My nine year-old softball plpDSP1-14739929p275wayer of a daughter needs a fielding mask because it is required for pitchers and she is dying to take the mound, but I find that part of me resists. For two years I avoided buying a facemask as they were not required, and there were enough expenses to go around with the buying of bats and gloves and batting helmets. Finally it looks as if I’ll have to warm up to the idea of her wearing a mask and prowling the infield with a plastic cage strapped over her eyes, nose and mouth. Growing up I never wore a mask playing baseball, and when I glance at the boys playing on an adjacent field, I notice that not a one of them are wearing masks either.

I’m honestly not sure she really needs the mask but what bothers me more is the openly chauvinist practice playing out across baseball diamonds where girls are required to wear masks and boys are not. Whereas no one has suggested boys wear these masks, mass e-mails have been sent out by our local and national little league concerning girls’ safety and the risk of injury from softballs striking them in the face. Money was pooled to get masks at a cheaper rate. These masks are not helmets and do not protect the entire head from injury, only the face. Why not just have them trot out there in batting helmets if they truly want to protect them? But aren’t boys exposed to the same risks? My son plays baseball in the same league and it has never been suggested that he wear a mask for fielding. The curious silence regarding masks for boys highlights our different societal conceptions of male and female. While it is okay for boys to be exposed to the risks of facial injury, the faces of girls are evidently a more highly prized commodity. The message is that a girl’s future is more dependent on her looks than a boys and it is pretty obvious that society does value a woman’s looks more than a man’s. It is also generally thought that a girl’s appearance is more important to her than a boy’s appearance is for him, although my own experience tells me there is a wide range of vanity amongst men and women. I do know boys and men who have shown me their scars as emblems of battle or personal history, whereas only a few women I’ve ever known have flaunted their scars in the same way. It is also interesting to note that while a man with a scar on his face connotes toughness, a woman with a scar is just ugly. No one wants their daughter to be that woman, if at all avoidable. I don’t want to be the guy whose daughter gets her face smashed in because he refused to buy a facemask. Consequently, later today I’ll be at a cash register ponying up for a mask for my girl.

All things being equal, I should buy one for my son to protect his cute mug too. He’d be the first to wear one on his team, maybe he’d start a trend, or more likely he’d be cajoled into ditching it like everyone else and take his chances. He has a glove after all, I tell him, just catch the ball and you won’t get hit – I’ll still tell my daughter that too, it’s not like she’s going to toss the ball around the backyard with that thing strapped on her face – is she?


It is 10:23 AM and my 11 year-old son is sleeping upstairs, that good sleep, his mouth agog, his conscious mind resistant to any barging through the door, stomping through the room, opening the curtains to the world parent intrusions, his limbs growing by the minute as he restfully whiles away the summer morning hours in tweener dormancy.  It is summer and his camp does not begin until 12:30 so he has plenty of time, but the real issue is that he has trouble going to sleep at night, especially when he sleeps so late in the morning, he can go to 11 or 12 if I let him sometimes.  His serene slumbering pose is in direct contrast to the tossing, turning, and frustrated tears at 1 AM in the morning when he cannot get to sleep and he shows up at our bedroom door asking what he should do.   Last night he turned on his light an hour or so after laying down and read books until midnight when he turned off his reading lamp again.  I said goodnight to him at 1, and he seemed tired.  I know I am tired of staying up because I feel bad leaving him up by himself and now my lack of sleep is catching up to me as my day starts at 8.  7 hours last night is pretty good compared to most of this week, but then again he was still awake when I went to sleep which always leaves me a little unsettled.  Remembering this I regret that I did not wake him earlier, but when I went in the room he looked so peaceful that I could not get myself beyond some mild rousing that I knew would probably not work.  His doctor says he is a night person, that we shouldn’t worry about his lifelong problems going to sleep.  Or waking up problems, depending on how you look at it.  A boy needs his sleep, that much seems clear to me as I return downstairs and let him lie… but tonight I will probably regret it, any advice out there?   Would you wake him up?

