Blowing Minds about Gender Differences

I’m the official Bear den leader for Tornado E’s pack.  And I blow the parents’ minds.

My acting-pack leader loved me.  She gushed how well I handle the boys.  Five rowdy, loud boys “quietly” doing the project or discussing the topic.  When the boys are done and doing what kids do when done and unsupervised, I jumped in and started a game or two.  Whatever she needed, I did.  She wrote me amazing teacher recommendation letters and promised to write more.

The parents are astonished by me.  I handle the boys with little help.  They’re not much bigger or rowdier than my own brood.  Then I dared to teach them wrestling.  I was pretty strict with the boys that day.  “If I see you become too aggressive, try to hurt someone, and/or intentionally hurt someone, I will pull you out, you will sit to the side, and you will not get this achievement.  Do you understand?”

The last meeting of the year, a mother asked me about the school the boys attend.  I gave her my opinion as well as the criticisms I heard.   I asked her why, and she told me her displeasure with her son’s teacher.  A teacher who believed in the power of Ritalin.  Christ.

The mother complained about the teacher’s poor classroom management, and I nodded, thinking, “here’s the teacher’s problem.”  Then the mother talked about how the teacher was reading out loud in a monotone voice (bad) and ignoring kids’ little outbursts (bad) and the book was about a girl (ba-). Wait.  What?  Because apparently boys aren’t interested about girls, so why would they pay attention?  Because boys are so much more interesting than girls?

“Well, I’m sure the teacher wants to expose the class to all sorts of protagonists.  Literature, and children’s literature especially, has appallingly few female protagonists.  About 30% of all children’s literature have female protagonists.  And of those, most of them aren’t very good.  I want my boys exposed to all sorts of protagonists.  I’m on the hunt for good books with girl heroes.  They need to be exposed to that.  I hated reading as a little girl because none of the good books were about girls.  It was annoying.”

Oh.  Um, 30%?  Really?

“Yes.  That’s with an increase over the last decade or so.  Think of all the ‘good’ books out there.  They’re all about boys.  Is it fair that the girls have to always listen to books about boys?”

Well, I guess I never thought of it like that.

“It’s a shame our children are exposed to gender roles so early.  Harmful gender roles.  Girls can adventure and be smart and active and cunning.  Boys can be gentle and kind and caring and like pink.  Kids can learn a lot from each other.”

Well, yes.

And that is what a blown-mind looks like.

Any one have suggestions of good books about awesome female protagonists?

Just Catching Up

I know.  It’s been a while.  That last class was crazy.  A semester of work jammed into 5 weeks.  But actually 4 weeks because my professor didn’t want to do any grading the weekend before Christmas, which is fine, but that doesn’t mean you assign 3 large projects, 3 papers, 2 chapters, and a discussion for that weekend before the last weekend.  I nearly lost my mind when I learned I forgot to save a project.  I made it.  I haven’t looked at my grade though.  I’m a little scared.

Then Christmas happened, and it was a blur.  A wonderful blur.  I had the boys Christmas Eve, which I filled with crafts, treats, and prep work as well as a family party.  I missed the boys terribly for Christmas morning, but the ex was kind enough to let me pick them up 45 minutes early.  Of course, the boys had an amazing Christmas at their dad’s.  But it was awesome all over the place.

My Wally and her sis totally surprised the boys and I with bikes for the boys from “Santa.”  I teared up when Wally told me over the phone on Christmas in case I wanted to plan something exciting like a scavenger hunt.  Instead, my dad took the opportunity to reinforce the Santa myth, saying he heard slay bells and noise in the back carport.  He was trying to save Tornado S’s belief as he had told me he saw the ex’s girlfriend wrapping presents to him without a name tag.  (Who wraps Santa presents when children are up and running around the house?  Honestly.)  The boys were thrilled with the gifts and spending time with their uncles and aunt.

