Saturday, January 10, 2009

5 Questions That Made Me Think

I asked to be interviewed by fellow blogger, Lesley, of Chapter III. It started with an interview she did with Frogdancer and it can go forward, if you would like to give it a try, this is what you do:

It’s simple.

1. Send me an email or a comment saying 'interview me'.
2. I will then email you five questions that I choose.
3. You can then answer them on your blog.
4. You should also post these rules along with an offer to interview anyone else who emails you or comments that they want to be interviewed.

Simple right? I loved reading Lesley's interview, and I feel like I know her better. It made for an interesting post. And so I was kind of excited to receive Lesley's questions to me, but she asked good ones. Good = I had to think. A lot. With my brain. I thought it would be an easy way to have a fresh topic to post about, but I cannot say this was entirely "easy." Still, I am glad she asked me good questions and I am glad I thought about things and then got to write them down. I can't be sure they are totally, thoroughly my final answer, but I think I got very close to the truth and knowing myself better.

Here goes... oh, and I learned that I really need to scan our pre-digital photographs!

1. You're a very busy and dedicated mother/wife/homemaker right now. But what about the Natalie before all that: what did you do before you had four kids and a husband — and even earlier, what childhood dreams did you have about life as a grown up?

Natalie B.C.
I think that for as long as I can remember I was imagining my own world. My own world was so domestic and orderly and storybook inspired, that I am amused and a bit startled to think on it now. I wanted my chance at baking pies and sewing curtains and decorating a tree for the holidays. I wanted to emulate my mother and my grandmothers and Peter Pan's Mrs. Darling. On the surface this might seem quite ordinary and practically pedantic, stereotypical even. Ironically, for me, traditional was not a stereotype, or a safe, familiar path. I was aware of traditional expectations for women and I knew women that were filling those roles, but I was also growing up in the midst of a women's liberation movement, surrounded by hippies, and once straight-laced parents that were discovering their own rebellions and liberties.

So while adults in my life were questioning their traditional roles as men and women, and also trying to influence my point of view, internally I was keenly enamored of old fashioned images and ideals. I liked aprons and the tidy way Natalie Wood's hair looked, no matter how the wind blew. I wanted a canopy bed and a mommy and daddy that sat together at the dinner table. I thought that Norman Rockwell paintings were beautiful and when I could find prints of his I would get lost in the elusiveness of his foreign landscapes and still lifes.

I liked pink, and flower beds, the idea of domestic contentment, and it was with some reluctance that I suppressed these desires and interests and instead adopted a vague disdain for frills and irons, for eyelet trim, polka dots and baked cookies after school. It was a strange denial of what innately stirred me. The counterculture of the 60's and 70's was brewing a counterculture of my own. I wore only denim and Hang Ten T-shirts, I was an original latch-key kid, dividing my time between homes, moving often and witnessing first hand my parent's struggles with and adaptations to a huge social shift... I can still conjure the smell of... never mind. No need to implicate anyone... the question is about my childhood dreams. I guess my point is that I was strongly influenced by what I was witnessing in the free-love, rock and roll era and it was interesting and character building, but it did not support what I was dreaming of. Or did it?

When Geoff and I met, I was still a child and still forming my convictions, finding my voice. He and I had very similar experiences, with divorced parents, lots of moves, many close-up encounters with the counter culture, and we were both struck the same way...It's been groovy man, but I think I've had enough! Mind you, we weren't in the scene, we were more like flies on the wall. We met in 1982. I was 15 and he was 16, and we talked and talked and talked, and kissed. And in all those talks we kept coming back to this very counterculture realization that he wanted to work with computers and that I wanted to make my work in a home, with children. He wanted to make things and change the world, and be a part of technology and the future, and he wanted to provide for a family and be a part of a domestic team, to be in a partnership. I wanted to raise children and finger paint, keep a garden and pack school lunches and have cookies on the table. We wanted to be partners, celebrating our unique skills and interests, valuing what each of us could provide.

It seems simple now. But I know at the time it was an awkward conversation to have with girlfriends and many (most) adults. It was probably easier for Geoff to say "I want to be a systems analyst," because education and a clear cut career path are highly valued. But the women's movement had swung social expectations so far in another direction that for a woman to say, "I want to have babies, co-sleep, grow veggies, possibly home school, learn how to quilt, make blanket tents and take lots of pictures of family vacations..." that was practically impossible. The expectation for women, for girls, thinking of their own adulthood, was in some aspects not wholly liberated, because now we were expected to postpone marriage and child-rearing for later and go full steam ahead with a career and then squeeze in a baby or 2, find a good nanny and get back to the office. I had several girlfriends tell me I was throwing my life away thinking of marriage and babies. I had my own fears and doubts about not becoming a lawyer or English teacher, or a biological anthropologist (one of my 2 majors at U.C.S.D.) Yet, when Geoff and I were in the midst of one of our talks, safe to speak from our hearts, I always came back to making a home and doing homey things and spending as much time as possible being immersed in home life. And he understood me and supported me and valued my dream.

The good thing about my childhood is that it showed me that we can rebel. We can do things that go against popular culture and social convention. I saw my mother stand on her own and learn to support herself, to express her own beliefs. I saw my grandmothers live by their convictions and be strong and ethical and valuable. I took those threads and pieces and made them my own, adapted them to my childhood dreams and rebelled against expectations. I have said that my children are my dreams coming true. It's not that everything is storybook perfect or that the path is clear and well lit. We have stumbled and adjusted, we have made mistakes and had setbacks, but before I had Geoff and children, I dreamt of having Geoff and children, and they are my dreams coming true. I went to two universities, and I've traveled quite bit. I jumped from The Clam 3 times. And I get to take lots of pictures, and I am a certified massage therapist, and I did learn how to make quilts, and I go on lots of road trips, and I have chickens and I can cook, read, play, and garden. I learned how to blog and sweat copper, and I have assisted in installing an engine block and a radiator. It's interesting how much we can have or seek, that we never even imagined as children, which is nice, because it means there is still time to dream some more.

2. Geoff really does seem to be the man of your dreams! How did the two of you meet — were there instant fireworks?

My school, October 1981, at a Halloween dance. My classmate and friend brought his neighbor friend to the dance, and that was the first time I set my eyes on Geoff. I thought he was the cutest boy ever. I loved his surfer length hair, his big eyes and long legs. I loved the energy of his smile and the way his hands punctuated his conversation, and I did all my loving from across the room, because he seemed so mature and cool and so way out of my league. I was 14.

On Monday morning I ever so casually grilled our friend, Lee, about that friend he brought to the dance and I vaguely hoped that Lee would promise an introduction or better yet tell me that Geoff had seen me and thought I was super cute too! Ha! Lee made a now infamous move and completely shocked my youthful head with fantastic fabrications about Geoff's true character. He said, "Oh, you do not want to go with him. He's got lots of girlfriends and he likes to go with lots of girls. He would not treat you right." I was grateful for the warning. I was a little crestfallen, but saved from real heartache and possible ruin. Possible ruin? Whatever that meant.

The second time I saw Geoff was at another school event, this one at the end of the school year, June 1982. At the beach. This time I sat next to Geoff in the sand and listened to him pour his heart out to another guy, about his girlfriend, their break-up and the possibility of him joining a monastery. I hung on every word. I was 15, at a beach party with all my classmates. It was the first day of summer break, and I was inches away from the cutest, most sensitive, well-spoken, broken hearted guy in the world and my mother wouldn't be picking me up until 10 p.m.. It felt like anything was possible. He might notice me. He might talk about something other than her. He might brush his hand against mine, or gaze at me in the fire light. I was dizzy and alive and so eager to know that the future held something for us.

