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Gender stereotyping in the eyes of a 9 year old

Javier climbed in the car and did not wait for me to ask how his day was “Mommy, wait” he pleaded and demanded in the same breathe. He made sure his brother made it in the van and across to his seat before he continued. I turned to look at him and knew he had a story to tell, something was bubbling inside him ready to burst like that volcano he had just built for science class last year. “Yes, Javier,” I started leaving my statement inconclusive, inviting him to continue. “I had a terrible day at school.”

“I am so tired of teachers saying girls are more mature…” Javier has had a knee jerk reaction over the years to gender stereotyping. He has struggled with it, argued with girls in his class and consistently rejected it.  I can go as far back as Prekinder and him defending a boy in his class who liked the color pink. Javier told the other boys off, “pink is JUST a color, get over it!” Javier would add defiantly, “I like ALL colors”. Javier added later in the van- where most of our long conversations happen, that he had observed this boy and he thought he genuinely liked pink, but that maybe he liked pink also because the girl he liked, liked pink, and he obviously had a crush.

Javier was hearing “mature” and understanding girls were “more advanced”, somehow better students. The insinuation that was clear and present to this young boy was that girls “got it”, “they behaved better”, because that is their biology.

“It was unjust and uncalled for,” he explained, “I felt like correcting the teacher: ‘it is not in their biology to be better behaved! It is the result of other factors like what happens at home. Boys can be just as well behaved, just as good, just as smart! But I did not want to be rude to the teacher, and these were different teachers in different moments.” He may have misunderstood the subtleties of girls’ maturity but he was right on the communicative intent. He recognized the intent was to compare the genders and was intended at shaming the boys.

Later that same day the Spanish teacher insisted as she organized students to go out to the library, “boys wait and let girls go in first.” She was calling boys to be gentlemanly, which on its surface would not anger many parents, but Javier who had heard this call before from the demanding end of girls his age, had enough of it. He saw it as another unjustified gender manipulation based on notions of preference to girls.

Javier was ready to go to the principal, talk to his teachers, something had to change.  I took this moment to first agree with him and say that teachers should not be making gender based generalizations nor trying to shame a segment of the students by traits they cannot change. Then I went on to explain that girls did in general mature earlier, but that socialization outside of school and inside of school was in fact a very important part of behaviors present in the classroom. i also discussed with him the historic antecedents of statements like “girls first” and “gentlemen-like” behavior being a possitive social attribute. In the end, explaining the historical gender baggage the teachers carried did not minimize Javier’s observation. Gender roles and expectations are changing and generalizations are usually shortcuts with a cost, and he was not happy to pay it.





“I am the Black Scorpion”

As most every night I sit on my bed to catch up with some work, work I did not get around to doing because I spend a couple of hours on the road driving kids to their activities.  This is not me venting. I love hanging out with my kids in the middle of the day. Asking them about their school day, reviewing who they played with and plans for the days ahead. If we are not talking we are listening to music, singing and laughing. Mostly talking or laughing. Those couple of hours are therapeutic. But, those hours come at the cost of a couple of hours sometimes at night or on the weekends.  C’est la vie. So there I was, sitting and working. My bedroom door is always open so I can listen to what goes on out there. And often, what is out there spills into the room as it did that night.


I heard the little pitter patter of rapid movement. Feet chasing, nervous laughs, the occasional “no!!! that is mine!” And then, the chaos burst into my room. Three boys ran in, one sang “When the bad guys are on the run, na na nana, nanana.  tu tu tutu, tu, tututu”. “Mom, look! I am …. the Black Scorpion! He is a character I made up” explained Javier, proud and excited as can be. Continue reading “I am the Black Scorpion”

The Black Scorpion: From the desert to the streets of LA

Stevenson woke up with a jolt at the sound of the alarms.  All he heard was that somebody locked his door. Stevenson hid under his bed and waited for the alarm to be turned off. He could hear the adults running around and things breaking.  He waited for his parents to sneak in and tell him what to do and what was happening. But that never happened. He never saw his parents again. Continue reading The Black Scorpion: From the desert to the streets of LA



Javier wanted desperately to be an altar server (monaguillo) or “mono-guillo” as we teasingly call the in our “tribu de monos”. He wanted to follow in his brother’s foot steps.

Jaimito had been altar serving since he was 9 years old. He trained while he was only eight, before his first communion. Then turned nine and celebrated his first communion. The very next day he served at the altar for the first time. It was also his cousin’s first communion. The pride and excitement Jaimito felt was evident to all and must have left a mark on Javier.