At my house, they found more gifts from Santa.  Including the Easy-bake oven they wanted.  As well as a large wrapped box.  Which is like so weird because Santa never wraps presents at my house.  The boys tore into it to find… a large printer box.  So sad.  Until I mentioned they should open the box.  They tore the box open.  To find another wrapped present at the bottom.  They tore that open to find Skylanders: SwapForce.  (Because how awesome is my friend to pick one up for me on a pre-Black Friday deal?)  The boys were excited and confused because they got one at their dad’s house.  But I hypothesized that Santa thought they could have one at both houses.  And that was acceptable.  And it was a good day.

The house has yet to recover from Christmas.  I have a few weeks to study history before going back to class.  I’m still trying to find a good time to write on the blog.  With the older boys awake all day, I’m on duty all day.  We read together during nap time and then build Legos or work on Cub Scout stuff.  The night is for bedtime battles, cleaning, and … ok … I’ve been sleeping more.  It’s weird.  But since the boys are waking me up throughout the night, I’m exhausted even when I do get more than 5 hours.  But more on that at a later post.  I’m off to clean, and with a little luck, I’ll be back to read some blogs.

Oh, right.  Lunches.  School starts tomorrow.  Damn.

A New Game

Tornado A has always had insomnia.  It takes him an hour or more to fall asleep.  Then about once a week, he’s awake for 2 to 3 hours.  Now he can be lulled to stay in my bed listening to his favorite album.  Nothing quiet and soft either.  This summer he began sleeping on the floor with his brothers, and the insomnia stopped.  Until his father started taking custody.

The only nice thing is he plays a new game with me while he does his bedtime battle.

Tornado A: I need a hug.

I hugged him.

Tornado A: I need a kiss.

I kissed him.

Tornado A: I need a big hug.

I hugged him tighter and longer.

Tornado A: I need a big kiss.

I gave him a loud smacking kiss on his cheek.

Tornado A: I need a bigger hug.

I squeeze him tighter and longer.

Tornado A: I need a bigger kiss.

I gave him a louder smacking kiss on his cheek.

Tornado A: I need a little hug.

I hugged him quickly.

Tornado A: I need a little kiss.

I gave him a quick peck.

Tornado A: (whispering) I need a tiny hug.

I gave him a quick squeeze.

Tornado A: (whispering) I need a tiny kiss.

I gave him a gentle, quick peck.

Sometimes it goes on a little bit.  If he does it randomly during the day, I swing him around.

But how can I resist this game?  Even at bedtime?


As you might know, I don’t like gaps in my knowledge.  I love having a smart phone because I can look up answers.  I also dislike misinformation, especially in education.  I plan to reward students when they catch me in a mistake.  One common mistake is when people mix up envy and jealousy.  Common enough.  But absolutely annoying when people who know better do it.

“I’m so jealous that you got to go to Hawaii.”


“I’m so envious that you got to go to Hawaii.”

Jealousy= You think you’re about to be replaced.  You’re jealous of the babysitter; you think she will replace you in your children’s eyes.

Envy= You want that.  You’re envious that your friend got a new car; God, how you wish you could get a new car.

Naturally, I explained the difference to the boys one day driving home from school.

A couple of weeks later Tornado E was doing a language arts paper talking about moods and color.  Tickled pink.  Feeling blue.  Green with envy.  When you’re jealous, you’re green with envy.  Or some nonsense like that.

No.  No.  No.  For Christ’s sake, this is an educational worksheet.  And good Lord, it’s green with envy, so you have to be envious to be green.  It’s in the phrase!

I crossed out “jealous” and wrote “envy.”

Me: Tornado E, do you remember the difference between envy and jealousy?

Tornado S: I do, Mommy!

Hmm, do I let the younger brother answer for the older?  Am I setting a bad dynamic?  Am I encouraging sibling rivalry?  Does this kid even know?

Me: What is it, Tornado S?

Tornado S: Envy is when you want something someone else has.  Jealousy is when you think someone is going to replace you.

He beamed.

Holy crap!  How many weeks ago did I explain it?  And he remembered?


Me: Good job, kiddo.  Way to use that brain!

Just a Quick Stop

Don’t mind me.  I’m just dropping in on my own blog.  I’m buried.  I’m behind in school already and on my own laundry.  But the boys’ laundry is done.  Woo.  The younger boys trashed the house while Tornado E and I worked on his speech.  (“Why didn’t you tell me you had a speech due today?”  “I didn’t know!”  “You’re teacher told you.  It was in your planner.”  “I thought daddy would see it!”  “He forgets to check your planner.  You should’ve told him.”  Err.)

Oh, and I’m planning on changing the boys’ names to anonymous nicknames.  Not because of the divorce and the lawyer.  (Everyone, say hi to the poor paralegal who has to read all this)  But because I’ll be working with teenagers, and they’re smart and tech-savvy, and while I don’t think I’ve written anything offensive and never plan to, they just don’t need to know this much of my personal life.  Granted, I don’t really think any students would look for my blog.  What would they care?  I’m planning on being a nerdy, uncool high school teacher.

So I have to catch up on my reading and note taking as well as my papers and projects.  I have to clean the house and do laundry and bake breakfast.  I have to clean my car for field trips and pack lunch.  I have to finish cleaning a kitchen.  Most of this needs to be done tonight.  And beyond I’ll have chores and parenting, paying bills and doing schoolwork, prepping a yard sale and changing names on the blog, keeping in contact with friends, writing, researching, reading, and crafting to keep balanced.  And isn’t Christmas coming?  Damn.  I better get to work.

Just a Little Crack

Several years ago I watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  I was annoyed when she said she cracked and that she cracked as far as she was able.  While I wanted to resent her for cracking, she admitted that the women in her family before her weren’t allowed to crack or crack as much as she did.  So I was more annoyed that she was able to crack and run off and have this fabulous adventure.  I could never crack like that.  I’m too responsible.  Even when I was a teenager with bags packed, ready to run, I couldn’t because I had a babysitting gig on Friday and a lab partner who needed my help on Wednesday and a set to build and a shop to organize and chores to do and and and.

But I think I cracked this last month.  I had five weeks without school.  Aidan was in school two mornings a week.  I had two weekends without the boys.  But I didn’t open my history books.  I didn’t watch any history lectures.  I didn’t write much in the blog.  I didn’t work on any stories or articles.  I didn’t sew any dresses.  I didn’t finish my Cub Scout leader training.  I didn’t read blogs.  There was so much I could’ve done.

Like I mentioned before, there are reasons I didn’t run on full steam in a million different directions as usual.  I’m tangled in a divorce turning nasty.  The boys’ father finally took some custody.  A friend was murdered.  My cousin and grandma were hospitalized.  My mom is crazy.  My financial situation has turned very chaotic.  The boys have been sick at one time or another.  It’s been a crazy five weeks.

Like any pessimist, I focus on what I didn’t do.

But I’m honest with myself.  So instead of kicking myself (much), I’ll remember what I did do.  I organized the garage, under the sink, the office, and the laundry room.  I scrubbed under the fridge and the oven.  I made a jack-o-lantern costume and a dragon costume.  I made my mom some pretty cool birthday gifts.  I comforted friends and volunteered for picture day for Aidan’s class.  I watched a friend’s daughter several times.  I helped Evan with a book report, building a board game, writing a speech, and working on his second sacrament.  I worked on Cub Scout stuff with both boys.  I started planning a yard sale (God, help me).  I tried out new recipes.  The boys and I made ninja cookies and had movie nights.  I reread on of my favorite series of epics.  I started meditating.

So maybe I should forgive myself for cracking a little and taking a break.

Because school starts back up Wednesday, and I’ll have to do observations again.  And next week I have two field trips I’m driving for.  I have a yard sale to plan and deal with.  I have to declutter the house.  I have a friend coming in for the weekend.  Evan has a huge report to do on the Blackfoot tribe and First Reconciliation to prepare for.  There’s Cub Scout stuff and Christmas to prepare for.  There’s the temporary financial hearing this week.  There’s recipes to try and crafts to make and a history test to prep for and Cub Scout leadership training.  Oh and stories to write and posts to write and blogs to read.

I have no time to mourn my cracking.

Applied Science

One afternoon, when we got into the car to go home from school, Tornado E asked about the atomic bomb.  The car is the place for all our interesting conversations.  I explained how the bomb worked and how it was dropped on cities in Japan to end World War II.  I told the boys how damaging nuclear weapons were and how we should never use them.

The next day at Cub Scouts the boys were working on an environmental section.  The pack leader and the boys discussed the importance of protecting the environment and what harms the environment.  Then she asked the boys to come up with ways to protect the environment.

Tornado S waved his hand and jumped around with the excitement of any first grader who knows the answer.

The pack leader called on Tornado S.

Tornado S: Don’t drop bombs!  It hurts the Earth!

The pack leader smiled and looked at me.  In fact, all the parents looked at me.

Tornado S: They dropped a bomb in Japan, and it hurt the environment.  We shouldn’t do that again.

The pack leader and the rest of the parents looked at Sean, then at me, then at Tornado S, and then at me.

The pack leader: Good!  Good, Tornado S!

I just smiled back at the dumbfounded parents.

That’s my boy!

Tough Weekend

It was a tough weekend.  My first weekend with the boys by myself.  That wasn’t the tough part.  I’ve had several weekends with just the boys.  I’ve had several weeks with just the boys.  And I was thrilled to be able to take them places and do things with them and not pretend I was friends with their father.  The tough part was Tornado E had a HUGE book report project due Monday.

When I was a kid, my mom took special interest in our schooling.  She pushed us and challenged us.  She helped us with our homework, studying, and projects, but she never did them for us.  She would set up a timeline and help us plan and organize our projects.  Just imagine the tears, the yells, the screams, the words, the temper tantrums.  But it helped us.  I held onto that organizing skill into college, where I promptly left it outside.  Except for reading, I always planned out my reading because I’m a slow and careful reader.  Projects, papers, and stories were always written days, sometimes hours, in advance.  Only now am I more mature to be grateful and use that planning/organizing skills my mom forced into my head.

I want my boys to have those skills too.  I make Tornado E read his book report books weeks in advance.  I have him write a rough draft two weekends out, and we plan out projects, doing a little every day.  All written reports are done the weekend before the due date, even if the due date is Friday.  We just have too much to do on the weekday to leave these things up to the chance he won’t be too tired to work on it after his homework is done.

And I also get I’m the Bad Cop.  I hate being the Bad Cop, the Task Master, The Drill Sergeant, The Ultimate Authority to Be Obeyed At All Costs.  Ok, I like the last title a little bit.  I know that it’s my responsibility to drag these boys across the finish line if I have to, and it’s up to me to get them to do their homework, teach them responsibility and organization, and to correct them when they make a mistake.  The ex wants to be liked by the boys; he doesn’t have the patience to sit at the table for (what feels like) hours to make sure everyone has done their homework and has done it correctly.  He doesn’t see the point of spreading projects across a few weeks.  He only remembers his high school career when his parents stayed out of his life and he relied on his wits to ace tests.  (Good test takers are annoying- so says the kid who had to learn everything with sweat, blood, and tears.)

I don’t know why I was surprised to look over Tornado E’s rough draft to find it half done and half wrong.  He had spent the last weekend at his dad’s for his first visit.  Of course, it was going to be tons of fun and games.  The ex had to roll out the red carpet for his first weekend.  I shouldn’t have been surprise.  The weekend before Tornado E’s last book report was due I was out of town, leaving Tornado E and the ex to finish the project.  I left them with the fun and easy stuff, which was copying the rough draft and collecting objects to illustrate the book.  The ex took the boys out to a resort for the weekend, dropping them off with my parents early Sunday morning.  My mom took charge of the project and got Tornado E to finish it that morning.  I shouldn’t have been surprised because I already knew Tornado E hadn’t done his reading, so why would I assume this was done?

Due to Tornado E being sick Friday, we started Saturday morning after breakfast.  I read what Tornado E wrote and knew despair.  Putting on a cheerful manner, I set Tornado E down to have him start copying down the things he did know as I read through the book, thinking what an idiot I was for not reading the book sooner.  As I read, he caught up on his writing, and I started him on coloring and working out the game board he had to build for the project.  We worked on it until naptime, when we switched gears to do half his reading.  We stopped early for a well-needed break to go to a couple of parties.  Thank goodness because it might have been the only fun we had.

Sunday we were back on it again.  We worked together as I prodded him along.  We argued over what to include.  (You will NOT do the minimum.)  I wrote out his thoughts and showed him how to organize them.  (Mommy, is that an “o?”   You have horrible handwriting.)  I read him parts of the book to refresh his memory and to make him laugh.  We watched a little Simpson’s to illustrate infrared cameras.  I would leave him to his writing to make the younger boys clean up the unholy mess they made of the family room.  Tornado E and I built the game board together.  He laid out the design and wrote directions, and I drew him lines to write on and pasted the pieces.  We finished just after dinner.

It was a tough weekend.  Tornado E never did his chores.  We never had a movie or video game time.  We didn’t get to do the art project I had planned.  We didn’t do anything fun just the four of us.  I spent a lot of time focusing on Tornado E.  I wish the weekend was more balanced between fun and work.

I’m proud of Tornado E.  He worked hard.  He put a lot of effort into it.  He’s one tough kid.


It’s been a while.  With the divorce finally kicking into gear and turning a nasty color, I’ve been preoccupied, dropping balls here and there in my juggling act.  After this, I have to pay a late bill and check my school account, praying that I haven’t been sent important emails that I will have to mia culpa, perhaps explaining the divorce, new custody arrangements, the murder of a friend, and a younger cousin dying in a hospital room.  Amazingly, my life has become more dramatic, the very opposite of what I want.

Lately I’ve noticed that a good friend of mine has become my foil, my dark mirror.  She is going through a nasty little divorce as well.  She was a stay-at-home-mom but has now returned to the workforce.  Her husband owns his own business, and he is an alcoholic and wife-beater.  As for me, my divorce shows promise in nastiness, and I remain at-home to continue my education through the school year, fighting the ex and his lawyer for that privilege.  While my ex owns his own business, his addiction is not an alcoholic and he threw mean words, instead of punches.  Simply put, my friend and I are survivors.

But like all friends, we do not see eye to eye on everything.  We view our custody arrangements and fights very differently.

When mediation began, I confided in her how the ex wanted 50% custody and my plan was to fight that and give him more like 30% because, not only had I sole custody for nearly three years, but the ex cannot balance his work-social-home life.  He needed more time to get his work and social life under control so his time with his boys was about them.

“Hon, don’t fight him.  It’s too hard of a fight.”


“He’s going to win anyways.  It’s not worth it.”

No, seriously.  What?

“And you’ll learn to enjoy your time alone.  You’ll love it and won’t be able to wait for it.”

What the hell?

“Let him have the boys.  It’ll be fine.”

I just stood there.  Stunned.  Trying to wrap my head around her little speech.

Um, ok . . . .

Note to self: don’t mention this to her again.

I don’t listen to myself very well because last week, I confided in her again.  It was the beginning of my first weekend without the boys.  I told her how worried I was, how anxious I was, how freaked out I was.

“I understand.  I’m about to give her to him three nights a week.  It’ll be hard, but it’ll be good.  You should consider it.  He is their father.  And this fight is not worth it.  He’ll win any ways.  And once you get used to it, you’ll like having all those nights to yourself.  Hell, when they get to middle school, you’ll be shoving them at their father.”  She laughed.


Here it is, boys and girls.  Plain and Simple.  None.  None of those reasons have anything to do with my boys.  None of them.  Those reasons are about what’s best for the parent or parentsssssss.  They are not about what’s best for the kids.

