Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, September 29

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


We have just had a milestone birthday: the last one turned 5, which, for those keeping score at home, means that this is officially a baby-free household. There isn't a marked difference between the end of four and the beginning of 5 — after all, his internal timer still goes off about every 20 minutes and he comes to find me to climb into my lap for a cuddle. And personal care issues are still a team effort — shoe tying, hair washing etc. For all intents and purposes though, that door has closed. If I think about it for very long, I get a little melancholy, a lot like I do when I'm sorting out clothes and I come across the little bin of very tiny baby clothes that are the first things all of my kids wore, and the only things I'm hanging onto. It's a bizarre thing, kids start out really really small, and before you know it, you can't find jeans that fit a regular sized 12-year-old. But then 5 seconds pass and I forget what it was I was doing or thinking, so it's not like it's debilitating sadness or anything, more like a wistful thought flittering through my brain.

So we have this 5-year-old now — and with the birthday comes all of the toys that maybe we didn't know we needed to have. We have, after all, a house filled with toys. If there was an archeological dig of our toy collection, you could read in the layers all of the shifts I've made in my thinking about what kids should play with. We start with the cotton/wool/silk layer. Dolls made of some or all three of those fabrics. Gentle, non threatening, expressionless dolls. Maybe, and I mean maybe, there is a soft sounding bell sewed into the organic velour cap. We then progress to wood. Bland, featureless wood. A wooden kitchen, a wooden dollhouse, a wooden horse stable. Wooden board games, wooden vegetables and fruit. A wooden wolf. Or is it a dog? Even a carton of wooden eggs, of which only one remains. Felt, also, belongs in this layer. Felt boards and felt figures to stick on the felt boards. Felt dolls came everywhere with us.

And then we enter the plastic era. Plastic horses to live in the wooden stable. Plastic fruit, to increase our food making choices. Plastic mardi gras beads. A doll buggy. A big wheel. Dolls with soft bodies and plastic heads and arms and legs. All manner of Fisher Price, which used to be a dime a dozen at thrift stores. This layer of plastic was all mostly second hand, and none of it made any noise. Sand toys, bath toys, outdoor toys, yay plastic! I've often thought of the futuristic archeologists, digging down to uncover the secrets of the past, coming upon a layer of Little Tykes kitchens, cars and castles 100 feet deep and wondering what or who it was that we worshipped. Children, obviously.

Through the plastic barn door came Barbie, and my brain exploded a tiny bit. Barbie was OK. Barbie was indeed the gateway toy. Once she was in and turned out to be not so bad, I couldn't really say that anything was off limits anymore. And that, my dear reader, included guns and Nintendo and all manner of high tech, noise making spy/superhero toys, because we weren't just dealing with one docile girl, we now had an additional whirling, wrestling ball of boys to contend with, and a limited remaining supply of conviction and will on my part.

If I could go back in time and have a chat with myself at age 30, I don't think the 30 me would believe where the 42 me has ended up. Not only do I allow guns, I hand children money and send them to the dollar store specifically to buy them. The words "dollar store" weren't even in my vocabulary at 30, so opposed to cheap plastic crap I was. The other thing that 30 me might take umbrage with is the sorts of television choices that we make. I don't personally care for the Saturday morning cartoon lineup and I'm certainly not going to watch it, but the boys do. 30-year-old me freaked out when someone played "My Neighbor Totoro on the television when my 2-year-old was in range. My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most benign, gorgeous children's films there is, and sometimes 42 wants to smack 30, just because she was so self-righteous, inflexible and opinionated.

I caved on a lot of things, but I really didn't think I would cave on guns. I really dislike them even though I've given up the fight. I would prefer that my kids not have any interest in them, but they live in a neighborhood where all of the kids have them. If we don't have our own to add to the weapons stash, it's going to make for a long afternoon of my kids not playing outside and running with the pack. The other thing that I can't ignore is that I played with them myself as a kid, and grew up to have a healthy respect and disdain for weapons and violence; kids know the difference between play and reality. Also, much like Barbies, once you have them the mystique wears off and they end up lost in the backyard. Sure, guns are fun for awhile, but they don't have the longevity that scooters and soccer balls do. Finally, the average dollar store gun will be broken within 48 hours. And then it's just recycling.

