Dear World, Don’t Sell My Sons Short

Dear World,

Do me a favor, will you?

Don’t sell my sons short.

Let me ‘splain. No, no time to ‘splain, let me sum up….

You, world, you sell them short each time you assume they’re going to act like Neanderthals  simply because they are in possession of testicles and a willy. You do it every time you insist they’ll be distracted by the first spaghetti strap that crosses their line of vision, or an extra inch of thigh skin. You do it every time you restrict someone else in response to an embarrassing pubescent erection, which, let’s be honest, is just as likely the result of the wind blowing the wrong way as it is to an object of affection walking by.

You keep selling them short. You presume that somewhere, embedded into the XY chromosomes my sons carry, is a short-circuit which prevents them from telling right from wrong, from conscious choice and decision making, from weighing the options and coming down firmly on the side of acceptable.

But the animal kingdom! You cry. But biology! Precedent! You cry, cry, cry me a river as if human beings and society has not been a constantly evolving game of hit or miss all along.

So please, don’t use elephants in the wild to assume that my sons won’t be able to appreciate the sexuality of a peer without losing their shit and flunking algebra.

They are boys, not single-celled organisms. They are eminently capable of reason and ability, in possession of a morality and a conscience. Don’t give them an easy out or a ready excuse by claiming, repeatedly, they can’t help it.

They are capable of so much more than that. Let them show you.

The US Marine Corps. is smack in the midst of a scandal at the moment. Photos of female Marines, many to them explicit, were hacked, uploaded, taken and shared among a group of 30,000 male Marines.

Cue the tried and trite excuses:

“Well, what do you expect?”
“This is what happens when you have men and women serving together.”
“Men are lusty/animals/biologically programmed”
“All men do stuff like this. It’s locker-room talk.”

Don’t.Do.That.

Men are not static creatures. My boys are not static. They are dynamic. Society changes, we progress. What do I expect, world?

I expect that as a whole, we have moved beyond “well, what do you expect?” and on to “I expect better.”

Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to man up. Don’t tell them to grow a set. The need to cry, to empathize and emote–it is not shameful or womanly, it is human. They’ll be men by virtue of growing and maturing into larger, hairier versions of themselves. Don’t sell them short by handing over a definitive list of rules and regulations they need to meet in order to be men. Allow them the freedom to define themselves.

The majority of men don’t rape, don’t grope, don’t assault or assume. The majority of men understand consent. The vast majority of boys and men manage entire lives without uploading nude photos because they have been taught it is not right, or something inside them realizes it is not. If men truly were programmed to do those things, if that’s just what men ‘do’, does that mean all the men who don’t aren’t real men but imposters, traitors to their DNA?

Don’t sell my kids short just because they happen to be boys. Don’t assume they don’t know their way around a conscience.

Don’t give them the easy out of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men’. Not only are you excusing behavior, you’re excusing me from my job of parenting them to know right from wrong.

And in case you need a list to put on your refrigerator, here’s a starter. Feel free to add to it as you go along.

 

It is not right to ask a girl to take, send, upload or share nude photos of herself or other females.

It is not right, if a compromising picture exists, to assume you have permission to share that picture. Its existence does not absolve you of wrongdoing.

It is not right to force yourself on a girl or woman who has not given her consent. And yes, that means if you’re unsure, you explicitly ask. And if you’re still unsure, you walk away. Even if it would have meant getting your rocks off.

It is not right to have sex with a girl or woman who is drunk, on drugs, or in any other way mentally incapable of giving informed consent. Having sex with an unconscious girl is rape. Even if she was flirting with you an hour before. Even if her skirt rode up. Even if she’s lying naked on your bed. Why? Because women who cannot speak can’t give consent. And consent should never be assumed.

It is not right to expect girls and women to manage the way they dress, or act, or speak or behave because it makes a man uncomfortable. Boys and men capable of managing their own emotions. Let them. If a girl walks by and her spaghetti strap distracts a boy or man? It’s up to the boy or man to change their behavior, not to force the girl to widen her straps. Every time you assume a boy or man can’t manage those feelings, you are not only taking something away from a girl or woman, you’re taking away something from a boy too. The ability to manage his own emotions and actions.