Yes, he is their father.  But being a father means you decided to donate some sperm to the equation.  Now, the ex did more.  He was The Provider, but he was and is only Dad when he wants to be.  Friends meeting at a bar?  He’s there.  Golfing with the guys?  He’s grabbing his clubs.  Partner calls at dinner.  What food?  Employee calls during bedtime routine.  What work hours?  Client calls.  Just let him do this one thing.  Father in town.  He’ll see the boys later.  But if there are no friends or outings or work issues or work or girlfriend issues or whatever, then he’s right there as Dad.  He could use a few parenting classes and has a few parenting issues, but when he’s on, he does all right for himself.

Is the fight worth it?  Hell, yes.  I’ve been sole guardian for nearly three years.  I’ve been primary guardian for almost 8.5 years.  For two years, the ex spent half his time in CA while we lived in AZ.  I know my boys.  I know my ex.  When we decided to get a divorce, I thought long and hard about what custody would look like.  I wanted what was best for the boys.  And what’s best for the boys is parents working in their best interest, giving their dad plenty of time to get his stuff handled so they can be the focus of his attention on them when he had them, and taking a large lion-share of the time because I could focus on them.  I’m not vindictive or petty.  I don’t think one gender is better suited to parenting than the other.  I know that an every other weekend and one night a week would work best for my family.

Could he win?  Possibly.  But I doubt it.  I have evidence of the ex’s life style.  I really do think that once the ex gets used to this custody, he’ll like it.  This gives him plenty of time to devote himself to his usual long work hours and still have time for friends AND get to be Fun Dad when he wants.  I think he would naturally gravitate towards this plan even if he had 50% custody.  The only reason to fight is if he’s only doing this because of money, and then I can only pray that the best plan for the boys succeeds.

Will I like a 50% custody?  No.  You see, when I decided to be a parent, I realized that for a few years it would be a prison.  My life would revolve around them.  Go ask the older generation how often they got out with young children at home.  Not often.  And usually it meant walking across the street to the neighbors while the kids slept or some other crazy thing we wouldn’t consider.  So I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to go out as often as I liked, but I knew the years would pass, and then before I knew it, the boys would be going to friends’ houses and to visit grandparents and uncles and going on trips.  They would be old enough to leave in the hands of a capable teenager, and then they would be old enough to be left alone with the internet turned off.  Then one day, they would be gone, off adventuring on their own.  While the goal was always to produce brave, independent adults, I knew it was going to be a lot of hands on work.  I also knew that my time with them as children would be gone before I knew it, and I should cherish that time.

I want what’s best for my friend; if her custody arrangement works best for her and her family, then I’m happy.  But for mine, 50% won’t work, and I’ll go down fighting for what’s best for my boys.  I want my boys to be healthy and whole.  If that means I have to fight their father tooth and nail, I’ll do it.  If that means my boys spend more time away from me than I want, then that’s fine.  If that means I have to sacrifice a little me-time and a little sleep, I can do that.  Because I’m the mom.

An Outing

The other day I took Tornado A shopping with me.

He was as cute as a button.  So cute that he was a magnet for other strangers who had to say hi to him and converse with him (which didn’t work) or converse with me.

“He probably never slows down.”

“He’s so cute!”

“He’s a big helper!” (after Tornado A helped me put things on the conveyer belt.)

In the produce section:

Tornado A: I help get apples!

Me: Ok!  Let’s get a bunch of granny smith for Tornado E and me.

Tornado A: OK!

Me: One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight.  Nine.  Ten.  I think that’s good.

Tornado A: I want red ones!

Me: Ok.  It’s apple season.  Let’s load up.  Ready?  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  I think that’s enough.

Tornado A: No, Mommy!  A few more!

Me: How many do we need?

Tornado A: One!  Two!  Seven!

Me: Ok.  Let’s get two more.  Six.  Seven.

Tornado A: Seven!

Old woman: You’re the kind of mom all teachers wish kids have.

Me: Um.

Old woman 2: She’s the kind of mom I wish I had.

They laugh.

Me:  (mumbling) Thanks.  (normal)  Come on, little man.  We need to buy sprinkles.

Tornado A: Sprinkles!


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