What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

Hi, how are you? My name is Lyz. I feel like I’m coming back to life after a summer of just being immersed in a manuscript. My children have no idea who I am. I have no friends. And the Dave has remarried after having me declared legally dead. The good news is she’s really hot and makes delicious food.

I finished some edits on the PROJECT last week and shut my computer. Then, I looked up and blinked. As my eyes adjusted to the light, it was like when Tom Hanks in “Castaway” comes back home and everyone is just like, “Um do you know how to talk to anyone besides a bloody beach ball?”

And I said, “Wilson!”

wilson

 

But now the kids are in school and I have to go back to making my paltry income that only sustains my flagging ego and my nugget addiction, so I’m writing for Mom.me and the local paper (old media, amirite?) on the regular and hoping to write some more essays for places I love. Maybe reestablish a presence in the land of the living? I spent the day yesterday washing my floors and cleaning the house and it was great for like five minutes. And then JQ smeared banana everywhere and I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out if the yellow smear was curry or explosive diarrhea. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know the answer.) So, that was a good reminder in why I don’t clean things.

Here are some links to things I wrote this month.  How are you? Would you like to have coffee and remind me how to brush my hair?

Linkedy. Link

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I haven’t been blogging as much lately, because one of the sites I used to write for, BabyZone, was consumed by the beast that is Disney. So, I find myself, unemployed and unable to afford a baby sitter. I’m using every free moment to finish the second draft of this book. I plan on wrapping it up by the end of July.  I just wrote that so I will actually do that.  Make no mistake, this isn’t like some sort of, OMG I’m on a deadline with a publisher kind of thing. I don’t have a publisher or anyone at all.  I’M SO ALONE!

Whatever. The point is: I’m trying to finish this THING. This albatross. I know. Yawn. Join the club, Lenz.

I hate these “behind the curtain” things. Like there is some sort of mystery. Like it isn’t just me and a glass of cheap wine giggling at videos of cats riding roombas and reading every wrap up of Game of Thrones ever. So you are welcome for answering a question no one was asking.

Good god, that was self pitying.

How about some links?

Some places I’ve been:

That one time I tried to solve a crime and I was terrible at it. 

Church. Oh. CHURCH! UGH. Church.

–This is a few months old, but I never linked it here. This is about why I think evil ladies need to be left alone. Or at least, not be made sympathetic. Because, enough.

Belle Is Not The Problem, You Are

Two weeks ago, we threw a princess birthday party in honor of my daughter who specifically requested that everything be made pink. And it was. Pink tulle hung from the banisters, pink tissue paper flowers hung from the ceiling, pink balloons were taped to the archways. And the party was perfect. We had princess tattoos, crowns, jewels and at the end we cleared the floor for a big ball.

I’ve struggled with letting princesses into our home. I didn’t want them here. I thought they would be a bad influence. But at two-years-old, my daughter began refusing to wear pants and declared herself a princess.  Ever since then, it’s ballgowns and necklaces everyday. Once at the grocery store, as Ellis twirled in the aisle in a white Easter dress, a lady asked, “Oh are you going somewhere special?” My daughter just looked at her and said flatly. “I am ‘pecial.”

E and Bubs
Equal opportunity royalty in this house.

She is special. And white fluffy Easter dresses are just normal Tuesday attire in this house. Occasionally, I get her to wear something less formal for school or the park. But the moment she comes home she rips off her pants and slips into something a little more formal–A princess Belle dress with gloves, perhaps.

I suppose I could regulate princesses more carefully. I could return every Princess™ that entered our home from well meaning grandparents and doting aunts, but I am not going to. Because I don’t think princesses are the problem. I think we are the problem.

We still live in a country with a gender pay gap, but that’s not Rapunzel’s fault.  There are deep gender divides in this country about sex, division of labor and healthcare, but we can’t pin that on Snow White. The commercialization of everything pink and everything princess, becomes and easy scapegoat. It’s so much easier to say, “Blame Disney!” than take a long look in the mirror and examine our own biases.

In her essay in New York magazine, Yael Kohen wrote:

“And what’s wrong with girly, anyway?  Rolling our eyes at pink feels like another way of treating female culture on the whole as a niche interest, somehow secondary to male culture — a.k.a. the mainstream. And when it comes to our toys there’s an implicit message that the pink doodads are only second best to the tough dude versions in black, camouflage, and blue. (A boy dressing up like Iron Man, a narcissistic arms mogul turned superhero, won’t be seen as nearly as silly as a girl wearing a Queen Elsa costume, even though they play to the same fantasy impulses). If we’ve made pink the most visible representation of girl culture, and also treat it as a symbol of frivolity, then we’re unwittingly telling girls (and boys) that the girl world isn’t important.”

