Mustard

Tornado E: (From outside, moving closer) MOOOOOOOMMMMYYYYYY!

I had been grading for an afternoon and a day. But I was finished. I wasn’t in a normal head space. But I was finished. It was not how I wanted to spend the weekend. But I was finished. So what fresh hell was this?

Tornado E got to the sliding glass door and ripped it open.

Tornado E: Mommy! Tornado S squirted mustard at me!

Me: What?!

Tornado E: Tornado S squirted mustard at me!

Me: Where?

Tornado E: On the trampoline!

Me: He squirted what?

Tornado E: Mustard! He squirted mustard! At Me!

Me: Where did he- nevermind,

I got up and followed Tornado E outside. No one was on the trampoline. No one was in the backyard. Right.

Me: BOYS! NOW!

I stormed across the yard to the trampoline.

Tornado A: (From behind the shed, in what he must think was a whisper) You’re going to get in trouble.

On the trampoline was a small mustard stain. From a mustard packet.

Me: Tornado S! Where did you get- nevermind.

Tornado S smuggled about half a dozen mustard packets out of a restaurant about two months ago to put in his backpack in case he didn’t have lunch one day. I caught him and placed emergency snacks in an outside pocket of his backpack. I thought I had confiscated all the packets. Apparently not.

Me: Tornado S. Now.

Tornado S and Tornado A walked out from behind the shed. I looked over my shoulder to see Tornado E dragging the hose across the yard to spray off the trampoline.

Me: Tornado S, explain what happened.

Tornado S: I thought it would be funny to squirt Tornado E with mustard. (I gave him a look.) It wasn’t. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.

Me: Where did you get the mustard packet?

Tornado S: In the living room.

Me: In the-

In the living room. With the good furniture. With the antique furniture. With the new carpet. With my kid’s library! Wait. My mom would kill me. You know because of her nice things. The living room was for reading only. Though we couldn’t keep the kids out of there. The forbidden and all.

Me: (sigh) Kid. No more taking mustard packets. No more taking mustard into the living room. No more squirting mustard at people.

Tornado S: Ok, Mama.

I climbed onto the trampoline and grabbed the mustard packet. Once I got back on solid ground, I took the hose from Tornado E and sprayed down the trampoline. Then I looked over at my boys. And sprayed them too. Tornado S and Tornado A still had their swimsuits on. Tornado E was dressed. But clothes dry.

I sprayed them until Tornado E jumped into the pool. His brothers followed. And I watched my kids enjoy the last Sunday of the school year.

A Moment with a Teacher

We sat where a tribe sat a thousand years before us, listening to a tour guide, instead of tribal leaders. Sitting in an amphitheater, sheltered from the wind, we could here the tour guide perfectly as she whispered. I was content to bask in the sunlight on sun-warmed stones. Tornado S’s teacher was equally content as she sat by me.

Me: (after the tour guide finished speaking and we began to move along.) Tornado E would love this.

The teacher: Why?

Me: The kid sun basks more than any kid I know. I call him the Lizard King. (She laughed. I nodded to Tornado S as he made his way along with the group.) We named Tornado S The Absent-minded professor. Professor for short.

The teacher: (laughed) Ohmygod. It fits him. Perfectly. What’s Tornado A’s name?

Me: Trouble.

The teacher: (laughed) His teacher says he’s very bright.

Me: That’s the problem. You shouldn’t laugh. You’ll get him in your classroom in a few years.

The teacher: The fifth grade teachers asked Tornado E who was smarter, him or his brother? You know what he said?

Me: Hmmm. I know what most kids would say.

The teacher: He said his brother.

Me: Huh.

The teacher: I know. I thought it was sweet.

Me: Me too.

You know. I think my boys are pretty awesome.

Nope, Never Ok, Not Ever.

“Nazis. I hate these guys.”

This year Nazis keep coming up, and it annoys the crap out of me.

Earlier in the fall in two separate class, on two separate days, two different boys gave the Nazi salute. It may help to tell you that I work in a high school that is over 90% Hispanic. And yes, both boys were Hispanic. But no matter the race, my reaction would have been the same.

You! Outside NOW!

Me: (in my mother voice) What did you do? Do you think that was respectful? Do you think that was appropriate? For my classroom? For public? Do you even know what that sign means?

