Just the Two of Us

Guest Post: My husband will be sharing his thoughts on the transition from military man to stay-at-home dad in today’s edition of Biracial Buggy.

My life has gone through a major change recently because I’m retiring from the military. After nearly ten years of service, I’m getting medically retired. It’s going to be a huge adjustment because as anyone will tell you the military is not just a job, it is a way of life.

The other major life change coming is that I will become a full time stay at home dad, which will bring with it a whole other set of adjustments to make. I would say one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a stay at home dad will be developing a strong support network. I feel this is a task that is much easier for women because most of the established networks anywhere you go are primarily composed of women.

I have already had to experience the isolation of being a stay at home dad. What I have to deal with, particularly in a military town, is a severe shortage (as in hardly any) of other stay at home dads and stay at home moms whose husbands are so insecure, they don’t want their wives hanging out with other guys while they are at work. I don’t understand why some husbands are so bothered by this, because I don’t feel it is much different than having a colleague of the opposite sex. Although I was an Infantryman, so I haven’t had a female colleague in years. It also seems as if most people here assume that if a man watching his child, either the mother is gone or he is a single father.

My first experience took place when I went to a playgroup my wife set me up on from a stay at home moms group on Facebook. I was supposed to meet the other moms at a park.  Unfortunately the only person in the group who I actually knew did not show up. When I saw other moms there, I wasn’t sure if they were part of the group or not so I didn’t know if I should talk to them. I stayed at the park in case someone else from the group might see me and know who I was. I sat on the bench and played with Buggy. What happened next caught me by surprise.

All the other moms at the park not only didn’t talk to me but completely avoided me. It was as if there were a giant invisible force field between them and Buggy and I. I’m not sure if the women I saw were in the playgroup or not but even if they were not, I didn’t feel their reactions were warranted. The other moms would not talk to me, come near me, or even make eye contact with me. I can understand if they didn’t want to talk to me because they didn’t know me, but it seemed like a bit much to keep so much distance from me. After a while, some of the moms left the playground completely. I don’t know for sure if it was because of me but that’s definitely how I felt.

I admit I don’t have the friendliest looking face. I’m a dark skinned, husky, black man with tattoos and facial hair, and I’m probably about 5’10 or 6’0 depending on what convenience store I’m walking out of. All in all, I fit the physical profile of several armed robbery suspects. But on that particular day, I don’t feel like I seemed too threatening while I was wearing flip flops and playing with my infant daughter at the park. In any case, I didn’t really understand but I also thought it might have been a misunderstanding. Maybe around here it’s like in some Middle Eastern countries where women are not allowed to speak to men they don’t know outside the house. Of course, I felt even more awkward because when I left and a bunch of women went back to the playground.

The next time I went to playgroup, my “sponsor” showed up. This time around went much better, I actually socialized with the other parents and I was suddenly approachable. Although to be fair, it was a completely different group of women. One really nice lady even gave me a rice biscuit for Buggy. I felt so accepted. I think these groups just have some kind of SEAL Team 6 or Freemasons thing going on where you can’t get in if you don’t know someone.

The other side of the coin is that a lot of people think that if a father takes care of his child, that he’s a really great parent. I think society needs to get rid of this idea that a man is an extremely excellent parent just because he performs the most basic parenting duties, most of which are not considered very remarkable if the mother does them. But like I always tell my wife, I am a father because of what I do not because of what I did.

bug and daddy

Buggy and her daddy at playgroup, meeting other stay-at-home-parents and their kids

 

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Gender in the Toy Aisles

After my post about clothing and gender, I read a blog post about race in the toy aisle, and wondered if there would be more toys of non-white races in my local stores.  I live in a military town with a very diverse population, so I wondered if this phenomenon of no black dolls would hold true in my area.  What I found surprised me.  There were plenty of Black dolls in the “pink” (girl) aisles of my local big box store.  There were also Hispanic looking dolls, Asian dolls, blonde and brunette dolls, and some that even looked mixed-race to me.  My store did not have a lack of diversity in the toy aisle; I was glad I won’t have a problem buying Buggy a doll that looks like her around here.

cabbage patch barbies

Then, I walked down the “blue” (boy) aisles.  I was surprised at the differences in types of toys marketed towards boys versus girls.  The “pink” aka “girl” aisles had only dolls and princesses and their accessories, encouraging pretend play involving domestic activities and “typically female” occupations.  The “blue” or “boy” aisles had Legos, train sets, and many other similar toys that encouraged creative play, building, and collaboration.  I was disappointed to find that the only “gender neutral” or “green” aisles contained board games, all of which are geared towards an older (8+) audience.

legos trains

I did not find any male dolls other then one black Ken, and did not find any pink, purple, or otherwise girly trains or Legos.  It seems to me that retailers are trying to subconsciously send a message that girls should play with dolls, and grow up to be stay at home moms or get careers in female dominated fields such as teaching or nursing (there were plenty of nurse dolls on the shelves), while boys should be builders and become firefighters, police officers, or doctors.  When was the last time you saw a female firefighter toy?  Or an anatomically correct male doll?

