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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Welcome to Our Fight Club

I think the boys have turned our home into a fight club and I am the only one who wasn't aware of this. This past week, or more accurately past month, the boys have shown each other anything but love.
The amount of fighting that has been going on in our house would make Tyson run.  They wake up fighting, go to sleep fighting and last night when I checked in on Oscar he was having a dream about fighting.

Oscar declared that he doesn't like anyone in our family that doesn't have an "O" in their name. That cancels out his brothers and includes Don and me.

On Sundays we go to church.  This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone in the family.  However, when Sunday (the day after Saturday) arrives, this came as a complete shock to everyone.  Even though the previous evening I had clearly said "tomorrow we are going to church." But it still snuck up on the boys and caused dismay.

The fighting began bright and early when Jack had the audacity to see our elf Henry first.  Oscar had wanted to see him first so as they were yelling at each other, Finegan, who had no part in this argument,  came downstairs and joined in for solidarity.  Parker arrived and discovered that the last frozen waffle had been eaten and proclaimed that because of this, his entire day was doomed.

There is a sense of urgency because we need to arrive to church on time.  It honestly takes more time to get everyone in the car than it does to drive there.  The entire car ride is spent arguing about who had what seat last, who kicked who's seat and who farted.

Because Don is a teacher he has this magic ability to tune it all out and sing Christmas music which not only pisses them off more, but made the noise level in the car unbearable and I finally lost it. Which causes complete silence which lasts about 15 seconds.
When we arrived at church I explain that we are going into the house of God and they need to behave accordingly. Plus, my mom is in the choir loft so not only is God watching, Grandma is too.
In the short distance from the car to the pew, more fighting erupted. Who knew someone could feel so passionately about a stick of gum?
As we walked into church  they stop fighting long enough for Jack to run into an old man's walker in the aisle and knock it, along with himself over.  Which is why we can never be late because we always make a grand entrance.
Thankfully Oscar was in Sunday school which allowed us to sit stratigically boy, parent, boy, parent, boy. Even in the presence of Jesus, they find a way to fight in silence.  It could be looking at each other the wrong way or breathing in each other's direction.  As I sat in the middle of Parker and Finegan the story of Cain and Abel finally made sense. I am having a really difficult time understanding the dynamic of brothers and why they hate each other so much.  I have tried everything.

Don is of the mindset that they should be able to work it out themselves without parental involvement.  Even though his mother told me that when he and his older brother were in their teens they were fighting in the house and she sent them outside. When they got outside they were punching each other and drew a crowd of neighbors, bets were made.  Eventually they got tired and came back inside where she had ice packs waiting for them.
I do not like violence. I don't want them to resolve their issues that way but I'm afraid at some point it is going to get there.  And I'm not going to stand in the middle obviously.

I remember a scene in Silver Linings Playbook where a father and his grown son get into a fist fight and the mother is standing in-between them screaming.
This is one of my biggest fears and a fear that many Moms have.  Breaking up a physical fight among family members who have grown to be way stronger than you.

The boys seem to have inherited my short fuse.  How is it possible that we created children that look so much alike but can't stand the sight of each other?

I can't help but think that their environment is imposing discord and they lash out. Or perhaps somehow  I am imposing my personal stress onto them and they are just a reflection of that?  The boys aren't the only ones who have been fighting.  Don and I have too. About really important stuff like…who as emptied the dishwasher more times in the last three days.

At some point I have to step back, relax and thing about what is really bothering me.  The boys are not going to commit fratricide anytime soon. Claudius may have killed Hamlet,  but there was much more at stake than who got the last piece of Halloween candy.

I have a Christmas CD in the car and I keep playing "Let there be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me" and what I actually mean is you.  All of them. I can't sing it loud enough. "Let me walk with my brother, in peace and harmony"  Hopefully, sometime soon they will stop arguing long enough to hear it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's not black and white

I received an email from a guy who reads my blog saying that he has been waiting for my take on the events in Ferguson.  I had to double check to make sure it was sent to me, and it was.  I have been  silent on my thoughts about this because as sad as it sounds, I felt like I didn't have a place to say anything. I'm a middle class white woman in the Midwest who grew up in a somewhat sheltered and privileged upbringing. This entire issue of race doesn't directly relate to me so how can my opinion have any weight?

And then it was obvious to me, that I'm part of the problem.

It's Christmas time, I don't want to feel sad or uncomfortable. I need to finish my shopping and figure out where to put the Elf on the Shelf. How to keep my boy's belief in Santa alive with painstaking elaborate plans to send video messages to them.

