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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. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What Picture Day Really Looks Like

Judging by my school photos, my mom let me wear whatever I wanted and style my own hair.  I have hidden most of the photos.  However the yearbooks are still circulating. It makes me ill to think that at least 200 copies were issued for each school year, meaning that from K-8 there are 1800 awful photo proof of me out there.

It is a good thing I am not famous because the rumor mill would have been running had most of my elementary photos leaked.  It is safe to say that I looked like a butch lesbian. In one way, it is refreshing that my parents accepted that I may be part of the LGBTQ community at a very young age.  The problem is, that I wasn't and now I have to look at photos of myself with a mullet.  One of which had a spike on top.  Along with one of my brother's hand-me-down polo shirts with pit stains and a gold chain. Add to the fact that I already looked like a boy and I can see why I'm listed with only my first initial, N. in my second grade photo. The poor yearbook distributer didn't know what to think.

Bad school photos run in our family. In one of my husband's elementary photos he is wearing a party hat and has a fruit punch mustache. I KID YOU NOT.  Apparently he wanted to wear it and the photographer didn't notice. Why the teacher allowed a birthday celebration before pictures is beyond me. However, it was the 70's and they pretty much did whatever they wanted. In the 80's my husband looks like every facial feature is swollen.  Including his eyes, which were shut most of the time.

So you can imagine that I take picture day for my own boys very seriously.  I start thinking about their outfits weeks in advance.  You see, those photos are going to be on my mantel for the next year and if I have too look at them, I am going to make them aesthetically pleasing.

Our school hires a really great photographer. Gone are the days where you chose your neon background, or you place your hands on an artificial log as the fluorescent light dances off the over active oil glands on your forehead.  Their photos are done in natural light next to wild flowers.  So that is one thing we have going for us.   And the fact that they are all pretty cute.  Although, I have never heard of a parent describing their child as ugly… (and we all know there are some ugly kids out there).

I can appreciate that my mom let me wear whatever the hell I wanted but that is a luxury my boys don't have.  I lay out their picture outfit and they put it on.  It was a little chilly, so I insisted on layers. Plus, I like that kind of collegiate, professor look.  Who knows,  by the time they apply to college the school may require elementary photos in addition to blood samples. Besides, anything you put on the internet stays there, and if those photos come out decent, you better believe I will post them on Facebook, because nothing gives a mom parental street cred more, than your child looking perfect.

Perfection is all about smoke in mirrors after all, and to achieve it requires a lot of hard work.
This morning I woke up early because I knew I had to put my game face on for this battle.  Naturally, the boys all woke up with varying degrees of bed head.  Except my oldest who had taken a shower last night and then wore headphones while his hair was wet making it appear that he is wearing an enormous invisible headband.

They all have about 1000 cowlicks too.  Each of them having a lollipop shaped one right at the back of their head creating a spiral of Alfalfa looking hairs.

When my seven year old came downstairs he is wearing the layers in all the wrong order. The sweater was under the button-down shirt and he has put his older brother's pants on. Which means, his older brother came down wearing his younger brother's pants.  Not even stopping to notice they are 4 inches too short.  I almost let it go since the bottom half of the boys is not pictured, but for practical reasons I made them trade.  My oldest son is fully capable of dressing himself, but apparently not feeding himself.  Thankfully his sweater caught the yogurt that missed his mouth, but he is left with only one layer which threw off my entire collegiate theme and now he has a slight farmer appearance.

I took each of them into the bathroom where I turned the blowdryer on high and hairsprayed their hair straight up in the front. A little I trick I learned in 1987 when the higher your bangs meant the higher your self worth. Also, the boys hair falls flat in a matter of an hour so if the photos are taken in the morning their hair should be pretty perfect.

Toothpaste is also a threat so I instructed them to be careful.  To my knowledge there were no toothpaste incidents, but that would only be true if they actually brushed their teeth, which I cannot be 100% certain.

Somehow we were out the door with a few minutes to spare to capture this photo.  Although, their smiles are plastic, they are being forced to stand next to each other,  and they are fighting under their breath,  I'm proud of these little guys.

What I'm not so proud of is my short temper to get them this way. Hopefully, that memory will fade away, but the year books, those things never will.