Don’t sell my boys short. I have taught them, I am teaching them, to tell right from wrong, that respect is not limited to sex or gender, that just because someone else does it it’s not ok, that if it makes them question the devil standing on one shoulder, it’s most likely wrong.

We all make mistakes. We all utilize poor judgment from time to time–girls, boys, men and women. But don’t sell my boys short by excusing that capacity for judgment in the first place.

I hold my sons to incredibly high standards. You should too. Not just my sons. All the sons.

Love,
Me

 

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The Mother of All Elections

veruca_saltI know I’m not alone in experiencing what’s become known as “election fatigue”. I’m exhausted; head-scratching, rage-inducing, gag-me-with-a-spoon, rant-riddled exhausted. But I think I’ve finally figured out one reason why.

Being a Democrat this election cycle has been like parenting a two-year old.

For eighteen months the GOP has been throwing the mother of all tantrums. Over-tired toddler in the Nerf aisle of Toy-R-Us level meltdown. And while the remnants of a once proud party writhes on the linoleum kicking and screeching, the rest of us have had to draw on every last bit of patience and reserve and the grittiest of true grit just to get the fucker out of the store without drawing too much attention.

Essentially the GOP is all the kids from Willy Wonka rolled up into one  glooped out, bad egg mess.

Parenting is all about love, sure. But it’s also managing and soothing and calming, compromise, listening, modeling behavior and when it comes right down to it, making sure everyone gets a cookie.

I do all of that with my own kids. It’s tiring. The Democratic party has been doing it with a good portion of America for the last year. No wonder why so many of us are  DefCon 4 exhausted.

There are times as a parent when all I want to do is scream “What the FUCK is wrong with you?” at my kids. I don’t….not out loud anyway. It wouldn’t solve anything and it would do more harm than good. And while it might make me feel better for approximately five seconds, I simply cannot justify the potential fall-out that five seconds worth of pent-up release would bring me. Plus, it’s not exactly the example I want to set for my children.

I imagine there are a lot of blue-voting folks out there who have wanted to scream “What the FUCK is wrong with you?’ to a good number of people, but who realize it won’t actually solve anything. Because if the family fall-out is bad, what’s it going to be like multiplied by a few million? Plus, it’s not exactly the example Democrats want or should want to set.

(Though admittedly, it might make you feel better for approximately five seconds.)

There’s been soothing. Yes, we understand you’re frustrated. There’s been empathy. Yes, we understand you’re angry. There has been redirection, bribery, threats, pleas. And yes, at times, even the kind of full-frontal confrontation that is leaning down and hissing into your kid’s face in a voice low enough that no one else can hear.

You know what? Mommy’s angry too. Mommy’s really, really, fucking angry.

willy-wonka-augustus-gloop

For the past year and a half, it seems as if one side has been expected to manage, dissuade, and calm the anger of the other. They’ve been trying to convince Veruca that no, she can’t have the golden goose just because she wants it. Why? Because no one wants NATO calling child protective services called on our asses and though it may seem tempting at times, no one really wants to go and pick half their country out of a garbage chute either.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read so much about one, single topic in my life. Article upon study upon poll of why the angry, white base (yes, a gross generalization) is voting for or supporting Donald Trump. Of how people distrust the political system, the establishment, the media, women. Loss of jobs, fear, too many ‘isms’ to shake a stick at. What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Nation Divided stuff

The Democratic party isn’t dumb. We get it. You’re angry.

You’re not alone.

We’re angry too. We’re angry that we can’t just go to the store and leave without a fuss. That we can’t have nice things in our country like health care and equal rights without someone pitching a shit fit. We’re angry that everyone else in the global parking lot is staring and judging and tsk tsk-ing. And a lot of times we are angry that instead of screaming into your face we’re supposed to go high, be the adult and wrangle this mess into the car seat to get it home.

There is an entire political party in the United States which has been playing Mommy/Daddy to a group of whining brats for the last eight years. Some are whining because they didn’t get the biggest piece of cake. Others are whining because the black kid got the slice with the most frosting. And some are whining because the girl is going to get a piece too, though it’s still probably only 79% as big.

When my kids whine like that I want to smash the whole cake so no one can have any. But I’m a parent. I don’t do that, not least of all because I’m going to have to clean the whole mess up.