Guns; Barbies; light-up, noisemaking, cheap piece of plastic junk. Whatever. I'm over it. Please, go play with it, whatever it is, and have a good time. Just don't point it at the dog or the little girls next door, and get it out of the kitchen if I'm in there. If it makes any noise that is reminiscent of a car alarm, at some point I am going to chuck it out the back door and pray for rain. I did make a rule about a year ago that my bedroom was a weapons free zone. There will be no bed jumping and shooting games, at least not on my bed. That seemed to stop the weapons flow from the lower level of the house to the upper, unless a certain contingent of playmates are over, in which case all of the basement toys get dragged to the bedrooms, but again, I can't really be bothered with it. When little boys are playing and no one is crying, I tend to leave well enough alone. If they want to spend an hour dragging all of the toys upstairs, and another hour dragging them back down, that's cool.

I'm fairly certain that my 30-year-old self hates me.

The other unintentional bonus of having let go of all toy judgement is that I am no longer in charge of the birthday shopping. I barely know what movies are about to come out, so I don't know what bizzare little gadget is the must-have toy. I like to buy books, and board games and practical things like socks and shorts. I know what the shoe sizes are and when to wash the jackets. I don't care about Speed Racer. (Well, I care a little, because Speed was my first crush, and I hope the upcoming movie doesn't wreck it for me.) Because I've let go of the arbitrary toy restrictions I have been able to drop my need to control all aspects of the birthday. The Dad now does the birthday shopping, and does an excellent job of it, taking a balanced and scientific approach to shopping — the opposite of how I go about it. Put me in the toy aisle of Target and all I can think of is leaving it as soon as possible. He is able to overlook all of the things that render my toy shopping abilities mute. I go down the superhero aisle and am overwhelmed by the violence, the packaging, and the marketing campaigns designed to part children from their allowances.

He did a particularly good job this year, with all of the Speed Racer merchandise now available, including a white plastic helment that makes "racing sounds" when you move your head, the perfect item for a child with a Big Wheel. There was only one thing missing: a Ben10 watch, something owned by a playmate was apparantly at the top of the list. Here is how much I know about Ben10: there is a show called "Ben10," and there is a character in the show whose name is Ben, and he is 10. And that it's on cable, which we don't have. On the last day we were in Florida, when everyone was completely sick of swimming (inspiring my middle child to actually say, "There is nothing to do here but swim in the pool!" after seven full days of swimming from dawn til dusk) the boys watched a couple of hours worth of "Ben10." I did not, because the other thing that there is to do in Florida is lay on the couch on the lanai reading back issues of Southern Living Magazine, which is what I was doing. Clearly I was too busy to monitor my children's television viewing.

We did not get him the Ben10 watch because the true importance of this item did not surface until after we had already bought and wrapped all of his presents (Speed Racer track, Transformer Gun, Speed Racer pajamas, Lego, Lego, Lego). Fortunately, his great grandma came through with some cash. On the day of his birthday, given a choice to do anything he wanted, go anywhere, eat anything, he chose a box of Cocoa Krispies (hi there 30! are you having an anuerysm yet?), ice cream from the ice cream man, not going anywhere in the car, and spaghetti with red sauce. And water balloons. So we all walked to the store, and he bought this fabulous watch. Which has turned out to be the best toy ever.

The thing about Ben10 is this, he has this watch (the details of where it came from elude me, and are not important) this watch is science-fictionally magical, and gives him the ability to turn into a variety of aliens with various awesome powers for 10 minutes at a time. Ben10, not surprisingly, finds himself in many situations where he has to save the planet by battling a rotating cast of nasty aliens.

Now let's translate this into real world terms. We take a walk with our neighbor an her son, Baby Eddie. With his watch on, my Ben5 races ahead of us on his scooter, and not surprisingly, finds that he is tired and thirsty halfway through our walk. Before the watch? He would lay on the sidewalk and roll around in agony, insisting that he was incapable of going one inch further because he is so tired, so thirsty, his legs hurt, he simply cannot go on. I would say something like "Well, I can't carry you but I'm happy to hold your hand and walk with you," which would be met with more of the above, until I do what every mother probably does (admit it!) continue walking, knowing that at some point the kid will begrudgingly get up and get on with it. Unless you have a particularly stubborn child. Which we all do. Power struggle ensues.

