Children’s Toys Must Be Better Than This

Maddy James

I keep thinking about how horrible toys are. I know that there are much bigger ideas that I should be worried about as a mom, but I can’t help but think about it. I saw this 5-year-old girl ranting on a youtube video about how toys should not be marketed to just girls or just boys. She was yelling like a grown up about how silly these toys are. I couldn’t help laughing and cheering for her at the same time.

On the other hand, I kept thinking of how many times little black girls have chosen a white doll over a black one in the experiment that has been reenacted several times since the experiment first happened in 1939, almost 75 years ago.  Then there are toys that do not encourage children to do anything except beg their parents to buy more toys, and where do people have room for all those toys, especially after kids get bored with them, but still do not want you to part with what they’ve gotten? I don’t know.

I don’t think toys have to always cultivate baby Beethovens, Einsteins, or a Madame Curie, but at least let a child develop some imagination.   I know Audrey dressed up as Wonder Woman, and I remember riding my bike. I’d go to the beach with my brother and my parents and we’d dig in the sand. We’d play catch and tag and hopscotch.  Every toy didn’t have a button, and I’m afraid I sound like an old curmudgeon, but I do not want to have a child who is constantly fixed on a screen or buying into a value system that they are not even aware of.  I think that’s something most parents do worry about.

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The Balancing Act

Maddy James

When I think about a stable, long-term relationship, I appreciate what I have with Audrey even more. Audrey thinks of the practical things—schools, insurance, transportation logistics. I consider practical things too, like exercise, day care, nutrition—but I wonder about how do we shape a child’s thinking around things one or both of us have never had to consider?

We’ve navigated our parents accepting us together in a committed relationship pretty smoothly. Thankfully, we’re healthy, happy, and safe. A signal for a long-term relationship is being able to stick around long enough to continue a familial line, right?

All I know is I look at Audrey, and I want to stand by her, and she stands by me.  We balance out the things that the other person overlooks or needs help improving.  We love each other’s little quirks and we laugh. I don’t think we could make it if we did not laugh.  We’ve managed to make the bills and the chores, and put some money in the bank. So, with all those steps, we’ve managed to dream together.

We sometimes go to the park in Park Slope near Lincoln Place, spread a blanket out on the grass, and try to imagine what we’ll be like 10 or 20 years from now.  She swears I could be a cooking show star and I think she will be a Senior Photographer at Getty Images where she can be creative and shift how people see the world.  We fantasize about gutting a brownstone or maybe just having a condo of our own in this insanely-priced real estate split into boroughs.

All I know is that we have to keep talking, and keep being open and honest. We have to keep stepping in for each other when it’s challenging, and when it’s precious like my hand brushing across her cheek when she smiles.

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How Can I Help?

Maddy James

The porn store is surprisingly well lit. Why did I think it would be dingy and dim? There are pink and purple vibrators and dildos, but I am thinking more about what would be interesting to Isaac.  Since he is helping us become parents, I thought it might be good idea to help “inspire” his participation on the big day.  I didn’t tell either of them that I was going to the store, so we’ll see how it goes.  I thought about magazines, video, music, and what the room might smell like.  I wanted to smudge the apartment with sage and light some candles to bless the space. I had hoped Audrey would be down for it, but she is not feeling that at all.

I wonder if I am thinking about it like a woman when I get unsettled at some of the porn that looks more like gymnastics or treating women like house pets. I still cringe at some of the stereotypes—the white women portrayed as cheerleaders and college co-eds, Asian women in camouflage booty shorts and rice paddy hats, and black women almost always as prostitutes.  Thankfully, none of the videos are plantation fantasies. That can be the tension in desire for some people—what are your boundaries and what is forbidden or taboo?

I’ve already picked up some Egyptian Musk incense on Fulton Street.  I realized how long it had been since I smelled that smell.  Audrey and I usually burn candles.  Another one of those flashes of wondering if the baby will miss some familiar part of being black hits me. I make three choices that the clerk at the counter slips into a plastic bag. I am hoping that these are enough.

I’m trying to be nonchalant about these products that I’m about to purchase. I’ve never had a problem with having sex, but these steps to conceive make me feel a little ridiculous. This process feels impersonal, procedural. Could it feel more connected, like kissing or prayer?

When the cashier rings us up, she does not even look at me. She had just put down her price tag gun that was tagging a new shipment of flavored massage oil.  Maybe that’s why sex is about smell too.  We remember something musky, funky, or even tangy or sweet.  I feel a little relieved, and hopefully Isaac will be pleased, and I will feel a little less weird.

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Moral Support and Potato Salad

Maddy James

We had to visit Audrey’s mother’s house after Buzz McKittrick’s funeral today. He was one of her dad’s closest friends and co-workers on the police force.  Needless to say, I am not enthralled about being in a room full of cops post- Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and the list keeps growing, but this is what I did for Audrey.  It’s even more uncomfortable since Audrey’s dad died in the line of duty, and the man who shot him was black.  I wonder if these officers wonder if I’m related to the man who pulled the trigger or if I’d protest in the streets against brutality.  Since her mother and Buzz’s widow are close friends, I promised to go for moral support.