Boy: (finally saying something instead of shaking his head, in a whisper voice looking at his feet) It’s just the Nazi salute Miss.

Me: (in my mother voice) “Just the Nazi salute?” Do you know what the Nazis stood for? The one pure race. Which they believed would be white. They believed all others inferior and preferred them dead. They would want you dead. And by doing that sign, you are saying you agree. With. Them.

Boy: (snaps up head to finally look me in the eye) But it was just an old German thing.

Me: No. They are Nazis still very much alive and active and everywhere. (At this point, the boy’s eyes go round.) And you are saying you’re a race traitor.

Boy: I’m… I’m sorry, Miss.

Me: And I (The Voice) Don’t ever want to see THAT sign in my class A. GAIN. (Normal teacher voice) Am I clear?

Boy: Yes, Miss. I’m sorry, Miss. I won’t do it again.

And after the second time, it hasn’t happened since.

While I hesitate to mention my work on my Mommy Blog, it brings me to what has been happening in Tornado E’s grade. With 6th graders. In a school across town with a 70% white majority. With a middle class background.

Tornado E has been coming home with some interesting stories.

Mama, the boys are talking about the Nazis. They think they’re cool. I don’t think they’re cool. I don’t like this, Mama.

So and so thinks Hitler was funny. I told him Hitler was evil, not funny. I don’t think he believed me.

Mama, so and so drew a swastika, and all the boys laughed. No, Mama, he erased it before the teacher saw.

Mama, so and so put a finger under his noise and said he was Hitler. The boys laughed. I keep telling them it’s not funny.

Mama, one of the boys said “Heil, Hitler” to one of the boys. No, Mama, the teacher didn’t hear. I don’t like this, Mama.

So the boys and I have had talks about race and privileged. We’ve talked about what to do when we are in a group of people who are saying bad things. We’ve talked about how to confront our friends.  And I decided this had to stop.

Only I dropped the ball, being a busy mom and teacher. Until I was at a 6th grade field trip, eating alone, recharging my batteries, sitting in a corner, watching the dynamics, listening.

Mumble, mumble, Nazi, mumble, weapons. Laughter. Mumble, Nazis, mumble, mumble. Laughter. Nazis, mumble, mumble. Mumble, mumble, Nazi weapons.

With the first Nazi that reached my ear, I locked on to the group of boys who were sitting far enough away from me that I couldn’t hear every word and further still from every adult, especially the teachers. So I watched them, listening. I watched them laugh and have a good time. The inflection was not what you want boys to be using when speaking of Nazis. I had enough.

So I went to the teachers and told them all about what I heard through the year so far and that Tornado E was being put into a rough spot, having to moniter his peers. I told them how I had handled it and learned that many of the kids had no idea how serious this conversation was and suggested that it be dealt as a class issue. The teachers agreed and thanked me.

Two weeks went by.

Mama, one of the boys dared another boy to do the Nazi salute. So he did. And then a bunch of them did it behind a teacher’s back.

Oh for Christ sake.

I immediately sat down and wrote the teacher about the incident.

I got a reply from the teacher a few hours later apologizing for not talking to the social studies teacher, promising it will be addressed with all the classes.

I haven’t heard of an incident since. But I swear if I do, I will march into that principal’s office first thing and demand that this nonsense end.

Man, I hate Nazis.

As an English teacher and mother…

Tornado S earned another D on a grammar assignment. I was beyond piss. I sat him down and made him redo it. In the midst of my lecture, Tornado E walked in and listened. When I was done, I looked over at Tornado E.

Tornado E: Mama, are you angry at Tornado S for getting a D or are you angry at him for getting a D in grammar?

My child is too smart for his own good.

My Weird Morning Larks

Because I get to take the boys to sunrise mass for Easter every year, regardless of whose holiday it is, I convinced the Ex to let me take the boys Saturday night. By coincidence, Saturday was also Tornado A’s birthday, so I asked to take the boys to dinner because the non-custodial parent of the day gets the boys for a couple of hours on a birthday.

I put the boys to bed early because 5am is awfully early. I didn’t mention that this was in direct result of getting up for sunrise mass. I assumed that the boys had heard the plans throughout the week and put two and two together.

