Sunday, March 21, 2010

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

Happy Spring! This year we celebrated the Vernal Equinox, which marks the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere. The equinox is an astronomical phenomenon that occurs when the earth’s tilt on its axis is such that the sun’s rays directly hit the equator. When this happens, the earth reaches a balance between day and night; indeed, equinox means “equal night.” The spring equinox is one of four astronomical events also including the summer solstice, fall equinox, and winter solstice that mark the change in seasons.

We’re planning to observe these events as holidays in our family. The following excerpt from Calm and Compassionate Children: a Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond articulates some of our interest in celebrating the change in seasons with Ezra.
Seasonal rituals and holiday celebrations do more than create a rhythm, security, and a calm predictability: they also transmit our values. Their cyclical nature reminds us that behind change and seeming chaos there is order and calm. Seasonal rituals remind us of our connection to nature and help us appreciate that interdependence … rituals you and your child create around nature’s cycles … can help children notice and feel connected to all of life and appreciate that their bodies are a part of nature.
We will use these seasonal holidays as opportunities to note the cycle of life and celebrate nature. We will observe and reflect on annual changes in the natural world. We will learn about our local ecosystems and the flora and fauna that inhabit them. We plan to have fun while doing it!  As Ezra grows, we want to incorporate art, storytelling and games into the celebrations too.

The Spring Equinox holiday is a celebration of rebirth, growth and fertility. There are many religious and cultural celebrations worldwide that coincide with the spring equinox including the pagan holiday, Ostara, honoring Oestre, the Saxon goddess of Spring; the Christian holiday, Easter; the Iranian New Year, Nowruz; and the Jewish holiday, Passover. These holidays share themes and traditions that mark the beginning of spring. We also hope that celebrating the spring equinox will not only give Ezra a sense of place in his local environment, but will show him what is shared around the world. We want Ezra to be familiar with the mythologies, rituals, and customs surrounding these shared holidays.

Because Garry and I are not religious, we don’t observe Easter, which is celebrated by many of our families and friends. However, observing the equinox allows us to share with Ezra many fun traditions associated with Easter that we remember from our childhoods. Garry and I have loosely observed the spring equinox in the past, but I had worried that celebrating the spring equinox with Ezra would feel false, like we weren’t celebrating a “real” holiday. However, we made plans and decorations and prepared food, and on the morning of the equinox I really did feel like we were celebrating a holiday. I awoke with anticipation for the day. Our festivities this year included an afternoon hike at Cedar Bluff Nature Preserve. We entered along a tributary of Clear Creek at the base of a 75 feet limestone bluff. We hiked up the bluff and picnicked near a bed of diminutive white Trilliums. We enjoyed the sunshine and read an excerpt from Scott Russell Sanders’ The Force of Spirit. In the evening we had a holiday feast with Effie and Squash. Our table was decorated with naturally dyed eggs, germinated seeds, flowers, and candles.

As Ezra gets older these festivities will evolve and change according to his interests too. Some part of our celebrations may more closely resemble those of Easter, particularly decorating and hiding eggs for Ezra to find.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Week in Review: March 1-14

Ezra was accepted into daycare.
 He also got these new pants (we did not have a photo of the daycare).  We really like his new pants, but are much more excited that he (and Garry) will be starting at KneeHigh a co-op daycare in Bloomington in the next few weeks.

Posto family reunion.
 Amanda's brother Jon (here with his grandmother, Emma) came from Phoenix for a few days
 bringing the Postos together for the first time in 5? 6? 7? . . . in many years.

Chocolate pancakes, mmmmmmmmmm!
 We made chocolate pancakes two weekends in a row.  This is how we photographed them.
 This is how we ate them.

And, we all made a few new friends.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Other People's Stuff

As we prepare for Ezra to make his transition to daycare we have been thinking about how, when, and where he sleeps, and this article caught Amanda’s attention. Currently he sleeps in our bed after being nursed to sleep.  He naps while being worn in a baby carrier or in the car seat during our commute.  The time for lonely naps and earlier bedtimes is upon him.  Maybe?