When I watch and listen to what is being said, how I’m meant to empathize and sympathize and understand? I want to smash the whole thing so the other side can’t have any. But I’m a Democrat. I don’t do that, not least of all because, at the end of the day, it would make me no better than those who are pitching a fit about me having some cake too.

violet_keeps_growing_redux___5_by_faridae-d8cuqstAny parent will tell you that logic doesn’t work in the face of pure emotion. Sometimes the only thing you can do is let the thing play out and hope it doesn’t do any lasting damage.

Even if it takes eight years.

With any luck we’ll get a nap in before the next fit starts. Because if you’re a parent….or a Democrat….you know damn well there’s always going to be a next one.

Time Off for Good Behavior

01kgrhqrhye1fhtyejibngwbyiznw0_3As a mother, I’m daily frustrated by my kids’ trickle down behavior-you know, using up all the good stuff with other people and saving the not so good for the home front. And I get it, because I do the same thing, and I bet you do too.

Just like we were all spectacular parents before we had kids, we’re all better parents when other people are around. We’re on our best parenting behavior. On a plane, in a restaurant, with other parents. Oh, if only we were always the parents others see–the mum with the patience to endlessly pick up the toy their toddler keeps throwing on the floor without hurling it across the room; the cool, calm collected mother who is able to repeatedly tell her toddler to stop kicking the plane seat without losing her shit. The smiling Saturday morning Dad in the park who gently encourages without asking how it is statistically possible to drop a ball 100% of the time. Those parents on the bus who calmly use logic and redirection and positive reinforcement, even though it’s the 67th tantrum of the day and they really want to get off and leave their kid on the bus.

What a relief then when you get home and you can let your gut hang out and tell your kids what you really think. Because man, it’s hard to be on your best parenting behavior for long periods of time. It takes a lot of work not to yell at your kids. It uses up a lot of energy to refrain from rolling your eyes. It takes a steady hand to avoid sarcastic. It’s exhausting.tumblr_mqi8elgIz51sn9lzco2_1280

We recently had friends come to stay with us. It was nice to catch up and to reminisce, to hang out, but it was nice too when we said goodbye and I could finally yell at my kids in peace.

None of use are perfect parents. We all lose patience, threaten to strip privileges, say things we really don’t mean. Just as our children can be whiny and teary and cranky after a day at school on their best behavior, after long periods of time spent with other people pretending to be more patient than I really am, I get cranky and whiny too.

The truth is: I yell at my kids. Not all the time, but I do. From time to time I say things that are not helpful or kind. Some probably even border on mean. I’ve called them not-so-nice names and have been known to question their intelligence levels. I’ve cursed, I’ve stomped, I’ve thrown things, (not at them, but still…). I’ve ignored them, pretended I didn’t realize the allotted hour of iPad time was up, given them hot dogs for dinner without any vegetables two nights in a row. I’ve taken money from one kid’s piggy bank to use at tooth fairy money and never replaced it. None of those things are going to prompt anyone to call child protective services on me (I hope), but they’re all the things I try really hard not to do when I’m around other people. You know, when I’m on my best parenting behavior.

bj-werner-1967-mugshot-fashion-ladySometimes you find a group of like-minded friends and you can let your hair down a little. Confess that why yes, just this morning you called you child an idiot and that no, you really don’t feel bad about it because he was being an idiot. That’s when you know you’ve found your parenting tribe. Stick with them. You need a group of friends you can parenting fart in front of. Because everybody farts. I mean yells, everybody yells…

If only you got time off for good behavior.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think it Means What You Think It Means.

kiss 2Every generation of parents adds its own entires to the Great Dictionary of Parenting. In the 80s it was “latch-key kid”, in the 90s, “play-date” and “time-out”. The naughties saw a slew of them: BPA-free, uber-boober, attachment parenting, free-range kids, sancti-mommy, inappropriate.

Inappropriate is one of those words parents started using instead of bad. Because apparently (there’s another one) it’s not good to judge things by labeling them bad. Or good. So I guess what I really mean is that it is inappropriate to label things with modifiers like good and bad. Or something like that. What it really means is that behavior which used to be considered bad was….well, it is still considered bad, we just call it something else.

Aramintha, it is inappropriate to pour sand on that boy and then hit him on the head with your shovel.

Of course, it was really meant for situations when you wanted your child to stop doing something that was totally normal, but perhaps socially uncomfortable.