Me: Goodnight, sweethearts!

Tornado E: So, Mama, if we’re going to bed early, can we get up early?

Me: Um, yeah.

Tornado E: So, we could get up at 5:30?

House rules are no one up before 6. There’s good reasons for that rule. I’m sad to have it, and I hate enforcing it because that means I’m up before 6.

Me: Sure. You know what. You can get up at 5 if you want.

The room erupted in cheers.

Who are these kids? How did I birth morning people?

My bet is they’re changelings.

The Birds and the Bees Part 2

So the other day, we were having dinner when Tornado S popped up with some news.

Tornado S: I learned the sign language sign for penis!

Me: Oh? And what is it?

Tornado S made the gesture. It was not the sign for penis. In fact, it was a sign for a sexual act. One so taboo that most people don’t do it often.

Me: That’s not the sign for penis, sweetheart. Where did you learn that?

Right away Tornado S sensed something was wrong and clammed up.

Me: I would like to know where you learned that.

He shook his head.

Me: No dessert then.

Tornado S: Fine.

Me: No video games either.

Tornado S: NO!

Me: Then just tell me where you learned it. No one will get in trouble.

But it was no use.

After a day went by, I realized I had to try a different strategy. But I also needed to move up The Talk by a month because I couldn’t have Tornado S repeating the gesture.

Me: Tornado S, do you know what that sign means?

Tornado S: No. Tell me.

Me: Tell me who showed you.

Tornado S: No.

Me: (sigh) Fine. But I’ll have to contact your teacher, your den leader, and your sensei.

Tornado S: No! Why?!

Me: Because the gesture you used is a grown up gesture that is so taboo that most people don’t use it. Nana has never seen it. Papi has seen it a couple of times. (Though I thought that was weird from a cop.) The adults around you need to know that other children may be using the sign without knowing what it means, and their parents need to know to help teach their kids what it means.

Tornado S: (whispering) I learned it at school.

Me: When?

Tornado S: During the Valentine’s Party.

So it was a while ago.

Me: From who?

He was silent.

Me: Fine. Do you want to know what it means?

Tornado S: Yes.

Me: Well, first we have to talk about puberty and sexual intercourse.

So we had The Talk. When it was time to generically explain the sex act, Tornado E was walking by, so I pulled him to the room and explained what a sex act was and that the gesture was a sex act on a woman. I showed them a diagram of a woman’s sexual organs. Tornado E nodded and left the room.

Tornado S hid under my ultra soft through for twenty minutes refusing to get out or talk.

I took pictures.

 

The Birds and the Bees Part 1

I had my first Talk when I was in fourth grade. I brought home a letter for my parents, stating that in a couple of weeks we would be starting a unit on puberty and reproduction and parents could opt out.

My mother didn’t. Instead she marched me to the library and mortified me by asking me about where books on puberty and sex were kept. She checked out a few, read them, and then gave me The Talk, using the books for aids. God, how embarrassing.

Then it got worse because then we had the unit. In fourth grade. In fifth grade. In sixth grade. In seventh grade. And in eighth grade. Each year the lessons added more detail. Each year my mother would give me The Talk. In eighth grade, they pulled us out of our classes for two days to tell us, “sure, here are other birth controls, but do you know which one works the best? Abstinence!” The percentages of effectiveness were all wrong, but I don’t think another Catholic kid was armed as much as our class was.

Then Tornado E was in fourth grade, and I realized we needed to have The Talk. Over at his dad’s house, he was hanging out with slightly older boys who loved Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. I knew I had to beat the bad influences to the punch.

So one spring Saturday morning, I gave Tornado E The Talk. Without books, because our library didn’t have any. I found it much harder than when I would talk about human sexuality to other people. Hell, I gave The Talk at 18 to another 18 year old, whose parents never gave him The Talk. I stood in front of a class of 35 college students discussing the mating rituals of humans. But this. God, this was hard.

After The Talk, I asked Tornado E if he had any questions. He shook his head. Then he sat there thinking.

Tornado E: That was the most boring and interesting 5 minutes of my life.

Pause. Thinking.

Tornado E: Now I know what all those jokes are about in The Big Bang Theory.

Huh.