Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Had a pretty profound conversation with my kids about freedom yesterday. I was pointing out when you have a large citizenry focused on keeping the social contracts, you can have freedom. You can have access to everything because people agree not to abuse those things. People agree to handle the trouble makers in their communities. They get help for the mentally unstable, they report the dangerous, they watch each other's back, all for the sake of keeping their freedoms. The problem is, that explanation is too utilitarian. We aren't people who just do things because we want X. Children do that. Children comply for the sake of not getting grounded. We have to be more than that. We have to employ love, all the time. All the time. We have to have the "bigger picture" in focus. We have to be focused outwardly most of the time. We have to learn that being offended by something isn't the same as needing to squash that thing. We have to know what actually threatens freedom and what actually needs love and relationship to be corrected. And we have to be willing to be wrong sometimes. Even when we feel justified. Even when we feel right.
These are hard things. Wisdom is probably won through realizing that pursuing truth is more important than being right. It seems we have this problem in our day and age. We each are so convinced we are right, that correcting one another becomes the most important thing. Perhaps growing up in a big family beat this out of me. Don't get me wrong, I'm as obnoxiously opinionated as most Americans. But I definitely care more about my relationships than I do about convincing everyone that I am correct. I've got friends who still slip up and say "retarded" about things. I let it go. I do! Not because I don't love Mariana, and not because it doesn't feel really bad to hear it. I let it go because what they are trying to communicate is more important to me than them using the right words. I let poor grammar go, misspellings (especially my own!), and slang that bothers me. Sometimes I revisit things with people I think would find my thoughts interesting or worth considering. Sometimes I move on. Why? Because there was a time when I thought the word "retarded" could be appropriately used, not as an insult, but as a purposeful way of describing something as being slowed down. However, through relationships in the disability community, I realized that as much as I love rich language, people are my favorite creatures. It wasn't worth hanging on to a word if it meant turning the people I love into people who must put up with my personal word crusade. And yes, I realize that this can turn in to a tyranny of sorts. Comedians feel it all the time when they try to use satire and the entire point they were mocking is lost because someone decides that the word "rape" is off limits even in context. I'm no fan of trigger warnings. But these are ideas best discussed by a fire pit with friends, or on a plane with an interested stranger. They aren't best posted as facts on Facebook, as some kind of invitation to a word duel. People are not moved best by swords, but by relationships.
As I write this, I am grieving both personally and as a member of a community that watched another horror unfold on the news. I have too many emotions to figure out all the right answers and I praise God for the presence of mind to have at least that much awareness. I am sick of hearing about gun control because I believe that mental health is our biggest national crisis. I don't even like guns. I wonder if my opinion is even correct. I'm mad people are tweeting that prayers are meaningless. I'm frustrated that the fact that people are saying horrible things about other human beings as though the vitriol helps. Are we a nation of narcissists as it seems, or am I consuming too much social media so it appears that way? I also have children, who are, by nature, very self involved. I also find both major presidential candidates sickeningly self righteous. Of course, this is not new, but it sure feels more disgusting than ever. More than my questions, I find the answers are found in my relationships, my willingness to forgive, to apologize and to cherish those people who could very well be taken from my life in a single act of just living life, and in the hope that each day I get to choose how I treat the people who are in my life. No one can kill that choice, nor will I be terrorized out of making it. Not today.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Misleading title alert! Heh. I have two adolescents now, so obviously I know everything about guiding my kids on the dating scene. Luckily, my two oldest are girls who are not boy crazy yet. One is shy about being vulnerable to her middle school classmates, which shows some semblance of good judgement. The other has a sweetheart in her class that she does not even *think* about contacting outside of school, which also shows proper developmental boundaries. Yay! They are not that screwed up yet! On the other hand, one loves tight clothes, high heals and heavy make up while the other finds basic grooming a serious obstruction to living her life freely. So, you know, fallen natures and all that.
One thing I notice catching my eye as my kids slide into this middleschool phase is lots and lots of blogs touting "What I Want My Son or Daughter To Know Before Dating" type entries. I love a good bandwagon, but I want to address the things I don't see, like what to do if someone comes on too strong, etc. So here is my feeble attempt to log into history my own hopes for my kids future dating lives....
1A: Date a lot. Or, rather, go on a lot of dates. Seriously, this boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is too serious. Just go out on dates with lots of people to learn what you like and what you don't. Date 4 people at a time. Don't lie or deceive, just let them all know that you like them, but exclusivity seems like a choice you want to make after a few weeks.
1B: Mom and Dad don't know how to prepare you for every situation, so feel free to use your best judgement. Sometimes your judgement will be bad. Talk to a trusted adult and/or your parents. We might freak out, but that is mostly because we will feel like failures for not preparing you for whatever thing we didn't prepare you.
2: Both parties have a very serious responsibility to the other. Girls shouldn't dress or act in a distractingly provocative way, boys shouldn't treat a girl like a sexual aspiration. Girls should remember that they are helping their dates learn how to treat women, boys should remember they are helping their dates learn what a gentleman is. Girls should remember that many young men have a drive for risk taking that can make them legally insane, boys should remember that girls need to be free to say no to things without being treated like a killjoy. Every so often the shoe is on the other foot, and the rules apply equally. We offer one another guidance through our relationships. Don't forget that.
