Boys Will Be Boys

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Not this innocent face. No. He would never throw spitwads at church…

The wadded up piece of paper shot across the music area right in front of me while we were kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer. A minute later, Alex started snorting. I looked at him with a scowl developing, and he whispered, “Was that Michael’s nametag?”

And I realized: yes. Why, yes, it was. My kid made a spitwad of his “nametag Sunday” sticker and flung it across the music area.

Every time I think I’m done being caught off guard by the antics my kids are capable of…boom. There they go.

Michael Mayhem Graduates Preschool

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Michael, with his toy guitar: “This next song is called “Starlight Can Never Destroy A Death Star So I will Use My Laser.”

I went to his end-of-year celebration at his preschool yesterday, which consisted mostly of him attacking me at frequent intervals with flying leaps and fierce hugs interspersed with little girls coming around to take pictures with him.

It floors me to see how advanced academically he is. He is actually writing messages to us–all caps, no lower case, and asking us how to spell words–but writing nonetheless. Julianna does this app on the iPad for homework. It’s called ST Math. It’s graphic math, with no instructions of any kind, which has on more than one occasion made my head want to explode, but apparently the kids do pretty well with it. She’s doing the first grade curriculum and as we were trying to show her grandparents how this worked on Mother’s Day, Michael watched upside down and then started doing it for her. I had to get pretty firm with him to back off.

In part, it floors me because he’s in a special ed preschool, one where the primary focus of the instruction is the kids with developmental disabilities. We enrolled him as a “peer model” through the school district when he was three to try to develop sensitivity and awareness toward kids with disabilities–because of all our children, only Alex, who witnessed and participated in her early childhood therapies, really has an inherent awareness of and appropriate interaction with her. To her younger brothers, she’s just their sister. They don’t tolerate her desire for hugs, and their power struggles over the iPad and books and so on look like every other sibling struggle. They don’t give her one inch.

There’s great value in having that relationship–Julianna is always trying to get away with things based on her disability, whether she’s doing it consciously or instinctively–but I still wanted Michael to at least be capable of making a distinction.

When it came time to move him to a traditional preschool for his preK year, to make sure he got the needed academic preparation, we found ourselves waffling. He seemed comfortable, and the school was right here in the neighborhood. Often, we bike to and from. The kindergarten teachers at the Catholic school said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. He’ll be fine.” And so we left him in place for a second year.

His teachers at Early Childhood Special Ed have told me repeatedly how seriously he takes his job as peer model, but I always thought that was just teachers being nurturers; I didn’t take it that seriously until one day, Michael and I went out with my friend and her son, who is a couple years younger than Michael, after Jazzercise. The boys jumped around, climbing on and under things and generally being normal little boys while we talked and tried to keep their exuberance (and potential for damage) contained to one corner of the cafe. When it was time to go, Michael’s little friend did not want to go. It was like a switch flipped in Michael. His tone of voice gentled, he helped his friend put his coat on, he held his hand and led him out the door. My jaw hit the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the experience of being a peer model shapes his future character. In the meantime I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an inexpensive and extremely enriching option for preschool. Because clearly, it didn’t harm his academic potential at all.

In any case, such is the world of my littlest guy as the school year closes. I’m having so much fun with him.

Photo Friday Funnies

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If you’re on Facebook, you already saw these, but it’s worth preserving in our family history this way, too. Two nights in a row, this week, we went upstairs to go to bed, checked on the kids, and discovered this:

Boys sleeping_opt

By morning, it looked more like this:

Morning Butts

Happy Friday!

A Random Sampling of the Wanton Destruction Unleashed by Boys

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Kids make messes. They destroy things. I know this. I’ve been around the parenting block a few times now.

But sometimes, when I look around my house, I still don’t understand the sheer destructive power.

How, for instance, is it possible to crack a countertop using only a TOOTHBRUSH?

cracked-counter

How can the need to move fast and hard be so overwhelming that you RIP THE FRONT OFF A DRAWER?

broken-drawer

Why is there this inborn need to bang forks on the table, leaving hundreds of dents in the extremely high-quality oak table we invested in to accommodate large gatherings?

Why is it that after being told sixty-five times, “Put your shoes in the cubbies!” and getting in trouble seventy-three more because you can’t find the shoes you *didn’t put in the cubbies, you STILL TAKE THEM OFF AND DROP THEM WHEREVER YOU ARE?

And what in the name of all that is holy is the deal with ripping holes in knees??????????

(Why, yes, in fact I do consider the multiple punctuation justified.)

Bleach spots on the wall!

bleached-wall

Sharpie on the kitchen table!

Marker on my computer chair!

Marker on the basement carpet!

Paint on the basement carpet!

painted-carpet

DVDs snapped in half! (Have you ever *tried to break a DVD? It’s next to impossible!

Chips in the piano keys!

chipped-keys

Drumsticks. That’s how.

Pee everywhere EXCEPT in the toilet bowl!

Clothing that has a food stain on it five minutes—literally—after it gets put on the body!

The same food smudge across the right cheek that has been there for FOUR YEARS!

Yeah. What dirt.

Yeah. What dirt.

I do not understand this. I know I’m a girl and all, and that I grew up in a house full of girls, but we were not particularly girly girls. I mean, we played on tractors and jumped off hay bales, and we *still didn’t get as dirty and break as many things as my boys do on a regular basis.

Most of the time I am pretty philosophical about it all, but every once in a while it occurs to me that it would be nice to have a house that looked, you know…nice. And it’s an almost daily occurrence for me to send my kids out into the world with a mental groan, thinking of all those parents who manage to get their kids to school with their backpacks neat, their clothes intact, and no black jelly smudges across their right cheek.

It must be my fault, because I’m the mom. And I routinely (read that: virtually always) forget the a) canned good for charity, b) dress-down day, c) stuffed animal for school reward day, d) pajama day.

But I am not, nor do I have any interest in being, a helicopter parent. I’m pretty sure when I was a kid, I was expected to be on top of my own special-dress days. And of course, we didn’t have things like stuffed animal parties and pajama days at all.

And so I continue to navigate an uneasy truce between taking care of my kids and expecting them to take responsibility for themselves.

Besides, I figure I can always pull the “I have kids in three different schools” card. And I do so without apology. Regularly.

The Thing About Boys…

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Michael AlexThe thing about boys is that they’re confusing.

Like my laundry pile. It makes no sense.

On Friday of one week I fold six loads of laundry (I got behind. So sue me), and nine days later, on a Sunday afternoon, I do the next three. And if the laundry pile is to be believed, in that week Preteen wore nothing but six pairs of socks, while Second Grader wore eight uniform shirts. Even though there were only five days of school.

As Miss Clavel said: Something is not right!

The thing about boys is that they sit down with me to watch the Sound of Music and the big 43-year-old boy whines and makes fun of it as much as the 11-year-old one. And somewhere around the wedding scene, when we turn it off for bed, the 11-year-old asks if this is the end, and I say no, everything’s about to fall apart for them, and he lights up and says, “Is there gonna be an explosion? Is somebody gonna DIE?”

And 43-year-old boy goes on a little riff about helicopters exploding in the movies. Talk about collectively ruining the moment.

The thing about boys is that they get wildly excited about Brain Ice.

Brain Ice

 

The thing about boys is the way they like to climb up on the barrel of a cannon. (And what’s most telling: the ROTC guys don’t bat an eyelash.)

Michael Nicholas cannon

And then, of course, there are the practical jokes. Because what else would you do when forced to clean the bathrooms?

Prank 1

Prank 2

Perhaps you’d care for a closeup on that one?

prank 3

Raising boys. It’s a glorious mystery.

On Sneaking Candy, channeling the flash, and Sucker Punches: Michael Mayhem at Four

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Michael book guitar

He looks innocent when he’s “reading,” doesn’t he?

There comes an inevitable day in every parent’s life when you have to recognize that you can’t treat your baby like a baby anymore.

It’s an organic process as long as you keep having more kids, because real babyhood keeps presenting itself. But although I’ve been aware of, and even partially on top of, this transition with Michael, it’s just since school let out that I’ve realized how far past time it is.

He’s not the sweet, faultless child in every altercation anymore. In fact, as Wednesday’s post should have made clear, he’s got a pretty strong deceptive/willful/selfish side going.

He’s incredibly smart, starting to write letters although we do no such work in our family on things like that, and connecting starting sounds with letters (“S begins with STOP!” is the usual formula). He wants to do homework and have his work hung on the hutch and the deck door with everyone else’s.

He wants to be grown up. He insists upon using the “big boy” silverware (i.e. dinner fork and soup spoon), even though all his older siblings want the small ones, and he’s constantly asking me, “When will I be big enough to sit without a booster seat/play an instrument/drive a car/ride a motorcycle?”

He’s constantly taking things apart, just because he can. The words “Leave it alone! Don’t mess with things just to mess with them!” don’t seem to have any meaning.

He’s throwing and catching balls and running better than any of his siblings did at his age, or two years older than his age, for that matter.

And speaking of running. Oh, the running! He’s really into the Flash right now, and he braces and then launches himself across whatever space he has. Which is not nearly enough, I might add; stopping is almost universally a problem. Let me put it this way. When it comes time to slide into home plate, he’ll have already had lots of practice. In the meantime, he’s mostly bouncing off the walls. Literally.

And oh, that child is causing trouble in sibling land. Other people must share with him, but “that toy is MINE! You can’t play with it!” Obviously, he ate Nicholas’ special candy. I tell him to put away a toy, and not to throw it on the floor, but actually put it on the shelf. Then I go downstairs to find it on the floor anyway. That kind of stuff.

Oh yes, I forgot. The Facebook world heard this gem, but the bloggers have not. And it’s a good one.

He’s been punching lately. It’s not malicious; he’s just playing superhero-bad guy, and the bigger kids, by and large, didn’t realize what kind of monster they were creating until it was too late. Well, Nicholas knew it. But Nicholas wasn’t encouraging him the way everyone else was, either.

Michael loves to get a laugh from people, and the punching thing makes big kids laugh. Until one night at a baseball game he was punching complete stranger kids, and they realized it hurt! I had to make him sit on my lap for the last twenty minutes of the game, because he wouldn’t stop, no matter what I or anyone else said. It was deeply unpleasant for both of us. He is a wiggly, wiggly kid.

But the kicker was last week at the grocery store, when Alex and I were perusing the yogurt options, and Michael caught him completely unawares with a Flash-run and a full-power sucker punch to the sternum. Alex went down in a heap on the floor, trying to control his poor tween hormones and pride while in deep pain. I could see him trying not to wail, scream, or retaliate.

It was hard to decide whether to laugh or be furious. Either way I couldn’t punish, because we were in public. Actually, that turned out to be a positive, because by the time we got to the car I’d had a burst of inSpiration. Michael had to do one of Alex’s weekly cleaning jobs as a consequence for punching his brother. Which, I have to admit, he did with very good grace.

It’s hard not to keep a tender spot for your youngest child, but he has the potential within him to be a holy terror if I don’t rein him in. And it just about has to be me, because he’s got the mama’s boy thing honed to an art form, much more so than the other two boys. Yesterday, he would not hold his daddy’s hand. “I want to hold mommy’s hand!” he said.

“Why not? Do you like me?” Christian asked, grinning at me.

“No!”

“Do you like Mommy?”

“Yeah!”

Four and a half. And still earning the nickname Mayhem.

Boys Have Drama, Too

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Taken a year ago

Taken a year ago

Let no one, me especially, claim that boys come without the drama attached to raising girls.

Every child loves his first grade teacher. It’s an unspoken rule, right? You must be hopelessly, gaga-eyed in love with your first grade teacher.

So when your first grade teacher gives you a bag full of gummy worms on the last day of school, labeled “book worms,” to keep you company while you read over the summer? The worth of such a gift cannot be quantified.

And when, after two late nights in a row (because you were “mascot-ing” for your big brother’s baseball game), you discover that your twerpy four-year-old brother ate them on the sly?

Oh, the drama.

Heartbroken sobs, carrying over the noise of the shower. Piercing the thin walls and sinking like your spirit down the stairs of your broken world, so that your parents are forced to share in your grief.

Seeing your twerpy little brother punished isn’t enough. You must vent your drama by shoving him to the floor, even if that means now you’re in trouble, too. So you go to bed wailing, heartbroken sobs.

I was having trouble sympathizing, but I decided not to push the issue of making him settle down. Let him air his drama. Maybe it’ll arouse some empathy in his younger roommate. Or at least, the annoyance of having to listen to it will be a punishment natural consequence of his actions.

Then, of course, there’s the girl drama.

Said child periodically (usually when overtired) goes to sleep crying over lost (girl) playmates who have moved away or been separated from him by other circumstances.

Let us back up an hour from the loss of gummy worms and drop in on the same child, playing at the kids’ area of the mall. Take note of the light blazing in his eyes when his bestest-estest-estest friend EVER unexpectedly appears beside him. (It’s a girl.) (She’s a year older than him.) Imagine the crushing two-way bear hug.

Drama, indeed. After a half hour’s wild abandon of playing, we finally take our leave. He says to me, “The moment I met her eyes, I just KNEW, because I LO—” A sharp cutoff and reconsideration. “I love my friend! I love her soooooooo much!”

He might not be too happy to know that he has something in common with his twerpy Gummy Worm Thief brother. When I picked up my youngest child from his summer enrichment preschool yesterday, his teacher greeted me with, “Your son, I’m sorry to tell you, has a girlfriend. And it’s very much mutual.” Today? A head shake. “I believe they were holding hands today.”

Ah, well. What would we do if life was drama free?

(Update: twenty minutes later, Michael is yelling at Nicholas to shut up. Natural consequences, indeed…)

The Awesome And Terrible Responsibility of Raising Boys

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Date night with NicholasAt present, the web is a hornet’s nest of outrage over the light sentence given to the swimmer convicted of rape—and his father’s response—and his victim’s lengthy, no-punches-pulled response to her attacker.

And all of this makes me think about myself as a parent, and what this means about my particular responsibility as a parent of boys.

I have for a long time been convinced that the terrible ugliness that is sexual assault is a multifaceted problem. Saying that always lands me in hot water—usually by being accused of “blaming the victim.” So let me be clear: rape is no one’s FAULT except the perpetrator’s. No one is “asking for” rape, no matter what they wear or say or do.

Yet it’s a dangerous oversimplification to pretend that outside factors don’t come into play. Men are visually stimulated; it’s a biological reality. Alcohol removes inhibitions, and people under its influence say and do things they know are wrong and would never do if they were in their right minds.

Does any of this excuse rape? No. Men who rape are responsible for their actions, no matter how much alcohol they’ve consumed, no matter how much alcohol their victim has consumed, and definitely no matter what a woman is wearing.

But if we want a solution to this problem–which has been a plague of humanity as long as humanity has been around–we have to address every facet that exerts an influence. I have a lot of opinions as a woman about women’s responsibility, but what I really want to focus on today is the men.

See, another thing we’re not supposed to do is talk about sex when we’re discussing rape. Rape isn’t about sex, we’re told, it’s about power. But sex is the tool being used by men who rape, so you can’t pretend it’s irrelevant. And here’s the thing:

We have a cultural problem with sex. Men are taught–conditioned, even—to view women as objects to fill their desires. (See how that ties into “power”?) They are encouraged to measure their self worth by the size of their genitalia. The culture of boyhood teaches them to appeal to the basest, grossest part of their nature. In childhood, it’s fart humor and poop jokes. In college, it’s the bragging rights, the “let’s sit around in the lounge and turn every discussion to a joke about sex.” (In grad school a group of us one day were having a conversation about conductors, and I was talking about working under so-and-so, and this guy goes, “See that’s your problem. You’re always UNDER instead of on top!” Har har. You’re so witty. Excuse me for a moment while I add you to the list of “people not worth talking to ever again.”)

It’s not that girls never do this, but it’s not part of the girl culture the way it is for boys. Boys are conditioned to view their own gratification as paramount, and to belittle something that, truly, is the most intimate act in the human experience. I mean, as women, we are literally inviting someone else to take up residence inside our bodies. This is no trivial thing!

And this is the world my sons are inheriting. The world I’m supposed to be preparing them for, the world they will have to navigate. I already see them having to choose whether to buy into the boy culture or to stand aside from it, as their father has chosen to do.

Blog Dance 1I love being a mother of boys. I love how they just lay it all out there. I love the adventuresome spirit and the pursuit of thegrandiose and heroic.

I also love that they have, in their father and myself, a model of a relationship based on deep respect and a willingness to call each other out when one person is in the wrong. Whatever other flaws we possess as human beings, I am secure in knowing we are showing our kids what it looks like to treat the opposite sex with dignity. I know they are seeing a relationship in which the good of the other is paramount, and that it’s a two-way street. In which we set aside “me” (I’m tired, I had a hard day, I’m in a bad mood, I want to watch TV) for the good of the other. I love that we are raising boys who are watching the news and who are processing the world and trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

It is an awesome and terrible responsibility, being a parent of boys. There’s no doubt in my mind that this ugly reality surrounding assault and the lack of dignity given to women can only be addressed if we get over our hangups about talking about sex. It can only change if we teach our children—all our children, but especially our sons, because let’s face it, for the moment, men still have more power to shape the world—how to treat everyone around them with dignity. It’s a hard lesson to teach, because it’s a hard one to model. It involves approaching choices with thought, rather than impulse, and considering how every choice impacts the people around you. It’s about moderation and self-control—two values that are really not a part of the consumer economy we live in.

This post has taken me pretty much forever to write, and as long as it is, I’ve abandoned almost as many words as I’ve included. So I’m going to hit pause for today and just conclude by saying that this awesome and terrible responsibility is why I am so grateful for the Theology of the Body—because in all the static out there about abstinence-based versus so-called “safe” sex education, this is the one philosophy that is really acknowledging the whole picture of humanity: What happens to the body also impacts the soul, and what injures the soul also affects the body. If we can use that reality to shape the next generation, it will make a difference
for the better.