What did your parents do?  I remember my own mom yelling at me from downstairs at regular loud intervals of maybe three or four minutes.  I hated her in those moments as I resisted re-entering the world at her prodding.

He woke up himself at 10:35, hooray! I am off the hook for today… 10:35, still a little late but his doctor would be happy as he always says the correct time a child should sleep is until they wake up on their own.  Fat chance during the schoolyear, but he got his beauty sleep on this July day!

There is nothing better than Friday afternoon and we can watch TV or play computer games all we want when we get home from school. You would think one of my kids said this, but it could have just as well been me. The reason is the TV is an excellent baby sitter when I need or want time to myself in the house. On other days of the week and more family oriented weekends we don’t allow them to watch TV much at all so these spans of screen time freedom have become even more precious for me and my kids. A time when I can write an entry into the digital sphere, or put the laundry away, or just lay flat down on the ground on my back and listen to my spine going supine, cracking and releasing. My kids sit together quietly enraptured and needing nothing else from the world and most importantly, me.
TV is a very seducing crutch for us parents and I make sure I consciously avoid it as much as possible or at least keep track of whether I may be abusing it to avoid doing the job of raising my kids. I think most parents would be surprised how much screen time their kids are getting if they consciously monitored it and wrote down all the hours. I often have to catch myself from letting them watch too much. It’s a secret we keep from even ourselves. And I’m not even opposed to TV, but I see that it eliminates the possibility of other more enriching or socializing activities or interaction with me. There’s only so much time in a day and so many days to make a life. So, yes, when I turn off the TV It usually means that my life may be more of a pain in the ass, but that’s what I’m here to do, and the least I can do is ‘be there’ and not let the TV serve as a substitute. But today I can because it’s Friday, it’s afterschool, and we ain’t got nothing else to do…

Are we going to die from eating canned goods?  Though BPA free, are these cans any better?  There surely must be something wrong with them they will discover 20 years hence.  How come I’m not already dead from all the canned mix fruit my mother shoveled down my throat, complete with that awesomely zingy high fructose corn syrup sauce? For the most part now we avoid canned goods, but today I broke down and bought organic diced tomatoes.  I figured the organic would counter- balance the canned aspect in my wife’s eyes.  Let’s see… I hate buying expensive organic tomatoes at the grocery store and I also hate dicing, so there you go…  Who can feed my wife’s paranoia about the danger of canned goods?  What bad things do you know?  Or am I A-OK?… I’d rather die from something, rather than nothing anyway, right-o!

OK, it’s corny, but sometimes I feel this love for my kids so much, like our hearts are attached by strings and the strings jiggle and jostle my insides when I think about them. During the school year it probably doesn’t help that I can see their elementary school outside my kitchen window and I have an opportunity to daydream about them when I’m sick of my own life.  Most days I am happy to have the respite from child rearing when they are at school, but occasionally I am eager and anxious for them to come home.

A recent study found that the most important times for a parent to be there for their child is when they wake up, when they go to sleep, and when they get out of school. Unlike many working parents trying to make enough money to put food on the table, we are blessed to have me working as a stay at home dad so I can be there when the kids get out of school. This is one of the pleasures of working at home. All the parents gather at a nearby corner and wait for the neighborhood children to emerge once the school buses leave. The kids walk out all at once in a slow moving conglomerate of youth and my two boys always seem to end up at the rear of the pack. A few children run out of the noisy mob, older kids racing each other, and a few younger kids racing toward the waiting arms of their parents. My 8 year olddaughter, Adelina, is one of these runners that streaks away from the crowd. Most of the day she has been cooped up in a classroom and no doubt her body exalts in the freedom of dashing down the grassy embankment with her giant backpack bouncing along for the ride. She is the most restless of my three kids and I imagine the constrictions of a desk and a chair must be difficult for her. I can remember how excited I was as a kid when that last school bell rang for dismissal. She’s fast, usually she is the first kid to reach the knot of parents and the gritty determination on her face breaks into a wonderful smile when she crashes into my stomach for a hug. In our embrace my heartstrings slacken and the warmth of fatherhood spreads from the inside out. That is one of the greatest feelings in the world, the feeling I try to remember and recapture during other times when life as a parent is not so rosy.