But rules changde and Javier would have to wait another 2 years for his first communion. Javier felt held back, oppressed like an eight year old would, because the rules of the game were changed.

He felt he was big enough and responsible enough… quoting a famous song we sing “anything he can do, I can do better!” In our tribu de monos the “one man upmanship” is de rigeur, a fact of life that often reminds younger brothers that they are not there yet and builds in them a thirst to be “ready”.

Javier tried to understand. He logically argued that  the reason for changing the age requirement was sound, but was convinced the rule should not apply to him, or at least, not limit him from serving at the altar.  He was old enough and mature enough to do the job (he was in fact a year younger than his brother at the start, but these are my monos).

Continue reading “Monoguillos”

La Vuelta

Tonight was a night that invited quiet reflection. From my car, in the traffic bottleneck (tapón) I took the opportunity to blog using voice to text on my cell phone…. ahh technology.  Here it is:
Olaia had a party, she also had a funeral mass. I tried to accommodate both in one night: the highs and lows of being alive.

She sang beautifully like an angel the words remembering a life were moving.  She let me know she was touched and sad, but found she could not cry when she saw such faith strength and peace in her friends’ family.  So many inspired words were said, dripping in religious imagery combining faith and memories in every sentence. It was sad. A friend her age lost her father. It was unbearable. I cried like a baby myself. But Olaia, along with her choir mates and her friend who also is in the choir, sang and their harmonies filled this church that fit easily 200 people. Continue reading La Vuelta

Funny vignettes

“Dry rain”, “muscle bones”, examples of tired brain syndrome. But as if being obviously so tired that you come up with funny incongrous phrases was not enough of a sign that one should cease talking… we then spend a good hour debating why the phrase seemed logical at the moment it was spoken.  At the end of the hour we gathered that muscle bones was a bizarre way to say “cartilage” and “dry rain days” well it is now a meme in our family, because those do exist. We now all chuckle and distinguish between “dry rain days” and “wet rain days”. If  you want to know more about these climate conditions, feel free to visit.

Van Talks: Music Theory on the Go

On another day, another time, I was in the van driving kids off to some music class. I was on the main thoroughfare, about to get on the highway when I got lost in thought as I listened to Olaia and Jaimito start pontificating or musing, not sure which, but it went something like this “Respect the musicality of the past  and just want to forget the reductionist repetitive unimaginative progression of modern pop “moozik”. I listen, I know they putting into words their enjoyment of rhapsodies and contrasting the harmonies of the past to the over used 4 chord progression of so many modern pop songs.  Their level of music analysis is so beyond what I could repeat or expand upon.  Bizarre and fascinating to listen to my kids exchange opinions and ideas that are not mere echoes of us, their elders, but a reflection of who they are becoming the sum of their unique experiences. I love these gifts of every day life! Continue reading Funny vignettes

The Justice League Dropped by the Office

imageJavier is a lego building maniac that is constantly working on something. I have seen his lego restaurant with soda machine and bar area, kitchen and tables.  I have seen his robots and heard his cries of “no!!!!! You broke apart my creation before I took a picture”. Here we have his version of the “Justice League. See if you can tell which little bundle of block s is who.

Canola is a Good Peanut Butter Substitute.


This is not probably the picture a foodie was expecting. Furthermore, this does not look good. I know it might look angry. It is not. It is more like humiliating and funny and lovingly done. What on earth is going on? It all started with some chewing gum.

Now if you are an extreme and inventive chewing gum chewer, listen up. Asier, our 6 year old, like many other extreme gum chewers got crazy – must have been the new bursting at the seams powerful minty flavor but he just popped it out of his mouth and started exploring hand-chewing the gum, I guess. But because he is a very cool 6 year old, he was exploring this cutting edge chewing gum trick while casually laying back on our white leather sofa. Suddenly, before he even noticed it, his eyes were drawn to the video game being played by his brothers. In that short out of body experience, he forgot himself. He must have almost felt the fingers on his hand move and flitter about the vividly imagined controller. And then it happened.  He realized his hand chewing had met his disheveled hair that had been sticking up against the cushion and voilá! The recipe for disaster was complete.

The just desserts were beautiful though. He went to his dad. Confessed. Walked around the house embarrassed before his two older brothers. Until Javier, who is now 8 comforted him, “Don’t worry I already did that once.”  “You’ll just have to take a bath in peanut butter…” he added with an earnest look and mostly undetectable mocking tone. “I am going to have to take a bath with peanut butter!!!!” shrieked Asier, sure that his coolness rating was going to drop for sure.

