Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Boy Shorts

It’s been a hot summer so far and I’ve been trying to get Milo in the water as much as possible.  Here in New Hampshire, public pools are not very common, but public ponds are.  It’s been lovely bringing Milo to our town pond.  The water is warm and clean and doesn’t smell like chemicals.  There are people fishing and boating just beyond the swimming area.  It’s one of the joys of summer in New England.

Milo does enjoy the water, so we’ve been going to the pond two or three times a week.  That’s a lot of swimming, so I decided it was time to invest in a new bathing suit.  Not my favorite attire.  I can’t remember that last time I felt good in a bathing suit, not even when my body was young and supple in my twenties.  I’ve always hated bathing suits.  They highlight every deficiency I felt about my body: my breasts weren’t big enough to fill a bikini, or my thighs were too flabby, or my belly too protruded.  Ack.  Bathing suits just did not flatter me.  Nor do they flatter the vast majority of normal, non-airbrushed, American women past the age of, oh, 25 or so.

One thing I have never understood was the bikini bottom.  Not only is it unflattering for the wedgie factor, but it also forces women into the painful practice of waxing the pubic area.  Ouch.  Not fun.  For our first anniversary, dear hubby surprised me with a weekend trip to Hawaii.  He told me to pack my bathing suit the night before, but of course I didn’t have time to shave or wax down there.  When we got out on the beach, hubby got quite the shock, let me tell you.  I think the sight is seared into his psyche.

So in my search for a new bathing suit, I wanted full coverage down there.  I went for the boy short.  These were quite the rage circa 1998 or so.  They’re cute and form fitting, but they’re short shorts instead of the bikini bottom, so there’s more support for the thighs and buttocks.  Much more flattering to the average woman.  When I was looking for a bathing suit in 2004 (to impress my new boyfriend who would later become my husband), I couldn’t find the boy short anywhere.  What a travesty.  But this time around, I did manage to find a pair.  Full coverage, sporty, maybe even a little sexy?

Mommy & Milo, dressed for a dip in the pond.

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I had to run a quick errand at Rite Aid this afternoon and I took Milo.  On my shopping list: shampoo and body wash for Blake. (Yes, Blake likes body wash.  He also likes that little poufy thing that comes with body wash.  That’s another story.)  Since Milo is walking and loves exploring, I thought it would be fine for him to run around the drug store.  I gave him his own shopping basket to carry around.  As long as I kept an eye on him, he would be fine, I thought.

I was wrong.

Milo did love running around the store.  Everything was so bright and colorful and shiny.  He selecting the following for his shopping basket:

4 pairs of sunglasses

1 bottle Revlon blue nail polish

1 jar American Crew Molding Clay for hair

1 bottle American Crew Light Holding Gel

1 bottle American Crew Grooming Spray

1 bottle Cover Girl orange nail polish

5 boxes of Calgon gift sets in Ocean Breeze scent

1 jumbo bottle Paul Mitchell shampoo, Lavender Mint

2 jumbo bottles Rite Aid body lotion

2 jumbo bottles Vaseline body lotion

1 bottle Calgon body mist, Ocean Breeze

1 bottle Calgon, body mist, Morning Glory

1 set Calgon body mist, sample pack of five refreshing scents

Mommy got a good workout putting things back on the shelves, including re-installing a glass shelf that Milo had knocked over.  I wonder if I’m inadvertently training my child to be a consumer.  Our family budget is very tight, so I’m always trying to look for deals and save money, or even DIY for some basic toiletries.  (I wash my hair with baking soda.)  But beyond the economic reasons, I don’t really like the idea of teaching Milo to buy stuff and throw stuff away and then buy more stuff.  It’s irresponsible.  We  American consumers live such entitled, spoiled lives.

Can’t wait to take the kid to Costco.

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A Doll for Milo

I’ve been struck by how distinctly gender roles are defined in baby stuff.  Clothes are definitely geared for girls; the choices for boys are mostly limited to sports or transportation themes: footballs, baseballs, fire trucks, etc.  The same goes for toys: cars and trains for boys, dolls and clothes for girls.  Blue for boys, pink for girls.

I am trying to be conscious about what messages this early gender marketing is sending to Milo.  It’s okay to wear blue, but not pink.  You’re expected to be athletic and like sports.  Boys like cars, but girls don’t.  Why?  Why send these messages to our children?  What’s the point?  In an era where the definitions of masculinity and femininity are fluid and evolving, why box our children into their gender roles at such a tender age?