What I'm really doing  is trying to avoid reality as well.  I don't want to admit to myself or to my boys that there is a serious problem in our country right now.  I know how I feel. I feel conflicted. Not on the issue as much as how the people I know feel about the issue. It is one thing to have a difference of opinion, but how can I associate with someone who believes that the action of killing someone go without some sort of punishment?

What I see, in just the hand full of cases where young men have been killed, is their mothers.
If that is all you can find in common with this situation then put yourself in her shoes. Imagine how she felt when she heard the news that her son was dead. It immediately makes it personal. As a mother I would support my child.  Regardless of what they do, I will love them.  I can say with 100% certainty that losing a child is equally painful whether your child died in an accident or was killed unlawfully. The bottom line is that this Christmas there will be one empty chair at their table and will remain empty.

Everyone should be able to agree that that is unfair.

 When my oldest son overheard me discussing it they asked what I was talking about.  I explained in the most simple terms that a young man had lost his life because he was shot. To the question of why, I admitted that I just don't know.

This isn't a black and white issue in the sense that you can offer an explanation.  I said all we can do is pray. Pray for their families.  All of them.  We can't forget that the people who shot these young men have mothers and fathers too.  Who, like me stand behind their child even if they don't agree with their actions.

All I can think to do in moving forward is teach compassion.  My boys do not see race. At least not yet. My seven year old's two best friends are black.  When I asked him to describe Aaron, he said he was about as tall as him, he likes the color green and his favorite ninja turtle is Rafael. Oh, and that he makes him laugh.  In his description, the color of his skin doesn't even come up.  He is basing their  friendship on how he makes him feel and all the things they have in common. Not the one thing they don't.

It makes me feel sorrowful that as we are approached 2015 and we still have conflict that began long before our great grandparents were born. I realize that it's just not that simple.  But I will be doing a disservice to my children if I let it continue down the line.  I want to move forward with compassion and optimism that our generation will take the responsibility to teach the next generation about equality and peace.

And I will also say a prayer for the heartbreaking number of chairs that will be empty at the Christmas dinner table.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taking Off Your Clothes Proves Nothing

I recently spent a Saturday evening at my parent’s house watching a documentary on the JFK assassination. Yes, I know how lame that sounds. It was fascinating however. Hearing their commentary on where they were, what they thought, how they felt. It was like it had happened to them last month.

Something I noticed when I was watching was how polite people were in comparison to today. Specifically, a gentleman who was interviewed after Lee Harvey Oswald was assassinated. When asked what profession his killer, Jack Ruby was, the gentleman said, " I would rather not say". Mr. Ruby owned a strip club. The man being interviewed didn't want to violate an innocent person's ears with smut. A sharp contrast to today, where if you say the most outrageous things while interviewed you may get 5 million views on YouTube, or better yet an auto tune version of your interview and downloadable on iTunes.

How have we arrived to where we are today? I am not a prude by any means, but listening to the radio, I often have to turn it off before my kids hear some of the lyrics. Even 80's music used innuendoes to get their point across, just listen to Prince if you need an example.(Pocket full of Trojans?) You had to think about it to find out what they meant, and to be honest, I'm still figuring some of them out. Now they just flat out sing “I'm going to f*ck you.”

The other trend I have noticed is that celebrities and other women are liberating themselves from the falseness of Photoshop by taking naked photos of themselves on the internet. To show an example of what a "normal" body looks like. There is no normal. When I was a girl, I discovered that each of my friends and I had unique bodies in the gym locker room. I didn't need to go much further than that. And lucky for me, nobody can share that image from their memory.

But has anyone thought about what all of these images of naked women does for young men? Raising four boys I think about these things. They are too young to have access to free range Internet grazing, but what if they saw the picture of Keira Knightly posing naked to show what real bodies look like. Chances are, they wouldn't see the point. They would see boobs, free access to boobs.

In our house, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with nudity. The boys think that clothing is optional and I think that is great. But since I am the lone female and they are getting older I choose to be discriminatory when changing. First, I don’t appreciate the questions about my anatomy and secondly, who really wants to see their mom naked?

My Dad is an artist and we have several examples of nudity in various mediums around the house. I think the female body is beautiful and someday I want my sons to discover it for themselves. That is part of growing up. Like Columbus discovering the New World for the first time. If he would have been given a painting of exactly what it looked like prior to going on his voyage, he may have just stayed home instead. I exaggerate to express a point, but hopefully the experience of seeing a woman's body for the first time will be memorable and with someone they care about. Better yet, it will be shared with their girlfriend in real life and not between him and his phone and his girlfriend.

I don't want them to have the impression that it is normal for a girl to show them her naked body just because he wants to see it. There needs to be value with not taking your clothes off. The private celebrity photos that were leaked would never have been a problem if they hadn't been taken in the first place. If you want to show someone your naked body, then go to their house, knock on their door and show them in person. If you send it via text then expect to share it with the world.

Nudity is getting so commonplace that it isn’t even shocking anymore. If people keep trying to one up each other with who can shock the most, then what will be left? Kim Kardashian tried to break the Internet with a photo of her butt. What I didn't understand is that anyone could see her butt and then some if they Googled her. That is after all, how she got famous in the first place. The fact that the public has already forgotten just shows how impressionable it was.

Had I posted naked photos of myself all over the place before I met Don, he would have had to share me with the rest of the world. Even worse, my kids would have had to share that image of their mother with the world. Eww.

All of these photos trying to prove what real bodies look like are making a point that you have to prove something in the first place. Beauty is subjective. A woman taking her clothes off is an easy way to get attention. But as soon as she does, it will cancel out anything she has to say.

The more powerful thing would be for her to keep your clothes on; that way the words she says can actually be heard.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Parenting is Hard

I thought I would just state the obvious in the title.

For some reason, when I envisioned myself as a parent I thought about very specific stages.  Infancy and college.

I completely skipped over certain stages like, pre-teen and teen.   Nobody told me it was hard. Well, they might have, but I was so engrossed in the poetic version of what being a mother was going to be like that I didn't listen.  Within a month of being one I thought it was the most exhausting and emotionally charged time of my life. And it was hard. Especially physically. Going from sleeping 8 hours a night to two hours forced me to walk around in a constant state of dopamine delirium.

But as they grow I am finding that the hardest part about being a mom is the psychological side. Now I'm nostalgic for dopamine delirium. The constant internal battle of what I feel I should do and what I actually do.  The side that wants to be liked verses the side that needs to get down to business.

As I watch my eleven year old grow to my eye level,  I realize that is the only time we will actually see eye to eye.

It is no secret that I really dislike roller coasters.  The times I have been on one, I find the scariest part is  waiting to start.  When the bar crosses your legs (yes even kid roller coasters freak me out) and you have three or four seconds before you are jerked into ride submission. I have tried to tell the roller coaster operator that I'm not ready, but you can imagine how much they care.  Well, now I'm starting this pre-teen ride and all I can say is " I'm not ready, I'm not ready." but much like the operator, life isn't going to wait for me to decide when to proceed. It is going to take off whether I'm ready or not.

I  remember when Parker was our only child.  I can still smell his sweet smell and feel his soft Fred Flintstone feet, they were as wide as they were long. They looked like blocks.   How he wanted to sit as close, if not on top of me at all times.  Now he sits at an arms length.  It would be weird if he sat on top of me, I get that, but in my mind it is still a reasonable possibility. There are glimpses of times when he snuggles up to me, mostly when he is cold, or I'm sitting in his spot.  And I love it.

Recently Parker has made some choices that challenge every ounce of my parenting strength.  Things that matter to who he is going to become. Things that cannot go without addressing and the hardest part is delicately approaching him in a way that is both effective and loving.  I haven't found that balance.  I either go completely ape shit or way too soft.  Neither is very effective.

I'm looking for the healthy middle and as of yesterday, I have yet to find it and as of today it doesn't feel like I ever will.   I think back to the amount of planning I did for his birth and how when the day arrived I didn't follow a page of it ( there were several pages). .  In the moment I didn't care that I had wanted a water birth or a drug free birth. All I wanted what was best for both of us, and at that moment it was drugs and a bed. And when I held him, I knew I had done something right.

I guess the same is true for where we are now. We are entering unknown and scary territory.  I can plan all I want but situations are going to happen where I simply won't know what to do but have to go proceed anyway.

We survived his birth we will survive this too, but this time I won't have drugs to cover the pain.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Finally hearing the words you should have been hearing all along.

Last night Oscar was very sick.  He had a persistent cough and last night it peaked.  Around midnight his loud cough was enough to get me out of bed to check on him.  In the dim light I saw he was miserable.  I felt his head and he was burning up.  He was in a half sleep state and I asked him if he was hot and he said a barely audible "yet." (He is still working on his S's).  I took his pajama bottoms off and I heard a little "Thank you."I got him a cold wash cloth and placed it on his burning forehead. "Thank you", he mumbled.  I gave him a drink and again he said "Thank you mommy" and after a long pause he said,  "I love you."

Maybe it was the way he said it, or just the fact that he was feeling so awful but still wanted to tell me he loved me and was thankful, that brought me to my knees.  I kneeled down next to his bed and held his hand.  And within seconds tears were rolling down my face. My head was resting against his bed because I didn't have the energy to hold it up on my own.   Even when I heard his little snores I still sat there holding his hand and crying.

