No More Sugar, No More Spice!

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 12.36.09 AMI have two, four-legged furry children. They are my little rescue miracles and the closest thing I have to my own children (of the human persuasion of course). I love them so much, and I would do anything for them. It’s possible that everything they have is gender neutral because I can’t stand the color pink, but I really didn’t think about it until just a few days ago…no this post isn’t all about my dogs (even though I could go on and on about them), and yes I understand the difference between human children and furry children. But it is a mini rant about the socialization of children, followed up by a solution to my rant. If you want to buy the little girls and boys in your life things that are outside the proverbial gender box, please continue reading. If you believe little boys should be raised to be emotionless, macho men, and little girls should be raised to be submissive, barefoot, pregnant, and at home, then this post is not for you.

Christmas happens to be my favorite holiday. The lights, the cold, crisp weather, the warm Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 12.37.29 AM and fuzzy feelings, and the time with family make me so very happy. I’ve lived all over the country and all over the world, and when I’m homesick, without fail, I watch Christmas movies to make me feel better…regardless of the time of year! I get to be home for Christmas this year, and this year, my adorable, little, nearly 3-year-old cousin will be there too (with her parents and adorable baby brother…I have to mention that I love them too of course). She is the most adorable little angel and so damn smart! I got to spend some quality time with my darling cousin over Thanksgiving, and I decided that I wanted to get her something special from me (as opposed to from my whole family) for Christmas. This is where my quest for a thoughtful gift began as well as the carving out of the soap box I’m about to step onto.

I hate shopping, so I first hit the ads in the Sunday paper in hopes of getting an idea of what was out there these days. Let me tell you what’s out there…baby carriages, Barbies and other scantily clad dolls, bride dress-up sets, and a whole slew of other pink crap, not meant to Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 12.38.51 AMchallenge or educate young girls in any way…unless you count encouraging girls to aspire only to be good at keeping up the house and taking care of babies to be enough of a challenge that is. Here is where I apply an abridged version of my “TEHO” (To Each His/Her Own) speech–if a girl grows up to be a woman and decides that she aspires to be a wife and mother above anything else, then God bless her! There are not enough words in the English language or enough blogging space to express how much I appreciate women who commit their lives to the raising of their children (my own mother included and especially). However, to me, it is revolting that this kind of message is being disseminated on such a huge and regular basis. I looked through countless ads, both hard copies and online and did some general “gifts for girls” searches, and they all had the same stuff. Well that crap is not good enough for my cousin, and frankly, I don’t think it’s good enough for the amazing girls who will grow up to be amazing women.

So for anyone who is interested, here are some empowering and intelligent gifts for girls and kids this holiday season:

Spark Talking Telescope: Just what it sounds like…a talking telescope that is appropriate for children and comes with an assortment of slides. Seems to be great for bug-loving children!

Discovery Kids Send Away Storybook Publisher: I wish they had these when I was a kid! This awesome little kit allows your child to write, illustrate, and publish their very own book. The kit includes everything needed to help plan, write, and illustrate the story and even has a pre-paid envelope included to send off their masterpiece! A few weeks later the publishing company sends back a hardbound, professionally typeset book.

Electronic Gadget Lab: Who says that boys are the only ones who can aspire to be engineers??!! This kit includes a plastic “grid” that simulates a circuit board. Kids can snap in wires and batteries, rearrange light bulbs, speakers and other devices, and learn the ins and outs of how these things work…the description says that it comes with 101 configurations and appeals to third graders and teens alike.

Gender-Neutral Coloring Books: I happen to love this concept. Why should most of the superheros be boys? And why should the girl superheros look like Barbie dolls? And why shouldn’t girls be taught that they can rescue themselves and don’t have to wait for the prince to climb up the tower…anyway, you get the picture.

Ultimate Star Planetarium: For the stargazers…This mini planetarium projects constellations, celestial objects, and more. It provides an interactive computer and searchable database with facts versus myths of the wonderful world of outer space.

Chess Set: Learning to play chess is on my bucket list. Maybe it’s just in my head, but it seems to me that boys learn to play chess, and girls learn to play with dolls. I didn’t do the doll things, so I’m not sure what I was doing when my brothers were learning to play chess…nevertheless, girls can learn to play chess too!

Robyn Superhero Tutu Costume: I’m convinced that I have taught some of the most amazing kids on the planet. This costume reminds me of one girl in particular. She was in one of the first grade classes I taught, and one day, as part of a class project, the kids were allowed to choose exactly what they wanted to wear to school that day. This precious girl showed up in a red tutu, yellow rain boots, an old Beatles t-shirt, huge butterfly sunglasses, and a kids’ tool belt (filled with all the plastic tools) around her waste. Some kids want to be tutu-wearing superheros…and I fully support that!

GoldieBlox: Their tagline is “Toys for Future Inventors.” I think that sums it up.

I Can Save Myself Poster: Just what it sounds like…a poster with a fabulous illustration that says, “i can save myself.” I love it…and just might order it for myself.

Call Madame President: This is a great story about an imaginative 8-year-old girl who becomes President of the United States…I don’t want to ruin it for you, but why shouldn’t little girls read about being President??

Arduino Cookbook: Not your average cookbook…this one gives you tips and tricks for building an array of things–toys, detectors, robots, and more.

New Moon Magazine: A completely ad-free magazine that is geared towards the community, growth, and education of girls. It is a magazine that’s sole focus is building confidence and healthy online behavior…how many magazines did we all see growing up that had nothing but impossibly thin women teaching us to aspire to be trophy wives?? This magazine does things like name Malala Yousafzai as their girl of the year…love it!

Women Who Dare (Vol. 1 & 2) Knowledge Cards: These cards include information and tributes to women throughout history who have shown determination and courage to sift through what they were “supposed” to do and reach into the extraordinary–some changed their communities, and some changed the world.

