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how much is too much

By taking them to the exhibit dedicated to the 1980s at Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, of course!

 

I am kidding on the square, seeing how this is a hard glance back at the 1980s with a critical eye: feminism, gender politics, race politics, AIDES, political upheavals in the Latin America, Disappeared, Reaganism, NEA, Robert Mapplethorpe. How do you explain to a young child what happened in the 1980s when all they heard nowadays was how in the 1980s everybody was happy because the economy was great?

It’s kind of scary how little the kids know about what really happened in the 1980s.

It’s also kind of difficult, as a parent, to gauge “how young is old enough” and “how much is too much”. I don’t like to shelter my children but I also want to make sure what I share with them is “age appropriate”…

 

Race politics. Passing. Stereotypes. Racism. Gender politics.

I believe I screamed, just a little, when I saw Adrian Piper’s My Calling (Cards) on display since I’ve used this often as an example of how one performance artist has chosen to deal with racism in mundane, daily life. MCA has them on display, in multiple copies, free for the taking.

 

Coming off from my high, I was immediately put on “high alert” when next we walked into the wing dedicated to “Gender Trouble”. Because of the in-your-face shock value of the protest art, I felt I had to prepare Mr. Monk, who’s in 3rd grade, even though he’s a mature 3rd grader, for the images on display. Here’s what I came up with in a panic:

The rise of feminism means that women artists started questioning the social orders in the society: why are men given more power and authority than women? What makes a man a man? What makes a woman a woman? And that’s why they show the anatomy of human being to confront the man-made meanings and differences between men and women, and that’s why you are going to see a lot of penises.

He dutifully nodded, and laughed to mask his discomfort. Nobody wants to hear their mother utter the word “penis” in public even at a whisper.

As I went through the internal struggle of whether to impose “censorship” on the fly, I instinctively shielded him from an open, video screen room [Later, The Husband told me that the room came with a warning sign outside so I guess my instinct was correct]. Then across the room were these:

 

Robert Mapplethorpe.  The artist that embodied two main Reaganism in the 1980s: the government’s willful negligence towards the Aides epidemic and  its fight to censor what it deemed as “obscene” art. Without thinking, I had strategically positioned myself between these photos and Mr. Monk’s sight line. To this moment, I am still questioning myself whether I had done the right thing: If I disagree with the conservative’s accusation, why did I shield Mr. Monk’s gaze from these pictures, esp. the leather-encased penis? [In my defense, I was not worried about my 13-year old; he roamed through the exhibit without a chaperon]

 

Lots of questions were asked: Why was Reagan’s portrait there? Was it for sarcastic reasons? Why? What did he do? Why were people upset?

What is AIDS?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think Mr. Monk understands this picture or at least walked away with his own interpretation.

Photo Courtesy of The Husband

[After all, he got it when Jack Donaghy said, about Kenneth the Intern, “He’s a white male with hair, Lemon. The sky’s the limit.”]

 

Even though this is a child who is extremely mature for his age, sensitive and observant of the world around him, has watched possibly all episodes of The Simpsons, and Weekend Update on SNL with me, I left the museum still questioning myself: Was is it too much? What is too much? Have I shown my child “age appropriate” material?

 

Photo Courtesy of The Husband

This is such a difficult picture to look at straight on. But it is not difficult to grasp the messages. Should I have shielded him from the ugliness of the world?

 

 

So… 1980s. I almost forgot. It’s not just about the cheesy music, leg warmers and big hairs.

 

 

More pictures from our visit to MCA that day here:

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Before we got married, The Husband and I talked about whether we should raise our children Catholic, his mother’s religion. I said “his mother’s religion” because like countless Catholics, he is twice-a-year Catholic. He gives up something for Lent (that usually make me exclaim, “Jesus died for you sin and you are giving up THAT for him?”), refrains from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, goes to the Easter Mass and the Christmas Eve Mass.

A convenient way to be a Christian if you ask me. To me, an outsider who is pretty mush ignorant of the whole Catholic “thing”, it seems that once you’ve been confirmed, you are IN. It’s like one of those lifelong 1 Million Mile frequent flyer status. You are set for premier status for life even if you stop flying altogether.