Words coming from my four year old touched me deeper than any words ever have.  I'm not exaggerating. Because for the first time I heard someone say they loved me.   I mean, I actually heard it with my heart and soul.

I am lucky that those words are familiar to me.  A day doesn't go by without hearing it from my Mom. When I talk to my brother he always tells me, my grandparents used to utter those words,  friends say it too.  When Don first told me he loved me I replied with "thank you." Not because I didn't feel the same way, but because the word itself just feels overused.

Don and I don't say "I love you" for that reason.  We have other words that are unique to us and sound ridiculous to anyone else.    The boys tell me they love me mostly after I tell them, but sometimes on their own.  Hearing it certainly makes me happy and I appreciate it, but at the same time, the words don't carry much of a punch.

It was in the middle of the night when I was at my most vulnerable state.   Our usually loud rambunctious house was quiet and sleepy.  Just moments before I was fast asleep and now I was kneeling at Oscar's bed crying.

Perhaps it was guilt. When I heard him coughing my first thought was that I was going to miss out on my sleep.  My legs took me to his side before my brain had even woken up.

But in that dark room I heard for the first time that I am loved.  It clicked.  I wasn't prepared to deflect his words, and in the silence I didn't have it dubbed into the mix of chaos of the day.  I was put in that silent moment so that the only words I would hear were ones I should have heard a long time ago.

Just because I don't attach weight to the words doesn't mean the person who is saying them feels the same way.  It is like being on a golf course and hearing the word "FORE" and not looking up and assuming the person who yelled it must not have actually meant it.

It wasn't until that moment that I was unexpectedly open and able to receive it, and I did.

A few minutes later I returned to bed feeling loved.  I woke up feeling loved.  Oscar's words occupied the hollow areas of my soul that I have neglected for so long.  I'm pretty good and finding reasons that I am unlovable, but at that moment I didn't try and it felt wonderful.

What Oscar couldn't have known is that I have had a rough couple months.  I had sunk into one of the familiar dark holes without explanation. I didn't feel anything, let alone love.  His words were the rope to start the processes of getting me out.

I needed to write about this  because I know in a few months, or a year I will be going about my day and one of the boys will tell me they love me and my mind will talk over it.  Or they will give me a picture of a rainbow with the words I Heart You and I will file it away with all the other rainbows.

I understand the tendency as a mother to keep going, trying to get as much done in the least amount of time. But I beg you, the next time your child or parent, or partner tells you they love you, listen with your heart because they mean it. And you never know when you will long so deeply to hear those words and won't be able to.

And in case you are wondering, Oscar is feeling much better. Apparently we equally needed each other to heal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Did I offend you too?

Today is cold.  I reminded the boys to wear coats because, like I stated earlier, it is cold.  I don't know how I gave birth to expert meteorologist, but somehow my children know the weather without even stepping outside.  I explained that I had already been outside, watched the weather channel and checked my weather app and it was unanimous, it was going to be cold.

Apparently the boys think I'm trying to trick them. That nothing would give me more satisfaction than having them to go to school to find that their coat has made them too warm.  Or that I find pleasure in having them lug around a cumbersome article of clothing so they would have a miserable day.  
Here is how my conversation went with the oldest.  "It's cold outside" I said. "No it's not", he said. 
This went on about three times before the second oldest chimed in with a complete lie.  " I heard it was going to be in the 70's today".  Really? I'm surprised I even heard him because clearly he speaking out of his butt.  By this time the 3rd son chimed in and explained that he doesn't have a coat.  Which is complete BS because I was standing there holding it.  The 4th son just decided to fall to the ground in protest. He didn't even know what he was protesting. 
By the time we walked  out the door they were still arguing with me that it wasn't going to be cold, despite being able to see their own breath.

I guess they forgot that just Friday they were trick or treating in the snow. And that I had to aid them in the emergency that their fingers were going to fall off.  I was a hero then. Today I am the antihero who wants to ruin their lives.

I don't know when I became the temperature representative, but as a mother I find it is my single most important job next to feeding them.   Perhaps I put an over emphasis on their comfort.  Who in their right mind likes to be cold? I bring extra sweaters wherever I go.  And I have to wonder, when the boys are coat less on the playground and shivering, if they think "Wow, my mom was right, it IS cold today."  But I doubt it. 

I really could not believe that I was actually having an argument about this.  As they begrudgingly got in the car they made it known that their seat belt wouldn't fit because of their stupid coats. That they were carsick because they were overheated. That they were all going to die and I just didn't care.