Roominate: This is another site that includes age-appropriate toys that encourage artistry, architecture, engineering, and visionaries in general.

Hand Crafting Justice: This site includes a great variety of hand crafted goods, created by “enterprising women in the developing world, working to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.” These are great gifts with great purpose.

And if you want even more ideas, check out the AAUW (American Association of University Women) 2013 Gift Guide and LiveYourDream.org!

Extended Family

If you know me or have read my blog, you know that there are things that I’ve never and will never get on board with as far as my Middle Eastern culture is concerned. But one of the things I’ve always appreciated about my culture and heritage is the importance of family. I have “aunts” and “uncles” who actually have no blood relation at all but that would absolutely walk into oncoming traffic for my family and me, and we would do the same for them. Some have been in our lives since before I was born, like my Tetha Soad (tetha is grandmother in Arabic). I lost all of my grandparents by the time I was 8 years old, and Tetha Soad has not been “like” my grandmother; she IS my grandmother. Others have entered into our lives more recently. But the thing every one of those people have in common is that they are family.

Of course, when I was a kid, I found the constant get-togethers and dinners and luncheons tedious when I was younger. When I was younger, we would all get together once a month at least for a dinner. There was a rotation in place, and each family would get to choose the restaurant when it was their turn…I called it the monthly meeting of Arabs-Americans Unite. I don’t know where that came from or why, except for I’m pretty certain I thought I was being awfully clever.

I understand that I have gifts and reminders and blessings all around me. And I get that I am fortunate to have the love and support that I do. But this whole thing is still not easy–not leaving the house because it hurts too much, not being able to wear anything that doesn’t resemble maternity clothes, not being able to work out, gaining weight, looking down in the shower and seeing that my leg muscles are almost completely atrophied, not being able to work full time, missing my cousin’s surprise 40th birthday party in Mexico, not having a functioning phone because I dropped it in the toilet because my knee gave out, not being able to walk or run my dogs or even cuddle with them…just some of the things that are difficult to deal with.

But last night, after having not left my parents’ house in days and not really feeling up to even leaving then, I received a reminder of just how amazing and special my extended family really is. This beautiful group and diverse group are from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and everywhere in between. No family has the same story or has walked the same path, yet there is such a deep and sincere understanding of each other and so much unconditional love.

Everyone was invited over to my aunt and uncle’s lake house for dinner. I wasn’t feeling well most of the day, but I knew that if I didn’t go, my mom wouldn’t to leave me home by myself. So mom helped me into the shower, I got dressed, and even put on makeup (begrudgingly of course, but when your mom says “Why don’t you put on a little makeup. You’ll feel better if you look alive,” somehow you suddenly feel compelled to do so). This was my first outing that didn’t include a doctor, wheelchair rental, or quick Christmas fix at the local holiday store since the big surgery, and I was feeling a little bit nervous. The nerves came partly because the pain had been so intense and partly because I knew that everyone would look so nice and put together, and I would look like a grade-A bum in my over-sized yoga pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. My parents helped load me into the car. My brother drove, dad sat in the front seat, and my mom sat in the back with me so that I could stretch my leg over her lap. And even as my brother was pulling the car out of the garage, I was thinking “I don’t feel good. I don’t want to go. I should just tell them to go and just let me stay home.” I didn’t say anything though. This meant so much to my parents, and I didn’t want to ruin their night because I didn’t feel well and was sad I couldn’t wear real clothes.

I should have known better. I should have remembered that they have seen me at my very worst and my very best. They’ve seen me decked out in formal dresses, and they’ve seen me as a sweaty, nasty mess right after a game. They could have cared less what I was wearing or what I looked like. They cared about how I was feeling and if I needed anything more than anything else.

Middle Eastern tradition says that whenever you walk into the house, you greet every single person with a hug and the double cheek kiss. But one of my uncles immediately pulled up a chair and said, “Sit down, sit down! Everyone can come say hi to you!!” Shortly after that one of my aunts suggested that I go to the back living room area where the sectional was, so that I could prop up my legs and be more comfortable. We laughed and talked and told stories for hours. They asked me how I was feeling and were actually interested when I explained how some days are better than others, and how the bad days just suck the life right out of me. When they asked me what I’ve been up to or how I was doing, they were genuinely interested in my answers and not just filling time or regurgitating pleasantries. Before dinner started I listened as our Syrian family openly shared their fear and grief over lost loved ones or the potential of losing loved ones because of all of the turmoil and bombings, and then observed as everyone rallied around them with prayers and words of comfort. There was such honesty and transparency, which is not a new phenomenon, but for some reason, last night, I saw it and absorbed it. And it meant the world to me.

After dinner, several aunts and cousins rotated sitting by me on the couch–some wanted to catch up, some wanted to hear about the surgery, and some wanted business/marketing advice. One of my cousins even made me a plate of dessert and brought me coffee. When I started telling her I couldn’t eat dessert because I can’t workout, and I’ve already gained enough weight as it is, she just said, “No, no. You have to eat at least some of it because if you have dessert and I have dessert, that cancels out our calorie intake!” Ohhhh if wishing made it so…but wishing or not, you better believe I enjoyed that dessert!

Eventually the pain in my leg got to be too much, and I needed to get home. Every aunt, every uncle, every cousin came to me to say goodbye and give me their final prayers and well-wishes for the night. And as much pain as I was in, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and be so grateful for the series of events that had to happen to bring us all to that very place during that very time.

There are so many stories, so many incredible turns and twists of fate that made these relationships possible. They are stories that need to be told, and I promise that I will tell them–but not just yet. For now, I just want to thank my mom for helping me get out of the house, and that quirky, hilarious, concerned, and considerate adopted family of mine for being so genuine and amazing.