I was young and naive and more importantly, a newcomer to the West. I thought religion is all about doing good, fearing cosmic retributions, building moral characters, helping out each other in the community, believing in the Golden Rule and “what goes around comes around”, and more importantly, being self-reflective and building that relationship with the cosmic force up there whatever you personally call it. How can religion be bad?

Alone in the U.S., deprived of a close-knit society that really believes in “It takes a village”, I thought, “THIS [The Catholic upbringing] could replace the built-in value systems in a Chinese society so that my children will not grow up in a moral vacuum.”

Like I said, I was naive and ignorant. I was not aware of the political implications associated with being a Catholic, or in general a Christian, in the United States in the 20th and 21st century. In fact, I did not know that in the U.S., despite the claim of separation between church and state, many Christian denominations behave as if they were political parties, to say the very least.

Dante apparently did not have to deal with marriage equality. Milton was not asked to spout his opinions on women’s right to choose.

If you have followed this blog for a while, you probably have heard me talking about my inner struggle of negotiating between sending my kids to the religious school every week and disagreeing with almost everything the Catholic church decided to take a stand for/against in recent years. It becomes more and more difficult as my children become older and the Church shares more of its doctrines with them in a more straightforward way.

Today a bomb was dropped.

Like all Catholic 8th graders in this country, my son is going through the Confirmation process. It is something that he tolerates and may even look forward to since after this, there will be no more religious class! There was a mandatory half-day “retreat” this afternoon where they gathered all the 8th grade class into one big giant room to prepare them for the big decision, the big day.

On our way home, I asked casually, “So how was it? What did you learn today?”

“We had some interesting discussions. He told us, ‘No judgement. We will not tell your parents what you say. But, imagine if you are a parent, and your 15-year-old daughter comes home and tells you that she’s pregnant, what will you do? Tell her to get an abortion? To give birth to the baby? Raise the baby or give the baby up for adoption?”

I gritted my teeth.

“… We learned that there are four ways for abortion….”

It’s a miracle the car behind me did not crash into us when I braked abruptly. I had to restrain myself from saying anything and to wait for him to share more.

“It was absolutely horrible. We were eating and he was telling us about how abortion is done. Did you know that they used to use saline…”

“… Forceps… Forced babies to come out…. Pulled the baby out by the feet… Dead babies… … …”

I was beyond upset. So instead of reaffirming these young people of their faith, they penned them into a room, told them the most extreme, horrifying in any standard, cases from the past,  and force-fed them anti-abortion propaganda. If these were the first things, and only things I’ve heard on the subject of abortion, I’d probably be out there holding protest signs against Planned Parenthood too.

Why weren’t the parents consulted first? These kids were only 13 year old. How many of you want your children to be shown details of abortion procedures at the age of 13?

I tread lightly as I did not want to startle the deer, to scare him away when all I wanted was for him to come home, by his own will, with me.

“I just want to make sure that you understand the facts…” I rattled off some pointers.

Did they explain that only a very small % of abortions are late-term? No. Did they explain that in the current legislature, many states outlaw late-term abortions except for the safety of the mother? [Gross generalization but it would have to do at the moment]. No. Did they mention that it is still up for debate whether an embryo counts as a person? No.

I was losing him: these facts were not as powerful as the sensational, graphical, description he just heard.

He started defending the young, hip, traveling priest. “Why are you so judgmental? Now you are just judging these people. Just because they have a different view does not mean you are right and they are wrong.”

I had to bite my tongue again, knowing that “Not everything is relative. I bet Hitler’s family thought he was a great guy” was not a productive thing to say at that moment.

 

I was so angry. I imagined red hot flames coming out of my eyes and nostrils. I am still shaking as a matter of fact. On the verge of tears finally I said, “Ok, hear me out. If those people think that they can spoonfeed MY CHILDREN a bunch of propaganda, I should be able to present MY perspective… I will say this first: If you are a man, you have no right dictate what a woman is or is not allowed to do with her body.”