Blake likes to think of himself as a “sensitive New-Age guy,” not your stereotypical man.  He is especially sensitive to how societal pressures may squash Milo from being himself.  In addition to the cars and blocks in Milo’s toy stash, Blake suggested we get Milo a doll.  This would encourage his nurturing side, he explained.  Milo had recently learned the word “baby.”  He’d been pointing out pictures of babies, or even photos of himself, and chanting, “Bay-bee! Bay-bee!”  Now would be an opportune time to introduce a doll.

It was unlikely we’d find an appropriate doll at Toys R Us, however.  Blake wanted a doll that was plain, with small features.  Such a doll would be like a blank canvas that would allow Milo to use his imagination to create its personality.  This idea comes from Waldorf teaching philosophy.  (In a past life, Blake had considered training as a Waldorf teacher.  Sensitive New-Age guy.)  A simple, small or no-featured doll made sense to me too.  However, most of the dolls on the market already had their personality, pre-stamped by Disney.

So I decided I would knit a doll for Milo.  I consider myself an advanced intermediate knitter and I thought knitting a small doll for Milo would not be too difficult.  I knit this:

It took me a little longer than I had anticipated, partly because I had to make a lot of little decisions: size, color, what kind of yarn, hair, etc.  “Milo’s Baby” is machine washable, complete with belly button.

One morning, we left Milo’s Baby in his room, in a spot where we knew he would find it.  Milo declared, “Baby!” and seemed to know exactly what to do with his doll.  He gave it a hug.

We’ll see whether giving Milo a doll will break open the gender role boundaries for him.  Milo has been both nurturing and ambivalent towards Baby.  He finds it convenient to carry Baby around by his hair.  One day, his hands were full so he decided kicking Baby down the hall was the most efficient way of transporting him.  But one night, Milo sat in the rocking chair and rocked Baby to sleep in his arms.  Then he pointed to the crib.  Daddy put Milo and Baby to bed together and they both slept through the night without a peep.

Knitting pattern for Milo’s Baby can be found at Wee Folk Art.  This is a great website for making all sorts of Waldorf type toys.  You know, for the sensitive New-Age guys in your life.

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Yesterday, in the ongoing saga of getting settled in our new house, we hung my print of Bernice Bing’s Mayacamas No. 6.  It goes well in our bedroom, with our modern furniture and bright colored duvet cover.   As a gift to myself, I had it custom framed recently.  It was the first time Hubby had really looked at the print and he asked me about the artist.  I found myself somewhat moved telling him about Bernice Bing.

Bernice Bing is an artist you’ve probably never heard of.  She grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown and came of age in the 1950’s, during the City’s Beat Generation.  She was a part of all that foment, hanging out with Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in North Beach cafes.  It was the men who got credit for the Beat movement, though.  None of the women really did, and certainly not a woman of color, as Bernice was.  She was a lesbian, no less, which undoubtedly marginalized her even more.  So although she was hailed as a peer to artists of her generation and exhibited widely in the Bay Area, she toiled in relative obscurity until her death in the 1991.  But through it all, through health difficulties and artist’s poverty, she kept producing her art.

I had heard about Bernice Bing in my work with the Asian Pacific American community in San Francisco.  Her name was tossed around a fair amount, but I had never seen her work.  She was one of the founders of Asian American Women’s Artists’ Association (AAWAA), which helped to nurture several artist friends of mine: Flo Oy Wong, Lenore Chinn, and Nancy Hom.  Hubby knows these women and knows that I hold them dear, as they have been like older sisters, mentors to me as I have endeavored to build my own community through art.  To think of Bernice Bing as a mentor to these women, well, it felt like she was related to me, like a great aunt I had never met.

Last year, at the Shifting Currents exhibition at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco (the first ever major survey exhibition of Asian American artists), I was drawn to this one particular painting.  It was an abstract expressionist landscape, reminiscent of Diebenkorn, whose work I greatly admire.  Bold strokes of color, undefined but determined.  There was power in this painting, like a quiet, but strong voice fighting to be heard.  It was a struggle with which I am all too familiar.  Then I saw that the painting, Mayacamas No. 6, was by Bernice Bing.  It made perfect sense.  Of course it spoke to me.  It was like a long lost relative reaching out through time and generation to say: “I know you.” 

This brings me back to my ongoing ponderings raised in my previous post, Questions for Womanhood.  Do women really need to be mothers in order to be fulfilled? Bernice Bing never had children of her own, but did produce her own “children” in her art.  And she definitely had influence on generations of artists.  Would she have been able to do so if she had been a mother?  Maybe, maybe not.  Alice Walker likes to say that women artists and writers should have one—and only one—child, in order to preserve their creative energy for their work.  Producing art is creative, spiritual act, not unlike producing a child.  It requires our full commitment and attention, not unlike raising a child.

To be frank, my own mother feels that my writing is complete waste of time and, like a good Chinese mother, worries endlessly about how I will make a living, despite all evidence proving that I am perfectly capable of doing so.  It’s fair to say that I would be lost with “mothers” like Bernice Bing, who—even in her absence—offers me a more simpatico ear in her art.  For Bernice, mothering her art was fulfillment, enough to feed and nourish her through a difficult life and give her hope beyond herself.  Did she “miss out” by not having her own children.  Maybe.  Would we “miss out” had she not produced her body of work?  Definitely.

Mayacamas No. 6, by Bernice Bing

Mayacamas No. 6, by Bernice Bing

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Yesterday, I had to take my wedding rings off because my fingers had started to plump up.  I will be 30 weeks pregnant tomorrow and the increased fluid retention in my body is causing some achy joints and swelling.  It took me a while to pry the rings off my finger; if I had waited a few weeks longer, they may have cut off my circulation.  It feels strange not to have my rings on my finger.  I typically do not ever take them off, for fear of losing them. 

I’ve recently been pondering my impending motherhood and the roles of women in general.  Taking off my rings reminds me that I was single not too long ago, without my current role as a wife.  I got married at the age of 38 and am now pregnant at 41.  Some would call me a “late bloomer.”  But does that mean that I was less of a woman before I got married?  Was I less of a woman before becoming pregnant?  Will I be more of a woman when I give birth?


I realize these are all rites of passage for a woman in our society.  When I was single, I was bitter about the fact that women are not really celebrated until they get married and have children.  Who throws you a shower when you’re single?  Certainly, you can have birthday parties, but that’s different from a bridal shower or a baby shower.  It doesn’t mean you’re not loved, you’re just loved differently.  I went to so many showers in my 20’s and early 30’s and, as much as I wanted to honor my friends, it was hard not to think of when my turn would come.  And what if it never came?  Did that mean I was less worthy than my friends?

Of course not.  But I am struck by society’s expectation of women to get married and have babies, even in the 21st century, when women are often more educated and capable than their male counterparts.  And single women, especially.  Those who have put their careers before family are often powerful, gifted enough in their activism to help change the world.  Still, single women have a difficult time finding acceptance in the world.   Why is that?

The same goes for motherhood.  I was recently struck by this essay in the New York Times, written by a woman who gave up trying to have a baby after 8 years of infertility treatments.  You feel like you’re not welcome in the club of motherhood, that you won’t ever have that experience of being pregnant and giving birth—rites of passage expected to fulfill you as a woman.  But does that mean that a pregnant 16-year-old is more of a woman than I was at 38, single, but well-educated, well-traveled, and accomplished as a writer and community activist?  It seems an incongruous comparison.

Don’t get me wrong—I am thrilled to be pregnant and excited to be a mother.  It is certainly very different for me to be writing this from my perspective.  But it’s easy for me to have compassion for the single woman with no kids, who I was not too long ago.  And it feels horribly patronizing to tell that younger-me, “Don’t worry, have faith, it’ll happen for you too,” as if the ultimate goal for my life was to get married and procreate.  How that sticks in my progressive craw.

Instead, I think I would tell that younger-me: This is your life.  You have been given great gifts and opportunity.  Live it.

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Nursery Themes

Hubby suggested I paint a mural on the wall of our baby’s nursery.  He grew up with murals of the Wizard of Oz and Peanuts characters on his bedroom walls.  His parents projected the images with an overhead projector and traced them onto the walls.  Quite creative engineering for the 1970’s.

I’ve got quite a bit of experience in the visual arts, so the idea of painting a mural appeals to me, though it’s been a while since I’ve actually painted something.  My original idea was to paint Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  It’s an ambitious project, but I think I would enjoy it and pull off a reasonable, baby-friendly approximation of Van Gogh’s vision.  Hubby requested that I subtly insert a few Star Trek icons into the night sky–a Federation Starship or a Klingon Bird of Prey.

My other idea was to do a motif based on a silkscreen by my friend and mentor, San Francisco artist Nancy Hom.  This work is titled Dancer With Birds.   It has been widely reproduced and we own one of the original silkscreens.  I like how the art is both playful and peaceful, as I hope our baby will be.  Nancy creates her art as a voice for social justice and peace activism; I have always greatly admired her vision.  Hubby, still stuck on the Star Trek theme, has requested that I make one of the birds in the shape of a Klingon Bird of Prey.  I believe this would be doable.  And Nancy has already granted me her permission.

Which image would you want for the nursery wall?

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