Bevies of Boys

Here’s the thing about winter in Minnesota: we complain about it (and, thanks to social media, we now complain to an international audience), but secretly we love it. We love the challenge, we love the beauty, we love the thrill of the ole Man vs. Nature-type conflict. We love the elemental, primal pain of the freeze of skin, the bite of wind, the soul-crushing squeak of a boot against the ice. We love it.

Here’s the thing about this last winter: even people who love the winter got sick of this dang winter. It was the dinner guest who would not leave, the bar patron who nurses his beer until five a.m. It was the guy who raises his hand at the end of the meeting and goes on to ramble for an hour before someone shuts him up. It was the pitbull of winters – the jaws locked, and it did not let go.

Until Friday.

At this time last week, I was shoveling thick, heavy, pitiless snow.

By Friday, I looked out my window and there stood my son surrounded by nine other boys from the neighborhood. All were holding a bike or a scooter, or some kind of wheeled implement of motion. All were sweaty, filthy and smiling. And none of them was wearing a shirt.

For the next sixty hours, the street rang with the calls of boys. (Girls too, but the girls on my block are quieter than the boys. Which is not to say they are quiet – they aren’t. But those boys are friggin’ LOUD.) And it was glorious.

Now here’s the thing about my neighborhood. First of all, it rules. I love everyone on my block. Knock on a house, and a writer answers the door – or an artist or a graphic designer, or a builder, or a small business owner, or a social worker, or a teacher, or a free-thinker, or whatever – and offers you a beer. There are front-yard bonfires and massive easter egg hunts and random coffee-klatches that last for days. A collection of smart, deep-thinking, widely read, independent, creative people, and I love them all. And the kids! Crowds and crowds of kids. They run from yard to yard, tangling in alleys and livingrooms, crowding into the playhouse in the back, running wild in the field behind my house. They make discoveries in the creek, make plans under the bridge, and build new worlds in the trees. There are twenty-seven kids living on my block (and two more on the way), and it rules.

The boys shed their shirts on Friday and didn’t put them back on until the start of school on Monday (with protests). They are drunk on spring. They are high on sunshine and dirt and mud and water and skin and one another. Tomorrow, for May Day, the temperatures will drop, and the snow will fall – in great gushes – once again. No matter. The game continues. The shirts will shed. The boys have declared their Summer Reign, and they will not be vanquished.

Every time I see them howling outside, I think of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, called “Epithalmion”. Here’s a bit of it:

“By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise
He drops towards the river: unseen
Sees the bevy of them, how the boys
With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out,
Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.”

Happy Spring, everyone!

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How I Accidentally Let My Son Watch The Most Anti-Feminist Movie EVER

Headline: The Homicidal Feminist Enjoys A Quiet Moment Of Thought, Plotting.

Hey, did you know that all feminists are man-hating, homicidal witches who are ceaselessly plotting to destroy motherhood?

Good ole Hollywood. Keeping us up-to-date. Whatever would we do without them?

Last weekend, my oldest had a basketball practice and my middle child had a sleepover and I promised Leo he could watch a movie. So we go through the Netflix list (by the way: Dear Netflix, GET SOME BETTER KID MOVIES! Honestly.) and he says MARS NEEDS MOMS MARS NEEDS MOMS, and I was like, “Sure kid, knock yourself out. I have to clean the kitchen and mop the floor and vacuum the rug and fold the laundry, but I’ll watch the end of it with you.”

And so it was agreed.

And thus did he and I blithely skip down the Primrose Path of Ignorance into the Slimy Ooze of…..whatever the hell that movie was. And good god. Let me tell you. It was a stinker.

And there was my son, watching a wrinkly old prune of an in-charge lady-alien (because power and authority are, apparently, murder on the skin, and feminism will ultimately make us ugly. Hollywood has spoken. WHY WOULD THEY LIE?) gazing down at an unsuspecting mother, all the while plotting to download her brain into her baby-raising robots, and then incinerate her body into ashes, leaving her broccoli-hating son bereft and alone. Observe:

SPOILER: The pretty one turns good in the end!

