Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category
“I don’t want to throw it away,” he said.
“I’m using that,” added his brother.
The two of them stood amid a pile of items gathered by their mother and me for immediate disposal. The items consisted largely of broken toys, bits of paper, random balls of pet hair, and the occasional paperclip, penny, or well-used band-aid. Their eyes glistened above the dust-laden shine of the freshly swept treasure trove, and they voiced their concerns often and loudly.
“That isn’t garbage!” they squealed in disbelief as they dove into the dumpster of their bedroom floor.
“What if I find the toy?” he said. “I’ll need this!”
“And what about that?” I asked while nodding toward a small bouncing ball that had been chewed in half by one of the dogs. “Why do you need half a bouncing ball?”
“Because I like it!” and this was the answer that became their mantra and applied to everything, for everything was exactly what they liked.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked about whatever this was or that, but they didn’t believe in labels and living life by the definitions of a society that required they part with the occasional thing that they may have once loved, if even for a moment.
“It’s a memory,” one said.
“It’s something to remember,” added the other.
And then we watched an episode of Hoarders.
“Do you want to live like that?” asked their mother.
They did not, and they agreed to part with the pet hair, band-aids, and anything a consensus deemed broken.
“Can’t we give the stuff that works to charity?” asked one.
“Other kids might like it,” added the other.
“Of course,” said their mother. And so we did.
They collected a new layer of clothes too small, toys lacking for attention, and the assorted stuffs of a well-lived childhood. The charity bag doubled the size of the one marked “trash” and we delivered each accordingly.
Something caught my eye as we drove away from the donation center, the lone plastic hand on a broken plastic arm, reaching through the knot of a tied plastic bag. It looked like the last grasp of a drowning man.
“Shouldn’t that arm have been in the trash bag,” I asked.
“No,” replied one son from somewhere in the backseat.
“We found the rest of him,” said the other.
I looked at the bag of treasure my boys had packed for another, the arm poking through just as they had left it, and for one split second between the light and breeze, I thought I saw it waving.
I waved back, just in case.
Pardon me a rant…
We’ve been so obsessed with empowering our girls, rightfully so, that we’ve allowed society to de-power our boys. I’m not referring to the sexist stereotypes of men having power over women—nobody wants to raise another generation of Mad Men (except, possibly, the tobacco and daytime drinking industries, respectively). Rather I’m talking about the power of boys to meet their full potential and the power of self that they hold within.
Some see this through the lens of misconception, however, empowering girls is not about taking power from boys or vice versa. It is not a race, or a case of gaining an edge over the other. It is about all children having the same opportunities, and the means to meeting them. It is about understanding that despite a shared goal, all kids are not all the same. It is okay to take different paths to the promised land. Even better, it should be encouraged.
Some will say that “boys will be boys.” Others will say that it is cliché, a blank check to excuse wayward behavior. They are all right. And they are all wrong to varying degrees. Boys will be boys should not be an excuse. It is not pure justification. Boys are boys, and as such there are proven differences within their developmental and maturation process that should be taken into consideration while trying to mold them into the men they will someday be.
He may have meant that. I don’t know Shawn Bean. However, as the father of two young sons myself, I tend to believe that it is not as black and white as some of his detractors claim.
It is my opinion that in order to best understand what boys need we should stop comparing boys and girls. In fact, for the sake of this process we should remove girls from the equation. (I hope this is obvious, but the suggestion of removing girls from this conversation has nothing to do with the very real and very legitimate steps that have, should, and will be taken in the raising and teaching of them. Nor am I implying that boys and girls should be taught and raised separately and without regard for the other. Stay with me.)
What I have determined in my combined 15 years of working in public schools, support programs, coaching, and childcare facilities, is that boys will be much more receptive to instruction if their strengths are worked in, not against. Thankfully, I am not alone in this theory, and much of modern research in childrearing and behavioral studies suggests the same thing (it’s quite fascinating, Google it). The topic is also a big one around the virtual water cooler of parent and family blogging. I work, or have worked, at some of the most well-known and trusted names in the internet parenting community, and many a conversation has been had in regard to our boys and whether or not we are failing them.
In his post, Bean commits on the educational system being quick to label nonconforming behavior and the practice of addressing it with formidable forms and quick fixes. When talking about his son’s experience in kindergarten he writes: “The school is thinking about achievement gaps and advanced placement, which means school rankings, which means PR and fundraising. Tanner doesn’t know he is part of the Big Picture. He doesn’t know Obama expects him to win the future. He is thinking about what’s in his snack bag.”
