, takes care of herself, has more degrees than South Florida on an August afternoon, and hangs out with a guy who’s been emasculated. Have you seen those stilettos she wears? Man-killers if I ever saw any, am I right? This isn’t some soft little bimbo teaching our girls to pucker up and have dinner on the table when the man walks through the door; this is a renaissance woman, evolving with the times and showing generations of little girls that they can be anything they imagine they can.

*I first wrote this for Yahoo! several years ago. I feel compelled to point that out, so they don’t come along and try to sue me for reprinting my own work or something.

Zoey, Shining

Published January 15, 2014 by April Fox

I’m looking through old things to read at an event coming up, and I found this, written three and a half years ago.

ImageZoey, Shining

there was a star-
a tiny one.

it blinked in the darkness, looking down at the world
trying to find a home.

the clouds were thick, the rain fierce
and cold
the wind thrashing about like an angry animal
suddenly uncaged
and the star could not
brave these things
and so she stayed
and waited.

eventually the clouds grew so heavy
with their own importance
that they joined the rain and fell
and fell
and fell
and then they
and the rain
were gone.

the wind screamed and raged
until its voice grew hoarse
and then silenced, defeated
the wind gave up
and laid down to rest.

the star, always
was watching.

with the sky cleared, she was able to see
to look around, bright-eyed
ready to make her move.

the star was brave, stronger than all the brighter, bigger stars
and taking a deep breath
she closed her eyes
and fell.

and the sky opened up to catch her
and her light made the world come alive.

End of November

Published November 30, 2012 by April Fox

36304_544356902258038_533063063_nyou can’t make this stuff up
(i mean you could
with a little imagination
and if you drank just the right amount
of cheap, cold beer
before you settled in
to think
but it wouldn’t be real then
and this is)

-as real as it gets
without shoving over to the other side
where it becomes philosophy
and then religion
and the opposite,
of anything remotely

scattered around, little heads and dark, slow breaths
half-awake, courting sleep
lazy in the knowledge
that school is out tomorrow
their stocking feet dangle
over torn arms of old sofas
a cat curled here in the nook of one elbow
a stuffed cow tossed carelessly
down near a hip
clean fingernails
and slightly stained t-shirts
smelling, still
of cold air and laundry soap
one dim light burning
fights off the night

in here, the bulb burns like sunlight
too bright for me now, but i’ll live, till it’s time to shut down
-words are extraneous

past my screen, he is split apart
one blue eye
a curl of dark hair
wedding ring catching the too-bright light, holding it
his sleeve shifts and shows me a second of ink
on his arm, and i look away

memorized long ago
all of this, every blink
every shift of a tiny hand, twitching in dreams
every mumbled curse, tapping at keys in frustration
every long, tired sigh
that replaces the worn-out air in the room with
whatever it is
that we are
as we settle, perfection,
down into sleep.

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