A lot of people have asked me whose idea it was to cut my son’s hair.  Did he want to cut his hair?  Did I make him do it?  There is no definitive answer to this question, but if you ask him he will tell you that it was his idea, and that is the important thing.  If he did not think it was his idea to cut his own hair then he would have never cut it.

I do need to take some credit though as I had been bothering him about it for a few months.  Slowly my encouragement percolated to the surface of his own brain and it became his idea instead of mine… behold the magical machinations of parenting!

Did I want him to get his haircut?  Yes.  Why?  Because it looked horrible and unkempt and he got vicious whenever I approached him with a brush in my hand.

“It hurts!” he squealed as I attempted to put a comb through the morass.

“Because you never brush it!”  I retorted.

“Because it hurts!”

The more he didn’t comb it, the harder it was to comb, and the harder it was to comb, the more he didn’t want to comb it – it was a closed loop cycle that fed on itself, and the nest of hair on his head kept growing and growing.

For months I encouraged my son to cut his hair, promising him stress free mornings (for the both of us) and easygoing showers where he didn’t have to soak his head in half a bottle of conditioner just to keep it manageable.  For months these entreaties fell on deaf ears as he looked at my own long hair and rendered all my points invalid.

The final straw came with him playing for an AAU basketball team this summer and participating in a national basketball tournament.  Basketball has always been a place where Aurelio’s gender has come into question as the two teams warm up and the opposing team wonders whether this thin tall kid is actually a girl.  Often they would whisper among themselves and point and sometimes even ask his teammates if that was a girl on their team or not.  Early on in his basketball development Aurelio’s long hair was a boon to his game.  Other players thought he was a girl and would take it easy on him and allow him to score a few baskets before they realized they better play some defense.  After the game was finished moms from the other team would make a special point to come up to him and congratulate him on such a good game.  He only averaged about five points game so I was a bit mystified as to why they felt compelled to come congratulate him until I realized they thought he was a girl.  They wanted to see this girl up close who could handle the ball so well, they wanted to hold him up as an example to their daughters.  Aurelio took it all in stride, he was always polite and said thank you even after he knew it was because they thought he was a girl.

But as he grew this became more annoying for Aurelio and he grew more and more frustrated.  About a week before a big AAU tournament where Aurelio was going to have half a dozen games within a week he decided he would go ahead a cut his hair.  Was it truly because of the tournament and his increasing agitation at being mislabeled as a girl?  I didn’t much care at the moment, I went upstairs to get the clippers before he could change his mind.

His mother put the brakes on the operation.  She did not like the idea of him cutting his hair because of society’s expectations.  She wanted him to cut his hair for his own reasons, not someone else’s.  She also just didn’t want to cut the hair off her ‘little’ boy.  She tried to explain this to our son and he seemed to understand.

She got out the video camera and asked him to make a statement for posterity’s sake about why he was choosing to cut his hair.

“I’m… uhh… moving to a new… uhh… stage… in life and a haircut, is like, showing that I’m moving on?”  he half queried and half stated.  That is what mommy wanted to hear.

While it may not be true that Aurelio felt himself passing thorough a developmental stage it was true that being looked at as a girl bothered him now where it didn’t really bother him before.  For better or worse, he was becoming more aware of how he appeared to others.  It’s not just his hair, he is now of the age where he wants to picks out his outfits and wear his baseball hat cocked at a certain angle.  It’s true, my son is growing up and one day soon will blossom into a full fledged teenager – Yikes!