The whole way I was wishing that I had thought about this more before we took the pre-Canon class, before we even got married. I should have said No way, Jose. This is not what I signed up for. To have someone come in and teach my children values that are completely opposite of mine and not being allowed to say anything about it, or the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, just so he could get that piece of paper. Confirmed.

This is NOT the Golden Rule I expected a religion to help instill in my children.

 

“I am very upset as you can probably tell.” I told my son the truth. “This was not what I signed up for. They are supposed to teach you morals and telling right from wrong. Not this propaganda stuff.”

“Mom! I am not an idiot! I don’t just believe everything the guy said.” He said from the backseat, “I can think for myself, ok? You are treating me like some kind of brainless robot that simply follows orders.”

I guess I’ve never thought that one day I’d come to be grateful for his being a pain in the ass, to appreciate his natural tendency to disobey, to question authority.

 

 

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Santa is not real.

I am worried that I may have ruined my son’s childhood. On Christmas eve nonetheless. Before he went to bed full of anticipation for Christmas morning, I decided to tell him THE Truth.

Well, I did not really decide per se.

He turned 9 this year and he’s always known that Easter Bunny is not real because, well, he is not a fucking idiot. He had suspected for a long time that tooth fairy is also not real so he went CSI on us: When he lost one of his teeth, he did not tell us. In the morning he came to the side of my bed, showed me his tooth, and said, “See. I put this under my pillow and it is still here this morning. I know tooth fairy is not real. This proves that YOU are the tooth fairy because I did NOT tell you about the tooth.”

Fine by me. I actually feel relieved because to prolong the lie as they grow older, the mechanism that goes into putting up the show becomes more elaborate, and then it goes from a harmless childhood tradition to full-blown deceit. When I heard about people that left footprints in the backyard, cracked the window open, sprinkled ashes by the fire place or reindeer droppings in the front lawn, I cringed. How much is too much?

At some point the child becomes old enough to just know  and though it is not discussed, tooth fairy will simply stop visiting. At least that was how it went with my oldest boy.

With my youngest, Mr. Monk, it has been a completely different experience. He really wants to believe in the magic despite the contradictions he himself acknowledges. Throughout this year, he’s been hinting that he’s ready to let Santa go. Or rather, he knows that we the parents are Santa all along, “Just like the tooth fairy.” But he has never come right out and said, “Santa is not real.”

When my mother-in-law called me to confirm that Mr. Monk no longer believes in Santa, therefore we do not need to “do the Santa thing”, I said, “Sure. He’s outgrown it already.” All the presents were wrapped and labeled, and none of them were from Santa. Then when Mr. Monk and Grandma were making Christmas cookies, he said, “Remember to leave a cookie out for Santa.” With all the sincerity and conviction of a young child. My heart skipped a beat.

After the Christmas eve party, when we were trying to get him and his cousin to go to bed, the two of them begged for a cookie for Santa. And a glass of milk.

“Are you sure about this? Is Santa coming tonight?”

“Mom, you forgot? Santa is coming and he will eat the cookie and drink the milk just like he did every year.”

Never mind that my husband was always the one that volunteered to be Santa by taking a big bite out of the Christmas cookie, finishing the milk, and for good measure, leaving a crumpled napkin on the table.

My niece does not believe in Santa. She knows that Santa is not real because that’s the way her parents decide to bring her up. They have been kind enough to play along, and every year, my mother-in-law would prepare a present from Santa for my niece just to be convincing. I looked at her enthusiasm and excitement as she and Mr. Monk prepared the cookie and milk and the accompanying note for Santa, and realized that for a child sometimes knowing something is not real is different from wanting to believe in that something.

When I put the kids to bed on Christmas eve, I whispered to my oldest, “Do you think Mr. Monk still believes in Santa?”

“I think he knows. He just does not want to admit it…” He turned around and asked his brother, “Hey, ____, do you think you will get anything from Santa tomorrow morning?”

“Of course!”

“How do you think Santa is going to get here?”

“On his sleigh. Pulled by his reindeer of course.”

