Stay Gold, Ponyboy. (Teaching our Boys to Read and Write)

IMG_1094Boys don’t like to read.  Watch the messages that they’re given.  Boys play sports, and wrestle, and play video games.  Girls read; just look at the early reader chapter books:  Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, & Junie B. Jones.  When X was in first grade, we got a scolding by his teacher, because the books he read (Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, and Percy Jackson) were too violent for six year olds.  When I asked her what else he should read, she didn’t have an answer for me.

X is a reader.  He laps up books; can’t get enough of them.  He reads big, fat, complex books without pictures.  And, we can’t keep up with him.  We could have worse problems (as the librarian often tells us)  but it’s not easy to manage the content of his reading.  Because, given the option, his interests lie in the violent, unrealistic world of mythology and fantasy.  And, he refuses to read anything else.  Piles of books will go unread as he reads and rereads the same Percy Jackson book.

So, I took The Outsiders out from the library.  The book that changed my pre-teen years.  The book that I couldn’t put down, that I sat and cried through as I reached the end before school in Ms. Collins 4th grade classroom.  The book that taught me about empathy, and compassion, and how words can be beautiful.

And it sat there, at the foot of the stairs, for weeks.  Finally, I brought it to X’s room and said, “Listen, this book is important to me.  And, it’s violent and intense, and you can watch the movie when you’re done, and just try the first chapter.”  He begrudgingly closed the graphic novel he was reading, and said that he’d give it a try.

An hour later, I snuck upstairs and he was still reading under his covers well past his bedtime.  He was already leaving the drive-in, and I realized that I had to clarify some things.   I had to show him what a madras shirt looked like, and tell him they were “soshes” not “socks” and that things were going to happen that we’d need to discuss.

Two days later, he stuffed it in his bag to “finish it at school” and I felt like I had to warn him that I bawled at my desk when I was ten.  He left it at home.  The next day he asked me who my favorite character was.  And I asked him: what role each character took in the book; what would have changed if Johnny didn’t have the knife; what did people think about Greasers, was it true;  what did Johnny mean when he told Pony to “stay gold”.

And we talked about the power of writing.  Why it was important for Pony to write down his story.  And how writing can be a powerful, healing experience.

I hope Xavier never forgets these lessons, and he carries his love of reading throughout his life.  When things get hard, or scary, or confusing he can turn to the written word for knowledge and comfort.  That he can always see the sunsets, and that he always stays gold.

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Are My Sons Sexist? Now what?

1016542_10203669089862778_501968467938076736_nI first noticed it this summer.  While watching American Ninja Warrior, the boys consistently rooted for the women competitors to fall and didn’t believe that a woman could ever complete the very physical obstacle course.  I ignored it, knowing that, eventually, a competitor would prove them wrong.  When she did, and she roared in celebration, the youngest said that she was rude and obnoxious, despite the fact that the men in the competition crowed all the time.  Uh oh!

Then, while watching an interview with a female politician, I told the boys to pay attention as she “might be our next president.”  They laughed.  Laughed, because, “Mom, a woman can’t be president.”  Oh no!

Finally, the last straw.  In a conversation about their grandparents, both boys fervently believed that their grandfather was “much smarter” than their grandmother.  Maybe they valued practical knowledge over book smarts, or they responded to the authoritative way in which my father states his beliefs.  Or, maybe, we have a problem.

Hmmm…  Let’s try this experiment…. “Boys, who’s smarter?  Mom or Dad?”  Without missing a beat, with barely a pause, they both said, in unison, “Dad.  Of course.”  Well. There it is.  Because, while I have no desire to besmirch my very bright husband, I have no idea why the kids would think he’s smarter than me. I write, I read, we help with homework equally, we solve problems together.  The kids watch me work often, and have seen me be honored for my professional endeavors.  I rarely ask my husband to do something I can manage.  And, we generally eschew the traditional gender roles in our household.

Now what? I’ve written a lot about being a Mom of Boys.  I think hard about the responsibility of raising young men in this world.  I’m conscious of the things we say and do, and the messages that the boys receive.  And yet, the sexism still seeped in.