I have a feeling this is only the first of many struggles over the way my kids want to look and even dress.  If helping my 7 year old daughter pick out an outfit for school is any indication, we’re in for a long tough ride through adolescence, I better get used to it.Image

For most of my life I have had long hair and my two young sons did as well. My sons’ long hair owed partly to the fact that my mother-in-law said that in Ecuador no one cuts their kids’ hair before three years old so my wife insisted that we do the same out of deference to her heritage but also because she didn’t want anyone to cut her baby’s hair. My sons grew into little toddler hippies and everything was grand. Their mother loved it, of course, and other mothers were also very fond of running their fingers through my boys’ hair when given the opportunity to ‘ooh and aah’ their adoration. The other people who loved their long hair were liberal hippy types who identified in the hairstyle an avocation of bohemian ideals. Several times people came up to me and told me how cool they thought it was that my kids had long hair as if that epitomized my political philosophy. Not that I don’t believe in bohemian ways, but I’m not the type to wear things on my sleeve and it did make me a little uncomfortable to think people believe I’m forcing an ideology on my kids. Not that I won’t do this anyway on account of being their dad, but I just don’t believe in parents indoctrinating their kids into something they are not developmentally ready for like a hairstyle that is part of some political message. This was my own hang up, but as for everyone else, long hair never posed much of a problem until my boys got to grade school.

As they got older the biggest problem the boys faced was the constant question amongst children whether they were a boy or a girl. It seemed slightly crazy to my wife and I how many people thought they were girls just because of their hair but when I though about it objectively I could see why people made that mistake. The truth of the matter is that in addition to the long hair my boys are pretty with their sweet dimples and easy smiles. While they were younger this gender confusion bothered my wife and I more than it bothered my kids but as they got older it started to bother them more and more.

Once my oldest son was on the ball field riding his bike and a few older kids rode up around him and started asking him if he was a boy or a girl. When he said he was a boy they said they didn’t believe him and they asked why he had long hair and he told them it was just how he liked it. I was proud of him for keeping his cool and talking to them rationally while at the same time my anger was growing and I was ready to get them away from my son who was six at the time. One of the boys kept needling him and telling him he looked like a girl and that he would have to prove it to them if he really wanted them to believe he was not a girl. Considering the only way to do that and the increasing tenor of fright that was overtaking my son’s face I couldn’t hold back any longer and I walked up with a lot of bluster and told those kids to stay away from my kid and stop acting stupid and thinking anyone with long hair had to be a girl – I pointed to my own long hair as testament to that fact and waited for anyone of the nine year olds to challenge my manhood. Even after this incident and many lesser gender confusions, Aurelio still wanted to keep his long hair. He has always had a contrarian streak in him and I have to admit I am proud of that trait.

Another problem that got worse over time as my boys got bigger and their hair grew thicker and longer was the fact that they did not take good care of it. Like most boys, they do not get great satisfaction out of brushing their hair to a lustrous sheen. Aurelio, my oldest, liked the way his hair looked best when it was knotty and tangled and puffy and nearly impossible to get a comb through. Aurelio petitioned us to allow him to grow dreads more than once but my wife was steadfastly against that idea and I was also not willing to let things go to that extreme. I kept thinking of what smells might emanate from that head of his if he swore off washing his hair. The times when we did need to get a comb through his scalp became a half an hour ordeal full of tears. My youngest son had hair as fine as silk but somehow a nasty knot would develop overnight on the back of his head and he dreaded me having to comb it out in the morning so that it didn’t appear as if a nest was being built there. Despite all the pain of putting a comb through their head my boys still did not want to cut their hair but I was starting to think that would be the best thing for everyone involved as I was tired of getting grief for trying to take care of them.

Over the last year I really started encouraging Aurelio to cut his hair and make his life easier but he refused, often emotionally. His most common answer to my asking him was that he would cut his hair when I cut mine. Who could argue with that? I really had no standing to tell him to cut his hair when I had long hair myself. I tried to explain to him that I was old and I was afraid my hair was going to turn gray or just fall out any day now and that I was going to wait for that to happen before I cut my hair. I do not plan on going two-tone with brown hair and gray roots. He pointed out that I already have gray hairs and our conversations usually ended with him promising to take care of his hair better and me telling him I’ll try to lay off telling him to cut his hair.

Finally, this summer, things came to a ‘head.’ I had to get the old clippers out and gave both my boys a buzz. Now I’m the only long haired freak left in the family!

My kids look totally conventional now, did I really ask for this? Well, they can always grow it back.