We live about 2 miles from school and as we were driving a scream was heard from the backseat.  Fin saw a stink bug on Parker.  This caused pandemonium and I had to pull over.  He jumped out of the car and threw it on the ground.  This is a boy who has held worms in his hands.  After we collected ourselves, we were back on the road. Until a second stink bug made its appearance.  Now, not only was he going to die, but there was a stink bug infestation going on in his coat which was going to result in an allergic reaction.  *He is not allergic to anything.

I finally dropped them off and did all I could to not peal out of the parking lot. 

When I arrived at work I opened my email to find an message from the editor of a website I write for.  The subject line was something along the lines of "Heads up! Cranky people" in reference to the comments I received from an article of mine that she recently published.  Not that comments from people online matter, but they are saying some really negative things about me personally despite the fact that they don't know me. Honestly who has time to be offended these days?  At least if you are going to be offended have it be about something worthwhile, like if someone mocked your heritage or excluded you because of your gender or suggested the non-fat latte when you ordered the regular. But a humor piece written by a mom in the Midwest? Because they have never met me the don't realize how obsurd that is.  They must have a lot of time on their hands.   If you are curious about the article you can click here .  On the bright side, there were far more positive comments and I was given a heads up. 

To make my morning even better, I got called into my boss's office over  the title of a breast cancer fund raiser called Jammin for Jugs.  He had received an email from someone saying that they were deeply offended by the name. To which I had to explain to him that I was the brainchild of.  I  had to say the word JUGS to my boss. Which is surprisingly super awkward especially when my own jugs were at his eye level. And in defending my name choice, I had to say that I saw other campaigns using the words Ta-Ta's, boobs and boobies.  Nothing could create more discomfort in a working environment and after that he said I could go.

I am not offended very easily, but apparently I have an enormous capacity for offense.  I would never mean to offend anyone on purpose. People seem to like to place blame and to put me in the hot seat. Which is fine with me,  as a temperature representative I can take the heat. Besides,  I'm always cold anyway. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

While Other Girls Were Princesses, I was the Hulk.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a little boy.  I mean desperately.  For my first Halloween I dressed as Darth Vader, my second, I dressed as the Hulk.  It wasn't until I was eighteen when I dressed like Scary Spice from the Spice Girls that I dressed like someone of my own gender.

My mom told me that when I was six years old I threw a penny in a fountain and made a wish. Later that day when I came out of the bathroom crying she asked why. I said it was because I wished for a penis and I didn't get one. 

I'm sure some people may have thought that it was the influence of my older brother.  We were close then and are close now, but I also have an older sister who could have influenced me.  I didn't want to be Nathan; I just wanted to be his little brother.  As soon as I had a choice in my hairstyle I wore it short.  I hated dresses.  I wore Spiderman Underoos and peed standing up.

I tried out for the football team in 5th grade and was devastated when I was told that girls couldn't play. When people thought I was a boy it made me happy.  My parents didn't discourage it either.  

I didn't realize how progressive my parents were until I went through some of the photo albums my mom had archived from 1979-1984.  In the majority of the pictures I am in public and not wearing a shirt.  Nobody noticed because everyone thought I was a boy. To this day I still don't like wearing a shirt, but obviously I don't do it in public. 

I liked getting dirty, riding my bike and hanging out with the boys in the neighborhood.  And on numerous occasions I was the only girl invited to boy's birthday parties. 

 I have wondered what this would have meant if I were a child today.  Everything I did back then would have been considered transgender or at least consistent with gender identity disorder.   If my parents had chosen to give me this label I would have believed it and who knows where I would be today.

For the first 8 years of my life I wanted to be a boy. I identified myself as a boy. It seemed that the writing was on the wall.  Yet, my parents did something that many parents don't do today. 

They didn't do anything.  They didn't talk to our doctor.  They didn't freak out and turn to the Internet.  They didn't have nightmares about how their child was going to cope growing up as a transgender or a lesbian. They just let me be who I wanted to be.  

As I grew I started to like wearing dresses once in a while. I liked wearing my hair in braids so I wore it long.  My parents didn't take a sigh of relief.  They just let me be.

When I was thirteen the boys I used to hang around with suddenly became awkward in my presence.  By the time I started high school I looked like a young woman, and I was fine with it.  I began having crushes on the boys that I used to run shirtless through the woods with.   

Through it all my parents never influenced who I was suppose to be or who I was going to be. 

I grew into a woman who married a man and together have four sons.  Yesterday my oldest son asked me if he could take ballet.  Before I started Googleing my concerns about his sexuality, I just sat back and thought, just let it be.

Does it matter either way?  Children need to find their own way without their parents influencing their decisions.  Today we want to help and end up putting a label our kids early on. My child is transgender, my son is a jock, my daughter is a princess.   Why not just let them be themselves with out a label?