3. Violence: NOT OKAY. The other day Molly kicked Paul in the chest. Why? He was smooching her arms to annoy her. My typical response to violence between brother and sister is to bring down the hammer of Thor for discipline. However, in this case I told Molly and Paul that Molly did the right thing. Why? Paul learns the hard way, and Molly is not typically a violent person. Both felt that the violence was wrong, which is the gear I want my kids to be in. Yet, when it comes to physical affection, I try really hard to instill mutual respect in my kids. Yes, they need to hug each other when one of them is feeling down, no they do not need to be hugged if they don't want to be. So, while I do not condone violence of any kind in a romantic setting, self protection is primary. It is a favor to the other immature person who is crossing the line and not receiving the message in any other way. In my mind, it's like slapping a hysterical person. Not fun, but sometimes what the doctor ordered.
4A: Listen to your instincts unless they are clouded by hormones. So, if you have a twinge of caution, or an inkling of a romantic spark, cool. If you are high on a thrill of some kind, sexual or adrenaline, pump the brakes and drink 8 oz of water. Proceed to a crowded and well lit area.
4B: DO NOT DRINK. Altering yourself during a date is both seriously unsafe and a good way to ruin a budding relationship. No matter how nervous you are, you can't listen your instincts if there is beer/marijuana/pills squishing them down. And your date is not getting to know you, but altered you, which is the same as being deceptive. Don't.
5. Do not bury your feelings. Feel sad when things don't work out, feel disappointed, feel happy, joyful and jealous because those things matter. It is when we get stuck in a gear or hide from the negative feelings that we become manipulative and weird. So just be patient with your dates, yourself and your parents whom you are convinced do not understand anything. We are all just learning as we go.
These are my main hopes for my kids. I will not be giving them this list or lecturing them on these topics. Rather, I hope the conversations develop naturally and easily. I hope there are other adults that reinforce these ideas. I want the kids to understand themselves and their dates to a degree that encourages them to have integrity and also respect the trickiness of these years.
Friday, February 19, 2016
As Kate grows older and becomes more independent, I have noticed an interesting, and sometimes terrifying thing; she isn't listening to me as much. It isn't that she is defiant, but rather she is evaluating my actions more and my words less. Though, my words are being evaluated as well, just the ones not directed at her, but rather the ones she picks up from my conversations with others. Thus we have had the misfortune and fortunate confluence of events that makes me want to write a letter to all the adults in the world.
Last week, a couple of our kids had an interaction with an adult that was down right scary for them. A parent found some damage, and, after her children denied responsibility, she berated ours with cuss words and vehemence. She zeroed in on one of the kids as being the cause of all that is wrong with the world and screamed nastiness to our kids as well as their friend, who she thought might also have done the dastardly thing. Scott was nearby, so he confronted the woman, who turned to him and verbally assaulted him, telling him, "You better watch your youngest." Becket was in Scott's arms. Scott, being a good man, told the kids to go to safety and repeated that swearing at the kids was not going to be tolerated. She continued to rant, so Scott left the scene disgusted and angry.
The following days have been spent with examining the events. We told the kids that not all adults are safe. We explained what to do if they should find themselves in the same position. And then I took it further. I told our kids that when you do not try to discipline your emotions, you grow into an undisciplined adult. I tried to show them that what they consider "appropriate adult behavior" comes from growing up learning how to behave like an adult who can be admired and respected and trusted. I explained that you cannot hold yourself to unreasonable standards either, that there is a balance between taking responsibility and self-hatred because, sometimes, those who take it too far the other way begin to hate others because they hate themselves. All these things came from lots of little conversations that I hope were not too intimidating.
A few days later, Kate had a doctor appointment to evaluate whether she needed her tonsils out. The doctor is a brilliant surgeon, attractive and calm and incredibly intelligent -- all the things to which a 12 year old girl would respond well. He had to run a scope through her nose into her throat to check her adenoids. As he did so, he talked her through it calmly asking about her favorite things to do. Kate, who is the best child patient I have ever seen, cringed during the procedure. Afterward the doctor did something wonderful.
The doctor, who told us he did not recommend surgery, leaned forward to Kate and said, "Before I ran the scope you were afraid, weren't you?" Kate nodded. "But now, you know it was not as bad as you thought. You won't sign up for it, but if you need it, you can handle it more easily.
"For the rest of your life you will have things that you want or need to do that will feel scary. Remember this, because you can do them, you will do them, and they won't be as bad as you thought. Fear lives in your head, not in the doing. Remember that, okay?"
This is the case of an adult understanding his impact, and offering something that cost him nothing, but will last forever. It is something neither Scott nor I could give to our kids because we are the constant, the usual, the mundane. When an adult steps out of their usual role to offer a kid something of substance, that kid becomes more prepared for life. It takes no time, and it costs nothing.
We can mess that up also. We can behave badly around children and, unless we make amends, we can become a cautionary tale. We can show kids that adults don't need to behave, don't have to behave and, as long as we stay inside the law, there isn't much anyone can do about it. While children who have proper guidance can use those moments as life's boundary lines, those without might be attracted to the flawed freedom of being unhinged. Some may see it as a hall pass to be a bully, or lazy, or lack insight.
Which is what I wish all adults would understand. We are all examples in the lives of the children around us. One day, those children will be in charge, long before we are dead. What kind of leaders are we raising? How will they treat us? More to the point, what do we deserve?