Media is a huge part of it.  How do you counteract the Brains vs. Babes episode of Wipeout?  And, how do you fight the basic conceit of Big Bang Theory; smart boy loves hot girl?  And cartoons, and graphic novels, and Disney, and princesses, and princesses, and princesses?  And maybe, subconsciously, there’s tons of messages that they receive at home and at school and in the world.

Sexism is everywhere.  Misogyny is everywhere.  How do we fight it?  I need to look harder for images of equality, and I need to share those images with my friends and with the school and with my community.  And, I need to continue being a role model to the boys, I need to continue to walk the walk. I need to show them, often, that girls can do anything boys can do.

Most importantly, I need to continue the dialogue, and I need to ask my husband, and my father and the men in my life to do the same.  It’s so important for all of us to point out inequality in the world and name it.  We need to help the kids see how the messages we see are often untrue.  We need to continually remind all the little boys and girls that gender does not determine worth.

Tonight We Had a Moment

IMG_1093Tonight we had a moment.

As the skies opened up, and the sun went down, and the music blared, it all came together.  For a moment we forgot what it was like to have jobs, and mortgages, and school days to plan.  We forgot to lament what it used to be like when there was only the grownups and alcohol and games and late late nights.  We lived in the moment and sang in the rain and wrestled with all of the ‘littles’ and forgot our worries and our regrets.

And it was good.  It was good to fully appreciate where we are now.  It was good to look at our life with a clear lens.  And it was good to love it, unconditionally, for just a moment.  To remember why we embarked upon this road in the first place.  To remember why we’ve chosen this life.

At the end of the summer, after one too many long days, with needy kids, and errands to do, and responsibilities to juggle, it’s hard to see the beauty of a moment.  And there it was.  Just then, if only for one brief rainstorm, everything just melted away.

To grasp that moment and hold onto it is the trick.  To believe in that moment during the rush of getting out of the house in the morning or fighting over homework is the challenge.  To remember for just a second, before your head hits the pillow at night, that there was a bit of magic in that night.

As your life changes, so does your expectations.  Crazy nights fueled by vices fade away to pizza with the kids.  Sexy heels and smoky eyes lead to sensible shoes and dark circles.  And it’s so hard to let go of the way things used to be.  The nostalgia takes over, and you crowd around the kitchen table playing “remember when”.

It’s hard not to have moments of regret.  Moments of second guessing.  Moments where you just want to turn back time.  And yet, there’s a beauty in the present.  There’s something lovely about building families together; about watching our children grow.  About celebrating new babies, and new houses, and new jobs.  How do we hold onto that joy?

How do we stop life from getting in the way?  To allow for the moment to happen again.  To worry less about routine, and rules, and regimens and just let it be sometimes.  To embrace a perfect night and to promise to do it again sometime soon?

The Boy and His Stuffies

100_1396  When Xavier was three months old, we couldn’t get him to sleep.  Every time we put him down in his crib he would wail and scream.  In a moment of desperation, we placed a little stuffed monkey next to him, just barely touching his little arm, and he slept.  The next day we put him down again.  Same thing, he wailed; put the monkey next to him, he slept.  Thus started his special relationship with Mono.

We were strict about stuffed animals when the kids were babies.  They stayed in their rooms, they didn’t come downstairs, they didn’t leave the house except for sleepovers.  We didn’t want the kids to get too dependent on any certain possession.  We didn’t want to get stuck in a situation where we had to turn the car around because we left a stuffy at home.  Didn’t really matter though, the heart knows what it wants.

100_3832Throughout the years the relationships with the stuffies have changed, and they’ve become a part of the family.  Each animal has it’s own personality, some have theme songs, all have their quirks.  Mono is the leader and the dad; Burpy is a trouble maker but always has fun ideas; Brownie is the golden child; Rosalita is a girl but she can pack a punch; Swinger is fun because he’s a guy but he likes wearing girl clothes and his favorite color is pink.  Moo moo is a bit of a pig (even though he’s a cow) he eats garbage and never showers.

