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?

Sponge

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.”

No.

“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?

Sponge.

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

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!

Custody

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.”

What?

“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.

WTF.

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!

Allusions

We were eating fortune cookies, and everyone had opened theirs and “read” their fortunes.  “Read” meaning we read the fortunes for the younger boys.

I was the last to open mine.

Me: You will find love on Flag day.

Tornado E: Mommy!  That’s the Simpsons!

We’ve been watching episodes on DVD since their father told them they could.  I’m excited that Tornado E is starting to understand allusions and their importance to comedy.

Me: Good job, little dude.

Tornado E: Did it really say that?

Ok, he’s eight.  This is going to take a little time.

Another Pesky Language Problem

What the hell?

What the hell?

What the hell? said the 3 year-old.

And I thought, “Oh, that is f-ing awesome.”

***

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: No.  What is that?

***

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: No.  Why did you do that, Tornado E?

***

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: No.  We don’t say that.  What’s that noise?

***

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: No.  Tornado S, why did you take the toy?

***

Tornado A: What the hell, Mommy?

Me: No.  What are you doing, Mommy?

***

Insert a dozen more corrections.  I start to debate soap.  I start to question my approach.  Why did I just ignore it the first?  He’s too old.  I just didn’t realize he knew what it meant.  I thought he was playing with language.  Christ, he has school.  He goes to a Christian preschool.  Why did I sign him up for preschool?  Oh, right, practicums.  But still!

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: Tornado A.  You say that again, and you will be going to time out.

Tornado A: No, time out, Mommy.

Me: Then do not say, “What the hell” again.  No more.  Or time out.

5 minutes later . . . .

Tornado A: What the hell?

Me: Time out!

Tornado A: No, Mommy!  No!

Me: You’re not allowed to say “what the hell.”  Time out time.

I set him in the chair.  He scowled.  I scowled back and then ignored him, concentrating on Twitter and Facebook and texting as the timer ran.

Tornado A: What the hell?  What the hell?  What the hell?  What the hell?  What the hell?  What the hell?  What the hell?  (for a full minute and a half.)

He hasn’t said it since, but I’m waiting.

What the hell is wrong with this kid?

Raising Good Guys

I visited the boys’ therapist.  Alone.  To clear a few things up without little ears in the room.

When talk turned to Tornado E, the therapist said he was an angry boy, who bottled things up and had a hard time communicating.  Kindness won’t come easy to him for he’s self-centered without much empathy.

He doesn’t have anti-personality disorder or anything.  I’m not raising a future serial-killer or dictator.  I’m raising a dick.

And I have my suspicions on who I can blame, but that’s not really important.  No, the important thing is to make sure that kid doesn’t grow up to be a dick.

Every day I pray for help to raise my boys to become Good Guys.  We have the Kindness Tree.  I remind them the family motto is “Built to Survive the Unusual.”  And that to survive the unusual, to survive the adventure, you need three things, intelligence, courage, and empathy.  I take my boys to church and send them to religious class and Cub Scouts.  So when I asked the therapist “what else can I do,” he told me I was doing everything.

And that really isn’t good enough.

Because Tornado E is angry.  Because he’s becoming biting, mean sarcastic when he plays video games with people.  Because he is self-centered.  Because he doesn’t talk about things.  Because he still has accidents.

With some help from my mom, I sketched out a plan.  An act of kindness every day from all of us, and I’m to try to do mine in front of the boys.  Fridays I’m sending them to school with an extra dessert or snack to share.  I’m going to devote 5 minutes of undivided attention solely to each boy a day.  Since Tornado E is a natural comedian, I’m sending him to school with a joke in his lunch box, hoping to give him enough ammunition that he doesn’t have to rely so much on sarcasm to get a laugh.

It doesn’t seem enough.  But it’s a start.

I told a friend.

Me: I’m going to turn them into the Good Guys even if it kills me.

Friend: That would be ironic.

Me: My dying isn’t going to get them off the hook.  You don’t think I won’t come back to haunt them to make sure they become The Good Guys?

Insert fantasy:

Tornado E’s teenage room as he takes another hit.  I appear and snatch the joint out of his hand.

Me; Oh, I’m so disappointed in you.

Tornado E: (scrambling away from the bed where I sit) Holy sh*t, MOM!  But you’re dead!  Oh sh*t, what was in that weed?

Me: Jesus, don’t they teach you anything in school?  Pot is a hallucinogen.  And pot, Tornado E?  Really?

Tornado E: But you’re dead!  You shouldn’t be here!

He looks for a weapon.

Me: Yes, I am dead.  And it took me a while to convince them to let me get back here.  Granted, St. Peter was all for kicking me out permanently, but I stand by my nagging and annoying, and that’s a completely different story.

Tornado E: Dead!

Me: Right.  So we have three choices in a theory.  One, this a hallucination, which means you better march yourself to the nearest 12 step program and get yourself cleaned up and back on track.  Two, I’m a ghost, which means I’m going to haunt you until you march yourself to the nearest 12 step program and get yourself cleaned up and back on track.  Or three, I’m your guilty conscience, which means there’s more of me in you than you will admit.  So march yourself down to the nearest 12 step program and get yourself cleaned up and back on track.  And Christ, Tornado E, a D on your math test?

Back to reality.

I would make a fine ghost.

That and I’m not giving up on my boys, any of them.

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