The only problem I face today is that I still prefer to be around men.  This has caused problems because women often think that I'm coming on to their husbands, then get mad at their husbands, and then I find myself at a party on the "girl side".  When really all I want is to return to a happy time when hanging out with the boys didn't have any connotations attached to it.  

As parents today,  we rush to label our children. In some cases the label may be correct, and in some it may not be.  But labels stick and before branding your child for life, just let them be.  

I'm grateful to have parents who didn't jump to conclusions to who they thought I was or should be.  They loved me enough to provide a solid foundation to let me discover who I was.  Whether it was a Hulk, a princess or both. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You are My Sunshine

Today was Grandparents day at the boy's school,  I mean my entire family's school.  It has been nice that Don has always been a teacher wherever they have gone.  It is a package deal.  So my parents not only get to see four of their grandsons, but also their son-in-law who is much more of a son than an in-law.

While this was going on I sat at my computer, listening to my co-workers talk endlessly about Renee Zellweger's new face while the people I love most are enjoyed baked goods together.  I texted all of them, called them, because I wanted to know ever single detail of their day. What did they do? What did they show you? Did you like it? Was it fun?  My mom responded with a single word "Terrific!" To this day she is the only person I know who uses that word.

As I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and listening to my Paul Simon playlist on Spotify,  Mother and Child Reunion came on.  Like a lot of Paul Simon songs,  I honestly don't know what it is really about.  It is cryptic I'm sure. It is probably about pot or something.  But at that very moment it made me miss my boys.

Within moments I saw that someone had posted on the school's private Facebook page. It was a video of the pre-school aged kids singing You are My Sunshine to their Grandparents. My heart swelled so much it hurt and the pressure of the swelling pushed out any tear that was being held on reserve for a moment like this.  I watched it about 400 times.  I could see my little Oscar singing the words perfectly and looking around for my parents.   I watched my son with a fly on the wall view point.  And he looked… old.  His clothes are too small, and his face is beginning to look more like a boy and less like a toddler. He looked perfect. A little too perfect for being without me.

They have grown up with a mama who works. They have never known any different. But all the worrying I have done about how they are coping without me is displayed on my computer screen and the truth is, they are doing just fine.

This morning I failed as a mom.  It's okay. Every mom fails. It makes us better moms and I have learned to fail really well.  When Fin told me that he wished he was an only child and that his brother's were never born, I responded with "be careful what you wish for". I know it is bad because if anything ever did happen to them he would feel responsible. Like I said, FAIL. This is on the heels of me not realizing my son broke his arm until 2 days after it happened. That fact has been deposited in the guilt bank and will resurface the next time I feel horrible about myself.   I hurried them out the door, so I could get to my work. Work that I could get to 10 minutes late and nobody would notice.

I never really stopped to look at the boys.  Until now, through a computer screen.

A friend of mine is a new mother and just returned to work after having a baby. She mentioned how hard it was.  I don't think it ever gets better.  Here I am, 11 years after the first time I left my son to go back to work and it feels just the same.  Not every day is like this, but I think every so often a mom's heart strings are pulled back to their child. Sometimes the strings squeeze harder than other days and today just happens to be one of those days that it hurts.

I can't speak for mother's of grown kids, but I have a hunch that these strings are constant and indestructible.  At least from a mother's perspective.

So when I get home, I will have the Mother and Child reunion that Paul Simon was singing about. Even if it isn't about a mom missing her 4 year old while she works and he happily goes along without her.

"I can't for the life of me remember a sadder day, I know they say let it be, but it just don't work that way. And the course of a lifetime runs over and over again. But the Mother and child reunion is only a motion away" 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Raising my Boys to Be Wife Huggers

I sat across from my four sons at lunch on Sunday afternoon and I thought about what kind of men they will grow to be. I watched as they laughed and made fart jokes, and realized that they really are mini versions of their father. Admittedly, there is a bit of me in there too.

It is inevitable that brothers are going to argue.  In the past, when I would hear the argument escalating I would intervene and tell them to go hit a pillow, or their bed, just not each other.  I have been bombarded with the media's attention to abuse recently, particularly at the hands of men. I realized that I just couldn’t risk a single move in the wrong direction.  If I tell them to use their fists as an outlet for anger now, how can I be confident that there will always be a pillow handy? If not, they will hit a wall, possibly followed by a person, friend or spouse? Even after they punched the stuffing out of their pillows, it didn't appear to help the matter.  In fact, they seemed more agitated than when they started.

I have never been in an abusive relationship.  I never witnessed abuse first hand.  But I have loved ones who have.  When someone chooses to hit a child, the child never forgets. That pain will last throughout their entire life, and it will spill over into their own family's lives, which will spill over into the next generation. Just by the single act of someone making a very poor choice because they were trying to impose authority and prove their dominance.