In The Battle Over “Cry It Out” Sleep Training, author Ada Calhoun, points out that very few parents read books and ideas that are outside their parenting philosophies (in this case cry-it-out methods versus attachment parenting).  We have observed this in ourselves and other parents and have discussed reading parenting books we do not necessarily agree with.  We think this would help us be well-rounded, but honestly we barely have time to read the books we do agree with. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Parenting Artifacts

Much like anthropologist Jane Goodall immersed herself into the world of the gorillas, Amanda and I are becoming a part of parent culture. Along the way, like all social scientists, we are discovering the many strange and unique tools specific to this exotic culture. Here is a sample of one of our preliminary findings.

The Pee-Pee Teepee: For the sprinkling wee-wee
Although we've had a few incidences changing Ezra's diaper, I have never thought I needed a special tool to prevent these "horror stories."  I've always thought that I just need to be faster than Ezra's bladder. 

. . . but The Pee-Pee TeepeeTM comes in several designer prints!  Their motifs include "wiener" dogs, golf, skull and crossbones, surfing, bi-planes, and camouflage.  Something for everyone.  One even looks like a Santa cap that you can place over your son's penis. I have to admit that the hook imagery on the above design makes me feel a little anxious. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sex and Death

I recently read an essay about having “The Talk” with your child, or more accurately avoiding that talk. The female author begins by recounting a car ride in which her young child asked her first question about sex.  The author breathed a sigh of relief when her child accepted her poor and confusing answer (in my opinion, not hers) to a straightforward question, and moved on to another topic.  The child’s father, who was also in the car, remained silent throughout the question & answer session.  Drawing on this incident and similar ones experienced by her female friends, the author develops a thesis that discussing sex is a burden of motherhood because fathers are unavailable, incapable, and unwilling to discuss sex with their children.  I of course found the mommy martyrdom annoying, but what I found the most frustrating was the author treating parents’ lack of comfort talking about sex as a universal fact. I believe many parents, like myself (a father), not only talk to their children about sex but are comfortable and confident in doing so.

I don’t anticipate talking to Ezra about sex will be difficult or embarrassing.  I would be terrible at my job if I did. 

I work at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction as an art, photography, and artifact curator.  For the last three months, three-fourths of his life, Ezra has been coming with me to work.  He has attended staff meetings, tagged along on tours, listened to lectures, and watched as I have worked on two separate exhibits for our gallery: one featuring amateur erotic art, and the other looking at the diversity of the human body.   “That’s a funny looking penis isn’t it?” is not an out of place statement in our day-to-day life together.  As Ezra gets older I hope this casual, open, and frank approach to sexual subject matter will encourage ongoing and evolving conversations (not a dreaded talk!) in which he gradually learns about the differences between boys and girls, where babies come from, how his body will change, masturbation, sexuality, becoming sexually active, and relationships.  Even if I didn’t work at a sex institute I would find these to be uncomplicated topics to explain and discuss.  Several are really not much more than explanations of biology.  Why is sex the topic parents most wish to avoid? If I had to pick one topic I would like to never broach with Ezra it would definitely be death.

Obviously death can also be explained as a fact of biology as I suggest with sex, but unlike sex, the questions children have about death are more abstract and philosophical than simply how it happens.  What happens after you die?  Why can you no longer visit people?  Where do you go?  These are questions that have no clear, if any, answer.  Many people turn to religion for explanations.  For example, “Grandpa is now in heaven with Jesus, Grandma, and our cat, Mr. Wiggles,” is an easy and comforting explanation.  As a child I never found an answer like this satisfying.  As an atheist family we don’t have a simple answer like that to give Ezra.

Because of our uncertainty in how to best explain death, Amanda and I have already spent a fair amount of time thinking about how we wish to approach the topic with Ezra when it becomes necessary.  I found a beautifully illustrated and written children’s book, Old Coyote, by Nancy Wood and Max Grafe about a male coyote who realizes he has come to the end of his life.  He has lived to be “as old as coyotes get” and knows his life is coming to end.  He visits the friends and places that were important to him.  He reflects on how his body, his life, and the world have changed over his lifetime.   He is satisfied with the life he lived and knows the time comes when the “circle is complete.”  On a perfect rock he drifts into sleep as he “dreamed his way into a whole new world.”  The book is comforting because the old coyote is in control and ready for his death.  As the last few months have tragically pointed out to Amanda and I that is not how death always approaches.   Death often comes unexpectedly.  Death often takes those at what should be life's beginning and not its end.  Death is mysterious, unpredictable, permanent, and inevitable. How do you not frighten children when discussing this?  Maybe it is best to acknowledge that death is scary and sad, but it is part of life – and then change the subject to a more positive aspect of life.  Maybe sex.

*Three years later, I revisit this post. Read part two here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Week In Review: February 15-28

Since Ezra has been born, we have spent most of our evenings at home enjoying our new life with baby. Ezra is now a little older and spring is just around the corner causing us to experience a bit of cabin fever. The last half of February helped slow our symptoms with event after event after event …

Saturday, February 20, we attended Malcolm Dalglish’s The Welcome Table at the Buskirk Chumley Theater.  The Welcome Table was billed as a “spectacular indoor – outdoor production and pie party” combining song, dance, percussion, light verse, puppets, dancing reindeer, and a dozen bassoonists to help the audience shed their winter blues and welcome the eventual arrival of spring. The event ends with a parade of audience and performers singing as they march from the theatre to a bonfire beneath Dale Enoch’s sculpture The Bloomington Banquet where pie was provided by Bloomingfoods, the local food co-op.  The show was altogether fun, raucous, poignant, hilarious, and at some points absurd (did we mention the dancing reindeer?).

 Illustration for poster image by Sam Bartlett
Accompanied by his Grandma Sandy, Grandpa Harold, Effie and Squash, Ezra attended his first live, musical performance with The Welcome Table. Ezra loved the show and everyone loved sharing it with him.  He would bury his head in our chest during the enthusiastic audience’s generous applause between acts.  After the clapping ceased, he immediately turned his head back to the stage to see what was next. We were excited to take Ezra, but concerned he was too young for a live performance. We worried he would be disruptive. Would he cry? Yell? Be generally unhappy? He was none of those things. He found the show fascinating, entertaining, engaging, and by the show’s end exhausting, but he made it through.

photo by Stefanie Boucher
Ezra’s eyes closed pretty much after the last note (of the indoor performance) was sung.  He missed us marching through the streets of Bloomington singing about pie.  If you also missed this, the parade was recorded by Duane Busick and captures some of the spirit of the evening – and we think the spirit of the city of Bloomington. Amanda sampled the apple, pecan (thanks for sharing, Garry!), and rhubarb (thanks too, Steve!) and all were delicious (thanks for baking, Bloomingfoods!). In fact, they were most likely the best pies she’s ever eaten. It was inspiration to experiment with pie this coming summer and fall. If you have plans to visit us this summer, come with the expectation to eat pie!

photo posted by Kayte Young
Tuesday, February 23, still thinking about Saturday’s apple pie we helped support Bloomington Community Orchard by participating in a photo shoot.  The photographs will be submitted with grant applications as this new project tries to secure more money. We hope we captured Bloomington’s sense of community in the photograph!

The following week we attended back-to-back lectures Thursday and Friday. Live, variety-type show performances are good in Ezra’s opinion. Lectures? Not so much.

Sarah Sudhoff, Exam 2, 2006
Thursday, February 25, we attended a lecture by photographer Sarah Sudhoff. Sudhoff exhibited in The Kinsey Institute’s 2007 Juried Show and came to Bloomington for a short visit as an artist-in-residence at the institute. Sudhoff’s work, inspired by her own experience with cervical cancer, explores issues of medical waste (what happens to the body parts doctors remove?), the vulnerability felt by medical patients, and mortality.  She has a self-published catalog of Repository, which you can purchase via her blog.  Ezra and Amanda spent the lecture outside of the lecture hall playing on the dirty floor of the fine arts building with an abandoned scarf.

Friday, February 26, we attended a FREE lecture by Michael Pollan. Pollan, a best selling author and food activist, encourages people to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."  Amanda, Stef, and Josh had a great time listening to Pollan speak.  Ezra and Garry spent the lecture on the floor of the auditorium’s lobby where an impromptu playgroup formed with other parents and fussy infants (they also had fun).