Ed and my relationship with the stuffies have changed too.  Ed has never liked the stuffed animals and finds the boys relationships with them slightly disturbing.  I find that the animals act out behavior that is unacceptable to me.  “Xavier, if Burpy doesn’t quiet down and change his voice, everyone will get grounded!!”  We talk about when enough is enough with the animals; and when they’re too “babyish” and not “manly” at all.

But, I can see that the role playing is important to the boys development.  They play out social interactions with the animals that are hard and confusing.  When Clut Clut gets too rambunctious, he needs to have a “time out” to pull himself together.  When Burpy is mean, the other animals don’t want to play with him.  And, it becomes a lesson on how different friends (monkey, cow, bat, monster, dog) can all get along and love each other unconditionally.

As the boys get older, I see them moving away from their stuffies.  The play is more grown up and a little more violent.  The guys still play “school” but now, they also play “animal wars”.  And, the stuffies are getting old.  Mono is starting to take a back seat, looking a little matted and worn.  The boys have gone to their grandparents, and forgotten their animals at home.

photo (6)They’re growing up, and real relationships are starting to take the place of these make believe lives.  They’ve practiced these interactions and are ready to try the real world.  And when it’s not easy, and things don’t go their way, they’ll always have their guys at home who love them no matter what.

Parenting’s a Crappy Gig

10334360_10202709480073133_776496951207363595_nLet me be the one to say it, because you know you’ve all been thinking it.  Parenting is a really shitty gig.

You go to a job interview, and they say, “You’ll be on call 24 hours a day, you’ll be expected to work overtime on the weekends, you’ll have full responsibility for every task and there’s rarely anyone to delegate to.  Your boss can be unreasonable, selfish, beligerant.  You’ll serve as director, secretary, bookkeeper, custodian, chauffeur, chef, and CEO.  And, by the way, this is a volunteer position, you won’t be paid a cent.”

And, I know….  You would never change it for the world, and you love those lil’ buggers, and it’s the worst job you’ll ever love.  And, that’s all bullshit.  You know this job blows chunks.

I love my kids.  Totally.  Unequivocally.  Madly.  And, I’m at the stage of their development when I really LIKE them too.  I have fun with them, we laugh a lot, and I legitimately enjoy their company.  It’s really not them, it’s the responsibility.

The soul crushing, overwhelming, absolute responsibility.  The worrying, and the second guessing, and the messiness of it.

As I sat on the toilet for a half an hour yesterday, holding my nine year old’s bloody nose, covered with rapidly drying red dots, as my six year old cleaned off the walls, I had a while to think about this (Yes Dad, I took him to the doctor.  He’s fine)  It’s an impossible task, with very little room for error.  And, there’s a million ways to mess it up.

You have to keep them clean, and fed, and well rested.  The have to be smart, and work hard, and be nice kids.  They can’t cuss, or fart, or pick their nose in public. They need to get to school on time, and like healthy foods, and play well with others. You need to deal with the strange rash on their head, and where their glasses are, and whether they are “happy.”  And, you have to look good doing it.

For the love of God, why didn’t anyone warn us!!  Quite simply, because if we truly understood, would we have agreed to bring these monsters into the world.  Or maybe I was warned and I chose to ignore them.  Hubris.  Pure hubris.

I’m sure of this.  Everyone,  every single last one of you, agrees with me.  Whether you choose to admit it or not.  Whether you smile through the muck, or cry through it, struggle every day, or knock it outta’ the park; it’s a shitty gig.

So, give the dad in the super market an understanding grin. Help that mom trying to drag the double stroller into the restaurant. Have patience with the parents struggling to feed their two toddlers in the crowded restaurant.  We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again.  Love your favorite parent today.

Dear Sons, (what I really want for Mother’s Day)

1795623_10202264980800929_53883452_nDear Sons,

I love you sweet boys oh so very much.  And, although I’m sure, your father will force you to make a lovely half-assed card featuring monsters and lasers and a fair amount of poop, and your teacher will make you paint a frame and put a blurry picture of yourself in it, there are other things I want for Mother’s Day.  And, if you can’t pull that off, I kinda’ want a Magic Bullet (smoothies are hot right now).