After a prolonged dance around the touchy subject aka beating about the bush, finally my oldest sighed, “This is like that saying ‘How do you find out a bomb really works?’ Don’t make me ask you that question that if I ask you you are going to know…”

“Just make the big presents the Santa presents.” All of a sudden Mr. Monk said.

“No. Make the small things the Santa presents.” My oldest countered, “Otherwise you never get to thank mom and dad for the big presents.”

“No. I want the big presents to be from Santa.” Mr. Monk protested.

“This settles it then.” I thought, “He knows the truth.” Feeling relieved, I said to my oldest, “So, [Oldest Boy], do you want a Santa present too?”

All of a sudden, Mr. Monk’s face fell and he pulled the blanket above and over his head, visibly upset. “Do you have to tell me this on Christmas eve? Can’t you wait until the day after?”

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

“Do you have to ruin my childhood? And on Christmas eve?”

SIGH. KILL ME NOW. Not sure though whether I’m more disturbed by how I potentially single-handed ruined his childhood or by how he sounded just like me, a master of guilt-trip…

Yes I know. I am the worst, most evil mother in the whole world. Oy ve.

 

“Hey, it’s better you know now. Do you really want some old creepy fat guy crawling around your house and watching you while you’re sleeping?” My oldest intervened. This made Mr. Monk laugh and we once again skipped the subject at hand.

After a long while he stopped alternating between sobbing and laughing at his big brother’s antics and finally fell asleep. I went downstairs, pulled out three presents from under the Christmas tree, rewrapped them in the special wrapping paper reserved for “Santa gifts”, and slapped a sticker on each of them that said “From Santa”…

 

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The Lesser of Two Evils

August 6, 2011 no manual for parenting

Yet another interesting conversation with my 8-year-old that makes me worry… [In the car] Mr. Monk: Mom? Me [Distracted by This American Life on NPR]: Huh? Mr. Monk: What’s the drug that starts with an M? Me [Paying attention now]: Eh… You mean Methamphetamine? [Crap! How did he know about Meth?!] Mr. Monk: You know what […]

12 comments

Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.

May 15, 2011 no manual for parenting

Because of my racial/ethnic/cultural/educational make-up, I do not watch what I tell my children: I tend to over-explain everything and over-analyze everything for them. I also like to point out instances of racial/cultural prejudices and stereotypes disregarding whether they may be too young for such identity politics theory talks. Sometimes I feel sorry for them ’cause […]

32 comments

Teaching Kids Simple Words: Part 1

April 14, 2010 no manual for parenting

I have learned in my parenting career that the fewer letters there are in a word, the more the potential of it being an extremely difficult concept to explain to your child. Some small words are deceptively simple. Small words with big, heavy baggages. Mr. Monk used the word “gay” in the bad way the […]

27 comments

Makeup

February 21, 2010 no manual for parenting

1. Reading the comments people left for my last post, praising me for recognizing and questioning the rigid gender rules, in addition to feeling thankful, I am actually embarrassed. Feeling a bit like a fraud. A hypocrite. In an ironic way, although I set out to remain anonymous so I can speak my mind on […]

19 comments

Raising Boys

February 18, 2010 no manual for parenting

As much as I lament the lack of girl presence in my household, I know I am blessed to have my boys. They tug at my heart even though they bruise my sides sometimes when they roughhouse; They have no control over and are unaware of their own growing limbs.  They are protective of their […]

64 comments

Towards a Discussion of Religious Pluralism with a First Grader. Gingerly.

November 20, 2009 no manual for parenting

Scene 1 On our way home in the car, the 11 year-old lodged an official complaint against his younger brother for embarassing him in school: He talks about God too much. He said things like, “God created everything” in daily, random conversations, without prompting. On top of that, he also sometimes sports a British accent, […]

26 comments

The Ability to be Oblivious OR Is there a manual for the multicutural world we envision?

June 16, 2009 no manual for parenting

Warning: The following text contains ruminations on the color of our skins. If you feel uncomfortable discussing skin colors, wish that people would just stop obsessing over skin colors and go on with their lives, or believe that the insistence on talking about the colors of our skin makes the originator of the conversation a […]