Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lost and Found

Sweaters and jackets
Lie haphazardly
Abandoned by a gust of children
Who blew across the playground
A whirlwind of careless laughter
Leaving behind splashes
of green/orange/blue/pink/yellow/red
cheetah spot and zebra stripe
in fleece and satin.
The arms stretch and twist
around mittens and hats
Supplicants wanting only to hold
Their children again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I drove far too fast to get there. At first I credited the freedom of travelling solo. I had no worries about snacks or potty stops. There was no peacemaking from the front seat. Instead I turned on the radio so loud the windows shook and I rocketed through the sere landscape. For once there was solitude to marvel at the bare bones of the earth revealed by twisting golden draperies of vegetation and contrasted by the endless cerulean sky. I overtook a storm and flew through it, a Valkyrie dodging cars like they were standing still. The chill rain flew in through open windows and I tasted the greys and pinks of the clouds and flew even faster. I drove more than 300 miles in four hours.

Later, at the outskirts of town, I pulled to the shoulder, shaking and sobbing against the steering wheel. I finally acknowledged that my urgency came not from joy but anxiety and the pathetic fear that no one would remember me. Once my tears dried I debated running away, but instead went forward through the sheer mists of memory overlaying the landscape in front of me.

At the front desk I stumbled through the first greetings, relieved slightly by awkward hugs. I searched for beloved faces, and the warmth of embraces offered first through Facebook, and then in person. Yet, as always, I felt as if no one knew what to do with me – including myself.

And so it was for three days. I've never been good at small talk, and what is a reunion but chit-chat? I did find some old friends, and we explored our new selves together. I basked in their company. I spent a great deal of time with other people's children, enjoying being an auntie. I caught up with people I probably should have befriended twenty years ago. But the only time it was easy was a night meander through the grounds, chasing ghosts with someone who once owned my heart. We walked, and remembered, and I surreptitiously searched for the source of my loneliness, as if I could turn off a tap from twenty years before and retroactively find happiness.

During the day I practiced polite smiles and inept escapes when the silences grew strained. I was baffled by pronouncements of great friendship from a man I had barely known, and unnaturally hurt by the woman who refused to speak to me despite two decades of distance. I hid at night in my room, staring at the ceiling and listening through the window to drunken declarations of love and undying friendship, and longing to belong. And still I searched, but by then I didn't know what I was seeking.

I caught it on my last night, for just a moment. We danced, as we'd done so long ago, in a darkened room to music that had beaten its way into my bones and heart. I swayed alone, forgetting propriety and how to protect myself and for a brief, fleeting time I felt the limitless possibilities of being 16 and surrounded by brilliance and excitement and joy – a sense that just by being there I was changing the world for the better.

I left the next morning after a few brief goodbyes, relieved that I had faced my fears. I still love the school and cherish my two years there. My memories are deep and strong and vivid. Yet I have a lingering feeling that I failed somehow to truly live my time there, and that failure has followed me since. I drove home more slowly, mourning what could have been.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Making the Right Choice

I had a billion and one things to do today. Really. Collecting money from a tenant. Checking on a property. Going to the bank. Paying mortgages. Sending and receiving emails. Prepping for Girl Scouts this afternoon. Eating leftover Halloween candy.

Instead I'm going to the museum with my son's class. They needed a chaperone. I needed to get work done. BUT. My son is a priority in my life, and he needs to see that. So the tenants can wait, as can the bank, and the emails. I'll make the girl scouts thing work (because my daughter is a priority, too). And I'll have a great time with a bunch if kids I like, and one I love tremendously.

Plus, the Halloween candy fits in my pocket. I might even share. If they behave.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Gets Better

For three years now, my son has been bullied. I was in denial three years ago; blindly hoping that it would pass last year; and this year, so afraid for my son that I have finally acted. 

This isn't the overt physical bullying of lore. Instead it's the subtle, pervasive kind. Name calling, exclusion, manipulation, targeting, finger pointing. He's been so sad and lonely he's talked of desperate measures. I am terrified for him. I thought, I hoped, it would pass. And, I am ashamed to admit, I secretly blamed my little boy.

He's odd. Weird. Impulsive. He picks his nose. He's THAT kid. He's also funny and curious and insightful and compassionate. But those qualities aren't what make friends in the school yard. So I have strained to mold him into something more, well, normal. I have criticized and cajoled and punished. It hasn't worked, because that's not who he is. But in doing so I fear that I -- as much as any bullies -- have hurt him beyond repair. There is no way for me to adequately apologize to this sweet, soulful being who has brought me such joy.

We're trying to fix it. We got him into therapy. I've been reading books on how to help him relate better to people. Most importantly, last week I finally talked to his teacher and the school administration. They were fabulous, immediately coming up with positive strategies and implementing them within a couple days. Unbeknownst to him, faculty and staff are watching like guardian angels. The primary bully has been spoken with and seems to have backed down. And some really great children have volunteered to go out of their way to befriend my boy. I'm already hearing good things: kids are sitting with him in the lunch room. He's been invited to a birthday party. He was asked to play soccer during recess -- and he joined, even though he doesn't really like soccer. 

I am grateful and relieved and horribly, terrifically ashamed. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't act. I didn't protect my child. In fact, I personally made it worse. 

I also am afraid that he's broken for life.

There's an amazing project out there called "It Gets Better", in which people who have been bullied (usually for being gay) reach out through short videos to kids and reassure them that it gets better. That eventually the bullying ends, or the victim grows up enough to escape it, and that people can make their own, good, lives that rise above the abuse and humiliation of childhood.

I realized tonight that I don't actually believe that. When my son said "Well, that's just how it is, I have to live with it", I agreed in my heart, even when I assured him that this would pass. As I protested to my husband that intervening was a good thing, there were shadows in my mind that cackled "it won't work!" And when I imagined my boy's future, I envisioned him living with the same darkness I do.

Tonight, as I lay grinding over my worries, my thoughts were interrupted by memories, and I finally realized that maybe I was bullied, too. I was an odd kid. Precocious, smart, obnoxious, oblivious. Bad combo. I remembered 5th grade, when all the boys in my small class would hit me on the upper arm as they walked past. I couldn't wear short sleeves because of the bruises. They also ganged up and gave me snow baths every day. I switched schools the next year, and thought sixth and seventh grades were better. But looking back I see myself hiding from the taunting of my classmates, reading in corners of the library instead of playing outside. I vividly remember being brought in front of a four girl "jury" in the gym and made to answer embarrassing personal questions with the specious promise that they'd be my friends afterward. In history class, I was punished by the teacher for crying out when the boy in the desk behind me stabbed my back with sharp pencils and crushed my rib cage by shoving his desk into mine. That boy recently asked to be my facebook friend. I declined.

Eighth grade, another new school, and again it was better, but only because there was someone even stranger. I still feel shame for having teased him. It didn't help much anyway. Within a few weeks the next new kid was warned not to eat with me or else she couldn't be friends with anyone else. PE was the worst. We had to learn square dancing, which required four people. My classmates wouldn't let me be the fourth in any of four squares, even though it meant they had only three to dance. It was my birthday. 

Another time, the teacher allowed my classmates to mock me for not being able to clear the hurdles in track. I still haven't forgiven her. 

Through it all were the nicknames, the isolation, the taunting with offers of friendship laughingly retracted in the face of my desperation. I was told "you're weird", "you're ugly", "you're fat", "no one likes you". Hear something often enough, you'll come to believe. Hear it after that, you'll never hear anything else. 

I thought of suicide daily, but instead wrote bad poetry and dreadful stories. High school, and then college, were better. I built armor out of my oddities, and used my brains as a shield. I made a friend, and then another one. I read a lot. I wrote. I went away to school, and my horizons expanded. I learned that being useful could substitute for being a friend, and built a social life.

Ultimately it did get better. I have friends. I do things. I have what should be a good life. But in the past couple of weeks I've been dealing with some high-school-like politics in an organization in which I volunteer. At the same time I see what my little boy is going through. And suddenly I am swimming in an ugly steaming stew of sadness and resentment. I have to admit that I am just as lonely now as I was thirty years ago, and I don't think that will ever change. I am still the precocious, smart, obnoxious, oblivious girl I was so long ago, and although the cuts have long ago scarred over, they are still there. And I wonder -- is this my legacy for my son? Will he carry this darkness? If yes, I have failed him.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Camp News

Time stretches and warps here. There's a sameness to the days so that it seems we've been here forever in some sort of stasis. I lose track of days and dates and time. None of us has a schedule anymore; "lunch time" is heralded by suddenly grumbly kids rather than a timepiece. Bedtime is marking by dark and the end of whatever card game we've been playing. I'm anchored only by the countdown to the arrival of our guests, most of whom are still guesstimating their schedules. I'm floating outside of time. I spent much of last week preparing to send the kids to camp today, until I received an email reminder that they don't start for another week.

We're moving more slowly than in years past. It took nearly a week to finish unwrapping and opening and cleaning. Projects, which in years past we urgent (leaking roofs), are more cosmetic this year, and therefore can be interspersed with reading and card games. The lake is still astonishingly high (we arrived barely after record-breaking flooding eased) and still quite cold, so we've only been down there a few times. Strangest -- best -- of all, Will is more relaxed. He's listening when I suggest we knock off for the day, or take a lunch break. Yesterday he actually spent some time reading and sleeping in the hammock.

We are still working, though. Tradition requires that we rake up all the dead leaves and grass everywhere we mow, which amounts to something like two acres. The rationale makes sense: it reduces mosquito population because they don't have wet places to lay eggs, and it encourages a vaguely lawn-like growth of grass. It's physically exhausting labor. This year I talked Will into renting a dethatching rake that can be pulled by the lawn tractor. It didn't work. I'm now campaigning to experimentally hire a lawn crew to come in and mow and rake and cut hedges during our off year in hopes that it will reduce the amount of thatch. Will is dubious about the effectiveness, and feeling "frugal", but I think it is ridiculous to spend the first nine days of our vacation fixing the mower and raking. Then again it does mean we get to burn things.

We've amassed huge piles of grass and straw and leaves. Traditionally these get piled in the field next to the guest house and ignited in an alarming bonfire that takes all night to burn down. This year we decided to start early -- and paid the price. Despite all efforts it was only a smolder pile, sending up huge clouds of smoke and steam all night, blanketing the southern part of the island in gray. We'd blessed the fact that the usual wind was gone; after a few hours we wished it back, less to breathe life into our fire and more to shift the evidence of our foolishness somewhere else.

One neighbor, shortly after we lit the fuel, drove over and demanded that we "Not do that." He told us his house was filling with smoke, and stood there as if expecting us to immediately dump water over our haystack and apologize profusely. Nevermind that we had a permit; that other neighbors had just the day before been (more successfully, I admit) burning their yard waste; that Will's family has been burning leaves on this island longer than he has been alive. I was surprised by how hostile I felt toward him, and silently supported Will's careful apology-without-a-promise-to-stop. Usually I step in and try to make nice, make happy. It took me a while to figure out, but I realized that I was affronted by the interloper's bad manners! Like many new age parents I have taught my children some basics of conflict management. Will and I have been learning new skills in counseling, too. And when this fellow showed up and just demanded that we stop, I had no motivation to help. If only he had introduced himself, said where he lived, and THEN explained that his house was filling up with smoke! I surely would have done my best to help him. Funny how little courtesies make such a difference.

Another great difference this year is the mosquitoes. Grandpa Dan called and told us to expect the worst -- the flooding and dampness was probably going to lead to the biggest outbreak of skeeters in modern memory. I dread the whiny insects. As of last year we have mosquito netting for the kids' room, but in years past we have gone on "mosquito patrol" before bed, killing dozens in our room and theirs. We've been forced to slather on repellent before bed and with breakfast each day. This year, though, I discovered Raid for Flying Insects. I generally don't approve of pesticides, but in my desperation I learned that this noxious stuff can be sprayed on window screens (even ones with big holes in them) and it kills flying insects on contact. Now, it could be our fabulous raking job, but we've not had many kills on patrol at night. It's wonderful to go to bed knowing I'll only have a few bites instead of the dozens I was getting last year. We'll see if the pattern holds through the warmer months.

It's getting late, and I must feed my children before dark. They're sleeping in a tent in the back yard again tonight, as Will finally repairs drywall damaged years ago by incessant, now repaired, roof leaks. Amazing how work begets more work. Fortunately this is a happy chore because it's a sign that Will's work over the past few visits really is making a difference.

Good night from Dingley Dell!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Biding time

Today I'm filling time. The truck is packed, I have a small amount of paperwork to finish, and tomorrow morning we leave for Vermont. I took a nap, and in fact Will is still asleep in a square of light that is slowly crossing the bed, causing a restless contortion to avoid the hot spots. Denver is suddenly warm enough that the A/C is kicking on, despite my nightly cooling rituals of fans and windows.

Will and I travel well together. We are curious in the same way, and prowl the parts of touristy destinations that usually get little attention. While others are at the top of castle towers, we seek out kitchens and midden heaps. We'd rather find a locally-recommended restaurant than the one the guidebook suggests. We're almost always up for one more museum. The kids have upset the balance a little, shortening my attention span, but in general we enjoy travelling.

However, preparing for trips used to be awful. I'd make arrangements and Will wouldn't want to have any input until the last minute, at which point I'd feel criticized and managed. Until we actually hit the road, we growled and sniped at each other. I was baffled when Will didn't want to know flight schedules, and he was annoyed when I double-checked that he had his ID for the airline. Finally one day I realized: I am in charge of Macro arrangements, and Will is in charge of Micro arrangements. So, I choose destinations and make flight arrangements. I determine what sights we should see, and make lists of what the kids and I need to take. I cancel the milk order and stop the newspaper. And then, shortly before we go, Will gets involved. Not long before we leave he begins planning daily schedules and driving routes, double-checking that I have important documents, going over my lists.

It still seems odd to me, but I've relaxed into the unspoken arrangement. It works for us. Which is why I've been preparing for weeks -- renewing passports, getting phone service in Vermont, finding a house sitter, cleaning house. And it's why I have time today. Now it's Will's turn.

He was frustrated and impatient this morning, asking me repeatedly to get all our stuff piled up, until he finally truly heard me say that I was done. We're taking a lot less stuff this year. The kids are older and more self-sufficient. Vi has taught me where the tools I need are squirrelled away, so I don't need to bring as much. We use less clothing there, maybe because it's summer, maybe because we don't (Violet doesn't) change clothes six times a day. For whatever reasons, packing is simpler this year.

And tomorrow, right after breakfast, the Clampetts, er, Bakers, are headed far away for 10 weeks. I'll be updating Facebook along the way, and hopefully blogging a little more regularly from there. Happy trails!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

VT Invite

An Invitation to a "Good Time" (But Not in a Naughty Way)

We are thrilled to announce that we're going Camping again for the summer. That is, we're heading back to the Baker family summer camp "Dingley Dell" in rural Vermont for another season of fun, food, rest, relaxation, water sports, tractor rides (Sam's favorite) and any other enjoyable thing we can think of. As always, we'd like all our friends to join us for the whole time; unfortunately we know that's not possible. We do, however, hope you'll find a way to join us for a few days (or more).

The Particulars
Originally a summer camp for boy sailors, Dingley Dell has been somewhat modernized (we have hot & cold running water and indoor toilets) but is still a classic New England camp experience. We stay in the main house, and our guests enjoy the privacy of another house across the road, with a bedroom on the main floor and a dormitory of sorts (four twin beds) upstairs. Over our past two visits we have (meaning Willl has) worked to perform necessary maintenance and some cosmetic improvements. It's still a camp, but now that we fixed the vacuum (and the roof, and the floor, and the ceiling, and the screens, and painted the walls, and . . .), it's pretty nice. That's not to say we won't have more projects for which we might recruit some help!

Generally, meals are served in the main house, except when we go down to the waterfront and enjoy picnics on the stone beach of Lake Champlain, looking west to the mountains of upstate New York. Our place is situated about ¼ mile up from a semi-private bay, with clear water that's only about 4 feet deep for several hundred yards. We plan to get at least one sailboat in the water this year, and have acquired a motor boat for faster-paced water fun. Area activities include biking, hiking, swimming (duh!), studying history (Revolutionary War forts, anyone?), eating (you KNOW I like to feed people), visiting the Ben & Jerry's factory, and pretty much whatever else you might like.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, or, Where We're Located And How To Get There
225 West Shore Rd, South Hero, VT. (You can Google it.) Basically we're an hour north and across a causeway from Burlington, the largest city in VT; an hour by ferry from Plattsburgh, NY; and an hour south of Montreal, Canada. Car, plane, boat, even train - you can reach us. Airport options include Burlington (BTV), Plattsburgh, NY (PBG), and Montreal (YMQ). Trains come into both Essex Junction (15 minutes away) and Plattsburgh. And, of course, you're welcome to drive yourself.

When To Come
We're heading there almost as soon as school gets out, and we'll get back not long before school starts again. Factoring in drive time and opening/closing the place, we figure we can host from around June 16th until about August 5th.

We Want To Come. What Do We Do?
Let us know when, and we'll be ready for you! We'll have a phone (and access to the internet), but don't know the number yet. Your best bet is to call me on my cell phone or email me. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Eight Year Old's Joke

Sam: Why did the onion shoot potatoes?

Mom: I don't know. Why?

Sam: Because they're friends!

Mom: That doesn't make any sense.

Sam: I know. I don't get it either.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Instructional From Violet

No matter how heavy things get around here, I can always count on my kids for a laugh.
Last night we got home late from a basketball game and Violet crashed almost immediately. I came upstairs to find my girl, still clad in a sweet pink plaid dress, sound asleep in my bed with the following "How To" on the floor below.