“Zephyr, it’s inappropriate to play with your penis in public. That’s something you save for your private time.”

I did it too. Joined the parade, jumped on the bandwagon. But I’ve stopped for the most part because like most parenting trends, what started off as a seedling of good intention blossomed into a redwood of ridiculousness.

I find myself walking around channeling Inigo Montoya. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When it comes down to it, inappropriate behavior is a broad and subjective range. While there are things most, if not all of us, will agree are to be discouraged, we are usually comfortable labeling such things with much stronger language, like unacceptable. What we really mean of course is bad, but the idea of using the word bad around kids died around the same time Michael Jackson started singing about it.

Inappropriate, for all intents and purposes, is a stop-gap. It’s a word we reach for when we don’t know what to say. Instead of saying to junior:

I don’t like it when you touch my boobs because it makes me feel uncomfortable, or I don’t like you being that close to me right now, or I don’t like the way it feels when you do that, or don’t get up so close to my grill, child.

We say:

It’s inappropriate when you touch Mommy that way.

So now instead of having a generation of kids wandering around wondering if they’re bad, we have one wandering around wondering if they are inappropriate.tumblr_n1uea0QxU91r4ueyro1_250

And if something can be labeled inappropriate, Newton’s Third Law of Language dictates that there must be an equal and opposite range of behaviors deemed appropriate.

The fun starts when you try to figure out who gets to decide. The pope? The president? Tipper Gore and the PMRC? Parents?

Last year I chaperoned a field trip to a dance performance about bodies. Two young adults stood on the stage, dressed in sweats and tank tops. The piece, which explored non-verbal communication, was attempting to convey the physical differences between the young man and the young woman. At one point, both pulled their sweats away from their body and looked down their own pants, then back up to the each other as if to say, “hey, do you have one of these too?” Apparently a few kids went home and told their parents that the show was inappropriate.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I think, what they meant, is that sitting in a dark theatre with a body full of budding hormones watching two very fit people non verbally communicate about bodies made them feel…different? uncomfortable? tingling? curious? confused? Perhaps it even made them feel awkward when the lights came up and they confronted their own bodies. But is any of that inappropriate?

Unless we have reached a point where we are shielding our kids from the fact that they a) have bodies or b) are a different sex than half the population (and honestly, some days it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case), then I don’t understand how it could be construed as inappropriate. If anything, I would argue the feelings it aroused in some children were entirely appropriate for their age group.

It came up again yesterday when a friend was seeking guidance on what is considered appropriate public behavior for a budding tweenage romance. The school her son attends has a policy about inappropriate behavior.

There’s it is again.

When I was in 5th grade, we were coupled off. By sixth grade we were playing spin the bottle and other kissing games. Some of my parenting peers were visibly upset this year when the boys and girls in 5th grade were asking one another to the school dance. It caused a lot of stress. These confusing feelings that go hand in hand with growing up usually do. Did some children feel pressured to ask another student to the dance? I’m sure they did. That can be a pretty confusing emotion for a child who is not prepared for it. In fact, I’m pretty confident that’s what influenced my own son to ask a (girl)friend. But…labeling that exploration of maturity inappropriate?

kissTo me, that is well within the range of appropriate. Exploring budding feelings, putting a toe in the water. Not all kids are ready for that, including my son, but some are. Who are the rest of us to say that their behavior is inappropriate? Does inappropriate mean any behavior that makes someone else uncomfortable? Because hell, that can be expanded to include just about any behavior short of breathing. Is hand-holding appropriate after a certain age? Hugging? Kissing? How about playing violent video games or watching James Bond films? Wearing makeup? Short skirts? Baggy jeans and a hoodie? How about shooting a rifle? Any of those behaviors is going to make someone else feel uncomfortable.

What’s appropriate for your goose may be totally inappropriate for my gander. And vice versa. If ganders and geese can be viced and versed.

Yes, we need to reinforce boundaries of acceptability with our children, but they should remain fairly broad. Across the board respect? Definitely. No means no? Yes, always. But children also need to be allowed and encouraged to find their own personal boundaries as well—not necessarily the false ones we create for them, or worse, the ones they don’t even know they are crossing because they have no idea what inappropriate means.

Because they keep hearing that word. And I do not think it means what they think it means.