There they gaze from their Marsy heights, plotting. Oh, look, they say. A mother who makes her son take out the trash and bosses him around. SHE’S PERFECT.

The kid, seeing his mother taken into a scary spaceship, does what any self-respecting kid does: He hops on and prepares himself for interstellar hijinks and a little alien ass-kicking. Because, of course.

What he discovers when he gets there is that Mars has been TYRANNIZED BY LADIES for some time now, and as a result, it is a cold, heartless, joyless place. There is no color. The babies are raised by robots. And everything is harped on endlessly by the prune-faced bossylady dictator alien.

Because that’s what feminists are, right? Prune-faced bossyladies. Thanks for clarifying, Hollywood.

During the kid’s (I guess his name is Milo, and he was originally going to be voiced by Seth Green, until some studio exec realized that having a grown man play the voice of a nine year old boy is 1. Super Creepy, and 2. the final atom in a supernova that turns the whole thing into a universe-sucking black hole) various adventures adventures in soul-less Mars, evading the aliens that want to kill him –

-oh, because, in addition to hating men and wanting to destroy motherhood, feminists also enjoy killing children. Are you keeping up? Good, because Hollywood is really covering a lot of ground here. –

Milo (god, I hate using that name, because I’ve never met a Milo that I didn’t like, and it pains me that their name is now associated with this god-awful movie) escapes into an endless tunnel that’s actually the trash chute (because sci-fi ALWAYS has kick-ass trash chutes) and discovers where all the Martian men are.

In the trash heap. (Get it? SYMBOLISM! Thanks, Hollywood!)

CHECK OUT THE RASTA DADS!

And it’s all RASTA DADS TO THE RESCUE!

And along the way, Milo discovers that he really loves his mom and stuff, and she wasn’t so bad for making him eat his broccoli and take out the trash, and all the sexless, joyless Martian ladies are all AWWWWWWWW.

And then he discovers that the bossylady has been lying to the populace this whole time, telling them that Martians have always been raised by robots programmed with the downloaded brains of Earthling mothers (Really?) and that long ago Martians had real families too

(and by “real” we mean “nuclear families.” Mom plus dad. None of that new-agey business.)

(Also: GENDER BINARY, PEOPLE. Because Hollywood knows – it KNOWS!)

GENDER BINARY TO THE RESCUE!

And then the Martian ladies are all giving googly eyes to the trash-heap-living Rasta Dads that they’ve imprisoned all these years, and they shun the prune-faced dictator lady calling her “The Evil One” (I swear to god, I am not making this up) and then Milo saves his mom and this other dude who has been living secretly on Mars ever since he was ten and his mom had been taken by the Martians and incinerated right in front of him (My god people! This is a CHILDREN’S MOVIE!) decides he’s in love with one of his Martian lady tormentors, and he decides to stay, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Needless to say, when I went back upstairs after all of my stereotypically mom-ish chores, poor Leo was weeping uncontrollably, then makes a flying leap across the room into my arms and clutches my shoulder and drenches my shirt with his tears, and says, “Mom, I will never let that ugly lady burn you up, never never never never never.”

So, of course, I am the worst mother alive.

Now, most of you have probably already heard about how horrible this movie is and have steered clear, but on the off-chance that any of you, like me, have been living under a damn rock, then for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND PURE AND HOLY stay away from this awful, awful movie.

And, while you’re at it, donate some money to NOW or the Girl Scouts or whatever.

Also: GO FEMINISM

(and screw Hollywood)

P.S. Mars Needs Moms originally was a picture book by Berkeley Breathed, and it is fantastic. Totally worth a purchase. And here is his visual indicator of what he thought of the turkey of a movie they made of his completely charming and whimsical book:

On Raising Beautiful, Butt-Kicking, Feminist Girls (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Girl Scouts)

Before I launch into this post about my eleven-year-long quest – nay, struggle – to raise girls who trust themselves, and honor themselves – and more importantly who trust and honor the other girls in their lives-  and who wouldn’t think twice to kick a boy in the shins if he really, really deserved it, I need to take a moment to talk about the Girl Scouts.

