The “Save the Princess” Message Hurts Boys, Too

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I have a 5-year-old little boy, a living room filled with boxes of soldiers, swords and Matchbox cars, and a complicated relationship with fairy tales and the princes and princesses who live in them.

A part of me loves it when my son decides to play princess. It does happen from time to time — when we break out the nail polish and the sparkly eye shadow; he brushes my hair, puts on my necklaces and we watch Sophia the First. I am excited when he wants to explore a different part of himself, and I secretly enjoy this kind of activity. He is an only child and will always be an only child, and playing princess is something I know how to do without thinking. (Go figure!)

But then there are days when we sit down to play with his Playmobil figures and he announces that my princess figurine is not allowed to have a sword. “Why not?” I ask as I rebelliously attach a tiny gold sword to her hand, only for it to be ripped out again. “Because princesses don’t know how to use swords.” “So what am I going to do when the enemy attacks?” “Well, you just stay in the castle and wait for me, O.K.?”

Oh, all right.

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Life goes on

The fact that life goes on is both a blessing and just a strange, strange, unfortunate thing. Several times last week I thought that surely I will be dead by morning — from physical and emotional exhaustion, from being cracked open and turned inside-out, from questioning everything that I knew about my life to be true. But then I woke up the next day and I wasn’t dead. And I am grateful for that, obviously. But it was also disappointing — can’t the world see that I am having a crisis here? How can there be weddings at my hotel, and happy partiers, and bright afternoon sun after a day of rain, and happy shoppers on the main street, and packing to be done and flights to catch when I am so obviously about to die here? I just don’t understand…

The same thing is true when something great happens. Like yesterday when I had an article published in The New York Times. I worked hard to get there and I am ecstatic about it — and maybe that’s why yesterday when my article went live I expected… something. Shouldn’t there be a shift in your life when something big like this happens? But nothing happened to me. I was sick. I was in bed. I went to see a doctor. I slept and drank tea. Life went on, without much notice.

I mean, maybe the changes are not always visible right away. Maybe they are just small ripples and I will only know their effect weeks or months or years later. I’d like to think that’s true. But right now I am waiting — I am wanting — a seismic shift and I just don’t know if that will happen.

Waiting

Oh, how I hate to wait. Hate. It. And I am so bad at it. So very, very bad. My parents taught me that in life you don’t get everything you want, right when you want it, but I think it’s something I never learned. I. WANT. IT. NOW.

As I am getting older I understand that everything will come to me in time. Things that I look forward to will eventually come to pass — like this trip. I’ve waited for this for so long and now it’s here and soon it will be gone.

I am waiting right now. Showered, sitting in my underwear on my bed, waiting to get dressed, for my hair to dry, for a friend, for 8 p.m., for dinner, for tomorrow… Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I know I shouldn’t bother so much with the waiting, that I should live in the moment and enjoy the now. There is some sweet agony to waiting, I have to admit it. But I am not sure it’s something I enjoy. I guess more than anything, I want the moment I am waiting for to come and to stay as long as I want it.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Flight

I am keeping up with the Essay-a-Day challenge, I promise. Yesterday’s essay happened in a notebook after a large glass of wine and before a very long overnight flight, so it’s not exactly ready for public consumption. Like, ever.

But now I am sitting in my hotel room in Germany, looking over rooftops and trees and listening to the rain and traffic. Dark clouds are rolling by and I could just die from this feeling of contentment.

Oh, this after being driven by my very tall, very handsome former college boyfriend in his BMW from the airport to my hotel. The 21-year-old in me is dying from giddiness and the 38-year-old married mother of one is telling her to get a hold of herself. Where is my roommate who used to tell me to “put your seatbelt on” when I was feeling just like this? Oh, I miss her right now!

Do we ever change? Are we ever not 19 or 21 — at least on the inside? These things — and people — who used to make me happy when I was young still do, unlike pretty much anything else. (Well, Sam, of course.) It’s like something was imprinted on me at birth that says that I will only feel happy on gloomy days in Germany. Which is a pity, because I don’t get too many of these days.

 

 

Sturmfrei

Sturmfrei (adj.)

Origin: Germany

Lit. “stormfree”; the freedom of not being watched by a parent or superior; being alone at a place and having the ability to do what you want

 

Well, it’s not my parents or “superiors” that watch me, but still, I will be without supervision next week and wow, I am so looking forward to it. What I usually do with such freedom is pretty boring — stay up way too late, drink wine, wander around the city, shop… Nothing scandalous. But still, it all feels scandalous because I don’t get to do it very often.

My suitcase is packed — overpacked, is more like it — but I decided not to care and to take what I want with me. Making fashion decisions before travel is way too stressful and that’s one less thing I have to worry about now. So I am ready for anything.

It will be weird to fly to Frankfurt tomorrow and to not have to catch a connecting flight to Budapest. But I have some sort of a strange love affair with Germany that I can’t quite explain, so actually being able to stay there for a week will be magical. I really don’t know why I love Germany and the Germans so much, but I do, ever since I was a little girl. My favorite band was German when I was a teenager, two out of my three great loves were German… Must explore this further… In person. Next week. All the German I can get. All the time.

Nightmare

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Last night Sam had a nightmare.

It’s been a while since he had one — maybe since the winter. For a while he was getting them regularly, thanks to whatever crazy developmental stuff was going on in his little head. But the past few months have been uneventful when it came to his sleep.

It’s sort of funny that even in his half-sleep mode he stops at the door of our bedroom to ask if he can come in. It’s not something we taught him, just something he does every time he wants to come in. So at 3:34 a.m. he was standing there, calling “Mama! Mama! Mama!”

I told him to come in, sat up, held him on my lap, nuzzled his hair and asked him what the dream was about. It was about bugs. On his legs, in his bed, on his stuffed animals, and I had to wash them off right now. I rocked him for a bit then took him back to his bedroom and tucked him in.

I sat there for a bit, stroking his hair, listening to his breathing even out, watching the corner of his mouth twitch as he went back to sleep.

Drew tiptoed in and stood next to me in the darkness, gently touching my shoulder.

I felt married. With a child.

I Let/Don’t Let my Children Play with Toy Guns

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I bought my son his first gun when he was barely two years old.

It was the first summer that he could walk and he was also really into bubbles. I came across a clear plastic bubble-maker with colorful tubes and wheels inside, and I remember being so excited to bring it home and fill the yard for him.

At first he watched and chased the bubbles as I pumped them out—the toy was very efficient—then he wanted a turn at the trigger. And that is when I realized what I had bought him was actually a gun. A bubble gun.

Suddenly, this idyllic afternoon in the yard seemed off. There was my toddler, with a gun in his hand, chasing me. Yes, of course, I know it was just a toy, but it felt wrong to see his hands on the trigger, to hear him make little poof-poof sounds (how does he even know what sound a gun makes?), and the fact that the gun was pointed at me made the situation even worse.

At the end of the summer I made the gun disappear and since then our house has been a no toy gun zone. No water guns. No bubble guns. No wooden guns. No. Guns.

 

Read the rest of my debate with Lauren Apfel on Brain,Child