The Current Dilemma

“Mommy, why don’t we ever listen to music that my friends listen to? You know, like current music?”

Excuse me? “Raspberry Beret” and disco and hair bands from the 90s aren’t current?

I knew the moment I heard Fergie’s “My Humps” that I was a parent. Never really listening to the words when I listened to my bass-heavy music from my clubbing days, I was acutely aware of what HUMPS Fergie was referring to and was damned if I ever my daughter (then two years old) singing that song.

New music just doesn’t make me smile like hearing Aerosmith and Run DMC in a rock/rap medley or hearing Donna Summer croom “Last Dance”. Most current music gives me a headache. Most current music I just don’t understand.

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“The biggest reason why I don’t listen to the music in the car is that it’s inappropriate for kids. It’s written for people who are in their 20s and 30s who like to go out with their friends and drink.”

I went on about stereotypes, how some of of the songs call women terrible names and treat them poorly, not to mention sex and drugs.

I’m lucky that I can have a frank discussion about these topics with my eleven year old. We’ve always talked about things like that, topics that have yet to be covered by my mother with me.

“Why don’t you tell me why you think you should be able to listen to this music without saying ‘because all of my friends listen to it‘ and I will listen to your reasons?”

He thought about it for a long time, knowing he couldn’t list the only reason that was to be the foundation of argument. He came up with “Well, you did say that I’m very mature for your age.”

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I’ll give him that one because I did say that.

In the end, I came up with the compromise that I would sometimes listen to today’s music in the car but would change the channel if an inappropriate song came on if his sisters were in the car. However, he could listen to this music in the privacy of his own room with the door closed with the understanding that he would come to me, Daddy, or my brother if he had any questions about what he was listening to, not his friends.

He grudgingly agreed but so far has made no effort to listen to the music in his room. He wants to fit in but is too lazy to make the effort.

And that’s fine by me.

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The Tween Temper Fluctuation

I knew the truth. This abillity to weed out lies and exaggerations is something one learns through years of experience. I was lucky to be a teacher before I became a wife and mother.

Daddy was wrong.

Pet responsibilities are divided amongst the three kids. While the littlest at five years old may not be able to fill the giant water bowl, she still does her share. The older two take turns cleaning up after the pets and giving them food and water.

Last night the kids were going to spend the night in the living room, watching movies with Daddy. As I walked up to my room for the night, I asked the middle child A to feed the dogs. I didn’t know this but she proceeded to pass the buck to the youngest who had fed the cats earlier. The boy fed the dogs this morning.

When the youngest L said she was too tired (she was almost asleep on the couch), my husband told M to feed the dogs.

And he did.

But he was very upset.

He even came up to my room where I was enjoying knitting by myself while a book on CD played in the background. “Mommy, before you say anything, please don’t tell me that I’m just tired!”

So I listened his story and didn’t say he was tired (even though he was). I said I’d take care of it. He cried very loudly and retreated to his room. I yelled down the stairs to A to feed the dogs.

She did. Immediately.

R came up the stairs as soon as he heard the dramatic crying and I whispered what had happened. R went to M’s room and admitted he was wrong. He tried to talk more but M was too upset.

My husband came back to see me with a tired look on his face. He shook his head. “How do you deal with this? I feel so bad!”

I had to share my newfound knowledge in a nutshell. The girls were calling him downstairs. M’s behavior was normal. Our guilt was normal. His temper flares will appear quickly but disappear just as fast. He’ll probably go back to his normal self in the morning. (He did. He needed rest. Ha! I knew it!)

“You’re a great dad,” I reassured him. “I only know all this because I’ve done a lot of reading! See?” I pointed to a couple of parenting books on our dresser.

He sighed. We both know we have a lot to learn, especially him when he retires from the Navy and becomes a full-time father.

As he left the room, I said, “Can you imagine? We get to do this two more times! And with GIRLS!”

Yep, I’m pretty sure he groaned.

The Correspondence Conundrum

The three kids get along pretty well. Usually.

When they don’t, it is because one of them (or any combination of two or three):
* is tired
* did not get enough sleep
* is hungry
* had too much sugar and not enough nutrients
* is thirsty
* misses daddy
* feels stressed for some reason like school or friends

A few years ago I noticed the older two sitting around the table with pencils in hand, leaning over a large piece of paper. They were getting along, sharing the paper, and every few minutes would crack up over something.

Curious I took a gander at what they were doing.

My son M said, “Mommy, look. This picture is A holding a bomb. And this one is her blowing up!” The first picture showed a cartoon figure holding a Wile E. Coyote-type bomb and the next picture showed a big cloud that said, “BOOM!”

Years of being a teacher has taught me to keep my face neutral but I couldn’t hold in the shock. They laughed and laughed as they could barely get out the words to describe the picture. They laughed even harder as my eyes grew bigger.

I scanned the paper and there were more pictures like that. Sometimes it was M, sometimes it was A. One figure was shown being stomped by a giant boot. Another was getting thrown into a volcano. Every picture showed an untimely demise. Every picture was actually hilarious.

My first instinct as a mother was to tell them to cut it out but that only lasted a second. They weren’t plotting to really hurt each other. They weren’t secret drawings in a secret journal hidden under a mattress. They were having fun and, dare I say, have the same sense of humor as my husband as me as their parents.

I discussed this with my husband R who was mortified but could later see my reasoning. My thoughts were validated by a psychiatrist when my husband was at the VA Palo Alto and we went into counseling. Couples, individual, family, kids’… you name it, I knew we needed it. The doctor said kids need an outlet to let their feelings out, to show their anxiety, and to be creative. Drawing was theirs.

Two years later, they have become writers. Apparently M made one or both of the girls mad. Sometimes they joke around, sometimes it becomes more serious.

I cleaned the girls’ room yesterday. Today it is the playroom and the boy’s room. I hadn’t even started this morning when I came across this on the rug.

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As a mom, I roll my eyes. As a teacher, I am impressed with her concluding sentence!

After reading it, I immediately felt like I should intervene afterschool and have the kids sit down with me and talk about it yet as I think about it more, I think I will ignore it.

No, I won’t ignore if it escalates but I trust them to try and work things out if they haven’t already. I trust them to come to me, not as tattling (trust me, that is a work in progress), but to act as a mediator. In the meantime, I need to find the drawing that M produced for the psychiatrist. Apparently Daddy got eaten by a fire-breathing dragon and in his words, “Met his tragic demise!”

The Bully Transcendence

The past twenty-four hours has allowed me to think about what kids may be encountering at schools.

I am baffled.

I look back at my own childhood with rose-colored glasses that hindsight offers and I don’t recall anything of this magnitude. There may have been the occasional bully or two but I just learned to avoid them or maybe I learned to avoid trouble altogether.

My husband doesn’t recall his own childhood with my fondness. He has said he was in fights every day and that’s just what they did at his elementary school.

I was baffled.

I don’t recall bullying at my high school. I remember cliques but not to the point of The Breakfast Club

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or Mean Girls.

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There weren’t Slushees thrown like on Glee.

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Maybe there was all of this and I just didn’t see it.

Whatever the case may be, my heart goes out to kids who are dealing with bullying, who are helpless victims, and who just want to get through the day.

Then I came to a rather shocking conclusion: AREN’T WE ALL BULLIES?

We laugh when we see pics from the People of Wal-Mart site. We stare when we see someone’s outfit is out of the ordinary; we may even giggle when they walk away. Some may even not even wait.

Isn’t THAT bullying?

Case in point: Three weeks ago we are at Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth. My daughter A and I are waiting outside of Pirates of the Carribean ride because this year she deemed it to frightening. While we were waiting for my husband and the other two kids, a woman walked by with her family. I didn’t even notice her until a man next to me leaned over to his wife or daughter and pointed.

She was a larger woman in a couple of layered tanks, facial piercings, and maybe even brightly dyed hair. Maybe she stuck out a bit since I did notice that Disneyland attracts a conservative crowd. I don’t know. I really didn’t care.

I did care though when she walked by, the man standing next to me whipped out his camera, took a picture of her, and said, “Got it!” to the woman next to him. They laughed.

I couldn’t believe it. What the hell? What was next? Uploading the picture to Facebook so his friends can point and laugh at the freak walking around in Disneyland?

There was nothing remarkable about this man. He wasn’t paparazzi. He wasn’t a celebrity. He was just a man with a camera who wanted to laugh at someone else because she was different.

He was an asshole.

I really wanted to say something but would I have been next? Would I have been “too brown”, “too chubby”, “too many gray hairs”, “part of a token interracial couple”? What would I have said?

“Excuse me, sir. Your BULLY is showing.”

I sent out an email to my son M’s teacher about what I heard and the advice I gave to him the other night. I wrote that I did not expect any action from her, only that she be aware about the conversation on the playground.

Mostly because I wanted to wait and see.

Call me crazy but I think things might be changing. Hear me out.

Last night I asked my son if his friends talked about that “stuff” again. Yes, I read parenting books. I was trying to be non-threatening, creating a path of communication should he decide to converse with me.

Him: Yeah, we did.

Me: (Silence)

Him: Well, that kid wasn’t in school today.

Me: Hmmm… [This invites kids to give more information without being overbearing. Thank you, Faber and Mazlish from How to Talk to Your Kids So They Will Listen and How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.]

Him: Yeah, we decided that that wasn’t true.

Me: Really?

Him: Yeah, I mean. Who cares how you look at your nails? My other friend got really mad about that too.

Me: (Silence)

Him: He thought that was dumb.

Me: (Nodding)

Him: And plus, who cares? Right? Who cares if someone is gay? If they’re gay, they’re gay. Who cares?

Me: (Recognizing quotes from my husband and me, trying to suppress a grin this big is like trying to hug the sun.) Cool.

Does This Make Me Gay?

If you are looking for gay jokes, get the fuck off of this site. This post, this site, this blogger is not for you.

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My son M is in fourth grade and I don’t have to tell you how cruel, how unkind, how mean kids can be at this age.

Last year when my husband was home, M told him about a game that some kids were playing that he didn’t want to play. The Cheese Touch game from Diary of a Wimpy Kid stems from a scene in the book where the kid who touched an old piece of cheese on the play ground was tainted. He had the cooties.

Ooh. Big deal.

Only my son told my husband those kids weren’t playing Cheese Touch. They were playing Faggot Touch.

Yes, pick up your jaw off the ground. I had to also when I heard this from my husband.

Both my husband and I have many gay and lesbian friends; in fact, his favorite uncle, now deceased, was gay.

My husband told him what that word meant, the hatred in the word, and to avoid the game. M understood but I think, in retrospect, his friends started to drift apart into smaller cliques at that time.

Tonight after his sisters fell asleep, M came to me, held out his hand palm down, and asked me if that made him gay.

Once again I was floored.

“This boy said if you look at your nails like that, that means you are gay.”

Whoa. All I was doing was getting hungry while looking at food pics on Pinterest. I didn’t have to take a deep breath because I was afraid of what I was going to say. I had to take a deep breath because the word GAY in his sphere of friends has taken on a powerfully negative connotation and it seems like there is no stopping it.

It has to stop. But how?

While homophobia is down in the UK, it is not the case here in the United States and obviously not on the playground of the kids’ school.

“Look,” I said. “How you look at your nails does not determine if you are gay or not. The only thing that makes a person gay is if he is a boy and likes other boys or if she is a girl and likes other girls.”

He said, “But what if the boy likes another boy as a friend?”

“That doesn’t make you gay. That makes you friends.”

I went on to remind him that he’s met many of my gay friends but he just didn’t know who was gay and who wasn’t BECAUSE IT DIDN’T MATTER.

IT DOESN’T MATTER.

I don’t make friends based on whether they are straight or gay, their religion (my religious humor is questionable), funny or boring, rich or poor. Though I am always taking applications for funny, rich, and generous friends.

The only people I discriminate against are assholes. Yup, I hate assholes.

But I digress.

This will not be the last time he encounters this. I will bring this up with his teacher but as an educator myself, I have no idea how I would even address this in school. Have you or your kids heard something troubling? What advice did you give? Did you do anything about it? If so, what?

Any and all advice is greatly appreciated. All hateful remarks will be deleted.

The Teacher Mommy Curse

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The rules of the house are quite simple. No TV during the week. No video games during the week. Read everyday. Go outside and play everyday. Trying to limit fast food to once a week or even less. Save treats for Movie Night (setting up camp in the living room and watching DVDs on Friday nights). Milk everyday; soda for when we go out to eat. (The last one is tough to enforce with their grandma living around the corner and my brother telling them, “It’s okay. Don’t tell your mommy!” That’s nice.)

I do not mind the video games the kids play so long my husband has played them and deemed them appropriate for our children. Minecraft is one of those games.

I have not actually played Minecraft but some of my friends’ kids play it and love it. There is a lot of extensive detail to playing the game which I won’t go into here. I will say that there is a free version that M has been playing and loving.

So much that he would like the paid version if he once again receives straight A’s on his report card. That, we do not mind.

I did mind, however, when he came home from school today and asked me, “If I do all of my homework, can I play video games?”

I felt a power struggle being born.

The educator I am replied, “What do YOU think the answer is?”

“Why not?” he exploded to which I raised an eyebrow. “ALL OF MY FRIENDS get to play video games ALL WEEK!”

I breathed. Slowly. Purposefully. Remember, I said to myself, keep your cool. Do not engage in an argument or you lose, Mommy.

“What your friends do is irrelevant to what YOU do. How I raise you has nothing to do with how other parents’ raise their kids. Also, how many of your friends get straight A’s?”

He gave me a few names plus more of his friends who are trying to raise their grades to get the coveted straight A report card.

I asked, “How many of those kids get to play video games during the week?”

He thought about it and said, “I don’t really know. I didn’t ask.”

“ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS? ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS?” I asked in true Sheldon fashion from The Big Bang Theory. “ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS get to play video games all week?”

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He smiled.

I added, “By the way, never start off saying ‘All of MY friends…’ because I can always find one of your friends who doesn’t.”

Such is the curse for having a teacher for a Mommy.

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