At his son’s shriek, foodie hobbyist and master engineer of the house, quickly analyzed the chemical interaction that informed the previous “peanut butter takes chewing gum off by dissolving it”. He then posited the idea that canola oil might do the trick. Asier found comfort in his dad’s words and assented to being guinea pig for crazy foodie science. At least there was no bathtub and peanut butter scrub.

Jim asked for a plate and the canola oil.

There was no oil-boarding torture. Asier was resigned to his improved fate. He put his head on the plate, face down and putting his hands on the table. Meanwhile his big strong daddy was holding the huge family sized canola container so that only a light drizzle fell on the front of his hair. Asier rested his forehead now in the shallow pool of oil gathered in the plate and waited for the gum to loose its gumminess.

Next, Jim asked his loyal and amused assistants -Asier’s older brothers- for a fine toothed comb.  Gingerly the top portion of the hair was combed. The gum came off and only the slick hair styling of a 50’s greaser was left behind.  That Asier sure does know how to look good even when he is dripping in oil.

So now you know the rest of the story.  🙂



Suffering Artist, Age 6

As I write I hear my child sobbing while dutifully exploring painting.  I never knew showing him the way to painting would be so painful.  He has always been so passionate and self driven.  But in this process I trust he will find his way to new and deeper understanding of the process of the way to progress and better tomorrows.  Still it breaks my motherly heart.

Javier told me one afternoon while driving around with me: I want to make a painting of a yellow flowered tree behind our house at dusk. It was a very specific request. I could sense he had a picture in his mind of what he wanted and how it would look. This tree does exist. It is a big old tree that he can see well outside his window, just beyond our house.

Before I could sit down with him to direct him, he had already drawn the trunk.  In his uncanny artistic sensibility he drew it off center but stopped because he did not know how to avoid the old childish ways of doing a big roundish ball on top of the tree. He brought me his drawing and said: How am I going to make the top? I told him he would not draw the shape of the top of the tree but first draw the skeleton of the tree, branches, big ones first and guess where they divided to build that general shape of the tree.  Then we would add leaves.

He came back to me less than an hour later. His trunk had veins, he had the branches that reached out in a whimsical fashion that matched the shape of that big ol tree. He had also drawn leaves and put himself in along with a couple of imaginary palm trees that seemed to sway in the wind. His drawing was beautiful. We all complimented his on a job beautifully done.

Then came the hard part. “Now,” I explained “you have to paint over it and do the background colors of  your painting. I took a piece of paper out and quickly alluded to his project. I talked him through the steps. “You want to cover the whole canvas. Think about the time of day and where the lighter and darker parts of the sky are going to be.  When it is morning you go lighter at the horizon to more intense blue on top, when the sun is going down, then it can be the opposite. It depends on where the sun sets. In our case the sun sets behind us.  We can put reds and purples on the sky to remind people the sun is setting. The grass will be dark. Cover the canvas and then play with the designs of the brush and the colors. Have fun.” I then painted on top of the background, a tree like his, leaves and flowers. I even painted his silver clouds and white bright moon. I showed him that with these paints, light colors can go on top of dark colors.

He listened intently and yet at every pause in my instructions he reached for the brush in my hand and quickly said, ” I understand, let me do it.” “I know how to do it now.” Then the time came when it was his turn. He started out well. But then he stopped. He started painting around the tree. I told him he had to paint over his tree and then draw it again but with paint. “Painting is not drawing. Drawing helps you know what you want so you can do it. But painting will always give you something different.” I tried to explain simply and to the point.

I left him to do other things and then heard sobbing. He had fallen in love with his drawing and now could not bear to paint over it. I tell him the drawing was practice to show him the way, how to use the space.” In tears he begs me not to make him paint over it.  I opened a big art book to show him how artists paintings do the same thing and that is why they don’t have white gaps around the edges. We looked at his previous painting examples and saw the white edges. He knew what had to be done and why and yet he cried.

He cried some more without an audience. Then there was silence. Half an hour later he came to me and said, “Mom, come look at my painting, I already finished the background. What do we do next!”  His excitement made it all better. It lessened my guilt for being a stern art teacher and mother that would not coddle him.  It did not feel good then, but I am sure through all this pathos he will remember we painted the backyard view together and his painting will be awesome.