My husband and I made the choice not to spank our children.  This wasn't a decision we made right away. Both of us grew up being spanked.  It was all our parents knew, it was all we knew too. I spanked my son once and he might not remember it, but I do.  It was a parenting low.  I felt like it was an out of body experience and I was watching myself.  I looked like a monster. How can an adult justify striking a helpless child?  You can't. The cycle has to end somewhere and it ended there for me. 

When I was in high school a friend of mine was in an abusive relationship. Mostly verbal, and she denied any physical abuse.  When he learned that she was pregnant things got worse.  But after a fight he would entice her back with promises and sweet words.  When she went missing I knew that she hadn't run away. She called me too often to just stop one day.  I graduated high school and moved on, wondering, but knowing deep down what had happened to her.   Three years later I was a freshman in college and my mom called to tell me that she had finally been found.  She was in a shallow grave. Her boyfriend was found guilty in her brutal murder. It still haunts me to think about it.

His rage changed the course of so many lives, and ended two of them.

I made a promise to myself that when I had my first son, I would make every effort I could to teach him that it is never permissible to hit a woman. Or use your size or words to intimidate her. As much as I try however, I am not the person of influence in this matter.  His dad is.  Boys learn how to treat women by watching their fathers.  And if they don't have fathers, they watch how their mother allows herself to be treated.

The most important thing I can teach them is respect, not only for women, but humans, old, young, bad, good.  I have witnessed my son’s get mad and have seen the internal rage boil within them. Anger is uncomfortable. 

That is not the time to tell them how to deal with it.  The best time is when they are not blinded by it.   If they learn one thing from me I hope it is this, when they succumb to fisticuffs are disregarding any credibility they have. They are showing the opposite of strength.  Authentic strength isn't how hard you can hit someone; it is how you show restraint.  And I know how hard that can be.

At first it will feel unnatural when every fiber of their being will be urging them to get physical, but we can help reprogram that urge to the point will it will seem natural and logical to find a different solution. 

Of course I encourage them to defend themselves, but not to use that as an excuse to hit someone.  A stronger impact can come from not hitting back. I’m not asking them to suppress their feelings, but rather confront them, sit with them awhile and then release in a healthy outlet.  The only way this can become a habit is if it is acknowledged and practiced.   In my experience each of my boys initial reaction to anger is physical, it is our job as parents to introduce and encourage a more effective and peaceful way to deal with it.  This is just as important of a skill as washing their hands and will stay with them throughout adulthood.

Having negative media attention on famous athletes hurting children and women sends a major collision in the mind of a young boy. How can someone who can be so dedicated and driven, lack the strength of self-control? It could be their childhood repeating itself, but that doesn't make it right. If they would have known better, they may have chosen a different way to deal with their anger.

Our purpose as parents should be to teach them just that. It takes one boy at a time.  It is hard to compete with the perception that violence is the only solution to problems, big and small.  But everyday I remind my sons that they are already stronger and smarter at their young age, than any man, famous or not who turns to physical violence and hits his children or spouse.

My intention is that the gentleman of tomorrow will have the knowledge and strength to know it is okay to walk away.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lured into the Den

I'm not even sure what happened to me last night.  My 9-year-old son asked to go to a cub scout meeting.  How did he get this idea in his head?  Well, a Cub Scout guy recruited him, that's how.  A man came to the school, (it wasn't on the playground or anything, I checked) and gave a presentation. My son was the only one in his school to follow the trail of crumbs leading to the place we were last night, a dimly lit den in the back of an old school gym.

I knew very little about scouts.  In first grade I was a girl scout, okay I was actually a brownie. And truthfully the name was misleading.  I had no idea I would have to do anything other than eat brownies. Public service? Talk to old people? I guess I am better off for it, plus the sash came in handy for my 1998 girl scout Halloween costume.

When we arrived I was greeted with extreme enthusiasm.  A man wearing an outfit similar to a park ranger approached me.  I'm sure his shirt fit him at one point, but on this particular day the buttons were working overtime just keeping it together.  He immediately started talking to me in what sounded like a different language.  All I heard was Webelo, patch, ceremony, and few other words.  He asked if I had the book.  Again, I had no idea what " the book" is or anything else he was talking about.  No problem, he pulled a well worn book out of his back pocket and began showing me all sorts of things that I would have to witness my son doing in order for him to earn a patch.  He swiftly corrected my faux pas saying that it is a badge, not a patch.  I thought that all this stuff was his job, not mine.  I guess you could say that I like to keep my parental involvement in extra curricular activities to a bare minimum.  As soon as you volunteer to be a coach or a snack minion you are put on an underground list and will be contacted to do everything forever more. I learned that the hard way, so now I put my husband's name on the list.  With everything he was describing it made me wonder if I wasn't joining this troop too. 