  • I would like to spend one day in the car without you arguing about what you want to talk about.  You might actually have a pleasant conversation if you could just stop fighting about whether talking about Pokemon is annoying or not. (hint:  it is)
  • You could admit that you actually love playing outside.  That you love baseball and soccer and playing at the playground.  That you’d prefer to be active then to sit in front of a screen rotting your brain.
  • About those screens.  They are not that important.  They are not worth your anger, and your frustration and your general whiny-ness when you don’t get to play.  Playing electronics are not, and will never be, a priority in this family.  Give it up!
  • In fact, please learn, that you will never get your way by whining.  You are 9 and 6.  We have never given in to your whining.  We never will.  It is not a functional way to communicate with us.  You will not win that fight.
  • Put your shoes on. Now.
  • For the love of god, clean yourself!  You are boys.  You smell.  You must shower, and brush your teeth, and comb your hair.
  • Ask your father.  He is sitting right next to you.  Watching hockey.  Do you not see him?  Do you have to walk up the stairs, storm into the bathroom, and ask me for apple juice?  Do you?
  • Now means NOW.
  • We have a routine.  We do the same thing every single morning.  You need socks everyday; you need your backpack everyday; you need to strap in everyday.  Why can you not understand that?  And don’t ask me what we have.  We “have” the same things we always “have”.
  • Enough with the sarcasm.  I know you “learned it from watching me,” but my sarcasm is warranted, acceptable, and witty.  Yours is annoying.
  • You are not bored.  You keep saying that word.  I do not think that word means what you think it means.
  • Please take pictures with me.  Moms aren’t in enough pictures, moms always miss out on the photos.  Please let me have pictures with my sons; even if they’re goofy.
  • Never stop holding my hand.  Never grow to big to cuddle with your mom.  Just love me unconditionally; I promise to do the same.

Patience: Lessons from the Zen Baby

IMG_1935We’re all fast folk.  We walk fast, always have somewhere to go, we keep to our tight schedule.  But not my youngest.  He moves at his own speed.  He loves quietness, silent reflection, lazy days.  And, he drives us crazy.  No matter where we go, we’re always ten steps ahead of him, saying, “Come on J. Come on J.  Come on J”  Sometimes we call him “little legs”.  Sometimes we lose our patience.

But, J doesn’t care.  He just goes at his own speed.  Observes his surroundings.  Reserves his energy.  Sets his pace.

Last week we went to the zoo.  We go to the zoo often, sometimes just stopping to see the flamingos and then move on.  The kids have been going to the zoo since they were infants, and they know it like the back of their hand.  Know what they need to see.  Know the quickest way to get places.  We can do the whole zoo in less than an hour.  Time us!

But not this time.  We had nowhere else to go, no one else to see, no appointments, no schedule.  So, we made the promise to go at J’s speed.  First, we climbed the gorilla statue, then went to the playground, stopped at the bathroom, got an ice cream, climbed the tower, looked for the giraffes.  “Hey, J, are we ever going to see the animals today?”  Sure.  First the red panda, stopped to feed the ducks, saw the cows, noticed how ugly the camels are.  Practiced our jumping, sat in the old jeep, got some water.  “Hey, J, we ever going to see the lion, the tigers, the gorillas”  Sure.  But first, let walk this way.

By the time we got to the Tropical Forest, where the animals are active and funny and always moving, J needed to sit.  “But, J, the lemurs are right there, and the tamarins, and the gorillas, and the hippo is right around the corner”  No mom, let’s sit in the little theater with the fish tank.  Okay, let’s sit and look at the little fish tank.  Let’s sit and relax and rest for a while.  Sigh.

But, then, behind the glass of the fish tank (the fish tank we’ve run by a thousand times, the fish tank that’s lame, the fish tank that’s boring) we see something moving.  We look carefully, we hold our breathe, we get really quiet, and we see the most amazing thing.  The pygmy hippo.  Kicking his legs and swimming by.  Diving down.  Rolling on his back.  Putting on a show.  All this time, and we never knew that the hippos played in that water.  Unbelievable.  J looks at us and says, “Hmmm.  Guess that’s why it’s called Hippo Theater.”

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