He started talking about his car. The Volvo. I know all about the Volvo now... the family car that he rear ended later that summer! It was his and he asked who wanted to see it, and yes, I gained an immediate interest in seeing his car, in joining everyone in walking to the parking lot and peering under the hood. Cool we admired collectively. And walking back to the fire, he talked to me. He told me about his car and the end of school and the summer ahead. And he talked about Wisconsin, surfing, his family and overcoming heartache. It seemed he was ready to leave the monastery. Back at the bonfire some kids were burning text books. I saved the 9th grade literature book in time to rip out the page with Romeo and Juliet, and then it was time for me to go. I told my mom everything on our drive home.

Over summer I resumed my job volunteering at the Old Globe. In a white blouse and black skirt, I took tickets, seated patrons and got to see many beautiful productions on any of the 3 stages. I loved that job. It was a very nice way to enjoy art, theater and feeling responsible. Of course being 15 and having responsibilities is fertile ground for behaving irresponsibly. A friend and fellow volunteer came to pick me up and he would bring me home.

One night when we got to the theater they were overstaffed and we were sent home. He decided we should stop at Lee's house, our friend from school, and the neighbor of Geoff. It seemed innocent enough, a quick visit with school friends. And it was, but I was completely weak in the knees when we walked into Lee's place and his mom, Mary, was there and inviting everyone to swim and there in the pool was Geoff. He was animated and as cute as ever and he was talking to this tall, mature, pretty girl and the two of them were like peas in pod. He was so interested in her and sweet to her and it seems she had been away for a long time and everyone was very excited about her return.

Crestfallen, again.

And there was the question of swimming. I was dressed for work, and felt a bit silly and out of place, but everyone was insisting we could all swim and Holly, Geoff's girlfriend could lend me a suit. I was shy and mortified and thinking about at what point did this constitute not being where I was supposed to be? En Masse we walked down the street to where Holly lived, and kept her swimsuits, and it wasn't until we walked in to the house that it finally dawned on me... sister, not girlfriend. Holly is Geoff's sister! My knees were weaker than ever. The front door opened to a small entry and the kitchen and beyond the kitchen was the dining table, where 2 couples were finishing dinner. Geoff introduced me, saying "This is Mom and this is Corm." And I said, "Hi Mom, hi Corm." I am almost certain they were eating spaghetti.

Down the hall to Holly's room was a framed picture of Geoff. It was his profile and he was holding a white goat with a red ribbon around her neck. I honestly calculated the feasibility of slipping an 8x10 photograph under my blouse and getting it home undetected. I resisted temptation. I wore Holly's bathing suit and we all swam in Lee's pool. And when it was time for me to go home, Geoff came for the ride. And our hands did brush and he did look in my eyes, gazing. We talked about friends and plans and music and dances, and places we'd been and then we kissed. It was like completing a circuit and seeing the light come on. It cast a warm, reassuring and lasting glow.

Wisconsin, December 1987

3. With three sons and a daughter, what are the most obvious differences you've noticed between raising boys and raising girls? Anything that has surprised you?

Everyone thought William would be a girl. Everyone except Geoff. He quietly and confidently assured me we were having a boy. I can still hear the uniquely exuberant pitch in in his voice when William finally arrived, "It's a boy! It's a boy!" I didn't want to know the gender of our second baby, but Geoff could not resist. Can you believe we let the doctor tell Geoff the baby's sex and I stayed in the dark? Yeah, that lasted about 3 hours. Geoff had this smirk on his face and it was just eatin' me up that he knew and I didn't. Of course I had to beg and insist that I really had changed my firmly made mind and wanted to know: Boy or Girl?! Alex was born exactly on his due date, and being in love with our first son, I knew another little boy would be nothing but fun. We knew we were having a son when Max was born, and the hardest part was deciding on his name. He has 2 middle names! After early complications and lots of morning sickness, I was only too relieved to have another healthy baby boy.

Considering my age and the difficulty of my pregnancies, I was certain that we would have 3 boys. Done. They were tender, creative, sympathetic, funny, messy, explorers... actually, Alex was a very tidy fellow. They just did not seem to adhere to any particular generalizations about boys. They liked flowers and cooking and Lego bricks and playing in mud, and singing and playing dress-up, and they have never made any distinction about preferring the company of either boys or girls. They have always been kind and affectionate. I have actually had strong issues with people assuming they would be loud and rowdy or overly rambunctious. I hate: "Boys will be boys, like it's some kind of blanket excuse for rudeness or brusque behavior. Boys are great.

Boys are great. Girls are great. Children are great. Remember, I was brought up in the midst of feminist assertion and equal rights slogans. My betters were handing me books about girls can do it too! and my mom bought me the T-shirt "Women Belong in the House... and the Senate." So, my assumption, my certain belief, was that boys and girls are essentially the same and only our influences and social expectations color what they become and desire and how they relate to the world.

But. But I did notice that the boys were different from each other. They were different in ways that made no sense, so long as I believed that Geoff and I were "molding and influencing" them. We taught them all about napkins and spills and wiping our mouths when we eat, so why was 1 child always spilling and sporting a milk mustache and the other scrupulously neat? Why would one child sit quietly, with little inclination to cry or laugh a lot... just sort of even keeled emotionally, and another easily, audibly expressive and emotional? Curious. And so I accepted that children come with personalities and traits that are theirs alone. We can support and encourage and provide, but there is a core that is theirs and we do not change it. I thought I understood this very well. I did not.

By the time I knew I was definitely going to have one more baby, I understood 2 things. #1. I wanted one more baby. Boy. Girl. Whichever, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to be pregnant one more time, to deliver one more time. I love delivery. I could not let go of the desire to have another baby. #2. Even though I wanted either a boy or girl, I did want a girl. I never wanted people to assume that 3 boys were a disappointment or that I was "trying for a girl." I did not feel disappointment that one of my boys was not a girl, I simply wanted to add a girl to the family.... it's an important distinction. I hesitate to say this out loud, because I know a lot of mothers of all boys and when I was in that circle I remember feeling defensive about people's sympathy or assumptions that I was disappointed, but the truth is that I was hopeful that we would have a girl in our family, that we would experience daughter, sister, girl things. I came from my mother and she came from hers and she from hers and so on, and I had a spiritual, emotional inkling that there is a precious gift about that continuity, and I did hope that I would have some of those experiences that are unique to women and their daughters.

I wasn't sure I wanted to know in advance whether we were having a boy or a girl. Geoff, again, was sure he wanted to know. I was much older this time and so I let them do an amnio test, which was not the worst thing in the world physically, but the wait... the wait was excruciating. My doctor knew that I wanted to be kept out of the know about gender, but the lab technician that called with the results did not, and when she called she said, "The test results were negative." I was so anxious and eager to hear good news, that I caught my breath and gasped and asked her, "What?" Because I wanted to hear it again. I wanted to know that the baby was healthy and safe. The technician said with emphasis, "Everything came out fine. She's okay." I burst in to tears. All I could think is the baby is healthy, thank God. The baby is healthy... And then the she part sunk in. I absolutely could not believe that we were having a girl. It really did take days, maybe months, maybe the actual delivery, before I believed we were having a girl.

That was the first surprise. All subsequent surprises are on an almost daily basis. Girls are different. Our girl is different from our boys. This is a big admission for me and one that I have been accepting and realizing over the last 4 years. It's strange. I got confused about feminism and femininity... somehow I got the message that they are mutually exclusive. Pink, lacy, delicate, emotional, pretty, feminine became synonymous with weak and needy, and I totally rejected weak and needy. I also rejected pink, delicate, pretty, emotional and feminine, which is sad. Feminism is about equality of sexes... the equality does not mean that men and women are the same or behave the same or can with discipline and proper attitude be no different... equal like mathematical equations. It means that their opportunities and the respect we pay them should be equal. They should have equal opportunities to study and learn, to play and express themselves. They should have equal opportunities to be loved, admired, respected and valued for their skills and interests and contributions to the world.

