a decade of caleb

This face of joy is Caleb, at one, at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.  He’d learned to walk at nine months, which meant that despite having a brain about the size of a walnut and a diaper the size of a basketball, he would climb up stairs, stagger along the curb, or waddle straight into the surf, utterly without fear.

This August, we spent our tenth summer on LBI and it’s Caleb’s favorite beach (which, given that he’s now spent time on beaches in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, is quite a compliment).  Our first summer on LBI, I was hugely, gigantically pregnant and wearing a maternity bathing suit that was so hideous it can be only excused by pregnantbrain. Why else would a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy purchase and wear a shiny teal maternity tankini? On the upside, I suppose I was responsible for any number of teen-age girls not getting pregnant  that summer. They took one look at my spherical teal body and told their boyfriends to back the hell off

But Caleb. My sweet, fearless Caleb, who still plunges into the ocean with the grace and abandon of a seal, he’s ten. He’s learning Arabic and computer coding and the trumpet; he wants to be an author, or maybe a spy, or maybe a mad scientist, perhaps a basketball player.  I think he might be headed for the stage, because the boy has never met a hat he doesn’t like:

calebinnurseryschoolnursery school graduation

calebindiaIndia – tiger safari (no tigers, just a hat)

calebsingaporeUniversal Studios Singapore: minion loot

This boy who loves hats and computers, who doesn’t read books so much as devour them, and who was as happy with his book about military history as he was about an envelope containing 300 dirhams (about 80 bucks, and okay, he was a bit more excited by the cash), doesn’t yet realize the strength of his own gifts.  He measures himself against his older brother, not willing to concede the difference that almost four years makes.  I think that might be why Caleb learned to walk so young: he wanted to keep up.  Now, however, with the dawning of pre-adolescent self-consciousness, he sometimes doesn’t try to keep up because he’s sure that he’ll never catch his brother.  It’s a funny trick of growing up, isn’t it, the way the confidence of childhood evanesces just when we need it most?

Caleb is our current-events child; he reads the newspaper and tells us what’s happening in Gaza, in Syria, in Ferguson–and then asks the hard questions that we should all be asking and attempting to answer: how do these things happen, why do these things happen, why do people care about the color of other people’s skin or the way they worship?

We moved to Abu Dhabi on the eve of Caleb’s 7th birthday and the traveling we’ve done since we’ve been here means that he’s been to more countries by ten than I had by thirty-five.  His passport looks weather-beaten, as if he were a career foreign services officer–and who knows, perhaps that’s where he’s headed.  I can’t even begin to predict what he’s going to be when he grows up–perhaps the stage, or maybe he’ll go concoct strange potions in some jungle laboratory. Who knows.

All I know is that our lives for the past decade have been richer and more joyous for Caleb’s presence.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the journey.

calebsand

 

Read full story · Comments { 1 } on August 24, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, birth, Children, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

Ladies Night at the Ice Rink

The image of the veiled woman remains a potent symbol of the “mysterious” Middle East and the question of “do you have to cover…”  is almost always the first question that anyone asks me when I tell them where I live.   It’s easy, particularly in the West, to lose sight of the fact that behind the veil is a person, and to keep in mind that gender politics are complicated here — but then again, point me to a place where gender politics aren’t complicated.

I wrote about Gloria Steinem and feminism the other day, and then the other day, at the ice rink, of all places, I was reminded that “feminism” has many different forms.  I had gone to the ice rink in the ginormous sports complex where Liam and Caleb play football because Caleb and I had to wait for Liam to finish practice, Caleb was hungry, there is a pizza place inside the ice rink, so off we went…only to be told that Caleb couldn’t come inside.  It was Ladies Night, no men allowed, not even nine-year-old men.

Inside, the place buzzed with energy as girls of all ages skated, watched the skaters, or walked around gossiping with each other, safe from the eyes of the men working in the restaurant kitchen:

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I bought Caleb’s pizza and brought it to him outside on the patio.  I’ve never seen so many people coming to the ice rink as I did that night, including some who were clearly coming for the gossip and a night out, and not for the skating, at least judging from her shoes:

IMG_8525can you see the heels she’s got on? Four or five inches, at the very least

The girls in the skating rink seemed entirely delighted to be there, and many of the girls on the ice were twirling and jumping and speeding around with the ease that comes only with a lot of practice.

Did it seem strange that “ladies night” kept out my little boy?  Yes.  Am I reminded that change happens incrementally, in loops and swirls and swerves, and not in a straight unbending line? Yes.

Because that night at the ice rink, sitting outside with my son, I was reminded that the girl in the abaya isn’t a metaphor but just a chick with a wicked slapshot, who perhaps daydreams about an Olympic medal in women’s hockey.

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Read full story · Comments { 3 } on March 31, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, Politics, UAE

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Read full story · Comments { 7 } on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

parenting will make you nuts, but it’s not as bad as READING about parenting

…and when did “parenting” become a verb, anyway?  Time was, back in the day, a parent was a noun, and what you did was “raise” kids or “try not to drown” kids or “don’t lose the kids in the mall.”  But those were simpler times, I guess.

Probably–if you’re a parent–you have seen (but not yet had time to read because: parent) the spoof in The New Yorker that says “A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit.”

And baby, ain’t that the truth?  The only thing possibly worse than people (other than, perhaps, your own mother) telling you how to raise your kids are books telling you how to “be” a woman: lean in, lean out, dress up, don’t dress…. do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about.

Feh. Who has time.

The New Yorker spoof, which is satiric and hysterical (adult blinders, anyone?) got posted on my Facebook by lots of people. What I loved, however, is that in its infinite and non-ironic wisdom, FB linked those posts with a whole list of “related articles,” all of which were about. . . parenting. Just in case you hadn’t gone completely ape-shit, FB wants to finish the job:

 

Screenshot 2014-03-25 08.22.23

Speaking of ape-shit, can anyone explain to me why FB had to go and futz with its layout? I hate it.  Yes, oh snarky reader, I know that facebook is optional and I could turn it off, but we both know that’s just crazy talk and posturing on your part. Without facebook, whatever would I do? Write? Read? Exercise? Clean my damn house?  Feh, again.

So. Resolved: parent is a noun, not a verb; my children will be more or less successful adults, as are their parents and most of the other people in the world; facebook will continue to be my maddening addiction (which I guess is the nature of addictions. See: “Scandal,” “House of Cards,” “Game of Thrones,” marriage).

Onward.

Read full story · Comments { 2 } on March 25, 2014 in Books, family, Kids, marriage, Parenting, pop culture, ranting

so I wrote a book…

Last year, at the tender age of 49, I was delighted to be included in two fantastic anthologies: You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth, edited by the brilliantly funny Leslie Marinelli of The Bearded Iris and In The Powder Room; and The Herstory Project, edited by the equally talented Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger.

What’s that you say? You don’t have either of these books on your shelf? Get thee to a bookseller pronto, my friend.

And now –well, not quite now, but soon — my very own book will be joining those books in the hazy labryinth of amazon.  Yes. The Time Locket will be available in kindle format this week, so you can order this time-traveling, history-bending adventure story just in time for Valentine’s Day.

TheTimeLocket_Cover

Read full story · Comments { 6 } on February 10, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, Books, writing