When I finally moved past the six inches from the door where he had stopped me, I realized that I was the only woman there.  I cursed my husband under my breath.   In addition to being the only woman, I had just come from work and was wearing a pencil skirt.  Not a big deal except the table in which I had to sit was a cafeteria table with the bench attached to it.   Being gentlemanly scouts, they asked me to sit down and were all waiting for me to do it.  I got as close to the bench as I could and hopped to lift my leg over. Now I was straddling it and very fearful that my skirt would rip. I still had to lift the other leg. I tried but my tight skirt restricted any movement past my knees. I had no other choice then to hike my skirt up to my thighs so I could manage to get my other leg over.

This could have possibly earned all the boys and their fathers the peep show badge. I'm sure they saw more than they needed to and more than some ever have.

Once I was seated the meeting began. When I finally got a chance to look at the rest of the boys I started to panic. Fin was twice their size.  I raised my hand and asked if this was the 4th grade group.  He seemed annoyed and said yes.  As I looked around, the boys looked like a deck of garbage pail kids.  I saw Bony Tony, Travelin Travis, Junky Jeff and Starin Jarren.   It was hot as blazes in this room and I had to go to the bathroom but I didn't want to get up. So I sat there and listened to them talk about fund raising by selling popcorn, beef jerky and chocolate.  This is involvement-slacker karma.  Peer pressure from your own child so they can win that unattainable laptop if they sell a silo of popcorn.  Is there a pyramid scheme a badge? Because that is all fund raising is. The kids sit back, while their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents beg all their friends to purchase items that they otherwise wouldn't.  Yet the kids reap all the rewards and the parents get fat from all the extra chocolate they had to buy. 

The den master said that because Finegan was new they were all going to tell everyone a little bit about themselves.   Finegan began with 

"My name is Finegan with only one "n". I like to eat sausage and milk."

What the hell? Why would he say that?  Irony aside, it made no sense? Despite my horror, his answer seemed perfectly acceptable to all the cub scouts. The den guy even gave me a wink. I know he was seeing dollar signs for the beef jerky sales.   I clearly need to talk to Fin about disclosure and introductions.

They discussed earning the health and environmental badges.  Followed by a snack of indoor s'mores, which consisted of marshmallow in a jar, Nutella and graham crackers served on paper plates.   The meeting concluded and the garbage pail gang headed outside to play.  That was it?  I thought boy scouts was all about learning to tie a knot or build a fire, apparently not.  At this point I would like to learn to tie a noose and get me out of this uncomfortable situation.

Before I left I was given specific instructions as to where to purchase the uniform and book.  Finegan finally came back inside with his new best friends talking about farts.  Add my son right into that deck of Garbage Pail Kids under Flatulent Fin.

What I have learned as a parent is that the path you see your child going on is usually not the same path they take.  It doesn't mean it's wrong, but as a parent it is really hard for me to not redirect him in a direction that I feel would be more suitable.  But if both path's destinations are happiness, I guess it doesn't matter which path they take. For him, his preferential path includes this, and I am not going to create a roadblock, (even thought I really want to). I will provide an exit strategy however if he is so inclined. 

I returned home and shared this story with my husband.  He did not share in my distress. In fact he seemed proud. Why? Because he was a freaking boy scout! My God sometimes you have no idea who you marry.  I would not be surprised if by weekends end he is sporting his old uniform. But then again, why shouldn't I be proud too? After all, my child did walk into a room full of strangers and leave with 6 new best friends. More than I can say I did. 

As promised I went to the office headquarters to pick up a shirt and a book. The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 an I believe the man who helped me may have been there at the inaugural ceremony.  I explained what I needed and he was not amused with my ignorance. Unlike him, this has not been my entire life.  He shuffled along in his uniform and asked me a bunch of questions I did not know.  He said I needed a shirt, belt, hat, patches and neckerchief. At which I laughed, because who actually says neckerchief? This man did not have a sense of humor either.  When I asks him if the patches were iron on he asked me if I knew how to sew. Obviously not, if I'm asking if they are iron-on.  His patience had just about run out but it wasn't until I said the outfit was cute that he about lost it.  He quickly found the book for me and took me to the register. Where this "outfit" cost more than any outfit I have purchased for myself since becoming a mother.  

Over lunch I was able to peruse the book and think they need to add a humor badge because as of yet, I have not seen any notion of it.  I did notice a few good things in it. Like, how to change a tire, how to care for a house etc. This may not be all that bad.  But for the price, I think I will have Finegan mentor all his brothers in a weekend intensive so that we can cut to the chase without the rest.