And the lady who started the Girl Scouts. This classy dame here:

File:Juliette Gordon Low - National Portrait Gallery.JPG Juliette Gordon Lowe. Isn’t she lovely?

What I love about her story is that she took the classic trope of the Jilted-Wife-Done-Wrong-By-Her-Man and re-invented it into a Juliette-Goes-And-Gets-Some story. In a nutshell, Juliette’s no-good, boozing, philandering, and woman-degrading husband pestered her to no end for a divorce so he could shack up with his mistress in style. She refused, and his whoring continued until he died suddenly of a stroke or heart attack or “bad company” or however men of his ilk used to kick the bucket in those days.

Trouble was, he left his fortune to his mistress, leaving his wife high and dry.

So did Juliette lie down and take it? No ma’am, no she did not. She sued the jerk’s estate and came away 500 million richer – which was quite a lot in those days. And instead of sitting in the lap of luxury (or anyone else’s lap, for that matter) she used her extensive funds to start the Girl Scouts which, in addition to highly addictive cookie-hawking, has been the go-to place for sassy, uppity girls everywhere.

I love the Girl Scouts.

The thing is, that love has been long in coming. I was a Scout for two (or was it three?) rather miserable years in elementary school. As I believe I’ve blogged about before, I was a lonely kid in grade school – a bullied kid, a dorky kid, a broken kid and a painfully-awkward kid. I was in Girl Scouts, and the bullying and nasty behavior that I endured during the school day simply followed me to our meetings in the livingroom of one of the kids at school.

I didn’t learn to like myself in Girl Scouts. I learned nothing about Girl Power or consciousness-raising, or positive self-imaging or sticking with your girl friends no matter what. I just learned how to stay quiet, stay unnoticed. Disappear.

And then I forgot about the Girl Scouts.

But then. Lots and lots of years later, I had daughters. And then the Fear began.

We live in a culture that teaches girls to dismiss themselves. We live in a culture that teaches girls to hate their bodies. We live in a culture that teaches girls to define themselves by how well they can attract sexual partners, instead of how well they can keep a friend. And I held my little tiny girl-baby and I was afraid for her.

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When Ella was in Kindergarten, she joined a Brownie troop. I was ambivalent, but the child was adamant. She joined, loved it, and she’s been with this same group of girls ever since. And while I’ve been around, and I know these girls very well, I’ve never had the opportunity to interact with them as Scouts, nor have I seen how they operate as a team of girl-powered friends until this weekend, when I went as a chaperon to their yearly encampment in the woods.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have never seen such a group of committed feminists.

You have never seen such a group of magnificent communicators.

You have never seen such a group of collaborative leaders – they assessed the needs of their situations. They asked for input. They delegated. They formed committees. They assessed their own results. They praised one another, and boosted each other up. They were clear, forthright, kind, honest and hard-working. They appreciated one another.

And they never once – not even once – talked about boys. Instead, they made fun of commercials and they badmouthed Twilight (they all agreed with Ella’s assessment that the book would have been vastly improved if Edward had died tragically in a fire) and they told scary stories in the dark.

And I realized that the wolves in our society – the ones that dress up in nighties and lurk in the dark – well, they’re still there, and I still worry about them, but the Girl Scouts have given my daughter a weapon that I had not counted upon. My daughter – though just as unsure, just as placeless as I was at eleven – not a kid, not a teenager, with no real place to fit in – is much more equipped to survive and thrive than I ever have been.

That child is powerful. And so are her friends.

Girl Power, the girls told me this weekend, could move the entire planet off its axis if we wanted to. We choose to let the world spin.

This was true, I told them. But they had more to say.

Girl power’s gonna change the world – and it needs changing. And girl friends can change your life.

Indeed, I said. They do it every day.