We got there with potato salad because her mother loves my version with fresh mustard seeds in the mustard and the smallest bit of diced sweet pickles.  We show up, and Audrey’s mom takes our coats, hugs us both, and points my bowl toward the kitchen.

When I rejoin them in the living room, Audrey is talking to guests quietly, and a bunch of men are sitting with her.  There is a buzz of conversation until someone notices me, then everyone stops talking.  I know what that usually means.  The quiet means no one wants to offend or they do not want to include me. Honestly, I do not want to be included.  I wanted to support Audrey.  She is worried about these people who have known her all her life, and by extension, I’m worried about her.  It will get better, but it takes time.

I quietly walk over to Mrs. McKittrick to tell her how sorry I am for her loss. Before I beeline back to the kitchen, I put my hand on Audrey’s shoulder. I told her that I will be there if she needs me.

Audrey’s mother tells me that there is a lot going on and trying to get people to be mindful at times like this is hard. She is arranging pigs in a blanket on a tray when she says this. She seems to be concentrating on arranging them in perfect circles.  I am washing the second load of dishes when she assures me it will be OK. After finishing the last dish, Audrey comes into the kitchen.  Half of the potato salad is already gone.  I am trying to remember that we will not be here long, but I’m also thinking that Helen is Audrey’s mother, a mother like Audrey will be soon.  Does that make this easier? I’m not sure.

We get in the car, and she already knows I am agitated.  “You know mom is OK with us, right?” Audrey promises to cover shifts for me at the co-op.  I just nod. I feel like I’ve zoned out because I am trying to think my way through the hard part of this conversation.  I’m thinking I am brown. That will not change any more than me being a woman in love with the woman sitting next to me.


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An Opening Flower

Maddy James

Audrey finally blurted out that she feels like we should be earning 4-H Club ribbons in ovulation charting. Between that, checking her temperature, peeing in cups (lots of peeing in cups), and the daily poking to check color and consistency of cervical fluid.  It’s not the most glowing and glamorous part of this process, but the fluids signal how close the fertile time is.

At least there’s only one doctor’s appointment, she is tired of doing all these diagnostics like she’s a baby machine, or in her words, a brood mare.  I think she is amazing. I’m try to remind her how beautiful and strong she is every day, and I hope I’m doing the concrete things to show her I’m there.

There is something slightly fascinating about seeing the body’s ebb and flow, how it naturally follows a pattern.  To see it on the pages of a calendar is miraculous. Audrey does this. I do this too. I do, and I’m not even trying.  I’m feeling like we are finally seeing when peak ovulation days are after 4 months.  When the waves of fertility fall into another phase, I keep thinking of what that growing pregnancy might be like—the kicks inside, nausea and hormones, the growing presence that becomes more present each day. She is carrying all that. We’re capable of doing it, and I’m in awe of that ability.

We’ve warned Isaac that we were close to figuring it all out, and we’ll be giving him the heads-up soon. Hopefully, he won’t have a hot date within the next week or two, but we’ve already hashed out the details of increased sperm counts if he abstains for at least three days prior to insemination.  He’s always used condoms ever since I’ve known him.  We’ve been friends for so long, and I appreciate what he’s doing for us.  I trust him with the Audrey’s health and the child we’re trying to conceive.  It will be a beautiful story when we’re all older and the baby is grown up enough to understand. Then I’d able to answer at least one of many soon-to-be child’s questions. I could answer “Where did I come from?” with warmth and love.

I want Audrey to be a mother, and I want him to be safe. I keep thinking both of these thoughts when I touch the latest calendar page, and the big open flower petals drawn on what is probably Audrey’s most fertile day.

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Different From Our Parents

by Maddy James

When we thought about becoming parents, we knew it would be different from how it was for our parents, and not just because of the obvious reasons. It feels like we’re doing so much of this family from scratch, with no recipe that’s been handed down, or at least we’re improvising a lot on the ingredients we’ve been given from each family that made us.

Will we parent a girl differently from a boy? How we will explain two moms to a child?  What about when our child encounters homophobia or racism? There’s all these big questions that keep me awake, like a floodlight is blaring in my face while I’m on my back, sleepless in bed.

When I think about my parents, I think of them sitting down with the bills and trying to make magic to figure it out.  I think of my mother reading to me and Theo nestled in her lap.  I remember my father taking us to the boardwalk and walking with us while we chewed saltwater taffy. Parents are supposed to be their at your games and spelling bees. Parents sit over you with humidifiers, bowls of soup, Vick’s, cough syrup, and thermometers when you’re sick. They remember your favorite color Band-Aid, and pat your back when you cry.  Parents try to protect you from the wrong people, but they have to watch how and when they clamp down so they do not drive you away.

You need a sense of playfulness and a sense of humor. Can I be that practical, sensible, and aware on so many fronts? I know Audrey and I think it’s possible, but there’s so much more that parenting entails.

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