So, pink is pretty and feminine and was once actually considered masculine... who knew? And Maria's favorite color is pink. She says so all the time and no one taught her to love pink or to love shopping for shoes, wearing a tiara, dancing like a ballerina. Before she could walk she found herself in front of a mirror and began sweeping her hair from her face, then she turned her head sideways and her smile became feminine. She started taking her baby blanket and wrapping it like a scarf around her head and admiring the effect... and I was stunned and aware that I was watching a girl, behaving in her own uniquely girl way. She is emotional, more so than her brothers... or at least she is more inclined to express her emotions. We have all had to learn that she will cry at the slightest provocation, something we are totally unaccustomed to. And she sighs and coos when confronted with babies, flowers, fluffy clouds, feathered hats, tea cups, angels, fairies and dresses.

After many years of living with all boys I was completely caught off guard... about 2 years ago I came out of my bedroom, dressed for an evening with girlfriends. I was out of my usual jeans and T, and as usual none of my guys saw or mentioned any difference, but Maria toddled up to me, her eyes wide, her mouth in an O and she pulled the hem of my skirt and said, "Oh, mommy. Yes. This is lovely" (Lubly, actually.) I cried. It was the slightest provocation, but it just felt so nice to be noticed in this lovely, feminine way.

Oh, so... "obvious differences between raising boys and girls?" No. Yes, they are different. Each child different from each other and the daughter distinctly different from the sons. But I am doing a lot the same in raising them. I keep my expectations high and my patience higher. I look at their needs and consider their strengths and try to help them find their unique way to learning and becoming their best self. I am aware that I had a bias against feminine qualities... I didn't recognize or appreciate that they were natural and innate and so I am careful not to suppress Maria and her girly interests. I have always been an advocate for building blocks and art and cooks in the kitchen, for readers, thinkers, singers... and I have learned to embrace flowery language, sudden tears, twirly skirts and sparkly wands too.

William, 1991

4. Imagine you could choose absolutely anywhere to put down roots, raise the kids, do your own thing, nurture your family (and all your livestock!): where would that be and why?
California Central Coast.
More rain.
It's central... I have family all over, but this might possibly put me in range of more family.
The Central Coast makes me giddy, romantic, happy, restful, hopeful, optimistic. If I cannot live there, I am more than happy to visit, often.

5. What is the soundest piece of advice you've ever been given?
The one that comes to mind came from a high school teacher. She was not the best or a favorite, but she said, "To find your mate look for someone that loves his/her family and treats them the way you want to be treated. Don't fall for a guy that is always complaining about family, or is estranged from family or childhood friends."


Janece said...

Thanks for doing the work of answering this interview.

Wow Natalie -- this is beautiful, beautiful writing. I loved every minute I was reading this. I can't express how much.


natalie said...

me, me. i want to be interviewed!!! :)

Lesley said...

Wonderful stuff! I knew you'd have lots to talk about on those questions!
The boy-girl thing is striking, isn't it? I never taught my sons to go 'brrrm-brrrm' when they saw cars, or my daughter to want to wear wings and be a fairy. As you say, letting them be is the important thing.
Thanks, Natalie, for taking so much care and trouble over your answers.

Frogdancer said...

Wonderful questions and even better answers. (You make me feel so shallow.... I want to go back and re-do my interview!)
Wonderful advice given by that teacher... I wish I had've had the benefit of it when I was choosing a husband.

Laura Jane said...

Excellent Q & A you two!

Interesting questions that fill in some gaps, and great and very thoughtful answers.