As Buggy grows up I want her to be able to choose whatever toys she wants, without any pressure to play with “girl” toys just because she is a girl.  If she wants to have a Star Wars Lego set, I will buy one for her, just like I will buy her a doll (black, white, brown or otherwise) if that is what she wants.  For now though, she will be playing with an assortment of stuffed animals, rattles, balls, and books.

toys

Buggy playing with her toys in her pack n’ play

Do the stores in your area have different race toys?  Are the aisles as gendered as mine?

Boxed In

Last month I posted about how my husband considers himself Black not African-American, and it got me thinking.  What box do multiracial people check on forms? What about people who identify with a specific culture that’s not on the form?  How can you categorize yourself in just one word?  I totally understand the need for gathering data, but I’m not sure that ethnic/racial data collected in a check box format is necessarily an accurate representation of the population filling out the forms.  When you force someone to choose between the ethnicities listed on your form you force them to give up a part of their heritage.  I recently saw one such form that had an extra question for those who identified as Hispanic, asking them to specify which Hispanic country they were from.  Some Hispanic people I know are “from” the United States.  They were born here, but their parents or grandparents came from a Hispanic country and the family still has strong cultural ties with that particular country.  What would they write in?

I worked with a student once who was Polish.  Like actually born in Poland.  She shared Polish recipes and traditions with our school’s Diversity Club and even taught other students a few Polish phrases.  When she went to fill out an ethnicity form on a state test I was her testing monitor.  I remember glancing at her form after she passed it in and thinking how silly it was that she was forced to choose Caucasian/White.  She appears to have white skin, but she has strong cultural ties to the country she was born in and yet it wasn’t a choice on the form.

And why is White the only color on the form?  They don’t list Asian as “yellow” or Native American as “red”, so how come Caucasian people have to identify themselves as a color?  I’ve never seen “brown” listed on a form, but I know some forms list “Black/African-American” as one category, so presumably my husband (black) and his friend (Jamaican) would be lumped together even though they identify with completely different cultural groups.  It just seems hypocritical that we can call Caucasian people White, but we can’t call other races by the color of their skin without being called a racist.  And aren’t white people actually various shades of peach anyway?

While visiting my husband’s family in Ohio we came across his grandfather’s military discharge papers.  Near the top of the form there were just three boxes: white, negro, and other.  Because apparently in 1949 there were only two races that mattered in America.  It was much to everyone’s surprise to find that grandpa had checked both the white and the negro boxes!  My husband’s family said they always suspected he may be part white, but they had no proof he was until we discovered the form.  I find it interesting that there were only three choices back then because I’ve seen forms that have 10 or more boxes.  In the future will it be a whole page, listing every ethnic group in existence, and you can check however many boxes apply to you?  I wonder what that would do to our census data?

When Buggy is older, what box she will check?  White/Caucasian AND Black/African-American, or the multi-racial box?  Will she feel more strongly connected to one side of her heritage and check just that box or will she check “other”?  I never really considered that such a seemingly simple question (for me) might actually be a difficult one for my daughter to answer.

Have you been forced to check a box that didn’t fully describe you?  How did you feel about it?

Bad Hair Days

I have stick straight, medium length, medium-thick, blonde hair.  Whenever I go to a new salon the hairdresser always tells me never to dye my hair because people pay big money for my color blonde.  Living in the south my hair gets a lot of natural highlights from the sun and since moving here and I have gotten a few nice haircuts, complete with compliments from the hairdresser  However, back in the day I had some very interesting haircuts and hairdos.  Here is a sampling of my hair styles: from white-blond baby hair, to rocking the mullet, to crimps, braids and curls my hair and I have been through a lot!

baby teenhat teen mullethalf braids Crimpy Hair bo derek hairteen curly

Buggy, on the other hand, has thick, curly, dark brown hair.  I was actually surprised that she was born with a full head of hair because all through my pregnancy people told me if you have heartburn your baby will have hair, and I never had a single day of heartburn.  Anyway, as she has grown her hair has gotten curlier and now it is out of control!  My husband isn’t in to hairdos like he is to picking out her outfits, so whenever he wakes up with her first she either has wild hair or a headband on.  I like to put her hair into ponytails or pigtails, partly because it looks cute and partly because I can’t stand the frizz she gets in the humidity.  I also recently tried a product called Hip Peas Curl Tamer, which transforms her frizzy, crazy, puffy hair into adorable little (manageable) ringlets.  And now for some fabulous Buggy hair photos, here she is rocking pig tails, 4 puffs, her natural hair, and some sort of mohawk!

pig tails4 pig tailswild hair  mohawck

I am sure I will need a lesson or two (or three) from my mother-in-law on how to do my daughter’s hair when she gets older.  I can only imagine how tight the curls are going to get and how hard brushing her hair will become.  Now that my husband is transitioning into the role of stay at home dad perhaps he could use a lesson in little girl hair care too?

And just in case you are as sad as I am about the World Cup ending last week, here’s a list of the all hair team!

Baby Envy

My friend and I were enjoying an ice cream at TCBY when a photographer came in and started taking photos of patrons enjoying their treat.  Because I know that Buggy is the cutest baby on the block I inquired about the photo shoot.  Turns out they were taking pictures for a new website for the mall area we were in.  I asked if they would take our picture (because who doesn’t want to be famous with their photo on a random website nobody’s ever heard of?) and they said yes!  I was super excited!

While snapping a few photos of us the photographer asked me “Where does your baby get her curly hair?”  Before I could even reply he says to me “She has kind of creepy big eyes.”  Um… dude… not a compliment.  I didn’t even reply to him, I just smiled at my friend and the baby and pretended I didn’t hear him.

When I got home and told my husband that someone said Buggy had creepy eyes he said didn’t seem very bothered.  But it bothered me, and it still does.  She does have exceptionally large eyes, which look even larger because as a baby her head is big in comparison to her body (as all baby’s are), but her eyes are not creepy.  They are a honey brown in the middle and get darker the farther from the pupil you look.  And she has the most prefect long dark curly lashes, the kind that will never need an eyelash curler or mascara to stand out.  Actually, I’ll just go ahead and admit it.  I am jealous of my baby’s eyelashes.  I have baby envy.  I am still confused why a photographer, of all people, would tell someone their baby’s eyes are creepy, but I’ve moved on to obsessing over her eyelashes.  And her perfectly arched eyebrows.

What feature of your child’s is your favorite?

Where Is Her Mommy?

We were at the library for story time with Curious George (can you tell we like to read?) when a little girl about 3 came up to Buggy.  She held Buggy’s hand and patted her leg.  My daughter, in her typical fashion, cooed and smiled, and tried to grab the girl’s hair.  After a few seconds of “playing” the girl looked up at me.  I smiled and said “Hi” The girl looked back at Buggy, up at me again, and then turned to her own mother and asked “Where is her mommy?”  The girl’s mom, clearly embarrassed, tried to shush her daughter, and pulled her back to their spot on the carpet.  She quietly told her daughter not to talk to strangers, and to “leave the nice lady alone”.

Since I was used to people commenting on our differences by now, and because this little girl was clearly, and very innocently, curious about us, I decided to answer her question.  I knelt down by the girl and said very softly “This is my baby.  Her name is Buggy, and we look different because her daddy is black and I am white.  Together we made a brown baby” The mom looked very relieved by my response, and we started talking about how my baby just started crawling.  She gave me some baby proofing tips, and I told her not to shy away from or be embarrassed by her daughter’s questions about race.

Children are naturally curious, and I believe that answering their questions about race openly and honestly will help them to understand our differences and become more accepting adults.  This experience taught me that many times people ask questions or make comments in regards to how others look simply because they are drawn to our differences.  When a physical difference is as apparent as the skin tone difference between my daughter and I, it is natural to wonder for a moment if we are related.  Because it was an innocent child who spoke up, I was not at all offended, and it got me thinking – why do I get offended when adults make observations like this?  Maybe I should assume their questions are innocent too…

bug reads

Buggy just hanging out and reading one of her books after another library adventure.

How would you react if it was your child asking about someone’s race?

Your Son Is Cute!

I was in the airport (on the same trip where someone thought Buggy was adopted) when a man on roller skates rolled on up to us and we had the following conversation:

Man: Your son is cute

Me: She’s my daughter

Man: Oh, I was wondering why you dressed your son in pink

Me: She was wondering why you’re wearing roller skates

And then he just skated away like we weren’t just having a conversation.

airplane outfit

Buggy’s traveling attire. Can you believe someone thought she was a boy wearing this?

I was proud of myself for (finally) coming up with something funny to say when someone made a weird remark to me!  And I was also baffled.  First off, why was this guy roller skating through an airport?  That doesn’t even make sense.  He should be quietly searching his phone or pretending to read a book while really people watching like every other person in the airport.  And why did he think my daughter was a boy when she was so clearly wearing girl clothing?  It got me thinking about gender stereotypes, and why we (well, everyone but this guy apparently) assume that if a baby is wearing pink she is a girl, and if a baby is wearing blue he is a boy.

To me, outfit color doesn’t really matter.  Sure, Buggy has a lot of pink and purple outfits.   She may even own a zebra print bathing suit with a blue tutu.  But she also has green football pajamas.  They were handed down to her from my friend’s son.  Yes, they look a little on the boyish side, but they keep her warm at night and they were free so I’m not complaining.  As long as the baby is wearing weather appropriate clothing (please don’t dress your baby in a diaper and t-shirt in the middle of a snow storm or pants and long sleeves when it’s 100!) it shouldn’t matter what color they are sporting.

Actually, at our house Sunday is Daddy Daughter Day, and Buggy’s dad picks out her outfits and gets her dressed in the morning.  Sometimes she matches, sometimes she doesn’t!  Here is a sampling of some of her outfits:

matching bug

Best part of cloth diapering? Matching the diaper to the outfit!

reds tutu

Buggy loves the Cincinnati Reds so much she hides under her tutu when the other team is winning!

Army Bug

Buggy thought this camouflage outfit would help her blend in with her swing and chair.

strawberry head

Some days you just have to wear your skirt as a headband!

Has your child ever been mistaken for the opposite sex?