But, now we have the watch. Remembering that all of the aliens have different powers I said "well, set your watch to an alien that doesn't need water." Oh my god. He did it. He moved the dial on his watch, pressed the button and raced on. "I'm a ghost! I don't have a mouth, and I can't pick anything up, and besides, ghosts don't need to to drink," was what I heard as he scootered ahead.

Imagine the possibilities... an alien that can tie his shoes? Eats things besides two bagels at the same time with butter? Can put away Lego? This thing is worth every penny at double the price. I'm thinking about buying another one in case this one breaks. And to my 30-year-old self, who would have looked down her nose at the shouting, running boy wearing a giant plastic watch and his clearly unenlightened, consumeristic mother, I would say, Lighten up, it's just a toy. I would also tell her not to lock her bike up in front of her apartment, because it's going to get stolen.


On an unrelated note, Breastfeeders Unite! Garfield Park Conservatory staff needs a little help understanding the law when it comes to breastfeeding in public. Recently a woman nursing an 8-month-old baby on a bench in the lobby of the conservatory was harassed and yelled at by a security guard. Fortunately she is a quick witted La Leche League leader, well versed in the law, and able to advocate for herself.

Here's the condensed version of her story:

"We were about to leave the conservatory, when we thought it might be good to sit and nurse our little ones before getting in the car. I was sitting in a chair, in the hallway outside the bathroom, just off the foyer entrance. There were two chairs and a bench. My friend was opposite me on the bench, and our older girls were playing nicely by us. I was nursing the baby and chatting with my friend, when a female security guard came across the foyer and yelled out to me, about did I have a blanket, and if I wanted to do "that" I had to get a blanket and cover up. I was utterly surprised and told her, no, I did not have a blanket and no, actually, I did not need one. She screeched that she could see my breast! I looked down. YES! I CAN SEE YOUR BREAST! She was pretty much yelling at me from about 12 feet away.

"My friend, who was as shocked as I was, asked if there was a manager we could talk to, instead. The Security Guard said she was extremely happy to go find her. By the time the manager appeared, the baby was done nursing. First the manager asked my friend what was wrong, but Security Guard ran over and said it was none of my friends business, it was all ME. The manager turned to me. I said, well, I was just sitting here in this chair, nursing my son. The manager said something to the effect of, I should understand the guard was just protecting the other patrons and that it is a busy and public place. I looked around, it was empty, not busy at all! She told me that there were professors(!) and children around. I told her that state law says that I can breastfeed anywhere I have the right to be, including this hallway. She told me that certainly I was allowed to feed my son, but that there were other areas in the conservatory that were better and more private. I said that I was just fine where I was and that it was inappropriate for the guard to reprimand me, and that furthermore, if discretion was the goal, then the guard shouldn't be yelling at me from across the foyer.

"The manager left after that, but I don't feel encouraged at all that other breastfeeding mothers will be safe from being bothered there. At least by that guard. I had earlier nursed my son in other areas of the conservatory, surrounded by other parents and children in the craft area, in full view of several other employees, with no problem.

"I was truly shocked and upset today. Getting yelled at and told I have to hide my breastfeeding was really unsettling."

Breastfeeding is not offensive or illegal; no one should feel that she has to hide in order to feed her baby. Even someone who is knowledgeable about her rights and able to advocate for herself and her baby will feel intimidated by this kind of confrontation. Less confident women may well have felt that they needed to leave the building, or do as the guard said and go hide. All public facilities, especially ones that are frequented by and marketed to families, need to have a staff that is educated about the law. Shouldn't breastfeeding awareness and acceptance be a part of every business's employee training agenda?

So, go forth and nurse your babies at the Garfield Park Conservatory — and anywhere else you happen to be when your baby is hungry — it's your right, and your baby's right. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

GB store

About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15