I believe the same thing about princesses. By denigrating princesses we are in fact telling our daughters that what interests them isn’t important. By foisting the world that is traditionally boy on them instead, aren’t we telling them that “boy things” are okay, but princesses aren’t. And since when is a toy gun less dangerous than a tiara? Lately, my daughter has been turning all her wands into guns and walking around saying, “SHOOT! I SHOOT YOU!” But I’m not going to stress about that either. For children, fantasy play is just that, pure fantasy. My blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter identifies herself with Belle and Mulan more than Rapunzel or Aurora. Why? Maybe the dresses? The side-kicks? Who knows. But what I do know is that she understand the fantasy and the reality a lot more than I give her credit for.

It’s easy to make Belle and Cinderella culpable for our societal shortcomings, but the truth is, they aren’t the disease they are the symptom. Gender bias doesn’t begin with crowns and gowns, gender bias begins within us. A study done by New York University asked parents to guess the incline of a slope that their 11-month old babies could climb. The study showed that while both girls and boy babies had the same level of physical ability, parents vastly over estimated their sons’ abilities and underestimated their girls’ abilities. Think you are too smart for this inherent bias? Think again. A study done by Yale University had male and female scientists rate the competence of a job applicant. The scientists were given the same application, the only difference was half had an application with a female name the other half had an application with a male name. Overwhelmingly, both male and female scientists favored the male application.

Ultimately, gender bias begins long before you child sits down to watch “Sleeping Beauty” and yet, Sleeping Beauty is what we wring our collective hands over.

A whole generation of girls (myself included) were raised obsessed with princesses and somehow we came out okay. I remember spending hours trying to flip my hair up out of the pool water so I could be like the Ariel singing, “Part of Your World” to prince Eric. I know more Disney songs about love than I know Shakespearean sonnets. But that was just a phase. Much like my Nietzsche phase when I wore all black and took long walks with my journal contemplating how superior I was to all the other riff raff of High School. Or my Bronte phase when I wore tight buns and wanted to walk the windswept moors of England so bad I cried. It’s just a phase.  I didn’t become the Übermensch and stab anyone any more than I married an abusive man with a wife locked in an attic.

In her essay on Slate, Allison Benedikt wrote, “The pink phase will pass like anything else, and if it doesn’t, well, then, you have raised a human being who really likes pink. Which is the same as raising a human being who really likes green. The meaning of the color is what we make it mean. By steering our daughters away from the pink aisle to subvert dangerous gender norms, we’re reinforcing them.”

The truth is for children princesses and pink, they are just things. It’s we adults who imbue them with meaning. But instead of crucifying all things pink and princess on the cross of our collective feminist anxiety, maybe we ought to reexamine our own attitudes and deeply held beliefs about children long before they can even reach for that wand.

PS For more reading, I really liked this article. 

That Time I Talked To Anderson Cooper (Or Not Really)

Both of my kids are sick and my husband is chugging DayQuil like it’s water, because The Dave mostly just drinks water and Snapple. His body is a temple, y’all. Baby J is getting his first tooth and all I can do is beg the gods of teeth and boobs for sweet mercy. Also, this past week has left me a little bruised and worse for wear. So, I’m going to do a link dump. Yes, I know. I hate those too. I really do. Every time I see them, I’m all…yuck_imdone_medium

 

 

Because they aren’t real posts. So, feel free not to “Like” it or talk internet smack about me. I deserve it. But the internet is all about sharing and I do want to share. I do. Also, I will start off with a little story about me and everyone’s favorite handsome news anchor, Anderson Cooper.

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On Tuesday, I got an email inviting me to view a Google chat with Anderson Cooper and CNN’s Kelly Wallace, wherein they would be discussing the morality of babies and the research done by the Yale Infant Cognition Center. I’ve been rabidly following the work of Paul Bloom and Karen Wynn. Also, like any American, real American, I love me some Anderson Cooper. So, I responded by saying, “Sure, I will tune in. Thanks for the invite!”

That’s when I got the response that basically translated to, “Um. No, idiot. We want you to join us.” So, I was all, “Okay. But you are the idiot! I bring nothing to the table.”

In sum, I got to do a Google hangout with Anderson Cooper. Fun fact: He never spoke to me. We had some technical glitches and then Anderson (as I call him now) had to leave. So, he was on the actual hangout for two minutes. Most of the time he just read important documents (probably about where to find the National Treasure), while the rest of us made idle chit chat. And as we all awkwardly sat around waiting for Google to fix the problem, Paul Bloom asked Anderson Cooper (right, I can’t keep up the charade) if he had done one of these “hangout things” before. Without even blinking, Anderson Cooper responded, “Yes, with the Dali Lama.”

Snap.

I now imagine, in a month or two when Michelle Obama asks him if he’s done one of these “hangout things” before, he will respond, “Yes, with Lyz Lenz.”

Because I’m delusional.

Here is the link to the CNN piece about babies and morality. And here is the link to the Google hangout,  I make some awkward jokes about psycho killer babies, so that’s worth something.

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Also, fun fact, I’ve been writing columns for my local newspaper. They are fun. Old media is super cute. I feel all vintagey. Like I need to bang out a screed on a typewriter. I am a lone reed.

So, maybe you should read them, if you find yourself locked in a jail with nothing to entertain you except the ghosts of your past, your crushing guilt and a computer where all the smutty sites are blocked.