Anyone that has ever had a child in public schools should relate to that. Schools are too often understaffed and underfunded to support the flexibility needed for multiple paths of instruction despite the fact that they are instructing multiple types of learners. It is a sad fact based primarily upon pocketbooks and politicians, not teachers, principals or school staff. However, I don’t believe anyone pursues a career in education in hopes of reducing children to faceless statistics. Professionals in education are there for the right reasons, but they, and in turn the children, are judged on criteria created as piechart filling, which is not always reflective of what tangible success really is.
The point is that boys, specifically young boys, and the way in which they process knowledge, should not be treated as a hurdle that educators need overcome, but rather an opportunity to develop the skills upon which they will build their future success.
Sometimes it is okay to let boys stoke their fire. It keeps them warm, and it helps to light their way.
The house is in disarray. More so than usual. We had a water leak that led to walls torn down and floors ripped up. The furniture is stacked in the corner covered in dog hair and medical bills. I am at my desk and all I see is inbox.
There is family coming. They will be here in a couple of hours. There are sheets to wash, shelves to dust, and a bathroom turned inside out beneath the rapid misfires of two little boys.
Not long ago this would have bothered me. I would have tried to fix everything. It needed to be spotless. It needed to be perfect.
Now I am in no hurry.
The last time that family was due they never came, and everything was ready. There was nothing to do but wait.
There was nothing to do but cross clean floors to an uncluttered desk and answer the phone.
There was nothing to do but fall down upon fresh linens and know that you may very well die there. And parts of you do. For death is contagious and when a loved one goes there is little between your heart and the nearest exit, but for those around you and the grieving yet to dance with.
Then nothing became everything, or it may have been the opposite. And the house fell apart around us.
Today my father and my stepdad are flying here together. They are coming for a birthday, bound by grandsons and a lifetime lost to memory.
Now I care little for clutter or open walls, missing carpet, and a home undone. Life is not spotless, and perfect is in the moments that we are making.
There is everything to do, and I am in no hurry.
“Look at that dumb fuck, Daddy,” said my 3-year-old from his car seat.
“Where?” I asked. There were quite a few around us, he could have been talking about any of them.
“The white one,” he continued.
That narrowed it down. There was only one that fit that description.
“That dumb fuck sure is dirty,” he said. “Why is that dumb fuck so dirty?”
I considered my options. Carefully.
“Some are dirtier than others,” I replied. “It comes with the territory.”
We were sitting outside Starbucks waiting for my wife. We were passing the time the way men tend to do, talking about our feelings, scratching what itches, and cursing a little—some of us more than others.
“Do you like dumb fucks, Daddy?” he asked. It had an added air of the rhetorical.
“I don’t like being too close to them,” I answered. “They are pretty fun to watch, though.”
My wife returned with our coffee and took a seat in the car.
“Mommy, did you see all the dumb fucks?” he asked.
I knew that she had.
“Honey,” she said with a straight face. “They are called dump trucks.”
“Dumb fucks,” he repeated.
“Exactly,” I told him, and we sipped our coffee as he watched the last one rumble past.
Do you like parenting with humor and the talking with the kids? Then check out The Parents’ Phrase Book and have some fun for a change.
About this post: With the closure of DadCentric I have been moving some of my favorite posts to Honea Express. This post was first published in 2009 and has the honor of being DadCentric’s most read article of all time, which is saying something. Also, I read it at Dad 2.0 in 2013 while “opening” for Brené Brown. So there’s that.
Photo: Todd Huffman via Flickr
My boys know things about loss and love. Over the last four years we have lost my grandparents, my stepmother, Tricia’s dad, and my mom—the last two in just the past few months. In the time between we have lost three cats and a dog, all of which were years older than the children—all of which they had always known. The boys have experienced sadness in quantity and quality, something that many of us don’t need face until we are somewhat older, and now, through experiences I rather they never had, they know the things that I have mentioned. And they know so much more.
Atticus came home from school yesterday to say that his teacher’s father had died over the weekend, and that she had taken the day off.
“Of course,” I said. “I am sorry to hear that.”
I am still taking days off.
“The substitute teacher said we should write her a note,” he added. “We should write whatever we want.”
And then, armed with pencil and understanding, he disappeared into the kitchen to offer his condolences. This is what he wrote: