On boys and princesses (and Barbies).

I wrote the following for the Chicago Tribune soon after the boy started kindergarten; in two hours, he’ll be graduating from 8th grade. If you’re wondering, it happened in the blink of an eye.

A mom’s guide to dealing with a little boy’s life

For a 5-year-old lad, wearing dresses and playing Barbies can be just another part of growing up

The very one.

The very one.

My kindergartner was on the computer the other day, doing his thing on disney.com. I walked in looking for something, and he immediately shooed me away. I glanced at the screen as he tried to hide it: princesses as far as the eye could see, and a great deal of pink. I said “I’m just getting something. Bye!” and there it ended. But I thought “Hunh.”

This is the boy who had a pink backpack for two solid years of preschool. The walls of his room are lavender, because he wants them that way, and he has a heart-shaped plate in the cupboard, featuring three of those very princessi. About a year ago, he said to me that he sometimes wishes he were a girl “because they get to wear pretty clothes,” and, given half a chance, he loves to play Barbies at his friend Stephanie’s house.

As you might have guessed, this is a boy who has never in his home heard the words “boys don’t fill-in-the-blank.” In fact, the “pretty clothes” comment led to a typically tortured, early-21st Century maternal response: “Well, you know, most boys and men don’t wear skirts and dresses, but some do, sometimes, and if you really want to, you can”–a response, it should be noted, that later won full approval from his father, as well. We are very clear on this: He can love whomever he wants, wear whatever he wants, do whatever he wants. As long as he’s home for the holidays.

Or, more to the point, as long as he’s happy. And there’s the rub. If pink makes him happy, even if only now and then (because mostly he plays superheroes and builds with Legos and reads), then I want him to have access to it.

I am not, however, the only one in his life, and neither is his dad. He goes to a public school, and while this is the kind of public school where some of the coolest 8-year-old boys come to class with their Beanie Babies every day, it is still public, which is to say, in the world. The real world, not the world as his father and I would shape it, but the world that struggles daily and mightily with the push and pull between individuality and collective consciousness, between political correctness and political neanderthalism, between what really matters and what we only think matters.

Ultimately, that’s where I would have him, right in the thick of it. To me, this is human, to be in society, slogging away at these questions, wringing out what is best for oneself while fighting that which would diminish us all. The trouble is, he’s 5.

He doesn’t know he’s part of the grand arc of civilization, carving the shape of humanity with the very act of living. No, he’s in kindergarten. He wants the kids he likes to like him, he wants them to think him “awesome.” He wants to be safe. Gender identity, I would wager, is pretty low on his list.

So when he chides me, as he has, for not dressing his little sister in pink, I know that what he’s really doing is figuring out how to be a boy. And that’s fine. We all have to do that kind of figuring out, and it never really ends.

The question for me is: How do I allow him the space to do that in the real world, while still teaching him to blaze the trail that he needs? Today it’s pink, but later there may be tattoos to assay, or a popular war to protest.

I don’t want to tell him that what other kids might “say” doesn’t matter — it does, it matters a very great deal, to him if not to me. At the same time, neither do I want to teach him to hide himself away, protect his less conventional faces through subterfuge. If I have one child-rearing motto, it might be: “No closets, ever.”

So how do you teach a very small boy that the only way to love yourself is to be yourself, in the full knowledge that some people might not like you at all? That sometimes you don’t know who you are until someone laughs at you — that sometimes being yourself requires courage, and there is no courage without fear.

Personally, I fake it. I respond as things come up, hoping that in his little head, my bon mots are being knit together in some sort of cohesive, butt-kicking whole. Hoping that he will see in his parents’ lives a decently maintained balance between enjoying the group and striking out on our own, and that he will know that, no matter what, he will always have us. Even if he grows up to be a pants-wearing, woman-marrying surgeon, or something.

The other day, out of nowhere, he asked me why he has that princess plate. “Uh, you wanted it,” I said, swiftly riffling through my mental files for just the right response to the impending machoization of my firstborn, “so we gave it to you.” He looked past his pizza to the pink, the ribbons, the fluttery eyelashes and the birdies and said, “I shouldn’t have this!”

And then, before I could even begin to react, he said, “But I still like eating off it,” and did. Ah, hope.

Chicago Tribune, February 13, 2005

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No really. I kind of hate George Lucas (the re-up).

 I felt a great disturbance in the force. It’s as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror and were driven to social media, where they complained very loudly. 

And so, in light of the news that Lucas Film is to be bought by Disney and Star Wars Episode VII is planned for release in 2015 (yes really, and yes really), I figured there was never a more auspicious time to re-up the following. Because I really kind of hate George Lucas, but for real, y’all.

Pretty much the only person who doesn’t need to be ashamed of what went on in the prequels.

So after all these years, and all those movies, and all that hype and excitement and fanguish (why yes, I did just coin that term), and prompted by the already-infamous-yet-still-brand-new Darth Vader “Noooooo!”, plus the recent viewing of Episodes IV-VI with my family — I have finally figured out why I really kind of hate George Lucas.

So yes. Here we go, another nerdy blogger is going to write about hating George Lucas on the intertrons. Quelle surprise! But a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

I remember going to see Star Wars (back when there was just the one) with my mom. I remember leaving the theater and walking to the car and being enthralled. I’m not sure how many times I saw the first one as I waited for Empire Strikes Back, but it was probably a lot, given that when Empire came out, I cut school in order to go downtown for the opening (back in the olden days, openings were matinees) — and subsequently spent the summer watching it over and over. The arguments among my friends regarding Luke’s parentage were long, loud, and filled with genuine emotion, and one night, we all went to the early show, didn’t leave, and watched it again. I think I saw it eleven times before school started that fall. I have no recollection of the first time I saw Return of the Jedi, likely because the wheels were already coming off — stuff went on and on, or appeared, kind of out of nowhere (that chase scene on Endor, for instance, can now be seen in its true light, as a brutal precursor to the seemingly eternal pod race in Phantom Menace),  and like all my budding quasi-socialist friends (we were 18), I suspected the Ewoks reflected less about a galaxy far, far away, and more about Lucas’s increased understanding about merchandising. And yet: It was Star Wars. And it was still pretty damn good.

Fast-forward to 1999. I’ve just moved back to America after 14 years away, and George Lucas has finally made the first prequel — the movies that my friends and I used to talk about in tones reserved in other circles for prophecy and magic — and: BOOM.

Oh my God. Oh my God! I had to see it twice to make sure it was that awful, and oh my God. There is so much to be said (and has been said) about just what a terrible turn Lucas took with Phantom Menace (and I have already mentioned the endlessly endless pod race of endlessness), but I will say only this: Midichlorians? Are you fucking kidding me with this?! Either the force is “an energy field created by all living things [that] surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together,” or it’s something in communication with microscopic beings within our blood for which we are (and I quote) “symbionts.” Take your pick.

I so hated Phantom Menace that I never intended to see the other two prequels, but life and the advent of a child warranted otherwise. At some point I caught the boy up on the first three films with great joy, and ground my teeth through the prequels (only the last of which had any redeeming qualities, if you ask me. And Ewan McGregor deserves a trophy for being the only actor among a large group of excellent actors to actually do any good with his terrible role) and I seethed. Like any good old-school Star Wars fan, I have been seething for 12 long years, and every time he tinkers and changes and adds and subtracts and releases some new damn version, my fanguish grows and I hate George Lucas a little bit more.

BUT I FINALLY FIGURED OUT WHY.

Broken down into parts, the first three movies are not particularly great, certainly not by today’s standards. In light of my immersion in the cinematic world of Lord of the Rings, I find myself particularly bothered by the way that whole cultures pop up, unremarked, and then disappear, again unremarked, as so much set dressing. You never get anything on anybody who isn’t front and center to the story, and even then, you don’t get much. And then there’s (some of…) the acting. And, of course: Bechdel Test. Of course.

And yet! The sum is clearly so much greater than all of those parts, all of those flaws, even all of the moments of greatness — when seen in its entirety, all together, it told a story of such sweep and such emotion that it fell straight into people’s hearts and hasn’t let go since.

But Lucas didn’t make that story — he recognized it.

The stories are out there. If an artist is lucky, he or she gets to be the one to tell a particular story, and if the audience is lucky, he or she is skilled and respectful, and the story is served. That’s what happened in the first three (well… two and a half) movies.

But ever since, Lucas has been pissing on his own work, and jerking canon around because he felt like it, and disrespecting his audience — and disrespecting the story.

And that, my friends, is my bottom line. It was a long walk to get here, but at least I’ll be brief: I’m a writer. Stories really, really matter to me. Words matter to me. Truth-that-cannot-be-weighed-and-measured matters to me. And it matters that we try really, really hard to respect all of that. The stories, the words, the truths do not belong to us. If we’re lucky, we get to recognize them.

And stupid George Lucas was lucky! And then he messed it all up.

The end.

Though of course, as we discussed the other day, there’s always the possibility that this is what really happened:

We live in hope.

*****

More credit where it’s due! Go read this by Lev, over at Library Grape — he definitely jogged my mind on all of this, particularly with regard to the differences between Lucas’s re-fashioning of his films, and the recent-ish remastering of the original Star Trek series.

PLUS: On the very day that I decide to add to the endless stream of internet anti-Lucas sentiment, the extremely cool Shortpacked did the same! Click here to see one more reason (I really couldn’t go into all the reasons on my own) that the prequels suuuuuuuuuuucked. 

Good stuff: You are not really John!

The rhythm of this day has been decidedly odd.

The husband set up my new computer last night (Look! You turn it on – and it’s on! You turn it on – and it doesn’t sound like an airplane is taking off from within its very innards! All day long!), complete with new software, updated Word, etc — and I spent half of today befuddled, whole hours not entirely certain what I was meant to be doing. It was as if I’d walked into my office and found it renovated, with a note assuring me that my days would now be much more efficient. I’m very grateful, and my days will surely be more efficient someday, but today was most certainly not that day.

And then I spent the evening out with the girl. We got supper, saw the wildly anthropomorphic and oddly not-in-the-least-informational Disney movie African Cats (no, Samuel L. Jackson, I do not believe that we know what that lion was feeling when she vocalized to the other lions as they left the pride lands), capping the whole thing off with Culver’s custard (aka: soft-serve ice cream, for the sadly inexperienced among you), Adele on the car stereo as we drove through the dark spring night. Kinda wonderful, anthropomorphized wild animals and all. The girl makes most things pretty wonderful.

Bottom line, what this means for you, dear reader is: I got nothin’.

So I give you this: Sir Ian McKellen, making me love him so hard that my heart may have grown three full sizes, just from the funny.

Two minutes and 24 seconds of sheer awesome. You’re welcome!