How to make a Burp
First make a deep breath and then
drink a glass of water
and then make it into
a burp

That's my girl!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A conundrum

I think, if conservatives really stand for marriage, they ought to support health care bills that cover mental health, including marriage counseling.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Marriage

I have been pondering marriage a great deal lately, mostly because I fear mine has fractured like a bone china cup, still intact but crazed by fault lines, any of which could cause the whole to collapse into pieces. We have been married ten years, together for nearly thirteen. We have moved across country, bought and sold houses, invested, had two children, acquired a new car, adopted a dog. We have, in short, lived the american reality, if not the dream. We are married. But what does that mean? I have a dear friend whose support of “traditional marriage” makes me unspeakably sad, especially since right now I don't even know what marriage means, except that my gay friends and acquaintances long for it as a near unattainable dream.

Thinking across the various stories of marriage that have built the idea in my head, marriage was never about sex, or children, or even love, but about alliances. Us versus them. United we stand. Think about it – Disney princes rescue their unknown ladies (Snow White had never even met her prince) from poverty, evil, enchantment, all by offering a shield against these things. In return, they get a kiss. Isn't that what wedding vows promise? Not “I will love you” but “I will take care of you even if you're sick or poor”. A couple might as well write a legal contract specifying individual obligations. That is traditional marriage. It doesn't sound so romantic when you realize it's a negotiated bargain, sealed with a ring.

Historically, traditionally, marriages were bulwarks against warfare, destitution, the neighbors. The kings and queens of Europe didn't fall in love, they negotiated for the most advantageous match. And that bargaining wasn't limited to nobility. Even peasants had dowries, and girls with more goods were more desireable. If they could breed well, all the better. Many healthy children meant more swords in a fight. Lots of workers meant a better retirement for the elders.

The mythology of marriage is that it begins with love. I don't agree. Love is what happens quietly after years of marriage. After fighting and making up, after traveling and staying in, grieving and celebrating. Love is not just wanting to share the good with your partner. It is cleaning up bedpans and vomit; dealing with annoying habits that you never can embrace; seeing the beauty inside the ugly. Only when you know the whole of a person – beginning to end – can you truly love. I say marriage begins with sympathetic resonance, a sense that this one person will stand with you against all foes, and will help you achieve the highest heights.

My college roommate was married last spring. In attendance was a gay man I know and his partner of fifteen or so years. They are comfortable with each other in the way that long-married people are; I was warmed by their affectionate smiles and eye-rolling at each other's foibles. At the very beginning of their relationship they weathered the storm of a life-threatening illness that still must be managed on a daily basis, and they told me a little about how that affects their long-term plans together. For them, that future is an unquestionable fact. The strength of their union is awe-inspiring. I think often about my morning spent with them and what a marvelous example they are of what a marriage should be. It's ironic that at a “traditional” ceremony, the two people united hope to have a relationship as strong, loving, and long as that of our gay friends – two men who still had to be careful not to touch or say anything publicly that might indicate their relationship to an outsider.

My husband and I are stuck in silence right now. Looking back, I see the flaws in our earliest alliance, and wonder why we ever walked down the aisle together. I have leaned heavily on my friends for consolation, and they, in turn, have given me absolution for whatever decisions I might make. For now, I am searching for solutions. I owe that to myself and my family. And by doing so I hope I honor my many gay friends who have shown me what marriage truly means.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why I Don't Go To the Doctor

Ten years ago, I had a first visit with a new doctor. Before any examination took place, he met with me (fully clothed!) in his office, and we chatted. Dr. E got to know me a little. And I got comfortable enough with him that I mentioned my weight. He surprised me by saying that he wasn't terribly worried; health was more important than a specific weight.

I would have followed him anywhere.

Even though he wasn't an internist, I considered Dr. E my primary care physician. He guided me through two pregnancies with minor complications, and I saw him routinely. I could address any question to him. But two years ago he retired. Sure I still get my annual exam from the doctors in that office, but it's not the same.

Prior to meeting Dr. E, I was haunted by previous experiences with a number of doctors, who immediately assumed that any issue was a symptom of my weight. Allergies? I must eat too much. Earaches? Get more exercise. A sinus infection? Lay off the ice cream. Apparently, I was so big even bacteria couldn't escape my gravitational field.

Which is why, for me, going to the doctor is a lot like being sent to the principal.