I love the early photos - was that photo taken on Lake Monona? I recall some of the houses looking like that.

And the post-birth photo - you look SO YOUNG!!!! I see couples like that all the time. How sweet.

judy in ky said...

I loved reading this, Natalie. I wish I could be as articulate as you are.
Maria looks so much like you in the 1991 photo.

Kelly said...

I really enjoyed reading this entry. I see we are about the same age and ran into the same deal when graduating high school. If asked what you were going to do after high school, the usual answer was to go to college. Heaven forbid you get married and settle down and be a homemaker. YOu and I know that is a very demanding job. We do it all! When asked what I wanted to be...and I said a wife and mother, I was looked at as if I had gone mad. I didnt care though, I knew what I wanted, and I have it. MY own dreams came true :) Hugs, Kelly

tara said...

How wonderful. I was glued to the sceen. Being the mother to 3 girls I understand the odd comments you get. I often am patted on the shoulder and told, "honey, the next one will be your boy" and so on. Maybe, just maybe, can we be happy with what we have?
I would love to be interviewed. Thank-you for sharing!

Tiglizzyclone said...

It was so interesting to read about how you met Geoff. And you look so cute in that red skirt.

h&b said...

Wow! - what an amazing ride you took us on, I clung to every word .. fantastic writing !!

I must stop reading these Q/A interviews though - I have my own to do, and with each new one I read, I wonder .. can I do my own questions justice ??

I will have to come back and read more of your blog now i'm intrigued to know more .. pleased to meet you :)

Anna Banana said...

Even though I've heard you tell your stories, I've never read them all together with photos! Wonderful stuff...

Tracy said...

Natalie, what pure delight to read more of your life story, and with photos! I've always felt you are a special wonder, special spirit in the world...your Q & A is a testament to that spirit. Thank you for sharing all the fun, ups & downs, romance, joy and reverence for your own life well lived. :o) ((HUGS))

persiflage said...

I loved your thoughts on having sons and then a daughter. There is a special bond between mothers and daughters as distinct from the special bond between mothers and sons, that I really cherish.

warren said...

Excellent interview! I really love to hear how people get together! Great story!

pip said...

I am a real lurker and hardly ever leave a comment.I found your blog via Frogdancer, who I also love.I keep coming back and re reading this lovely post. It makes my heart sing! I was so like you but over the years I have lost touch with my own reasons and feelings about getting married and having children, and it gives me such a feeling of peace and relief to hear someone else so eloquently express my own ideas and feelings for cherishing being a mother, wife and being creative at home.

Paul said...

Our culture puts too much emphasis on inconsequential measurements - how "big" is your life, how flamboyant, how famous, how exceptional, how active, how politically correct - while completely missing the point of a life well lived: whether or not you've immersed yourself in what you love. I think that's why Janece and I resonate so much with the organic, simple, rich texture of your life and your family, and it's much more clear to me now that you've said it explicitly. You love home, hearth and family, and you've embraced it wholeheartedly. And like anyone in love with their life, you catch other people up in the wonder and joy of your experiences. Thanks for taking the time to write this. It was lovely. If you're up for some interview questions, I'm up for answering them!

nikkipolani said...

Natalie, I was sure I'd commented, but something must have happened. Here's what I think I said, that I savored the reading of this post. I saw it when you first published, but had time only to glance at your answer and the sweeeeeet photo of you and Geoff on the ice. I found it interesting that the women's liberation movement didn't leave room for a woman like you who wanted to care for her family and enjoy domestic life. I'm glad you stuck it out and are building your dream, one chicken at a time, one knob at a time.

Robyn said...

You are a very loving soul. It was delightful to read your story. Best wishes for you and your family

Suse said...

That was lovely. I'm glad to have found your blog. I'm a mother of three boys too.

Lynn said...

Thank for sharing your story. I have two teenage boys and a 3 year old girl. I am really enjoying their differences.

Yours is a beautiful story.