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I am very proud of this piece about magic and childhood and how much beauty I find under the table. Brain, Child magazine was kind enough to publish this.

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I recently reread “Mise-en-Scene for a Parricide” by Angela Carter (it’s a story about Lizzie Borden). And I loved it all over again. The description of the weather was so oppressive and perfect. Also, the story is so lush, like all of her stories and twisted in a way that makes you feel like you are viewing the world through damaged glass.

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My friend and former roommate, Alison, sent me this essay about photographing the little things and I believe all of this about writing.

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Mallory Ortberg is my favorite. Also, she just gave me some nightmares: “Official reports have recently confirmed what you have long suspected: that the dim and as-yet-formless shape hovering at the foot of your bed or perhaps just outside your closed (but locked? Did you lock it? Is it locked, or is it unlocked?) window is very real and the only thing keeping it from moving any closer is your constant, wakeful vigilance. ” Curse you, Ortberg.

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This: A rapper named Lizzo from Minnesota. So, of course, I’m already inclined to like her. But this video and this song? Amazing.

Leave me your links. I’ll read them and then provide a thoughtful* comment.

*Poop jokes are considered thoughtful.

Not Waving, Just Drowning Under The Laundry

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This fall, I enrolled Ellis in a little pre-preschool. She goes once a week. They teach her how to sing “Going on a Bear Hunt” and put bean bags on her head and wait her turn. This week, I asked her if she had fun at school and she said, “Yeah. But I don’t wike to wait my turn! I JUST DON’T WIKE IT!” Then she began to cry. And I felt like I could just kiss school because whatever lesson she had learned was good and effective, and I wasn’t there for the majority of the screaming.

In fact, school has been going so well that I put us on the waitlist for a second day.

This week, the teachers told me that we are off the waitlist. I was so happy, I almost full-on smooched them.

When I got home, I felt like crap.

Last November, I quit my part-time work, so I could full-time mom.  And it’s been an adjustment to say the least. I frequently have women tell me, “Oh, how wonderful! You can be with your kids and do your writing thing!” And I want to laugh, because in what world do they live in? A world where their two-year-olds didn’t give up a nap and poop their underwear during “rest time” or where their babies didn’t…well, baby, all the time?

In any given day, I have approximately one hour during naptime to write. I get everyone situated: Baby Jude in his crib sleeping. Ellis in her room with a stack of books. Then, I sit down and I open up Word and I just start writing. If I get distracted even for 15 minutes, it’s all over. Someone will cry. Someone will poop. Someone will stand by her doorway and sing “PRINCESS PRINCESS!” at the top of her lungs until someone else wakes up. More than once, I’ve thrown in the towel and carted them off to the frozen yogurt place because nothing good was happening. My kids are still little. Once we find a rhythm the tune changes.

In college, I used to demand absolute silence to write. I would put on noise-cancelling headphones and glare at anyone who so much as chewed in my presence. Now, I just say, “Unless there is blood or fire, leave me alone!” And I keep typing until the din has swallowed the house whole and I can no longer ignore the monkeys rattling their cages or flinging poo. Sometimes it’s both.  Usually, what I’m writing is not for here. It is for one of my handful of paid writing jobs. Jobs I’ve held onto because being a one-income family is tight and we still want to contribute to our kids’ college fund. What I make is just enough for that, school and not much else. Except a once-a-month cleaning service. But that ends in December. Hold me.

I also hold onto my jobs, because I love them. I love the moments when I can write and reach for things beyond just me and this little kingdom here in Iowa. To be completely honest, I need them. I need to work outside of this place.  And if we are being really honest, sometimes what I write isn’t for here or for money. It’s just for writing. And I submit these things to anthologies and literary magazines and websites I love but don’t really pay. Writing is my meth.

But making all that happen feels like the toddler equivalent of juggling. Meaning: I take a bunch of balls, throw them into the air and yell, “JUGGLING!” as they all crash down on my head. Ever since J was born, I’ve been neglecting some of my commitments because there just isn’t enough of me or enough time. Sometimes I write at night, but baby J has me up at 4am and if I don’t get to sleep by 9, I’m a monster. I’m also married. And it takes a lot of energy not to be a jerk to your spouse.

But that second day of school looms over me–it’s my boon and my doom. It reminds me that I am not handling things as well as I would like to. That finding balance and doing everything is hard. And I don’t even do everything. My house is messy. My laundry isn’t put away. Food on the floor keeps sticking to my feet. I don’t even look at Pinterest, because I don’t need yet another way to realize all the things I’m not doing.

But we all feel like that. Don’t we? No matter where we sit. At home. At work or on the fence. We all feel consumed by the small details of our lives. The poop. The papers. The smiles. The noodle under the couch.

So, I’m swallowing my guilt, the guilt that says, she’s so little, she needs her mom, why aren’t you valuing time with her above yourself and taking the second day. There is no perfect. There is only what we have.  And what we need. And what we need, no matter where we are, is help.

Or, at least, I do.

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