But I've not been feeling quite right. And, to be honest, I've gained even more weight. It's time to take care of myself. So, I screwed up my courage, made an appointment, and today I had a physical.

I'll get the results from the blood work tomorrow. In the meantime, the numbers in the office were good. Low blood pressure, resting heart rate of 60, great health history. I walked a 1/2 marathon last spring, and am in training to run a 1/2 this spring. I don't smoke or drink. I eat lots of vegetables. I don't drink juice or soda, and mostly avoid junk food. I am, for all intents and purposes, healthy. Despite all that, the only thing the doctor wanted to know is: am I trying any programs to lose weight?

I must be broken, because I am obese. My weight is the only consideration.

And I wonder, why in all my years I've only ever met one doctor who looked at my self first, and then at my body. Because I know I need help, but if you only see a number on a scale, doctor, then how am I going to be comfortable talking to you about what to do?

I'll go back and try and work with this doctor. But I'll miss Dr. E every time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaching Feminism at McDonald's

Let me start by saying yes, I do take my children to McDonald's. I have reasons both for and against doing so, and have made an informed decision that we can occasionally go to the nearby "Old McDonald's" for a treat. In a similar vein, my kindergarten-aged daughter wears a LOT of pink sparkly things, has make-up and high heels, and frequently talks about being a princess. Again, I've made my choices, and stand by them, even if I sometimes wince at the results.

That doesn't mean I've compromised my values.

A couple weeks ago, I took my sparklicious daughter and her more sedate brother to McDonald's for lunch and a romp in the play structure there. While they climbed and played I ordered a couple of Happy Meals and something for myself. Now, McDonald's, for whatever asinine reason, not only categorizes their toys by age (toddlers get "safer" bits of cheap plastic); they also gender-identify them so that when ordering one has to request a boy Happy Meal or a girl Happy Meal, or else the cashier freezes in a quandary of what toy to put in the sack. And, of course, the toys for girls are soft and sweet and pink (Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, random stuffed animals) while boys get action toys (Transformers, skateboards, Bakugan).

I resent that.

However, I also get physically ill when facing the bickering that ensues when two kids have the same toy and one disappears, so I took the easy route and ordered one boy toy (ooh, that sounds kinky!) and one girl toy (that does too!) and called the kids down to eat.

After wolfing down their apples and some nuggets, the kids clamored for their toys. Violet got a pink fuzzy thing that may or may not have been a hamster (by making it amorphous the toy company could claim it was any one of four sweet animals -- I think. The explanations were in translated Chinese.) Sam got a Bakugan. For those unfamiliar with the ongoing trend of inexplicable (by which I mean, I don't understand it so I can't explain it) toys/games from Japan, Bakugan is/are a series of robot balls, each of which has a "power" and which seem to be a bastard cousin of Transformers, in that they open up into robots with faces. Some can even combine into greater robots. There are accompanying cards that list the robots' strength, skill, and attack points, all of which reminds me mightily of Dungeons and Dragons in which one's character had strength, skill, and attack points, and I wonder why that was unbearably geeky, but this is cool? But I digress.

Sam was delighted with his Bakugan, immediately disappearing into the tubes and germs that are a PlayPlace. Violet, on the other hand, looked plaintively up at me and asked, "Why did I get _this_ while Sam got a Bakugan?"

So, I took a deep breath and gave Violet a 5 year old's summary of gender discrimination, (yes, I did use those words) and boiled it down to: because she's a girl people think she wouldn't want to play with cool robots. And my fabulous little girl, who is so fierce and strong, understood, and immediately said, "Well, I want a Bakugan." And she took her stupid stuffed blob up to the counter and asked if she could please have a different toy.

The very nice cashier handed her a different sweet fuzzy blob.

She looked at me, then back at the cashier, and said quite clearly, "No, I want a Bakugan."

He didn't get it at first. He stood there, looking at me, then at the pink, sparkly, tiara-bedecked princess in front of him, and at the "girl" toy in his hand. And then the cashier took the second blob back, and handed Violet TWO Bakugan. Because she wanted to play with cool robots, and he was going to make that happen.

We've had a couple more conversations since then about girl toys and boy toys, and gender in general. Our kids are pretty good about it. Sam likes to wear nail polish, and has learned to ignore friends and classmates who make negative comments about it. Violet is still of an age where she's trying to use physical cues to help her distinguish boys from girls, but clothing and hair length are no longer the first things she sees. Most important (to me), is that both of them understand that they can be or do whatever they want, and we'll love them unconditionally.

And that, whenever we go to McDonald's, they can have whatever toy they want.